By Zachary Laven, European Affairs Editorial Assistant
The voting outcome was a resounding “no” – as widely predicted. So what is the background on this peculiar referendum, a reminder of the continuing tension between the Balkans and post-Soviet Russia. With more than 70% turnout, the vote against promoting Russian as the nation’s second official language was 75 percent and reflected the ethnic and linguistic divide between Latvian and Russian speakers. Said a relieved President Andris Berzins, “The vote on a second state language endangered one of the most sacred foundations of the Constitution: the state language.”
This European Affairs article, written and going to press before last week’s tragic events in
Norway, has been given a topical introduction to provide some context (without any prediction)
about the growth of populist parties in Europe.
Events in Egypt confirm the recent movement in the Arab world away from belief in a theocratic Islamic state, according to Olivier Roy, an authority on political Islam. His most recent book on the subject – the ground-breaking “Holy Ignorance: When Culture and Religion Part Ways” – is available in English from the Columbia University Press. In a just-published article, he offers a magisterial analysis of developments in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and also a larger view of the real political forces at work in the contemporary Arab and Muslim societies in the Middle East emerging without ties to jihadism or admiration for repressive Islamist regimes such as Iran and Salafism, the fundamentalist version of Islam derived Wahabism and present in radical movements in Arab countries. His perceptive insights capturing the trends at work in Egypt (and elsewhere) in a new generation of Arabs appeared in Le Monde newspaper in an article translated here by Georgio Comninos of the European Institute.
The controversy about the harsh attacks on “immigrant crime” by French President Nicolas Sarkozy has spilled over into debates in the U.S. The influential New York Times lambasted the French leader for his comments singling out minorities. It was scathing about his threat to strip French citizenship from foreign-born naturalized citizens convicted of serious offences -- such as threatening the life of a police officer (or even pursuing Islamic practices such as polygamy or female circumcision). Such moves, the leading American newspaper said in an editorial, are “fanning dangerous anti-immigrant passions for short-term political gain.”
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