"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 about Central Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe, and occasionally Eurasia, Europe, and the European Union.  To read the article of your choice, either click on the hyperlinked 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 for previous years, see the Introduction and Index for "What's New?"

Table of Contents for the Second Quarter of 2018


  1. 1 EU Cohesion Funds Update    30 May 2018
  2. 2 Lower Austrian Welfare for Immigrants    30 May 2018
  3. 3 Poland Proposes Permanent NATO Base    30 May 2018
  4. 4 Settlement with Gazprom    30 May 2018
  5. 5 Turkey’s Gigantomania    24 May 2018
  6. 6 De Facto States    23 May 2018
  7. 7 Bernard Lewis (1916-2018)    23 May 2018
  8. 8 Where Is the Oldest Harley-Davidson Club in the World?    22 May 2018
  9. 9 The US Is Better than Yemen    19 May 2018
  10. 10 Richard Pipes (1923-2018)    19 May 2018
  11. 11 The EU to Reactivate Its Blocking Statue    17 May 2018
  12. 12 Moldova’s Future    17 May 2018
  13. 13 Greek and Macedonian Foreign Ministers to Meet    17 May 2018
  14. 14 Russia’s Attack on the Historical Profession    16 May 2018
  15. 15 Open Society Foundations Moving to Berlin    16 May 2018
  16. 16 Outlook for College Graduates of 2018    13 May 2018
  17. 17 Migrants Detour through Romania    12 May 2018
  18. 18 Kosovo’s Relationship with Turkey    10 May 2018
  19. 19 Demonstrations in Hungary and Armenia    9 May 2018
  20. 20 US Lawmakers’ Letter about Poland and Ukraine    9 May 2018
  21. 21 Prague, Still the Nexus of East and West    8 May 2018
  22. 22 No Czech Novichok!    7 May 2018
  23. 23 Slovakia or Slovenia–Clearing up the Confusion    7 May 2018
  24. 24 Karl Marx at 200    5 May 2018
  25. 25 Czech Novichok?    4 May 2018
  26. 26 Politics in Armenia Still Are on Hold    3 May 2018
  27. 27 The EU’s Budgetary Formula for Democracy    3 May 2018
  28. 28 Armenia: Decision Pending    2 May 2018
  29. 29 Brexit Think-tank Linked to Russians    2 May 2018
  30. 30 EU’s Controversial Cohesion Funds    30 April 2018
  31. 31 Opinion: Hungary’s Enemies of the State    27 April 2918
  32. 32 Czech Supreme Court Decided on Professors’ Promotions    27 April 2018
  33. 33 Uncertainty Remains in Armenia    27 April 2017
  34. 34 Protests Bring Government Change in Armenia    23 April 2018
  35. 35 Erdoğan Schedules Early Elections    20 April 2018
  36. 36 Potential Ukrainian Patriarchate    20 April 2018
  37. 37 Bad Behavior by an Undignified Serbian Nationalist    20 April 2018
  38. 38 Orbán, the Master of Corruption and Opportunism    20 April 2018
  39. 39 Tymoshenko’s Plot Thickens    20 April 2018
  40. 40 Bulgaria’s Future    20 April 2018
  41. 41 President Iohannis in Support of Anti-corruption    18 April 2018
  42. 42 The Importance of Religion in Ukraine    18 April 2018
  43. 43 Pending Trial of Former Auschwitz Guard    16 April 2018
  44. 44 Montenegran Presidential Election    16 April 2018
  45. 45 Miloš Forman (1932-2018)    15 April 2018
  46. 46 Cohen’s Possible Trip to Prague    13 April 2018
  47. 47 New Article by D. E. Miller    13 April 2018
  48. 48 EU Draft Report Recommends Sanctions against Hungary    13 April 2018
  49. 49 GRECO Critical of Romanian Justice Reforms    12 April 2018
  50. 50 Russia’s Coming Century of Solitude    11 April 2018
  51. 51 Media Voices Going Silent in Hungary    11 April 2018
  52. 52 Dmitriev Cleared on Pornography Charges    11 April 2018
  53. 53 "ANO, ne!": Protest in Prague    10 April 2018
  54. 54 Fidesz Victory in Hungary    8 April 2018
  55. 55 “To není Škoda!”    7 April 2018
  56. 56 More Protests in Slovakia    6 April 2018
  57. 57 EU’s Assessment on Moldova    6 April 2018
  58. 58 Hungary's Parliamentary Election    5 April 2018

EU Cohesion Funds Update    30 May 2018

The European Union proposed budget projects that Poland and Hungary will have nearly one-quarter of their cohesion funds cut because of their rising GDP, not because of their immigration policies or authoritarian bent.  The Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, and Malta also face a similar cut, while Germany and Slovakia would get about 20 percent less.  Bulgaria, Finland, Greece, Romania, and Spain may get increases.  The purpose of cohesion funds is to improve the economic performance of regions, not specifically countries.  See https://euobserver.com/economic/141933.

Lower Austrian Welfare for Immigrants    30 May 2018

Austria’s conservative government is proposing a program to reduce the welfare payment of immigrants by 300 EUR if they cannot speak German.  The plan already has brought criticism from the European Union, which mandates that all EU citizens must receive equal treatment.  See http://www.dw.com/en/austria-plans-benefit-cuts-for-non-german-speaking-foreigners-refugees/a-43965191.

Poland Proposes Permanent NATO Base    30 May 2018

The Polish government is proposing a permanent NATO base on Polish soil, and it has committed 2 billion USD to convince the US government that it is serious.  The base would go a long way to further securing Poland’s borders against a possible Russian attack and have a similar effect with the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all of which are in NATO and the European Union.  See https://www.politico.eu/article/nato-poland-offers-us-up-to-2-billion-for-permanent-american-military-base/.

Settlement with Gazprom    30 May 2018

EU antitrust regulators reached an agreement with the Russian natural gas supplier Gazprom, ending a lengthy battle over pricing that began with the 2011 raid of Gazprom offices in ten countries.  Gazprom will not face a fine, but it agreed to restructure its pricing for natural gas, allow its customers to resell it gas, and permit countries without pipelines to change the point at which they take possession of gas from Gazprom.  Poland, Lithuania, and other countries are skeptical about the agreement and had hoped for fines.  The Germans are happy because the agreement eliminates another hurdle to the Nord Stream 2 gas line from Russia to Germany in the Baltic.  The incentive for Gazprom to settle was a declining market, in light of more renewable sources of energy in Europe.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-gazprom-antitrust/eu-ends-antitrust-case-against-gazprom-without-fines-idUSKCN1IP1IV.

Turkey’s Gigantomania    24 May 2018

Like the major dictators of the twentieth century, Recep Erdoğan, Turkey’s dictatorial president, is on a building spree.  On the drawing boards are mosques, malls, a pedestrian tunnel under the Bosporus, a canal between the Sea of Marmora and the Black Sea, and what is slated to become the largest airport in the world.  The still unnamed airport has its detractors, who claim that it is too far from the city center, is too large for the amount of traffic it can attract, and is located where there are migrating birds and too much fog.  In anticipation of elections, Erdoğan is eying other expenditures that resemble bread-and-circuses tactics.  For example, he announced the construction of enormous gardens in several cities, and he promised to convert İstanbul’s old Atatürk Airport into a garden, once the city’s new airport is complete.  Although these projects may be a sign of Turkey’s regional ambitions, they also are public relations ploys to secure the continued support of many citizens who view the massive construction effort as a sign of the country’s strength and that Erdoğan is making Turkey great again by embracing the Ottoman Empire’s regional legacy.

