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Friday, 25 September 2015

Migrant Crisis Sparks Balkan Border Battles As EU Buckles Under Overwhelming Refugee Flow

When last we checked in on Europe’s worsening migrant crisis, Brussels had just approved a plan which aims to settle some 120,000 asylum seekers by way of a mandatory quota system. Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania were opposed which, as WSJ noted, “sets the stage for intensified friction within the bloc over the contentious issue.”

To be sure, calling the crisis a “contentious issue” is something of an understatement. The massive people flows stemming from Syria’s protracted civil war threaten to tear the EU apart just months after fraught negotiations with Greece over the country’s third bailout program very nearly ended in the conclusive debunking of the euro indissolubility thesis. 

The Balkans have become the frontlines of the crisis as refugees make their way north to the German “promised land” where cold beer and Merkel selfie photo ops beckon. Unfortunately (if you’re a fleeing migrant), Serbia, Croatia, and especially Hungary aren’t excited about being used as a kind of migrant superhighway and once the number of refugees streaming across its southern border became too much to bear, Hungary built a 100-mile razor wire fence. Of course when you’re fleeing bullets, barrel bombs, and sword-wielding jihadists, a 12 foot high fence isn’t much of a deterrent and so some refugees attempted to test Hungarian premier Viktor Orban’s resolve by demanding to be let through. Here’s what happened next:

Thankfully (because otherwise the situation could have quickly escalated from water cannons to actual cannons) there are other ways to get to Germany, and once it became clear that Hungary was fully prepared to turn its border with Serbia into a warm April night in Baltimore in order to defend Europe’s “Christian heritage” (to quote Orban), refugees simply rerouted through Croatia. Serbia has facilitated this noting that it simply does not have the resources to accommodate the migrants and even if it did, they do not want to settle in Serbia in the first place. Once Slovenia said it wouldn’t be a part of a migrant "corridor" to Germany, the stage was set for migrants to zigzag from Hungary’s border with Serbia into Croatia, and then back into Hungary.

Predictably, the border control situation is getting tense in the Balkans and now, diplomatic relations in the region are deteriorating rapidly. Here’s AFP with more:



Croatia sought to ease tensions with its former foe Serbia Friday after the EU's powerful executive intervened in a bitter row sparked by Europe's worst refugee crisis in decades.


Both countries -- former enemies in the 1990s war following the breakup of Yugoslavia -- have been embroiled in tit-for-tat restrictions caused by the human exodus washing through the Balkans.


Croatia closed all but one of its border crossings with Serbia and blamed Belgrade for diverting an unrelenting flow of migrants towards its frontier.


In Brussels, the European Commission said it was "urgently seeking clarifications" from Croatia, prompting Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic to announce he planned to remove border restrictions with Serbia shortly.


"I'm holding intensive talks with my colleagues to remove today or tomorrow the measures that we had to introduce," Milanovic told reporters.


Official figures showed some 55,000 refugees had entered Croatia over nine days, including nearly 8,500 just on Thursday.


The huge influx started when Hungary sealed its border with Serbia to prevent refugees from using the country as a thoroughfare to western Europe.


The closure prompted the migrants to divert their route through Croatia instead, which was quickly overwhelmed.

Zagreb now buses a large majority of the migrants straight to the border with Hungary, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Friday Budapest eventually planned to seal its border with Croatia too.


"The influx of migrants is not going to abate... We want to stop people crossing," Orban told reporters in Vienna after a meeting aimed at smoothing over differences with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann.


"Introducing the border protection to Serbia has met expectations. Our duty is to make it happen on the Hungarian-Croatian border as well," he said.

On Friday evening, Croatia relented (via ABC):



Serbia's prime minister, speaking after an emergency government session, says Serbia will "absolutely" lift its embargo on Croatian goods.


Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic made the comments Friday night to Croatian state TV after Croatia decided to reopen its main cargo border crossing with Serbia. The two Balkan neighbors had feuded for a week over how to handle an enormous surge of migrants crossing their territories, and the closure of the border was costing each dearly.


Vucic said "the decision of Croatian government is good."


Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said he lifted the border blockade but warned he could reinstate it if Serbia keeps on busing migrants to the Croatian border instead of sending some of them to Hungary.

But it's not entirely clear why Milanovic thinks "sending some of them to Hungary" is an option. Indeed, Viktor Orban has now moved to fence off its border not only with Serbia, but also with Croatia and, notably, with fellow Schengen passport-free travel zone member Slovenia. Here's WSJ:



Hungary’s prime minister on Friday defended his country’s contentious efforts to fence off its border with Croatia, insisting it has an obligation to stem the tide of migrants in order to protect the European Union’s cherished document-free travel zone.


