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The Economist: Europe

The Economist: Europe

With a growing global circulation (now more than 1.5 million including both print* and digital) and a reputation for insightful analysis and perspective on every aspect of world events, The Economist is one of the most widely recognized and well-read current affairs publications. The paper covers politics, business, science and technology, and books and arts, concluding each week with the obituary.

Articles by The Economist: Europe

France’s high fertility rate has begun to slide

3 days ago

THE French city of Rennes serves plates of asparagus tips to 18-month-old tots. Toulouse treats its under-fives to Roquefort-cheese tart. Toddlers in Amiens are offered a camembert tartiflette as a starter. At the country’s state-run crèches and nursery schools, a four-course meal—cheese included—is standard fare. The French like to educate taste buds as well as minds. With a long history of pro-natalist policy, they also like to support working parents. Good catering, along with long opening hours and well-equipped public nurseries, are all part of the appeal.Get our daily newsletterUpgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks.Yet despite all the French do to support child-rearing, the country’s birth rate has suddenly gone into decline. In 2017, for the third

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This time, Italy’s Five Star Movement wants power

3 days ago

SCAMPIA on a wet Monday is the last place most Italians would care to be. Once a stronghold of the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia, and the scene of two homicidal faide (feuds), it is a byword for peril and squalor. Unfairly so: the drug-dealing at the root of Scampia’s problems has since moved to other parts of Naples. But it remains a tough neighbourhood, and Luigi Di Maio (pictured), the prime ministerial candidate of the maverick Five Star Movement (M5S), cut an incongruous figure as he arrived this week in an immaculate dark suit and blue patterned tie.Italy’s general election is due on March 4th, and Mr Di Maio was in Scampia for a campaign stop at a gym that keeps local boys off the streets. It was just the place to spotlight the M5S’s claim to represent honesty and respect for the

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What climate change means for the Netherlands’ Olympic skaters

3 days ago

WHAT Kenyans are to marathons, the Dutch are to long-track speed skating. As the Netherlands’ skaters arrived last week at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, their biggest fear was of failing to do better than in 2014, when they won 23 of the 36 medals. This year they got off to another flying start, sweeping gold, silver and bronze in the women’s 3,000 metres. The stars of the men’s and women’s teams, Sven Kramer and Ireen Wüst, have each won gold.But the mood at the national skating association is not entirely sparkling. The excellence of Dutch speed-skating stems from the sport’s special place in national culture. Each winter the country waits anxiously for a cold snap long enough to freeze the waterways that mark its low, flat landscape. Then millions of Dutch take to the ice, zipping

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Turkey’s constitutional court has been rendered irrelevant

3 days ago

ELVAN ALPAY’S heart leapt at the news. It was January 11th, and Turkey’s constitutional court had just ordered the release of Mrs Alpay’s father Sahin, as well as another writer, from pre-trial detention. One of over 100 journalists locked up in Turkey, Mr Alpay had been arrested on farcical terrorism charges in the summer of 2016, a couple of weeks after a violent, unsuccessful coup. He is 73 years old and faces a triple life sentence.Accompanied by her mother and a few friends, Mrs Alpay drove to the prison where her father had been held, to greet him in person. She never got the chance. As she waited by the prison gates, word came that a lower court had rejected the high court’s verdict, and Mr Alpay would remain behind bars. The move had no legal precedent, or indeed basis. What it did

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A decade since independence, Kosovo is still violent

3 days ago

OLIVER IVANOVIC, a Kosovo Serb politician who was murdered on January 16th, was hit by six bullets, says his friend Branislav Krstic, who washed and dressed the body. “The one that killed him entered here,” he says, pointing to his hip, “and exited here,” pointing at his shoulder. The assassination was a grim marker for Kosovo, which celebrates ten years of independence on February 17th. Its Serbian minority was long afraid of the majority ethnic-Albanian population. Now, as Mr Ivanovic argued before his death, they have more to fear from their fellow Serbs.Mr Ivanovic was shot outside his office in the divided town of Mitrovica. After the war of 1999, in which a NATO intervention reversed a Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaign, he helped mobilise local Serbs to preserve control of the north

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Lithuania hopes the next century is quieter than the last

3 days ago

IT TOOK Thomas Mann just a few days to fall for the Curonian Spit. The “indescribable beauty” of this geographical oddity, a skinny stretch of land curving from Lithuania’s west coast to what is today the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, so enthralled the German author and his wife during a holiday in 1929 that they decided to build a summer house on its coast. The best part of a century later the view has hardly been enhanced by the Independence, a vast floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal that sailed into the nearby port of Klaipeda in 2014. The ship rarely leaves harbour, thanks to what Rimas Rusinas, the terminal’s operations manager, politely calls Lithuania’s “interesting neighbours”. But as the country prepares to mark a centenary of restored statehood on February 16th, for

