Police raid offices of women’s groups in Poland after protests | World news

Women’s rights groups have denounced police raids on their offices in several Polish cities that resulted in the seizing of documents and computers, a day after women staged anti-government marches to protest at the country’s restrictive abortion law.

The raids took place on Wednesday in the cities of Warsaw, Gdańsk, Łódź and Zielona Góra. They targeted two organisations, the Women’s Rights Centre and Baba, which help victims of domestic violence and participated in this week’s anti-government protests.

Women’s rights activists said on Thursday that the loss of files would hamper their work, and accused authorities of trying to intimidate them. Prosecutors denied the accusation, saying the timing of the raids a day after the marches was coincidental.

Some fear the ruling Law and Justice party, led by Jarosław Kaczyński, is following in the footsteps of neighbouring Hungary, where non-governmental groups have faced harassment under the prime minister, Viktor Orbán.

“This is an abuse of power because, even if there is any suspicion of wrongdoing, an inquiry could be done in a way that doesn’t affect the organisations’ work,” Marta Lempart, the head of the Polish Women’s Strike, which organised the protests, told Associated Press.

The women’s groups said they were told by police that prosecutors were looking for evidence in an investigation into suspected wrongdoing in the justice ministry under the former government. At the time the ministry provided funding to the women’s groups.

“We are afraid that this is just a pretext or warning signal to not engage in activities not in line with the ruling party,” the Women’s Rights Centre said in a statement.

Anita Kucharska-Dziedzic, who heads Baba, said police entered her office in Zielona Góra, western Poland, at 9am on Wednesday and worked until 6pm removing files.

She told AP her group was not aware of any wrongdoing by justice ministry officials it was in contact with.

She also said she now expected problems continuing her projects due to the loss of files, and is also concerned because the documents contained private information on victims of domestic abuse who had sought the group’s help.

Barbora Cernusakova, Amnesty International’s researcher on Poland, called the police operations “very worrying”.

“We understand that the police actions came in the context of an investigation against former staff of the Ministry of Justice, but the NGOs, and the women and girls they support, will suffer the consequences,” Cernusakova said.

Jacek Pawlak, a spokesman for prosecutors in Poznań, where the investigation is being led, said the raids were part of an ongoing investigation but would not divulge what the probe was about. He said there was no attempt to harass the women’s organisations.

This week’s street demonstrations came on the first anniversary of a mass Black Protest by women dressed in black that stopped a plan in parliament for a total ban on abortion.

Despite that success, women’s rights activists marched to protest that abortion was still illegal in most cases, and called for a liberalisation of the law.

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The EU has tied its own hands. It cannot intervene in Catalonia | Natalie Nougayrède | Opinion

The Catalan crisis presents the EU with an unprecedented conundrum. Spain joined the European project in 1986, and its democratic transition has for decades been hailed as a model. Tensions have not run this high in the country since the 1981 failed military coup, when colonel Antonio Tejero seized the parliament in Madrid at gunpoint. The then king, young Juan Carlos, prevented the nation from entering another dark age by delivering a speech on TV uncompromisingly defending the constitution and identifying the monarchy with the country’s emerging democratic majority.

As Catalonia’s nationalist leadership hurtles towards what may be, in the coming days, a unilateral declaration of independence, the current king, Felipe, also took to the television screens. Can he rally consensus within Spain to prevent a full-on confrontation?

The best option, one would think, would be for the EU to step in. But calls for it to mediate between Madrid and Barcelona have been left unanswered. Not only that, the EU stands accused of complacency in the face of what some Catalan activists describe as state “repression” that carries echoes of the Franco era. Is any of this fair?

The EU’s critics do raise valid points. If the bloc’s founding principles are all about values, how can it stay aloof from this crisis? At a time when the EU wants to reboot its democratic message and convince citizens it can address their grievances, surely this would be a good moment to demonstrate sympathy towards crowds targeted by security forces for wanting to express a political belief at the ballot box.

Then there is the question of double standards. This year EU institutions came out strongly against the governments of Poland and Hungary for their democratic backsliding. The EU commission has even raised the threat of sanctions. Why isn’t any of this being contemplated when it comes to Spain?

Catalonia has become a focal point across Europe, with many framing the confrontation as a case of fundamental rights being crushed by force. The Catalan leadership has wasted no time making that argument, and the images of police violence will only have buoyed its case. Radical left commentators across Europe have been up in arms against Madrid, as if this was a rerun of the Spanish civil war. Interestingly, their indignation has been much more strident than when Venezuela’s dictator cracked down on protesters earlier this year, with dozens killed.

The scenes of police brutality in Barcelona were undoubtedly both a watershed and a scandal. Amnesty International denounced the “disproportionate” use of force, and the UN high commissioner for human rights has called for an impartial investigation. But before Eurosceptics start using Catalonia as another opportunity to lash out at the EU for its passivity and cynicism, a few reminders may be useful.

