Raphael Minder

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Polina Sydorenko, a 19-year-old Ukrainian student, was brimming with both hope and trepidation when she returned to Kyiv in late August, after five months sheltering from the war as a refugee in Italy. Yet her plans to pick up the pieces of her disrupted life at a prestigious university in Kyiv were depressingly shortlived.

Just weeks after her return, the veneer of normality that had been temporarily restored to the capital was shattered as Russia launched new missile attacks on key Ukrainian cities and critical civilian infrastructure — the most serious since the war began. The university where she studied drama shut down again.…  Seguir leyendo »

The electric vehicle boom in a quiet Hungarian town

Sándor Máriás still remembers the Soviet fighter jets that kept him up all night as a child. He grew up during the communist era on a small farm next to a military air base outside Debrecen, in eastern Hungary. Their family home was 300 metres from the runway.

“The jets’ roar was deafening especially when they practised touch-and-go manoeuvres”, he recalls.

His family was one of a handful that the communist authorities allowed to keep their farm at a time of mandatory co-operatives. After the regime collapsed in 1989, the others all sold their land, but Máriás held out. That was until a wave of green technology started to wash over Debrecen.…  Seguir leyendo »

The mortgage time bomb ticking beneath Poland’s banks

In 2006, Polish couple Marek and Małgorzata Rzewuski bought a house on the outskirts of Warsaw because they were expecting a child and “we wanted more space and our own garden”.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Polish homebuyers at the time, they were advised by their bank to get a mortgage in Swiss francs to benefit from lower interest rates in Switzerland than in Poland. Nobody discussed the flip side of introducing a foreign exchange risk into a 30-year mortgage of SFr200,000 ($205,000).

“This was presented as the best opportunity on the market”, Marek recalls. “The Swiss franc was very stable and very popular and we knew many people who were doing the same”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Coffins of coronavirus victims, to be buried or incinerated, were stored in the underground parking lot of a funeral home in Barcelona on Thursday.Credit Samuel Aranda for The New York Times

At the end of January, a German tourist became Spain’s first coronavirus patient. At the time, the health threat seemed for the nation as remote as the tiny Spanish island of La Gomera, where he was treated. Two weeks later, the German walked out of hospital, and Spain celebrated being again “virus free”.

It proved a very brief respite. But even as more cases surfaced, Spanish officials continued to stress that the coronavirus was being imported, notably onto another island by tourists from Italy, where hospitals were already under siege. The story line was that Spain faced an external threat, but did not risk a domestic epidemic.…  Seguir leyendo »

Workers cleaning a nursing home where a woman died and several residents and care providers have been diagnosed with coronavirus in Grado, Asturias, Spain.Credit Eloy Alonso/Reuters

Spain prides itself on being a tight-knit society that respects parents and grandparents, where powerful bonds across generations mean that the elderly play an integral part in family life, beyond just helping to look after grandchildren.

So even in a country besieged by the coronavirus epidemic, where the death toll overtook China’s on Wednesday, the news this week about Spain’s nursing homes has come as a particular shock.

Soldiers who were sent to disinfect nursing homes had found people “completely abandoned, or even dead, in their beds,” the defense secretary, Margarita Robles, revealed on Monday. More gruesome discoveries followed, including the revelation of two dozen deaths in a single nursing home in Madrid.…  Seguir leyendo »

An empty classroom in Barcelona was cleaned on Thursday after schools and universities there closed to contain the virus.

Just last weekend, about 120,000 people marched through downtown Madrid to celebrate International Women’s Day. Some 60,000 soccer fans filled one of the city’s largest stadiums. And 9,000 supporters of Vox, Spain’s third-largest party, gathered inside a former bullring.

Now Spain has the second-highest number of infections of any European country, after Italy — overtaking the larger nations of France and Germany — and faces the fastest spreading contagion on the Continent.

Between last weekend and Friday, the number of cases in the country shot from several hundred to 4,200, with 120 deaths, and the prime minister warned that the number of cases could reach 10,000 by next week.…  Seguir leyendo »

Carles Puigdemont en Bélgica el 12 de enero Credit Virginia Mayo/Associated Press

El presidente español Mariano Rajoy amagó este lunes con extender el control del gobierno central sobre Cataluña si los legisladores independentistas recién elegidos permiten que Carles Puigdemont regrese a la Generalidad y gobierne desde el exilio.

El gobierno de Puigdemont fue retirado del cargo en octubre del año pasado después de impulsar una declaración independentista y el gobierno central convocó nuevas elecciones con la esperanza de que hubiera un cambio de liderazgo.

Sin embargo, las elecciones del 21 de diciembre no llevaron al resultado que buscaba Rajoy, pues los partidos independentistas obtuvieron el 47,5 por ciento del voto.

Y ahora Puigdemont se apresta a ser investido de nuevo como el presidente regional —el parlamento se reúne el miércoles y posiblemente elija a un nuevo líder en las próximas dos semanas— pese a que está exiliado en Bélgica y tiene en su contra cargos por sedición, rebelión y malversación de fondos públicos.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ada Colau, de 41 años de edad, ni siquiera había nacido cuando Manuela Carmena, de 71, se unió al clandestino Partido Comunista de España y empezó su carrera legal atacando las restricciones laborales impuestas por Francisco Franco.

Pero incluso separadas por una generación, Colau y Carmena lograron victorias izquierdistas similares, parte de un grupo de candidatos nuevos que sacudieron el sistema político de España después de las elecciones regionales y municipales del domingo.

Colau, una ex activista que combatió los desahucios de casas, derrotó al alcalde de Barcelona, Xavier Trias, en lo que ella describió como una victoria de “David contra Goliat”.…  Seguir leyendo »