"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


  1. 1 Poland to Purchase Patriot Missiles    29 March 2018
  2. 2 World War II War Claims of Poland    28 March 2018
  3. 3 Germany Approves Nord Stream 2    28 March 2018
  4. 4 Student-initiated Petition in the Czech Republic    27 March 2018
  5. 5 Ukraine’s Divided Population    26 March 2018
  6. 6 Protest in Belarus    26 March 2018
  7. 7 Slovakia’s New Government    23 March 2018
  8. 8 Poland Adjusts Laws under EU Pressure    23 March 2018
  9. 9 Youth in Europe Abandon Religion    23 March 2018
  10. 10 Bulgaria’s Stance on the Istanbul Convention    23 March 2018
  11. 11 Suspicious Police Raid in Austria    22 March 2018
  12. 12 Tear Gas in Kosovo's Parliament    22 March 2018
  13. 13 Poland’s Response to the EU    21 March 2018
  14. 14 “DO NOT CONGRATULATE”    21 March 2018
  15. 15 Hungary’s Parliamentary Election    19 March 2018
  16. 16 Putin’s Victory    19 March 2018
  17. 17 Two Studies on the Links between Majors and Employment    19 March 2018
  18. 18 Russian Presidential Elections   18 February 2018
  19. 19 Pinning the Blame    18 February 2018
  20. 20 Pellegrini to Replace Fico    15 March 2018
  21. 21 Dealing with the Neo-Nazi Plague    15 March 2018
  22. 22 The Shadow of the Second World War: Russia and Japan    15 March 2018
  23. 23 Goose on a Leash Celebrates 50 Years    13 March 2018
  24. 24 UK-Russian Relations Strained    13 March 2018
  25. 25 Potential Cabinet Collapse in Slovakia    13 March 2018
  26. 26 LGBTI in Chechnya    13 March 2018
  27. 27 The Situation in Slovakia    12 March 2018
  28. 28 World Bank Report on the EU: “Growing United”    9 March 2018
  29. 29 The Czech President’s Chinese Connection    9 March 2018
  30. 30 Poles, Jews, and Nazis    9 March 2018
  31. 31 Babiš Returns to Court    7 March 2018
  32. 32 Skripal Assassination Attempt in the UK    7 March 2018    UPDATE!
  33. 33 Ondráček Resigned    6 March 2018
  34. 34 Protests in the Czech Republic and Slovakia    5 March 2018
  35. 35 German Church to Keep Hitler Bell    28 February 2018
  36. 36 US Corruption    28 February 2018
  37. 37 Corruption Report from Transparency International    28 February 2018
  38. 38 Kuciak’s Last Article: “The Italian Mafia in Slovakia”    28 February 2018
  39. 39 Slovak Journalist Murdered    27 February 2018
  40. 40 Euroskepticism in Central Europe    26 February 2018
  41. 41 Russian Funds Linked to EU Official    26 February 2018
  42. 42 Bulgarian Government Condemned March Commemorating Lukov   19 February 2018
  43. 43 UN Criticized Hungary’s “Stop Soros” Bill    17 February 2018
  44. 44 Dutch Parliament Recognized Armenian Genocide    16 February 2018
  45. 45 Hungarian Government’s “Stop Soros” Bill    15 February 2018
  46. 46 Babiš Loses Court Case on ŠtB Collaboration   14 February 2018
  47. 47 Poland’s Holocaust Bill Is Now Law    13 February 2018
  48. 48 EU Statement on Western Balkan Enlargement    13 February 2019
  49. 49 Ukraine’s Anti-corruption Progress    13 February 2018
  50. 50 An Explanation of Romania’s Corruption Controversy    13 February 2018
  51. 51 Asylum in the Visegrád Four Countries    13 February 2018
  52. 52 The German Grand Coalition    12 February 2018
  53. 53 Kosovo No Longer Objects To Its War Tribunal    12 February 2018
  54. 54 Strache Believes Kosovo Is a Part of Serbia    12 February 2018
  55. 55 Photos of Ferenc Szálasi’s Execution    12 February 2018
  56. 56 Navalny Arrested and Released    4 February 2018
  57. 57 EU to Begin Food Testing in May    3 February 2018
  58. 58 Airbus Flying Taxi Tested    3 February 2018
  59. 59 Bulgaria’s March to Honor Hristo Lukov    3 February 2018
  60. 60 Poland's Death Camp Law    3 February 2018
  61. 61 Repercussions for Revealing the Truth    3 February 2018
  62. 62 Visegrad Four’s Controversial View of Europe’s Future    3 February 2018
  63. 63 Zeman Won the Czech Presidential Election    30 January 2018
  64. 64 EU on the Problems of Romanian Justice    25 January 2018    UPDATE!
  65. 65 Austria Suit Regarding Hungary’s Power Plant    25 January 2018
  66. 66 European Social Democracy’s Woes    23 January 2018
  67. 67 The Economist on the Czech Situation    21 January 2018
  68. 68 Oliver Ivanović    19 January 2018
  69. 69 Macedonia’s Language Law Vetoed    19 January 2018
  70. 70 Arrest Warrant for Maria Efimova    19 January 2018
  71. 71 Stop Soros Law Package    19 January 2018
  72. 72 Czech Government Resignation    18 January 2017
  73. 73 Macedonia and NATO    19 January 2018
  74. 74 Romanian PM’s Racist Remark    13 January 2018
  75. 75 Zeman Wins the First Round of Voting    13 January 2018
  76. 76 Senate Report on Russian Interference in Democratic Countries    12 January 2018
  77. 77 Bulgaria Prepares to Join the Eurozone    12 January 2018
  78. 78 Opinion on Gay Marriage and Citizenship in the EU    12 January 2018
  79. 79 The Potential Threat to a Free Czech Media    11 January 2018
  80. 80 Juncker on the Slovenia-Croatia Border Dispute    10 January 2018
  81. 81 Groups Call for EU Funds for NGOs    10 January 2018
  82. 82 Zeman Predicted to Win in a Close Race    10 January 2018
  83. 83 Morawiecki and Juncker    10 January 2018
  84. 84 Orbán Interview    8 January 2018
  85. 85 The Czech Presidential Election    7 January 2018
  86. 86 Kosovo-EU Tensions    5 January 2018
  87. 87 V4 Development Bank    4 January 2018
  88. 88 Ukraine’s Westward Commitment    3 January 2018
  89. 89 Miscellaneous News from 2017    3 January 2018
    1. 89.1 Five Convicted for Killing Boris Nemtsov
    2. 89.2 Yuri Dmitriev Trial
    3. 89.3 EU-Armenia Agreement
    4. 89.4 EIP Report on Elections
    5. 89.5 Na zdravÍ!
    6. 89.6 Nord Stream 2
    7. 89.7 Slovakia’s Far-right Defeat
    8. 89.8 Kossovo’s Government
    9. 89.9 Czechs Sought Eurozone Observer Status
    10. 89.10 EU Warned Russia about Western Balkan Interference
    11. 89.11 EU’s Posted Workers
    12. 89.12 Romania Workers' Salaries
    13. 89.13 Hungarian-Netherlands Relations
    14. 89.14 Hungary and Slovakia Lose in Court
  90. 90 Moldovan President Rejected Cabinet Changes    3 January 2018
  91. 91 Bulgarian Veto of Anticorruption Legislation    3 January 2018
  92. 92 Czech Fake News    3 January 2018
  93. 93 Poland Demands War Reparations from Germany    2 January 2017
  94. 94 Amnesty International on Poland    2 January 2018
  95. 95 Steps toward an EU Military    2 January 2017
  96. 96 Page’s Hungarian Connection    2 January 2018
  97. 97 EU Coal Modernization Decision    2 January 2018
  98. 98 The Controversy around Stephen F. Cohen   2 January 2018
  99. 99 Orbán’s Media Empire    2 January 2018
  100. 100 Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Day Concert 1 January 2018    1 January 2018
  101. 101 John Drew Interview    1 January 2018
  102. 102 25 Years of the Slovak and Czech Republics    1 January 2018
  103. 103 "Not One Inch Eastward"    1 January 2018
  104. 104 Far-right Parties Met in Prague    1 January 2018
  105. 105 The Russians' Success with the Foreign Media    1 January 2018
  106. 106 An Interview with Slovakia’s Káčer    1 December 2018
  107. 107 Belgrade-Budapest High-speed Rail    1 January 2018
  108. 108 World Military Expenditure    1 January 2018

