Each week we bring you the ten most important pieces of news from Eastern Europe.
Compiled by: Hristo Voynov and Eva Jovanova
1. The US has, after years of discussion, decided to send 500 million USD worth of lethal aid to Ukraine to help it in its war against separatist forces. Previous aid was classified as not lethal, which severely limited Kiev’s ability to retake its territory from the Russian armed separatists or prevented the war from reaching catastrophic levels of violence, depending on which side you ask. Ukraine’s president asked for peacekeeping forces at the UN General Assembly, which appears to be inevitable but with a weak mandate limited to strictly peacekeeping as Russia has veto-power to prevent the UN from tilting the balance of power to Ukraine. This week also had the trial of 19 individuals charged for their roles in the Odessa trade union building massacre where dozens of Anti-Maidan protesters were burned alive. All 19 were acquitted, which sparked protests that escalated to the point where police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
2. The EU scolded Serbia about its lack of respect for media freedom after a Serbian government minister called a website editor a ‘drug addict’. Earlier this week, the independent newspaper Vranjske Novine, which has been open since 1994, was forced to close. Vukasic Obradovic, the founder and editor of the newspaper, went on a hunger strike, stating that the decision to close the newspaper was political. The EU reminded Serbia that media freedom is one of the core values of European integration and stated that the situation will be monitored in terms of Serbia’s open accession negotiations. According to the Reporters Without Borders index, media freedom in the Balkans is mostly in the ‘orange zone’, meaning that there is a noticeable problem, with the exception of Macedonia and Bulgaria, which are colored red – meaning that the situation is difficult. Mr. Janjic’s argument that there can be no real stability in the Western Balkans without media freedom remains as prevalent as ever.
3. Zapad 2017 military drills remain under way in Belarus. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed all Russian troops would leave following the exercises. Poland, in response, is starting the largest exercises of its own troops in Dragon 2017, in which their troops fight of an invasion force. Zapad 2017’s storyline is much more detailed and interesting. It involves conflict in three different imaginary countries. As one of the three, Veishnoria is located in the same area in which the 1994 elections results had Lukashenka’s opponent, Zianon Pazniak, perform much better than the now strongman president. The other two fictional countries control Russia’s direct route to Kaliningrad and Latvia and Lithuania, both considered weak spots in NATOs eastern flank.
4. In light of Macedonia’s local elections scheduled for October 15th , two of the main ruling parties announce support for each others candidates. The ruling SDSM with its predominantly ethnically Albanian coalition party DUI, seem eager to deepen their cooperation during the local elections, as there are no mayoral candidates by the two parties running against each other. In the city of Skopje, DUI abstained from nominating their own candidate by giving their full support for the candidate from the SDSM, whereas in other ethnically mixed municipalities, SDSM did the same for DUI. A recent survey by the International Republican Institute (IRI) concludes that 19% of the population would vote for a SDSM candidate, whereas 7% stated that they would support a DUI candidate. The survey also notes an increasing popularity of the SDSM leader, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, but a stagnation (or a slight drop) in the popularity of DUI’s leader Ali Ahmeti.
5. Hungary has developed new steps to stop ‘Soros Plan’ which includes a national survey on the migrant issue. Hungarian President Viktor Orban claims that Soros is trying to flood Europe with Islamic migrants to change its demographics, and the pair of issues have become his go to response for any criticism. Opponents claim that this is a waste of public money to further Orban’s political agenda. The plan to ‘stop Soros’ resulted in protests against the government’s decision to label three anti-Orban journalists as threats to Hungary. In continuing his effort against immigration, Orban spoke to Parliament on its first day in session for the fall and claimed that Hungary will never become an immigrant nation while the Minister of Foreign Affairs will be working at the UN to counter Ukraine’s recent changes to its language laws which limit the rights of the Hungarian minority among others. He claimed that this law violates “Ukraine’s international obligation and European Law”, which reveals that the current regime only respect European law when it rules in their favor.
6. Milorad Dodik, the President of Republika Srpska, an autonomous legal entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said a referendum on Bosnia’s state court jurisdiction over the courts in Republika Srpska is suspended. Last year, the Bosnian-Serb nationalist leader faced sanctions due to his secessionist tendencies, which collide with the internationally mediated Dayton Agreement – Bosnia’s current constitution, which put an end to the yearslong bloodshed. Last September, Dodik held a referendum on celebrating the Day of Republika Srpska, which was assessed as anti-constitutional and discriminatory by the EU and the U.S., but was praised by Russia. It remains to be seen whether Dodik learnt his lesson by the U.S. individual sanctions last year or he is only postponing the referendum.
7. The political divide in the Moldovan government yet grows. Igor Dodon, the pro-Russian president, threatened to call a ‘Great National Assembly’ if the rest of the government does not stop trying to limit his powers as president. This is a result of the parliament’s decision to send troops to NATO exercises without his consent as the commander in chief. Earlier this week saw protests in support of the pro-EU wing of the government, and this Sunday will be a counter protest, which was called for by Dodon. It is on the same day as his requested referendum which was denied by the constitutional court, which would have seen questions regarding changes to the constitution including lowering the number of parliamentary members and allowing the president to dissolve the parliament in favor of early elections.
8. Albania’s main opposition party proposes a ban on public use of Communist symbols. The leader of the centre-right Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, condemns the current use of symbols of the long time Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, whoruled Albania for 45 years. Basha states that the message of the Communist symbols of Enver Hoxha’s dictatorial regime equals the message that symbols of Nazi Germany send, and therefore they have to be banned from public use. Albanian veterans annually commemorate Hoxha’s WWII front against Italy and Germany while wearing these symbols .
9. A poll conducted found that 18% of Russian voters would back Andrey Semenov for President 2018. Semenov, backed by Putin, has an unusual background for a politician; he is imaginary. The Levada Center, unaffiliated with the Russian government, created him as part of their project to see how Putin’s authority affects Russian voters. This gave the Kremlin cause for celebration. Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, claimed that this result “only verifies the overwhelming confidence in the head of the Russian state and his human resources policy”.
10. Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and his Slovenian counterpart Miro Cerar scheduled a meeting for September 27th to discuss the decadeslong disputed maritime waters. The dispute’s history is marked with arbitration processes in the Hague, court rulings, and even a Slovenian temporary blockade in Croatia’s EU negotiations. However, its resolution during the meeting does not seem very likely.