‘A useful punching bag’: why Hungary’s Viktor Orban has turned on George Soros

5 days ago

There are fears that the far right could be emboldened by a campaign against the Hungarian-born American billionaire. Shaun Walker reports from Budapest

In 1989 the American-Hungarian financier George Soros pay money Viktor Orbn to study in Britain. Two decades later, he donated$ 1m to Orbns government to help the cleanup after the red sludge environmental disaster .

Over the years, the billionaire has spent hundreds of millions of dollars financing education and civil society projects in Hungary, the country of his birth, through his Open Society Foundations( OSF ).

But now Soros has become the Hungarian prime ministers No 1 political target.

On billboards across Budapest Soros stands accused of being a political marionette master. Last week, in a move seen as directly targeting Soros, Hungarys parliament passed legislation necessitating NGOs to declare themselves as foreign agents on their websites and documentation if they receive funding from political sources abroad.

How did it get to this?

Soross reputation in Hungary took a specific made during the course of its 2015 migrant crisis, when his advocacy for the humane therapy for refugees ran up against Hungarys ultra-conservative government, led by Orbn, a rightwing nationalist.

In recent months, the dispute has intensified. The “ministers ” has described the billionaire as someone who had ruined the lives of tens of millions of people with currency speculation.

Soros hit back with a speech in Brussels this month in which he referred to the Hungarian government as a mafia nation and said: He[ Orbn] sought to frame his policies as a personal conflict between the two of us and has constructed me the target of his unrelenting propaganda campaign.

Orbns spokesman, Zoltn Kovcs, told the Guardian that the Brussels speech was a declaration of political war on Hungary. Soros-funded organisations, Kovcs said, were engaged in political activism camouflaged as NGO work.

Goran Buldioski, director of the OSFs Budapest-based Europe office, told Soross funding for Hungary had been dramatically scaled back since the country joined the EU in 2004. Much of the previous funding was for growth and education, with Orbn the recipient of a Soros-funded scholarship to study at the University of Oxford in 1989. Soros also set up the Central European University, based in Budapest, which has been targeted by Orbns government of late.

But Soross foundations spent only $3.6 m in Hungary in 2016, told Buldioski, a tiny fraction of what the government spent on promoting a referendum last October aimed at barring refugees from the country.

On his desk at the OSF offices in Budapest, Buldioski keeps a copy of a recent edition of a popular local newspaper, which featured a full-page photo of Soros on page two, accompanied by the caption Outrageous.

A video recently produced by Orbns ruling Fidesz alliance also uses the Outrageous slogan and complains that the EU wants to change Hungarys tough migration policy, and then tells: An organisation shall be financed by George Soros is launching lawsuits against our homeland in support of Brussels.

The video refers to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, partially funded by OSF, which provided free legal assistance to about 3,000 people last year, including many asylum seekers, taking 70 examples to the European tribunal of human rights.

The organisation said it would not comply with the new demands to brand itself a foreign agent, calling the law unconstitutional.

Some government critics said the attacks on Soros were merely an exploitative method of harnessing popular support in the run-up to elections next spring.

Hes a very useful punch bag, because hes both the insider and the outsider, the meddling foreigner and the Hungarian Jew, said Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute, which is the EU policy arm of the OSF. She added that there were clear antisemitic overtones to the campaign against Soros by Fidesz.

Soros was born Gyrgy Schwartz to a family of Hungarian Jews in 1930, but his father changed their surname to make it more Hungarian. As a young son in the 1930 s, Soros lived in an apartment on Budapests Kossuth tr, the square overlooking the parliament build, until his family was forced to split up and are living in assumed identities to escape the Holocaust. He left Hungary in 1947 to study in London, and later emigrated to the US, constructing billions as an investor and hedge fund manager.

Hungarys Jewish community is split over the question of whether antisemitism plays a role in Orbns grievance with Soros. Adam Schonberger, director of a Jewish organisation that runs the Aurora community centre in Budapest, said he believed the governmental forces campaign was not antisemitic, but had the potential to empower others who were.

The Aurora centre was set up in 2014 and acts as a kind of coalition of the vulnerable, housing the offices of NGOs that work on Jewish issues, Roma issues, LGBT rights, migrants, drug use and homelessness. The proceeds from an on-site bar and regular concerts go to support the running of the space, and the centres initial funding arrived partially from Soros.

Last month, a group of far-right activists defaced the outside of the building, spray-painting Stop Operation Soros on the pavement and plastering photographs of his face with a red cross struck through it on the doorway. Time permitting, we will say hello again, said an article about the two attacks posted on a far-right website. The centre appealed to police, but authorities claimed there was nothing they could do about it.

One of the reasons theyre behaving more brazenly now is that they have a sense that their hour has come. Their mission to save Hungary has become mainstream political ideology, said Schonberger, sitting in Auroras courtyard, which turns into a bar in the evenings.

Buldioski said: In the past, Soros was criticised by the political fringe, rightwing nationalists and some radical leftists. But now, the criticism is moving more mainstream.

Not simply in Hungary. In Romania, the chairman of the ruling Social Democratic party, Liviu Dragnea, told Soros and his organisations have fed evil in the country; while a Polish MP from the ruling conservative government has referred to Soros as the most hazardous human in the world. The US right has also joined in: in a semi-coherent rant, radio host and Donald Trump supporter Alex Jones claimed Soros heads a Jewish mafia.

But while Jones is on the edge of the debate, in Hungary, the anti-Soros discourse has become mainstream, feeding into the populist anti-migrant discourse. Andrs Bencsik, editor of the rightwing monthly publication Demokrata, described Soros as a dangerous man who was destabilising Hungary, first and foremost through his attitude to migration. We said: Thank you very much but we want to close our doors, and Soros told: No, I want you to open the gates.

