Each week we bring you the ten most important pieces of news from Eastern Europe.
Compiled by: Kristijan Fidanovski and Hristo Voynov
1. New US sanctions were placed against Russia in the latest diplomatic spat between the two countries. In retaliation to Moscow limiting US staff, the US suspended all non-immigration related visas applications from Russia. A few days later, new sanctions against the North Korean regime were placed against a few Russians and a Russian Steel company for trading with the North Koreans, which weakens the effectiveness of the trade embargo placed in an attempt to punish the north for its nuclear weapons program. It is unclear what response this will have on already abysmal US-Russian relations. On a related matter, Moscow named the new Russian ambassador to the US, after Sergei Kislyak, the previous ambassador whose involvement in the Trump/Russia connection made him a controversial figure in the US, was prematurely recalled. The new ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, has been targeted by EU sanctions for his support for the Crimean annexation.
2. Some archetypal Balkan drama has been unraveling between Skopje and Belgrade over the last couple of days, after Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic withdrew the entire staff of the Serbian Embassy to Skopje for urgent consultations. Serbian pro-government media have accused Macedonia’s new government of spying on embassy employees, but speculation has surfaced that Vucic’s move was prompted by information of Macedonia’s support for Kosovo’s membership of UNESCO at the upcoming second vote. The tension has calmed at least temporarily after an ad-hoc phone conversations between Vucic and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
3. Poland suffered greatly from storms that toppled thousands of trees in the country’s north, with over “PLN 1 million worth of damage to 45,000 hectares of woodland.” However, the political aspect of the disaster and its implications is the most interesting. The storm occurred on the 17th of August, and yet the country has not asked for the EU to give it money from the EU Solidarity Fund, which is designed specifically for such situations. The EU has stated that it is open to discussion regarding payments to Poland. Taking the money would mean bending the knee and asking the EU for help, after years of begrudgingly accusing the EU of discriminating against Poland. This presents a fundamental freeriding issue that can be found in international unions of all kinds. Poland chose to ignore the EU-wide refugee crisis, declaring it to be a state-based issue where the EU cannot force collective action. Through intentional inactivity and refusal to comply with EU demands, Poland refused to take its share of the social and economic burden that hundreds of thousands of refugees have placed on the Union. Now, when Poland suffers from its own problem, externally caused but internally contained, asking the EU for assistance would severely weaken its bargain position.
4. Nine acquittals and one conditional six-month prison sentence is the verdict on Ratko Mladic’s associates who assisted his hiding from the International Court Tribunal on Yugoslavia. Legal experts have described the verdict as shameful and stressed that the most disconcerting aspect is the failure to even tackle the question of the role of the Serbian state, which is widely thought to have facilitated Mladic’s hiding.
5. The Hungarian Socialist Party has agreed to support the Jobbik party in its call for investigating the ruling Fidesz party, under the conditions that the probe expands further than originally planned and that the socialists take part in the investigation. This is unusual because it shows the opposition, from two extremes, uniting to push back against Fidesz corruption. Fidesz countered with claims that Jobbik is trying to deflect its own corruption, though this doesn’t explain why the Socialists, ideological enemies of Jobbik, are also involved.
6. French President Emmanuel Macron is visiting Romania today and Bulgaria tomorrow. Given his anticipated agenda of getting country leaders to accept stricter labor acceptance quotas, the contrast between Macron’s desires and those of his hosts will be most evident in Bulgaria, where Prime Minister Borisov is hoping France will lobby for the country’s inclusion into the coveted European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
7. Moldovan President Igor Dodon visited the autonomous territory of Gagauzia, which is autonomous but still within the state of Moldova. There, he spoke against Moldovan/Romanian unification and promoted Moldovan unity in the face of a perceived US-backed plot to force the two nations into one. Dodon is a Russophile in a country divided between their support for Russia or the EU, with most of the country leaning towards the West. Whatever direction Moldova goes, be it to Russia in the east, the EU in the west, or Romania in the south, the two autonomous regions of Gagauzia and Transnistria will not go easily in any direction that is not east.
8. Kosovo’s President Hasim Thaci has pledged to make the investigation into the fates of missing people from the Kosovo War a non-negotiable aspect of future Serbia-Kosovo negotiations. With Serbia claiming no knowledge of the fates of over 1,800 presumed missing Kosovars, this is likely to prove to be another stepping stone in the fragile dialogue between the two countries.
9. Possibly the main anti-Putin opposition leader and the head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation Alexei Navalny has published an article regarding the son of Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov who is living way more luxuriously then he can afford with his mostly empty employment record. His social media account includes yachts and horse jumping. Navalny made a name for himself targeting government corruption, but this has led to him being a target as well. Reports such as this are not likely to put a dent in Putin’s position of power, but proven corruption, especially when most people have been hit hard by Russia’s current economic situation, can be a very disgruntling factor.
10. A survey by Gallup has shown that Albanians are by far the most optimistic people in the Balkans, with 33% of them being optimistic about the economy, as opposed to 18% of Bosnians or 12% of Bulgarians. Even in Germany the optimism digit was 13% in the same survey.