Since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on February 17, the Balkans have remained in the limelight. Serbia’s government fell on March 8 as Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica resigned. The coalition cannot hold power without him and his party. Elections are scheduled for May 11.
The issue of Kosovar independence is far from being resolved. The northernmost part of Kosovo contains a majority of Serbs, and they want to remain part of Serbia. Several Serbs barricaded themselves inside a court building in the Kosovar town of Mitrovica, demanding it be returned to Serbian control. UN police raided on March 17 and put approximately 50 Serbs in custody—with unnecessary force, some claim. Hundreds of Serbs took to the streets, attacking the UN convoy with rocks, Molotov cocktails and small arms, freeing many of the prisoners. Agriculture and mining from the Mitrovican region are Kosovo’s only sources of income, apart from foreign aid. If the region returns to Serbia, it would cripple Kosovo’s economy. Serbia and Russia want Mitrovica to be part of Serbia; the European Union and nato want it part of Kosovo.
Europe has its own plans for the region. Croatia and Albania were formally invited to join nato during the April 2-4 summit. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that Croatia should also complete EU membership talks next year. As Stratfor wrote, “nato, in league with the European Union, is now in the process of digesting the Balkans—no mean feat in itself—and simply admitting Croatia will be one giant step in that direction.”
Ukraine and Georgia, though, will not be put on course to join the alliance. Western Europe, led by Germany, blocked nato from giving Membership Action Plans (maps) to these two former Soviet republics. France and Germany do not want to further hurt their already bruised relations with Russia. There is a strategy at work here. Germany and Russia need to define the border between an eastward-expanding EU and a resurgent, imperialist Russia. Russia needs Ukraine and Georgia onside in order to secure its western and southern flanks. With Russian and Western interests conflicting in so many areas, a clash is brewing. Germany and the EU, however, are not yet ready for a clash with Russia. As with the last time Germany and Russia fought, watch for Germany to forge a deal with Russia so it can postpone the conflict until it is better prepared.
The Vatican is also getting more involved in the Balkans conflict. The Roman Catholic bishop of Kosovo said he believes Kosovo’s Muslims need a “cultural baptism.” As Europe annexes the Balkans, the Catholic Church will work to give areas like Kosovo their European id card: Roman Catholicism.
Conflict between the Vatican and Islam is heating up. In March, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden launched a verbal attack against Europe, threatening revenge in a video for the “insulting drawings” of Mohammed that some European papers published. The video also accused the pope of beginning a “new crusade” against Islam. As if to confirm the accusation, a few days after bin Laden’s message was released Benedict xvi baptized Magdi Cristiano Allam, a prominent former Muslim. The pope is getting more confrontational in dealing with Islam.
Violence exploded in Iraq in late March: The Iraqi military targeted Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias in the southern port city of Basra in an effort to gain control of the vital Iraqi oil hub. In response, Shiite violence erupted in Baghdad and across southern Iraq, killing hundreds. The fighting was dialed back after a shaky Iranian-sponsored cease-fire in Basra whereby al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army off the streets.
Ironically, the Iraqi government’s crackdown on the Mahdi Army may actually strengthen al-Sadr. U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, compared the situation to Israel’s offensive against Hezbollah in the Lebanon War, where Hezbollah grew in strength as a consequence just of surviving. Not only has the Mahdi Army kept its weapons, but, according to an official in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, al-Sadr gained political strength as a result of the military crackdown.
Next door in Iran, the March 14 parliamentary elections reinforced a trend in the Islamic Republic: the political empowerment of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (irgc). The initial vote tally showed the irgc gaining a possible 70 percent of Iran’s parliamentary seats. It appears Iran’s Islamic leaders, in an attempt to strengthen the regime, are handing over legislative power to the military—which will mean an Iran that is less receptive to international economic pressure than ever.
At the beginning of March, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the first visit to Iraq by an Iranian leader since 1979. “This visit will open a new chapter in the two countries’ bilateral relations,” he said. He and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani discussed economic, political, oil, security, and other issues.
Iran has also continued to push its agenda in the Middle East by giving Syria $1 billion to upgrade its army and providing Hezbollah with rockets that have an increased range. Israeli security officials report that Iran has set up sophisticated listening stations in Syria over recent months to intercept Israeli military communications. In the West Bank, Iran-sponsored Hezbollah has been giving millions of dollars to militant groups for attacks against Israel since 2000, according to Israeli and Palestinian security officials.
On February 27, an Israeli civilian was killed by a rocket fired from Gaza, the first such casualty since last May. Israel’s five-day operation in the Gaza Strip ending March 3, aimed at stopping the relentless rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns, was not enough to deter its terrorist enemies. Hamas declared “victory,” and the rocket fire continued. Rockets from Gaza have also begun falling on the city of Ashkelon, indicating that Hamas’s border breach with Egypt earlier this year has enabled terrorists in the Gaza Strip to upgrade their missile arsenal.