Poland to Purchase Patriot Missiles    29 March 2018

Poland announced that it will purchase Patriot missiles at a cost of 4.75 billion USD to update its defense structure, much of which dates to before 1989.  The missiles, which Raytheon will deliver in 2022, will irritate the Russians, who have bolstered their military presence in Kaliningrad, in order to dominate the Baltic States and the northeastern part of Poland in the event of a conflict.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-raytheon-poland-patriot/poland-signs-4-75-billion-deal-for-u-s-patriot-missile-system-facing-russia-idUSKBN1H417S.

World War II War Claims of Poland    28 March 2018

A Polish parliamentary commission set the potential war claims of Poles against Germans at 440 billion EUR.  The Germans maintain that the two countries settled the matter in 1953, and it does not intend to pay Poles any compensation.  See https://www.timesofisrael.com/poland-puts-berlins-wwii-bill-at-440-billion-euros/.

Germany Approves Nord Stream 2    28 March 2018

Germany has given its final approval to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will bring Russian natural gas to Germany.  Other countries, including Russia, still have to approve the pipeline, and a failure to secure passage through one would increase construction costs.  The European Union takes exception to the pipeline because it does not meet some of its requirements and because it will enable Russia to use natural gas as an economic weapon in Eastern Europe.  The EU will discuss the issue at its June summit.  The United States also disapproves of the pipeline.  See http://www.dw.com/en/germany-approves-nord-stream-2-gas-pipeline/a-43156602.

Student-initiated Petition in the Czech Republic    27 March 2018

A student at the Theater Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, Luboš Louženský, has spearheaded an effort to petition the legislature to force the Czech President, Miloš Zeman, to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities, not to name someone as prime minister who is under investigation for criminal activities (a reference to the head of the current caretaker government, Andrej Babiš), and to prohibit the caretaker government from undertaking policy and personnel decisions.  Zdeňka Papouška, a senator from the Christian and Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People's party, stated that, based on the constitution, it is necessary to determine how long it should take to form a government, what a caretaker government can decide, and how long such a government can function.  The petition has gathered more than 45,000 signatures.  The Senate will examine the issues over the course of the next few weeks.  See http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/zpravy/k-vyzve-studentu-na-obranu-demokracie-se-pripojilo-na-45-000-lidi/1602795 (in Czech).

Ukraine’s Divided Population    26 March 2018

In a recent article, Katherine Quinn-Judge, an analyst of the European Union’s Eastern Neighbourhood at the International Crisis Group, explains that many in Ukraine treat the population under separatist control in the East as different from Ukrainians.  There is no effective means of dealing with the eastern provinces in Ukraine’s December 2017 Reintegration Law, and a proposed law on collaboration would criminalize civil servants at the lowest level.  Meanwhile, Ukrainian integration with the West takes place without many prospects for the inhabitants in separatist regions should they reenter Ukraine. Quinn-Judge challenges those in Ukraine who treat the region under separatist control as inherently different from other parts of Ukraine to reassess their opinions and actions.  See http://neweasterneurope.eu/2018/03/25/reunite-ukraine-kyiv-must-overcome-prejudices/.

Protest in Belarus    26 March 2018

On 25 March, protesters took to the streets to demand democracy during the country’s celebration of its hundredth year of independence from Russia in 1918.  Police arrested about 70 individuals, including two prominent dissidents.  See http://www.dw.com/en/scores-of-pro-democracy-protesters-arrested-in-belarus/a-43124937l.

Slovakia’s New Government    23 March 2018

After objecting to the proposed minister of the interior and succeeding in having another named, President Andrej Kiska has named a new government under Peter Pelligrini, of Smer-SD.  The government will continue to investigate the murder of Ján Kuciak, a journalist who was investigating ties the mafia has with government leaders, and his partner.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-slovakia-politics/slovak-president-accepts-new-government-to-end-crisis-over-journalists-murder-idUSKBN1GX28U.

Poland Adjusts Laws under EU Pressure    23 March 2018

In an effort to stave off sanctions from the European Union, Poland is to make adjustments in the laws governing its judiciary.  It now will publish the court decisions promptly, will require the minister of justice to get two approvals before removing judges, and will make the retirement age for judges the same for men and women.  The minister of justice also referred to the new law about the Holocaust, which forbids anyone from implying that the Poles perpetrated the persecution of Jews, as “dysfunctional.”  See https://www.politico.eu/article/poland-law-and-justice-retreats-on-controversial-laws/.

Youth in Europe Abandon Religion    23 March 2018

Stephen Bullivant, a who teaches theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London, recently published a survey of the religious beliefs of youth in Europe, based on statistics from 2014 to 2016.  He determined that religion plays an increasingly minor role in the lives of European youth.  The least religious are the Czechs, 91 percent of whom do not identify with any religion.  The most religious are the Poles–83 percent believe in some faith.  Those percentages are similar for church attendance and prayer.  See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/21/christianity-non-christian-europe-young-people-survey-religion.

Bulgaria’s Stance on the Istanbul Convention    23 March 2018

Bowing to religious pressure and popular belief that women are subservient to men, Bulgaria will not ratify the Istanbul Convention to combat violence against women.  Many in Bulgaria fear that it will allow women to withhold sex and promote gender fluidity.  See http://neweasterneurope.eu/2018/03/23/bulgaria-womens-rights-risk/.

Suspicious Police Raid in Austria    22 March 2018

In late February, the Austrian Ministry of the Interior, under the control of the right-wing Austrian Freedom party (FPÖ), sent a police unit for reducing street crime to raid the offices and homes of individuals in the BVT, the country’s domestic intelligence agency.  The unit removed information about far-right parties, some allied with the FPÖ.  The move supposedly was to root out corruption (a claim populist and far-right authorities often give to cover their abuse of power).  The opposition Social Democrats are protesting the action, and the German BfV domestic intelligence agency is questioning the ability to cooperate with its Austrian counterpart.  See https://euobserver.com/justice/141406.

Tear Gas in Kosovo's Parliament    22 March 2018

On 21 March, members of the small nationalist opposition Movement for Self-Determination released tear gas in the Kosovo parliament to prevent the ratification of a treaty to cede about 30 square miles of territory to Montenegro.  Deputies had to evacuate the chamber, but they eventually returned and passed the measure.  As a result of the treaty ratification, citizens of Kosovo now are slated to enter the European Union without visas, as are citizens of all the other non-EU states of the Balkans.  The EU condemned the tear gas attack but praised the passage of the measure.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kosovo-parliament-teargas/kosovo-parliament-ratifies-border-deal-with-montenegro-after-stormy-session-idUSKBN1GX1GB; and https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/21/europe/kosovo-parliament-tear-gas-intl/index.html (video footage).