The migrant crisis has raised hackles among countries that share borders and sparked warnings that the bloc may not be able to hold on to it its cornerstone policy of free travel, known as the Schengen agreement.


Hungary is a member of the Schengen zone, as are most EU countries; fellow EU member Croatia isn’t.


Budapest has taken the toughest stance in the EU in its dealings with refugees. Depicting himself as a protector of the free travel policy, Mr. Orban insisted he was legally mandated to make sure that migrants didn’t get through so that other borders—particularly with Austria—wouldn’t have to be closed.


The crisis has sparked a domino effect of border closures, mutual finger pointing and efforts to pass on the burden of the migrant flow, with Hungary emerging as a focal point.


The fence with Croatia is an extension of one already finished along Hungary’s border with non-EU member Serbia. It is designed to reduce the influx of people, now hitting 8,000 to 10,000 people a day, most coming via Croatia in the hopes of reaching Western Europe.


Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic has said the fence “is something that needs to be torn down.”


Croatia has given up on fingerprinting or registering migrants, and buses them to its border with Hungary, which then transports them to places close to the Austrian border. They can cross on foot or after a short train ride.


Austria has complained that it is overwhelmed, and its relationship with Hungary has soured in recent weeks. Mr. Faymann has harshly criticized Budapest for what he said was Hungary’s mistreatment of migrants.


Hungary is also in the process of extending it on its border with EU member Romania, which is also outside the Schengen zone.


Another neighbor, Slovenia, has been methodical in letting in only those in who register, resulting in much lower migrant entries there. Hungary is preparing to erect a temporary fence “which could be dismantled in a day” on its border with Slovenia, but only if Slovenia—a Schengen member—agrees to that, Mr. Orban said.

So there you have it. Schengen is officially a thing of the past and the fingerpointing in the Balkans is escalating quickly. 

Needless to say, none of this bodes well for the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the war-torn Middle East for Western Europe. Even if most EU governments publicly support the effort to relocate Syrian refugees, the increasingly contentious situation in the Balkans may well serve to negatively influence public opinion. That is, if heart-wrenching images of drowned toddlers increasingly give way to pictures of young Arab men scaling border fences and hurling rocks at riot police, European voters may begin to reassess their accommodative position. That, combined with the fact that Brussels has now commited to forcing recalcitrant countries to settle migrants against their will, sets the stage for what could turn out to be a dangerous bout of scapegoating xenophobia. We've warned on this repeatedly and this is one instance where we certainly hope we do not get the opportunity to say "we told you so."

Half Of Americans Think "Government Is An Immediate Threat To Liberty"

Government poses a threat to liberty, that much is clear.

But what may be surprising is that almost half of Americans clearly identified government as a clear and “immediate” threat, and are obviously outraged about what is going on.

Oddly, the number of angry Americans has remained consistent in poll number ever since about 2006 during George W. Bush’s second term, maintaining around 46-49% throughout Barack Obama’s entire presidency.

And yet, things continue to get worse and worse with each political cycle, and each new president.

Gallup reported that:



Almost half of Americans, 49%, say the federal government poses “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens,” similar to what was found in previous surveys conducted over the last five years.

The remarkable finding about these attitudes is how much they reflect apparent antipathy toward the party controlling the White House, rather than being a purely fundamental or fixed philosophical attitude about government.

[…] during the Republican administration of George W. Bush, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents were consistently more likely than Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to say the federal government posed an immediate threat.

[…] during the Democratic Obama administration, the partisan gap flipped, with Republicans significantly more likely to agree.


Still, the persistent finding in recent years that half of the population views the government as an immediate threat underscores the degree to which the role and power of government remains a key issue of our time… numerous other measures show that the people give their government some of the lowest approval and trust ratings in the measures’ history.

So why does the situation between the people and government continue to deteriorate?

The complaints about government’s abuse of powers reaches across the isle, and straddles both parties in the White House, yet people tend to direct their anger only at the current president – thus falling for the ruse of blaming the puppet, and not the system.

As Americans shift blame about the state of affairs back-and-forth with every election, most miss the point about why these things are happening – someone is writing reports and creating policies that allow these things to happen. All the Congress and President do is approve them, and deflect attention towards who is running the show.

What are Americans upset about, according to polls?:



Overall, Americans who agree that the government is an immediate threat tend to respond with very general complaints echoing the theme that the federal government is too big and too powerful, and that it has too many laws. They also cite nonspecific allegations that the government violates freedoms and civil liberties, and that there is too much government in people’s private lives.


perceptions that the government is “socialist,” that the government spends too much, that it picks winners and losers such as the wealthy or racial and ethnic minorities, that it is too involved in things it shouldn’t be and that it violates the separation of powers.