Benscik, a Fidesz member whose office is decorated with swords, daggers and portraits of Hungarian statesmen, indicated darkly that Soros may have some secret plan to destroy the country, but struggled to explain what this secret conspiracy might be.

Behind his mask there is another person with a objective, we just dont know what it is. He has a special programme in his intellect, but nobody knows what it is, he said.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Facebook on Defensive as Cambridge Case Exposes Data Flaw

11 days ago

Facebook on Defensive as Cambridge Case Exposes Data Flaw

Updated on

Facebook Inc . wants you to know: this wasn’t a breach.

Yes, Cambridge Analytica, the data-analysis firm that helped U.S. President Donald Trump win the 2016 election, infringed rules when it obtained information from some 50 million Facebook profiles, the social-media company recognise late Friday. But the data received from someone who didn’t hacker the organizations of the system: a professor who originally told Facebook he wanted it for academic purposes.

He set up a personality quiz use tools that let people log in with their Facebook accounts, then asked them to sign over access to their friend lists and likes before using the app. The 270,000 users of that app and their friend networks opened up private data on 50 million people, according to the New York Times. All of that was allowed under Facebook’s rules, until the professor handed the information off to a third party.

Facebook said it found out about Cambridge Analytica’s access in 2015, after which it had the firm certify that it deleted the data. On Friday, Facebook said it now knows Cambridge actually maintained it — an infraction that got Cambridge suspended from the social network. Once that was announced, executives promptly moved on to defending Facebook’s security.

” This was unequivocally not a data breach ,” longtime Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth said on Twitter.” People chose to share their data with third-party apps and if those third-party apps did not follow the agreements with us/ users it is a violation .” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s head of security, echoed the same arguments. Cambridge denied doing anything illegal or employing the information contained in the 2016 presidential election; Facebook tells it has no way of knowing how or whether the data was used for targeting in the Trump campaign.

Facebook’s advertising business depends on users sharing their most personal data via its social network. But the company’s” not a violate” argument isn’t likely to make users feel any safer or more comfy doing so — especially given that it’s already under fire for missing that Russian actors were purchasing U.S. election ads on the site to sway voter sentiments, as well as operating fake accounts disguised as real Americans. The company has also been fending off accusations that it’s too slow to notice or react to harmful content.

U.K. Inquiry

The latest incident has raised new the issue of what technological guardrails Facebook has in place to prevent approved users from sharing sensitive datum, and how much visibility the company has into how outsiders use the data.

Facebook wouldn’t comment on those questions, saying only that it has made significant improvements in its they are able to” see and avoid violations” by app developers, such as random audits of applications use its tools to make sure they’re following the rules. And it’s no longer let developers who use Facebook’s login tools see information on their users’ friends.

The disclosure of Facebook’s actions also underscores it’s continuing struggle to anticipate negative consequences of its lack of oversight- in some cases taking action only after things go wrong. The company in the past two years has worked to understand and counteract the spread of misinformation on its site, the use of its automated ad system for racist targeting, the spread of fake user accounts, the spread of violent video, and more.

But when the company tries to explain what it’s doing, it grapples with the perception that it’s shirking responsibility for its problems, treating them as public-relations snafus instead of serious product flaws.

Stamos, the Facebook security executive, deleted his original tweets on Cambridge Analytica, saying he wasn’t so good at” talking about these things in the reality of 2018 .” Specifically, he said he didn’t know how to balance his personal notions with its own responsibility to Facebook and his co-workers, amid all the criticism.

” We have collectively been too optimistic about what we build and our impact on the world ,” Stamos wrote Saturday on Twitter.” Believe it or not, a lot of the people at these companies, from the interns to the CEOs, agree .”

Lawmakers in the U.S. and U.K. aren’t persuaded Facebook has its users’ own best interest in mind. Over the weekend the company faced criticisms from members of the Senate intelligence committee, and in London, the head of a parliamentary committee called on CEO Mark Zuckerberg to have a senior executive answer those questions.

” We have repeatedly asked Facebook about how companies acquire and hold on to user data from their site, and including with regard to whether data had been taken from people without their permission ,” Damian Collins, chair of the U.K. Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee, said in a statement.” Their answers have consistently understated the health risks, and have also been misleading to the committee .”

Read more: www.bloomberg.com

Trump in Moscow: what happened at Miss Universe in 2013

18 days ago

The pageant and the presidents attempts to get close to Putin have become a focus of the investigation into Trumps links to Russian interference in the US election

Sitting in a makeshift studio overlooking the Moscow river on a crisp day in November 2013, Donald Trump pouted, stared down the lens of a television camera and said something he would come to regret.

Asked by an interviewer whether he had a relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin, the brash New York businessman could not resist boasting.” I do have a relationship with him ,” Trump said.

Russia’s strongman had” done a rather brilliant task “, Trump told MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, before declaring that Putin had bested Barack Obama.” He’s done an amazing undertaking- he’s put himself actually at the forefront of the world as a leader in a short period of time .”

Trump, a teetotaler, seemed intoxicated by the buzz surrounding the glitzy event that had brought him back to Moscow: that year’s instalment of the Miss Universe contest that he then owned.

Four years later, he is struggling to shake off the hangover.

The 2013 pageant has become a focal point for the simultaneous investigations, led by special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees, into whether associates of Trump colluded with Russian officials to help them win the 2016 US presidential election.

Investigators are examining closely endeavours apparently made by the Russian government to pass Trump’s team damaging information on Hillary Clinton, using Trump’s politically connected Miss Universe business partners as couriers.