Poland’s Response to the EU    21 March 2018

At the last minute, Poland responded to the European Union regarding its judicial reforms.  According to the document it delivered on 20 March, the Poles claimed that the reforms “restored the necessary balance between the executive, legislative, and judiciary powers while maintaining all guarantees of independence of the judiciary.”  The Polish position echoed its earlier stance and could provoke the European Union to place sanctions on Poland.  See https://euobserver.com/justice/141395.

“DO NOT CONGRATULATE”    21 March 2018

On 20 March, Donald Trump ignored the “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” warning of his advisers and telephoned Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his electoral win.  He also disregarded his advisors and did not criticize Russia for the recent nerve-agent attack of a former double agent and his daughter in London.  Trump informed reporters that he intends to meet Putin in the near future.  Senator John McCain criticized Trump, stating that “An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.”  See https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/21/politics/trump-russia-inconsistencies-putin-call/index.html.

Hungary’s Parliamentary Election    19 March 2018

On 6 April, Hungarians will vote in parliamentary elections, and Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party likely will be the winners.  The only hope for possibly reversing his self-styled illiberal democracy, which borders on authoritarianism, is to mimic the experience of the southeastern city of Hódmezővásárhely, where Fidesz lost a mayoral race because the opposition parties cooperated during the election.  Currently, Fidesz has the support of 51 percent of the electorate, but the opposition remains divided.  On opposite ends of the spectrum, for example, are the Social Democrats and ultranationalists in the Jobbik party.  See https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-25/orban-party-suffers-shock-loss-in-stronghold-before-hungary-vote.

Putin’s Victory    19 March 2018

Vladimir Putin won 76 percent of the vote in Russia’s presidential election and will govern for another six years.  He has the overwhelming support of the Russian electorate, but the authorities suppress meaningful opposition, and regulations as well as covert efforts limit public speech.  In a society that restricts opinion and information, those who hold power easily can influence public opinion.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43452449.

Two Studies on the Links between Majors and Employment    19 March 2018

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has released “The State of the Humanities 2018: Graduates in the Workforce and Beyond,” that sheds a positive light on those who study the humanities, including history, even if they find employment in fields that do not correspond directly to their majors.  The study reveals important information about earnings, unemployment, correlation between major and field of employment, and  job satisfaction.  The report concluded that, while humanities graduates may have salaries that are a bit less and unemployment that is slightly higher than their science and engineering counterparts, “with respect to perceived well-being, however, humanities majors are quite similar to graduates from other fields” (p. 3).  The study is good news for anyone who questions whether they should compromise their love for the humanities for the sake of a seemingly more practical, job-oriented field in business, the sciences, or engineering.

Another positive picture emerges from a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) titled “First Destinations for the College Class of 2016” (released in October 2017).  Overall, 53.4 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree had a full-time standard job upon graduation, with an average salary of $49,525 (p. 6).  The average for the humanities and social sciences was not that far off the mark: 47.2 percent had full-time employment, and their salary was $46,970 (p. 43).  However, a larger percentage of those in the social sciences and humanities was continuing their education or expecting to do so than, for example, those in engineering (compare p. 32).  Apparently, the job market for those in the social sciences and humanities is not so dismal as one might suspect.  The gloomy side is that employment and starting salaries for everyone were down from 2015, and the humanities faired somewhat worse than the sciences and social sciences (p. 4).  The report also contains statistics for those receiving associate, masters, and doctoral degrees.

Russian Presidential Elections   18 February 2018

Russians cast their ballots today in presidential elections, and there is no doubt that Vladimir Putin will win.  There have been some irregularities at voting locations, but Putin is extremely popular, and the authorities have made every effort to boost turnout.  There are eight candidates on the ballot, including Putin, but the name of the best-known opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, is missing because of what many view as a concocted fraud conviction.  Navalny is urging voters to boycott the election.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43445816; and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-16057045.

Pinning the Blame    18 February 2018

Russia has claimed that the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, or some other country was the source of the chemical agent involved in the attempted killing of Sergei Skripal and his daughter.  All three countries have rejected Russia’s claim.  Authorities in the UK suspect that the poison may have affected the Skripals through the ventilation system of their BMW.   In the wake of the attack, the United Kingdom expelled 23 Russian diplomats, prompting the Russians to do the same.  See http://abcnews.go.com/amp/International/russian-spys-poisoning-uk-believed-nerve-agent-car/story?id=53832515.

Pellegrini to Replace Fico    15 March 2018

In the face of the largest protests in Slovakia since the fall of communism, Robert Fico offered his resignation to Slovakia’s president, under the conditions that there not be new elections and that a politician from Fico’s party, Smer-SD, replace him, in order to preserve the current coalition.  Apparently, President Andrej Kiska and Fico reached a compromise because, as of today, Fico has resigned, there will not be early elections, and another member of Smer-SD, Peter Pellegrini, has replaced Fico.  Pellegrini, however, will not merely step into Fico’s shoes, as Fico had hoped, but will construct a new coalition.  Fico’s legitimate concern was that, given the anger of the population over the alleged corruption of certain top politicians, including Fico, new elections could result in a rejection of the traditional parties, enable extremism, and lead to instability.  This move may be insufficient because many do not trust Smer-SD.  For example, Igor Matovič, a center-right politician, stated that “Pellegrini is another Fico.”  For the latest news, see  https://www.aktuality.sk/clanok/572880/online-demisia-roberta-fica-novy-premier-peter-pellegrini/; and http://www.dw.com/en/slovak-prime-minister-robert-fico-ready-to-resign/a-42979882.

Dealing with the Neo-Nazi Plague    15 March 2018

A former neo-Nazi and the founder of the Life after Hate movement, Christian Picciolini, has written a memoir of his time on the far right and his efforts to abandon its discriminatory principles.  In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Picciolini recommended that society redouble its efforts to educate youth and provide job training to give youth a sense of hope because despair feeds the extreme right.  He also recommended that “violence and silence” enable the far right when it comes to public demonstrations.  He said that, “if we ignore them, that allows them to do whatever they want without any repercussions or accountability, and they’re going to continue to flourish.  If we’re violent towards them, like we sometimes have been, that pushes them further away and emboldens them.”  A counterdemonstration, with compassion but without violence, is the most effective approach to neutralizing the far right.

The Shadow of the Second World War: Russia and Japan    15 March 2018

Russia and Japan have much that divides them, little that unites them, and few incentives to improve their relationship.  Since the Second World War, Russia has occupied four islands the Japanese claim are theirs, and the Russians recently conducted war games there, just before the 7 February Japanese day of commemoration for the lost territories.  With few economic ties, despite Russia’s various Far East economic incentives, there is little pressure, in either Moscow or Tokyo, to improve relations.  Furthermore, Japan’s weak military and its reliance on America’s nuclear umbrella, at a time when American-Russian relations are strained, complicate relations.  The Second World War still casts a long shadow in East Asia.  For the view of the situation from Chris Miller, from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, see http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/03/02/japans-frozen-far-east-investment-giving-japan-russia-ties-frostbite/.

Goose on a Leash Celebrates 50 Years    13 March 2018

The theater Husa na provázku (Goose on a Leash), in Brno, Czech Republic, will celebrate its anniversary on 15 March 2018, precisely the day, fifty years ago, when it produced its first performance.  It was established in 1967, in Brno, but in 1969, because of the purely coincidental similarity between its name and that of the Communist party leader during normalization, Gustáv Husák (1913-1992), the theater had to change its name to Na provázek (On the Leash).  It adopted its original name after the fall of Communism.  One of the key actors in the theater was Boleslav Polívka (born 1949).  For information on the performance scheduled for 15 March, see https://www.provazek.cz/program/den-husy-2108#201803151600 (in Czech).