The EU has long been ill at ease with separatist issues within its member states. It has no mechanism to sort out a dispute of this kind. Article 4.2 of the 2009 Lisbon treaty states that the EU “shall respect” the “essential state functions” of its members, “including territorial integrity” and “maintaining law and order”. The EU has no power over how a member state decides to organise itself or its constituent regions.


Thousands take to streets in Barcelona to protest against police violence – video

Supporters of Catalan independence may well argue this needs to be fixed, but no one in the EU wants to open a Pandora’s box. The EU will only deal with a case of newly declared independence if that independence results from a negotiated, legally based process. That is not the case in Catalonia, but would have been the case in 2014 if Scotland had voted to secede from the UK.

The Catalan vote was “not legal” and the issue was “an internal matter for Spain”, the EU commission insisted on Monday. Just as it had in the case of Scotland, it also made clear that if the region seceded from Spain, Catalonia would find itself outside the EU, with no automatic way back in. There are clear limits on the EU’s powers of mediation. It’s true that it played a role in addressing the Northern Ireland question (and still does today), but that was only made possible after a peace accord had been reached.

This leaves the issue of fundamental rights. On this point, the EU commission statement that “violence can never be an instrument in politics” is, to say the least, timid. The wording steers clear of laying any blame. The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, may have been spared a dose of EU wrath because of his party’s link to the centre-right group in the European parliament.

But whatever political calculations are at work, the EU commission lacks the tools to determine whether a government has violated human rights. These are enshrined in the 1950 European convention on human rights, which the European court of human rights is responsible for upholding, and which the Council of Europe also monitors. Perhaps a court case will one day be mounted against the police action in Catalonia, but that will be up to the judges, not to EU institutions in Brussels.

Drawing a comparison with Poland and Hungary is also hazardous. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and the government in Poland have dismantled democratic checks and balances, curtailed media freedom and put the independence of the judiciary in jeopardy. However dismal the situation in Spain, nothing comparable has been undertaken by Rajoy. It also takes a good deal of twisting of historical facts to equate the Spanish police’s heavy-handed tactics in Barcelona with the repression, systematic arrests and curtailing of individual freedoms under Franco.

It took a long time for the EU to react to Poland and Hungary’s erosion of the rule of law. As a recent report by the Open Society European Policy Institute points out, EU leaders “are reluctant to criticise one of their peers because they worry about setting a precedent that could one day be used against them”. But the same report stresses that in the end the EU decided to take steps against these governments not simply because they had trampled on democratic practices, but also because their capture of independent state institutions was undermining the implementation of EU law itself. The European club’s integrity was at stake. Spain has not gone down that road.

It is possible the Catalonia crisis will deteriorate to such a point that the EU will need to shed its caution. For the moment it is in a bind and hoping a compromise will emerge. The dramatic scenes in Barcelona have made it look feeble. But the EU is predicated on a rules-based order, and its leaders believe that in an unpredictable world rife with populism it has to hang on to those rules if it is to survive as a bloc. Sticking scrupulously to the law and to treaties means avoiding setting precedents that might lead to an unravelling.

The EU has set itself the goal of countering rising illiberalism and nationalism, and it’s struggling. The Catalan crisis exposes its political limits and its difficulty in making citizens understand how it functions. For Europe, as for Spanish democracy, this is a major test.

Natalie Nougayrède is a columnist, leader writer and foreign affairs commentator for the Guardian

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‘In eastern Europe, we don’t prefer to eat garbage’: readers on food inequality | Inequality

‘Cats and dogs refuse to eat it’

My husband and I both studied and lived abroad for many years, and we can honestly say what we find in supermarkets here [in Romania] is not food. Lots of people become vegetarians only because they fear the quality of the meat and meat products available. Many say certain products contain no meat at all. The taste is horrible, the texture questionable, and the cats and dogs refuse to eat it.

Frozen pizzas are smaller here and don’t taste as good, orange juice has less real oranges in it, and nobody touches the fish fingers. It’s scary when even the fruit available is obviously full of hormones. We had a grapefruit for a while and it became an experiment to see if it would ever go bad. After four months we gave up and threw it away – but it still looked fresh.

