Compiled by Eva Jovanova and Hristo Voynov
1. As Macedonia and Greece are putting a lot of effort into resolving the name issue, on Sunday, January 21, tens of thousands of Greek people shook the streets of Thessaloniki in opposition to using the term “Macedonia” in their neighbor’s name. The UN appointed long-term mediator Matthew Nimetz stated, however, that the term Macedonia must remain a part of the name. A Greek veto due to the name issue is blocking Macedonia on its path towards EU and NATO.
2. The Czechian Parliament lifted immunity from Prime Minister Andrej Babiš regarding an EU subsidy scheme for the second time, as it was given back to him when he was elected into office. This opens him up to possible legal action should the investigation proceed. He also opened up another can of worms by claiming he can, as Prime Minister, open up an investigation against an individual, causing others to accuse him of overreaching his powers. This comes when Babiš’ government is on shaky ground, after resigning in an effort to form another cabinet. The upcoming run-off election this weekend may end poorly for him if his ally, the incumbent President Zeman, loses to the liberal challenger Jiří Drahoš.
3. Fear prevails in Kosovo after the death of Oliver Ivanovic in Mitrovica last week. The desired prospects of a united and cohesive Kosovo started shattering by a visit of Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic who, among other cities, visited Mitrovica, a municipality in the north of Kosovo with a predominantly Serbian population. The EU mediated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue has again been postponed, which could only pave the way to nationalism and ethnic division.
4. Hungary’s ruling FIDESZ party started a new legal offensive against the “Soros Plan”, forcing individuals that the government claims to support illegal immigration share data with the government and pay an added 25% tax on any funds received from abroad. This was of course criticized by the organizations that would fall under its scope, which claim that the law is meant to stop civil society from organizing against president Viktor Orban’s goals. The opposition responded by twisting the proposed laws around, with the Socialists’ “Stop Oligrachs” bill which would heavily tax companies that receive massive public funding. The Green/Liberal LMP party also accused FIDESZ of being a foreign-funded organization, pointing to funds coming in from China and Russia for projects that advance their interests over Hungarian interests.
5. Nine young people from the Balkans made it to Forbes 30 under 30. The list is annually published and contains 600 names from 20 different industries. From the Balkans, on the list were Rita Ora and the founders of Open Data Kosovo from Kosovo, Florin Badita from Romania, Jasminko Halilovic from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mihaela Sparatu from Moldova, Lena Borislavova and Iva Tsolova from Bulgaria, and Nina Angelovska and Zarko Dimitrovski from Macedonia.
6. U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to discuss ways to end the war in Donbas and restore Ukraine’s sovereignty. The two major priorities at the moment, as per their discussion, are removing Russian troops from the region and creating a lasting ceasefire that is respected by both sides. The interesting feature is that during Volker’s visit, it was reported that there were no ceasefire violations for over a day for the first time in months. After the meeting, Volker blamed Russia for not working on implementing the current ceasefire.
7. Handball was at the center of Balkan attention in the past week, as Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, and the host Croatia had all advanced to the second round of the European Championship. Sadly, none of the four countries made it to the semifinals, with Macedonia suffering a particularly painful loss to the Czech Republic after squandering a five-goal lead.
8. Moldova and Russia continue their diplomatic spat this week when Moldova announced it was bringing in an international firm to investigate the financial damage done by Moscow’s long term presence in the country’s breakaway region of Transnistria. Moscow does not take it as seriously as Chișinău, stating that it should be Moldova who writes a check to Russia for its presence as a peacekeeping force. However, Moldova may use the result of this report to sue Moscow in an international court. In response, Russia’s Duma adopted a statement condemning Moldovan discrimination against Russian media earlier this month.
9. According to a poll, some Balkan countries are very much in awe of Trump! Kosovo is the world leader in cheering for the incumbent US President with 75% of the people supporting his performance. Albania, Kosovo’s neighbor, is placed second with 72% cheering for Trump. Approval in Macedonia rose from 30% in 2016 to 45%, and funnily, simultaneously support for the EU also increased. In Eastern Europe, Poland is the country which most supports the current US administration, probably due to Poland’s strong support for the NATO.
10. Poland has made it known that it is looking to improve its Eastern flank in case of Russian aggression through multiple channels. In a series of high profile meetings, the Polish Defense Minister met with US National Security Advisor, Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz met NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and the US Secretary of State visited Warsaw. It is unclear if this is related to any new development in Russia’s military affairs.