Category : –Eastern Europe

(Quartz) The Roma may be just what Europe needs to recover

The Roma constitute the largest ethnic minority in Europe. While many think the continent would be better off without them, the Roma have lived in Europe for more than 1,500 years, and represent one of Europe’s last, great hopes.

But currently, the Roma are among the continent’s most underserved communities. And like Europe’s Jews, and newcomers from Africa and the Middle East, they’re finding themselves caught up in a resurgence of racism and xenophobia.

The unemployment rate for Roma in Bulgaria was 59% in 2010, and 50% in Romania according to a seminal World Bank report, while average unemployment in Bulgaria was 11.6%, and 7.3% in Romania in 2013.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Anthropology, Bulgaria, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Foreign Relations, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Romania, Theology

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky

O God, who in thy providence didst call Joseph Schereschewsky from his home in Eastern Europe to the ministry of this Church, and didst send him as a missionary to China, upholding him in his infirmity, that he might translate the holy Scriptures into languages of that land: Lead us, we pray thee, to commit our lives and talents to thee, in the confidence that when thou givest thy servants any work to do, thou dost also supply the strength to do it; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Asia, China, Church History, Europe, Spirituality/Prayer

(FT) Russian air incursions rattle Baltic states

The Baltic countries are registering a dramatic increase in Russian military provocations, rattling nerves in a region which fears it could be the next frontier after Ukraine in Moscow’s quest at asserting its regional power.

Nato fighters policing Baltic airspace were scrambled 68 times along Lithuania’s borders this year, by far the highest count in more than 10 years. Latvia registered 150 “close incidents”, cases where Russian aircraft were found approaching and observed for risky behaviour. Estonia said its sovereign airspace had been violated by Russian aircraft five times this year, nearing the total count of seven over the previous eight years.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Finland, Foreign Relations, Politics in General, Russia, Sweden, Theology

(Time) NATO Could Send U.S. Troops to Eastern Europe

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, has been given until Tuesday to propose measures in response to the ongoing presence of Russian troops along the border with eastern Ukraine

NATO troops, including Americans, could be deployed to Eastern Europe in an effort to shore up defenses in allied countries that share a border with Russia, a top U.S. military official said Wednesday.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Foreign Relations, Politics in General, Russia, Theology, Ukraine, Violence

The Orthodox Church’s Muscle Helped Propel President’s Rivals to Victory in Georgia

As sharply contested parliamentary voting approached in Georgia last week, the country’s Orthodox patriarch implemented his own peculiar pre-election ritual: He arranged for an airplane carrying icons and holy relics to circle over Georgian airspace while priests prayed over the country’s future, in an updated version of an ancient practice employed ahead of enemy invasions and other calamities.

It was a revealing gesture from Georgia’s church, which exerts a profound but mostly behind the scenes influence on political life. The elections brought an end to the eight-year dominance of President Mikheil Saakashvili and his team ”” as well as their sometimes aggressive push to introduce Western ways to this conservative society. That quest drove Mr. Saakashvili’s government into occasional conflicts with the church, which worsened as the country approached a highly competitive election.

“They hoped, I think, that in the critical moment the patriarch would back them, which apparently was wrong,” said Levan Abashidze, a religious scholar. Instead the church repeatedly stated its neutrality in the race, he said, sending a signal to voters that it was not endorsing the government.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Europe, Georgia, Orthodox Church, Other Churches, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

WSJ: Rate Swings Sting Europe's Borrowers

“I just can’t believe it,” Mr. [Dezso] Kocs said, looking around at his current quarters, with empty cardboard boxes used as night stands. “I used to be a business owner. Now I’m a slave.”

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Credit Markets, Economy, Europe, Hungary, Personal Finance, Switzerland, The Banking System/Sector

Peter Boone and Simon Johnson–French Connection: The Eurozone Crisis Worsens Sharply

The big news is France. With sentiment worsening across Europe, France has lost its relative safe haven status ”“ credit default swap spreads on French government debt were up sharply today.

The trigger ”“ oddly enough ”“ was Hungary’s announcement that its budget is worse than expected (blaming the previous government; this is starting to become the European pattern) and in the current fragile environment discussed yesterday, this relatively small piece of news spooked investors. But these developments only reinforced a trend that was already in place.

