Each week we bring you the ten most important pieces of news from Eastern Europe.
Compiled by: Hristo Voynov and Kristijan Fidanovski
1. The European Court of Justice dismissed the Hungarian and Slovakian case against the EU’s refugee quota system, sparking outrage from the Visegrad group. While this is the highest court in Europe, the V4 (and Hungary in particular) claim they will not let this rest. The next step in the drama is likely to be legal action against whichever countries still refuse to comply with the quota system. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, stated that Hungary cannot dictate the rules of its relationship that it has with the EU instead of offering only its ideal terms. This was in reference to the request that the EU help pay for Hungary’s border wall, which was promptly denied. Meanwhile, The Czech President Zeman stated that it would rather lose EU funding then accept refugees, and Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło stated that Poland is a loyal EU member who meets its obligations, implying that accepting refugees is not one of them.
2. In a typical “the tail wags the dog” scenario of junior coalition partners influencing the senior one, Kosovo’s Future of Kosovo party is getting three ministries in the country’s new government, including the Prime Minister post. The government is yet to be voted for in Parliament, though, after the fragile parliamentary majority including the Serbian Srpska Lista party finally elected a speaker yesterday. If the government vote passes, Srpska Lista will also get three ministers.
3. The US announced that it would force Russia to shut down operations in its US diplomatic property, found in San Francisco, Washington DC, and New York City. This is the latest in a series of such acts between the two in response to tensions that have built up over the years over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and supposed election hacking. The staff of the buildings were given two days notice to vacate the property, which resulted in suspicious black smoke coming out of two of the three compounds, presumably the result of the staff trying to destroy sensitive information before leaving the compound for the last time. While the previous moves were treated with modest restraint (and reciprocal action), this time Russia is planning to sue the US.
4. In the aftermath of Croatia’s decision to rename Zagreb’s central square Josip Broz Tito into the Republic of Croatia Square, an Italian researcher has identified as many as 276 streets, squares and waterfronts dedicated to Tito in the former Yugoslav region. Serbia tops the list with 176, followed by Macedonia with 38 and Croatia with 36. There are no Tito squares in Kosovo, but there are some in such unlikely cities as Sao Paulo and New Delhi.
5. Poland is starting a major modernization project of its army which is expected to cost it roughly 550 billion zloty, 155 billion USD, or 130 billion Euro. This project is expected to last 14 years and bump Poland’s spending from 2% to 2.5% of its GDP. It is largely in response to perceived threats from NATO’s East, coupled with the idea that other NATO allies aren’t reliable and Poland’s history of invasion, particularly from the east. This is going to bring in closer ties to far away nations, particularly South Korea, who can help Poland in its goals. This is also evident in Poland’s first major purchase of 53,000 assault rifles which was announced at the 24th International Defence Industry Exhibition, which was held in Poland.
6. The lawyer of Ratko Mladic, a Serbian general whose verdict at the Hague Tribunal is due in November, has requested a ten-day release of his client to seek medical treatment in Serbia. Given that Mladic was hiding for 16 years before he was captured in 2011, his request is unlikely to be granted by the tribunal. The Mladic verdict in November is going to be the tribunal’s last before its dissolution.
7. The president of Moldova, Igor Dodon, stated that he will not be sending Moldova’s contingent of troops to the 21st annual Rapid Trident military drills, which are led by the US army and includes NATO and Partnership for Peace affiliated nations. They are conducted in Western Ukraine and are done to help improve multinational military cooperation. This was soon followed by the decision of the Prime Minister and other chambers of Moldova’s government to send the troops anyway. This year’s exercises will include 1,800 troops, and only 57 of them will be from Moldova. However, the important takeaway from the event is that Dodon decided to act unilaterally in his decision, and it was quickly shut down by the rest of the Moldovan government. It is only one such example of the two not getting along in recent times.
8. Kosovo’s visa liberalisation, which has typically been a major precondition for further European integration in the case of other Western Balkan countries, might be delayed for another full year. The EU fears that the massive emigration in the country would increase dramatically after the liberalisation. Kosovo has the lowest average population age and the highest unemployment rate in Europe.
9. Mikheil Saakashvili, an ethnic Georgian born in Soviet Ukraine who is the former Georgian President and Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa, is wanted in both countries. Ukraine announced that Georgia sent a new request to extradite Saakashvili because of charges related to corruption, ones that he claims are politically motivated. He survived two previous extradition requests while he was Odessa’s Governor. He is currently in Poland, where he has been since he was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko after much conflict between the two over Saakashvili’s accusations of Poroshenko’s corruption. Once he lands in Ukraine on September 10th, exactly what will happen is unclear, but Ukrainian authorities claim they will confiscate his passport and deny him entry.
10. After signing a memorandum of cooperation, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras stated that the two countries “can play a major role in securing the region’s security and stability”. The memorandum provides for the establishment of a new railway link connecting six major commercial ports in the two countries. Together with Romania and Serbia, the Bulgarian and Greek heads of the executive are expected to meet again by the end of the year.