It’s like they can deliver whatever product and call it food, because we don’t know any better. Check out life expectancy in Romania and why it’s so low. We feel like less than human when we can’t choose to eat healthy food. As to the claim that brands adjust their products to the local taste, I would like to comment that here in eastern Europe, we don’t prefer to eat garbage.
Ana, Romania

‘Spitting in the face of consumers’

Visit the border towns in Burgenland at the weekend and you’ll see shops in this once dead-end part of Austria packed with shoppers from Slovakia seeking good-quality products, even for a higher price. The argument about “different local tastes” is spitting in the face of all consumers here. If companies are so sure of this argument, I challenge them to offer both types of products and see how sales go. But the monopoly is something they fear to lose, so unless forced, they won’t.
Oliver, Slovakia

‘There is no issue with these products’

As a market researcher, I used to work at different companies in Hungary. There is simply no issue with these products. These companies want to serve the local communities: they produce different varieties, test these on customers, and find out which is the best one they can sell with profit. If it tastes a bit different so be it, as long as this difference doesn’t cause any harm and the products are still considered edible. I think it’s simply [Hungarian prime minister] Viktor Orbán and his spin-doctor’s attempt to blame the EU and the west for something that is the result of globalisation and cultural differences.
Imre, Hungarian living in UK

‘The yoghurt contained flour’

There have been rumours about food and product inequality for many years here [in Hungary]. In Geneva I bought a yoghurt, and the consistency was entirely different to the same product I bought in Budapest. Later I learned from a friend in Hungary who had flour intolerance that he was not allowed to eat this brand of yoghurt in Hungary because it contained flour! Another example: the liquid detergent I bought in Budapest is less thick and more transparent, as if it were a diluted version of the same brand we bought in Geneva and Zurich.
Anna, Hungary

‘Dangerous consequence’

These practices have a more dangerous consequence. It has turned many people in this part of the world against “Europe”, and allowed the authoritarian president to whip up “anti-western” sentiments. These companies are to a large degree responsible for the poor relations that now exist between the different countries in Europe.
David, Russia

‘Dumpster of the EU food market’

I visit western Europe once or twice a year. The same products, marketed under the same name, are of inferior quality in Romania than in Germany or France or the UK. Not just prepackaged foods but fruit, vegetables and meat as well, when comparing brands available from the same chain of supermarkets. When I hear the excuse of catering to “local tastes”, I start to hyperventilate. Nobody has an appetite for inferior food – and the solution is, most of the time, “add more sugar”. If you add to this the fact that food is generally more expensive in Romania, you get a clearer picture of why Romanians might think they are considered the dumpster of the EU food market.
Dorin, Romania

‘Only their hypocrisy upsets me’

How convenient “local tastes” are: more sugar, lower percentage of fruit, lower percentage of meat; never vice-versa. But it makes sense. People want to buy western brands because it makes them feel good – but if western companies delivered their standard products, they would be too expensive for local consumers. If these companies wanted to be honest and create a sub-standard local brand, then advertising would be far more expensive than just adapting the existing brand. The natural solution was controlled damage to their standard brands. It’s only their hypocrisy, pretending that this is the “local taste”, that upsets me.
Mihai, Romania

‘Inferior comfort food’

I have one particular product that triggered my (amateur) research on the topic: frozen pizza. It was my favourite comfort food. Suddenly it looked and tasted different, definitely inferior. I also noticed that, for the first time, the cooking instructions were not in German, Dutch, English or Spanish. Instead, they were in the languages of central and eastern Europe. Years later I lived in the Netherlands, and noticed the same pizzas looked like the old versions I loved. Comparing the boxes, I noticed the “western” pizza contained seven slices of cheese, compared to five in the “eastern” version. The eastern pizza weighed less, but contained more saturated fats and sugar; hence also more calories.
Lara, Slovenia

‘Laundry will never smell as good’

In Poland you can find shops reselling goods bought in Germany, especially cleaning products and chocolate. My uncle in Germany still brings washing products for my mum. Your laundry will never smell as good and for as long if you use Polish versions of washing liquid brands. My cousins were always jealous of my nice-smelling clothes (now they get their washing products from Germany too).
Roza, Pole living in France

‘Salmon is a disgrace’

One of the biggest culprits is fish – salmon is a disgrace in the Czech Republic. It is usually cooled to a point before it freezes, then thawed before being passed off as fresh salmon. The cooling data and thawing is written on the side of boxes – but the retailers take advantage of the fact consumers cannot generally read English-language storage instructions. Savvy buyers know to buy goods where labels on products have Czech language labels stuck over the original text. This means the product that is sold in western markets is identical to the Czech market product.
Nigel, Czech Republic

‘Cling film doesn’t cling’

We’ve known for years the goods here are of lower quality, but are sold at greater cost. Well-known brands of wine that are “bottled” in the Czech Republic taste rancid compared to their UK counterparts. Toilet paper is rough, flimsy and will actually give you paper cuts. Cling film doesn’t cling, stock cubes add no flavour.
Maie, Czech Republic

‘Capitalism hasn’t delivered’

We are used to buying basic groceries in the west and transporting them to our home countries. The tediousness of it contributed to the end of communism. However, it seems capitalism hasn’t delivered “what we paid for” either.
Sandra, Slovenia

