Lockdowns in Germany; Trump considering moving US troops from Germany to Poland; The Democratic Republic of Congo declares Ebola outbreak over

Lockdowns in Germany; Trump considering moving US troops from Germany to Poland; The Democratic Republic of Congo declares Ebola outbreak over

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The World staff

A banner reading “Entering only with a face mask please — only 4 clients are allowed in the pharmacy” is pictured in front of a pharmacy during new outbreak of the coronavirus in downtown Wildeshausen, Germany, June 24, 2020.

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Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

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Germany’s populous Guetersloh and Warendorf regions became the first in the country to return to strict restrictions against the coronavirus, angering many residents. The lockdown measures enacted yesterday are meant to halt an outbreak in the northwest of Germany after more than 1,500 workers at the Toennies meatpacking plant tested positive for the virus. Another outbreak at a meat-processing factory in Wildeshausen alarmed health authorities with 23 people testing positive. Bavaria announced a ban on the roughly 640,000 residents from Guetersloh and Warendorf from entering the southern German state and Austria has issued a travel warning.

News of the lockdown in Germany comes as US President Donald Trump announced he’s considering moving some of the 9,500 US troops he’s pulling from Germany to Poland. Trump previously blindsided US allies in the region in announcing the withdrawal of troops from Germany. Yesterday’s comments from Trump came during a visit with Polish President Andrzej Duda at the White House — a meeting with no clear official purpose that appeared aimed at boosting Duda’s chances to win in Poland’s Sunday elections.

What The World is following

The Democratic Republic of Congo said today that the Ebola outbreak in the east of the country is over. The outbreak, which killed 2,280 people over nearly two years, is the second deadliest Ebola outbreak on record. The end of the epidemic there may offer lessons as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sergei Khrushchev, the son of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, died on June 18 at his home in Rhode Island at the age of 84. The former Soviet rocket scientist moved to the US before the collapse of the Soviet Union to lecture at Brown University and became a naturalized US citizen in 1999. The World spoke to Khrushchev last year about the US-Soviet space race.

And while Germany is facing a new test to contain an outbreak of the coronavirus, France and the UK are starting to loosen restrictions.  The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are set to reopen after lockdown, and pubs in England will open their doors — though likely not to Americans.

Black history is ‘integral part’ of British culture, says Black Curriculum founder

A teacher reads children a story on the grounds of St. Dunstan’s College junior school as some schools reopen following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London, Britain, June 1, 2020.

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Simon Dawson/Reuters

What do students learn in the classroom about race and history? In the UK, an organization called The Black Curriculum has been pushing for Black history to be taught nationwide.

How Russia laid the groundwork for future disinformation campaigns

Russian BMPT armored fighting vehicles drive during the Victory Day Parade in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 24, 2020. The military parade, marking the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, was scheduled for May 9, but postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Credit:

Ramil Sitdikov/Reuters

In one chapter of her new book, “How to Lose the Information War,” Nina Jankowicz describes how relocating the Bronze Soldier statue in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, exposed divisions between Russian speakers and Estonians. The Bronze Soldier was a controversial Soviet World War II memorial, which also served as a reminder to many of the 50 years Estonia spent under Soviet occupation. 

Jankowicz spoke with The World’s Marco Werman about how this controversy made Estonia vulnerable to a cyberattack over a decade ago that laid some of the groundwork for Russia’s future disinformation campaigns.

Morning meme

Following the restoration work to Elías García Martínez’s Ecce Homo resulting in the infamous Monkey Jesus at a church in Borja, Spain, the country now has another painting debacle on its hands.

Experts call for regulation after latest botched art restoration in Spain.

Immaculate Conception painting by Murillo reportedly cleaned by furniture restorer. https://t.co/YjtgTSohWB pic.twitter.com/iIkBDsKEkm

— Ticia Verveer (@ticiaverveer) June 23, 2020In case you missed itListen: Trump’s visa ban has technology companies worried

US President Donald Trump talks to reporters before boarding Marine One helicopter from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, June 23, 2020.

Credit:

Tom Brenner/Reuters

US President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order targeting several visa programs for foreign workers, including programs US tech companies rely on to hire highly skilled foreign workers. Experts say changes to the H-1B and other programs will push those workers, and potential innovation, to other parts of the world. And, the Lebanese economy is tanking, which has put tens of thousands of domestic workers in a tough situation. Also, a new exhibit at Spain’s Cervantes Institute looks at some of the most important — but largely ignored — women writers of Spain’s 16th and 17th centuries.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The World’s Latest Edition podcast using your favorite podcast player: RadioPublicApple PodcastsStitcherSoundcloudRSS.

