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
- The new Czech parliament led by ANO’s Andrej Babis is having trouble forming a coalition and is thus looking into forming a minority government, which would severely limit its ability to rule the country. The many different parties that won seats are refusing to work with Babis, mostly out of accusations of fraud and populism. ANO is trying to work with all relevant parties to find lower level positions which it can give to different parties in exchange for support, but it appears unlikely to work as many different parties have ruled out supporting ANO. Some parties are actively looking to work against ANO, further complicating ANO’s efforts.
- Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci announced yesterday that the process of transforming the Kosovo Security Forces (KSF) into a national army, which was announced in March this year, was undergoing its final phase. Initially, both the EU and NATO, as well as Serbia and the Serbian community in Kosovo had objections to the creation of a Kosovo national army. Despite fears and mistrust of the Serbian minority in Kosovo, Mr. Thaci announced that it was foreseen that the Kosovo national army include ethnic Serbs, just as the KSF already did.
- Anti-corruption police have arrested the son of Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov over charges of embezzling 14 million hryvnyas, or $520,000. While the details are still murky, Avakov defended his son and claimed that this was a political decision. It comes during anti-corruption protests led by controversial figure Mikhail Saakashvili that threaten to again destabilize Ukraine. In the US, Paul Manafort was arrested for money laundering money linked to oligarchs in Ukraine. He advised former president Yanukovich who was ousted following Euromaidan protests in late 2013. Though connections are still unclear, there is interest in analyzing his role in the brutal government response to the pro-European protesters.
- The Sunday runoff of the municipal elections in Macedonia proved that the Social Democrats (SDSM) had an absolute victory at the elections. Having won in 57 municipalities, as well as winning the mayoral seat for the city of Skopje, they proved that the days of VMRO-DPMNE’s are over (at least for now). VMRO-DPMNE, even though winning two seats more than SDSM in the December 2016 parliamentary elections, faces a plummet in its popularity. From the 55 municipalities and the mayoral seat for Skopje won in 2013, the number of VMRO-DPMNE mayors imploded to only five this year. The second party with most municipalities won was the ethnic Albanian DUI, even though its drop in popularity is evident – from 15 in 2013, this year only ten municipalities elected a DUI mayor.
- Two prominent Belarusian opposition leaders, both former presidential candidates, have been arrested over the past week. Mikalay Statkevich was arrested for his part in a rally commemorating victims of KGB violence during the soviet era while the poet Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu was detained for supporting an unpermitted protest. While the government has a history of detaining opposition, this does not mean that citizens are unable to voice their concerns, if done according to strict government regulations. Ten members of the army have been charged for their connection to a soldier who committed suicide after he was the subject of intense hazing, turned into a public issue by protests that were large for Belarusian standards.
- Western Balkan countries came off really well in the Doing Business 2018 report by World Bank published this Tuesday. Macedonia is the leader in the region ranked in 11th place of 190 economies worldwide for its ease of doing business. In top 50 for the same category were also Slovenia (ranked 37th), Kosovo (ranked 40th), Montenegro (ranked 42nd) and Serbia (ranked 43rd). A great number of Eastern and Central European countries also made it to the top 50 ranking for ease of doing business, with Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, Belarus, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria being ranked between 25th and 50th place. Kosovo also made it to the World Bank top 10 most improved economies for 2016/2017.
- The Moldova’s Constitutional Court endorsed a constitutional amendment to change the official language of the country from Moldovan to Romanian. This was proposed by the European Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM) and will be further discussed before being voted on next year. It is challenged by pro-Russian President Igor Dodon, who thinks the issue should be settled via a referendum instead of through political means. The issue is tied to Moldovan history, as Moldovan and Romanian are largely the same language but ‘Moldovan’ was promoted by the Soviets during their rule to build up and emphasize a distinct identity between the two neighboring countries.
- The Bosnian Serb police arrested a man yesterday who possessed one of the four original copies of the Dayton Agreement. The copy was reported missing from the Bosnian presidency archive in 2008. The Serbian authorities announced earlier this year that a copy was also missing from their archives. The Dayton Agreement is the agreement which put an end to the 1995 war and is also the official constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- The European Court of Human Rights ruled against Hungary in a decision regarding police abuse of a Roma man that was then covered up. While this itself is not very significant, it is likely to add further tension between Hungary and much of the EU. Hungary also continues to wedge itself between Europe and Ukraine, blocking a NATO-UA committee from meeting over Ukraine’s new minority language law. The combination of increased Hungarian activity within EU politics along with the image of EU victimization that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban presents to his domestic audience is a tricky act that Orban has been able to play off very successfully for now, as FIDESZ maintains a strong lead in the upcoming 2018 elections.
10. Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama decided to dismiss all 12 prefects in the country and replace them with people from military ranks. For the first time in history, Albania has a woman prefect – Suzana Janollari. Mr. Rama did not comment on the reasons for dismissing all prefects at once. He only stated that he urgently needed a team which is ready to implement the necessary reforms to fight the cultivation of cannabis in the country.