UK-Russian Relations Strained    13 March 2018

Relations between Russia and the United Kingdom are strained after authorities in the UK accused the Russians of either participating in the attempted killing of Sergei Skripal, a former double agent, and his daughter or of losing control of its chemical weapons.  The Russian government demanded a sample of the poison and denied the accusations of involvement in the attempted murders.  Meanwhile, the UK is threatening Russia with economic sanctions.  The United States, NATO, and the European Union backed the UK’s stance on the matter.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-43381880.

Potential Cabinet Collapse in Slovakia    13 March 2018

On 12 March, Most-Híd (both words mean bridge in Slovak and Hungarian), a member of the ruling coalition, with Smer-Social Democracy and the Slovak National party, announced it would leave the government if new elections do not take place.  The prime minister, Robert Fico, from Smer-SD, sees no reason to change the government or to call for new elections.  Most-Híd’s demand for new elections came despite the resignation of the interior minister, Robert Kalinak, a member of Smer-SD.  The Slovak National party also is open to new elections if Fico’s government falls.  One of the men arrested and later released for the killing of Ján Kuciak and his partner has business ties with Fico.   See https://spectator.sme.sk/c/20779611/most-hid-calls-for-early-elections.html; and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43371821.

LGBTI in Chechnya    13 March 2018

Bjorn van Roozendaal, the program director for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association in Europe, known as ILGA-Europe, published an opinion piece in Eurobserver about the disappearances and killings of those in or suspected of being in the LGBTI community in Chechnya.  Disappearances of men began on 1 April 2017, and women began to go missing some time later.  Others in the LGBTI community were the subject of honor killings, even if they left the republic to reside elsewhere in Russia.  Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, argues that such people do not exist, so they cannot be repressed.  Vladimir Putin, despite international pressure from other heads of state, has not intervened.  The article is at https://euobserver.com/opinion/141268.  Information about ILGA-Europe’s work on the Chechen issue and an appeal for donations to carry on the work to end the crisis is at https://ilga-europe.org/Chechnya.

The Situation in Slovakia    12 March 2018

The unsettled atmosphere in Slovakia, after the murder of Ján Kuciak, the journalist who was investigating the Italian mafia’s connection with politics, and Kuciak’s partner, continues.  On 9 March, President Andrej Kiska, Prime Minister, Robert Fico, and the Speaker of the National Council Andrej Danko attempted to develop a joint declaration on the situation, but Kiska and Fico could not agree on the text.  Fico wanted wording that referred to the protests as “coup attempts” prompted from abroad, while Kiska called for a halt in the spread of conspiracy theories.  See https://www.aktuality.sk/clanok/571085/kiska-pojde-rokovat-na-hrad-zverejnil-text-svojej-deklaracie/.

Given the amount of news coverage of the aftermath of Kuciak’s death, Aktuality.sk, which published Kuciak’s work, has established a daily news digest about the crisis.  The English version, which includes brief summaries, is available at https://www.aktuality.sk/clanok/571344/tens-of-thousands-of-slovaks-in-the-streets-news-daily-digest-9th-of-the-march-2018/ (the links lead to articles in Slovak).

World Bank Report on the EU: “Growing United”    9 March 2018

The World Bank has released “Growing United: Upgrading Europe’s Convergence Machine.”  In her introduction to the report, Kristalina Georgieva, the CEO of the World Bank, noted that “The convergence machine still works. But it is not  working for everyone.  Europe is growing, but more needs to be done to ensure that it grows united. The convergence machine requires an upgrade–to enhance its power to adapt to a world that is changing faster than its creators could imagine” (10).  

One concern is the productivity gap between the richer and poorer member states.  The authors of the report concluded that “there are two types of lagging regions in Europe: low-income regions, with GDP per capita under 50 percent of the EU average (Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland,  and  Romania), and low-growth regions, where GDP per capita has not converged toward the EU average over the past decade (Italy, Greece, Portugal, and  Spain)” (18).

Another problem is the increasing relative economic decline that low-income Europeans face.  The report determined that “per capita labor income has become more unequally distributed since the 1990s in most EU countries–a trend that intensified after 2008, particularly among countries  in the south, where labor income inequality is already the highest” (19).

The solution is to make sure that technological advancements reach all Europeans, including the low-income groups, whose manual-labor jobs are declining.  To do so, the low-income earners must have the proper skills that technological change demands, and these include basic mathematics and reading.  Another need is for employment support programs that are successful and well funded in advanced countries.

Member states that lag behind in productivity also suffer from less progressive business innovation environment, including excessive regulations, poor infrastructure, and poor services.  They should target these areas for changes.  The EU also needs to increase labor mobility.

All of these changes will provide opportunities for people and businesses. Most countries are moving in the right direction, the report noted, but “this is no longer good enough–opportunity laggards need to accelerate their efforts to address barriers to opportunity or else risk diverging with opportunity leaders” (126).

The Czech President’s Chinese Connection    9 March 2018

The investigation and likely arrest of  Ye Jianming, the chairman of the China Energy Company Ltd. (CEFC), for either his political associations or his financial dealings, has left Czech President Miloš Zeman without his go-between with Xi Jinping.  CEFC, which now is under the control of Shanghai’s municipal government, owns Slavia soccer club and the Lobkowicz brewery as well as a portion of Czech Air and media outlets, like TV Barrandov, which has provided positive coverage for Zeman.  Although an embarrassment for Zeman, Ivana Karásková, a China specialist, believes that the pattern of Chinese investment in the Czech Republic will change little as a result of Ye’s disappearance.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/141251.  What might occur, however, is a larger discussion in the media about Chinese interests in the Czech Republic.  Such information, however, likely will not change the opinions Zeman’s base holds of him.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/141251.

Poles, Jews, and Nazis    9 March 2018

With Poland’s new law on the Holocaust in place, it is apparent that the discussion about the role of Poles in persecuting Jews during the Nazi occupation has increased.  That has infuriated some Poles and brought inflamed reactions on both sides of the debate.  See the article by Robert Mackey in The Intercept at https://theintercept.com/2018/03/03/even-poland-never-enforces-new-holocaust-law-lot-damage-already-done/.

Babiš Returns to Court    7 March 2018

The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, has filed an appeal with the Slovak Supreme Court to overturn the decision of a lower court finding that he had cooperated with the Czechoslovak Secret Police, the ŠtB, before the 1989 collapse of communism.  Babiš is suing the Institute of Nation’s Memory (Ústav pamäti národa, ÚPN) that is the caretaker of documents related to the activities of the communist-era authorities.  Most recently, on 13 February, Babiš lost an appeal on the matter in a Slovak regional court.  See https://domaci.ihned.cz/c1-66071130-babis-podal-dovolani-kvuli-prohranem-sporu-o-jeho-evidenci-ve-spisech-stb-informuji-slovenska-media.

Skripal Assassination Attempt in the UK    7 March 2018    UPDATE!

Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent who had worked for the United Kingdom and came to live there in 2010, as a result of a spy swap, and Skripal’s daughter are in hospital in Salisbury, after an apparent poisoning.  The UK, especially London, which has a large Russian émigré population, been the scene of a number of mysterious deaths of Russians or those close to Russians.  The attackers frequently use poison, but other suspicious deaths include hangings and leaps from windows that appear to be suicides.  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/03/06/the-long-terrifying-history-of-russian-dissidents-being-poisoned-abroad/; and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43299598.