Food industry statement

We take the accusations of alleged “dual quality” very seriously. Consumers are core to our business, and equally important wherever they are. It must also be stressed that whatever the recipe, our food always meets European standards and remains the safest in the world. The companies currently in the spotlight have rigorous quality management systems in place to ensure consistent quality across their brands, all over the world. The composition of products may sometimes be slightly different between countries for various reasons, but this does not necessarily imply “dual” or “inferior” quality between east and west European markets. For example, differences in composition can also found between the UK and France, or between Italy and Sweden.
Florence Ranson from FoodDrinkEurope, the industry’s lobby group in Brussels

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Trump’s fascist contagion gives the anti-Brexit cause what it lacked: an emotional heart | Jonathan Freedland | Opinion

To the remainer, and even to the neutral, our current politics contains a big mystery. Put simply, where is the sentiment we hoped to call regrexit? Where is the collective outbreak of buyer’s remorse? After all, the evidence that Brexit will be the greatest error in our national history since Munich is piling up. It’s not just that a process the leavers used to say would be quick and easy is proving to be long and torturously difficult, or that the European economies are growing while ours is sluggish. It’s more fundamental than that.

It’s the fact that ending free movement will deprive our hospitals of nurses, our old-age homes of care workers and our farms of essential workers: recruitment of EU nurses is already down 96%, while farmers are already warning of food rotting in the fields.

It’s the contradictions, which are legion. We did this supposedly to stop sending money to the EU, yet now we’re negotiating over how many tens of billions we’ll pay into Brussels coffers (this time getting nothing in return). We did this to make parliament supreme once more, yet now Brexit necessitates a withdrawal bill that would see a massive shift of power away from MPs, as the executive grabs enough unchecked authority to make a Tudor king blush.

The Brexiteers tacitly concede this reality through their quiet dropping of the old promises. No longer do they insist that leaving will bring eternal sunshine. Now the best they can offer is the glum hope that things might, eventually, be no worse than if we stayed. Witness the pro-leave economist Andrew Lilico confidently telling the BBC earlier this summer that the country might recover from the transitional pain of Brexit by 2030.

When the best that can be said for leaving is that it might one day be as good as remaining, and when the worst points to national catastrophe, you might expect the public mood to shift. And yet the polls detect little sign of change. Overall, the two camps are broadly where they were on referendum day, with few leave voters having changed their mind.

The explanation surely lies in the nature of the 2016 vote. Remainers may wish it to have been based on a calm assessment of empirical evidence, so that fresh evidence now would shift opinions. But it wasn’t like that. Much of what drove that vote, like all votes, was emotion. This was remain’s weakness. And it still is.

Even now, anti-Brexiteers struggle to articulate a case that matches the emotional power of “take back control”. It certainly resonates when you say that it’s wrong to shrink the horizons of a generation of young Britons, who will now be denied easy access to an entire continent. But the deepest emotional argument for remain looked not to the future, but to the past. It centred on the second world war.

Donald Trump



‘Donald Trump and the fascist contagion is reminding us why the EU exists: to ensure that the neighbourhood we live in is never again consumed by the flames of tyranny. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

It contemplated the long, lethal history of Europe and saw the European Union as the answer. For a continent that had been gripped by the fever of nationalism and hatred, the EU proved to be an antidote, soothing the brow with its spirit of co-operation and sharing of sovereignty. The Britain that had fought two world wars surely was obliged to cherish, rather than risk, this remedy to the European disease.

That argument barely flew in the referendum campaign. When David Cameron tried it, Boris Johnson mocked him for it. But mentioned even less was the conflict that followed 1945: the cold war that divided Europe with a wall and left the continent – and the world – in the permanent shadow of nuclear apocalypse. Its absence was strange, given that it had been Britain, and especially the British Conservative party, that after the cold war was over had seen the EU as the means to bind together a once-ruptured Europe. It was the Tories who pushed for EU enlargement, to include the ex-communist nations of the east. Once again, the EU’s mission was to heal a continent shattered by conflict.

A reminder of that vision has come this week not from a politician or pro-remain pamphleteer, but a fictional character. George Smiley, who lived the cold war in the shadows, returns in John le Carré’s masterful new novel, A Legacy of Spies. He makes a fleeting, enigmatic appearance in which he asks himself what was it all for. “I’m a European,” he says. “If I had an unattainable ideal, it was of leading Europe out of her darkness towards a new age of reason.”

Smiley, a veteran of both the hot war against fascism and the cold war against Soviet communism, had known that darkness first-hand. But for those who voted in last year’s EU referendum, perhaps it all seemed too long ago. Those demons were slain, the EU no longer needed.

Still, if that’s how it looked on 23 June 2016, it looks different now. In a talk on Thursday night, Le Carré spoke of the behaviour of Donald Trump and others as “absolutely comparable” to the rise of fascism in the 1930s. “It’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary. There’s an encouragement about,” he said.

