"What's New? How Is the World Treating You?"

In 1939 Johnny Burke (1908-1964) composed the music and Bob Haggard (1914-1998) wrote the lyrics for the hit song "What's New?" whose first line serves as the title of this blog.  To listen to Linda Ronstadt (born 1946) perform "What's New?" with Nelson Riddle (1921-1985) and his orchestra (Asylum, 1983), click here.  A new window will open, allowing the music to play in the background.

Check this web page for occasional posts containing news and commentary, mainly about events in Central Europe.  To read the article of your choice, either click on the title that appears in the table of contents or scroll down the page.
   
For news and commentary from the most recent past quarter, click here.  For earlier quarters in the year or previous years, see the Introduction and Index for "What's New?"

Table of Contents for the First Quarter of 2018

Contents

  1. 1 Oliver Ivanović    19 January 2018
  2. 2 Macedonia’s Language Law Vetoed    19 January 2018
  3. 3 Arrest Warrant for Maria Efimova    19 January 2018
  4. 4 Stop Soros Law Package    19 January 2018
  5. 5 Czech Government Resignation    18 January 2017
  6. 6 Macedonia and NATO    19 January 2018
  7. 7 Romanian PM’s Racist Remark    13 January 2018
  8. 8 Zeman Wins the First Round of Voting    13 January 2018
  9. 9 Senate Report on Russian Interference in Democratic Countries    12 January 2018
  10. 10 Bulgaria Prepares to Join the Eurozone    12 January 2018
  11. 11 Opinion on Gay Marriage and Citizenship in the EU    12 January 2018
  12. 12 The Potential Threat to a Free Czech Media    11 January 2018
  13. 13 Juncker on the Slovenia-Croatia Border Dispute    10 January 2018
  14. 14 Groups Call for EU Funds for NGOs    10 January 2018
  15. 15 Zeman Predicted to Win in a Close Race    10 January 2018
  16. 16 Morawiecki and Juncker    10 January 2018
  17. 17 Orbán Interview    8 January 2018
  18. 18 The Czech Presidential Election    7 January 2018
  19. 19 Kosovo-EU Tensions    5 January 2018
  20. 20 V4 Development Bank    4 January 2018
  21. 21 Ukraine’s Westward Commitment    3 January 2018
  22. 22 Miscellaneous News from 2017    3 January 2018
    1. 22.1 Five Convicted for Killing Boris Nemtsov
    2. 22.2 Yuri Dmitriev Trial
    3. 22.3 EU-Armenia Agreement
    4. 22.4 EIP Report on Elections
    5. 22.5 Na zdravÍ!
    6. 22.6 Nord Stream 2
    7. 22.7 Slovakia’s Far-right Defeat
    8. 22.8 Kossovo’s Government
    9. 22.9 Czechs Sought Eurozone Observer Status
    10. 22.10 EU Warned Russia about Western Balkan Interference
    11. 22.11 EU’s Posted Workers
    12. 22.12 Romania Workers' Salaries
    13. 22.13 Hungarian-Netherlands Relations
    14. 22.14 Hungary and Slovakia Lose in Court
  23. 23 Moldovan President Rejected Cabinet Changes    3 January 2018
  24. 24 Bulgarian Veto of Anticorruption Legislation    3 January 2018
  25. 25 Czech Fake News    3 January 2018
  26. 26 Poland Demands War Reparations from Germany    2 January 2017
  27. 27 Amnesty International on Poland    2 January 2018
  28. 28 Steps toward an EU Military    2 January 2017
  29. 29 Page’s Hungarian Connection    2 January 2018
  30. 30 EU Coal Modernization Decision    2 January 2018
  31. 31 The Controversy around Stephen F. Cohen   2 January 2018
  32. 32 Orbán’s Media Empire    2 January 2018
  33. 33 Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Day Concert 1 January 2018    1 January 2018
  34. 34 John Drew Interview    1 January 2018
  35. 35 25 Years of the Slovak and Czech Republics    1 January 2018
  36. 36 "Not One Inch Eastward"    1 January 2018
  37. 37 Far-right Parties Met in Prague    1 January 2018
  38. 38 The Russians' Success with the Foreign Media    1 January 2018
  39. 39 An Interview with Slovakia’s Káčer    1 December 2018
  40. 40 Belgrade-Budapest High-speed Rail    1 January 2018
  41. 41 World Military Expenditure    1 January 2018


Oliver Ivanović    19 January 2018

On 16 January, the moderate Serb leader in Kosovo, Oliver Ivanović, who backed EU-sponsored Kosovo-Serbian talks, was murdered in front of his party’s headquarters.  As a result of his death, Serbia pulled out of the talks.  All sides have condemned Ivanović’s death, and Serbia said that if Kosovo does not find the killers, Serbian authorities would.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-42701712.

Macedonia’s Language Law Vetoed    19 January 2018

Macedonia’s President Gjorge Ivanov vetoed a law that would have made Albanian equal to Macedonian, which was part of an agreement fro a Macedonian-Albanian governing coalition.  Ivanov claimed the law would have brought too much division to the country and would have been too complicated to implement.  The government criticized the veto.  The law will return to the legislature for a second vote.  See http://www.dw.com/en/macedonian-president-vetoes-albanian-language-law/a-42196126.

Arrest Warrant for Maria Efimova    19 January 2018

Cyprus has issued an arrest warrant for Maria Efimova, who is accused of stealing from a law firm and currently is in hiding.  Cyprus is assisting Malta and Russia in tracking down Efimova, who is seeking the status of a whistle blower.  The information Efimova provided to the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia about corruption involving Malta’s prime minister resulted in the car bombing death of Galizia last October.  See http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/83754/russian_whistleblower_faces_cypriot_arrest_warrant_after_complaint_from_former_employer#.WmJMhnlG1LM.