How Russia laid the groundwork for future disinformation campaigns

How Russia laid the groundwork for future disinformation campaigns

By
The World staff

Producer
Lucy Martirosyan

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Russian BMPT armored fighting vehicles drive during the Victory Day Parade in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 24, 2020. The military parade, marking the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, was scheduled for May 9, but postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Credit:

Ramil Sitdikov/Reuters

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More than 13,000 military personnel marched shoulder-to-shoulder, mostly without masks, in Moscow’s Red Square Wednesday. 

Russia was six weeks late to its annual World War II Victory Day parade, which is usually held May 9 — the country’s largest public holiday. 

Related: Coronavirus postponed Russia’s Victory Day. For Putin, it’s a problem.

This year, President Vladimir Putin postponed the celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat over Nazi Germany because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But Russia is still the third hardest-hit country in the world by COVID-19 — so why risk hosting a mega event, even if delayed?

One answer is that the celebration comes ahead of a key constitutional vote that would help Putin stay in power for two more terms.

Related: This pact between Hitler and Stalin paved the way for WWII

But there’s also an interesting history with Russia’s Victory Day celebrations, dating back to 2007 in the Baltic country of Estonia.

In one chapter of her new book, “How to Lose the Information War,” Nina Jankowicz describes how relocating the Bronze Soldier statue in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, exposed divisions between Russian speakers and Estonians. The Bronze Soldier was a controversial Soviet World War II memorial, which also served as a reminder to many of the 50 years Estonia spent under Soviet occupation.  

Jankowicz spoke with The World’s Marco Werman about how this controversy made Estonia vulnerable to a cyberattack over a decade ago that laid some of the groundwork for Russia’s future disinformation campaigns.

Related: The human chain that unshackled the Baltic nation

Marco Werman: The Victory Day parade is connected obviously to World War II, and the triumph of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany, which is tied to the story of Estonia and its more recent attacks by Russia in cyberspace. Those first attacks came in 2007, and it was all over — this will sound especially familiar now — a statue that got moved, the Bronze Soldier. Explain what happened.

Nina Jankowicz: When a new Estonian government decided to move this World War II statue and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the outskirts of the capital, Russia used this as a flashpoint, and for many years, this is where people were gathering, for instance, on Victory Day to mark the victory, of course, of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany. And this was seen as a real slap in the face to the Russian population [in Estonia] and certainly was interpreted that way by Russia. And there’s evidence that Russia, the embassy, its security services, instigated riots that happened in 2007 around Victory Day in the moving of this statue, and then a cyberattack, which took down many Estonian media outlets. It took down parts of the Estonian government and banking system. And as a result, Estonia was one of the warning signals that this information war that we find ourselves in was coming.

Related: Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way 

There’s this troubling scene where lawmakers in Washington were asleep at the wheel in response to the 2007 Russian cyberattacks on Estonia. Do you think now Washington is alert enough to the meaning of the entire constellation of threats to democracy in cyberspace, whether it’s coming from Russia or anywhere else?

I think we are waking up. Unfortunately, we’re still in bed, though, Marco. We’ve not fully gotten out of bed and really washed our face and clearly faced the threats of the day. Something that worries me every single day is the fact that disinformation has been politicized by both political parties in the United States. We need to recognize that it is not one political party that is going to always be victorious because of Russian or any other foreign disinformation. The ultimate victim is democracy. This is not a partisan issue.

And we need to equip our citizens, equip our lawmakers with that understanding that we will not stand for foreign interference or even domestic interference that is misleading voters about things like polling place locations and voting times. We’re seeing all of this happening because disinformation has been democratized and we need to fight back against that. And unfortunately, the Russian playbook is open to anybody who wants to use it — anyone with a social media account and a credit card. This stuff is not hard to do and it’s becoming more and more rampant unless we act soon.

Related: Analysis: Facebook is undermining democracy 

So you describe combating Russia’s disinformation techniques through “whack-a-troll,” kind of like the game, whack-a-mole. Explain that, Nina.

Sure. So, I think what we, the United States and many other countries in the West, have done so far is we’ve tried to fact check. We have tried to remove inauthentic accounts and inauthentic content from the internet. And that is a losing strategy because Russia is happy to allocate as much resources as necessary, whether those are human resources or monetary resources, to pump the information ecosystem full of misleading and divisive content. Their strategy isn’t a grand strategy where they know exactly what buttons to press at every time. It’s more like spaghetti at the wall — they throw it and they see what sticks and then they keep throwing that same sticky spaghetti over and over. And social media empowers them. It makes them able to do that.