This is a warning to take seriously. Hungary is indeed led by a man who boasts that he is building an “illiberal state”, while Poland’s government is trampling over fundamental democratic protections, including an independent judiciary and freedom of the press (and Trump is cheering them on as they do so).

The US president is not making America great again, but he is making the 1930s current again. Perhaps, then, and in a way he would not want, Trump is providing the anti-Brexiteers with the one thing they always lacked: an emotional heart to their argument. Trump and the fascist contagion is reminding us why the EU exists: to ensure that the neighbourhood we live in is never again consumed by the flames of tyranny and hatred.

On that fateful day in June 2016, it’s possible that some of those who voted leave did so because they believed that democracy and peace were now safe and secure in Europe. In the short time that has passed since, we have seen that those things are, in fact, fragile. As the head of Nato warns that the world is at its most dangerous point in a generation, Britain’s duty, to use a word that might make Smiley wince, is surely to defend the body that helped lead Europe out of its darkness. Instead, we are turning our backs and walking away.

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Extreme heat warnings issued in Europe as temperatures pass 40C | World news

Eleven southern and central European countries have issued extreme heat warnings amid a brutal heatwave nicknamed Lucifer, with residents and tourists urged to take precautions and scientists warning worse could be still to come.

Authorities in countries including Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia are on red alert, the European forecasters’ network Meteoalarm said, and swaths of southern Spain and France are on amber.

As temperatures in many places hit or exceeded 40C (104F) in the region’s most sustained heatwave since 2003, emergency services are being put on standby and people have been asked to “remain vigilant”, stay indoors, avoid long journeys, drink enough fluids and listen for emergency advice from health officials.

At least two people have died from the heat, one in Romania and one in Poland, and many more taken to hospital suffering from sunstroke and other heat-related conditions. Italy said its hospitalisation rate was 15% above normal and asked people in affected regions only to travel if their journey was essential. Polish officials warned of possible infrastructure failures.

A spokeswoman for Abta, the UK travel trade organisation, reinforced the advice for holidaymakers, saying they should take sensible precautions, keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water, stay out of the sun in the middle of the day, and follow any advice issued by health authorities in specific destinations.

A cyclist waits to cross a road next to a thermometer showing 41C in Valencia, eastern Spain.



A cyclist waits to cross a road next to a thermometer showing 41C in Valencia, eastern Spain. Photograph: Manuel Bruque/EPA

The heatwave, now in its fourth day and expected to last until next Wednesday, follows an earlier spell of extreme temperatures last month that fuelled a spate of major wildfires, exacerbated droughts in Italy and Spain, and damaged crops.

The highest temperature on Thursday was 42C in Cordoba, Spain, and Catania, Italy. Split in Croatia also hit 42.3C on Wednesday. The spell is forecast to peak at the weekend with temperatures of 46C or higher in Italy and parts of the Balkans.

Authorities in Italy, which is suffering its worst drought in 60 years, have placed 26 cities on the maximum extreme heat alert, including Venice and Rome. Many of Rome’s fountains have been turned off, and last week the city only narrowly averted drastic water rationing.

In Florence, the Uffizi art gallery was temporarily closed on Friday when the air-conditioning system broke down. In Hungary, keepers at Budapest zoo cooled down two overheating polar bears with huge ice blocks.

Temperatures along parts of Croatia’s Adriatic coast, including Dubrovnik, were expected to hit 42C during the day. In the Serbian capital of Belgrade there were reports of people fainting from heat exhaustion.

Hot weather map

Highs in Spain, including in popular holiday resorts on the Costa del Sol and on the island of Majorca, are set to reach 43C this weekend, with extreme conditions also forecast in Seville, Malaga and Granada. Ibiza and Mallorca could hit 42C, Spain’s Aemet meteorological service warned.

While Europe’s record high is 48C, set in Athens in 1977, current temperatures are in many places as much as 10-15C higher than normal for the time of year and likely to result in more fatalities, experts have said.

Europe’s record-breaking 2003 heatwave resulted in more than 20,000 heat-related deaths, mainly of old and vulnerable people, including 15,000 in France, where temporary mortuaries were set up in refrigerated lorries.

Such spells of extreme heat in southern Europe could be a foretaste of things to come. French researchers last month predicted summer conditions in some of the continent’s popular tourist destinations could become significantly tougher.

Szeriy, a polar bear at Budapest zoo, has been given blocks of ice to combat the heat



Szeriy, a polar bear at Budapest zoo, has been given blocks of ice to combat the heat. Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the scientists said if a similar “mega-heatwave” to that of 2003 were to occur at the end of the century, when average temperatures are widely expected to be noticeably higher after decades of global warming, temperatures could pass 50C.

