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Just How Right-Wing Is Eastern Europe?

He was a rich businessman, an outspoken outsider with a love of conspiracy theories. And he was a populist running for president.

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A New Future? How China and Russia (and Maybe Germany) Will Try Squeeze Washington Out of Eurasia

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

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Meet the Polish Activists on the Cutting Edge of a Possible Left Resurgence in Eastern Europe

Its corner location was unbeatable. But Brave New World cafe faced steep competition on Warsaw’s most fashionable thoroughfare: a pricey French bakery, a trendy sushi restaurant and the famous Café Blickle, which began serving coffee and pastries long before World War I. Moreover, as even its passionate defenders would admit, the food at Brave New World, though relatively cheap, was not exactly destination dining.

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The Drug Trade Brutalizes the Third World - But For Rich Western Travelers It's a Tourist Attraction

The following is excerpted from Cocaina: A Book on Those Who Make It by Magnus Linton (Soft Skull Press, 2014):
Among a sea of dancers HÃ¥kan, a young Swedish guy, towers over everyone else. After sticking his key in the three-gram bag he is holding and digging around a bit, he pulls up a small mound of snow-white powder that he holds up to his girlfriend, who snorts it with a quick nschh.
“Clubbing here is just a liiiiiiittle bit better than at home.” He licks off the powder that is stuck in the steel grooves of the key, paying no mind to the policemen, who have taken bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye to the goings-on inside the club. It is 4.00 a.m., and before the cocaine has even had time to kick in HÃ¥kan places a pill on his middle finger and shoves it into his girlfriend’s mouth, his arm outstretched. She swallows it with a gulp, licking his hand playfully in the process.
“I love Colombian women. They’re real women. So fucking female.”
She is barely half his height and tries clinging to his neck, but he keeps pushing her off; he isn’t in the mood to make out. Eventually he grabs her behind, lifts her up off the foor, and sticks his tongue in her ear. The club is in a hexagonal building in an industrial district. The pounding bass fills the room, where hundreds of dancers wearing sunglasses stomp away in the dark.
“Alexi Delano deejayed here a while ago,” HÃ¥kan says. “It was the best party I’ve been to. It was absolutely incredible. He’s Swedish, too.”
Swedish. He could just as well have been German, American, British, or Spanish. In fact, he could have been from almost any wealthy Western nation, for HÃ¥kan is just one of thousands in the latest crop of young globetrotters making their way to Medellín, the new mecca of drug tourism. The city that in the 1990s was known as “the murder capital of the world” has since been transformed into an urban paradise where the sky’s the limit—at least, for those who have the money.
In El Poblado, an area of Medellín filled with tranquil shopping malls, sushi bars, and internet cafes, a new hostel has opened every other month for the last year. Economic globalization has transformed the traditional backpacker into the flashpacker: a well-to-do traveler seeking a combination of comfort and adventure, reflecting the trend in tourism whereby travelers are more interested in themselves than in tourist attractions. For today’s young travelers, seeing the Amazon or Patagonia is nowhere near as thrilling as doing Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, or Medellín. Publishing powerhouses such as Lonely Planet now have more city guides than travel guides, as most traditional destinations have become so mainstream and consumerized that the so-called undiscovered places have to be sold in order to keep the money carousel going. Hanging out in, as opposed to visiting, the Third World is the new thing to do.
All this factors into the appeal and sudden success of Medellín. 
The city not only has superfcial attributes and attractions—a perfect climate, good shopping, wild clubs, and hip people, all conveniently kept separate from violent gangs—but what makes Medellín truly special, and so attractive to the new traveling avant-garde, is something best described as an electrical charge in the air. A myth.
In contrast to the tired old nostalgic stories of tango in Buenos Aires, of beaches in Rio de Janeiro, or of the revolution in Havana, Medellín has a more titillating product that, carefully packaged, can be sold with a great deal of success: cocaine. But cocaine packaged in such a way that the actual powder is just one aspect of the experience. 
Today, “Flashpacker” is an established term within the travel industry and an important demographic for hostel operators in many of the world’s poorest nations. Those who run the hostels are often former backpackers themselves, mainly from the United States or Europe, and they know perfectly well that what today’s travelers are seeking is not just high-caliber drugs at bargain prices, but also something that can add a bit of cultural cred to the experience. Consequently, experiences such as the Pablo Escobar tour—a guided excursion offering travelers a peek into the life of “the world’s greatest outlaw”—have become successful, and it is easy to see why: the violent story of the rise and fall of the Medellín Cartel is indeed an incredible and, of course, highly marketable chronicle.
Close to Medellín are the remains of Hacienda Nápoles, Escobar’s 3000-hectare ranch, complete with an airstrip, a bullring, and a private zoo. In its heyday in the 1980s, four planes a day took off from the property, bound for Miami and loaded with cocaine, and returned just as full with money. In Medellín there is also Barrio Pablo Escobar, a neighborhood of 400 houses that Escobar had built and donated to homeless families in the city. There are also the remains of La Catedral, the legendary prison Escobar designed himself and from which he fled effortlessly in 1992—an incident that brought shame to the White House and the Colombian government as the entire world watched. In another part of the city people can visit the roof where the man known as El Patrón, who in 1989 made Forbes’ list of the top-ten richest men in the world, finally met his death in 1993. The killing of Escobar was the result of a controversial joint effort in which the US Central Intelligence Agency, the National Police of Colombia, and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (the DEA) conspired with hired assassins and the drug mafia—a cooperative operation that caused great political rifts and had an impact on both nations for many years to come.