All of these projects cost money, and financing them does not come as much from Turkey’s expanding manufacturing base as it does from loans.  With the United States increasing its debt, there is less money available for the sort of investment Turkey has enjoyed.  As a result, the Turkish lira recently began to tumble (one of many drops that occurred since 2008 that marks an overall downward trend for the lira).  To save Turkey’s currency, Erdoğan approved an interest rate hike on 23 May, something he vowed not to do because he claimed that the market was conspiring against him.  In anticipation of the election, Erdoğan cannot risk an economic downturn and the embarrassment of unfinished construction projects.

De Facto States    23 May 2018

Thomas de Waal, of Carnegie Europe, considered the functioning of de facto states in an article for The New Eastern Europe. Frozen wars or political standoffs in such places as Transistria, Crimea, Luhansk, Donetsk, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nogorno-Karabakh occasionally make the news, but Waal considers aspects of everyday life and prospects for the future, which depends on the goodwill of patron states.  See http://neweasterneurope.eu/2018/04/26/uncertain-territory-strange-life-curious-sustainability-de-facto-states/.

Bernard Lewis (1916-2018)    23 May 2018

The British-born scholar of the middle East, Bernard Lewis, died on 19 May, just shy of reaching 102 years.  Lewis taught at the University of London, Princeton, and Cornell.  He also was at the Institute of Advanced Study.  He spoke more than a dozen languages and wrote more than two dozen books.  His opinions were at times controversial.  For example, he maintained that the Ottoman authorities had no intent in conducting a genocidal campaign against the Armenians.  Lewis’s historical studies, however, tended to garner less criticism and remain crucial for the study of the Middle East.  During a 1990 lecture at Stanford, he explained the origins of the Middle East’s hatred of the United States, which he argued represented the interests of the colonial powers of the Middle East, even though it never actually held any territory in the region.  See https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2018/05/22/bernard-lewis-was-the-doyen-of-orientalists.

Where Is the Oldest Harley-Davidson Club in the World?    22 May 2018

You guessed it: Prague!  The very first Harley-Davidson club formed in 1927 and organized officially in 1928.  It survived, clandestinely during the Second World War and as a carefully controlled organization under the Communists, to this day.  In 1978, the Prague club, officially known as the Harley-Davidson Club Praha (H-DCP), became the oldest club when a group in San Francisco ceased to exist.  In February 2018, there was a ride in Prague to commemorate the ninetieth anniversary of the club.  Still celebrating the occasion of the club’s ninetieth anniversary and the hundred and fifteenth anniversary of the Harley-Davidson, the H-DCP will hold a rally between 5 and 8 July 2018.  The National Technical Museum in Prague also will have an exhibition, with 16 bikes on display.

The photo to the right, which is from the H-DCP website, shows a Harley-Davidson, with a Czechoslovak flag, opposite a tank during the Warsaw-Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia that began on 21 August 1968.

The US Is Better than Yemen    19 May 2018

German Lopez, a journalist at Vox who covers gun violence, wrote an article what what the United States can do to reduce killings involving firearms.  His answer is gun control–not banning guns but limiting certain ones.  The US can take its cue from Australia, another society with its “wild West” tradition, where a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons, along with a government buyback program, immediately reduced gun violence.  When considering gun deaths in the US in relationship to the same problem in other countries, the numbers are staggering.  Germany, as of 2012, sees 1.9 deaths per million related to firearms.  Ireland is 4.8 deaths per million; Switzerland, 7.7 deaths.  The US has a staggering 29.7 million deaths per million by firearm.  The US, with a staggering 88.8 guns per 100 people, can take no pride in the fact that we are better than the failed state of Yemen, which has 54.8 guns per 100 people.  See https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/2/21/17028930/gun-violence-us-statistics-charts.  

I recall visiting my brother in 1992, shortly before Bill Clinton was elected president.  He told me of all his gun and ammunition purchases because he was convinced that the Democrats are going to take away the guns.  No mainstream group ever sought to remove the right to own guns, but they differ about regulation.  In countries like the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where I am in close contact with avid hunters, gun owners take pride in the system that regulates weapons, keeps society safe, and prevents needless deaths.  One gentleman, who just had returned from an unsuccessful wild boar hunt, explained to me how, if a person sought psychological help, the authorities temporarily confiscate a weapon and return it when the medical professionals cleared the individual.  He looked at me intently and asked rhetorically, “it is logical, no?”  He explained that such a law keeps him and others safe.  Americans, like Europeans, should abandon their fear of gun regulation and work together for a reasonable solution.  The end result would not be a ban on guns.

Richard Pipes (1923-2018)    19 May 2018

On 17 May, Richard Pipes, a highly respected historian of Russia and the Soviet Union and an adviser to the Ronald Reagan administration, died in Cambridge, MA.  Pipes spent his entire career at Harvard and retired in 1996.  He was a staunch opponent of the Communist regime, which he saw as expansionist, and even a few years before its fall, Pipes viewed it as more economically and militarily influential than it actually was.  His convictions about the Soviet Union enabled him to win the trust of conservative politicians in the United States.  Of his many works is the valuable compendium of primary sources about Vladimir Lenin titled The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive (Yale University Press, 1996).  Pipes gathered the documents in Moscow, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and his highly critical view of nearly every action of Lenin is apparent in many of the introductory paragraphs for the individual documents.  He also was the author of Russia under the Old Regime (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974) and many other works.  Pipes was born in Poland but fled the country, with his parents, who were assimilated Jews, when the Germans invaded in 1939.  In 1940, they settled in the United States.  Richard Pipes’s son is Daniel Pipes, a controversial historian who studies the Middle East.  See https://www.thecrimson.com/article/1996/1/10/after-37-years-pipes-set-to/; and https://www.rferl.org/a/richard-pipes-scholar-of-russian-history-dies-at-94/29234947.html.

The EU to Reactivate Its Blocking Statue    17 May 2018

The Commission of the European Union decided to reactivate its blocking statue to enable firms to disregard the sanctions the United States imposed against Iran, after the US reneged on the international nuclear treaty with that country.  The EU believes that the US did so unjustifiably, and its blocking statue is to protect EU businesses, but it is doubtful that it will have any real effect, given the linking of EU business with the US and the power of the American dollar.  The blocking statue is, however, a political statement the sets the EU in opposition to this particular American foreign-policy initiative.  See http://www.dw.com/en/eu-to-reactivate-blocking-statute-against-us-sanctions-on-iran-for-european-firms/a-43826992.

Moldova’s Future    17 May 2018

In an article for The New Eastern Europe, three international students at Prague’s Metropolitan University, including one from Moldova, review the recent history of the country and make recommendations about ending the frozen conflict over Transnistria.  They advocate reintegrating Transnistria into a federated Moldova that sheds its “facade democracy” in favor of a genuinely representative political system.  Other problems include corruption, the debt owed to Russia for natural gas, and a poorly performing economy.  To succeed, the plan also would require the cooperation of Ukraine, which is hesitant to see a federal system in Moldova because some may demand it as a solution for Eastern Ukraine.  Russia also would have to relinquish its interest in the country.  See http://neweasterneurope.eu/2018/05/16/republic-moldova-transition-communism-democracy/.