Stop Soros Law Package    19 January 2018

The Hungarian Parliament is considering a new series of laws, collectively known as Stop Soros, to target NGOs that support immigration with new restrictions and taxes. Viktor Orbán long has waged a campaign against the Hungarian-American financier George Soros. See http://www.france24.com/en/20180119-ngos-blast-hungarys-planned-stop-soros-laws.

Czech Government Resignation    18 January 2017

On 16 January, the minority government of Andrej Babiš failed to gain a vote a confidence in the Czech Parliament, and on 17 January, Babiš stated that he would resign.  The country's president, Miloš Zeman,who is seeking a second term and has a good relationship with Babiš, said that he would give Babiš the time necessary to form another government.  The Parliament decided on 19 January to lift Babiš's immunity to facilitate the investigation connected with European Union funds he allegedly illegally received for his Stork Nest Farm, and Babiš said he welcomes the investigation, which he claims is politically motivated.  Meanwhile, the mainstream Civic Democratic, the Social Democratic, and Christian Democratic parties refuse to work with ANO, which is Babiš's party, as long as Babiš is under investigation.  That is hardly surprising from another standpointIt is difficult to see what options Babiš has, other than to withdraw from active politics, for the sake of his party and the country, or to call for new elections.  ANO won slightly more than a quarter of the vote in the October election, but a poll of CVVM, which is a branch of the Czech Academy of Sciences, shows that ANO has the support of 35.5 percent of those it polled.

See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-czech-government/czech-government-quits-after-confidence-vote-uncertain-talks-ahead-idUSKBN1F60RX; and https://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKBN1F81GP.  For an excellent assessment of the situation in the Czech Republic, see the article by Vít Dostál, a political scientist, at http://visegradinsight.eu/czech-politics-between-general-and-presidential-elections-stalemate-and-chaos/.  Dostál noted that, given the number of supporters of ANO and the skepticism that many in the electorate have about traditional parties, the best-case scenario for him would be to engineer a new general election when voters head to the polls in September or October to elect local officials.

Macedonia and NATO    19 January 2018

The secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, visited Macedonia on 18 January and encouraged the country to resolve its name dispute with Greece.  Doing so would enable it to conclude one of the major hurdles blocking its entry into NATO.  Analysts expect that the Anel party in Greece, which is in the governing coalition and has a formal working agreement with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, will attempt to derail any agreement with Macedonia, in order to prevent NATO’s expansion.  See https://euobserver.com/enlargement/140616.

Romanian PM’s Racist Remark    13 January 2018

Romania’s Szeklers, a portion of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania, is demanding autonomy, and the Romanian prime minister, Mihai Tudose, remarked on television, “I have sent message that if the Szekler flag flies over the institutions over there, they will all fly next to the flag.  Autonomy for Szeklers is out of the question.”  Because Tudose implied that the Szeklers would hang, Hungary, where democracy has collapsed, in favor of one-party and one-man rule, formally complained to the Romanian ambassador in Budapest.  Aside from a short period during the Second World War, the Hungarians in Transylvania have been in Romania since the end of the First World War and the Treaty of Trianon with Hungary.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-romania-row/hungary-summons-romanian-ambassador-over-pms-remarks-threatening-ethnic-hungarians-idUSKBN1F11F9.

Zeman Wins the First Round of Voting    13 January 2018

Miloš Zeman won the first round of voting in the 12-13 January Czech presidential election, with 38.91 percent of the votes (98.06 percent of the votes are counted).  In the second round, Zeman will face the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Jiří Drahoš, who received 26.43 percent of the vote.  The seven other candidates received 34.62 percent of the vote.  The former prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, who received 4.26 percent of the vote, told his supporters not to stay home during the second round, which will take place on 26-27 January, and urged them to support Drahoš.

When Zeman went to the polls to vote on the first day, he was unable to do so at first because a half naked woman charged him.  Across her bare chest she wrote “Zeman Putin’s Slut,” which she yelled in English several times as Zeman’s escorts wrestled her to the floor.  The woman is Angelina Diash, a Ukrainian citizen and a member of Femen, a feminist group that began in Ukraine and has an international following.  Zeman is close to Putin and is an apologist for Russia’s policies.

Senate Report on Russian Interference in Democratic Countries    12 January 2018

On 10 January, the Committee on Foreign Relations of the US Senate has release its minority staff report titled “Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security.”

In its introduction, the report states that:

Democracies like the United States and those in Europe present three distinct challenges  to  Mr. Putin.  First, the sanctions they have collectively placed on his regime for its illegal occupation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine threaten the ill-gotten wealth of his loyalists and hamper their extravagant lifestyles.  Second, Mr. Putin sees successful democracies, especially those along Russia’s periphery, as threats to his regime because they present an attractive alternative to his corrupt and criminal rule.  Third, democracies with transparent governments, the rule of law, a free media, and engaged citizens are naturally more resilient to the spread of corruption beyond Russia’s borders, thereby limiting the opportunities for the further enrichment of Putin and his chosen elite (1).

*                    *                    *

The  tactics  that  Putin  has  deployed  to  undermine  democracies abroad  were  developed  at  home,  and  over  nearly  two  decades  he has used them against the Russian people with increased impunity.  The  result  has  been  hundreds  of  billions  of  dollars  stolen  and  spirited  away  abroad,  all  while  independent  media  and  civil  society, elections,  political  parties,  and  cultural  institutions  have  been  manipulated and suppressed, significantly hindering effective domestic opposition to Putin’s regime (2).