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Russian TV star Ksenia Sobchak’s presidential campaign

10 days ago

THE TOPIC was “A Future Russia”. The location, a modest House of Youth in Vladimir, a provincial city some 190km east of Moscow. The lecturer was Ksenia Sobchak, a 36-year-old presidential candidate who made her fortune as an “it” girl and a TV reality-show star. Wearing a sharp suit and gold-heeled stilettos, Ms Sobchak presented a rich and glamorous model of that future. The local university, she told the audience, was lagging behind even the lowliest in California. Russia should compete in biotech rather than missiles. Slipping into management-speak, she said the government should be judged on “key performance indicators”.The audience seemed unconvinced, but this is the role the Kremlin has scripted for Ms Sobchak as an approved sparring partner for Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president,

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Emmanuel Macron wants to change the beloved baccalauréat

10 days ago

IT WAS by imperial decree that Napoleon founded the French baccalauréat, the country’s school-leaving exam, in 1808. To this day, some 700,000 pupils still take the bac, the great majority of the annual age cohort. It has become the badge of excellence for a French lycée system that offers a model of globally standardised education, including to over 900 lycées with a total of 330,000 pupils abroad. Yet President Emmanuel Macron is now about to announce the most radical overhaul of the exam for over half a century. Why?Despite spending as much on secondary schooling as other OECD countries, France no longer achieves corresponding results. Between 2003 and 2012, performance in international maths tests fell compared with other countries. The real shock was an international study of reading

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Alarming attempts to undermine Romanian democracy

10 days ago

“WHO?” was the reaction of many Romanians when Viorica Dancila became their third prime minister in just seven months, on January 29th. That she is the first woman to run the country’s government might have been cause for celebration, if anyone thought she would really be doing the job. Few do. As soon as she had been elected, she vanished into the office of Liviu Dragnea, the leader of her party, the ruling Social Democrats (PSD). It is Mr Dragnea who calls the shots. If Ms Dancila proves unwilling or unable to do what he wants, she will be dumped.There is only one reason why Ms Dancila is prime minister. A conviction for electoral fraud prevents Mr Dragnea from taking the job himself. He is on trial for abuse of office, and last November Romania’s powerful National Anti-Corruption

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The Berlin Wall has now been down for longer than it was up

10 days ago

For 10,315 days, from 1961 to 1989, the wall splitting Berlin into communist east and capitalist west was a symbol of Germany’s and Europe’s division. February 6th marked the 10,316th day since its fall, the point when Germany’s post-wall period had lasted longer than the wall itself. Germans on social media shared reflections of what their lives would have been like #ohneMauerfall (without the fall of the wall): opportunities not taken, partners not met, freedoms not enjoyed. It was also a chance to reflect on the successes and failures of reunification. Germany is booming, the east has been expensively modernised. Yet at last September’s election populist parties of left and right took 40% of the vote in the “new”, eastern states, compared with 18% in the west. Building new railways and

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Germany’s main parties conclude a coalition deal

10 days ago

“GRAND coalitions have the feel of perverse sex acts,” Willy Brandt is said to have opined. The great Social Democratic (SPD) chancellor’s point was that broad alliances of the centre-right and centre-left are unnatural and best avoided. With one short exception, that is what post-war German politicians did until 2005. But since then, thanks to a fragmenting party landscape, Angela Merkel has led two grand coalitions. On February 7th her centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the SPD announced that they had agreed to form yet another.It was not the chancellor’s first choice. All three parties lost ground in last September’s election and the CDU/CSU had initially negotiated with the pro-business Free Democrats and the Greens. But

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Spain’s centrist Ciudadanos are on the march

10 days ago

WHEN Albert Rivera gave a talk at a regular breakfast meeting for business folk at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid last month, more than 600 people turned up, a record for the event. He has suddenly become Spain’s hottest ticket, almost three years after he leapt into national politics at the head of Ciudadanos (“Citizens”), a newish liberal party. In December Ciudadanos became the biggest single force in Catalonia at a regional election. Now it is jostling the ruling conservative People’s Party (PP) at the top of the national opinion polls. That has made the government of Mariano Rajoy, the long-serving prime minister, palpably nervous.“The big question is whether it will be like France,” Mr Rivera told The Economist this week. There Emmanuel Macron, to whom he feels politically close, swept