Skripal and his daughter as well as one policeman who came to their aid still are in critical condition, but authorities have determined that a nerve agent was used in the attack.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/health-43328976.

Ondráček Resigned    6 March 2018

After pressure on the streets and prime minister Andrej Babiš’s withdrawal of support, Zdeněk Ondráček will not head the General Inspectorate of Security Services in the Czech Republic.  Ondráček is a former policeman who was involved in controlling crowds during the outbreak of protests in what became known as the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and now is a Communist party deputy.  The demonstrations that took place on the evening of 5 March in Prague and in other cities were primarily about Ondráček, but they also had anti-Babiš overtones.  According to one individual who attended the demonstration, many in the crowd in Prague were chanting “ne ANO” or “no ANO.”  In Czech, ano means yes, but it also is the acronym for Babiš’s political party.  See the following references (all in Czech): https://zpravy.idnes.cz/spor-o-ondracka-snemovna-gibs-komunista-ods-ano-f50-/domaci.aspx?c=A180306_111232_domaci_kop; and https://zpravy.idnes.cz/protest-zdenek-ondracek-kscm-gibs-dls-/domaci.aspx?c=A180305_090616_domaci_kop.  D. E. Miller interview with an anonymous protester on 6 March 2018.  Ondráček’s statement about the situation on https://www.facebook.com/OndracekZdenek%20/.

Protests in the Czech Republic and Slovakia    5 March 2018

Political events sparked protests in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia over the past few days.  
In Prague and other Czech cities, protesters took to the streets to demand the removal of Zdeněk Ondráček, a Communist party deputy, who won election in the Chamber of Deputies to head the General Inspectorate of Security Services.  Ondráček was among those policemen who beat protestors in November 1989 when the demonstrations began that overturned four decades of Communist party rule in Czechoslovakia.  Protests occurred on Sunday, 4 March, as well as on Monday, 5 March.  The prime minister of the caretaker government, Andrej Babiš, has come out against Ondráček, but he criticized deputies for not being in the chamber to cast their vote, which enabled Ondráček to win the position by a slim majority.  See https://zpravy.idnes.cz/andrej-babis-gibs-zdenek-ondracek-odvolani-fix-/domaci.aspx?c=A180304_193959_domaci_linv (in Czech); and http://www.radio.cz/en/section/bulletin/daily-news-summary-2018-03-05.

Protesters in Prague on the evening of 5 March 2018, at approximately 10.00 pm, call for the removal of Zdeněk Ondráček, as head the General Inspectorate of Security Services.  Photo courtesy of Lenka Kocková.

In Slovakia this past weekend, up to 20,000 people gathered, in a peaceful demonstration in Bratislava, to remember Kuciak and his partner.  Kuciak was investigating the Italian mafia’s role in corruption that reached to those around top government members, including the prime minister.  The Slovak president, Andrej Kiska, joined the protest in Bratislava and called for a cabinet reshuffle or early elections as solutions to the political turmoil that resulted from the murder, but the prime minister, Robert Fico, commented that the president should not have gotten involved in the matter.   See https://news.sky.com/story/mafia-get-out-thousands-protests-in-slovakia-over-killing-of-journalist-and-fiancee-11273703; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-slovakia-crime-primeminister/slovak-prime-minister-fico-rejects-call-for-government-shakeup-idUSKBN1GG0W3; http://praguebusinessjournal.com/slovak-president-kiska-calls-for-early-elections-to-avoid-crisis-of-confidence/; and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43265708.

German Church to Keep Hitler Bell    28 February 2018

After carefully consideration, the council of the Protestant Jakobskirche in Herxheim, Germany, voted to retain a Nazi-era bell that bears the inscription  "All for the Fatherland–Adolf Hitler."  The church will install an instructional plaque, with the hopes that the bell will serve as "an impetus for reconciliation and a memorial against violence and injustice."  See https://www.afp.com/en/news/23/german-village-votes-keep-hitler-bell-memorial-doc-11d00d1.

US Corruption    28 February 2018

Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, criticized the ranking of the US in terms of corruption in the most recent Transparency International report.  In his opinion, the organization overlooked the ten ways American politicians and business arrange to steal billions while criticizing countries than the “global South,” which includes some states in the European Union.  See https://www.juancole.com/2018/02/signs-corrupt-nation.html.

Corruption Report from Transparency International    28 February 2018

Transparency International has released its 2017 report on corruption.  New Zealand ranks as the least corrupt country.  Austria, Belgium, and the United States are in the sixteenth rank.  The rankings of Baltic, Central European, Balkan, East European, and Eurasian countries are as follows:

Baltic States
21  Estonia
40  Latvia
38  Lithuania

Central Europe
36  Poland
42  Czech Republic
54  Slovakia
66  Hungary
12  Germany
16  Austria

34  Slovenia
57  Croatia
77  Serbia
91  Bosnia and Herzeovina
85  Kosovo
91 Albania
64  Montenegro
107 Macedonia
59  Romania
122 Moldova
71  Bulgaria
59  Greece
81  Turkey
42 Cyprus

Eastern Europe
68  Belarus
130 Ukraine
135 Russia

122 Azerbaijan
107 Armenia
46 Georgia
122 Kazakhstan
135 Kyrgyzstan
157 Uzbekistan
161 Tajikistan
167 Turkmenistan

Kuciak’s Last Article: “The Italian Mafia in Slovakia”    28 February 2018

At the time of his murder, some time before 25 February, the Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak was working on a story about the infiltration of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia into Slovakia and its links with Mária Trošková, the former Ms. Universe contestant and an advisor to the Slovak prime minister, as well as both politicians and businessmen in Slovakia.

Peter Porubský, the senior PR manager at Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, a. s., which publishes  Aktuality.sk, provided CentralEuropeanObserver.com a packet of information that includes Kuciak’s incomplete last article (it is available in other outlets) as well as other materials.  They are provided below, without editorial changes.

“Italian Mafia in Slovakia.  Tentacles Reaching out to Politics,” Ján Kuciak’s incomplete last article (without photographs)

Remarks by Peter Bárdy, Editor-in-Chief Aktuality.sk

“Talianska mafia na Slovensku. Jej chápadlá siahajú aj do politiky,” Ján Kuciak’s incomplete last article in Slovak (with photographs)

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Investigative Reporting Project Italy have published a summary of the unfinished article by Ján Kuciak under the title “The Model, the Mafia, and the Murders.”  Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico supports Trošková and the secretary of the Security Council, pending the outcome of the murder investigation.  Read the summary of Kuciak's article at https://www.occrp.org/en/amurderedjournalistslastinvestigation/the-model-the-mafia-and-the-murderers.  On Fico’s statement, see https://spectator.sme.sk/c/20770106/fico-stands-by-troskova.html.

Democracy is a messy affair, and corruption at the highest levels can take place in any country.  In authoritarian regimes, such wrongdoing is invisible, but in a democracy, the media helps expose it so that the police and courts can deal with such matters and legislatures can take steps to prevent future abuse.  Ján Kuciak not only was a journalist but a patriot who gave his life to keep Slovak politics and society fair and transparent.

A memorial to Ján Kuciak and his partner, Martina Kušnírová, that appeared at https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/28/europe/jan-kuciak-reward-mafia-slovak-journalist-intl/index.html.