They are also looking into the $20 m fee that Trump collected for putting on the pageantry from those same business partners- along with extraordinary allegations about Trump’s private conduct behind closed doors at the Ritz-Carlton hotel during his 2013 stay in Moscow.

The Guardian has learned of additional, previously unreported, the linkages between Trump’s business partners on the pageantry and Russia’s government. The ties are likely to attract further scrutiny by researchers who are already biting at the heels of Trump associates.

A full accounting of Trump’s actions in the Russian capital as that autumn turned to winter may be critical to resolving a controversy that has already devoured the first eight months of his presidency.

” Our committee’s investigation will not be complete unless we fully understand who President Trump met with when he was over in Russia for Miss Universe, and what follow-up contacts resulted ,” Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said in an interview.

Trump’s attorney, John Dowd, declined to answer when asked whether the president’s team accepts that the Miss Universe contest is a legitimate area of inquiry for investigators.” Fake news ,” Dowd said in an email.

Emin Agalarov, Donald Trump and Aras Agalarov attend the Miss Universe pageant on 9 November 2013 in Moscow, Russia. Photograph: Victor Boyko/ Getty Images

‘Look who’s come to see me !’

It was a whirlwind courtship.

Trump was instantly taken with Aras Agalarov, the billionaire proprietor of the Crocus Group corporation, when the two wealthy real estate developers satisfied for the first time on the fringe of the Miss USA contest in Las Vegas in mid-June 2013.

After only ten minutes of discussion, Trump was showing off his new friend.” He clapped me on the shoulder, dedicated a thumbs up, and started wailing,’ Look who’s come to see me! It’s the richest human in Russia !’,” Agalarov recalled to a Russian magazine later that year, before clarifying that his fortune- estimated at about$ 2bn- was far from Russia’s biggest.

The meeting had been set in motion only a month earlier, when Agalarov’s son Emin, a pop singer who is well-known in eastern Europe, filmed his latest music video in Los Angeles. His co-star was the reigning Miss Universe, a casting selection that brought the Agalarovs into contact with Trump’s beauty pageant division.

The idea of hosting that year’s competition in Russia was created over dinner by Paula Shugart, Trump’s top Miss Universe executive, according to Emin Agalarov. In a little-noticed interview published in July, Emin said Trump’s organisation seemed to be in need of the money that Moscow could offer.” We have a lot of indebtedness ,” he quoted Shugart as telling. Miss Universe denies that Shugart said this.

In any case, a price tag of $20 m to be paid by Agalarov in return for Trump bringing the Miss Universe contest to Russia was speedily agreed upon. Several Democrats have raised concerns that the pay- like the billions in bank loans he secured to bring himself back from the brink in the early 1990 s- may have left Trump indebted to foreign influences.

” The pageantry was financed by a Russian billionaire who is close to Putin ,” Senator Al Franken of Minnesota told a congressional hearing in May.” The Russians have a history of using financial investments to gain leveraging over influential people and then later calling in favours. We know that .”

Just four weeks after Emin’s video shoot, at the backslapping Las Vegas get-together, Trump announced that the bargain was done. Miss Universe would be held at the Agalarov family’s sprawling Crocus City complex on the leading edge of Moscow, described by Trump as” Russia’s most premier venue “.

Emin Agalarov, Miss Universe 2013 win Gabriela Isler and Donald Trump. Photo: Kommersant Photo/ Kommersant via Getty Images

In a dreary Vegas hotel banqueting dormitory, the beaming new business partners eat a celebratory dinner together. Video footage afterward obtained by CNN indicated Trump at his most oleaginous.” What a beautiful mom you have ,” he told Emin. The principals were joined by an smorgasbord of hangers-on including Emin’s publicist- a portly Briton named Rob Goldstone.

It was Goldstone who would contact Trump’s son Donald Jr during the 2016 presidential campaign with a sensitive message, indicates that there is emails released last month. The” crown prosecutor of Russia”- assumed to be Goldstone’s garbled billing for Yury Chaika, the Russian prosecutor general- wanted the Trump campaign to have some documents that would” incriminate Hillary”, he told. And the Agalarovs would deliver them.

” This is obviously very high level and sensitive info but is an example of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump- helped along by Aras and Emin ,” Goldstone wrote. Rather than carry surprise or topic the apparent Kremlin operation Goldstone was describing, Donald Jr pressed ahead and arranged the session. ” If it’s what you say I love it ,” he replied.

Rob Goldstone. Photo: Stringer/ Reuters

Aras Agalarov made a suitable sherpa. While not a is part of Putin’s inner circle, Agalarov cultivated friendly relations with the Kremlin while rising to the country’s oligarch class with a profitable network of shopping center. He travelled around in a $44 m Gulfstream private plane.

Less than two weeks before the Miss Universe finals, Putin awarded Agalarov the prestigious Order of Honor medal, after Crocus had completed for him a billion-dollar transformation of a former military base into a new country university.

” I wish to thank you so much for your work and contribution to the development of this country ,” Putin told Agalarov and his fellow honorees. Crocus would go on to be further rewarded with more government construction contracts, including for stadiums that are to be used for next year’s soccer World Cup tournament in Russia.

Ikray’ Ike’ Kaveladze. Photograph: Twitter

Quietly, Agalarov and Crocus have also cultivated high-level relationships with Russian authorities on another front. They were established by one of Agalarov’s top lieutenants- Ikray ” Ike ” Kaveladze, a publicity-shy senior Crocus executive and the so-called ” eighth human” at the 2016 Trump Tower session where Donald Jr hoped to receive dirt on Clinton.

While comparatively unknown to the public before news of the meeting emerged in July, Kaveladze has in fact been an associate of some of Russia’s richest and most powerful people for the past three decades.