It did not help that the Irish Minister of Finance announced Ireland has 74.2bn euros of guaranteed bank loans, bonds, and systemic support falling due between now and Oct 1. This is around 55% of GNP. It sounds like everyone backed by the Irish government had the “clever” idea to roll over their debts to just before the guarantees expire.

The big losers are Portugal-Ireland-Italy-Greece-and-Spain as always, but Belgium is now in the line of fire, and France is clearly under pressure. The spread between French and German credit default swaps (measuring the relative probability of default) is up ”“ yesterday this was 40 basis points, today it stands at 44 (up from just 5 basis points at the end of 2009; most of the increase is since mid-March, with a sharp acceleration recently). French bonds have become illiquid, with wide bid-ask spreads; not what is supposed to happen in a safe haven. This is going to make the French angry ”“ watch for more market slanders from top French politicians over the weekend; you know they would just love to ban trading in something.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, --European Sovereign Debt Crisis of 2010, Credit Markets, Economy, Euro, Europe, European Central Bank, France, Hungary, Politics in General, The Banking System/Sector, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

Peter Townley: Forty years in the wilderness in East Germany

Although later perceived as a “church in socialism”, it was a Church in opposition which understood itself as a fellowship of the Crucified, thus echoing Bonhoeffer’s words in The Cost of Discipleship: “Every call of Christ leads to death.” A key text for them was Bonhoeffer’s influential book Life Together, first published in 1939 and greatly influenced by his time at the Anglican Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in West Yorkshire.

What the Church achieved in East Germany before 1989 cannot be underestimated. Great sacrifices had to be made. There was no room for cheap grace; it was sacrifice lived as well as believed in. It was their network of contacts, which enabled them as a minority church to survive against a background of discrimination that was not always subtle. The University Church in Leipzig, for instance, had been pulled down by the communists and a bust of Karl Marx placed where the altar was.

However, during the 40 years of the German Democratic Republic the churches provided the forum where people could speak freely and democracy be exercised. Their strong pacifist emphasis was particularly inspired by the vision of Isaiah of turning swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Church History, Europe, Germany, Other Churches

The Independent–Europe's Revolution: The pastor who brought down the Berlin Wall

It is said that the key to the door in the Iron Curtain was cut in Leipzig. It was to become the key that opened Berlin’s infamous Wall and ultimately brought about its collapse, not to mention that of the Soviet empire. But 20 years ago to the day, in the second city of what was communist East Germany, no one had any notion of what was to come. Instead, the shabby, heavily polluted town of nearly half a million people was gripped by an all-pervasive fear.

Newspapers controlled by the Communist Party had done their best to whip up panic, full of dire warnings about the state’s readiness to crush “the counter revolution” by force. The order had been given by none other than Erich Mielke, the regime’s despised and feared Stasi chief. There were rumours about hundreds of Kalashnikov rifles and machine guns being broken out of store rooms at secret police headquarters in preparation for a bloody showdown with the growing numbers of demonstrators who were taking to Leipzig’s streets to protest against the Communist regime.

“We were terrified that the state would enforce a Chinese solution,” recalled Christian Führer, a pastor who was one of the demonstration leaders. “You have to remember that our protests against the regime were happening only weeks after the massacre at Tiananmen Square.”

Führer is one of the big heroes of East Germany’s peaceful revolution. He looks more like a lorry driver than a pastor and is rarely seen without his sleveless jean jacket. At age 66, he could easily be mistaken for someone 10 years younger. In 1989, the East German regime were using 28 Stasi officers to watch him night and day; his spiky grey hair earned him the secret police codename “hedgehog”.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Europe, Germany, History, Religion & Culture

At Czech Mass, Pope Says Societies Must Have God

Pope Benedict XVI warned some 120,000 worshipers at a Mass here on Sunday of the dangers of a society without God, forging ahead with his fight against secularism on the second day of a three-day trip to the Czech Republic.

Later, in an address to Czech academics in Prague, the pope inveighed against the perils of relativism. He also underlined the need to mend “the breach between science and religion.”

