Panther pandemonium polarizes Slovenia ahead of EU presidency

Big-cat cufflinks cause kerfuffle in country's culture wars.

Panther pandemonium polarizes Slovenia ahead of EU presidency

A mysterious panther is causing a commotion as Slovenia prepares to take over the EU’s rotating presidency.

The trouble blew up over reports that Prime Minister Janez Janša’s government plans to give cufflinks featuring a panther as a gift to senior European officials during its presidency of the Council of the EU.

Janša, a right-wing populist who polarizes domestic opinion, sees the panther as a symbol of Slovenia. He likes panthers so much he once wrote a novel set in 203 BC called “The White Panther.” 

But there’s a hitch. 

Historians say the “Carantanian panther” promoted by Janša is fake — a symbol that some began attributing to the small southeast European nation in the 1980s in an effort to create a glorious past. 

What’s more, the panther has been adopted by extreme-right groups in Slovenia — and some Slovenians now associate it with far-right nationalist ideology. 

“During the 7th century, a political unit, called Carantania in contemporary sources, emerged as the first Slavic principality of the wider area of Eastern Alps/North Adriatic,” said Miha Kosi, a historian and senior research fellow at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. 

“It never included the area of present day Slovenia, only a tiny bit in the northeast,” he said.  

But the idea of Carantania as a precursor to today’s Slovenian state has a romantic appeal for some. An “enthusiastic Slovenian” invented a coat of arms for Carantanians just four decades ago, according to Kosi. 

“He even single-handedly sketched it — and that is the controversial animal we are talking about today,” the historian said, noting that coats of arms were not even used in Europe when Carantania existed.

Even panther opponents accept the animal was used as a symbol in later centuries in some parts of the region, and acknowledge that it is already utilized by the headquarters of the Slovenian army — although generally not on uniforms.

But the prospect of panther-themed cufflinks for European bigwigs during the Council presidency, which begins on July 1, prompted multiple Slovenian historians to speak out.

Most Slovene people “don’t identify themselves with this symbol and find it grotesque, amusing and unacceptable,” Kosi said. 

“With it, the government and nationalistic right-wing associations are only trying to promote a fictional old ‘glorious past’ of the nation, which under this banner never existed,” he added.   

Peter Štih, a professor of medieval history at the University of Ljubljana who is also the president of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, called the panther “a modern Slovenian historical myth and nothing more.”

“As a historian I regret that it is used for official purposes,” he said in an email.

Opposition politicians have also pounced on the panther plan.

“Slovenia has many symbols that unite our nation, engraved in our heritage and in our identity — Triglav mountain, the linden tree leaf, the colours of our flag — that embrace the European values of brotherhood, freedom and human rights,” MEP Tanja Fajon, leader of Slovenia’s Social Democrats, said in an email.

“Sadly [the] Slovenian government is again attempting to reinvent our national symbols in far-right fashion of mystic historical heraldry. The black panther is a fairly recent invention which has been … a symbol adopted by extreme nationalists, Janša fanatics, anti-immigrant and paramilitary guards and neo-Nazis.”

But Janša has defended the symbol and accused critics of overreacting, pointing out that the panther played a role during the country’s previous stint at the helm of the Council, when he was also prime minister. “The Carantanian panther was already on the pins of the Slovenian presidency of the EU in 2008,” he tweeted. Photos from 2008 presidency events show that some European leaders wore panther-themed pins at the time.

In another tweet, the prime minister — who has been fiercely critical of some journalists and media outlets — posted a video of a black panther and tagged an independent television station.

Slovenia’s diplomatic mission to the EU declined to confirm whether the country plans to give out panther-themed cufflinks as part of its presidency.

“The procurement procedures regarding the gifts of the Slovenian Council Presidency are still ongoing,” a spokesperson said. “The gifts selected will be presented to the public in the beginning of June.” 

Source : Politico EU More   

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Boris Johnson banks on British caution as restrictions lift

The UK prime minister presses ahead with lifting the next round of COVID restrictions from Monday.

Boris Johnson banks on British caution as restrictions lift

LONDON — Boris Johnson is banking on British caution as he pushes ahead with England’s biggest step toward freedom from COVID-19 restrictions yet, despite fears the fast-transmitting Indian variant of the disease is taking hold.

Six people or two households will be allowed to meet indoors from Monday, and those eating and drinking in pubs and restaurants in England will no longer be at the mercy of the unpredictable British weather, with indoor hospitality allowed to reopen.

But in comments released by No. 10 Downing Street ahead of restrictions being eased, the U.K. prime minister warned the public to “take this next step with a heavy dose of caution.”

“I urge everyone to be cautious and take responsibility when enjoying new freedoms today in order to keep the virus at bay,” he added.

Arrival from India

On Sunday, Johnson’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock was unleashed to hammer home the potential risks the new COVID variant, first discovered in India, may pose.

Just over 1,300 cases have so far been identified, and Hancock said it is becoming the dominant strain in some parts of the country, including Bolton and Blackburn. There are also smaller numbers of cases in other parts of the country.

The virus could “spread like wildfire” among unvaccinated groups, he warned. “If it gets out of hand, we will have a very, very large number of cases,” he said. Even with the “high” protection from the vaccine, it was “not absolute” and a very large number of cases would have a “knock-on to hospitalizations” from the disease, he added.

Ministers have been buoyed by “very early data” from Oxford University labs that suggests the U.K.’s vaccines do work against the new version of the disease. But with the U.K. government only hitting its target of giving two-thirds of the population a first vaccine last week, the rollout may not be moving fast enough to avert a wave of hospitalizations.

“We’re in a race between the vaccination program and the virus and this new variant has given the virus some extra legs in that race,” Hancock warned.

People over the age of 35 will be able to book their COVID-19 vaccine this week, and second doses for the most vulnerable are being brought forward to give the most vulnerable maximum protection.

Reverse, reverse

For now, ministers are pushing ahead with plans to ease restrictions.

Johnson is under pressure from his own backbenchers not to veer off course. Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith warned ministers over the weekend to “hold their nerves,” saying a “stop-go, stop-go approach will roll us into the winter with an economic disaster.”

“We have got to be careful, but we are so jittery we are in danger of frightening ourselves into a corner,” he said.

Johnson has, however, already raised the prospect of delaying England’s planned final easing of restrictions in June. Hancock too did not rule out a reversal in the easing of some restrictions when asked about the prospect on Sunday.

“I very much hope not and our goal remains, our strategy remains to take a cautious and irreversible approach to ensure that we are always looking at the data all the way through and, crucially, to use the vaccine to get us out of this pandemic,” he said.

In the meantime, the hope in ministerial circles is that Britons will avoid going over-the-top on Monday, and keep indoor contact to a minimum.

“Outside is safer than inside, so even though you can from tomorrow meet up inside, it’s still better to meet up outside,” Hancock said.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

 

Source : Politico EU More   

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