The Guardian has established that Kaveladze was involved in the $341 m takeover of a US company by a Russian mining firm belonging to an associate of Putin, and was a business partner to two former senior officials at Russia’s central bank.

In 2003, the Colorado-based firm Stillwater Mining was bought by Norilsk Nickel, a metals corporation in Moscow led by Vladimir Potanin, one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs, who is so favoured by Putin that he has played on the president’s” Hockey Legends” ice hockey team.

Vladimir Potanin. Photo: Bloomberg/ Bloomberg via Getty Images

As part of its $341 m purchase of the American firm, Norilsk nominated Kaveladze to be one of five specific handpicked directors on Stillwater’s new committee, according to a filing by the company to the US Securities and Exchange Commission( SEC ). Kaveladze was billed as the president of” an international consulting boutique” serving a” US and Eastern European clientele “.

The deal was the first time a Russian company had ever taken a majority stake in a publicly quoted US company. It was viewed as critical by the Kremlin. Putin was reported at the time to have personally advocated for the deal’s approving by US regulators during a meeting with then president George W Bush earlier in 2003.

Norilsk was then co-owned by Potanin and Mikhail Prokhorov, another major Russian oligarch, who later sold his stake. Prokhorov, who has had mixed relations with the Kremlin , now owns the Brooklyn Nets basketball team in New York. Kaveladze and Prokhorov had been classmates at the Moscow Finance Institute in the late 1980 s and formed partnership agreements selling customised jeans between their studies.

Kaveladze’s ascent to the Stillwater board was eventually derailed, according to information sources, after the discovery of his earlier participation in a $1.4 bn California-based scheme involving shell companies and transfers from Russia, which US authorities told may have been used for money laundering. Norilsk said he withdrew from the process for personal reasons.

The Guardian previously revealed that Kaveladze’s partner in that operation was Boris Goldstein, a Soviet-born banker whose ties to former KGB officers attracted interest from US examiners after he moved to California in the early 1990 s. In a remarkable coincidence, the US attorney in San Francisco whose office eventually declined to bring criminal charges over their alleged money-laundering scheme was Robert Mueller, the special advise now looking into Kaveladze’s reappearance.

Also previously unreported is Kaveladze’s close friendship with Andrei Kozlov, who was first deputy chairman of Russia’s central bank under Putin for four years before being assassinated in 2006 as he attempted to clean up Russia’s corrupt banking system. Accusations about who bore persons responsible for his murder have swirled ever since.

Andrei Kozlov. Photograph: Alexei Sazonov/ AP

At the turn of the 1990 s, Kaveladze and Kozlov had gone into business together after graduating from the Moscow Finance Institute. They founded a small publisher and translator of financial volumes with Dmitry Budakov, another classmate, who also went on to be a senior executive at Russia’s central bank before running a division of the state-owned Bank of Moscow.

The young entrepreneurs capitalised on a hunger for fiscal literature among players in Russia’s rapidly privatising economy, pricing their textbooks at around $250. One book was published in Kaveladze’s name. His 1993 work, Protecting trade secret in the US: A guide to protecting your business info, remains available in several university libraries.

According to an official history of that time, their volume publishing outfit, ECO-Consulting, was established as a division of Crocus International, Aras Agalarov’s then-burgeoning business empire. In return for the security of being part of a larger corporation, Kaveladze and his business partners advised Agalarov on economic and financial affairs, according to a memoir of the time by Budakov.” Cooperation was mutually profitable ,” he wrote.

Kaveladze soon moved to the US, landing first in Pennsylvania. He had earlier spent almost a month visiting the Gettysburg area after graduating in 1989. As a tribute to their departed guest, locals held a “Perestroika” 5,000 -metre running race near the site of the civil war battlefield as part of their Labor Day celebrations, according to the Gettysburg Times.

When Kaveladze moved to the US, he was adopted by a middle-aged couple in York, Pennsylvania, and later moved to New York. His adoptive mother died in February 1993; her widower did not respond to requests for comment.

More than 25 years after their first venture, Kaveladze continues to work alongside Agalarov at Crocus. Their company has become one of the biggest corporations in Russia, carrying out government build contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars from Putin’s administration- and sealing international are dealing here with tycoons such as Trump.

Contestants pose at the Miss Universe pageant on 9 November 2013 in Moscow. Photo: Victor Boyko/ Getty Images

‘Will he become my new best friend ?’

Before leaving the US for his big Russian show in 2013, Trump made an unusual public appeal.

” Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow ,” he asked on Twitter, and” if so, will he become my new best friend ?” A source in Moscow told the Guardian that a meeting with Trump was indeed pencilled into Putin’s diary by aides, but fell off his schedule a few days beforehand.

Agalarov later told that Putin sent his apologies to Trump in the form of a handwritten note and a gift of a traditional decorative lacquered box. It is not known whether Trump met any associates of Putin in lieu of the president himself, but he certainly claimed to have.

” I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top-of-the-government people ,” he said in a radio interview in 2015.” I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I satisfied the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary .”

Having flown from the US overnight, Trump arrived in Moscow on 8 November and checked in to the Ritz Carlton hotel. It was a choice that had now been become notorious. An opponent research dossier compiled for a private client by a former British spy, which subsequently published by BuzzFeed News, alleged that the Kremlin held compromising and lurid footage of Trump and a pair of prostitutes during his stay at the hotel.

Elsewhere in the dossier, author Christopher Steele wrote that two sources alleged Trump also had illicit sex encounters in the Russian city of St Petersburg during a separate visits to the country. The sources, according to Steele, said that Aras Agalarov would “know the details”. Trump denies any wrongdoing.

It is plausible- but unproven- that endeavors were made to surveil Trump during his trip.

” If “youre using” their field of interest then the FSB will perfectly attempt to to be implemented by surveillance ,” said a Russian hotel industry source, who did not want the name of his hotel mentioned due to the sensitivity of the topic.

The source said there was little that hotel managers could do about FSB demands, and that they are sometimes forced to provide access to rooms for agents.” In “the worlds biggest” hotels you also definitely have a number of people on the staff who work on the side for the FSB, so they would have had absolutely no problem get into the room if necessary .”

Putin stated earlier this year that it was absurd to think the FSB would have bugged or secretly filmed Trump’s room in 2013, as he was not even a legislator at that point. Russia did not simply bug every American billionaire who visited the country, according to the president.

But the hotel industry source cast doubt on that assert.” Surveillance doesn’t happen that often, but I’m pretty sure Trump would have been of a sufficient level to warrant it ,” said the source.” I’ve seen people of lower levels than him watched for sure .”

When the late-night talkshow host Stephen Colbert managed in July to gain access to the Ritz-Carlton’s presidential suite, where Trump is said to have stayed, an unexplained power cable was detected dangling from a section of the bedroom wall that was hidden behind a non-illuminated mirror.

Whatever the truth about how closely Trump was being monitored by the Kremlin, a statement he made about Putin during that boast-filled interview with MSNBC seems especially curious with the benefit of hindsight.

” I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today ,” Trump told of the Russian president.” He’s probably very interested in what you and I are telling today- and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some sort .”

Some elements of Steele’s dossier was allegedly been confirmed by researchers, but other details have been shown to be false. And Trump has been backed up on the claims about his private conduct by Emin Agalarov.” While the world tries to figure out what Donald Trump was doing in a hotel in Moscow during Miss Universe- I actually know because he was filming my music video ,” he wrote on Instagram.

Early in the morning of 9 November, Trump was taking part in filming at the hotel for the video of Emin’s single In Another Life. The video features Emin dreaming about being surrounded by bikini-clad Miss Universe contestants, before waking up to be lectured by Trump and told: “You’re fired.”

Yulya Alferova, a businesswoman and blogger who was hired by Crocus Group to help with their social media presence at that time, arrived at the hotel that morning and met Trump shortly after the filming had finished. After a brief dialogue, Trump took a shine to her, and Emin invited her to join a small group for lunch.

” We talked about Twitter, and I asked him if he agreed that Twitter is the strongest and sometimes the most hazardous social media. He asked me about real estate, because I told him it’s one of my professional interests ,” told Alferova, who once attained notoriety in Russia for posting a photograph of her cat eating black caviar.

Alferova Yulya (@ AlferovaYulyaE)

My super popular cat 🙂 @nypost loves us 🙂 http :// t.co/ tUE2 8eGvNp #Russia #cat #caviar pic.twitter.com/ p0xFTeioAo

March 24, 2015

Later, Trump told her that she should contact him if she was ever in New York. He had his assistant hand her a business card. But there was nothing inappropriate about his conduct, Alferova said, describing Trump as a “gentleman” who always acted” correctly and properly” in their interactions.

The pageant went off without a hitch. Gabriela Isler of Venezuela was crowned the winner. An after-party was held for the contestants and friends of the organisers. There were three private boxes: one for the Agalarovs, one for Trump and one for Roustam Tariko, the head of Russian Standard, the Russian vodka company and bank, which sponsored Miss Russia. The American band Panic! At The Disco provided the music, and contestants mingled with guests. Several were invited into the boxes to speak with Trump and the oligarchs. Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler, who had performed at the ceremony, was also there.

” Trump was still there when I left at 2am ,” a guest at the party told the Guardian.” There were a lot of people there, it was fun but fairly civilised .” Alferova, the businesswoman and blogger, recollected multiple guests approaching Trump and asking for photograph with him.

” There were no government people present and no major Forbes List people except Aras[ Agalarov] and Roustam[ Tariko ]” said one of the organisers of the event, indicating Trump’s boastful claims that” all the oligarchs” attended may have been false.

Still, during his Moscow stay Trump also attended a private meeting with resulting Russian industrialists at Nobu, the high-end Japanese restaurant chain for which Agalarov owns the Moscow franchise. The dinner was arranged by Herman Gref, Putin’s former energy minister and now chief executive of the state-owned Sberbank, Russia’s biggest bank. The bank, which was another sponsor of Miss Universe, was later among the Russian companies sanctioned by the US over Russia’s annexing part of Ukraine in 2014.

” He’s a sensible person, very lively in his responses, with a positive energy and a good attitude toward Russia ,” Gref told Bloomberg.

Agalarov has said he and Trump also met with the businessmen Alex Sapir and Rotem Rosen- Trump’s old partners on the controversial Trump Soho project in New York- to discuss opportunities in Moscow. Agalarov later said they struck an arrangement in principle to go ahead. Trump seemed to think so:” TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next ,” he said in a thank you note to Agalarov on Twitter. Eight days later, Sberbank announced it was giving Agalarov 55 bn roubles ($ 1.3 bn) to finance new projects in Moscow.

Trump Tower Moscow, like so many other Russian twinkles in Trump’s eye over the past three decades, did not materialise. But it recently emerged that the conversations continued behind the scenes even after he began his long-threatened campaign for chairperson.

In October 2015, four months into his campaign, Trump signed a” letter of intent” to build a tower in Moscow. Pulling the strings on the abortive bargain was Felix Sater, yet another Russian business associate of Trump, who once served time in prison for stabbing a human in the face with a broken cocktail glass.

” I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected ,” Sater reportedly told Trump’s attorney in an email.” Buddy our boy is able to President of the USA and we are capable of engineer it … I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this .”

The future of Trump’s presidency may rest on what else was said and done relating to the project- and whether researchers who already reek blood can prove it.

On at least three occasions following the Miss Universe trip, Trump had publicly claimed to have met Putin. But when asked by reporters at a campaign stop in Florida in July 2016 to clarify the situation of women his relationship with the Russian president, as concerns over Russian election interference mounted, Trump gave a rather different version.

” I never met Putin ,” said Trump.” I don’t know who Putin is .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Belgiums Nationalists Maintain Their Distance From Catalan Campaign

23 days ago

Catalan separatists attempting allies in the European Union may have to look further than the Flemish speaking enclave in Belgium, where patriots say they are maintaining their distance from Catalonia’s chaotic drive for independence.

” I don’t really believe that the Flemish people as such look at the Catalan situation as a kind of precedent, simply as an interesting case to be studied ,” Joachim Pohlmann, a spokesman for the nationalist New Flemish Alliance party in Flanders, told Oct. 26 in a telephone interview as the Catalans careened toward a declaration of independence on Friday.” The situation in Catalonia and Spain is entirely different from the situation in Belgium .”

To read more about Catalonia’s push for independence, click here

Belgium thrust itself into the middle of the debate over Catalan succession when Prime Minister Charles Michel, who relies on Flemish support to rule, denounced Madrid’s use of violence during an illegal referendum in the Spanish region on Oct. 1. Despite the EU’s steadfast subsistence of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and its rejection of the need for international mediation, Michel’s words caused consternation in Madrid.

After Catalan President Carles Puigdemont claimed victory in the makeshift ballot at the start of the month, weeks of brinkmanship between Madrid and Barcelona came to a head on Friday when the regional parliament approved a declaration of freedom in a secret ballot. Rajoy, exerting powers given to him by the Spanish senate, dissolved the Catalan parliament and delegated his deputy, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, to become head of the regional government.

No EU Action

EU leaders from Germany’s Angela Merkel to France’s Emmanuel Macron have repeatedly voiced their support for Spain’s stance over Catalonia and on Friday Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said the EU would pay no attention to the Catalan vote.

” For the EU nothing changes ,” Tusk said in a Tweet.” Spain remains our only interlocutor .”

While there have been informal talks between the New Flemish Alliance and its counterpart in Catalonia, Pohlmann said internal issues in Spain are for them to decide.

” It’s not for us to decide whether Catalonia should be independent or not ,” Pohlmann said.” It’s the principle of self-determination that we support, and whether the Catalans decide to be independent or part of Spain is their choice and nobody else’s .”

To read about future options for Catalonia, click here

Flanders, the wealthier, trade-intensive northern part of Belgium, which is home to about 6. 4 million inhabitants, has historically been at odds with its more rural, southern French-speaking neighbours in Wallonia. The New Flemish Alliance supportings independence for Flanders, a region that offer 58 percentage of Belgium’s gross domestic product. Wallonia contributes about 28 percent.

The New Flemish Alliance blocked the organization of a Belgian government for 541 days after the 2010 election. The party put aside its separatist propensities and joined the ruling alliance when power beckoned four years later.

More than the actual freedom and use of violence, it’s the thinking and values behind the Catalans’ actions that the Flemish separatists worry about. Weighing in on the drama, Flemish Government chief Geert Bourgeois told RTL radio in an Oct. 22 interview that he doesn’t” understand the attitude of the Spanish government and I don’t understand either the attitude of Europe. There are fundamental values that are being questioned .”

‘ I hopped up on the wall and got my sax out ‘: the autumn of the Berlin Wall

1 month, 1 day ago

Stephen Ellery plays the saxophone on the Berlin Wall, 10 November 1989

My obsession with the Eastern bloc, particularly the Soviet Union, started when I was doing my -Alevels; inspired by cold war snoop narratives, I wanted to be a nuclear physicist in Moscow. In the end, I examined composition at Birmingham Conservatoire. When the distinguished Polish composer Marek Stachowski visited government departments, we got talking and I managed to persuade him to let me study with him. Thats how I aimed up, aged 23, living in Krakow, analyzing composition and conducting.

To make ends meet during my two and a half years there, I played saxophone in Hamburg. With merely two lessons a week at college, I had long weekends, so Id catch the sleeper train to East Berlin, cross the city, then hitch to Hamburg it was easy and encouraged, and you never had to wait more than 10 minutes. Id find a jam session in a jazz club, and join in with the hope of being asked to gig with them. Id often earn 200 DM, which was a fortune.

Id sometimes spend time in East Berlin on the way back; my Krakow residents permit allowed me to stay longer than western tourists. It was very neat and orderly. The official exchange rate was one East German DM to one West German DM, but nobody paid that. If you bought them in the west, it was 11:1. So Id stuff my pocket with notes and live like a king ballet, opera, champagne, caviar, nice dinners. East Berlin eateries were really good compared with the rest of the country.

I was aware of the changes afoot in the region for a few months: traveling limiteds easing in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, mass protests. But no one would have predicted what happened on the night of 9 November.

I was in West Berlin the following morning; I went to Checkpoint Charlie, my usual crossing phase into East Berlin, to catch the develop back to Krakow. Instead of orderly queues of people indicating their papers at the border, East Germans were streaming through, hugging and crying.

People were sitting on the wall, drinking champagne and brews, so I hopped up to join them. I always had my sax with me, so it seemed natural to get it out. I played Misty, In The Mood, Autumn Leaves, and a few blues and rock numbers. I climbed down when I started to get chilly, and caught the sleeper develop back to Poland.

I usually slept with my saxophone, but that night, after a few too many brews, I set it on the empty bunk above me. When I woke up, it used to go. It was funny, because Id been thinking of donating it to someone( a young student, say) when I got back to Krakow, so I could focus on my conducting. It was my papas saxophone.

A few months later, at the end of December, he called to say this photograph was in the Independent, part of a huge supplement on the momentous events a few months earlier.

I did eventually get to the Soviet Union, just as it was collapsing, and remained for four years, analyzing and running as a conductor, which I still do today. I never did make it as a nuclear physicist.

Are you in a notable photo? Email thatsme @theguardian. com

Icelanders flock to religion idolizing Sumerian divinities and tax rebates

1 month, 13 days ago

Ancient Zuist movement enjoys revival as thousands join as part of protest against requirement that citizens pay taxes to state church

Icelanders opposed to the state fund of religion have flocked to register as Zuists, a motion that worships ancient Sumerian gods and perhaps more importantly promises its followers a tax rebate.

More than 3,100 people almost 1% of Icelands population have joined the Zuist movement in the past two weeks in protest at paying part of their taxes to the country church and other religion bodies. Followers of Zuism will be refunded the tax part earmarked for religion.

Icelanders are required to register their religion with the state, with virtually three-quarters of the population affiliated to the established Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. There are more than 40 other registered religious bodies that qualify for parish fees paid through the taxation system. The sum set in next years budget is the equivalent of about $80( APS5 3) per taxpayer over a year.

There is no opt-out. Those who are unaffiliated or belong to unregistered religions effectively just pay higher taxes, said Sveinn Thorhallsson, a Zuist spokesperson. An opinion poll published in September demonstrated 55% of respondents want an aim to the system.

Zuism, based on the venerate of Sumerian deities, registered as a religion in Iceland in 2013. But inactivity put it at risk of being de-registered by the authorities earlier this year.

A group of citizens opposed to the country fund of religion mounted a takeover, promising converts that they would be refunded their parish fees.

The English section of the Zuists website says: The religious organisation of Zuism is a platform for its members to practise a religion of the ancient Sumerian people. Zuists fully support freedom of religion, and from religion, for everyone. The organisations primary objective is that the government repeal any law that awards religious organisations privilege, fiscal or otherwise, above two organizations. Furthermore Zuists demand that the governments registry of its citizens religion will be abolished.

Zuism, it adds, will cease to exist when its objectives have been met.

Some politicians have claimed that Zuism should be de-registered because it is not a true religion. But the real question is, what is a true religious organisation and how do you measure belief? said Thorhallsson, who describes himself as agnostic.

Perhaps astonishingly, some newly registered Zuists were also presenting an interest in Sumerian worship, he added. We had a service, with a read of ancient Sumerian poetry. Were scheming another.

According to article 62 of the constitution, the Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the State Church in Iceland and, as such, it shall be supported and protected by the State.

Thorhallsson said: We want people at the very least to be able to opt out[ of the parish fee ]. He added it was equally important that in a modern society the state should not keep a register of peoples religious beliefs.

StefA! n Bogi Sveinsson of the Progressive party urged the Zuists to de-register as a religious motion. No one has registered in the organisation to practice Zuism itself, he wrote, according to a report in the Reykjavik Grapevine. Their reasons for registering are rather twofold: to get fund in their pockets, or to protest against current legislation about religious organisations.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church had no one available to comment.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Netherlands ‘will pay the price’ for blocking Turkish visit- Erdogan

1 month, 25 days ago

Turkeys president accuses west of nazism as row escalates after pastor is turned away from Rotterdam consulate

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, has warned the Netherlands it will pay the cost for a diplomatic stand-off after a Turkish minister was blocked from visiting her countrys consulate in Rotterdam and tensions between the two countries explosion in angry protests.

Erdoan described the therapy of Fatma Betl Sayan Kaya, minister for families, as shameless and accused the Dutch of behaving like a banana republic.

If you can sacrifice Turkish-Dutch relations for an election on Wednesday, you will pay the price, Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul. I guessed nazism was over, but I was wrong. In fact, nazism is alive in the west.

He called on international organisations to impose sanctions against the Netherlands but did not say if there would be direct repercussions from his country.

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, who faces a stiff political test in parliamentary elections on Wednesday, said Turkey had intersected a diplomatic line. This has never happened before, a country saying someone is not welcome and then them coming irrespective, he said, referring to Kayas decision to travel to Rotterdam by vehicle after her colleague, the foreign minister, Mevlt avuolu, was banned from flying in to the Netherlands on Saturday.

Branding the move irresponsible and demanding Erdoan apologise for his references to nazism, Rutte nonetheless said he would continue to seek a diplomatic answer. His words appeared to fall on deaf ears, however. On Sunday night, speaking in the French city of Metz, avuolu “ve called the” Netherlands the capital of fascism.

Mevlt avuolu, Turkeys foreign minister, called the Netherlands the capital of fascism in a speech in Metz, France. Photo: Gilles Wirtz/ EPA

The Turkish governments posture was bizarre, said Rutte. Weve ended up in a bad movie: the Turks have ramped this up themselves, he added.

The Turkish pastors wanted to address a gathering of Dutch Turks, many of whom have dual nationality, before next months referendum on a new law to increase Erdoans presidential powers. The Netherlands opposed the visit because it was too close to the parliamentary election, but the lingering row now threatens to overshadow the rest of the domestic campaign.

The far-right leader Geert Wilders, whose Freedom party is projected to win between 20 and 25 seats and could become the main opposition group in the Netherlands, reacted to the images of Turkish flags being flown on the street of Rotterdam. Wilders, who is campaigning on a platform of de-Islamising the Netherlands, said on Twitter: The Netherlands must be noted that these people are Turks , not Dutch. They have Dutch passports, but they dont belong here.

The dispute between the Dutch and Turkish governments follows tensions between Berlin and Ankara last week over similar visits mooted by Turkish ministers to rally Germany-based Turks. avuolu was banned from spoke of Hamburg, prompting Erdoan to compare Germanys government with that of the Nazi epoch.