Greek and Macedonian Foreign Ministers to Meet    17 May 2018

During a European Union summit on the Balkans taking place today in Sofia, Bulgaria, the Greek and Macedonian prime ministers have agreed to meet regarding Macedonia’s name.  A solution to the thorny issue could be Upper Macedonia, but there are other issues.  The Macedonian constitution will have to undergo changes, which may anger Macedonian nationalists.  The constitution establishes the name of the country, and although it states that Macedonia has no interest in the territory of other states, Article 49 states that Macedonia “cares for the status and rights” of Macedonians living in neighboring countries.  See https://euobserver.com/foreign/141841.

Russia’s Attack on the Historical Profession    16 May 2018

Based on a report it released on 10 May, Agora, a human rights group that works in former Soviet countries, claimed that the Russian government is persecuting historians through the country’s anti-extremist legislation.  Especially vulnerable are those dealing with the Second World War.  Agora noted that 17 historians faced charges because of their work, and courts found 16 guilty (a statute of limitations spared the seventeenth).  Otherwise, historians have faced censorship and the inability to access archival materials.  See http://euromaidanpress.com/2018/05/13/being-a-historian-an-increasingly-dangerous-profession-in-russia-agora-study-says/.  The report, which is in Russian, is at https://sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/discussions/2018/05/d39337/.

Open Society Foundations Moving to Berlin    16 May 2018

Citing “an increasingly repressive political and legal environment in Hungary,” the Open Society Foundations are moving from Budapest to Berlin.  The move does not affect Central European University, which is attempting to remain in Budapest, despite political and legal pressure, even as it is constructing a campus in Vienna.  See https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/press-releases/open-society-foundations-close-international-operations-budapest.

Outlook for College Graduates of 2018    13 May 2018

The Economic Policy Institute has released its prospects for 2018's college graduates.  They should be relieved that their job prospects are as good as they were before the Great Recession but still not as good as in 2000.  The underemployment rate is higher than it was before 2007.  Salaries are not growing at a strong pace, particularly for women and blacks, which reverses efforts to close the gender and racial gap in pay.  More detailed information is available at  https://www.epi.org/publication/class-of-2018-college-edition/?utm_source=Economic+Policy+Institute&utm_campaign=4bbf6c250a-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_05_10&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e7c5826c50-4bbf6c250a-59503089&mc_cid=4bbf6c250a&mc_eid=459e7f8455.

Migrants Detour through Romania    12 May 2018

Because Hungary closed its borders with a wall, migrants are attempting to get into the European Union through Romania.  Not all, however, are from the Middle East or Africa.  In 2016, 7.3 percent were from Albania, and in 2017, 4.5 percent were from Kosovo.  Romania repatriates those who are from Kosovo to Serbia because Romania does not recognize Kosovo.  See https://euobserver.com/migration/141795.

Kosovo’s Relationship with Turkey    10 May 2018

The Balkans long have been a shatter zone between East and West, and places like Kosovo and Bosnia, with Muslim, Orthodox, and Catholic populations, are susceptible to becoming the scene of intense interaction between the two major influences in Europe.

During the cold war, Turkey was in NATO and kept the Soviet Union at bay.  The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, distanced Turkey from the EU and made the country an independent actor within NATO, for example, with respect to Russia.  In its dealings in the Balkans and the Middle East, Turkey focuses on the former territories of the Ottoman Empire where Muslims are a strong minority or a majority.  This comes as Erdoğan transforms Turkey from a secular society that looked westward to one that is increasingly authoritarian, Islamic, and nationalistic (for example, Erdoğan allowed relations with Turkey’s Kurds to deteriorate and now uses Turkish nationalism and the need to preserve the state to justify actions against Kurds).

Recent events in Kosovo reveal much about Turkey’s policies.  In recent years, Turkish investment in Kosovo resulted in a new airport terminal, Turkish predominance in an electric distribution firm, Turkish funding for a highway, and Turkish involvement in other construction and restoration projects.  Such engagement in Kosovo’s economy helped enable Turkey to persuade officials in Kosovo to paint the Ottoman Empire in a positive light in textbooks.  Turkey also has intensified religious ties with Muslims in Kosovo, and Turkish television broadcasts are popular in the country (some are also popular in other parts of Europe).  

The extent to which Kosovo’s authorities are willing to please Turkey became apparent on 29 March, when Kosovo deported six Turkish citizens who had worked in schools associated with Fethullah Gülen, a cleric based in the United States whom Erdoğan claims masterminded the 2016 coup attempt against him.  The deportations took place without due process, which raises the suspicion of the European Union about Kosovo’s commitment to an open society.

As of April 2016, the European Union has a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Kosovo, which might qualify for entry into the EU in the near future.  A concern of the EU is whether Kosovo will make progress in several areas, such as maintaining an independent judiciary and fighting corruption.  Such concerns are less important for Erdoğan’s Turkey.

Kosovo’s future as a potential member state of the EU may be less certain than it appears.  Turkish economic penetration into Kosovo competes with aid coming into the country from the EU.  With its disregard for standard judicial procedures in the case of the six recently extradited individuals, Turkey demonstrated its lack of concern about the rule of law, something which the EU holds sacred.  The question is whether Kosovo’s leaders will continue making progress in the direction of an open and plural society or whether they will find it easier to employ the authoritarian methods of Erdoğan, or for that matter, copy the examples of Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland, and other would-be authoritarian leaders in the West.

Demonstrations in Hungary and Armenia    9 May 2018

On 8 May, two demonstrations–one defiant and the other celebratory–took place in Hungary and Armenia.  In Budapest on 8 May, about 20,000 protesters marked the opening of Parliament and the beginning of another term in office for Viktor Orbán as prime minister.  They called for a united opposition that would have the strength to topple the Fidesz party and Orbán, who promised to introduce “Christian democracy” in Hungary.  Meanwhile, in Yerevan, Armenia, demonstrators cheered with the news that Nikol Pashinyan had become prime minister, despite the resistance from the Republican party, which long had ruled Armenia.  Pashinyan promised to continue to steer Armenia in a course of friendly contacts not only with Russia but also with the West.  See https://www.euractiv.com/section/elections/news/new-hungary-protest-as-orban-installs-christian-democracy/; and https://www.democracynow.org/2018/5/9/headlines/armenia_parliament_elects_opposition_leader_as_prime_minister?utm_source=Democracy+Now%21&utm_campaign=eb38ac7a00-Daily_Digest&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fa2346a853-eb38ac7a00-191820949.

US Lawmakers’ Letter about Poland and Ukraine    9 May 2018

On 23 April, about 50 members of Congress, mostly Democrats, sent a letter to the Department of State to complain about laws in Poland and Ukraine that foster anti-Semitism.  In Ukraine, a 2015 law recognizes certain groups that fought during the Second World War as patriotic, even if they were blatantly anti-Semitic.  A Polish law last year criminalized anyone who stated or implied that Poles were responsible for the Holocaust.  The letter also mentions specific anti-Semitic incidents.  The lawmakers maintain that, since both Ukraine and Poland receive certain funds from the United States, these countries should not support anti-Semitic agendas or groups.  See https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/05/04/eastern-european-laws-on-world-war-ii-history-spark-congressional-reaction-poland-ukraine-anti-semitism-holocaust/.