So rather than playing “whack-a-troll,” I argue that we really need to invest in solving the root causes of these problems, solving what makes us so vulnerable to Russia in the first place. We need to heal the fissures in our society and heal the polarization that Russia weaponizes. And that means, first of all, that our politicians themselves cannot use disinformation tactics, because that makes us, as I mentioned before, totally impotent when we’re trying to push back against bad actors like Russia or China. But it also means investing in things like media literacy, digital literacy, civics, and, you know, restoring a democratic discourse, not only online, but offline as well. These are things that are generational investments, of course, but it’s important that we start them now because as the story of Estonia in 2007 shows, this has been something that Russia has been at for generations and it’s time that we catch up.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Baltic ‘bubble’ looks to reopen regional travel

Baltic 'bubble' looks to reopen regional travel

The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are poised to become one of the first blocs to reopen regional travel, thanks to their swift response to the pandemic and measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

By
Indra Ekmanis

Producer
Christopher Woolf

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A bicyclist rides next to a billboard, a part of a “Mask Fashion Week” during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 5, 2020. 

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Andrius Sytas/Reuters

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The European Union outlined plans on Wednesday for a limited reopening in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The proposals focus on conditions-based relaxation, with the ultimate goal of keeping the tourist industry alive this summer.

These are just suggestions, and countries can decide what to do for themselves. But some regional groups are setting the pace. 

Related: EU calls for European borders to reopen to save tourist season

The Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — have been fairly effective in their approach to the pandemic. On Friday, they are planning to open up regional travel. That means people will be able to move freely among the three countries, but anyone who is arriving from outside the region will still have to go through a two-week quarantine period. 

Located in the northeastern corner of the EU, the Baltic countries have a collective population of just over 6 million and a long history of working together on shared interests.  

Related: 30 years later, the human chain that ‘unshackled’ the Baltic nations still matters

Opening up a “Baltic bubble” move is a notable step toward recovery, their prime ministers say. 

Agreed in a video call with @krisjaniskarins and @Skvernelis_S on opening internal borders between 🇪🇪-🇱🇻 and 🇱🇹-🇱🇻 to the people of Baltic States from 15 May. It’s a big step towards life as normal. pic.twitter.com/Md9hKjJRMl

— Jüri Ratas (@ratasjuri) May 6, 2020

On the global scale, the Baltic states have seen comparative success dealing with the pandemic. All were quick to issue emergency measures before anyone within their borders had died of the disease. They have also tested aggressively and allowed experts to lead the way. Latvia and Estonia managed without a hard lockdown, meaning some businesses could still operate if proper precautions were taken. In large part, people have been fairly compliant with restrictive measures, and the governments have received international praise

Related: For these Latvian Americans, summer is for learning about their roots

Around half of the population of Saaremaa, one of Estonia’s islands, was estimated to be infected after a March sporting event with a visiting team from Italy. Overall there have been around 1,700 cases and 60 deaths in the country. In Lithuania, there have been just over 1,505 cases and 54 deaths. And in Latvia, fewer than 1,000 people have contracted COVID-19, while 19 people have died from the disease.

Baltijas valstīs 🇪🇪🇱🇻🇱🇹 turpina samazināties pēdējo 14 dienu saslimstība ar COVID-19
(dati līdz 13.maijam) pic.twitter.com/8fVWnNzrDa

— Jānis Hermanis (@J_Hermanis) May 13, 2020

Broadly, the preventative measures taken have successfully slowed new infections to a trickle, which has allowed the countries to move to reopen together. 

The Baltics have approached the crisis with the innovation for which the region has become known. Estonia, which is a pioneer in technology and e-governance, has worked toward finding digital solutions to the crisis. In Vilnius, Lithuania, the city has turned into a giant open-air cafe. Minister of Health Ilze Viņķele, who has been at the forefront of the response in Latvia, even guest DJ-ed an online quarantine disco to lighten the mood. 

Related: Alyona Alyona breathes new life into Ukrainian rap scene

Still, reopening borders doesn’t mean the countries will stop taking precautions. 

“Not only the authorities, but our societies are still cautious,” said Marius Laurinavicus, a senior analyst at the Vilnius Institute of Policy Analysis in Lithuania. “But bearing in mind the situation in our countries is much better than in the other parts of Europe, we are trying to do our best to get our lives back to normal.”