In an effort to use every avenue at its disposal, the Kremlin even has recruited the Russian Orthodox Church to prompt Orthodox churches elsewhere to resist the West.  For example, the Church has struggled against feminism and the LGBT community, and the Orthodox Church resisted fracking, which threatens Russia’s export of oil, and Montenegro’s effort to join NATO.

The report stated that, in Hngary, “the Russian government’s asymmetric arsenal includes support for extreme political parties and organizations within the country, propaganda, and the use of corruption. The Russian government  also enjoys a warm relationship with the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán,” whom the report identifies as “ perhaps the most supportive leader of Vladimir Putin” (94).  Orbán “appears to have welcomed” Russian interference, such as Russian disinformation repeated in the Hungarian media.  The report also considers Russia’s interference in other countries with “semi-consolidated democracies and transitional governments” as well as those with mature democracies, such as Germany and the United Kingdom.

The main points of the report’s recommendations (153-162) are as follows:
1. Assert Presidential Leadership and Launch a National Response
2. Support Democratic Institution Building and Values Abroad, and with a Stronger Congressional Voice
3. Expose and Freeze Kremlin-Linked Dirty Money
4. Subject State Hybrid Threat Actors to an Escalatory Sanctions Regime
5. Publicize the Kremlin’s Global Malign Influence Efforts
6. Build an International Coalition to Counter Hybrid Threats
7. Uncover Foreign Funding that Erodes Democracy
8. Build Global Cyber Defenses and Norms
9. Hold Social Media Companies Accountable
10. Reduce European Dependence on Russian Energy Sources

The report is a crucial indictment of Russian foreign policy and essential tool for policy makers and analysts.  

Bulgaria Prepares to Join the Eurozone    12 January 2018

The Bulgarian lev, which has been pegged to the euro since 1997, may soon go by the wayside as Bulgaria prepares to take the first formal step to join the eurozone.  Bulgaria is the fourth-fastest growing economy in the European Union, the country has practically no deficit, and its public debt is one-third of the EU average.  See https://euobserver.com/news/140517.

Opinion on Gay Marriage and Citizenship in the EU    12 January 2018

In a case involving the citizenship of a couple in Romania, the advocate general at the European Union Court of Justice stated that, even though a country does not permit same-sex marriages, it must recognize the same-sex marriages of other states.  The court often decides in agreement with the advocate general’s opinions.  See https://euobserver.com/lgbti/140510.

The Potential Threat to a Free Czech Media    11 January 2018

Václav Štětka, a lecturer in Communication and Media Studies at Loughborough University, in Leicestershire,UK, wrote an article about the potential threat to an independent media in the Czech Republic

 

Tomio Okamura, who whose Direct Democracy party (SPD) won 11 percent of the votes in October's parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic, did not like a line of questioning and called for Czech Radio and Czech Television to come under government control, the fate of the media outlets in Poland and Hungary.  Andrej Babiš, whose party won a plurality in the elections, called Czech Television reporters “corrupt vermin" and formally complained about them to the Czech Broadcasting Council.  The Czech president, Miloš Zeman, who stands a good chance of being reelected in the 12-13 January elections, also has called for reigning in  the Czech public media.  Babiš, who hopes to be prime minister, and Okamura are cooperating politically, and Babiš has a good relationship with Zeman.  That can be a potential disaster for the media.

 

Babiš, who made his fortune in agriculture, also owns the media conglomerate Mafra, which owns Mladá fronta DNES and Lidové noviny.  These newspapers already tread lightly when it comes to criticizing Babiš, for example, when it comes to reporting on Babiš's allegedly illegal receipt of European Union funds for his Stork Nest farm.  Potentially complicating matters is that the independent broadcaster TV Nova is for sale, and Babiš could appear as an interested party. 


If the Czech public media comes under government control, and if Babiš purchases TV Nova, there will be very few widely popular media outlets that provide objective reporting or that might be willing to criticize the government.

 

See http://visegradinsight.eu/the-czech-elections-and-the-future-of-media-independence/.

Juncker on the Slovenia-Croatia Border Dispute    10 January 2018

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned that the ongoing maritime border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia harms further European integration.  Slovenia claims territorial waters that Croatia refuses to acknowledge, despite The Hague’s Arbitration Court’s ruling in Slovenia’s favor.  Both Slovenia and Croatia are in the European Union, but instability in the Balkans feeds into the unwillingness of the EU to admit additional states from the region.  According to a recent unpublished EU report, Montenegro and Serbia could enter the EU by 2025, with Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia making progress toward that end.  The difficulties include a number of unresolved issues, including Macedonia’s name, to which Greece objects.  See https://www.b92.net/eng/news/region.php?yyyy=2018&mm=01&dd=09&nav_id=103222; and https://euobserver.com/enlargement/140478.

Groups Call for EU Funds for NGOs    10 January 2018

Nongovernmental organizations that deal with building a civil society, immigration, and women’s rights in Poland and Hungary appealed to the European Union to begin a European Values Investment program to help NGOs operate.  In Poland and Hungary, NGOs are faced with a variety of restrictions, and they are lacking the proper funding to operate.  See https://euobserver.com/political/140484.