The researchers noted that climate models suggest “human influence is expected to significantly increase the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves in Europe” and said their modelling suggested that by 2100, peak summer temperatures could rise by between 6C and 13C against historical records.

The village of Conqueyrac in the Gard department of France hit 44.1C on two occasions in the summer of 2003, the highest temperature ever recorded in the country, meaning “the record maximum value could easily exceed 50C by the end of the 21st century”, the scientists concluded.

The current extreme temperatures, coupled with strong winds, have fanned wildfires that have already caused more than 60 deaths this summer in Portugal and caused widespread damage in southern France, Greece and Italy.

About 300 firefighters and military personnel were fighting 75 wildfires on Friday in Albania, with firefighters also busy in Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Croatia, Greece and the French island of Corsica.

Children cool off in water on a square in Tirana, Albania.



Children cool off in water on a square in Tirana, Albania. Photograph: Malton Dibra/EPA

In Italy, fires killed a 79-year-old woman in the central Abruzzo region and forced the closure of the main Via Aurelia coastal motorway that runs northwards from Rome to the Italian Riviera.

The country’s winemakers have started harvesting their grapes weeks earlier than usual due to the heat. The founder of the Slow Food movement, Carlo Petrini, said no harvest in living memory had begun before 15 August.

The heatwave is likely to cost Italy’s agricultural sector billions of euros, with as many as 11 regions facing critical water shortages. Olive yields in some areas are forecast to be down 50% and some milk production has fallen by up to 30%.

Bosnian officials said the heatwave and drought had nearly halved agricultural output, which represents 10% of the country’s economic output, and Serbia said its corn production could be cut a third.

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Democracy is dying – and it’s startling how few people are worried | Paul Mason | Opinion

A rough inventory of July’s contribution to the global collapse of democracy would include Turkey’s show trial of leading journalists from Cumhuriyet, a major newspaper; Vladimir Putin’s ban on the virtual private networks used by democracy activists to evade censorship; Apple’s decision to pull the selfsame technology from its Chinese app store.

Then there is Hungary’s government-funded poster campaign depicting opposition parties and NGOs as puppets of Jewish billionaire George Soros; Poland’s evisceration of judicial independence and the presidential veto that stopped it. Plus Venezuela’s constituent assembly poll, boycotted by more than half the population amid incipient civil war.

Overshadowing all this is a three-cornered US constitutional face-off between Trump (accused of links with Russia), his attorney general (who barred himself from investigating the Russian links) and the special prosecutor who is investigating Trump, whom Trump is trying to sack.

Let’s be brutal: democracy is dying. And the most startling thing is how few ordinary people are worried about it. Instead we compartmentalise the problem. Americans worried about the present situation typically worry about Trump – not the pliability of the most fetishised constitution in the world to kleptocratic rule. EU politicians express polite diplomatic displeasure, as Erdoğan’s AK party machine attempts to degrade their own democracies. As in the early 1930s, the death of democracy always seems to be happening somewhere else.

The problem is it sets new norms of behaviour. It is no accident that the “enemies of the people” meme is doing the rounds: Orbán uses it against the billionaire George Soros, Trump uses it against the liberal press, China used it to jail the poet Liu Xiaobo and keep him in prison until his death.

Another popular technique is the micromanaged enforcement of non-dissent. Erdoğan not only sacked tens of thousands of dissenting academics, and jailed some, but removed their social security rights, revoked their rights to teach, and in some cases to travel. Trump is engaged in a similar micromanagerial attack on so called “sanctuary cities”. About 300 US local governments have pledged – entirely legally – not to collaborate with the federal immigration agency ICE. Last week the US attorney general Jeff Sessions threatened federal grants to these cities’ local justice systems, a move Trump hailed using yet another fashionable technique – the unverified claim.

Trump told a rally of supporters in Ohio that the federal government was in fact “liberating” American cities from immigrant crime gangs. They “take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15 and others and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die”, he said. At school – and I mean primary school – we were taught to greet such claims about racial minorities with the question: “Really? When and where did this happen?” Trump cited no evidence – though the US press managed to find examples in which gang members had indeed hacked each other.

This repertoire of autocratic rule is of course not new; what makes it novel is its concerted and combined use by elected rulers – Putin, Erdoğan, Orbán, Trump, Maduro, Duterte in the Philippines and Modi in India – who are quite clearly engaged in a rapid, purposive and common project to hollow out democracy.

Equally striking is that, right now, there is no major country prepared to set positive global standards for democracy.

In her 2015 book, Undoing the Demos, UC Berkeley political science professor Wendy Brown made a convincing case that the world’s backsliding on democratic values has been driven by its adoption of neoliberal economics.

