Weekly hindsight
19-23 Feb 2018

Survival strategies in modern Europe: babies, churches and the information war

We live in confusing times: churches create social media platforms, films disappear from the screen without warning, and policemen hire terrorists. NewsMavens unravels the most noteworthy threads out of this week's European media tangle. 

Editorial Team
Editorial Team NewsMavens, Europe
Survival strategies in modern Europe: babies, churches and the information war - NewsMavens
Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Birth is cropping up in many political discussions at once

Abortion has long been a hot button in the political landscape of most countries. But birth -- its opposite, if you will -- has mostly been accepted as a hallowed and immemorial practice beyond debate, in mainstream media at least.

Not so much now. Romania is in the midst of an emotional debate around C-sections as a more convenient alternative to natural birth, forcing it to rehash the bizarre Ceausescu-era practice of only giving abortions to women who had c-sections earlier.

Also, Estonians were rattled by the case of a young woman who was pressured to have a child by social services. She had been denied an abortion, and then dissuaded against giving up her daughter on several occasions -- unsurprisingly, she ended up in jail for brutal child neglect. From an ethical standpoint, the story raises thorny questions: abortion is legal in Estonia, but the woman was already seven months into her pregnancy when she became desperate not to become a mother.

God is dead, and soon religion will follow

Religions everywhere have been dying a slow death for decades now, but, much like people, some leave this world elegantly while some succumb in grotesque spasms.

Gracefully enough, the Irish State has come to terms with the fact that few students sill want to have Catholic instruction in schools, and has decided to offer parents and pupils a choice.

Meanwhile, the Serbian Orthodox Church, seeing its popularity drop with youngsters, has created a fully-functioning ersatz Facebook, where believers can post status updates and pictures, and give a thumbs up to images of St. Grigorije of Gornjak and his fellow holy men.

Withholding information and propagating fake news are two sides of the same coin.

Yuval Noah Harari wrote that “in the 21st century, censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information.” How true.

In the Balkans, where there are several political crises worth reading about, especially ahead of a possible EU accession round, thousands internet users were side-tracked by the irresistible albeit completely fictitious account of a complex international political plot against Eastern Europe involving Morgan Freeman as a villain, and Denzel Washington as a savior.

But, 21st century-style censorship notwithstanding, it is worth noting that the week yielded a sizable amount of old-school information suppression.

Many Hungarians complained of having communist-era flashbacks after realizing that a film depicting a rich and influential businessman -- widely thought to be the crypto-portrait of a close associate of Viktor Orban -- had been mysteriously pulled from cinemas.

While Europe might have grown used to illiberal antics in Central and Eastern Europe, a concerning silence emerged after Catalan leaders requested that the Spanish intelligence services come clean in regard to their cooperation with Abdelbaki Es Satty, the mastermind behind the Barcelona attack. They have admitted that Es Satty worked for them as an informant, then adamantly refused to come forth with more details.

It doesn’t matter if the flow of information is halted or twisted. In the end, the weaponization of knowledge is the arms race of our day and age.

-- Newsmavens Editorial Team

 ***

Meanwhile, in the mainstream news about Europe this week:

...Neanderthal cave paintings are discovered in Spain and disprove the theory that only modern humans were capable of creating art. “To my mind this closes the debate on Neanderthals,” said João Zilhão, a researcher on the team at the University of Barcelona. “They are part of our family, they are ancestors, they were not cognitively distinct, or less endowed in terms of smarts. They are just a variant of humankind that as such exists no more.”– The Guardian, Science

… A surge in cases of measles afflicts Europe, which appears to be fueled by the anti-vaccination movement. The most cases and deaths reported last year were in Romania and Italy but measles is also on the rise in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Ukraine, Russia and Tajikistan. -- New York Times, Health

… The German coalition government between Merkel and the social democrats might actually be a BAD thing, because it is a continuation that one one wants and that doesn’t provoke “a fundamental regeneration of the centre left.” It is, Ash warns, more of a funeral than a wedding. -- Timothy Garton Ash, Guardian Opinion, Politics

… Italy’s “Five Star” is Europe's strangest new populist party. Started with a blogpost by comedian Beppe Grillo, the party is gearing up to win big in upcoming national elections. -- Washington Post, Politics

… Emmanuel Macron’s new draft law will make it harder for migrants seeking asylum in France. Though some of his supporters claim the proposal is too harsh, political reality seems to ensure it will get passed. -- New York Times, Migration

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