Zeman Predicted to Win in a Close Race    10 January 2018

Miloš Zeman, the current Czech president who shifted from personally supporting the European Union and NATO to aligning with Russia, appears to be the favorite to win the 12-13 January presidential elections.  According to http://kdovyhrajevolby.cz/, Zeman will receive 47.6 percent of the votes, and his nearest contender, Jiří Drahoš, former president of the Czech Academy of Sciences who has the support of the Catholic party (KDU-ČSL) and the party of mayors known as STAN, will receive 44.9 percent of the votes.  Kdovyhrajevolby.cz com combines polls and betting, and its website is down, in accordance with Czech election laws.  According to a December poll that the CVVM of the Czech Academy of Sciences conducted, Zeman had 24.5 percent, Drahoš had 16.0 percent, with 16 percent decidedly not voting and 24.5 percent undecided.  In terms of the preference of those who will vote, Zeman had 32.0 percent, and Drahoš received 21.5 percent.  See https://www.voanews.com/a/zeman-leads-polls-in-final-days-before-czech-presidential-elections-/4200603.html; and https://cvvm.soc.cas.cz/media/com_form2content/documents/c2/a4478/f9/pv171222.pdf (in Czech).

Morawiecki and Juncker    10 January 2018

The Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, and the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, had a friendly dinner meeting on 9 January in Brussels.  In the joint communique following the event, the two “agreed that they will meet again to pursue the discussion with a view to making progress by the end of February.”  Morawiecki also shuffled his cabinet, replacing foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, who has had difficult relations with the EU, with a political scientist, Jacek Czaputowicz.  He also replaced the finance and defense ministers.  See http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-18-86_en.htm; and http://www.dw.com/en/polish-prime-minister-morawiecki-reshuffles-cabinet-ahead-of-eu-talks/a-42082218.

Orbán Interview    8 January 2018

The authoritarian prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, traveled to Bavaria to speak at a party conference of the Christian Socialist Union, an associate party in Angela Merkel’s CDU-CSU.  While in Germany, he also granted an interview to Bild.  Orbán told the German tabliod that the immigrants from the Middle East are not political refugees, and the proof is that they pass through stable European countries to get to the wealthiest, especially Germany.  He rejected the European Union requirement that Hungary settle its proportion of migrants, claiming that “the difference is, you wanted the migrants, and we didn't.”  See http://www.dw.com/en/hungarys-orban-tells-germany-you-wanted-the-migrants-we-didnt/a-42065012.

The Czech Presidential Election    7 January 2018

On 12-13 January, the Czechs will conduct presidential elections and select from a field of nine candidates: Miloš Zeman, the controversial current president who is supportive of Russia; Mirek Topolánek, a former prime minister who is running as an independent with ODS support; Vratislav Kulhánek, the former Škoda automobile manufacturer chairman and past president of the Czech Ice Hockey Association who is running as the candidate of ODA; Jiří Hynek, chairman of the Association for Weapons and Defense Industry and the candidate of the Realist party; Michal Horáček, a lyricist, writer, and founder of the betting company Fortuna who is running as an independent; Marek Hilšer, who is running as an independent and is a medical doctor and a lecturer at Charles University; Petr Hannig, the leader of the Common Sense party who has the support of several small parties; Pavel Fischer, a former ambassador to France who is running as an independent; and Jiří Drahoš, former president of the Czech Academy of Sciences who has the support of the Catholic party (KDU-ČSL) and the party of mayors known as STAN.  If nobody receives a majority, there will be a runoff of the top two candidates in the first round.

Below is a YouTube video from Generace s názorem #prezident (A Generation with an Opinion “President, which also is on Facebook) that encourages young people to vote (various voices): “Perhaps you don’t know, but in a few days, we will vote for the president, another president, and our generation should be part of it.  Either we will vote for him or someone else will vote for us.  Fifty percent of young people do not vote.  Come on!  It doesn’t matter to me, what will happen to me?  Perhaps it is something like getting a tattoo and letting your grandmother select it.  It seems to me that we are a generation full of
talk . . . . Now we can show that is not the case.  Indifference bothers me.  Even our generation should have a say in who should represent us.  Respect.  Trust.  Morals.  Heart.  Courage.  Fairness.  Freedom.  Promise.  Decency.  Courage.  We do not want indifference to determine our future.  We will determine it.  Our opinion will be heard.  Go vote because you do not want someone else to decide for you and perhaps you will not like it.”


Kosovo-EU Tensions    5 January 2018

Ramush Haradinaj, the prime minister of Kosovo, and many other politicians oppose the Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution (KRSJI) that is investigating war crimes related to Kosovo, including allegations that, in 1998 and 1999, during the Yugoslav wars, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) harvested and sold the internal organs of Serbs.  It is located in The Hague because of possible reprisals against witnesses.  Some, including those in the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) that leads the governing coalition, are trying to end Kosovo’s cooperation with the KRSJI.  Behind the move is the possibility that the tribunal may indict the president, the prime minister’s brother, and several other politicians.  Additionally, the prime minister opposes the Association of Serb Municipalities (ASM), which the EU helped to establish to govern majority Serb areas.  Finally, the AAK and others refuse to lend their support to ratifying a 2015 thee EU brokered with Montenegro over the location of the border because Kosovo is to forfeit 8,000 hectares (31 square miles) of land.

The governments of France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, and United States, known as the Quint states (the Big Four of the EU plus the US), issued a joint statement encouraging Kosovo to continue cooperating with the KRSJI investigations.  The EU also has encouraged Kosovo to respect the international agreements to which it has adhered.

V4 Development Bank    4 January 2018

On 3 January, the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, a former banker, visited Viktor Orbán in Hungary.  The prime ministers from the European Union’s two member states under one-party rule discussed common interests, including their resistance to quotas for settling migrants from the Mediterranean.  They also proposed the opening of a development bank to focus on infrastructure that may involve Slovakia and the Czech Republic, essentially making the venture a Visegrad Four initiative.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/hungary-poland/poland-plans-to-set-up-central-europe-development-bank-polish-pm-idUSL8N1OY45S.