Prague, Still the Nexus of East and West    8 May 2018

On 7 May 2018, Vladimir Putin celebrated his inauguration for a fourth term as Russia’s president.  The next day, 8 May, Czechs celebrated the end of the Prague Uprising of 1945 that saw the Germans withdrawing from the city (the Soviet Red Army entered the city on 9 May, after most of the German troops had withdrawn).

Several events occurred in Prague on 8 May 2018 that demonstrate the city’s pivotal location between East and West.  In the past few days, the Night Wolves, the Russian motor cycle gang that is intensely nationalist and supports Putin, made their way through Slovakia, where they stopped at Slavín, the memorial for Soviet soldiers who had liberated Slovakia at the end of the Second Wold War.  On 8 May, they arrived in Prague, where supporters and detractors greeted them, a meeting that ended in a scuffle.  Some time during the night of 7-8 May, an unknown individual painted the statue of Ivan Konev (1897-1973) pink.  Konev was the general who led the Red Army through Prague in 1945, and pink was the color that the Czech sculptor David Černý and his associates painted the Soviet tank in April 1991 as a protest.  His action led to the removal of the tank and its location in a museum outside of Prague.

On 8 May 2018, two demonstrations occurred in Prague on the Old Town Square.  The first was a commemoration, involving a few hundred people, of those who had died during the liberation of Prague.  Many individuals participating in the march carried photographs of their family members who had perished.  Not far away, between 20 and 30 people protested against the newly inaugurated President Putin, something that would be unlikely in Russia.  One carried a poster with three pictures of Putin sporting Hitler’s hair style and mustache that included the caption “Lie, Steal, Be Afraid.”  Another held a poster that read “Freedom for Political Prisoners.”

May 8 also was the day, in 1974, when the Prague Metro opened, and to commemorate the event, 44 years later, the Prague Metro put into service one of the historic trains that the Soviets had manufactured.  Adding to the nostalgia, the conductor announced the stops with the names they had during the Communist era.  “Next station Gottwaldova,” commemorating the first Communist president, Klement Gottwald (1896-1953).  The station now is Vyšehrad.

Between 1945 and 1948, Czechoslovakia was symbolic of the heightening tensions between the West and the Soviet Union.  When the Communist party came to power in the country in February 1948, through constitutional means and without direct pressure from the Red Army, the construction of the Soviet Union’s constellation of satellite states was complete.  Changes occurred shortly thereafter, in June 1948, when the Soviet Union expelled Yugoslavia from the Cominform.  The Yugoslav Communists embarked on their own experiment in building socialism.  During the next four decades, more changes occurred in the Soviet Bloc, including the dramatic events of the Prague Spring and Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.  In 2018–seven decades after the Communist party came to power in Czechoslovakia and nearly three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall–Prague still is a bellwether of East-West relations.

Photographs by Lenka Kocková on 8 May 2018.  Ms. Kocková is a professional tour guide who works in Prague, the Czech Republic, and Central Europe.  She is the owner of Aura-Prague-Guides.

No Czech Novichok!    7 May 2018

The Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, after consulting with the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) and Czech Military Intelligence, stated that the Czech Republic never developed, manufactured, or stored Novichok, the nerve agent used in the attack of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in the United Kingdom in March.  Babiš’s statement contradicts that President Miloš Zeman, who concluded that the Czech Republic did manufacture such a substance.  See 

Slovakia or Slovenia–Clearing up the Confusion    7 May 2018

An article from the BBC tries to clear up some of the confusion between Slovakia and Slovenia.  It’s much more than just how one says tomato.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43419675?intlink_from_url=http://www.bbc.com/news/topics/cywd23g04w4t/slovakia&link_location=live-reporting-story.

Karl Marx at 200    5 May 2018

Karl Marx (181801883), who, with Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), wrote The Communist Manifesto,  was born on 5 May 1818, in Trier, on the Moselle River, then in the possession of Prussia.  The city of Marx’s birth just unveiled a larger-than-life statue of the philosopher that is the gift of the Chinese People’s Republic and the work of the famous Chinese sculptor Wu Weishan.

During the celebrations that accompanied the statue’s unveiling on Marx’s birthday, protests took place to commemorate those who had suffered under communism, a totalitarian system that Nikolai Lenin and Joseph Stalin had created that is based on Marx’s ideals.  Among the protesters were members of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany, which invited former Czech President Václav Klaus to speak.  Others complained that Trier should not accept the statue because of human-rights abuses in China.

Many do not see Marx in such a negative light, despite how some historical figures misused his theories.  Few praise the communist system that once governed the Soviet Union, but most recognize the historic impact of communism in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.  Furthermore, a variety of Marxism, known as revisionism, is the basis for today’s Social Democratic and other socialist parties in Germany and elsewhere in Europe and the world.  On 5 May, Bernd Riexinger, of the German leftist Die Linke party, tweeted "Karl Marx still is highly relevant 200 years after his birth.  Current technological developments make a better society possible, but capitalism prevents this: it destroys people and nature.  To understand how this happens, it is worth reading Marx.” 

Czech Novichok?    4 May 2018

President Miloš Zeman announced that, based on a Czech Military Counterintelligence report, the Czech Republic produced a small amount of Novichok, with a different name, last year, but it destroyed the nerve agent.  The Czech civilian counterintelligence service determined that it was not Novichok, but Zeman concluded that he believes the military’s report.  Andrej Babiš, the Czech prime minister, the Czech government, and Czech Institute for Nuclear Security, a military agency, claimed that Zeman is incorrect.  The Czech Foreign Ministry stated that the agent used on the attack against the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter this past March in the United Kingdom was A234, but the material that the Czech military tested and immediately destroyed was A230.

The Kremlin immediately seized on Zeman’s comment as further evidence that Russia was not the source of the Novichok that someone used in the attempt to kill the Skripals.  Zeman is noted for his pro-Russian stance, which often contradicts the government’s position.

Politics in Armenia Still Are on Hold    3 May 2018

Vahram Baghdasaryan, the leader of Armenia’s ruling Republican party, stated that his party will back anyone for prime minister, including the opposition leader Nikol Pashinian, provided that the individual receives one-third of the votes in the legislature during the session scheduled for 8 May.  If the second round of legislative voting does not result in naming a new prime minister, new parliamentary elections will take place.  See https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-armenia-politics-primeminister/armenia-to-get-new-pm-on-may-8-after-weeks-of-turmoil-says-ruling-party-idUKKBN1I414C.

The EU’s Budgetary Formula for Democracy    3 May 2018

On 2 May, the European Commission released its budget proposal, which, if enacted, would be the largest in the history of the European Union.  It would increase funds in certain areas but introduce cuts in the common agricultural policy (the EU has reduced spending in this area over the years) and cohesion, which increases the economic potential of the economies in member states with low GDPs.  The commission also introduced a proposal for tying the European Union’s budget to the continued application of the rule of law in its member states.  