[as well as…]

freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the overuse of police and law enforcement, government surveillance of private citizens including emails and phone records, government involvement in gay marriage issues, overregulation of business, overtaxing, the healthcare law and immigration.

The vast majority of these issues happen under the mis-leadership of both parties, progressing without fail through the years.

It is time that Americans embrace their anger at government, and focus their attention past the politicians to the real problem.

Start with the bankers, follow the money, and see where it goes...


"Doomsday" Arctic Seed Vault Tapped For First Time In History As Syrian Civil War Threatens Biodiversity

With Russian boots officially on the ground at Latakia and with rumors circulating that the PLA may arrive within weeks, Syria has officially replaced eastern Ukraine as the most likely theatre for the start of World War 3. 

While we certainly hope that cooler heads will prevail, the determination on the part of Washington, Riyadh, and Doha to oust the Assad regime simply isn’t compatible with Tehran and Moscow’s efforts to preserve the existing global balance of power which means that something will ultimately have to give and if it becomes clear that Iran is set to benefit in any way from whatever the outcome ends up being, expect Benjamin Netanyahu to make another trip to The Kremlin, only next time, he won’t be so cordial. 

For those who - much like a certain CIA “strategic asset” - are looking for signs that Syria’s four-year old, bloody civil war might mark the beginning of the apocalypse, look no further than the Svalbard Global Seed Vault which was tapped for first time in history in response to the uncertain future of Aleppo. Here’s Reuters:

Syria's civil war has prompted the first withdrawal of seeds from a "doomsday" vault built in an Arctic mountainside to safeguard global food supplies, officials said on Monday.

The seeds, including samples of wheat, barley and grasses suited to dry regions, have been requested by researchers elsewhere in the Middle East to replace seeds in a gene bank near the Syrian city of Aleppo that has been damaged by the war.

"Protecting the world's biodiversity in this manner is precisely the purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault," said Brian Lainoff, a spokesman for the Crop Trust, which runs the underground storage on a Norwegian island 1,300 km (800 miles) from the North Pole.

The vault, which opened on the Svalbard archipelago in 2008, is designed to protect crop seeds - such as beans, rice and wheat - against the worst cataclysms of nuclear war or disease.

It has more than 860,000 samples, from almost all nations. Even if the power were to fail, the vault would stay frozen and sealed for at least 200 years.

The Aleppo seed bank has kept partly functioning, including a cold storage, despite the conflict. But it was no longer able to maintain its role as a hub to grow seeds and distribute them to other nations, mainly in the Middle East.

In other words, the violence in and around Aleppo now poses a threat to global food supplies by curtailing the production of seeds for drought-resistant crops.

As far-fetched as that might sound on the surface, the threat is apparently real enough to have prompted the first withdrawal in history from a seed bank built into the side of a frozen mountain. Here's more on the Svalbard "doomsday" vault from the official website:

Worldwide, more than 1,700 genebanks hold collections of food crops for safekeeping, yet many of these are vulnerable, exposed not only to natural catastrophes and war, but also to avoidable disasters, such as lack of funding or poor management. Something as mundane as a poorly functioning freezer can ruin an entire collection. And the loss of a crop variety is as irreversible as the extinction of a dinosaur, animal or any form of life.

Remote by any standards, Svalbard’s airport is in fact the northernmost point in the world to be serviced by scheduled flights – usually one a day. Its remoteness enhances the security of the facility, yet local infrastructure in the nearby small Norwegian settlement of Longyearbyen is excellent. The Vault is thus accessible, and seeds can easily be transported to and retrieved from Svalbard.

The Seed Vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million varieties of crops. Each variety will contain on average 500 seeds, so a maximum of 2.5 billion seeds may be stored in the Vault.

Currently, the Vault holds more than 860,000 samples, originating from almost every country in the world. Ranging from unique varieties of major African and Asian food staples such as maize, rice, wheat, cowpea, and sorghum to European and South American varieties of eggplant, lettuce, barley, and potato. In fact, the Vault already holds the most diverse collection of food crop seeds in the world.

The focus of the Vault is to safeguard as much of the world’s unique crop genetic material as possible, while also avoiding unnecessary duplication. It will take some years to assemble because some genebanks need to multiply stocks of seed first, and other seeds need regenerating before they can be shipped to Svalbard.

A temperature of -18ÂșC is required for optimal storage of the seeds, which are stored and sealed in custom made three-ply foil packages. The packages are sealed inside boxes and stored on shelves inside the vault. The low temperature and moisture levels inside the Vault ensure low metabolic activity, keeping the seeds viable for long periods of time.

And here's a look at the outside and inside of the repository that would be tapped in the event a cataclysm threatens global food supplies: