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influencers

eyes on the U.S.
Alex Hurst

Eyes On U.S. — Thanksgiving Gone Global, Black Friday Bad Influence

PARIS — The city of lights is littered with advertisements for “Black Friday” deals. Of course, virtually none of the city’s residents will celebrate Thanksgiving — and few probably even know that the traditional Friday shopping day is linked to the uniquely American (always-on-Thursday) holiday.

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Geopolitics
Christian Putsch

Meet Ibrahim Traoré, Russia’s Favorite New Strongman In Africa

While Russia is suffering bitter setbacks in the Ukraine war, it is successfully expanding its influence in Africa. With Burkina Faso, Moscow has succeeded in detaching another country from the French sphere of influence. The Kremlin was not only motivated by security policy, but also by digging into the resources available.

-Analysis-

Experience shows that the number of well-wishers after coups d'état is close to zero.

The situation is different for Burkina Faso's new military ruler, Ibrahim Traoré. Although he received the expected condemnation for his September 30 coup from the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and the West African confederation Ecowas, he also received benevolent words — from Russia.

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They came from Russian oligarch Yevgini Prigozhin, founder of the Kremlin-affiliated mercenary group Wagner.

"I congratulate and support Captain Ibrahim Traoré," the Putin loyalist announced just hours after the coup, when the whole world was still puzzling over who exactly is this soldier, who is just 34 years old and has emerged from the middle ranks of the army hierarchy.

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Geopolitics
Ahmad Ra'fat

Troll Next Door: How Iran Is Provoking Political Violence Inside Iraq

Iran's brazen meddling in Iraqi politics has provoked a parliamentary impasse and clashes between rival militias. And while Tehran may be losing influence in Iraq, it won't let go easily.

-Analysis-

Political violence has been spreading in recent weeks in Iraq, in the form of both street clashes and targeted killings. The situation in Iran's neighboring country is explosive as a showdown between Shia factions threatens to spark a civil conflict. Yet tensions in Iraq go beyond differences over who will form the next government or a power struggle between parties that favor or oppose Iran, the Shia power next door.

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Society
Tenzin Tsagong*

The German Monk Driving The #MeToo Reckoning In Buddhism

On his blog, Tenzin Peljor, a Berlin-born Buddhist monk investigates complex issues linked to his religion, including physical and sexual abuse in Buddhist communities.

FRANKFURT — When I first met Tenzin Peljor over Zoom in March of last year, the 54-year-old German-Buddhist monk had been living in a dorm-sized room at Frankfurt’s Tibet House for over a year. Speaking into a microphone screened by a filter, a bespectacled Peljor, dressed in his maroon robes, looked like a professional podcaster.

Behind him hung a Tibetan tapestry on a white wall, near his twin-sized bed blanketed in red and a white bookshelf lined with Buddhist texts. The place had become a refuge for Peljor since his exile from his former Buddhist institution, the Foundation of the Preservation of Mahayana Teachings in 2019.

Peljor runs a popular Buddhist blog, Difficult Issues — Controversies Within Tibetan Buddhism, to address complicated issues in the religion, especially regarding abusive spiritual teachers. In May 2019, Peljor published on his website a petition created by a group of senior nuns. The nuns demanded that FPMT investigate allegations of sexual assault against one of its senior teachers, Dagri Rinpoche.

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Geopolitics
Laura Scofield and Matheus Santino

New Probe Finds Pro-Bolsonaro Fake News Dominated Social Media Through Campaign

Ahead of Brazil's national elections Sunday, the most interacted-with posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and WhatsApp contradict trustworthy information about the public’s voting intentions.

SÂO PAULO — If you only got your news from social media, you might be mistaken for thinking that Jair Bolsonaro is leading the polls for Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections, which will take place this Sunday. Such a view flies in the face of what most of the polling institutes registered with the Superior Electoral Court indicate.

An exclusive investigation by the Brazilian investigative journalism agency Agência Pública has revealed how the most interacted-with and shared posts in Brazil on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and WhatsApp share data and polls that suggest victory is certain for the incumbent Bolsonaro, as well as propagating conspiracy theories based on false allegations that research institutes carrying out polling have been bribed by Bolsonaro’s main rival, former president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, or by his party, the Workers’ Party.

Agência Pública’s reporters analyzed the most-shared posts containing the phrase “pesquisa eleitoral” [electoral polls] in the period between the official start of the campaigning period, on August 16, to September 6. The analysis revealed that the most interacted-with and shared posts on social media spread false information or predicted victory for Jair Bolsonaro.

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Geopolitics
Ahmad Ra'fat

Has Lebanese Politics Finally Freed Itself Of Iran's Influence?

Lebanon's recent elections have shrunk the legislative block led by national power-brokers Hezbollah. But will a precarious new majority be able to rid the government of the long shadow of Tehran?

-Analysis-

The results of parliamentary elections in Lebanon, have put an end to the majority block led by Hezbollah, the paramilitary group concocted by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hezbollah and its Christian allies, the Free Patriotic Movement, led by President Michel Aoun, lost their 71 seats and will now have 62 (of a total 128 seats).

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In The News
Anna Akage, Bertrand Hauger and Emma Albright

"No One Is Forcing Us" — Kyiv Pushes Back On Reports About Negotiations

A senior Ukrainian official said that Kyiv was not being pressured to negotiate with Russia, but would do so under certain strict conditions: restoring Ukraine’s borders, compensation for Russian attacks and punishing those responsible for war crimes.