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Poland’s new law on death camps is divisive. That’s the point

10 days ago

ON FEBRUARY 6th 1943 Auschwitz received 2,000 Polish Jews from a ghetto in Bialystok, in north-east Poland. Almost all of them were murdered in the death camp’s gas chambers; just one grisly episode in the six-year saga of Nazi barbarity in Poland. Six million Poles were killed in the second world war, most of them victims of the Third Reich. This week, exactly 75 years after that routine day in Auschwitz, Poland passed a law that threatens fines and imprisonment upon anyone who attributes those crimes to the “Polish nation”.Poles have long railed against the phrase “Polish death camps”, as Barack Obama learned when he thoughtlessly deployed it in 2012. But the term reflects clumsiness, not historical revisionism: no one argues that Poles ran Auschwitz or any of the other camps in Poland.

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America produces an underwhelming list of Kremlin cronies

17 days ago

RUSSIA’S elite had been on edge for months. A new American law on sanctions, passed last summer, required the administration to draw up lists of senior officials and “oligarchs” close to Vladimir Putin’s regime. Though inclusion on the list would not automatically lead to sanctions, many feared that it would be tantamount to a scarlet letter. Businessmen hired lawyers and lobbyists to press their case in Washington. Some considered bringing capital back to Russia, fearing asset freezes and seizures.Then early this week the list came out, and sniggering ensued—on both sides of the Atlantic. Just over 100 senior government officials were named. Keen commentators noted that the selection closely matched publicly available lists on the English-language version of the Kremlin website.

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Drugs policy in Germany is a mess

17 days ago

“THE pain wasn’t going away.” It was 2004. Two years earlier a car had missed a “stop” sign and hit Günter Weiglein, throwing him off his motorbike, breaking many bones and leaving him full of medical screws and plates. Prescription painkillers were proving ineffective, leaving him sweaty and sleepless. Then, one evening, he smoked cannabis with some friends. It was a revelation: “70% of the pain went, without side effects.” It became a routine and, after a close shave with the police, he sought the right to smoke legally. In 2014 the government granted him an exceptional licence to consume cannabis, which helped pave the way for the nationwide legalisation of medicinal cannabis. It came into force last March.But almost a year on, sufferers like Mr Weiglein struggle to obtain the weed they

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Vladimir Putin embraces the Russian church

17 days ago

EVERY January 18th a million Russians make foreigners shiver and wonder. This year again, in temperatures ranging from -10°C in Moscow to -45°C in Yakutia, they plunged into a cross-shaped hole cut in the ice. The annual ritual, marking the baptism of Christ, was the top news item on Russian state television, mainly because one man taking part was President Vladimir Putin. Arriving dressed in the peasant attire of a sheepskin coat and felt boots, he stripped off, crossed himself and leapt into the icy waters of Lake Seliger.Local officials followed suit. In the ancient city of Yaroslavl, on the Volga, the local mayor and a member of the United Russia party told district prefects to lead by example. “I ask all heads and their deputies to take part in this organised event. You are all

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Turkey and NATO are growing apart

17 days ago

ANXIETIES about Donald Trump’s commitment to NATO and Russia’s military assertiveness remain at the top of the alliance’s agenda. But close behind looms the problem of semi-detached Turkey, a country that not only possesses NATO’s second-biggest armed force, but also straddles a critical geopolitical fault-line between west and east.Turkey is not only unpredictable. It also pursues a nationalist agenda that can put it at odds with its obligations to allies. The most recent source of tension is the simmering row between Turkey and America over Turkey’s incursion into Afrin, a Kurdish enclave in north-west Syria. This is not, strictly speaking, a matter for NATO. However, American troops could soon find themselves under direct attack from their NATO ally if Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip

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Matteo Renzi struggles to hold on to power as the election nears

17 days ago

THEY like their food in Modena, a city on the foggy flatlands south of the River Po that gave the world the Ferrari, Luciano Pavarotti and a restaurant, the Osteria Francescana, that was voted the best in Europe last year. As people gathered for a fundraising dinner in the suburb of San Damaso, a delectable aroma wafted through the sports hall where it was to be served. And among the pleasures it betokened was the sweet taste of revenge.The dinner was for a new party, Liberi e Uguali (Free and Equal, or LeU), founded last year by politicians who had left Matteo Renzi’s governing, centre-left Democratic Party (PD). Some of the rebels objected to his business-friendly policies; others complained of his ruthless marginalisation of the party’s old guard, including the night’s main speaker,