Slovak Journalist Murdered    27 February 2018

On the morning of 26 February, the Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his partner were found dead in their residence in Veľká Mača, not far from Bratislava.  He was shot in the chest; his partner, in the head.  Kuciak wrote about the dealings of Ladislav Bašternák, who is close to politicians in the ruling Smer party.  The prime minister, Robert Fico, offered a 1 million EUR reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators.  According to an associate of Kuciak, the deceased reporter was working on a story involving the links influential individuals have with the Ndrangheta mafia in Calabria, Italy.  His most recent focus was Mária Trošková, who is Fico’s advisor.  This is the first murder of a journalist in Slovakia, but other journalists in Europe have been killed because of their investigations, the most recent in Malta.  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/02/26/police-believe-a-journalist-was-killed-for-reporting-on-fraud-in-the-heart-of-europe/; https://spectator.sme.sk/c/20768866/investigative-journalist-and-fiancee-killed-in-their-house.html; and https://spectator.sme.sk/c/20769558/kuciak-investigated-links-between-politicians-and-mafia.html.

Euroskepticism in Central Europe    26 February 2018

In an article for Eurobserver, Jakub Wisniewski, the director of the GLOBSEC policy institute, claimed Euroskepticism exists in Central Europe for three reasons.  It is popular with politicians, who find that it wins votes.  Second, there still is a need to account for economic, social, political, and cultural effects from the collapse of communism.  Finally, there are “double standards” in Western and Central Europe, which is apparent in food quality and digital services.  He predicts that, within a few decades, as the economies of the countries that were once in the Soviet bloc improve, relative to those in the West, Euroskepticism will decline.

There are other reasons for the existence of Euroskepticism, the roots of which are extremely complicated.  Covert Russian intervention, on behalf of politicians who wish to weaken the EU, is one factor.  The feared loss of sovereignty is another, and it is present not only in Central Europe but in Western Europe, which the vote for Brexit underscores.  Underlying distrust of the EU also is linked to why extreme right parties succeed: the fear of modernity that stems from the presence of foreigners because of Schengen or migration, the challenges of the digital age, or other effects of modernization and globalization.  Time also will resolve these issues, but in the meantime, democracy faces significant challenges and needs skillful leadership in the parties that support moderate change.

For Wisniewski’s article, see https://euobserver.com/opinion/141077.

Russian Funds Linked to EU Official    26 February 2018

Based on a new indictment of Paul Manafort in the United States, it appears that Russia used Manafort to funnel money to EU officials, in order to support the Ukrainian government under President Viktor Yanukovych before the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution.  The money went to politicians in the so-called Hapsburg Group in 2012 and 2013.  The indictment named no specific individual, but it did mention the involvement of a chancellor (that position exists in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland).  Manafort worked with Mercury LLC, a lobbying group that employed a former Austrian chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer.  Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, also has deep ties with Russia.  See http://www.dw.com/en/european-politicians-got-millions-to-lobby-for-pro-russian-government-in-ukraine/a-42721849.

Bulgarian Government Condemned March Commemorating Lukov   19 February 2018

The Bulgarian government and its Foreign Ministry condemned the march that took place in Sofia, on 17 February, to commemorate the 1943 assassination of the fascist leader Hristo Lukov (see the posting on this site of 3 February 2018).  The city government of Sofia failed in its attempt to block the march.  See http://bulgarianpresidency.eu/bulgarian-foreign-ministry-condemns-pro-nazi-march-held-bulgaria/.

UN Criticized Hungary’s “Stop Soros” Bill    17 February 2018

On 16 February, in Geneva, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, criticized the human rights record of Iran, Hungary, and El Salvador in a press briefing.  In the instance of Hungary, Rupert referred to the proposed legislation regarding NGOs, popularly known as the “Stop Soros” bill, that restricts the activities of organizations that work with migrants and places a 25 percent tax on foreign funding (see the posting on this site for 15 February).  Colville explained that:

We recognize the responsibility of the Hungarian State to control its borders but the proposed legislation not only threatens the work of the country’s civil society, but also may have a serious effect on the rights of those who rely on the services of NGOs and charities, including refugees and asylum-seekers, many of whom rely on such NGOs for support, as Government assistance has dwindled over time.
The proposed legislation represents an unjustified restriction on the right to freedom of association and is a worrying continuation of the Government’s assault on human rights and civic space. The ability of civil society organizations to access funding and other resources from domestic, foreign and international sources is an integral part of the right to freedom of association.  We call on the Hungarian Government to review these proposed laws to ensure that freedom of association is fully guaranteed.
In this respect, we note that Hungary is a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the right to freedom of association. As a State party, Hungary is due to be reviewed on its implementation of the Covenant by the UN Human Rights Committee in March. Hungary has also acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The OHCHR has criticized the Orbán government in past years for its stance against migrants.  As of 17 February (10.30 am, CST), the website of the Permanent Mission of Hungary to the UN had no response to the OHCHR press briefing.

On 16 February, the same day that the OHCHR released its statement, the Hungarian foreign minister, János Lázár, stated that Hungary will remain in the UN’s migrant package talks, with the aim of changing aspects of the final draft document.  Hungary hopes to remove references claiming that migration has, as the press release stated, “a positive effect on the economy and that it is a useful, favorable and unstoppable process.”  Lázár criticized the draft for “not distinguishing between political, economic, legal and illegal migrants.”  He also stated that the document’s call to remove legal and physical barriers to migration are unacceptable.

Dutch Parliament Recognized Armenian Genocide    16 February 2018

The lower chamber of the Dutch Parliament recognized the Armenian massacre, which began in 1915, as genocide and called on the Dutch foreign minister to visit Armenia this April to commemorate the event.  The relationship between the Netherlands and Turkey has deteriorated in the last several months, and after an attempt to improve matters, the Dutch recalled their ambassador from Ankara earlier this month.  The motions passed in the Dutch legislature will deepen the division between the two countries, both of which are in NATO.  See https://nltimes.nl/2018/02/16/dutch-parliament-recognizes-armenian-genocide-minister-attend-commemoration.

Hungarian Government’s “Stop Soros” Bill    15 February 2018

The Hungarian government has submitted a so-called “Stop Soros” bill to Parliament that gives the Ministry of the Interior the ability to halt the activities of any NGO that supports migration and causing a supposed risk for national security.  It also charges a 25 percent tax on foreign donations that to NGOs that support migration.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-soros-law/hungary-submits-anti-immigration-stop-soros-bill-to-parliament-idUSKCN1FY1JE.

Babiš Loses Court Case on ŠtB Collaboration   14 February 2018

On 13 February, Andrej Babiš, the prime minister of the Czech Republic and an ethnic Slovak, lost an appeal in a regional court against National Memory Institute (ÚPN) of Slovakia, which placed him on a list of collaborators of Czechoslovakia’s Communist-era secret police (the Slovak abbreviation is ŠtB).  The fact that Babiš appeared on such a list does not mean that he actually cooperated with the secret police.  Many found their names on such lists after the collapse of Communism, without ever having contact with the police, and others who agreed to cooperate, often because of intimidation, never actually supplied any information to the secret police.  Babiš denies cooperation at any level with the ŠtB.  Nevertheless, the ÚPN claims that Babiš, under the code name Bureš, met with the police on multiple occasions.  Furthermore, the variety of secret police signatures are on documents related to Babiš’s reports excludes the possibility that one secret police operative was trying to use Babiš’s name simply to fill a quota for recruiting collaborators.

Babiš was unsuccessful in building a majority in the Czech Parliament for his government, which includes members from Babiš’s ANO party along with experts.  It now serves as a caretaker government, and on 24 January, the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, gave Babiš an unlimited period of time to form a new government.  Babiš also faces charges of corruption for having accepted European Union funds for his Stork Nest farm.