The explanatory memorandum for the proposal tying budget expenditures to the rule of law states the following:

In  order  to  protect  the  Union's  financial  interests  from  the  risk  of  financial  loss  caused  by generalised  deficiencies as regards the rule of  law in a Member State, the European Union should be granted the possibility to adopt appropriate measures in such cases. This should be on the basis on a Council decision following  a proposal from the Commission. The decision shall be deemed to have been adopted by the Council, unless it decides, by qualified majority, to reject the Commission proposal within one month of its adoption by the Commission. The European Parliament should also be fully involved at all stages.

The proposal defined the “rule of law” as “the Union value enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union which includes the principles of legality, implying a transparent, accountable,  democratic and pluralistic process for enacting laws; legal certainty; prohibition of arbitrariness of the executive powers; effective judicial protection by independent courts, including of fundamental rights; separation of powers and equality before the law.”

The actual proposal states that, “Whenever the Member States implement the Union’s budget, and whatever method of implementation they use, respect for the rule of law is an essential precondition to comply with the principles of sound financial management enshrined in Article 317 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.”  

According to the proposal’s wording (see points 6, 7 and 8), reasons for withholding funds can be based on the lack of an independent judiciary, the employment of improper fiscal management techniques, and the abandonment of free market principles.  

The budget requires unanimity for passage, and it is unlikely that the proposal will pass.  Nevertheless the debate will prove to be lively.

Armenia: Decision Pending    2 May 2018

In breaking news from Armenia, the opposition leader, Nikol Pashinian, called on his supporters to suspend their demonstrations because he will have the support to be elected prime minister on Thursday.  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/the-latest-armenia-protest-leader-dont-deploy-troops/2018/05/02/31e460ea-4dfd-11e8-85c1-9326c4511033_story.html.

Brexit Think-tank Linked to Russians    2 May 2018

A Tory MP in Parliament, Bob Seely, claimed that Christopher Chandler, the founder of the Legatum Institute, the pro-Brexit think-tank, and his brother are working for the Russians.  The accusations come from French and Monaco police files that translators are preparing for release.  In 2009, Legatum paid for the current Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, to attend a conference and it brought on Matthew Elliott, the former head of Vote Leave, as a senior fellow.  Chandler has ties to various members of the current British government and others who supported the UK’s departure from the EU.  Legatum denies the charges.  Chandler applied for and received Maltese citizenship before the 2016 Brexit vote.  See https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/pro-brexit-think-tank-founder-christopher-chandler-suspected-of-working-for-russia-xpghf6k3z.

EU’s Controversial Cohesion Funds    30 April 2018

The European Union’s cohesion funds engineer investment to accelerate development in the EU member states with lower gross domestic products.  The budget currently under debate may include additional measures related to the environment and society to determine the amount a country is to receive, including a member states’ youth employment record and its willingness to settle migrants.  Many of the member states in the eastern portion of the EU refuse or hesitate to settle migrants, and they fear that the new budget will financially punish them.  The draft budget will be available on 2 May.  See https://euobserver.com/economic/141720.

The settlement of migrants from Africa and the Middle East has been a conundrum for the EU since 2015, when the flood of immigrants began.  The quota system, based on the Dublin Regulation of 2013, requires that each member state take in a certain proportion of immigrants.  Several countries–currently the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland–refuse to accept immigrants, based on the quota.  These and other states floated a proposition to compensate the EU for not taking in refugees, something the other EU member states refuse to accept.  Contributing to the hesitation to adopt such a policy is the fear that segments of the populations of countries currently accepting immigrants might demand that their country also exclude refugees.  That might have to be a risk the EU must consider, however, because its determination to force every member state to accept immigrants is fueling the far right and authoritarian regimes.  The country that is particularly vocal about refusing to accept immigrants because they supposedly would threaten its cultural fabric is Hungary, which is under the authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Opinion: Hungary’s Enemies of the State    27 April 2918

An earlier posting on this site noted that a progovernment weekly in Hungary published a list of “enemies of the state” and “Soros mercenaries,” that is, those supposedly working for George Soros who are advocating the admission of immigrants into Hungary and are criticizing the government of Viktor Orbán.  The list contains investigative journalists and professors at Central European University, along with members of Amnesty International, Transparency International, and the Open Society Foundation.

Soros funds the Open Society Foundation and Central European University, and both are considering options outside of Hungary.  The Open Society Foundation is eying Berlin as an alternative location to Budapest, and Central European University is constructing a campus in Vienna.

Orbán continues to solidify one-party rule in Hungary, especially after the victory of Fidesz in the recent elections.  Manipulating public opinion and creating scapegoats is something authoritarian regimes do to justify their grip on power and to eliminate real or perceived enemies.  Orbán’s claim that Soros-funded institutions, like other groups targeted in the campaign to reveal “enemies of the state” actually has some validity.  These organizations defend democracy, basic freedoms, and civil discourse, all of which threaten authoritarian regimes, like Orbán’s.

If members of the faculty of Central European University are enemies of the Hungarian state, then every faculty member of any university in a democratic state is a potential enemy of Orbán and his associates.  Similarly, those who hope to advance democracy, like anyone connected with the Open Society Foundation, also are opponents of nondemocratic regimes.  Labeling such advocates of free speech and open politics as traitors is reminiscent of the early days of so many authoritarian regimes that Europe has faced in the twentieth century.  It is hard to conceive that Hungary, which had been at the forefront of ending communist rule in 1989, has chosen such a course of action.

If anyone affiliated with Central European University and the Open Society Foundation is an enemy of the Hungarian state, I fall into that category.  As my curriculum vitae indicates, I spent part of the summer of 1997 researching at the Open Society Archives with a grant from the Open Society Foundation.  The two institutions are located in the same complex of buildings in Budapest.  At the time, I was using the Radio Free Europe files to research the collectivization  of agriculture in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s for an article I published in 1999.  While I was in Budapest, I explored the city, began studying the Hungarian language, and gained a deeper appreciation of Hungarian culture.  Such are the actions of one of today’s enemies of the Hungarian state.

For further information about the published list of “Soros mercenaries,” see https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2018/04/12/world/europe/ap-eu-hungary-soros.html; and https://euobserver.com/justice/141667.

Czech Supreme Court Decided on Professors’ Promotions    27 April 2018

A court in Prague decided that the 2015 decision of President Miloš Zeman not to elevate two individuals to the rank of professor was illegal.  The president has a right to reject the promotion in the event of a flawed review process or some illegality.  The president did not base his decision on either of those conditions, and to permit him to block the academics’ promotions, according to the court, would compromise the independence of institutions of higher learning.

This case is a prime example of the impact of an independent judiciary in a democracy.  The reforms in Poland and Hungary make the judiciary a tool of the ruling party, rendering them ineffective in defending democratic principals and institutions.

Uncertainty Remains in Armenia    27 April 2017

Armenia still is without a prime minister, and the opposition leader, Nikol Pashinyan, may end up with the post in a vote this coming Tuesday.  Cabinet members flew to Moscow this week, and the Russians stated that they will respect the democratic process in the country.  Armenia is in Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, but Armenia also has a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the European Union.  The events thus far in Armenia have been peaceful, which is unusual for the region.  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/armenias-revolution-enters-new-stage-as-russia-begins-to-take-notice/2018/04/26/028f0fac-4957-11e8-8082-105a446d19b8_story.html?noredirect=on.

