Eastern Europe Top 10 December 14th

Compiled by: Hristo Voynov and Kristijan Fidanovski


  1. A recent wave of fake news in Bulgaria about alleged EU bans on popular types of food in the country serves as a reminder of the susceptibility of some of its people to blatant lies, as well as to their lack of basic European values in light of Bulgaria’s upcoming presidency over the European Union starting January 2018. Provoked by the EU’s recent vote on the use of phosphates in frozen meats, multiple fake news of possible bans on the purchase of rakija and doner have ushered in. A Google search in Bulgarian of “EU bans” indicates that fake news of alleged bans on popular products in Bulgaria have circulated ever since the country’s EU accession in 2007, with citizens rhetorically asking “how they would react if we would have wanted to ban their fake fruits and vegetables (sic!)”.


  1. Poland has a new Prime Minister after Beata Szydło resigned from the position. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance and Development Minister Mateusz Morawiecki replaces her, though there were no other changes to the current administration. He promises to move the direction towards economic prosperity, stating that “The four chronic illnesses of our social and economic life… were poverty, unemployment, a lack of housing and [problems in] the health service”. Beata Szydło is for now the acting Deputy Prime Minister, which puts into question the decision behind the change. It was originally rumored to be a plan to allow her to better work within the EU’s structure, which may still be the case if she is only a placeholder until the changes in government are complete.


  1. Former Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas is aiming to reclaim the mayor post in the March 2018 election. This might be good news, as Djilas opposes the controversial Waterfront project and has been endorsed by Sasa Jankovic, a liberal and pro-Western former ombudsman who came second in the last presidential election. Yet, during his time as mayor from 2008 till 2013, Djilas was often criticized for suppressing media freedom and strongly opposing gay parades.


  1. Two major court decisions happened in Moldova this week. Former Moldovan Prime-Minister Vlad Filat’s appeal to his nine year prison sentence has been rejected by the Moldovan Supreme Court. This stems from accusations of corruption, which he claims are false and politically motivated. The other decision was regarding a potential constitutional amendment that would turn European Integration into a strategic objective of Moldova as a state. The pro-Russian president, Igor Dodon, is highly against this amendment, claiming that it would violate the principles of political pluralism within the country. This is a very valid point, as such a change would jeopardize the reintegration efforts that have been underway for a while regarding Transnistria, the pro-Russian breakaway region.


  1. Alarmingly high levels of pollution are being registered in Skopje and other cities in Macedonia, with the presence of dangerous air particles exceeding the accepted levels by over ten times. The new government is hesitant to adopt unpopular but necessary short-term measures, such as introducing an even-odd system which would only allow those cars whose plate numbers end in an odd digit to be used one day, and those ending in an even digit the next day. Since most of the pollution is thought to be due to the use of wood for heating purposes, the most effective long-term measure would be to extend the gas heating infrastructure to areas that are currently not covered. Macedonia has had pollution issues in the winter for a long time, but the problem became more prominent recently, as the previous government embarked on major deforestation and improper construction of buildings blocking the airway from Skopje’s mountain peak Vodno.


  1. The new Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said that the EU should not force his or other countries to take in refugees as it risks destabilizing the society in which they enter by strengthening extremist parties. He has also offered money as an alternative to help other countries, which do not have the option to choose whether or not they take in refugees. Similarly, the Visegrad Group (Czechia, Hungary, Poland, & Slovakia) plan to launch an effort to prevent migrants from entering Europe via the Libyan border. This comes after the European Commission filed legal proceedings against Hungary and Poland, with Hungary’s NGO and Central European University laws also being listed in the case against it. Hungary claims that this is a serious double standard, as László Trócsányi, Hungarian Minister of Justice, claims that not even pro-refugee countries are taking in their share of the quota.


  1. The Saudi-owned Al Shiddi Group, which is already the biggest Arab investor in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has announced plans for its biggest project so far: an airline company. Under the name Flyline Bosnia, the company is expected to be launched sometime in 2018. Al Shiddi already owns Sarajevo City Center and the local Novotel.


  1. Putin has declared victory over ISIS and a pull out of Russian troops. This is the third time he has said this, but this time it holds much more weight. This is because, this time, ISIS is truly on the brink of a traditional military defeat and the Syrian rebels are weak enough for the Syrian Army to confront them. For that occasion, Putin set a different tone than in his previous statements, as he travelled to Syria to make the announcement. He also made diplomatic appearances in Turkey and Egypt, which begs the question of what his plans for the region are post-withdrawal.


  1. Two new Hilton hotels are to be opened in Zagreb, one in 2018 and one in 2019, with 10 million euros expected to be invested into each.


  1. Firebrand politician Mikhail Saakashvili was released after being arrested in his protest camp last week. He was arrested under accusations of accepting foreign money to continue agitating with him protest movement. The important takeaways from the event are as follows. He was released and asked to return, which means that he is expected to behave, or he would have been held at least until the next phase of court proceedings against him. He was released without being placed under house arrest, and there appears to be no effort to extradite him to Georgia where he is also wanted, also under corruption charges. Both of these developments promise a fair trial against him, though his fate, which is largely tied to Ukraine’s future, is still far from certain.


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