A deadly terrorist attack in Jerusalem on March 6 killed eight Jewish religious students. Palestinians filled the streets to celebrate the massacre. A survey of Palestinians indicated that 84 percent supported the school shooting.
On March 17, German cabinet members met with their Israeli counterparts for their first-ever joint cabinet session. In addition to signing a bilateral agreement for tighter military, cultural, political and economic cooperation between the two countries, the German ministers agreed to continue joint cabinet sessions on an annual basis. Bible prophecy reveals that Israel’s blossoming relationship with Germany will result in a deadly double-cross.
Yousaf Raza Gilani was sworn in as Pakistan’s new prime minister on March 25. His government is reviewing its counterterrorism policy and its involvement in the U.S.-led “war on terror.” The U.S. will likely be forced to accommodate its unstable ally more in its counterterrorism operations (see page 9).
China savagely suppressed separatist protesters in Tibet in March following anti-government demonstrations led by Buddhist monks. The protests, which started in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, spread to other areas, with Chinese police forces detaining hundreds. Beijing says 20 people were killed in the unrest, but protestors put the number at more than 150. China has come under intense international criticism over the crackdown.
European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering called for the EU to boycott the Olympic Games scheduled to be held in Beijing this August if a Sino-Tibetan compromise is not reached. On March 30, German Chancellor Angela Merkel became the first world leader to officially announce that she would not attend the Olympics opening ceremony. Several other European leaders followed Merkel’s lead. One can view this stand as an effort to negate the threat of China’s growing power. As German-Foreign-Policy.com wrote, “Supporting extensive autonomy rights for Tibet and even its secession is in line with the traditional German East Asia policy. Already in the 1930s and 1940s, Berlin considered this region to be an important base for expanding its influence toward China. … Fearing its future power, Berlin is seeking to weaken its ascending East Asian rival.”
China’s crackdown in Tibet is being supported by its Asian allies, however, including Vietnam, Pakistan, India, Belarus and Russia. Thus, Asia is presenting a united front against the European Union’s stance. The same is true in its support of Russia over the issue of Kosovo.
On March 4, Chinese President Hu Jintao stated Taiwanese secessionist activity was the gravest threat to China. The possibility of Taiwan declaring independence from the mainland, however, became less likely than any other time in history with the election on March 22 of Ma Ying-jeou as the nation’s president. In light of a fracturing alliance between Taiwan and America, Ma has purposed to increase ties with China in a last-ditch effort to avoid invasion (see page 23).
On the other side of Asia, in Moscow, Dmitry Medvedev became Russia’s president-elect in a March 2 election that was distinguished by corruption and rigging. As Putin’s chosen successor, Medvedev promises to be essentially a democratic front for Putin’s continued authoritarian regime.
Within hours of Medvedev’s election, gas supplies to Ukraine were cut by 25 percent over a payment dispute between the Ukrainian government and Russian state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom. After a day, Gazprom cut the supplies by another quarter. Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz warned that it can only guarantee the uninterrupted flow of gas from Russia through Ukraine to Europe if the security of the Ukrainian energy sector remains unthreatened. Why the cuts? Ukraine’s leadership had been moving the country away from Russia and closer to membership in nato and the EU. This gas cut—which lasted only a couple of days—was Putin and Medvedev’s way of reminding Ukrainian and European officials that Russia remains a force to be reckoned with. How Europe reacts to this growing Russian threat will prove to be one of the more important events of the 21st century.
Iran and Sudan signed an accord that includes cooperation in technology, education, science and industry, an exchange of expert delegations, and the establishment of a defense cooperation commission, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported March 7. Iran has made establishing relations with African and Islamic nations a top priority, according to Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar.
China, which currently receives 24 percent of its crude oil from Africa, plans to increase this figure to 35 or 40, according to Zhiming Zhao, executive president of China Petroleum and Petro-Chemical Industry Association. While many Western firms are trying to extricate themselves from Africa and its political problems, China has invested $30 billion in Africa’s energy sector and plans to build beyond that. The desire to exploit African resources continues to motivate many nations to invest even in unstable areas, with China and the EU topping the list.
On March 9, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe announced approval of a new law that gives “indigenous,” meaning black, Zimbabweans majority ownership of all businesses. This legislation brings back memories of the tragic land reforms of the past decade that have decimated the Zimbabwean economy.
Also, with presidential election results still up in the air as of this writing, Zimbabwe is on the verge of crisis. Zimbabwean police arrested two foreign journalists for covering the election “without accreditation,” and also ransacked offices used by the opposition party. Riot police have been deployed in the capital. It appears the despot of Zimbabwe won’t be going quietly, if at all.