Ukraine’s Westward Commitment    3 January 2018

In 2017, Ukraine demonstrated its commitment to maintain a western outlook in two specific directions.

In July, after meeting with Jens Stoltenberg in Kyiv, Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, said that the two had discussed the need for Ukraine to establish a membership action plan (MAP) by 2020 (the MAP is the first step toward NATO entry).  Stoltenberg stated that Russia could not stop Ukraine’s entry into the alliance.  A majority of the country, based on opinion polls, and most of the country’s lawmakers desire NATO entry.

Ukraine also is eying membership in the European Union.  In June, Ukrainians gained the ability to travel without a visa to the EU.  Furthermore, in July, Ukraine and the EU signed an association agreement (AA), something that was about to take place in 2013 but did not because of Moscow’s objections.  It would have come into force in 2014, but the Dutch rejected it in a referendum.  This year, the Dutch parliament approved the measure, which does not provide Ukraine with automatic entry into the EU.  The AA will enable the two sides to coordinate policies, and through the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) portion of the AA, the EU and Ukraine will increase economic ties.  In the meantime, Ukraine will continue to align its laws and regulations to conform to the acquis communautaire.

A major factor in whether Ukraine can join either NATO or the EU is the frozen war with Russia in the eastern part of Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  Russia denies having troops in Ukraine, which western sources do not accept, based on overwhelming evidence.  Fighting in the east is sporadic, and the shelling and other events of December were the worst in 2017 since February.  Thus far, approximately 10,000 people have died in the conflict, which began in February 2014. 

Miscellaneous News from 2017    3 January 2018

As a result of teaching, research, and other commitments, I was unable to post or analyze a number of important and occasionally humorous news items in the second half of 2017.  They appear below in abbreviated form.

Five Convicted for Killing Boris Nemtsov

Who ordered the killing of Boris Nemtsov in February 2017 remains unknown, but a Russian court convicted five men–one of murder (he received 20 years in prison) and four as accomplices–last June.  All those convicted are Chechens.  See https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/06/29/534879414/five-men-convicted-in-killing-of-putin-foe-boris-nemtsov.

Yuri Dmitriev Trial

Russian authorities arrested Yuri Dmitriev, a historian who has discovered mass graves from the era of Joseph Stalin.  They claim that he had pornographic material of his daughter (he maintains it was to provide officially requested evidence about the health of the adopted child, who had been abused) and parts for assembling a gun (he claims it is an old, inoperative gun).  Friends and one of his daughters claimed that the charges are “absurd.”  The Kremlin has denied any connection to Dmitriev’s arrest.  As of 1 January 2018, the case still is pending, but on 28 January 2018, a court in Karelia will release Dmitriev, who will be confined to the city and will undergo a psychological evaluation.  The investigation against him will continue.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-politics-history/hunter-of-stalins-mass-graves-on-trial-friends-say-hes-been-framed-idUSKBN19Y11V; and https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-historian-stalin-crimes-dmitriyev-child-pornography-charges-to-be-freed/28942168.html.

EU-Armenia Agreement

On 24 November 2017, Armenia and the European Union signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (Cepa), which does not involve free trade.  It is a replacement for the failed Association Agreement of 2013 that collapsed when Russia demanded that Armenia join its Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).  Russia appears to have no difficulty with the arrangement because it does not challenge Armenia’s position in the Russian economic and foreign-policy orbit.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/140017.

EIP Report on Elections

In late October 2017, the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) released its 2017 midyear report.  It contained an analysis of the April Serbian presidential election and concluded that, with respect to the freedom of the press and other difficulties, elections in Serbia “can be neither free nor fair” (p. 17).  In the perception of electoral integrity, EIP gave Serbia a score of “very low.”  See https://www.electoralintegrityproject.com/the-year-in-elections-2016-2017/.

Na zdravÍ!

The Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland, in that order, are the largest beer-consuming countries in Europe.  Czechs lead the pack, with 292.6 beers of 500 ml per person per year in 2006.  See http://www.euronews.com/2017/08/04/who-are-among-the-biggest-beer-drinkers-in-europe?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=en&utm_content=who-are-among-the-biggest-beer-drinkers-in-europe&_ope=eyJndWlkIjoiMTFhOGY0ZWY2Njg4ODFiNGNkMmZmMWNhMjNhOWUzMWMifQ%3D%3D.

Nord Stream 2

In Early November 2017, the European Union Commission introduced a bill into the European Parliament to force Nord Stream 2, which is a private venture that will take Gazprom gas from Russia to Germany through an underwater pipeline, to follow EU guidelines.  That means another company, other than Gazprom, which is building the pipeline, would have to run it and other countries, like Poland, would have to benefit from the gas Russia supplies.   See https://euobserver.com/energy/139800; and http://www.theenergycollective.com/severin-fischer/2416392/lost-regulation-eu-nord-stream-2.

Slovakia’s Far-right Defeat

On 5 November 2017, Marian Kotleba, the far-right governor of Slovakia and the leader of Kotleba–People’s Party Our Slovakia, lost his position in local elections.  He opposed Romani and Slovakia’s involvement in NATO, and he expressed support for Slovakia’s clerical fascist regime during the Second World War (his party’s uniforms even reflected those of the wartime Hlinka Guard).  His successor is an independent candidate.  See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/slovakia-elections-far-right-wing-anti-immigration-europe-people-s-party-marian-kotleba-a8038511.html.

Kossovo’s Government

In the second week of September, Kosovo finally received a new government after three months of negotiations.  Ramush Haradinaj, a former guerrilla leader whom the UN war-crimes tribunal twice acquitted, is now the prime minister.  His governing partners also are parties with roots in guerrilla warfare.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kosovo-politics/former-guerrilla-coalition-gets-mandate-to-form-kosovo-government-idUSKCN1BI1YI.

