"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

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/.