Each week we bring you the ten most important pieces of news from Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans.
Compiled by: Eva Jovanova and Hristo Voynov
- As Greece Foreign Minister Kotzias announced last week, the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece should be resolved before the 2019 elections in Greece, his Macedonian counterpart, Nikola Dimitrov, showed further enthusiasm and readiness for negotiations. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Hoyt Brian Yee, saluted the mood for resolving the name dispute in both countries. Will Matthew Nimetz, the UN Special Representative who is trying to put an end to the name dispute since 1994, after 24 years at the negotiation table, finally achieve a solution?
2. Russian President Vladimir Putin has a busy week ahead of him. On November 10th, he will meet with American President Donald Trump in Vietnam during the APEC summit, a controversial meeting due to the allegations in the US that Russian meddling helped elect Donald Trump. Both presidents deny this. Three days later, he will meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi. Turkish-Russian relations were strained heavily due to the fact that both backed competing sides in the Syrian Civil War. Now that the war is coming to a close, the two are mending ties. Exactly why the two were able to rekindle their relationship so quickly, especially after Turkey shot down a Russian plane, is still uncertain.
- The IPA 2016 Financing Agreement between Kosovo and the EU was approved by the Kosovo Assembly and entered into force earlier this week. This agreement will bring more than €70 million in Kosovo, which, according to the Kosovo Assembly Speaker Kadri Veseli, will be spent on innovation, judiciary, education and other fields and will help Kosovo on its European integration agenda and development. Does this imply more funding to support the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue?
- The post-election complication in Czechia continues. Andrej Babis’ winning ANO party struggles to find enough support to form a majority, as the many smaller parties have presented a unified front against him. While President Zeman has suggested the Pirates party, who came in third, as a possible partner, they have said they are uninterested and even went against Babis to suggest that ANO should not be heading the Czech lower house mandate and immunity committee because of the possibility that ANO leader Babis and his associate may use this to prevent them from losing immunity as they did shortly before regaining it in the election. This politicking will continue as the February 2018 election will prove a litmus test for how happy Czechians are with not only the quality of politicians but also the gridlock preventing them from effectively running government.
- The EU-Western Balkans Media days took place in Tirana between 8th and 10th of November. The opening speech was held by Mr. Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for the European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, in which he reiterated that the role of free and independent media is a prerequisite for European integration – a phrase has become more common with the deterioration of media freedom in the Western Balkans. The President of Albania Mr. Edi Rama in his speech showed willingness to make Albanian media more objective and decisiveness to steer the country on a European path.
- Facebook, Twitter, and Google testified in front of the US congress in regards to Russian social media efforts to affect the US presidential elections. They claim that individuals from Russia purchased ads regarding the election, and other social issues in the US. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the press that he hopes that the companies do not succumb to US pressure to manufacture evidence against Russia. These revelations were made interesting by the fact that Twitter pitched RT, the main English language Russian news, 15% off all US election ads in order to convince them to do exactly what they are accusing them of doing.
- The Paradise Papers did not bypass the Western Balkans. Prominent politicians and business people from Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Greece and Turkey were implicated by the scandal. They revealed that the pro-Russian Serbian minister without portfolio Nenad Popovic is the richest Serbian politician worth more than €75 million euros. Cries for Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s resignation shake the Turkey’s politics. The former director of Slovenia’s tax authority Ivan Simic was also implicated by the papers.
- Moldova has had a sudden change of ambassadors to Romania, Belgium, and Lithuania. It is believed that the Romanian ambassador was changed at President Igor Dodon’s request because of comments regarding the decision to strip Romanian ex-President Traian Băsescu of Moldovan citizenship, while the other two are unclear. With the recent split between the pro-EU and pro-Russia factions of the Moldovan parliament, the two may already be thinking a year in advance regarding the November 2018 elections. This switch may be a precursor to both sides vying for power in whatever realm they can.
- Serbia and Ukraine’s diplomatic relations continue to deteriorate. Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin called Serbia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He urged Serbia to make measures against pro-Russian Serbs fighting in the Donbas area. Last week, Ukraine’s ambassador to Serbia Oleksandr Alexandrovych blamed Serbia for not making any efforts to stop Serbian fighters from killing Ukrainians in the eastern part of the country. Both the Ambassador and the Foreign Minister blamed Russia for destabilizing the Western Balkans.
- The 2018 national election in Hungary are already off to a pessimistic start. Though scheduled for April or May, the candidates have already started campaigning. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has ruled out any debate between with competitors for his office as he believes none of the candidates are serious challengers. The last such debate was held 11 years ago, so this is not a break in tradition. However, dismissing any potential candidates limits their ability to reach the public and abuses the incumbency advantage that Orban has. This has left the opposition sure of another Orban victory.