It is not, argues Brown, that freemarket elites purposefully embrace the project of autocracy, but that the economic microstructures created in the last 30 years “transmogrify every human domain and endeavour, including humans themselves, according to a specific image of the economic”. All action is judged as if it has an economic outcome: free speech, education, political participation. We learn implicitly to weigh what should be principles as if they were commodities. We ask: is it “worth” allowing some cities to protect illegal migrants? What is the economic downside of sacking tens of thousands of academics and dictating what they can research?

In his influential 2010 testament, Indignez-Vous (Time for Outrage!), the French resistance fighter Stéphane Hessel urged the rising generation of social justice activists to remember the fight he and others had put up during the drafting of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They fought for the word universal (not “international” as proposed by the main governments) in the full knowledge that arguments about sovereignty would sooner or later be advanced to deny the rights they thought they had secured. It seemed odd, back then, even to those of us sympathetic to Hessel, to receive this long, repetitive lecture about the concept of universality. But he was prescient.

The tragedy today is that there is not a single democratic government on Earth prepared to defend that principle. Sure, they will issue notes of displeasure over the death of Liu Xiaobo or Maduro’s crackdown. But they refuse to restate the universality of the principles these actions violate. The fight for universal principles has to begin – as Hessel recognised – with individual people. We must keep restating to ourselves and those around us that our human rights are, as the 1948 declaration states, “equal and inalienable”. That means if one faraway kleptocrat steals them from his subjects, that is like stealing them from ourselves.

Every democratic advance in history, from the English revolution of 1642 to the fall of Soviet communism in 1989, began when people understood the concept of rights they were born with, not to be granted or withdrawn. Today that means learning to think like a free human being, not an economic subject.

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Family of Swede who vanished after saving Jews sue Russian state | World news

The family of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during the second world war before disappearing when Hungary came under under Soviet rule, are suing Russia’s security service for access to its files, their lawyer said Thursday.

“The relatives of Wallenberg filed the lawsuit at the Meshchansky court in the Russian capital on Wednesday,” their lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, told AFP.

The Wallenberg family “wants to force the FSB [the successor to the KGB] to give it access to the originals of the documents” that concern Wallenberg’s fate, Pavlov said.

He said Wallenberg’s relatives have made many attempts to gain access to the FSB archives dating back to the Soviet era. These were either rejected or the documents they received were incomplete, Pavlov said.

“This case isn’t just about the possibility of restoring the memory of a remarkable person. It is also yet another attempt to fight the inaccessibility of the FSB archives,” he said.

As a special envoy in Nazi-controlled Hungary, Wallenberg issued Swedish identity papers to tens of thousands of Jews, allowing them to flee Nazi-occupied Hungary and likely death.

But when the Soviets entered Budapest in January 1945 – months before the war ended – they summoned Wallenberg to their headquarters. After that he disappeared, aged 32.

In 1957, the Soviet Union released a document saying Wallenberg had been jailed in the Lubyanka prison, the notorious building where the KGB security services were headquartered, and that he died of heart failure on 17 July 1947.

But his family refused to accept that version of events, and for decades have been trying to establish what happened to him.

They specifically want to know if Wallenberg was “Prisoner number 7” who, according to records, was interrogated on 23 July 1947 – six days after Wallenberg’s alleged death.

The family learned of the mysterious prisoner from two historians who said they had been told by FSB archivists the prisoner was likely to have been Wallenberg.

“The majority of our questions revolve around this prisoner,” Wallenberg’s niece, Marie Dupuy, told AFP.

“Every time, they [the Russian authorities] tell us that they are not able to answer. But we are sure they know.”

In 2000, the head of a Russian investigative commission conceded that Wallenberg had been shot and killed by KGB agents in Lubyanka in 1947 for political reasons, but declined to be more specific or to cite hard evidence.

Last year Sweden officially declared Wallenberg dead, but his body has never been returned to his family.

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Netanyahu attack on EU policy towards Israel caught on microphone | World news

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has launched a withering attack on the European Union at a closed-door meeting of eastern European leaders in Budapest, saying the political grouping would wither and die if it did not change its policy towards Israel.

The remarks, caught on an open microphone, underlined Netanyahu’s often barely disguised contempt for the European political union, which has criticised Israel – and his government in particular – over issues including Jewish settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories and the peace process.

Netanyahu also made a rare public admission that Israel has struck Iranian arms convoys in Syria bound for Hezbollah “dozens and dozens of times”.

The overheard remarks were reported by Israeli journalists covering the trip.

The bombastic remarks, which bizarrely predicated Europe’s future on its attitude towards Israel – not one of the most burning issues on an EU agenda confronting the challenges of immigration, Brexit and economic growth – were made in a meeting with the leaders of Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland, whom Netanyahu urged to close their doors to refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

“I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear,” he said. “I am not very politically correct. I know that’s a shock to some of you. It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth – both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future. Both of these concerns mandate a different policy toward Israel.”