In Argentina, farmers began a strike in March to protest the government’s 10 percent tax increase on agricultural products—which has now hit a shocking 75 percent. In response, President Cristina Kirchner, just three months into her term, announced there would be no negotiation until the strikes stop. Farmers blockaded more than 400 roads, depriving groceries of meat, cereals and milk.
On the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War, Kirchner called her country’s claim to the Falkland Islands “inalienable.” The Trumpet predicted eight years ago that Britain will eventually give up the Falklands to Argentina; to understand why, read “Will Britain Lose the Falklands?” in the February 2006 Trumpet on theTrumpet.com.
Colombian troops killed a leader of the rebel movement farc during a raid in Ecuador in March. This threw the region into crisis, as Ecuador and Venezuela cut off diplomatic relations with Bogota, and Venezuelan President Chávez amassed troops on the border of Colombia. Colombian officials claim a laptop obtained during the raid shows that Venezuela paid $300 million to farc (see page 21).
The Great Britain of 1908 would hardly recognize the Britain of 2008. That is a safe inference, judging by a Royal United Services Institute Report, which states, “The United Kingdom presents itself as a target, as a fragmenting, post-Christian society, increasingly divided about interpretations of its history, about its national aims, its values and its political identity.” Though strongly criticized by government officials, this finding reveals the effects of Britain’s abdication of morality, obsession with multiculturalism and shunning of its British identity.
Britain’s marriages and families, upon which the nation’s cultural, financial and security future rely, are crumbling even faster than the economy. The current marriage rate is at an all-time low, 45 percent of new marriages end in divorce, two in five British babies are born out of wedlock and 70 percent of Brits see nothing wrong with premarital sex.
Britain’s next generation is already suffering from its families’ breakdown. Violent crime among teenagers in the country has increased 37 percent over just three years, and a March report on materialism by the Good Childhood Inquiry found that a culture that defines people by what they consume is taking its toll on children. Despite incomes there having doubled over the last 50 years, Britain dropped to 21st out of 25 European states in terms of childhood well-being.
The United Kingdom’s banking sector is roiling in the worst financial crisis in living memory. In mid-March, the pound sterling took its longest fall in 16 years. Investors panicked, and although the Bank of England rushed an emergency injection of £5 billion into the markets, the UK’s most prestigious banks watched large percentages of their value disappear: £51 billion all at once. Since last June, Britain’s top 100 companies have lost one fifth of their value. One London broker said, “I don’t think anybody alive has ever seen events of this seriousness and magnitude affecting the financial markets.”
Over at Wall Street, Britain’s American cousin keeps getting dumped on. Call it the cost of materialism: The United States dollar continues to tumble to new lows against the euro (which now costs more than $1.50), the Canadian dollar and the yen, among others. It takes more and more dollars to buy staples such as wheat and corn, and commodities like oil. Administration officials, who have sugar-coated recession-trending news and played down the nation’s economic malfunctions, are cautiously back-pedaling. President Bush admitted the economy was going through a “rough patch,” and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke admitted the economy was clearly in a period of very slow growth and that “there might be a slight contraction.”
In mid-March, Investment bank Bear Stearns, the respected Great Depression veteran and fifth-largest investment bank in the country, said it was comfortable it would meet earnings expectations and had a $17 billion cushion against trouble. Shortly thereafter, Bear announced its cash position “had significantly deteriorated in the last 24 hours.” Stock, worth $150 a share a year ago, went from $56 to $2. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. is buying what is left of the company, but only thanks to an unprecedented and, Bernanke says, one-off bailout by the Fed.
The directors of national intelligence and the defense intelligence agency have, for the first time, publicly raised the issue of cyberwarfare. The U.S. is one of the most electronically connected—and dependent—nations on the planet. As the Trumpet reported more than a decade ago, “computer dependence is the Western world’s Achilles heel.”
A less subtle and even more dangerous threat is what senior government officials and terrorism experts discussed with the Senate in early April, testifying of a “growing” risk of a nuclear attack on a major U.S. city. Models show that such an attack would leave hundreds of thousands dead, $1 trillion in damage and nationwide panic.
Surely Americans would enjoy a more stable society if their families were less unhinged. Even in a society accustomed to bad news about teenage sex, a new study on sexually transmitted diseases comes as a sad shock. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in four American girls has an std. More than 3 million girls 14 to 19 had human papillomavirus, chlamydia, genital herpes or trichomoniasis, and that figure does not even include less-common afflictions such as hiv/aids, syphilis and gonorrhea. The national study, the first of its kind, found that half of teen girls are sexually active.