Eastern Europe Top 10 January 18th

Compiled by: Hristo Voynov and Eva Jovanova


1. Newly elected Czechian president Andrej Babiš lost a confidence vote, but will have the opportunity to rearrange his cabinet in an effort to find an acceptable coalition for a second vote. Calls for his prosecution over an EU subsidies scam have resumed, which will further complicate his attempt to unify a ruling coalition. But the largest problem facing Babis now is risk of losing his ally, the president in the upcoming presidential election between incumbent Milos Zeman and  former Sciences Academy head Jiří Drahoš. The first round saw Zeman sweeping the majority of the votes, winning all but the abroad and Prague vote which went to Drahoš. Drahoš’ best chance to win the election is by winning the votes from those who voted for the candidates who were dropped after the first round.


2. Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic was killed on Tuesday in front of his party’s headquarters in Mitrovica, a city in the northern part of Kosovo. He was shot by a moving vehicle and died in a hospital due to the wounds of the four bullets that entered his body. Ivanovic was the president of the civic initiative SDP. Ivanovic was a provocative political figure in Kosovo – he used to be seen as a peacemaker between  Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, but in 2014 he was convicted of war crimes he committed in 1999 against Albanians. His murder might put Serbia-Kosovo dialogue in doubt.


3. The Prime Minister of Romania, Mihai Tudose, resigned, the second time this happened within the past year. He stepped down after a dispute with the party leader of his Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea. The controversy started when Tudose tried to fire the Interior Minister, a close friend of Dragnea. Viorica Dancila will take his place and become the first female PM in Romanian history. This controversy occurred a few days after Tudose incited outrage in Hungary by stating that Hungarians within Romania who are looking for autonomy should be hung.


4. Bulgaria’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union started with a lot of vigour of the other Balkan countries, which will be in the focus of the 6-month presidency priorities. Hopes are high that Macedonia’s EU integration will be restarted in the last period and the country is intensifying its negotiations with Greece on resolving the name dispute. Kosovo also hopes to be included in the EU enlargement plans soon.


5. Two major votes took place in the Ukrainian parliament. The first, which was voted down, stated that the pro-Russian separatists are terrorists. The second, also rejected, was to cut off diplomatic ties with Russia. While either of these bills may have made a strong message to Russia and the world, they would have also complicated the Donbas peace-process by shutting out groups whose input would be necessary for any diplomatic solution.


6. Macedonia welcomed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for his two-day visit. This is the first time in the last four years that a NATO Secretary General pays a visit to Macedonia. Macedonia’s defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska is fully committed to working on Macedonia’s NATO accession. The accession was blocked in 2008 at the NATO Bucharest summit due to Macedonia’s name issue with Greece. Now Macedonia awaits the Brussels summit this July with optimism.


7. The Polish government signed in new changes to its electoral systems this week. It changes the way that election overseers are selected, from the Constitutional Tribunal, the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Administrative Court each nominating 3 members to having 7 of the 9 be chosen via the parliament, which the ruling party has a strong hold of. This will only add fuel to the EU criticisms of the rule of law within Poland, as it appears to be another step towards helping a party in power stay in power.


8. Japan appoints a special ambassador to the non-EU Western Balkans states: Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. Norio Maruyama, the Director-General for Press and Public Diplomacy in the Japanese Foreign Ministry, stated that Japan shares many of the values which, in the light of EU integration, are imposed on these states, such as democracy, rule of law and media freedom.


9. The date of the upcoming presidential election in Hungary has been set for April 8th. The ruling party, FIDESZ, has a strong lead with Viktor Orban, the current and very popular president. However, the many opposition parties are trying hard to strip votes away from him. The leader of Jobbik, the right wing opposition party, has accused Orban of the unthinkable; letting refugees into Hungary. After Orban made a huge deal about the ‘Soros Plan’ and keeping refugees out of Hungary, it appears that it has taken roughly 2,300 in the last 3 years. This may not be much (especially compared to other EU countries) but it may be enough to put a dent in Orban’s election results because of his own rhetoric.


10. The Economist shook the Balkans with an article on Bulgaria’s demographic structure. The article reported that Bulgaria has one of the oldest population among all European countries and due to brain drain and reluctance to open the country’s borders to immigrants, Bulgaria faces a rapid depopulation. The dire prediction that from the current 7.2 million people, the population will fall to 5.2 million in 2050 should be food for thought for Bulgaria’s government.


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