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How Italy’s interior minister tackles illegal migration

17 days ago

MOST interior ministers can hope for little more from their job than to avert disaster. Managing migration, crime, terrorism, policing and prisons is largely a matter of avoiding bear-traps rather than seeking glory. Jack Straw, who held the job in Britain for four years, called it “Life in the Graveyard”.Not, though, for Marco Minniti, Italy’s interior minister. In the first half of 2017 a sharp rise in maritime migration from Libya spooked Europeans, still recovering from the refugee crisis of 2015-16. But crossings fell by 70% after Mr Minniti stepped in. Polls declared him Italy’s most popular politician. Some even spoke of him as a potential prime minister.Upgrade your inboxReceive our Daily Dispatch and Editors’ Picks newsletters.From his office in Rome, Mr Minniti sets out the steps

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Ukraine proposes a law that infuriates Russia

24 days ago

AFTER nearly four years of war in eastern Ukraine, and more than 10,000 deaths, reports from international monitors in the region sound like a grim broken record. On January 19th: 340 explosions. On January 20th: 240 explosions. On January 21st: 195 explosions and two middle-aged civilians hit by rifle fire while travelling in a bus near a separatist checkpoint in the town of Olenivka. “One had blood covering the left side of his face and was holding gauze to it and the other had gunshot wounds in his neck and left cheek,” the monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported this week. One of the men ended up in hospital; the other died at the site of the attack.The Minsk agreements, a peace plan signed in early 2015, are meant to prevent such

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Splits over the Iran deal test Europe’s bond with America

24 days ago

PITY the poor European who seeks consistency. On January 22nd Mike Pence, America’s vice-president, said that the United States was on the verge of quitting the nuclear agreement signed with Iran in 2015. At the same time Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, was in London expressing optimism that the deal could be saved with a bit of tinkering. Foreign ministers from across the European Union were in Brussels that day; the confusion hovered above their conversation like an Amazon drone bearing either chocolates or dynamite.Mr Trump’s carnivalesque approach to the presidency has made life hard for America’s allies, but his first year in office has not brought forth anything like the full horrors that some predicted. Congress has boxed him in on Russia, NATO does not yet totter and trade

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Whoever wins the election, Italy is not about to leave the euro

24 days ago

THE man who has done more than anyone to create an air of apprehension around Italy’s coming election is a genial fellow with a round face, a broad nose and silvery hair combed forward in the style of the ancient Romans. Five years ago, Claudio Borghi, a former managing director of Deutsche Bank in Italy, converted Matteo Salvini, the head of the Northern League, to the view that Italy should quit the euro.“Salvini called me at half past one in the morning,” he recalls. “But it didn’t matter because I don’t sleep.” After two days of explanation, Mr Salvini, soon to become leader of the League, was convinced. The following year, he and his new economic adviser set off on a “Basta euro” (roughly, “dump the euro”) tour.Upgrade your inboxReceive our Daily Dispatch and Editors’ Picks

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In Europe, right-wing parties are offering bigger handouts than traditional ones

24 days ago

IT IS not cold inside the Municipal Family Support Centre, but Barbara Choinska keeps her coat on, in the manner of people to whom the world has been hostile. The centre is the main social-services point in Siedlce, a town 90km east of Warsaw. Ms Choinska has five children, no husband and no job. “She struggles to make sure the children are dressed and do their homework,” explains Adam Kowalczyk, the centre’s director. “We send someone each week to help her maintain basic standards, so they don’t get taken away by the state.”One thing Ms Choinska no longer worries about is having money for food and rent. In 2016 Poland’s new government, led by the populist Law and Justice (PiS) party, launched the “Family 500Plus” programme, which pays a monthly stipend of 500 zlotys ($148) per child,

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Finland’s down-to-earth president is set to sail to re-election

24 days ago

IN EUROPE’S frozen north, two presidents are standing for re-election: Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Finland’s somewhat lesser-known Sauli Niinisto. Both are likely to win with huge majorities. Some 70% of Finns back Mr Niinisto, polls say—a Putinesque level of support. Mr Niinisto looks likely to glide to victory in the first round of voting on January 28th. In a world where outsiders and populists are on the march, how does he do it? Unlike Mr Putin, he has none of the advantages of being an autocrat; Finland is one of the world’s freest democracies.True, the Finnish presidency is mainly a symbolic role, focused on glad-handing foreigners and with little power over internal politics. Yet Mr Niinisto has a reputation for competence at both. As the Speaker of parliament, he won applause by