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Mykhaylo Podolyak, a Ukrainian official advisor to the head of the Office of the President, speaking to Radio Liberty, dismissed reports that the U.S. was forcing Ukraine to sit down at the negotiating table with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Geopolitics
Philip Volkmann-Schluck

Bulgaria And Hungary: Risks Of A Pro-Russian Alliance Inside The EU

Bulgaria had sworn off Russian gas imports, but then its government collapsed. Now pro-Russian politicians are in power, which for the European Union means there is much more at stake than just energy supply.

The letter Z, a symbol of support for Putin’s war in Ukraine, has appeared on Bulgarian government buildings in Sofia. Last week, demonstrators fixed a Z in black tape to the entrance of the Ministry of Energy’s headquarters.

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They were protesting their government’s announcement that it would reopen negotiations with Russia about importing gas – although Bulgaria had declared public support for Kyiv and subsequently stopped all Russian imports. “Putin’s gas is a trap,” one of the placards reads.

These scenes have been growing more common in the Bulgarian capital since the reformist government led by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov was ousted last month in a no-confidence vote. Petkov had pledged to tackle corruption and taken a strong stance against Russia's invasion. But his coalition government fell after just seven months in office when an ally quit.

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Economy
Yuri Litvinenko and Valeria Lebedeva

Instagram Nyet! Russian Influencers Lose Mojo On Homegrown Platforms

It's a different kind of "migration" indeed, from Instagram to VKontakte, after U.S. social media were banned in Russia. It's yet another kind of difficulty for Russians trying to continue with daily life.

MOSCOW — Since the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, access to international digital platforms and social networks within Russia has become virtually impossible. Facebook and Instagram were banned in late March, the activities of their parent company Meta were declared extremist and blocked, and Twitter was quickly added later to the hit list.

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Geopolitics
Christian Putsch

How Putin Played The Africa Card Just Right

African countries have mostly stayed quiet on the war in Ukraine. And with good reason. Western influence is diminishing on the continent, and Russian President Vladimir Putin knows how to push the right buttons of African autocrats.

-Analysis-

On his return from a visit to Russia in June, Senegalese President Macky Sall made a momentous statement. He declared that most African countries have avoided condemning Russia, “despite enormous pressure.” His pride in this stance was obvious, and his words confirmed a suspicion that political leaders across Europe and in the U.S. have long held about African attitudes towards the West.

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In March and April, when the United Nations was voting on which sanctions to impose on Russia in response to its attack on Ukraine, around half of the African countries abstained. Many did not even attend the vote. Sall also repeated Moscow’s misleading claims that the sudden shortage of wheat and fertilizer across the Global South was not caused by the war in Ukraine, but by Western sanctions. In fact, the West had not restricted the trade of these products.

Sall was not only speaking for his own country, Senegal. As current Chairperson of the African Union – which recently turned down Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s request to address them via video link – he represents the entire continent of Africa.

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Geopolitics
Anna Akage

A Ukrainian In Belgrade: The Straight Line From Milosevic To Putin, And Back Again

As hostilities flare again between Serbia and Kosovo, the writer draws connections between the dissolutions of both the USSR and Yugoslavia, and the leaders who exploit upheaval and feed the worst kind of nationalism.

-Analysis-

At high school in Kyiv in the late 1990s, we studied the recent history of Yugoslavia: the details of its disintegration, the civil wars, the NATO bombing of Belgrade. When we compared Yugoslavia and the USSR, it seemed evident to us that if Boris Yeltsin or Mikhail Gorbachev had been anything like Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, bloody wars would have been unavoidable for Ukraine, Belarus, and other republics that instead had seceded from the Soviet Union without a single shot being fired.

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Fast forward to 2020, when I visited Belgrade for the first time, invited for a friend's wedding. Looking around, I was struck by the decrepit state of its roads, the lack of any official marked cabs, by the drudgery, but most of all by the tension and underlying aggression in society. It was reflected in all the posters and inscriptions plastered on nearly every street. Against Albania, against Kosovo, against Muslims, claims for historical justice, Serbian retribution, and so on. A rather beautiful, albeit by Soviet standards, Belgrade seemed like a sleeping scorpion.

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Society
Grégory Plesse

How Airbnb Created A Homeless Crisis In An Idyllic Australian Town

In the bohemian Australian seaside town of Byron Bay, rents are now higher than Sydney or Melbourne. And as Airbnb takes its toll, this small town has almost as many homeless people as Sydney.

BYRON BAY — It's a scene that is repeated almost every evening. Small groups form on the seafront, some take out a guitar around an improvised campfire among the rocks, a few acrobats hypnotize passers-by by twirling fiery bolas, and most clink glasses over a few beers, modestly covered by paper bags. They are all there to admire the sun setting behind the mountains bordering the northern tip of the beach, which stretches for about 30 kilometers, tinting the sky with shades ranging from pale pink to scarlet red.

Located at the eastern tip of Australia, an ideal geographical position where very beautiful waves are formed, Byron Bay, in New South Wales, is one of the most popular destinations for surfers. It is also home to one of the oldest surf clubs in the country, created more than a century ago, in 1907.

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