Celebrating Mass in this southern city in the country’s Catholic heartland, the 82-year-old, German-born pope said that “history had demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions.” He added: “Your country, like other nations, is experiencing cultural conditions that often present a radical challenge to faith and therefore also to hope.”

While the pope received a warm and enthusiastic reception from the crowd ”” a large number of whom appeared to come from neighboring Poland, Germany and Slovakia ”” religious observers lamented that the Czech nation as a whole seemed unmoved.

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Posted in * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Europe, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic

The Homily of Pope Benedict XVI at Mass at Stara Boleslaw

This morning, we are gathered around the altar for the glorious commemoration of the martyr Saint Wenceslaus, whose relics I was able to venerate before Mass in the Basilica dedicated to him. He shed his blood in your land, and his eagle, which ”“ as the Cardinal Archbishop has just mentioned ”“ you chose as a symbol for this visit, constitutes the historical emblem of the noble Czech nation. This great saint, whom you are pleased to call the “eternal” Prince of the Czechs, invites us always to follow Christ faithfully, he invites us to be holy. He himself is a model of holiness for all people, especially the leaders of communities and peoples. Yet we ask ourselves: in our day, is holiness still relevant? Or is it now considered unattractive and unimportant? Do we not place more value today on worldly success and glory? Yet how long does earthly success last, and what value does it have?

The last century ”“ as this land of yours can bear witness ”“ saw the fall of a number of powerful figures who had apparently risen to almost unattainable heights. Suddenly they found themselves stripped of their power. Those who denied and continue to deny God, and in consequence have no respect for man, appear to have a comfortable life and to be materially successful. Yet one need only scratch the surface to realize how sad and unfulfilled these people are. Only those who maintain in their hearts a holy “fear of God” can also put their trust in man and spend their lives building a more just and fraternal world. Today there is a need for believers with credibility, who are ready to spread in every area of society the Christian principles and ideals by which their action is inspired. This is holiness, the universal vocation of all the baptized, which motivates people to carry out their duty with fidelity and courage, looking not to their own selfish interests but to the common good, seeking God’s will at every moment.

In the Gospel we heard Jesus speaking clearly on this subject: “What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Mt 16:26). In this way we are led to consider that the true value of human life is measured not merely in terms of material goods and transient interests, because it is not material goods that quench the profound thirst for meaning and happiness in the heart of every person. This is why Jesus does not hesitate to propose to his disciples the “narrow” path of holiness: “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (16:25). And he resolutely repeats to us this morning: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (16:24). Without doubt, this is hard language, difficult to accept and put into practice, but the testimony of the saints assures us that it is possible for all who trust and entrust themselves to Christ. Their example encourages those who call themselves Christian to be credible, that is, consistent with the principles and the faith that they profess. It is not enough to appear good and honest: one must truly be so. And the good and honest person is one who does not obscure God’s light with his own ego, does not put himself forward, but allows God to shine through.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Europe, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Pope Benedict XVI, Preaching / Homiletics, Roman Catholic

Liaquat Ahamed: Subprime Europe

The 1931 collapse of the Austrian bank Creditanstalt provoked financial panic across Europe and almost single-handedly turned a bad downturn into the Great Depression.

Last week, when I read about the brewing European banking crisis, I suddenly began to dread that history might be repeating itself.

You might think that my worries are a bit late. After all, losses on subprime mortgages in the United States have already caused a Depression-like banking collapse.

Well, believe it or not, Europe’s current crisis is scarier.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Credit Markets, Economy, Europe, Globalization, The Banking System/Sector, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

The Eastern European Tinderbox: How Explosive Could It Get?

The Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region is the sick man of emerging markets. While the global crisis means few, if any, bright spots worldwide, the situation in the CEE area is particularly bleak. After almost a decade of outpacing worldwide growth, the region looks set to contract in 2009, with almost every country either in or on the verge of recession. The once high-flying Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) look headed for double-digit contractions, while countries relatively less affected by the crisis (i.e. Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia) will have a hard time posting even positive growth. Meanwhile, Hungary and Latvia’s economies already deteriorated to the point where IMF help was needed late last year.