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The movement that Emmanuel Macron rode to power needs a new role

January 18, 2018

WHEN Emmanuel Macron was elected French president in May last year, the party he founded felt “orphaned”, says Gilles Le Gendre, deputy leader of its parliamentary group. Those who had worked tirelessly as volunteers for his improbable political adventure were thrilled, to be sure. But they also felt as if they had “lost a father”. En Marche! began life less than two years ago with a forceful leader but no money and no deputies. After Mr Macron stepped into the presidency, it secured those, but lost its boss.The transformation of a political movement based on grass-roots volunteers into a formal political party has turned into a curiously difficult exercise. En Marche! campaign headquarters used to be a thriving hub. Young people in hoodies huddled over laptops. Empty takeaway boxes were

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Turkey’s religious authority surrenders to political Islam

January 18, 2018

TURKEY’s directorate of religious affairs, known as the Diyanet, has a knack for odd and outrageous pronouncements. The body had already made it known that celebrating the new year, playing the lottery, feeding dogs at home, and purchasing Bitcoin were incompatible with the principles of Islam; men should not dye their moustaches, nor couples hold hands. (Divorcing one’s spouse by text message, however, is OK.) But when the Diyanet declared, in a glossary entry spotted on its website at the start of this year, that according to Islamic law girls as young as nine were able to marry, the ensuing outcry was bigger than in recent memory. Some critics called for the institution to close. The Diyanet protested that it was only cataloguing, not endorsing, principles laid down by Islamic jurists,

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The European Union’s budget may soon be weaponised

January 18, 2018

AH, THE European Union. The finest dispute-resolution mechanism mankind has concocted. The ultimate triumph of bureaucracy over the battlefield. Where else can dozens of governments of varying size, wealth and temper manage their disputes so effectively, quietly grinding out compromises that are greater than the sum of their parts? For that is how it works, is it not?No, it is not. At least not when the EU’s budget is involved. In a few months the club’s governments will begin formal talks on the next “multiannual financial framework” (MFF), a drab formulation that conceals the diplomatic rancour its negotiation will spawn. The sums are not large: this year the EU will spend €145bn ($177bn), about 1% of its GDP. But the means of the MFF’s construction guarantee that blood will be spilled.

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Why 33 of the 50 most-polluted towns in Europe are in Poland

January 18, 2018

THE spa town of Rabka-Zdroj, in southern Poland, has been known as a treatment centre for children since the 19th century. These days it also has terrible air. In January 2017 the level of benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogenic compound, was found to be 28 times normal limits. If this goes on, Rabka-Zdroj could lose its spa-town status, which needs to be renewed every ten years. Air pollution is “our silent enemy”, says Zbigniew Doniec of the town’s Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases.Rabka-Zdroj is hardly alone; across swathes of Poland, winter means smog. An astonishing 33 of Europe’s 50 most-polluted towns are in Poland, as ranked by the World Health Organisation in 2016. Among them is Katowice, which will host the next UN climate summit in December. Coal heating in houses is largely to

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The SPD’s rank and file could block a new German grand coalition

January 18, 2018

BUNDLED up in woolly jumpers and scarves, the mostly grey-haired crowd filed into the civic centre in Schauenburg, a small central German town, toasted the new year with foaming glasses of beer and exchanged genial gossip. It was hard to believe that they might hold the fate of the world’s most powerful woman in their hands. But they might indeed. Like their comrades across the federal republic, these ordinary members of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) have the final say on whether to give Angela Merkel a new majority to govern. And they were sceptical.Timon Gremmels, the party’s local MP, took to the stage to try to sell the deal. “Clearly, mistakes were made during the campaign,” he conceded; a nod to the party’s record-low 20.5% score at the election in September. He also

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Chechnya moves to silence Oyub Titiev, a courageous critic

January 17, 2018

OYUB TITIEV suspected the day would come. As head of the Chechen branch of Memorial, a Russian human-rights group, his activities angered the region’s authorities. His predecessor, Natalia Estemirova, was kidnapped and murdered in 2009. No-one has been punished for the crime. Mr Titiev (pictured) received death threats himself. He warned friends and colleagues that he could be arrested any time. “They’ll plant drugs,” he told a friend.Mr Titiev’s fears were justified. On January 9th Chechen police arrested him, claiming to have found some 180 grams of marijuana in a plastic bag inside his car. He was charged with drug possession and faces up to ten years in prison. Mr Titiev reported that officers threatened reprisals against his family if he did not plead guilty. The arrest looks like an

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