Welcome to the 195 series, where I take you on a mini-tour of every country (and maybe some places that want to be countries). Each week I'll feature a new location. Some you may have heard of, while others may be new to you. The point is to learn and nurture our curiosity about the wider world. Maybe you'll find a new artist or musician you like, too.
Here's the link to copy and paste in your browser if you're interested in supporting this project: https://lazo-letters.ghost.io/#/portal/signup. You can sign up for $2 a month or $22 a year.
Population: Roughly 77, 200
Current government: Andorra is an independent principality in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. It is technically a parliamentary constitutional diarchy – or a government headed by two different authorities. It has two co-princes, one from France (the French head of state. In this case, French President Emmanuel Macron) and one from Spain (the Roman Catholic Bishop of Urgell). The co-princes have mainly ceremonial roles.
The head of government, known as the Cap de Govern, is elected by the General Council and seven ministers who comprise the Executive Council. The Cap de Govern holds the executive power in the country. Xavier Espot Zamora is the current head of government. He's a member of the center-right Democrats for Andorra party.
Languages spoken: Catalan. It's the only country globally that has Catalan as its sole official language.
Religion: The majority of the population is Roman Catholic.
Standout artist: Martin Blanco, a freelance illustrator whose work would honestly go well with some death metal music. His LinkedIn page describes his work as dark and surreal.
Standout musician: Persefone, a progressive death metal band that has been playing consistently for the past two decades. Andorra has a surprisingly robust metal music scene, but Persefone is one of the most lauded groups. You can listen to their entire Spiritual Migration album here.
Standout film: The Andorran Hustle. In 2020, the Guardian wrote that the film is about "the modern face of American interventionism" and "the tactics used by the U.S. government to disrupt Catalonia’s independence movement."
Film critic Robert Ebert also had good things to say about it, like you "have to give [director Eric] Merola credit for trying to untangle the insanely complicated Gordian knot of international financial regulation, illegal money laundering, and its slightly-over-the-line legal versions."
You can watch the entire film for free on YouTube. The page says the film was censored by Amazon Prime after six days, a statement that smacks of conspiracy theories. But you can watch it and decide what you think.
A surprising thing: The principality of Andorra is not part of the European Union, but it does use the euro as its currency.
Story of the week: OK, so almost every news story about Andorra this week is about football. Sports. Teams. Something. That is entirely outside my wheelhouse, so I won't even bother commenting on it. I mean, what is a sportsball?
But apparently, a delegation from Serbia visited Andorra's Ministry of Education this week. It was a "peer exchange and study visit" couched in bureaucratic terminology like "the systemic integration of the Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture (RFCDC) in all aspects of formal education."
That seems to mean that educators in Serbia think they have something to learn from Andorra about integrating democratic culture into the education system, which is actually pretty interesting and might be worth digging into.
What I'm writing:
• Poland’s support for Ukraine is overshadowing its rule-of-law problem. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen set the wheels in motion for the EU to release roughly $38 billion in coronavirus recovery funding it withheld from Poland due to concerns over the rule of law. But advocates for the rule of law and a high-profile group of European Commissioners raised serious concerns about the Commission's plan, arguing that Poland’s efforts to reform its controversial disciplinary chamber for judges are merely cosmetic. This article is locked, but here's a Twitter thread with a summary.
• North Korea already launched more ballistic missiles in 2022 than in any single year previously, according to the U.S. special representative to the DPRK. On June 5, North Korea launched eight separate ballistic missiles from various parts of the country, the largest number of ballistic missiles launched in a single day. U.S. officials assess North Korea is preparing to conduct a seventh nuclear test soon. This article is locked, but here's another Twitter thread with some takeaways.
• On National Journal's Quorum call podcast, I discuss the latest debate in Washington over weapons sales to Ukraine and why Turkey objects to Finland and Sweden joining NATO.
What I'm reading:
• Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the chair of the African Union, President Macky Sall of Senegal, to discuss grain export from Ukraine. Putin seemed to gain a new ally when Sall called on the West to lift some of its sanctions to release the grain, the New York Times reports.
• Ukraine requested security guarantees for grain exports through the Black Sea. In a statement, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it is working with the United Nations and other mediating countries to secure a humanitarian corridor for agricultural exports in the Black Sea.
• Russia and Turkey have also begun talks on securing the safe passage of grain from Ukraine. The potential agreement would involve Turkish warships demining Ukrainian ports and creating a safe passage for ships carrying wheat and other products across the Black Sea, the Wall Street Journal reports.
• Kyiv is requesting access to sophisticated air defenses to help protect vulnerable citizens from relentless shelling. The Ukrainian ambassador to Israel told reporters he was seeking to purchase Iron Dome air defense systems from Israel, the Washington Post reports.
• A court in the Russian-occupied territory of Donetsk sentenced three men — two from the U.K. and one from Morocco — to death for fighting as mercenaries alongside Ukrainian forces, the Wall Street Journal reports.
• Guerilla attacks in southern Ukraine – especially in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions – signal growing resistance to the Russian occupation, the New York Times reports.
• U.S. President Joe Biden will meet with the leaders of Germany and Spain later this month as he tries to maintain the West’s resolve in the war in Ukraine, the Associated Press reports.
• Spain wants to send Leopard battle tanks and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, El País reported. The tanks are older models made in Germany and sold to Spain in 1995, so Berlin would need to approve their export.
• Algeria suspended a 2002 cooperation treaty with Spain, the Algerian Press Service reported. Algeria supplied 40 percent of Spain’s gas last year. But its government is unhappy that Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez recently threw his weight behind Morroco's claim over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony.
• Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s scheduled visit to Serbia was canceled after the Serbian newspaper Danas reported that Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Montenegro closed their airspace to Lavrov’s plane. Danas said Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić would meet with the Russian Ambassador to Belgrade, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, instead.
• Fiji’s Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. has permission to seize a $300 million yacht that the Justice Department says probably belongs to Russian billionaire Suleyman Kerimov.
• Sweden’s NATO application may be complicated by its own domestic political infighting. Efforts by right-wing lawmakers in Sweden to remove the justice minister via a no-confidence vote were derailed after a lawmaker of Iranian-Kurdish origin abstained from the razor-close. But the lawmaker, Amineh Kakabaveh, first secured a commitment from the government that Stockholm would not bow to Turkish demands surrounding Sweden's NATO application, the New York Times reports.
• The government of Poland, where a near-total abortion ban is in place, faced accusations of creating a “pregnancy register” as the country expands the amount of medical data being digitally saved on patients, the Associated Press reports.
• Bulgaria’s Kiril Petkov, elected in December, lost his majority after a coalition partner withdrew its ministers, Politico Europe reports. Petkov said he is ready to lead a minority government after his other two coalition partners said they would stick with him.
• U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a confidence vote among his Tory MPs, winning 211 votes to 148. But the relatively narrow margin shows Johnson isn’t popular with many Conservatives, Politico Europe reports.
• Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev pledged to push through democratic reforms after a clear majority of Kazakh voters approved constitutional amendments he presented in a referendum. Al Jazeera has the report.
• The Foreign Policy Research Institute has an article on how Russia's invasion of Ukraine has affected Kazakh politics.
• Amnesty International accused El Salvador’s government of committing “massive human rights violations” during an extraordinary security crackdown that saw more than 36,000 people arrested in over two months. The Guardian has the report.
• China is secretly building a navy base in Cambodia, the Washington Post reports. Both countries are denying its existence and are taking extraordinary measures to conceal the operation.
What the State Department says:
You can write to me for any reason at email@example.com.