But Medellín’s attraction as a destination for cutting-edge travelers also reflects an ever-increasing interest in visiting, albeit at a safe distance, the site from which one of the biggest criminal complexes in the world originates. The illegal drug trade today generates an estimated 300 billion USD globally—far more than the gross domestic product of most countries—and the world’s two main hard drugs, heroin and cocaine, are linked to two nations: Afghanistan, where 90 per cent of the world’s heroin is produced; and this country, Colombia, where 60 per cent of the cocaine consumed globally comes from.

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Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution

Editor's note: Historian and political economist Gar Alperovitz remembers the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when people thought the dark days would never end. But then came the 60s, which changed many things in a burst of human energy that no one expected. Today a lot us are feeling deep despair. Elections happen, debates drone on, but the most pressing problems of our time go unaddressed. So what do we do? What organizing and system-shaking strategies can really work to transform our future?  Alperovitz puts aside the pessimism and talks about possibilites – not with rose-colored glasses, but with a clear-eyed view of the fundamental changes we need and the methods that could work to acheive them. The following is an excerpt from his compelling new book, What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next Revolution. Think of it as a primer in possibility. A breath of fresh thinking from one of our most respected progressive voices.

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The New Real Estate Train Wreck Coming Your Way: Securitized Rentals

No matter how bad things get, it turns out they can always get worse. Wall Street is about to foist a new “innovation” on investors that even the ratings agencies won’t touch.

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Watch Out: The World Bank Is Quietly Funding a Massive Corporate Water Grab

Billions have been spent allowing corporations to profit from public water sources even though water privatization has been an epic failure in Latin America, Southeast Asia, North America, Africa and everywhere else it's been tried. But don't tell that to controversial loan-sharks at the World Bank. Last month, its private-sector funding arm International Finance Corporation (IFC) quietly dropped a cool 100 million euros ($139 million US) on Veolia Voda, the Eastern European subsidiary of Veolia, the world's largest private water corporation. Its latest target? Privatization of Eastern Europe's water resources.

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Note to Conservatives: Iran Is Not Eastern Europe -- It's Iran

There's an Eastern European theme developing on the right. Here's one version:

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The Financial Crisis Pushes Europe to the Brink of Disaster

KREMS, Austria -- Obsessed as we are about our own crumbling economy, it's hard for most Americans to see and appreciate the global nature of the crisis and how it is impacting, and will impact, others throughout the world. We don't recognize how many in other countries blame the fall of their own economies on a kind of "financial AIDS" born in the USA.

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"Modern Gypsy Hunts"; Europe Offers no Place for the Roma

A Roma ghetto in Ponticelli neighborhood of Naples, Italy, was burnt down May 14 by locals angry over a reported attempt by a Roma young woman to kidnap a baby. The incident shows that, when it comes to living together with the 10 million Roma, Europeans today have no better answer than the "Gypsy hunts" of the Middle Ages. The attempted kidnap in Naples is merely the last in a string of publicized crimes committed in Italy by Roma, usually from Romania. In the most notorious case, Romanian Nicolae Mailat raped and killed Italian teacher Giovanna Reggiani Oct. 30, 2007, on the outskirts of Rome.

Italian human rights organization Opera Nomadi has calculated that of the 160,000 Roma living in Italy, roughly 60,000 come from Romania. Most of them inhabit improvised camps on the outskirts of towns or next to rivers. The Roma are a community that is believed to have migrated to Europe from India since the 14th century.

According to a survey commissioned this year by the Romanian Agency for Governmental Strategies, over 60 percent of Italians believe that criminality rates in their country have increased because of Romanians. Italians further said they considered Roma "the most difficult to tolerate."

Close to one million Romanians currently work in Italy. Romanians are said to be responsible for most of the illegalities committed by foreigners there. There is no clear indication that criminality rates for Roma from Romania are higher than for their non-Roma compatriots.