Czechs Sought Eurozone Observer Status

In August 2017, the Czech government, which now is out of power, suggested that it should have observer status at eurozone meetings.  The Czech Republic is not in the eurozone, and although some Czechs see advantages in adopting the euro, most Czechs oppose the measure.  The new government of Andrej Babiš has not pursued the proposal and does not favor adopting the euro.  See http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/czechs-seek-to-gain-observer-status-at-eurozone-meetings.

EU Warned Russia about Western Balkan Interference

During a conference in Trieste between EU members and Western Balkan states, the Italian prime minister warned Russia not to interfere in the Western Balkans (Russia likely was involved in the 2016 Montenegran coup attempt).  Others at the meeting held out hope for EU future expansion into the Western Balkans.  See https://euobserver.com/foreign/138515.

EU’s Posted Workers

The employees of companies of one state posted temporarily to another state will get the same pay as those workers in the state in which they are posted, according to a new European Union regulation established in October 2017.  Several eastern states opposed the measure because it would make their workers less competitive.  A number of compromises were necessary to gain enough votes to pass the proposal.  See http://www.euractiv.com/section/economy-jobs/news/posted-workers-macrons-first-victory-in-reforming-the-eu/.

Romania Workers' Salaries

Workers in Romania are employed, but not many make more than the national minimum wage.  The reason is that western investors insisted that Romania revise their employment laws, in order to get foreign loans, so the authorities removed regulations requiring better pay for more qualifications.  The government also made it difficult for workers to unionize.  The capitalist dream of a free market for labor has turned into a workers’ nightmare.  See https://euobserver.com/social/139515.

Hungarian-Netherlands Relations

In late August, after the Dutch ambassador in Budapest commented negatively about Hungary’s unwillingness to accept migrants from the Mediterranean, Hungary broke off diplomatic relations with the Netherlands.  On 1 September 2017, the standoff ended when René van Hell became the new ambassador.  See https://www.thenational.ae/world/europe/hungary-severs-diplomatic-ties-with-the-netherlands-1.623445; and https://thehungaryjournal.wordpress.com/2017/09/02/new-dutch-ambassador-arrived-in-budapest/#more-758.

Hungary and Slovakia Lose in Court

On 6 September, the European Court of Justice ruled that the proportional scheme for resettling migrants from the Mediterranean is valid and that Hungary and Slovakia must comply with the agreement.  Hungary said it would ignore the decision, while Slovakia accepted it.  Thus far, Slovakia has accepted only a few asylum seekers.  See https://www.ft.com/content/9116ebbc-92de-11e7-bdfa-eda243196c2c.

Moldovan President Rejected Cabinet Changes    3 January 2018

On 28 December, the pro-Russian president of Moldova, Igor Dodlon, rejected cabinet changes for a second time after having returned from a visit to Russia.  Dodlon claimed that the proposed cabinet officials were tainted because of a bank corruption scandal, but while implicated, the individuals in question have not been indicted.  The pro-western government is considering a constitutional suspension of Dodlon’s powers.  See https://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/moldova-could-start-2018-with-another-political-crisis-12-28-2017.

Bulgarian Veto of Anticorruption Legislation    3 January 2018

On 2 January, the Bulgarian president, Rumen Radev, vetoed an anticorruption bill because it was too weak.  The legislation enabled parliament to appoint the members of a proposed anticorruption authority, an arrangement Radev believes can undermine the agency’s effectiveness.  See http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/crime/article/Bulgarian-leader-vetoes-insufficient-12467178.php.

Czech Fake News    3 January 2018

There are 40 websites in the Czech Republic that offer fake news and support the Russian narrative of events, including the Our Media a.s. outlets Parlamentní listy (Parliamentary Papers), Protiproud (Countercurrent), and EUPortal, which are under the ownership of the wealthy Senator Ivo Valenta, who ran as an independent.  Other sites include Aeronet and Ac24.  Astonishingly, 25 percent of the population trust these sort of sites more than the mainstream media, much of which is in foreign hands (the Communist party’s newspaper is one major newspaper that is domestically owned).  One regular user of fake media is President Miloš Zeman, and these outlets are likely to support him in the upcoming presidential election.  The Czech Security Information Service (BIS), which Zeman has criticized, is aware of the problem, but advertisers are drawn to fake media because it gets the attention of a large portion of the population.  The journalist Ondřej Kundra, with the magazine Respekt, noted that the number of fake news believers is high but has not yet reached a majority.  See https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/138638.

Poland Demands War Reparations from Germany    2 January 2017

This past summer, a Polish parliamentarian indicated that he felt Germany should pay Poland war reparations.  The 1953 treaty that excluded such a possibility, he claimed, because Poland was a puppet state of the Soviet Union.  Several months later, the issue still is alive in Poland.  This past November, the head of the Law and Justice party, Jarosław Kaczyński, claimed that it was Poland’s moral right to demand reparations.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-germany-reparations/german-war-reparations-matter-of-honor-for-poland-idUSKBN1DB0SF; and http://www.wpxi.com/news/national-news/ap-top-news/poland-considers-demanding-wwii-reparations-from-germany/579135570

Amnesty International on Poland    2 January 2018

In November, Amnesty International released a special report on Poland, where the government clamped down against those protesting the PiS regime and specifically changes in Poland’s courts in July 2017.  During various protests, the police and firemen moved on the peaceful protesters, after having blocked their ability to leave the protest site.  The authorities subjected protesters to arrest, fines, and legal procedures, even if individuals had been protesting peacefully.  The police also began surveillance operations against protesters.  See https://www.amnesty.ie/poland-streets-defend-human-rights/; and http://www.dw.com/en/amnesty-international-ai-slams-poland-for-undermining-freedom-of-assembly/a-41042238.