Protests Bring Government Change in Armenia    23 April 2018

On 23 April, Serzh Sargsyan resigned as Armenia’s prime minister after tens of thousands protested against him for several days in Yerevan.  Unarmed soldiers joined the crowds, despite warnings of reprisals, and police arrested approximately 200 demonstrators.  Sargsyan served as Armenia’s prime minister in 2007-2008 and then as its president in 2008-2018.  He became prime minister on 17 April, but the opposition viewed his appointment as an attempt to imitate Vladimir Putin, who has switched offices in order to stay in power, without altering the constitution.  Analysts view the successful protests and Sargsyan’s departure as a positive sign regarding the strength of the democratic movement in Armenia.  Sargsyan's resignation did not affect the other cabinet members, all of whom remain in power.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43868433; and https://www.democracynow.org/2018/4/23/headlines/armenia_thousands_protest_power_grab_by_leader_serzh_sargsyan?utm_source=Democracy+Now%21&utm_campaign=dea005dae5-Daily_Digest&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fa2346a853-dea005dae5-191820949.

Erdoğan Schedules Early Elections    20 April 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan scheduled early parliamentary and presidential elections for 24 June, instead of November 2019.  Erdoğan engineered the introduction of a stronger presidency the elimination of the prime minister’s position, changes that will go into effect with the next election.  It is likely that he moved up the election to take advantage of the heightening tensions over Syria, which has resulted in a wave of nationalist sentiment in Turkey, and the currently strong Turkish economy.  The changes in the political structure of Turkey will solidify Erdoğan’s authoritarian control over the country.  See https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/18/turkeys-erdogan-declares-early-elections-on-june-24.html

Potential Ukrainian Patriarchate    20 April 2018

The Ukrainian legislature approved a measure to have the Orthodox Church in Ukraine break from the Moscow patriarchate and become autocephalous as a means of reducing Russian influence in Ukraine, particularly ahead of presidential elections.  Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in İstanbul to promote the separation.  In 1992, a part of the Orthodox church in Ukraine established the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate.  It serves approximately half of Ukraine’s Orthodox believers, with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) serving roughly the other half.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-church/ukraine-moves-to-split-church-from-russia-as-elections-approach-idUSKBN1HQ1ZA.

Bad Behavior by an Undignified Serbian Nationalist    20 April 2018

In a stunt designed to inflame national hatred, Vojislav Šešelj, the head of the Serbian Radical party and former associate of Slobodan Milošević, and one of his party associates trampled on a Croatian flag in the Serbian parliament during the visit of a Croatian parliamentary delegation.  The 18 April visit was part of an effort of Croatia to help Serbia enter the European Union, but the Croatian delegation returned home after the incident.  The prime minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, and the speaker of the Serbian parliament have condemned the act.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-serbia-croatia/croatian-delegation-cuts-short-serbia-visit-after-insults-in-parliament-idUSKBN1HP2FU.

The incident with Šešelj came on the same day that protesters before the Serbian parliament called for his expulsion as a deputy because the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals sentenced him, on 11 April, to ten years in prison (he already served ten years in detention) for inciting crimes.  Šešelj vowed that he will not resign.  One member of parliament, Aleksandra Jerkov, asked when the parliament will remove Šešelj.  As a result, members of Šešelj’s Serbian Radicals surrounded and taunted Jerkov.  One of them wrote “Ustaša whore” on one of her papers, a reference to the Croatian fascist organization before and during the Second World War.  See http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/serbian-ngo-protests-for-seselj-s-removal-from-parliament-04-18-2018.

Orbán, the Master of Corruption and Opportunism    20 April 2018

Owen Matthews, a contributing editor and former Moscow and Istanbul Bureau Chief for Newsweek, published an article that traces Viktor Orbán’s path from a liberal politician committed to democracy to the authoritarian prime minister of Hungary.  At the root of the transformation was opportunism–a chance to capture the votes of Hungarians by appealing to their fears and base desires.  That path led him to Beijing and to Moscow, where Vladimir Putin cut deals with Hungary that cost Russian businesses millions but won Hungary’s support in such issues as Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and sanctions.  Meanwhile, to sustain power, Orbán used corruption to establish a network of supporters in major Hungarian companies.  Meanwhile, his lower energy prices, other popular measures, and fearmongering about the European Union and immigration continue to resonate with voters.  See http://www.newsweek.com/putin-kremlin-russia-trump-orban-bannon-nationalism-iron-curtain-eu-891843.

Tymoshenko’s Plot Thickens    20 April 2018

Yulia Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian politician who was imprisoned before the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution, signed a contract with Barry Bennett, a political consultant who had worked for Donald Trump’s election campaign.  The person who signed on Tymoshenko’s behalf was Marlen Kruzhkov, who represents the interest of Russian oligarchs in the United States.  The consultant fee is much higher than Tymoshenko’s income, and there is some suspicion that she may be receiving funding from Moscow.  The connection between Trump's political adviser and a representative of Russian oligarchs also is of interest to Americans, given the current political atmosphere in the United States.  See http://neweasterneurope.eu/2018/04/19/yulia-tymoshenkos-controversial-middle-man/.

Bulgaria’s Future    20 April 2018

Kostadinka Kuneva, a Greek member of the European Parliament and ethnic Bulgarian, commented on the need for Bulgaria to tackle corruption, organized crime, and the rise of xenophobic attitudes.  It is possible that meetings left members of the European Parliament are having with their Bulgarian counterparts will help combat these ills.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/141632.

President Iohannis in Support of Anti-corruption    18 April 2018

On 16 April, the Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, refused to fire Laura Kovesi, the head of his country’s anti-corruption authority, the DNA.  The minister of justice sought her removal because she is to aggressive in prosecuting members of the Social Democratic and Liberal party.  The justice minister promised to take the matter to the constitutional court.  The government has sought to weaken anti-corruption laws, despite the European Union’s criticism of the prevalence of corruption in the country.  The government’s efforts also have sparked massive protests.  See http://www.dw.com/en/romanian-president-refuses-to-sack-anti-corruption-chief/a-43412188.  

The Importance of Religion in Ukraine    18 April 2018

Churches were instrumental in the pro-democracy Maidan protests in 2014, when they were engaged in public service, and they remain important for Ukrainians.  Among Protestants, the Baptists and Pentecostals have attracted a loyal following, and they are active in the war-torn eastern part of the country, where they organize soup kitchens and help citizens on a daily basis.  The various churches, thus far, have had a history of working together and with government authorities.  In an article for The New Eastern Europe, Mykhailo Cherenkov, a professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv and the executive field director of Mission Eurasia Field Ministries in Ukraine, asks whether Ukraine’s churches will continue their role in integrating society or if they will forfeit it as a result of sectarian divisions.  See http://neweasterneurope.eu/2018/04/17/church-without-walls-churchs-social-activism-post-maidan-ukraine/.