Anti-Roma and anti-Romanian feeling has been growing in Italy since last fall, reaching a boiling point with the attempted kidnap in Naples. Several shanty towns inhabited by Roma across the country have been burnt down over the past week. The Italian authorities are currently raiding Roma camps, rounding up "illegal immigrants" and issuing expulsion decrees.

While Italy's rejection of Roma is in the limelight these days, "voluntary repatriations" of Roma from France to Romania have been taking place for months without much public discussion. The French government pays for the flights back home and gives 300 euros to each person agreeing to return to Romania.

At the beginning of April, trains leaving from Bucharest to various towns in the country were full of Roma families returning from France. One of the women told IPS that the money would be spent on Easter celebrations and that her family would try to return to Western Europe. On the trains, the Roma slept in the corridors, while non-Roma inside the sitting compartments guarded the doors carefully. This reporter was not let into a compartment until those inside were confident she is not Roma.

Non-Roma Romanians are keen to be differentiated from the Roma. They claim they do honest work in the West and should not be demonized because of the criminal acts committed by Roma.

But allegations that Roma commit more crimes than non-Roma are unfounded. A 2008 study commissioned by the National Agency for Roma in Bucharest ('Come Closer. Inclusion and Exclusion of Roma in Present-Day Romanian Society) quotes chief police officer Stefan Campean from the General Police Inspectorate as saying that in spite of the public perception, Roma do not commit more crimes than non-Roma in Romania. Besides, most of the offenses by Roma are petty crime, often involving food thefts.

While Western European countries are pushing Roma eastwards, back to their places of origin, in countries like Romania and Bulgaria, where Roma have lived for seven centuries, they are usually excluded from regular residential areas, schools and jobs.

About 2.5 million Roma live in Romania, and close to another million in neighboring Bulgaria, out of a total of six million all over Central and Eastern Europe.

In Zapaden Park, a neighborhood in the Western part of Bulgarian capital Sofia, the areas inhabited by Roma begin right where the city ends along with the paved roads. To visit Roma dwellings, one has to walk a muddy path, and fields scattered with trash on both sides. The garbage collecting truck makes its way along the same route, seemingly just cruising around because at no point do the workers stop to pick up the dirt.

There are no waste collecting points anyway, so the people in the area are forced to dump their rubbish in the street. This is the classic picture of Roma urban areas in Bulgaria and Romania, spatially segregated from the non-Roma neighborhoods, and often lacking basic facilities.

In Romania, according to the 2008 study 'Come Closer', 60 percent of the Roma interviewed declared that someone in their family had gone to bed hungry in the past month. Over 50 percent of Roma children do not have a winter coat and another 50 percent live in a household that cannot afford shoes for all members.

The same study shows that only 17 percent of Roma households have access to gas and just 14 percent have water pipes in the house. Some 40 percent of the Roma interviewed do not have any documents for the land their shelters are situated on.

According to the Institute for Quality of Life Research in Bucharest, 47 percent of employable Roma in Romania had jobs in 2007, a significant improvement over previous years. However, write the authors of 'Come Closer', "Roma are generally informally employed, on a daily basis, mostly in unqualified occupations which require hard physical work, but which are stigmatized as temporary, inferior occupations."

Only 9 percent of the Roma interviewed for the 'Come Closer' study had completed high school, and another 2 percent held university degrees.

In some regions, as many as 10 percent of the Roma do not hold valid identity documents, Andreea Socaciu from the local Association for Community Partnership told IPS. This situation leads to difficulties in accessing education, jobs and social welfare.

Socaciu, who is involved in a program helping Roma get official papers, says "there are areas where we are back in the Middle Ages. Entire families live in 20 square meter spaces, in one room, with no facilities. Children are forced to drop out of school, so the labor force of the future is jeopardized."

A national strategy for documenting Roma and facilitating their access to information about health, education and jobs was put forward in 2005, says Socaciu, adding that what her organization does is merely "the starting point." Other measures taken by Romanian authorities include reserving places in higher education for Roma students and providing "health mediators" for Roma communities.

Progress is slow, however, and the authors of 'Come Closer' say that working abroad remains "the main strategy for emancipation" for Roma. Of those interviewed, 74 percent declared they plan to go abroad for work, half of them saying they will do this within a year, an indication of the seriousness of their intentions.

"Those who come to Italy for work don't do it because this is a beautiful country, they do it because of poverty at home," says Najo Adzovic, the informal leader of a Roma camp on the outskirts of Rome. "Conditions must be created for them to return to their country with dignity. They need a work place above all. Perhaps Italian businessmen, who make good money in Romania, could offer work places to Roma."