Steps toward an EU Military    2 January 2017

In the middle of November 2017, the European Union made progress toward establishing an EU military.  Most of the member states (the exceptions were Denmark, Ireland, Malta, Portugal, and the United Kingdom) agreed to establish a joint rapid reaction force and to cooperate in developing drones, tanks, and other weaponry.  They will develop common medical facilities and logistics.  They also will establish permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) to coordinate their efforts.  See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/world/europe/eu-military-force.html; and https://euobserver.com/foreign/139854.  

Page’s Hungarian Connection    2 January 2018

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Carter Page, once a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump, met with officials in Hungary, a member of the European Union that has close ties with Russia.  One of his contacts, Jenő Megyesy, is an advisor to Hungary’s strong man, Viktor Orbán.  The person who arranged the meeting is Hungary’s ambassador to the United States, who also met with Page because the two just happened to be in Budapest at the same time.  In speaking to the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017, Page initially said he could not recall the individuals with whom he had met and what they had discussed, but his memory returned.  ABC interviewed Megyesy, who claimed that his discussions with Page focused on Hungarian issues.  Likewise, the Hungarian ambassador to the US claimed they spoke about general foreign policy matters.  See http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-campaign-adviser-carter-page-held-high-level/story?id=51284300.

EU Coal Modernization Decision    2 January 2018

In early November, the European Union decided, based on their overall economic performance, that Romania and Bulgaria will be eligible for funds to modernize their coal-burning energy facilities.  The EU excluded Poland from the deal, which angered Warsaw, but the Polish economy is relatively vibrant..  Although environmentalists are upset that the EU still subsidizes coal-burning facilities, a condition of receiving EU modernization funds is that the recipient country must invest an equal amount of money in sustainable energy.  See https://euobserver.com/environment/139819

The Controversy around Stephen F. Cohen   2 January 2018

For some time, controversy has surrounded the historian Stephen F. Cohen, a columnist at the Nation and professor emeritus at Princeton University and New York University.  Many accuse him of being an apologist for Vladimir Putin, even in the matter of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.  As a result, when he tried to fund dissertation scholarship, the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), which is an umbrella group for scholars, initially hesitated to accept the offer.  A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, however, paints him as an independent thinker who is unafraid of controversy.  See https://www.chronicle.com/article/Is-This-Professor-Putin-s/241777?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en&elqTrackId=95fef402a2c941359192ea5795d2a095&elq=5c77fb6058754bf5b58acae2a96ac913&elqaid=16816&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=7279.

Orbán’s Media Empire    2 January 2018

In order to control Hungary, Viktor Orbán not only must control politics but also the media.  As a result, three of his close associates own the country’s most important media outlets and report what Orbán and his Fidesz party want the public to know.  That includes information that helps discredit George Soros, the liberal Hungarian-born Jewish financier who established and supports Central European university.  Simultaneously, the Fidesz party snuffed out the free media, particularly Népszabadság, which closed in 2016.  The independent media that remains does not dare to criticize Orbán and his policies because the government is the country’s largest advertiser.  See https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/138466; and http://visegradinsight.eu/on-the-impact-of-the-internet-and-media-on-politics-in-ce/.

Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Day Concert 1 January 2018    1 January 2018

Join the Vienna Philharmonic in ringing in 2018 through PBS, witHugh Bonneville as the host.  Information is available at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/vienna-new-years-celebration-2018-concert/7695/.  The televised broadcast of the concert will take place in the United States on 1 January at 2.30 pm and 9.00 pm EDT, but check local listings for specifics (the broadcast in Pensacola, FL, on WSRE, for example, is at 8.00 pm).  The concert will be on the Internet at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/ on 2 January.  Below is the official trailer for the performance.

John Drew Interview    1 January 2018

Fifty years ago, enemy antiaircraft fire seriously wounded John A. Drew, then a pilot for the US Marines in Vietnam.  He managed to return the crippled plane to his base at Da Nang, saving not only his life but also that of his radar operator.  Mr. Drew participated in Dr. Miller's 2017 summer tour to Poland, Slovakia, Austria, and the Czech Republic, and while in Prague, Alex Švamberk, an author, critic, and musician, as well as a journalist with Novinka.cz, conducted interviews with Mr. Drew about his experiences in Vietnam.  Novinka.cz released the article about Mr. Drew on 23 December, the fiftieth anniversary of the incident.

To read the translation of Mr. Švamberk's article on this website, click here.  His article, which is in Czech, appears at

    NOTE: This is a reposting of the 28 December 2017 news item.

25 Years of the Slovak and Czech Republics    1 January 2018

On New Year's Day 25 years ago, Czechoslovak ceased to exist and Slovakia and the Czech Republic peacefully emerged as separate states.  A thirteen-minute report on the negotiations leading to the breakup that includes current perspectives from the two most important actors, the prime ministers of the Czech and Slovak portions of the state, Václav Klaus and Vladimír  Mečiar, appeared on the Brno television station.  The most crucial talks occurred at Brno's Tugendhat Villa, once the residence of a wealthy German-Jewish family that the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe constructed in 1928-1930.  The television report is available (in Czech) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeVWGM7sGPg.  One Slovak perspective appeared in the newspaper Sme, which considered the difficulties facing Slovakia in 1993.  See the article (in Slovak) at https://domov.sme.sk/c/20714728/sme-25-rokov-republiku-krstili-sampanskym-ale-mnohi-rychlo-vytriezveli.html?ref=njctse.  Coincidentally, 28 October 2018 will mark the centenary of the creation of the Czechoslovak First Republic as a result of the First World War.