Pending Trial of Former Auschwitz Guard    16 April 2018

German prosecutors have charged Reinhold Hanning, a ninety-four-year-old German national originally born in Serbia, with having participated in the Holocaust when he was a guard at Auschwitz at the age of 19.  Hanning will face trial as a juvenile because he was under age when he was stationed at the concentration camp that is located in Poland, not far from Kraków.  The defendant helped the camp function, claim prosecutors, but his lawyers maintain that he was unaware that the camp’s main function was to exterminate Jews and others and has no specific knowledge of the murders that took place there.  The German prosecutors may announce other court cases connected with the Holocaust this year.  See http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-nazi-guard-trial-auschwitz-20160210-story.html.

Montenegran Presidential Election    16 April 2018

Milo Đukanović, the long-time prime minister of Montenegro, won the 15 April presidential election, with 53.9 percent of the vote, thus eliminating the need for a run-off.  Đukanović favors integration into the European Union, and his strongest opponent, who prefers strong ties with Russia, claimed that Đukanović is leading Montenegro down the path of personal dictatorship.  See https://www.rferl.org/a/djukanovic-looks-to-extend-dominance-in-montenegro-s-presidential-vote/29167866.html.

Miloš Forman (1932-2018)    15 April 2018

On 13 April 2018, Miloš Forman (born Jan Tomáš Forman, on 18 February 1932, in Čáslav, now in the Czech Republic) died, after a brief illness, at a hospital near his home in Connecticut.  Forman, arguably the most famous Czech film director, is noted for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Hair (1979), Ragtime (1981), Amadeus (1984), The People vs. Larry Flint (1996), and many more.  His last film was The Beloved (2011), and he had several unfinished projects.  Forman emigrated from Czechoslovakia to America during the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.  Before leaving Czechoslovakia, he was part of the New Wave in film, with such hits as The Audition (1963), Loves of a Blonde (1965), and Fireman’s Ball (1967).  He received two Academy Awards for best director and several other awards in the United States, Czech Republic, and elsewhere.  See http://variety.com/2018/film/news/international-tributes-pour-in-to-milos-forman-1202753411/.

Cohen’s Possible Trip to Prague    13 April 2018

Despite Michael Cohen’s claims that he ever never traveled to Prague, unnamed sources have revealed that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that Donald Trump's private attorney did so in either August or September 2016.  The purpose was to meet with Russians, including Konstantin Kosachev, the chair of the Foreign Affairs committee of the Russian State Duma (Kosachev also denies that he was in Prague at the time).  According to the controversial report of the former British spy Christopher Steele, Cohen discussed the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic election campaign.  If Cohen indeed was in Prague and had lied about his presence there, it not only would lend credibility to Steele’s report but also would damage Cohen’s reputation further.  It also would provide more evidence of the Trump campaign’s collusion with the Russians.  See http://amp.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/white-house/article208870264.html.

New Article by D. E. Miller    13 April 2018

Daniel E. Miller has released an academic article titled “What the Western Portion of Northwest Florida Knew about the Birth of Czechoslovakia in 1918: A Case Study of Information Accessibility in Small-town and Rural America.”   It is in the newest edition of Kosmas: Czechoslovak and Central European Journal N.S. 1 (Spring 2018): 41-56.  A free download of the entire journal is available at https://www.svu2000.org/kosmas/ebooks/pdf/Kosmas_Free_NS2018_01-1.pdf.  The article examines the limited media coverage in the area surrounding Pensacola, FL, of the Czech and Slovak effort to create an independent state during the First World War.  Given the sparse amount of information about the establishment of Czechoslovakia and about the coverage of other events in Central Europe, it is not surprising that Americans were hesitant to support the Treaty of Versailles and to continue their engagement in Europe after the end of the war.

Unfortunately, the publisher inadvertently omitted the footnote that included the acknowledgments, which should read as follows:

The genesis of this article was a lecture, on 22 February 2013, for the “Then and Now” series at the Heritage Park and Cultural Center, in Fort Walton Beach.  I appreciate the efforts of Jennifer M. Lamott, the HPCC Museum Programming Coordinator, for arranging the presentation.  I delivered an updated version of my research, on 12 October 2013, at the Gulf Coast History and Humanities Conference, in Pensacola, FL.  I wish to thank my graduate assistants, Jessica Neal Pickett, Christopher Thrasher, and Sara Fugarino, for helping me locate the newspaper articles that appear in this study.  I also am indebted to John J. Clune, Jr. (then at the University of West Florida and now the president of Nicholls State University, Thibodaux, LA) for commenting on an early version of this article.

EU Draft Report Recommends Sanctions against Hungary    13 April 2018

The European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs released a draft report claiming that Hungary is at serious risk for breaching the core values of the EU.  The draft identifies the number of times that the EU warned Hungary of transgressions and listed the areas in which the Hungarian government has violated EU principles:

the functioning of the constitutional system; the independence of the judiciary and of other institutions; corruption and conflicts of interest; privacy and data protection; freedom of expression; academic freedom; freedom of religion; freedom of association; the right to equal treatment; the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including Roma and Jews; the fundamental rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees; and social rights.

The draft report reviews the details of each issue.  It calls on the EU to sanction Hungary, based on Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty.

In related news, Figyelo, a pro-government weekly that focuses on business, published a list of 200 names, some of whom are deceased and others who are on the faculty at Central European University, whom it claims are “mercenaries” of George Soros.  That is merely one-tenth of the people on a larger list that the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, claims are working for Soros to make Hungary an immigrant country.  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/hungary-pro-govt-weekly-prints-list-of-soros-mercenaries/2018/04/12/f3413156-3e34-11e8-955b-7d2e19b79966_story.html?noredirect=on.

GRECO Critical of Romanian Justice Reforms    12 April 2018

The Group of States against Corruption of the Council of Europe (GRECO) released a report that is critical of the justice reforms Romania passed last December and some under consideration.  The report applauded Romania for not including certain proposed measures, but they are concerned that the ability to remove certain officials, like the special prosecutor dealing with corruption, will weaken anti-corruption efforts.  It also criticized draft laws that would eliminate penalties for offenses less than 200,000 euros and exempt elected officials from prosecution for bribery and otherwise illegal trading.  See https://www.neweurope.eu/article/council-europes-greco-publishes-critical-report-romanian-justice-reforms/.

Russia’s Coming Century of Solitude    11 April 2018

One of Vladimir Putin’s closest advisors, Vladislav Surkov, in an article for the Russian journal Russia in Global Politics, concluded that, after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia faces at least a century of solitude.  Throughout the modern era, Russia attempted to integrate into the West without success, even though it adopted some outward signs of westernization.

At the end of the last century, the country was bored with being “viewed separately,” and it again asked for the West.  At the same time, apparently, it seemed to someone that size mattered: we did not fit into Europe because we were too big and frighteningly vast.  So, it was necessary to reduce the territory, population, economy, army, and ambition to the parameters of some average Central-European country for them to accept us.  They decreased.  They believed in Hayek as fiercely as they once did in Marx.  They reduced the demographic, industrial, and military potential by half.  They broke up the union of republics and began to break up autonomy . . . But even this diminished and belittled Russia was insufficient to constitute a turn to the West.

Spurned by the West, Russia will face at least a century of solitude, even though it will preserve some contacts.  Meanwhile, it will rely on its two closest allies, its army and navy.  Recently, though, voices in Russia have begun to call for a turn to the East.  Surkov surmised that a major shift in that direction is unnecessary because Russia already is there.

