Austria moving right

During Austria’s presidential elections on April 24, its two dominant mainstream parties plunged into fourth and fifth place. Since World War ii, every Austrian president has come from either the Social Democrats (spo) or the People’s Party (ovp), until now. The upheaval has already brought down Austria’s chancellor and could propel a far-right candidate into the presidency.

Six years ago, the spo and ovp won a combined 80 percent of the vote. This year they won a little over 20 percent—a sign of widespread discontent among Austrian voters.

Norbert Hofer, who won 35.3 percent of the presidential vote, is the candidate for the Freedom Party of Austria (fpo), a right-wing fringe party usually described as “far right.” Hofer now faces off against the Green Party’s Alexander Van der Bellen, who won 21.3 percent.

The country has now “entered a new phase in its history,” Andreas Koller wrote in the Salzburger Nachrichten. “The consequences of Sunday’s election are nowhere close to becoming clear.”

Chancellor Werner Faymann resigned on May 9, saying Austria needs a chancellor whose party stands behind him.

Politico described Austria’s troubled history with the far right, saying this election result “will reawaken memories abroad of the country’s long flirtation with right-wing politics” (April 25). In the 1980s, the Austrians elected former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim as president, even as he failed to address questions about his activities as a Wehrmacht officer in World War ii. The U.S. placed Waldheim on a watch list, barring him from entering America. The 1990s witnessed the meteoric rise of right-wing populist Jorg Haider. “In 2000, the Freedom Party joined a coalition with the People’s Party, breaking a taboo against populist parties in the European Union and earning Austria international censure” (ibid).

Austria’s recent election result exposes the instability in Europe caused by the migrant crisis, fear of Islamic terrorism, and the slow-rolling economic crisis. And it threatens to make those crises worse.

Spurred by the rise of the fringe right, Austria’s center-right leadership is desperate to solve the migrant crisis. Earlier this year, it slowed the stream of migrants into the EU from Greece by persuading Greece’s northern neighbors to seal their borders. Now the EU is threatening to shut the Brenner Pass, the only major road through the Alps from Italy into Austria. Austria is building a fence across the pass and looks ready to reintroduce border controls. Closing that border would divide Europe further and place a major strain on Italy’s economy.

Austria’s response to the rise of the fringe right will only make the crisis worse—further fueling the rise of the right.

The last time far-right groups rose this dramatically, things spiraled out of control and they ended up taking over countries across Europe shortly before World War ii. Austria’s presidency is largely a ceremonial role, though it does have some power. But if the fpo’s support holds up, it could take the chancellery too.

Islamic State’s next target: Germany

On March 31, the Islamic State uploaded images on the Internet bearing a call to German Muslims to execute Brussels-style attacks on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s offices and the Cologne-Bonn airport.

“It is clear that Germany is the focus of international terrorism and that attacks could happen,” said a spokeswoman of Germany’s bka federal police. Former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg condemned Europe’s leadership for not acting decisively enough against radical Islam. The more Europe (and especially Germany) is a focus of Islamic terrorism, the closer it gets to fighting back—and fulfilling the prophecy in Daniel 11:40.

Germany to build military base in Turkey

Germany plans to build a $75 million military base in Turkey, Spiegel newsmagazine reported April 25, citing a leaked report. Berlin has already approved the budget, and it plans to complete the majority of the base by next summer. The base will include an air control area ($12 million), accommodations for German soldiers ($17 million), and a combat headquarters ($39 million). The base indicates that Berlin has a long-term interest in Turkey. This development comes as Germany is becoming more involved in the Middle East, the Paris attacks in November having served as a springboard for its already existing plans. Germany’s goal is greater than merely destroying the Islamic State.

Putin’s private army

Russian President Vladimir Putin is resurrecting what may become a modern Praetorian Guard—the infamous elite corps solidified by the Roman emperor that acted as bodyguard, riot police and secret service.

During an April 5 televised appearance, Putin announced that he is overhauling Russian law-enforcement operations to create a domestic army that will answer to him personally. This force, called the National Guard, will be led by former kgb agent Victor Zolotov, a judo-sparring partner of Putin’s.

By poaching 170,000 riot police and counterinsurgency units from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and adding special police forces and military personnel, this will become a paramilitary force of up to 400,000 servicemen (roughly quadruple the size of the British military; about one seventh the size of the Russian military).

Putin said the new force will fight terrorism, organized crime and illicit drug trafficking. It will also cooperate with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and perform functions currently carried out by Russian riot police units. The new National Guard is also being equipped with its own intelligence service and investigative powers that would report directly to Putin, via Zolotov. This force can make arrests without introducing themselves and fire without warning “in special cases.”

The creation of this force indicates that Putin may be skeptical of his cabinet officials’ loyalty. At a time when economic stagnation is making civil unrest more likely, there are legitimate concerns that Putin’s new National Guard will be even more authoritarian than the Internal Troops this force is replacing.

Russians want the Soviet Union resurrected

The majority of Russians say they miss the Soviet Union. An April 19 Interfax report discussed the findings from a survey by the Levada Center: “More than half of Russians believe that the Soviet Union’s collapse could have been avoided (51 percent) and regret that it happened (56 percent) …. The majority of respondents (58 percent) said they would welcome the revival of the Soviet Union and the socialist system, while 44 percent said that currently it is unrealistic. At the same time, one in three (31 percent) said they would not want to rebuild the old Soviet socialist system” (Trumpet translation). The study surveyed a representative nationwide sample of about 1,600 adults across 48 regions.

The government of President Vladimir Putin has said that he views the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.” He has been working to reverse this tragedy in part by reviving many relics of the Soviet era, including the Intervision Song Contest, a military preparation fitness program, the “Hero of Socialist Labor” award, and by creating a cult of personality and consolidating his grip on domestic media that Comrade Joseph Stalin himself would be proud of.