"Not One Inch Eastward"    1 January 2018

In 1990, the US secretary of state, James Baker, assured Mikhail S. Gorbachev that the Soviet Union would have nothing to fear about the states bordering it in the West because NATO would move "not one inch eastward."  That was not the case, and since the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO stretched into Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, three countries that once were in the Soviet Union, as well as Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.  It also includes countries in the region that were not part of the Soviet bloc but were part of communist Yugoslavia, specifically Croatia, Montenegro, and Croatia.  According to recently declassified documents, Baker was not the only individual to tell Soviet Officials that NATO would not expand eastward.  The desire for the states of East-Central Europe and the Balkans to secure their borders and their sovereignty notwithstanding, the documents provide historians and analysts a better understanding of why Russia, especially under Vladimir Putin, sought to secure its own interests throuigh heightened tensions with the United States, frozen conflicts, and other means.  See https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/russia-programs/2017-12-12/nato-expansion-what-gorbachev-heard-western-leaders-early.

Far-right Parties Met in Prague    1 January 2018

Europe's far-right parties met in Prague on 16 December 2017 to call for the demise of the European Union, the elimination of immigration, and the end of Muslim influence in Europe, while their representatives insisted that they were not xenophobic.  The Netherlands' Geert Wilders, who referred to the EU as "an existential threat," took the stage at the event, with Marine Le Pen of France, Heinz-Christian Strache of Austra, and others.  The host was Tomio Okamura, of the Czech Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD), which won slightly more than 10 percent of the votes in October's parliamentary elections.  The far-right parties feed on the fear of change in their respective countries--the perceived loss of sovereignty in the EU, the rapid advance of technology, the ever-increasing pace of social change, and the exaggerated fear about incoming foreigners from Africa and the Middle East.  In his remarks, Wilders insisted, "We must have the courage to introduce travel bans as president Trump has done in the United States" to keep out migrants from Muslim countries. See http://www.dw.com/en/european-right-wing-leaders-meet-in-prague-slam-eu-and-immigration/a-41825795; and http://www.euronews.com/2017/12/16/european-far-right-parties-seek-to-unify-at-prague-conference.

The Russians' Success with the Foreign Media    1 January 2018

For two articles about how the Russians are able to influence both the right and the left in the West as well as their efforts to influence public opinion in general, particularly with a Central European context, see http://visegradinsight.eu/fire-and-brimstone-the-proliferation-of-deception-and-dread-in-central-europe/ and http://visegradinsight.eu/a-house-undivided/.  On the issue of cyber security in the Visegrad Four, see http://visegradinsight.eu/parallel-competences-the-state-of-cyber-security-in-the-v4/.

An Interview with Slovakia’s Káčer    1 December 2018

On 1 December 2017, Visegrad Insight published an interview with the perceptive Slovak ambassador to Hungary, Rastislav Káčer, who also is the honorary chairman of the board for Globsec, a NGO in Bratislava that hosts the Bratislava Global Security Forum.  During the interview, Káčer discussed Slovakia’s role in the European Union, the EU’s fiscal unity, the possibility of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary of entering the eurozone, the regional groupings in Europe, immigration, security, and other issues.  The interview is available at http://visegradinsight.eu/dont-merchandise-doubt/.

Belgrade-Budapest High-speed Rail    1 January 2018

In late November, Chinese representatives met with 16 European governments, 11 of them in the European Union, in an effort to improve economic ties.  The so-called 16+1 grouping began in 2012 but has no permanent structure, and thus far, it seems to have had no specific tangible effect, despite the fact that Chinese investment in Central Europe and the Balkans has more than doubled, during the past five years, to 7.5 billion EUR.  EU representatives, who attended the meeting in Budapest as observers, are not concerned about the 16+1 movement's possibilities of harming EU unity, although heavy Chinese investments could begin to sway the policies of EU member states.  Perhaps certain observers in the EU are aware that the Chinese are not backing their promises with heavy investments and the potential for Chinese economic gain, at this point, is minimal.  The first real effort of the grouping may be the creation of a new high-speed rail between Belgrade and Budapest, which would facilitate the distribution of Chinese goods entering the Greek port of Piraeus, which is just outside of Athens, throughout the EU.  Both Hungary and Serbia are taking steps to begin construction of the rail.  See https://www.voanews.com/a/serbia-starts-construction-chinese-funded-railway-budapest/4140709.html; https://www.forbes.com/sites/salvatorebabones/2017/11/27/chinas-bid-to-buy-eastern-europe-on-the-cheap-the-161-group/#191790bd3467; and https://euobserver.com/eu-china/140068.

World Military Expenditure    1 January 2018

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently released its 2016 assessment for the amount of military spending throughout the world.  One positive bit of information is that, since 2009, global military spending has been relatively flat.  On a more disturbing note, while the United States falls behind the developed world in terms of health care, education, and other social services that would strengthen the country and enable it to reach its full potential, the US has spent more on its military than any other country.  In fact, of the 15 countries with the largest military budgets, the US stands at 36 percent.  That is more than the spending of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany combined (presented in descending order).  The SIPRI data includes a table that compares the current spending of NATO countries with what spending would be if all states, including the United States, would commit only 2 percent of their GDP to their militaries.  Interestingly enough, the amount of military spending in the US would drop by 40 percent, and overall NATO spending would decrease by about 18 percent.  See https://www.sipri.org/research/armament-and-disarmament/arms-transfers-and-military-spending/military-expenditure.