Each week we bring you the ten most important pieces of news from Eastern Europe.
Compiled by: Hristo Voynov and Eva Jovanova
- Albin Kurti, the former leader of the leftist movement Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) and a prime minister candidate for Kosovo, declared that the “Kosovo – Serbia dialogue is dead”. Vetevendosje came second in the June elections by winning more than 27% and 32 seats in the 120-seats Kosovo parliament, having only 7 seats less than the PDK coalition. As no party obtained enough seats to form a government, Vetevendosje might have a shot at putting an end to the 10-year long rule of the PDK government coalition.
- ANO party leader and possible future Czech President Andrej Babiš’s future will be decided soon, as the decision on whether or not to strip him of his parliamentary immunity will be decided on September 6th. However, a new scandal has come up for the former finance minister. He is accused of using his political power to shut down a competing business, at least according to an audio recording in which he claimed his people were cracking down on FUA , a fuel trading firm. However, he claimed that this recording was taken out of context and is in no way an admission of guilt or an order to take action against FUA. This gives the Christian Democrats fuel against Babiš, as they are the main opposition to Babiš, though their support is waning with the most recent opinion polls. The election was finally given a firm date, with the first round being scheduled for January 12-13, 2018 and an expected runoff vote to follow on January 26-27.
- After Austria’s Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, claimed last week that Muslim women in Bosnia and Kosovo were being paid to wear full veils, this week similar provocations were aimed at Bosnia by other foreign politicians. The Czech President Milos Zeman stated this Monday that, after their defeat in the Middle East, the ISIS terrorists from Iraq and Syria might flee to Bosnia to create a terrorist base. The saga of accusations continued on Tuesday with Miroslav Tudjman, a Croatian MP and son of Croatia’s first President, Franjo Tudjman, accusing the first President of Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic, for laying the foundations of Islamic terrorism. Izetbegovic’s son and Bosniak member of the Bosnian Presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, condemned the statements and accused them for spreading xenophobia and Islamophobia against Bosnia’s Muslim population.
- Putin, as the honorary head of the International Judo Federation, finds himself in Hungary for the world Judo Championships. There, he was given the title “civis honoris causa” (honorary citizen) award from the University of Debrecen for Russia (and his) assistance in upgrading the PAK nuclear power plant, the only such plant in Hungary. There he was met by many counter protesters, especially from the new Momentum Movement party. The importance of this visit is obvious, with Hungary’s ties to the EU being strained over its stance on the refugee crisis, CEU, and other facets of Viktor Orban’s illiberal regime. The Hungarian government also just had a public spat with the Dutch ambassador who compared the government with terrorists, along the same time that one of the most influential and controversial members of the Hungarian diaspora, Sebastian Gorka, lost his job in the Trump administration.
- Prime ministers of the Western Balkans, together with European Commissioner Johannes Hahn and World Bank Vice-President for Europe and Central Asia, Cyril Muller, met on Saturday in Durres, Albania. The Regional Economic Area, which was set up during the Trieste Summit in July, was one of the key points in Durres. Commissioner Hahn stated that “The Regional Economic Area is not a substitute for European Integration, but only a supplement”. The World Bank is supposed to help the Western Balkans in assisting future projects regarding the Regional Economic Area.
- While Moldova was busy celebrating its 26th independence day, tensions between the pro-Russia and pro-European Union camps of the government reached a new high. President Dodon, the main advocate for improving ties with Russia, was very upset at the rest of the government’s decision to boycott the nation’s Supreme Security Council because it included a discussion of Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, on the agenda, claiming that listing Rogozin as a persona non grata in Moldova was the end of the issue and the president does not have the authority to bring the issue up in such a setting. The Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) took the hardest stance on Dodon, raising issues with Hungary’s new proposed stance on granting passports for those who invest in Moldova, which they claim to be a way of rich foreigners buying into Moldova and turning it into a country to launder money. PAS, who lost the 2016 presidential elections to Dodon, filed legal actions against the president, who it accused of treason for his stance on Russia.
- Alongside the discussion on the Regional Economic Area in Durres, the prime ministers of Serbia and Macedonia also had the opportunity to discuss the withdrawal of Serbian diplomats. Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev agreed to visit Belgrade in November. Macedonia’s new government continues its attempts at building good neighborly relations by preparing for a meeting between the Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias, scheduled for today. The long-standing name dispute is not on their agenda. Instead, the two ministers for Foreign Affairs will discuss cooperation in the spheres of economy, transport, infrastructure and energy.
- Poland’s main opposition party is in trouble over an interview Borys Budka, the deputy party chief of the Civic Platform party, did with a German newspaper. In this interview, he is said to have said that the EU should maintain a strong stance against Poland and the ruling Law and Justice Party. The issue, according to Budka is over the translation. Polish media is claiming that he wants the EU to give Poland an ultimatum to deal with issues over Poland’s push towards authoritarianism. Civic Platform, who were in power before the Law and Justice Party dethroned them, could suffer greatly from this as it is being portrayed as Budka betraying Poland’s sovereignty and using the EU as a political tool.
- The International Day of the Disappeared was commemorated across the Balkans yesterday. Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Kosovo note that 12.000 people are still missing from the wars in the 1990s. 28.000 bodies of the initially reported 40.000 missing people were found. The authorities in Bosnia still seek for the bodies of 7.000 people. The authorities in Pristina report that the bodies of around 1.600 people after the 1999 conflict still haven’t been found, whereas Serbian authorities report around 540 disappeared in the same conflict. Croatian authorities also note that they are still searching for around 1.500 missing bodies.
- Political elites in Europe and Ukraine once again spar over Ukraine’s identity. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, stated that “At the moment we’ve got 60 wars ongoing in the world, 60 – and none in Europe if I disregard Ukraine, which is not ‘European’ in the sense of the European Union. I saw that my friend Mr. Poroshenko a few days ago did say: ‘Here is Ukraine, it is the European Union, and it is NATO. But for the moment it is neither one nor the other.” This statement, in and of itself, is not wrong. However, this has upset Kiev, which claimed that President Poroshenko’s statement was misrepresented and was actually a statement on Ukraine’s inevitable integration in Europe. Kiev also feels that this form of rhetoric undermines the Association Agreement between Ukraine and Europe, as well as signaling to Russia that Ukraine’s course for Europe is not definite, leaving it at risk of further subversive meddling.