New era in Ukraine; Europe’s 11m empty homes; Maria von Trapp no more; End of India’s linguistic states





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1 New era in Ukraine (The Australian) A new era has dawned in Ukraine as parliament appointed a pro-Western interim leader after ousted president Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev to escape retribution for a week of deadly carnage. The ex-Soviet state’s tumultuous three-month crisis culminated in a dizzying flurry of historic changes over the weekend that saw parliament sideline the pro-Russian head of state and call a new presidential poll for May 25.

Lawmakers then went a step further by approving the release from her seven-year jail sentence of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko — a star of the 2004 Orange Revolution who was thrown behind bars less than a year after Mr Yanukovych came to power in 2010. The constitutional legitimacy of parliament’s actions remains an open question and Mr Yanukovych vowed in a taped interview to fight the “bandits” who now claimed to rule Ukraine.

But Mr Yanukovych’s authority was nowhere in evidence in Kiev on Sunday. The city’s police presence had vanished and protesters were in control of everything from traffic management to protection of government buildings after a week of bloodshed that claimed nearly 100 lives. Mr Yanukovych was dealt another blow when his own Regions Party condemned him for issuing “criminal orders” that led to so many deaths.

Western countries gave cautious but vital backing to the sweeping changes in Ukraine, while Russia once again warned that payment of its huge bailout package was on hold. Ms Tymoshenko has rejected consideration for the post of prime minister in the new interim cabinet — a comment that reignited speculation she was intent on nothing less than head of state. The opposition’s main presidential challenge had until this weekend been primarily expected to come from boxer-turned-lawmaker Vitali Klitschko.

2 Europe’s 11m empty homes (Rupert Neate in The Guardian) More than 11m homes lie empty across Europe – enough to house all of the continent’s homeless twice over – according to figures collated by the Guardian from across the EU. In Spain more than 3.4m homes lie vacant, in excess of 2m homes are empty in each of France and Italy, 1.8m in Germany and more than 700,000 in the UK.

There are also a large numbers of vacant homes in Ireland, Greece, Portugal and several other countries, according to information collated by the Guardian. Many of the homes are in vast holiday resorts built in the feverish housing boom in the run up to the 2007-08 financial crisis – and have never been occupied. On top of the 11m empty homes – many of which were bought as investments by people who never intended to live in them – hundreds of thousands of half-built homes have been bulldozed in an attempt to shore up the prices of existing properties.

Freek Spinnewijn, director of FEANTSA, an umbrella organisation of homelessness bodies across Europe, said it was a scandal that so many homes have been allowed to lie empty. “You would only need half of them to end homelessness,” he said. “Governments should do as much as possible to put empty homes on the market. The problem of homelessness is getting worse across the whole of the European Union. The best way to resolve it is to put empty homes on the market.”

Most of Europe’s empty homes are in Spain, which saw the biggest construction boom in the mid-2000s fed largely by Britons and Germans buying homes in the sun. The latest Spanish census, published last year, indicated that more than 3.4m homes – 14% of all properties – were vacant. The number of empty homes has risen by more than 10% in the past decade.

3 Maria von Trapp no more (The Guardian) The last surviving member of the famous Trapp Family Singers made famous in The Sound of Music has died at her home in Vermont, aged 99. Von Trapp’s brother, Johannes von Trapp, said she died on Tuesday. He called her a “lovely woman who was one of the few truly good people”.

The family won acclaim throughout Europe for their singing and escaped from Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938. Their story was turned into the film and Broadway musical. Maria von Trapp was the third child and second-oldest daughter of Austrian naval captain Georg von Trapp and his first wife, Agathe Whitehead von Trapp. Their seven children were the basis for the singing family in the 1959 Broadway musical and 1965 film, which won the Oscar for best picture. Maria von Trapp was portrayed as Louisa in the film and musical.

The Sound of Music was based loosely on a 1949 book by Georg von Trapp’s second wife, also Maria von Trapp, who died in 1987. It tells the story of an Austrian woman who married a widower with seven children and taught them music. In 1938, the family escaped from Nazi-occupied Austria. After they arrived in New York, the family became popular with concert audiences. The family eventually settled in Vermont, where they opened a ski lodge in Stowe.

4 End of India’s linguistic states (MJ Akbar in Khaleej Times) There will be a 30th state in the union of India. The 29th, Telangana, is not the last post in the reorganisation of India’s internal map, set in motion, ironically, in 1952 by a fast-unto-death undertaken by a Gandhian called Potti Sreeramulu. It was for the creation of Andhra Pradesh, a merger of the Telugu-speaking districts of Madras province with Hyderabad, the state ruled by the Nizam.

 The concept of states carved along the dotted lines of language, as opposed to existing “administrative convenience”, was formally confirmed in 1955 by the States Reorganisation Commission headed by Sayyid Fazl Ali. The emotional strength of regional identity prevailed over the requirements of governance.

The creation of Telangana effectively ends linguistic states as a template. Governance and economic disparity will be the new and only rationale. Telangana and Seemandhra speak the same tongue. This has happened before. Uttarakhand spoke the same language as Uttar Pradesh, dialect variations apart, and used the same script. But this was an exception. Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh were created around ethnicity.

Future separation will revolve around economic incompatibility, spurred by the charge of bias in development. When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won, we need to answer the most basic of questions: Is a smaller state any guarantee of good governance?


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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