Each week we bring you the ten most important pieces of news from Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans.
Compiled by: Hristo Voynov and Eva Jovanova
- In the first sign of post-election cooperation in Czechia, the Communist and Pirates parties both showed signs of interest in cooperation with the winning party, ANO, through voting for the ANO candidate, Radek Vondracek, as the head of the Chamber of Deputies. This is a compromise as opposed to back tracking, as the Pirates agreed to do so under the conditions that all lower level committees are headed by opposition parties. The Communists, however, agreed to vote for Vondracek while backing their respective candidates for the deputy head of the Chamber of Deputies, one of which is inevitably going to be disappointed. Meanwhile, the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats, TOP 09 and the Mayors and Independents have decided to form a Democratic Bloc, which will help keep the opposition united in their efforts to impede the Andrej Babis government.
- After the Bosnian Member of the Presidency Bakir Izetbegovic stated in an interview with DW that he had hoped that Bosnia and Herzegovina would recognize Kosovo as an independent state, reactions from Milorad Dodik, the President of Republika Srpska, a BiH autonomous entity, started stirring nationalism among the Bosnian Serbs. The first statement following Izetbegovic’s interview was that any recognition of Kosovo’s independence by BiH depends on Republika Srpska, and Dodik would never allow that to happen. Another statement Dodik made this week was that he believed in the future of Republika Srpska as an independent state. He claimed that emphasizing this does not undermining Belgrade’s position towards territorial integrity and indivisibility with regards to Kosovo’s independence and that Republika Srpska should not be compared with Kosovo.
- Poland celebrated its Independence Day commemorating the formation of the Second Polish Republic after uniting itself from previous Austrian, German, and Russian rule. The march had 50,000-100,000 participants, including the ruling Law and Justice party, as well as a counter protest accusing the main march of ultra-nationalism that had roughly 2,000 participants. The march was deemed safe. However, Poland’s current ‘crisis’ of independence, the European Parliament triggered the first stage of Article 7 TEU, which could result in sanctions over Poland if the country does not work to improve the concerns over rule of law in Poland. These concerns are over issues such as accusations that the ruling party promotes intolerance and judicial/electoral reforms set up to solidify its power.
4. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO headquarters in Brussels this Wednesday. One of the main topics was Kosovo’s transformation of its security forces into an army. Mr. Stoltenberg emphasized the importance for the stability of the Western Balkans that Serbia’s enhanced cooperation with the NATO brings. Also, at this year’s Belgrade Security Forum earlier this week Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic met with the NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller where they discussed further cooperation.
- Tibor Navracsics, a Hungarian Fidesz politician and the EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, denied claims of a ‘Soros-Plan’ which would change the ethnic demographics of Europe, among other things. Antonio Tajani, the European Parliament president made similar comments. This has been a source of contention between Hungary and the rest of the EU, which sees the claims of a ‘Soros-plan’ as mechanism by Hungary’s Viktor Orban to suppress opposition. However, this week saw the US State Department announce $700,000 in funding for “objective media in Hungary”. To some, this is the same as the Soros-Plan, an attempt to undermine an elected leader with Western-Liberal ideas. To others, it is a Radio Free Europe (Radio Liberty) style attempt at countering government spread disinformation, similar to efforts made in the region during the Cold War. For the Hungarian government, it was the first. The American Chargé d’Affaires David Kostelancik was summoned to explain this fund, as the government sees it as political interference. The US State Department, however, claims “The assistance would only be sent after May 2018, so after the elections, and the money is intended for the recovery of fact-based journalism in the countryside.”
- Whereas Commissioner Johannes Hahn is getting ready to visit Macedonia next week, enthusiastic that Zaev’s government will be more willing to expedite the reforms needed for EU accession, the meeting of Macedonia and Greece name representatives and Matthew Nimetz, the UN name envoy, was postponed. Athens, in order to continue negotiations on the name dispute, conditioned Macedonia’s new government to remove the monuments erected by Gruevski’s government and refrain from further provocations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia will continue its investments in South Ossetia, a pro-Russian breakaway region within Georgia that gained autonomy in the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict. This is important for South Ossetia, as Russia is its most important trade partner, as Georgia environs it from all other sides. Poland’s Foreign Minister provided counter-support, promising to protect it from Russian aggression. Meanwhile, Russian/US peace efforts in Ukraine were not fruitful, as the US presented 29 proposals and Russia accepted only three . The US sees this as little cooperation, while Russia presents it as better than no cooperation. It is likely that a few years from now, we will be reading headlines about Russian investments in Eastern Ukraine.
- Slovenia’s President Borut Pahor got reelected for a second term last Sunday. In a close race, with almost 53% of the vote, Mr. Pahor defeated the LMS nominated Marjan Sharec, and will stay in power for another five years. Mr. Pahor was the Prime Minister of Slovenia from 2008 till 2012, when he was first elected for President. He used to be a leader of the Social Democrats, but at this election ran as an independent candidate.
- Poland, an active advocate for Ukrainian involvement within the EU, has been rebuked by Ukraine after it refused to allow a Polish forensics science team from entering the country to look for Polish victims of war crimes. Poland took this very harshly, banning certain unnamed individuals from Ukraine into Poland. Ukraine then brought up its own historical issues between the two, asking for a controversial Ukrainian monument in Poland to be rebuilt. Improving Polish-Ukrainian ties should be a priority for the Ukrainian government, as Hungary is working hard to prevent Ukraine from moving any closer to the EU over its language law. Poland has been actively promoting closer ties between the two, though this is likely to change soon if the two do not find common ground.
- The Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov stated earlier today that Brexit should serve as an inspiration for Brussels to help the Western Balkan countries in their reforms and accelerate EU accession negotiations. Mr. Borissov emphasized the importance of the Western Balkan countries regarding infrastructure, trade and economic ties with EU member states. Bulgaria will preside with the Council of the EU for six months starting from January 2018.