Kremlin cracks down on religious liberty

Over two thirds of Russians now identify as Russian Orthodox Christians, double the number from 25 years ago. This marks a remarkable resurgence of Christianity in Russia since its Soviet era, when the government destroyed thousands of churches and persecuted millions of Christians.

Soviet Communist textbooks called religion “the opium of the people” and Christianity “a perverse reflection on the world,” but in the 24 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, Orthodox Christianity has made an astonishing recovery. Yet this development has not brought religious liberty to Russia. Instead, it appears that it is simply a new state apparatus for forcibly uniting Russians ideologically.

Russian citizen Viktor Krasnov is currently on trial and facing up to a year in prison for writing “There is no God” on a Russian social media network. Police raided his apartment and forced him into a month-long examination at a psychiatric ward until he was deemed fit for trial. He was then charged under a Russian law forbidding insults to the feelings of religious believers.

In 2011, Alexey Koptev was arrested after undercover police established that he belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian denomination. In 2009, the city of Taganrog banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses for propagating the exclusivity and supremacy of its religion. This denomination now shares the same legal status as the Islamic State and the National Socialist Society. Mormons, Scientologists and even Pentecostals are coming under increasing government pressure.

In return for public support from Russian Orthodox clergy, President Vladimir Putin attends church services and portrays himself as a defender of “Christian values,” using a de facto state religion to unify his empire, much like the Byzantine emperors and Russian czars did.

Post-Soviet efforts to remake Moscow into a representative government are failing. Russia has embraced an authoritarian leader driven to vault his nation back to great power status. Putin already has much of the necessary ideological apparatus firmly in place.

President Obama confirms: Special relationship is dead

United States President Barack Obama caused an uproar in the United Kingdom on April 22, when he said that if Britain quit the European Union, the nation “is going to be in the back of the queue” when it comes to making a trade deal with the U.S.

The response touched a nerve. Many pointed out the hypocrisy of an American leader encouraging Britain to remain in a union that the United States would not tolerate—allowing a foreign bureaucracy to create most of its laws, giving foreign judges jurisdiction in its territory, and submitting to foreign police forces arresting, deporting and denying constitutional rights to its citizens.

But his declaration that Britain must wait at the back of the line is what rankled the most. It confirmed to many that the long-standing U.S.-UK special relationship is dead.

The Spectator said President Obama appears to consider Britain “a country that’s too small to be worth bothering with on its own. A country that might matter, as part of a massive bloc of the EU, but is too tiny for his ever-so-busy officials in the State Department to bother with” (April 22).

Xenia Wickett, head of the U.S. and the Americas Program at Chatham House, wrote that the UK is “increasingly … just one of America’s many strategic relationships. … What is clear is that increasingly the UK is not ‘first among equals’ in Europe but ‘one among many’ for the United States” (April 20). The breaking of this brotherhood will weaken both nations and, biblical prophecy shows, make them more vulnerable to attack by hostile foreign powers.

Iran’s future: Less talk, more missiles

On May 9, Iranian Brig. Gen. Ali Abdollahi announced that his nation test-fired another ballistic missile in late April. He told the semi-official Tasnim News Agency that the missiles were precision-guided with a 26-foot margin of error and a 1,240-mile range.

If authentic, it was Iran’s third ballistic missile test since the nuclear deal was implemented in January. Iran’s rhetoric indicates more are on the way.

On March 28, Iran announced that it will continue developing and testing ballistic missiles, despite sanctions from the United States. President Hassan Rouhani said Iran’s missile program was a “strategic policy.” A commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said, “Even if they build a wall around Iran, our missile program will not stop.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on March 30 that Iran’s future was in missiles, not negotiations. “That they say the future of the world is one of negotiation and not one of missiles, if that is said out of ignorance, well it is ignorance, but if it’s said knowingly, it is treason,” Khamenei said, seemingly targeting Iranian reformers.

The Obama administration condemned the tests but stopped short of labeling them violations of the nuclear agreement. After Iran’s test in March, administration representatives simply called Iran’s actions “inconsistent with” the deal.

This move increased the friction between Congress and the White House. According to an April 12 Washington Free Beacon report, Congress censured the Obama administration and launched an inquiry into what it called its efforts to deceive lawmakers about the terms of the nuclear deal.

“[Iranian] Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif asserted that Iran’s missile program was ‘not open to negotiation,’” Rep. Mike Pompeo noted. “While the Iranians are obstinate, the Obama administration debates semantics for weeks—ignoring the frightening reality that Iran tested ballistic missiles.”

Weaponizing children in Africa

The number of children used for “suicide” bombings in some African nations has increased 10-fold during the last year, according to a new unicef report. The children are as young as 8, and more than 75 percent are girls.

The report focused on Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, showing that the number of children involved in such attacks increased from four in 2014 to 44 in 2015. Cameroon had 21 such bombings; Nigeria had 17; and Chad had two.

In many cases, the children involved likely did not even realize they were carrying explosives, which are often detonated remotely. Nevertheless, the trend has caused many people in the affected areas to fear children. unicef said the “calculated use of children who may have been coerced into carrying bombs has created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion that has devastating consequences.”

The primary group behind this carnage is the Sunni Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram, whose name translates to “Western education is a sin.” The group has targeted more than 910 schools so far. Some 1,500 schools have closed as a direct result of its attacks. Children are suffering more than any other group as a result of Boko Haram’s devastating impact. Besides those that the terrorists directly target by kidnapping and weaponizing, an estimated 1 million other children have been left without education as a result of Boko Haram’s terrorism.