Surkov’s article may set the tone for future Russian policy, but it also provides insight into the interpretation of global politics that the Kremlin wishes to convey to its citizens.  With the end of the Soviet Union, Russia did what was necessary for global peace, according to Surkov’s line of thinking, but nothing could satisfy the Western powers.  The West, in the end, rejected Russia.  In taking this tack, Surkov masterfully embraces the emotions Russians associate with persecution and isolation, which can enable Russia to become more self-reliant and strengthen its defenses.  Such reasoning resonates with Russians because it is part of the country’s political culture and was an important Soviet rationale between the world wars.  The Russia of the twenty-first century must renew its strength, under the protection of its military, and bolster its international ties with the countries to the East that are more accepting of Russia than the West.  Absent from Surkov’s analysis and his scenario for the future is the fact that the West found it difficult to accept the oligarchic and expansionist Russia of Vladimir Putin that was nominally democratic.  (Of course, Putin believes it was necessary for Russia to defend against NATO and the European Union’s eastward expansion.)  Another omission from Surkov’s interpretation of Russian policy is that, for certain countries in the East and in other parts of the globe, profit takes precedence over liberty.

Media Voices Going Silent in Hungary    11 April 2018

Magyar Nemzet, a newspaper with a history of eight decades, and its affiliate, Lánchíd Rádio, ceased operating at midnight on 11 April.  A few years ago, after having broken with the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the owner of the two outlets, Lajos Simicska, used them to oppose Orbán and his Fidesz party.  With the recent Fidesz party victory in the parliamentary election, however, it is apparent that the outlets no longer can survive financially.  As a means of control, the government places ads in the media that supports the regime.  Companies that advertise must do likewise or risk investigation and other sorts difficulties.  Without advertising revenue, major outlets become unprofitable.  After the closing of Simicska’s firms, the only significant independent media outlets in Hungary are the RTL television group (its owner is Bertelsmann, a German firm), Index.hu (a friend of Simicska is on the board of the foundation that owns Index.hu), and the Social Democratic newspaper Népszava (under the ownership of a Swiss firm).  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-election-media/major-hungarian-opposition-newspaper-to-close-after-orban-victory-idUSKBN1HH10S; and https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/141561.

Dmitriev Cleared on Pornography Charges    11 April 2018

A Russian court has cleared Yuri A. Dmitriev, a Russian historian, of pornography charges that were based on photographs Dmitriev had taken of his adopted daughter, who had been abused.  The authorities had requested the photographs to establish her progress toward recovery.  The court, however, found him guilty for possessing the components of a rifle he said was old and inoperative, and he will be on probation and will perform community service.  Dmitriev studies the Stalinist era and discovered a mass grave, with more than 9,000 bodies, in a forest near Sandarmokh, in the Republic of Karelia.  The Putin regime diminishes Stalin’s abuses and lauds his other achievements.  See https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/05/world/europe/russia-soviet-stalin-historian.html.

"ANO, ne!": Protest in Prague    10 April 2018

On 9 April, between 10,000 and 20,000 people protested, on Wenceslas Square, in the heart of Prague, against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who still is under investigation for illegally accepting money from the European Union for one of his many firms.  His government did not receive a vote of confidence in the parliament and now serves as a caretaker cabinet.  Babiš is attempting to form a new government, and his party, ANO, is considering a coalition with the Communists.  Protesters shouted slogans that included "the Czech Republic is not a company" and "ANO, no" (ano in Czech means yes, but it also is the abbreviation for Babiš's political party).  See https://www.irozhlas.cz/zpravy-domov/demonstrace-andrej-babis-praha_1804092221_pj; and https://zpravy.aktualne.cz/domaci/ano-ne-ano-ne-milion-promarnenych-chvilek-pro-demokracii/r~19ab996e3c2b11e8b8310cc47ab5f122/ (both are in Czech).

Protesters on Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí), in Prague, on 9 April 2018.  Photograph courtesy of Lenka Kocková.

Fidesz Victory in Hungary    8 April 2018

On 8 April 2018, the party of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán won a third consecutive victory in the Hungarian parliamentary elections.  Orbán and his followers ran on an anti-immigration and anti-European Union platform that still has traction with voters.  It is certain that Orbán will take further steps to restrict democracy in Hungary in the years to come.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43693663.

“To není Škoda!”    7 April 2018

“That’s not bad!” (as opposed to“that’s not a Škoda) is what the workers at the Škoda auto works in the Czech Republic must be saying after management agreed to a 12 percent wage hike to avert a strike.  Škoda, which is a division of Volkswagen, is extremely profitable, and their popular vehicles are on roads throughout the world (not yet in the United States).  The demand for the brand, combined with low unemployment in the Czech Republic, enabled the workers’ union to arrive at a very favorable deal with the firm.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-vw-skoda-wages/union-at-volkswagens-skoda-auto-accepts-12-percent-wage-increase-offer-idUSKCN1HD26Z.  As an example of the Škoda lineup, see the review of the Škoda Superb Estate (review geared to the United Kingdom market) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXOlTIRPqv0.

More Protests in Slovakia    6 April 2018

On 5 April, approximately 45,000 protesters in Bratislava demanded more action on the investigation of the death of Jan Kuciak, a journalist who was researching mafia ties to the government, and his girlfriend.  One specific demand of the protesters was the removal of the police chief, Tibor Gašpar, because of the apparent inactivity of the police.  The interior minister who appointed Gašpar was one of the subjects of Kuciak’s investigation and resigned last month.  See https://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/slovak-protesters-demand-police-chief-be-fired-over-journalists-murder/.

EU’s Assessment on Moldova    6 April 2018

As part of Moldova’s association agreement with the European Union and ahead of the EU-Moldova Association Council meeting in May, the EU has released its “Association Implementation Report on Moldova.”  The EU praised Moldova’s progress in several areas, but it noted the need for substantial change in others, in order to release more funding for projects in Moldova.  Fighting corruption remains only one of the challenges, and the report concluded that “considerable efforts are necessary to strengthen the rule of law in Moldova by tackling high level corruption, recovering the funds from the banking fraud and bringing to justice those responsible.”  The report is available at https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/42497/2018-association-implementation-report-moldova_en.  An EU External Action fact sheet on Moldova is at https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage_en/4011/EU-Moldova%20relations,%20Factsheet.

Hungary's Parliamentary Election    5 April 2018

On April 8, Hungarians will go to the polls to elect a new parliament.  Despite the majority Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party enjoys and the means at their disposal to stay in power, such as modified electoral laws and control of the media, there is a chance that Fidesz can lose the election.  That happened recently in the city of Hódmezővásárhely, where the opposition joined forces to defeat Fidesz's candidate for mayor. The difficulty is that the opposition is not united, and its victory would mean cooperation with the far-right Jobbik party, which has weakened its extreme nationalist stance only in an effort to improve its image.  Although Fidesz likely will win the election this Sunday, observers speculate about the possibility of voters turning their backs on Orbán's anti-democratic, illiberal brand of politics.  For two viewpoints on the election, see http://visegradinsight.eu/can-viktor-orban-be-defeated-on-8-april/ (its author, Zsuzsanna Szelényi, is an independent deputy in the Hungarian parliament) and  https://euobserver.com/political/141516.  See also http://neweasterneurope.eu/2018/04/06/hungarian-general-elections-stake/.