“The European Union is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel, which produces technology in every area, on political conditions. The only ones! Nobody does it,” Netanyahu said before officials realised the meeting was being overheard by reporters and cut the feed.

“It’s crazy. It’s actually crazy,” he added, urging the leaders present to help push Europe to expedite the EU association agreement with Israel that has been held up because of current Israeli policies.

Netanyahu’s remarks were made following criticism of his visit to Budapest, where he has been accused of soft-pedalling on accusations against the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, for allegedly stoking antisemitism, not least in a high-profile campaign targeting billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros.

Netanyahu’s comments also come in the midst of problems for the embattled Israeli prime minister at home, where he is under investigation in two police inquiries and amid an escalating corruption scandal involving his government over the purchase of German submarines.

“I think that if I can suggest that what comes out of this meeting is your ability perhaps to communicate to your colleagues in other parts of Europe: Help Europe … don’t undermine the one western country that defends European values and European interests and prevents another mass migration to Europe,” added Netanyahu.

“So stop attacking Israel. Start supporting Israel … start supporting European economies by doing what the Americans, the Chinese and the Indians are doing,” he said, referring to increasing technological cooperation.

“There is no logic here. The EU is undermining its security by undermining Israel. Europe is undermining its progress by undermining its connection with Israeli innovation,” he added.

“We are part of the European culture,” Netanyahu continued. “Europe ends in Israel. East of Israel, there is no more Europe. We have no greater friends than the Christians who support Israel around the world. Not only the evangelists. If I go to Brazil, I’ll be greeted there with more enthusiasm than at the Likud party.”

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The Guardian view on Poland and Hungary: heading the wrong way | Editorial | Opinion

Poland is “on the road to autocracy”, the outgoing president of its highest constitutional court warned late last year. Since then it has travelled an alarming distance: thousands of Poles protested at the weekend against changes that undermine the rule of law by handing politicians control of who is in the judiciary and what they do. The response of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has been to step on the accelerator – its proposals to terminate the appointments of all supreme court judges, unless the executive allows them to stay on, could be passed within days or even hours. The court is not only the final tribunal of appeal for all criminal and civil cases: it rules on the validity of elections, approves the financial reports of political parties and adjudicates on disciplinary proceedings against judges. This comes on top of laws passed last week giving parliament control over the previously autonomous body appointing judges, and ministers the power to appoint the president of each court, who decides which judge will sit in each case. The government had already manoeuvred its way to control of the constitutional court.

These developments are probably the most frightening manifestation yet of the rightwing, nationalist, populist illiberalism that has taken root in Poland and Hungary (predictably, PiS has portrayed the judiciary as corrupt and in service to the elite). The international community has struggled to respond – and some have encouraged and abetted such tendencies. Donald Trump’s visit to Warsaw, and his speech playing to the xenophobic tendencies of his host, sent all the wrong signals; many believe it encouraged the government to push on quickly with the judicial changes.

Similarly, Benjamin Netanyahu embraced Hungary’s Viktor Orbán on Tuesday despite the concerns of Hungarian Jews over his praise for wartime leader Miklós Horthy, who collaborated in sending Jews to death camps, and his concerted campaign against George Soros (whom Mr Netanyahu also dislikes). While Mr Orbán reiterated his opposition to antisemitism, Mr Soros and others say there is an unmistakable tone to the billboards attacking the Jewish financier for challenging the government’s anti-refugee stance – part of a dedicated campaign against him. The Israeli government overruled a statement from its ambassador condemning the posters.

Hungary and Poland (and the Czech Republic) could face financial penalties for barring the door to refugees, thanks to legal action by the EU, but feel vindicated by the way the political tide has swung against Angela Merkel’s more generous stance. The row over refugees reflects a more fundamental clash of values: hence Budapest’s attacks on NGOs and attempts to close Mr Soros’s Central European University. In that sense, it is true to say that this personalised assault is not personal: it is about what Mr Soros represents. Hungary has not advanced anywhere near as far as Poland in undercutting the judiciary, but it is on a similar track; and attacks on the media, academia and foreign criticism are highly reminiscent.

When other EU states raised concerns about Poland’s “unconstitutional” reforms, the UK declared that countries had a right to pursue “their own democratic agenda”. Britain has its own agenda: driving a wedge between the Visegrad 4 and the rest of the EU to aid Brexit negotiations. It has cannily dispatched photogenic young royals to Poland, flattering the country without risking political embarrassment. Prince George was never likely to be quizzed about the new legislation. Meanwhile the rest of the EU, concerned by its increasing fragility, feels less able than ever to challenge outliers, though a number of countries – notably the Netherlands – have been energetic and some hope Emmanuel Macron may be persuaded to take up the charge. Belgium has raised the possibility of limiting Poland’s access to the EU budget. While Warsaw and Budapest attack the EU and its values, they are happy to take its cash.

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