Poland’s Holocaust Bill Is Now Law    13 February 2018

On February 6, Polish President Andrzej Duda signed into law a measure that criminalizes references to “Polish concentration camps” and implications that Poles are responsible for the Holocaust.  As the measure passed through the Sejm and the Senate, it drew condemnation from the United States and particularly Israel.  Many Poles and historians also claim that the effect of the measure will be to stifle research and dissemination about the Holocaust.  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/02/06/polish-president-to-sign-holocaust-bill-despite-international-concerns/.  See the earlier posting about this issue on this website here.

EU Statement on Western Balkan Enlargement    13 February 2019

On 6 February, the European Commission released a report about admitting Western Balkan states.  To support enlargement, the EU announced that it will focus on “initiatives to strengthen the rule of law, reinforced cooperation on security and migration through joint investigating teams and the European Border and coast guard, expanding the EU Energy Union to the Western Balkans or lowering roaming charges and rolling out broadband in the region.”  Specifically, the EU’s six so-called flagship initiatives are “rule of law, security and migration, socio-economic development, transport and energy connectivity, digital agenda, reconciliation and good neighbourly relations.”  The EU also will begin to examine how best to integrate new states into the EU, once that becomes a reality.

For their part, the Western Balkan states need to strengthen the judicial system, the rule of law, fundamental rights, and governance, fight corruption and organized crime, reform public administration, and address low competitiveness, unemployment, and structural weaknesses.  They also must resolve border issues.  

Montenegro and Serbia are in line to complete the process of preparing for EU membership by 2025.  “Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are making significant progress on their European path and the Commission is ready to prepare recommendations to open accession negotiations, on the basis of fulfilled conditions. The Commission will start preparing an Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina's membership application following receipt of comprehensive and complete answers to its Questionnaire. With sustained effort and engagement, Bosnia and Herzegovina could become a candidate for accession.”  Lagging behind is Kosovo, which “has an opportunity for sustainable progress through implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and to advance on its European path once objective circumstances allow.”

Ukraine’s Anti-corruption Progress    13 February 2018

Olena Halushka, who is with the Anticorruption Action Center, an NGO based in Kiev, explains that, while Ukraine has much more to do in the field of anti-corruption, it has made great strides and the National Anti-corruption Bureau (NABU) has been successful in bringing 173 indictments and is investivating hundred more cases.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/140946.

An Explanation of Romania’s Corruption Controversy    13 February 2018

Daniel Dragomir, formerly a colonel in the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), has become a whistleblower about Romania’s anti-corruption.  In an article from 6 February, he explains how the SRI is cooperating with the Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) to root out corruption, but the two agencies are using tactics that appear to come from the playbook of the Securitate, which was the secret police during the Communist era.  Furthermore, the head of the SRI intimidates judges to pass sentences the SRI desires, and the conditions of the prisons are deplorable.    See https://euobserver.com/opinion/140824.

Asylum in the Visegrád Four Countries    13 February 2018

People in Need (Člověk v tísni), the Migration Awareness Program in Prague, has published an independent, thirty-page report that provides the numbers of asylum and beneficiaries of international protection in the Visegrád Four countries and information about their conditions, the structure of government agencies dealing with asylum seekers, and public opinion.

T\According to the report, the actual numbers of asylum seekers in the V4 countries are marginal, despite the strong political and public resistance to migrants: 0.001 percent of the population in Poland, 0.01 percent in Hungary and Slovakia, and 0.03 percent in the Czech Republic.

Funding from the project came from National Integration Evaluation Mechanism (NIEM), which has the support of the Visegrád Fund, the European Union Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund, and Open Society Foundations.  Publication support is from People in Need, Menedék Hungarian Association for Migrants, Marginal, and the Institute of Public Affairs.

The German Grand Coalition    12 February 2018

On 7 February, Angela Merkel, the leader of the CDU/CSU, announced a grand coalition with the Social Democrats.  The Ministry of the Interior will go to the CDU/CSU’s Horst Seehofer, a politician noted for taking a hard line against immigration.  The minister of foreign affairs will be Martin Schulz, who had opposed Merkel in last autumn’s parliamentary elections.  For more on the coalition, see https://www.hertie-school.org/index.php?id=1041&no_cache=1.

Kosovo No Longer Objects To Its War Tribunal    12 February 2018

Kosovo’s top politicians have objected to Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution (KRSJI) at The Hague, in part because several could face indictment for war crimes.  The decision of some of these leaders not to cease their resistance of the tribunal will improve Kosovo’s relations with the European Union at a time when several member states still refuse to accept Kosovo’s independence (see the posting immediately below) and the EU and NATO are cautious about further expansion in the Western Balkans.  Russia and China also object to Kosovo’s separation from Serbia.  See https://euobserver.com/foreign/140931.

Strache Believes Kosovo Is a Part of Serbia    12 February 2018

The Austrian vice-chancellor and member of the far-right Austrian Freedom party, Heinz-Christian Strache, stated that Kosovo belongs to Serbia but that Austria’s recognition of Kosovo is now “a fact that can no longer be changed.”  As a result, the Serbs of Kosovo deserve broad autonomy or self-determination.  Strache made the remarks during a visit to Belgrade.  See https://www.b92.net/eng/news/world.php?yyyy=2018&mm=02&dd=12&nav_id=103466.

Photos of Ferenc Szálasi’s Execution    12 February 2018

Michael E. Ruane, a reporter with the Washington Post, identified 32 photos of the execution of Ferenc Szálasi (1896-1946) and several of his associates.  Szálasi was a dedicated fascist and anti-Semite who headed Hungary’s Arrow Cross movement.  He spent time in prison during the regime of Admiral Miklós Horthy (1868-1957).  After Nazi Germany occupied Hungary and arrested Horthy, who attempted to concluded a separate peace with the Allies, Berlin allowed Szálasi to form a government.  Szálasi not only led Hungarian forces in a dogged resistance to the advancing Red Army, but he also was responsible for the execution of more than 10,000 Jews at a time when the Germans also were rounding up Hungarian Jews.  The photos were the property of an American soldier who had married a Hungarian woman.  The photographs are now in the possession of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/02/09/thirty-two-frightening-snapshots-of-a-hanging-and-no-one-knew-who-they-were-until-now/.

Navalny Arrested and Released    4 February 2018

Authorities in Russia arrested the leading opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, on Sunday, 28 January, and released him the same day.  They also raided his office and took several of his supporters into custody.  Navalny illegally had organized a rally to encourage citizens to boycott the March presidential elections to reveal his falsification of the results.  He tweeted a picture of two young Russian men with the caption that “They are Russia’s future.  And Putin and his gang of thieves are her past.”  Navalny will face a Russian court for illegally organizing a demonstration.  See http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putins-critic-arrested-russians-protest-election-793117; https://twitter.com/navalny/status/957592383067213824; https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/28/russian-opposition-leader-navalny-is-released-from-custody-his-lawyer-says.html.

EU to Begin Food Testing in May    3 February 2018

Věra Jourová, the European Union commissioner for justice, consumers, and gender equality, who is from the Czech Republic, announced that food testing to determine if products are processed differently for various parts of the EU will begin in May.  The testing will extend to non-food items this year.  She stated that the goal was to make the dual quality production of food and other items more expensive than maintaining uniformity.  The former communist EU states long have maintained that many of their food products made in the western part of the EU, such as Germany, are inferior to those the processors sell in the West, and the EU has determined that there is merit to those claims.  A few companies already announced that they are imposing uniformity on the products they sell.  See http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-18-606_en.htm.