On Sunday the row spread further as the prime minister of another Nato ally, Lars Lkke Rasmussen of Denmark, postponed a visit scheduled for next weekend by the Turkish prime minister, Binali Yldrm. With the current Turkish assaults on Holland the meeting can not be seen separated from that. I have therefore proposed to my Turkish colleague that the meeting will be deferred, Rasmussen said in a statement.

Back in the Netherlands the Dutch prime minister said he had induced eight telephone calls to Yldrm during the course of the evening and would be seeking a face-to-face session as soon as possible.

We asked this Turkish pastor not to come because of the tensions we expected in Rotterdam and because we were uncomfortable with the visit in general, he told Dutch television.

The row intensified swiftly on Saturday after the Dutch government receded permission for avuolus plane to land. Bert Koenders, the Dutch foreign minister, said the discussions between the two governments had broken down when avuolu said on television that Turkey would respond to the ban with sanctions.

In a statement, the Dutch government said: The search for a reasonable solution proved to be impossible. The verbal aggression by the Turkish authorities that followed today[ Saturday] is unacceptable.

Having travelled to Rotterdam, Kaya was stopped by police outside the consulates door and she spent four hours sitting in her vehicle while a mob of many thousands of collected, waving Turkish flags and chanting mottoes. Many “re coming out” on to the streets after watching live coverage on Turkish news channels.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Hamburg to hold free concert to thank G20 police officers

2 months, 4 days ago

( CNN) The Hamburg concert hall that hosted Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, and Vladimir Putin last week will open its doors for free on Thursday to some of the 20,000 German police officers who were deployed during the course of its G20 summit.

According to Hamburg Police, 476 policemen were injured during the three days of rallies and riots, when thousands of protesters converged on the summit of world leaders to demonstrate against capitalism and demand action on key issues including climate change and migrants’ rights.

The concert “is a marvellous signal of recognition and respect for the extremely tough service the police had to through during the G20 summit, ” protest organizer Nicholas Hill from the ‘Hamburg zeigt Haltung'( Hamburg shows attitude) procession told CNN in an email.

On final Ukraine trip, Biden urges Trump administration to keep Russia sanctions

2 months, 8 days ago

Comments while meeting with Ukraines president came after Trump indicated he could aim Crimea-related sanctions in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal

Vice-president Joe Biden, on a last foreign journey before leaving office, fulfilled Ukraines president on Monday and called on the incoming Donald Trump administration to retain Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia.

Bidens comments at a briefing with Petro Poroshenko came after Trump indicated in an interview with the Times and Bild that he could aim sanctions imposed in the aftermath Russias 2014 annexation of Crimea, in return for a nuclear arms reduction bargain.

Trumps attitude to Russia and praise for Vladimir Putin has been a consistently controversial feature of his rise to the White House, which will be completed with his inauguration in Washington on Friday.

US intelligence agencies believe Russia sought to covertly influence the US election in Trumps favour and against the Democratic nominee, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Trump has recently admitted that he believes Russia did orchestrate such hackers, but has nonetheless fuelled a bitter feud with intelligence officials over the issue.

The international community must continue to stand as one against Russian coercion and aggression, Biden told reporters, standing alongside Poroshenko, in remarks which did not include reference to Trump by name.

The Crimea-related sanctions against Russia must remain in place until Russia returns full control to the people of Ukraine.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Other US sanctions are connected to Russias involvement in the separatist war in eastern Ukraine.

Together with our EU and G7 partners, Biden said, we made it clear that sanctions should remain in place until Russia fully, emphasise fully, enforces its commitments under the Minsk agreement.

Poroshenko said Ukraine believed in good cooperation with the new US administration and urged sanctions to stay, without mentioning Trumps statements on a deal with Russia.

Andy Hunder, the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, said Kiev would have to put much time and resources into dealing with the new US administration.

On 20 January Ukraine will be waking up to a new reality, he told Reuters. There is a concern in Kiev about how the new relationship will develop. It will require constructing new bridges to the influencers, the gatekeepers and decision-makers.

Kiev has taken steps to win the very best favour of the those calling the shoots in the Trump administration. Days after the election in November, Poroshenkos office started planning an official visit to Washington in early 2017.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

If You Find A Body Buried With A Sickle, There’s A Very Weird Reason For It

2 months, 12 days ago

Among other things, Medieval Europe was known for its insanely superstitious beliefs in the supernatural. They led to some pretty brutal acts of violence and desecrations of the recently dead. While some of us may be familiar with various forms of vampire burials, a newly discovered superstitious tradition from the Middle Ages has been found in an ancient graveyard in northwestern Poland…

The Drawsko cemetery in Poland has been the site of extensive excavation efforts by researchers in recent years.

Getty Images

Recently, researchers came across something bizarre: several corpses were buried with what appears to be an ancient iron sickle placed around their necks.

This is one of the corpses. It seems like the sickle is there to keep the body in place.

While the first thought was that these sickles were there to prevent the corpses from “becoming vampires, ” another, more bizarre theory has since emerged.

According to a new study, rather than avoiding the bodies from reanimating as vampires, these sickles were there as a route to ward off demon spirits. Those to participate in such studies quoth the so-called ‘anti-demonic’ properties of iron. Iron forged by fire in that culture was known to typify the transition from life to death and back to life.

While it’s impossible for us to know exactly why these people were buried with sickles, it’s still a fairly darned creepy practice…no matter how you look at it.

( via Mysterious Universe)

Well, one thing is for sure: if I can ever get my period machine design perfected, I’ll definitely be steering clear of the Middle Ages in Poland.

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