The CEE’s ill health is primarily driven by two factors ”“ collapsing exports and the drying-up of capital inflows. Exports were key to the region’s economic success, accounting for a significant 80-90% of GDP in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. By far the biggest market for CEE goods is the Eurozone, which is now in recession. Meanwhile, the global credit crunch has dried up capital inflows to the region. An easy flow of credit fueled Eastern Europe’s boom in recent years, but the good times are gone. According to the Institute of International Finance, net private capital flows to Emerging Europe are projected to fall from an estimated $254 billion in 2008 to $30 billion in 2009. Whether or not this is formally considered a ”˜sudden stop’ of capital, it will necessitate a very painful adjustment process.

What is especially worrisome is that the days of easy credit flows were accompanied by rising external imbalances that rival or even exceed the build-up of imbalances in pre-crisis Asia ”“ e.g. current account deficits in Southeast Asia from 1995-97 fell within the 3.0-8.5% of GDP range, while those in CEE were in the double-digits in Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltics in 2008. As examined in a recent RGE analysis piece, the vulnerabilities in many CEE countries ”“ high foreign currency borrowing, hefty levels of external debt and massive current-account deficits ”“ suggest the classic makings of a capital account crisis a la Asia in the late 1990s.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Economy, Europe, Globalization, The Banking System/Sector, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

As It Falters, Eastern Europe Raises Risks

ince the fall of the Berlin Wall, the countries of Eastern Europe have emerged as critical allies of the United States in the region, embracing American-style capitalism and borrowing heavily from Western European banks to finance their rise.

Now the bill is coming due.

The development boom that turned Poland, Hungary and other former Soviet satellites into some of Europe’s hottest markets is on the verge of going bust, raising worrisome new risks for the global financial system that may ricochet back to the United States.

Last week, Wall Street plunged after Moody’s Investors Service warned that Western banks that had recently beat a path to Eastern Europe’s doorstep now faced “hard landings,” spooking investors with new fears that the exposure could spread beyond Europe’s shores.

“There’s a domino effect,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a professor at Harvard and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. “International credit markets are linked, and so a snowballing credit crisis in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries could cause New York municipal bonds to fall.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Credit Markets, Economy, Europe, Globalization, The Banking System/Sector, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

John Mauldin is Worried About Eastern Europe

“‘This is much worse than the East Asia crisis in the 1990s,’ said Lars Christensen, at Danske Bank. ‘There are accidents waiting to happen across the region, but the EU institutions don’t have any framework for dealing with this. The day they decide not to save one of these one countries will be the trigger for a massive crisis with contagion spreading into the EU.’ Europe is already in deeper trouble than the ECB or EU leaders ever expected. Germany contracted at an annual rate of 8.4% in the fourth quarter. If Deutsche Bank is correct, the economy will have shrunk by nearly 9% before the end of this year. This is the sort of level that stokes popular revolt.

“The implications are obvious. Berlin is not going to rescue Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal as the collapse of their credit bubbles leads to rising defaults, or rescue Italy by accepting plans for EU “union bonds” should the debt markets take fright at the rocketing trajectory of Italy’s public debt (hitting 112pc of GDP next year, just revised up from 101pc — big change), or rescue Austria from its Habsburg adventurism. So we watch and wait as the lethal brush fires move closer. If one spark jumps across the eurozone line, we will have global systemic crisis within days. Are the firemen ready?”….

This has the potential to be a real crisis, far worse than in the US. Without concerted action on the part of the ECB and the European countries that are relatively strong, much of Europe could fall further into what would feel like a depression. There is a problem, though. Imagine being a politician in Germany, for instance. Your GDP is down by 8% last quarter. Unemployment is rising. Budgets are under pressure, as tax collections are down. And you are going to be asked to vote in favor of bailing out (pick a small country)? What will the voters who put you into office think?

We are going to find out this year whether the European Union is like the Three Musketeers. Are they “all for one and one for all?” or is it every country for itself? My bet (or hope) is that it is the former. Dissolution at this point would be devastating for all concerned, and for the world economy at large. Many of us in the US don’t think much about Europe or the rest of the world, but without a healthy Europe, much of our world trade would vanish.

However, getting all the parties to agree on what to do will take some serious leadership, which does not seem to be in evidence at this point.

Read it carefully and read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, Credit Markets, Economy, Europe, Globalization, The Banking System/Sector, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--