Airbus Flying Taxi Tested    3 February 2018

Airbus successfully tested its flying taxi, but production and scheduled use still will be some time in the future.  The intent is to fly passengers between train stations and airports for the same price as a regular taxi.  See https://techcrunch.com/2018/02/01/the-airbus-vahana-flying-taxi-actually-flew-for-the-first-time/.  The original posting related to the project is at http://www.centraleuropeanobserver.com/-what-s-new-how-is-the-world-treating-you-4q2017#TOC-Airbus-to-Launch-Urban-Taxi-in-2018-5-October-2017.

Bulgaria’s March to Honor Hristo Lukov    3 February 2018

Racists in Bulgaria are preparing to march in commemoration of Hristo Lukov (1887-1943), who was responsible for deporting Jews during the Second World War.  The march is to take place, as it does every year, on 13 February, the anniversary of Lukov’s assassination at the hands of Communists.  In an opinion piece for Europbserver, Robert Singer, the executive vice-president and CEO of the World Jewish Congress, called on the Bulgarian government to cancel the march.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/140805.

Poland's Death Camp Law    3 February 2018

The Polish Sejm and Senate have passed a law that makes it illegal for anyone, including foreigners, to refer to Nazi concentration camps in Poland as Polish camps or to state that Poles were responsible for the Holocaust.  The penalty for noncompliance is up to three years in prison.  The Israeli government has protested the law, claiming it will hamper Holocaust studies.  The United States also has urged the Polish government to reconsider the legislation.  The president, Andrzej Duda, has yet to sign the legislation.  The Polish government may use the law to silence historians like Jan T. Gross, who outlined the Polish-led murder of Jews in his book Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (2002).  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/01/27/it-could-soon-be-a-crime-to-blame-poland-for-nazi-atrocities-and-israel-is-appalled/?utm_term=.c8965cc0a580; https://euobserver.com/justice/140794; and https://www.reuters.com/article/us-storozynski-poland-commentary/commentary-polands-holocaust-faux-pas-idUSKBN1FM2OP.

Repercussions for Revealing the Truth    3 February 2018

Stephan Templ is a historian who studies Austria’s complicity in the Holocaust, and he writes about Austria’s mistreatment of Jews who sought restitution from the state and the former Nazis who administered the program.  When he applied for restitution, the Austrian authorities jailed him in 2015, claiming that he had provided false information to the state.  Templ continues his efforts to reveal the truth from his home in Prague, which he describes as his place of exile from Austria.  See http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Austrian-historian-writes-about-Holocaust-restitution-from-prison-539650.

Visegrad Four’s Controversial View of Europe’s Future    3 February 2018

The Visegrad Four–Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary–issued a statement titled “The Future of Europe” on 26 January 2018.  They called for the preservation of the gains of the European Union and its expansion into the Balkans.  For future changes, the V4 called for the complete involvement of all the member states on all future decisions.  The four states praised the single market and called for its further development, including a single digital market.  With these points, the V4 essentially is in agreement with the other member states of the EU.  Such is not the case with the last two points.

The V4 called for an open debate about the Spitzenkandidaten mechanism, in which the strongest party in the European Parliament advances its candidate for the president of the European Commission.  They also disagree with the development of transnational lists of candidates for the European Parliament, in other words, candidates that run on a particular European party’s slate and campaign across member states’ borders, presumably a measure that will strengthen transnational regions.  They also called for a reduction in the number of seats in the European Parliament.  Furthermore, “on matters of strategic national interest every Member State should be entitled to demand a unanimity-based decision at the European Council.”  To fulfill this demand, the V4 called for the implementation of the red card system, through which 56 percent of the member states could force a the European Council to review an issue.  The goal of these measures, they claimed, is to strengthen the control of member states over EU institutions.

The sixth point of the statement deals with migration.  The V4 countries called for greater care in determining which migrants were seeking asylum because of persecution as opposed to those who were hoping for a better economic future.  It also called for the need to increase the efforts to prevent migrants from leaving their home country, noting that the V4 already is contributing to Libya’s border protection.

Zeman Won the Czech Presidential Election    30 January 2018

Miloš Zeman won a second five-year term as the president of the Czech Republic in the second round of elections that took place on 26-27 January.  He received 51.37 percent of the vote, barely defeating his rival, the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Jiří Drahoš.  Zeman, once a Social Democrat, adopted a more populist stance during the migration crisis, a time when many Czechs felt that the influx of Muslims would threaten European civilization.  Zeman also has close ties with the Kremlin and supports an end to sanctions against Russia and acceptance of Russia's annexation of Crimea.  Zeman's victory party included the ultra-right Czech populist and businessman Tomio Okamura.


Andrej Babiš, the Czech Republic's prime minister whose popularity is based on his party's resistance to the mainstream political groupings, told reporters while in Brussels, that many misunderstand and misquote Zeman .  Babiš attempted to downplay Zeman's connections with Russia and insisted that Zeman's interest in China is limited to economic ties.


While it is true that the Czech president has limited powers, he still can sway public opinion.  Furthermore, his statements and actions often present the Czech Republic in a negative light abroad.



https://www.reuters.com/article/us-czech-election-president-zeman/veteran-zeman-wins-last-big-battle-in-czech-presidential-vote-idUSKBN1FG0VK; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-czech-election-president/czech-president-zeman-re-elected-with-anti-immigration-message-idUSKBN1FG00C; and https://euobserver.com/political/140759.

Photo courtesy of Vojtěch Kocek.

EU on the Problems of Romanian Justice    25 January 2018    UPDATE!

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the first vice president, Frans Timmermans, formally have warned Romania about weakening the independence of its justice system and have called for Romania to consider the proposals in accordance with the principles of transparency.  The proposed changes of the Social Democratic party, which leads the governing coalition, would make the courts susceptible to political influence, and many fear that they will end efforts to root out corruption.  In an effort to scuttle the proposed reforms, tens of thousands marched in Bucharest last Saturday.  Romania still has not headed down the path of creating an authoritarian, undemocratic state, as in Poland and Hungary, both of which have jeopardized the independence of the judiciary.  If Romania actually enacts the judicial reforms, however, it will take the first steps toward dismantling democracy.  See https://www.politico.eu/article/commission-chiefs-warn-romania-against-justice-law-changes/; and https://euobserver.com/justice/140682.  The EU statement is at http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-18-423_en.htm.

For a summary of the difficulties in Romania from Eli Hadzhieva, the founder and director of Dialogue for Europe, see https://euobserver.com/opinion/140719.

Austria Suit Regarding Hungary’s Power Plant    25 January 2018

Austria announced that it will sue the European Commission for approving the work at the Paks II nuclear power plant in Hungary, claiming that it will fight against nuclear power in every way.  The Paks II project is controversial because Hungary awarded a Russian firm the contract to expand the plant without competitive bids.  See https://euobserver.com/energy/140690.

European Social Democracy’s Woes    23 January 2018

European Social Democratic parties have had problems at the polls, and the overall decline is measurable.  They have lost their working-class base, and other niche parties have stepped in to fill the gap.  See https://euobserver.com/political/140635.

The Economist on the Czech Situation    21 January 2018

A recent unsigned article in The Economist has presented a clear and optimistic description of the political situation in the Czech Republic, which still is without a government and is about to hold a second round of presidential elections.  In question is the democratic direction of the country, and the article suspects that there are reasons for optimism.  See https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21734925-rare-victory-liberals-central-europe-czech-republics-pro-russian-president.

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.