Michal Chmela’s selection
As I am writing this, a truly momentous occasion is taking place in Prague: a gathering of the crème de la crème of far-right, nationalist, neo-Nazi politicians from all over Europe has come at the behest of our favorite flatulent fascist MP Tomio Okamura. There have been protests, there have been blockades which succeeded in at least delaying the arrival of fascism’s femme fatale Le Pen. Sadly, the protesters have immediately been labeled as non-profiters, neo-Marxists and, in a rather ironic twist, even fascists.
In a country teetering on the edge of unabashed populism in the vein of Poland or Hungary, the lack of official response condemning the gathered nationalists, and tearing into the few brave enough to stand up for human rights instead might just be the final nail in the coffin of civilization. It was fun while it lasted.
Of course, there are different means of protesting. While them left-wing weirdos were in the streets fighting fascism, two presidential candidates led a crowd to the Prague Castle in order to commemorate the memory of Václav Havel. Now, I am the last one who would dispute Havel’s importance or legacy, him having been literally the only Czech ever to have maintained some degree of political integrity, but the situation where people preach about truth and love while another group plans obliteration of everyone who does not possess the correct skin color or religion has more of the morbid than absurd to it. Havel’s symbol was a heart and parading it around Prague these days is definitely a commendable effort, but one has to question what is the point of it when there’s Nazis at your doorstep.
And to close it off, Pavel Fischer, one of the presidential candidates involved in that farce has managed to slip up and admit he is a homophobe. He did it in style, on a debate with some too-slowly-dying-out Catholics where he firmly stated he would not appoint a homosexual into the position of a judge, and compared homosexuals deciding about adoptions to a pyromaniac extinguishing a flat. The “apology” he issued later claimed that the statement was taken out of context (which it was not, it was part of a whole rather disgusting monologue), that homosexuals were an “influence group” (guess what, so are the Catholics – somehow he does not seem to have any compunctions appointing those) and provided an apology for the statement (as opposed to the opinion), wrapping it all up with good ol’ “some of my best friends are homosexual.” So there, another one bites the dust and January’s elections seem even bleaker.
Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.
Anna Azarova’s selection
There once was an oligarch, Lajos Simicska, who had gone to the same university and had lived in the same dorms as PM Viktor Orbán, President János Áder, and the rest of their ilk. He had become very successful and it was an open secret he was financing Fidesz. For years, nobody really knew where he is or what he does – you just couldn’t find photos of him that weren’t at least 15 years old. He owned a lot of billboards around the country (still does), which he rented to Fidesz way under the market price, contributing to their successes, one after the other. Then, Lajos and Viktor had a huge fight and their friendship ended – suddenly, Lajos became a very public persona, and even got caught by the police once, graffitiing obscenities about Viktor over his own billboards.
After the break-up, Simicska started funding the far-right Jobbik, and, in turn, their billboards started appearing everywhere. Four months before the elections, the government had enough of Jobbik, the most popular oppositional party, and all signs point to their heavy involvement in the State Audit Office‘s decision to fine Jobbik for €1,1 million – for “corruption”: apparently, Jobbik bought billboards for less than a tenth of the market price. The State Audit Office had never really investigated any other corruption cases before, especially not when Fidesz was involved. Gábor Vona, head of Jobbik claimed the fine will likely make it impossible for them to candidate in the elections, and called for a demonstration, which took place on Friday.
Even the leftist media was very divided on whether to go to this demonstration. Or partners at Mérce, for example, argued strongly for it, too; and Momentum and the green LMP parties announced that they will participate – claiming they are not supporting Fidesz, but the rule of law, some refused to appear, and others organised counter-demonstrations. Obviously, Jobbik (whatever they’re trying to achieve with their recent vanilla transformation) are still a corrupt, xenophobic, Islamophobic, misogynist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, Nazi party. But the Audit Office’s decision was also very very likely ordered from above, with charges that could equally well be pressed against Fidesz. The real trip starts, however, when you read what Jobbik supporters are saying. Suddenly, they’re all committed to democracy. They’re waving EU flags, only years after they burned them, they “want to elevate Hungarian politics to the European level,” and are making bold proclamations that if this would happen to another party, they’d surely demonstrate as well. Péter Juhász, one of the left coalition’s strongest candidates claimed that it’s important to support Jobbik now, because “what is happening to them now is what usually happens to the Roma and the gays.” Well yeah. Jobbik does this to the Roma and the gays. One pro-Jobbik protester said Jobbik is the strongest leftist party at the moment – yeah, I guess the Nazis called themselves socialists, too.
Anna Azarova is a graduate student in Budapest and a freelance translator.
Roman Broszkowski’s selection
Something has got to give. Nord Stream 2 is back and everyone is pushing for a conclusion to the undersea drama. One month ago, NS2 was dead a buried. Germany was headed for a Jamaica coalition that was deeply unfriendly to the project, Poland and co. were making real progress regulating and eventually preventing its success, and the U.S. was leveraging new sanctions against Gazprom and Russian elites. But there go the best laid planes of mice and men. The German coalition talks have broken down, the Jamaica hope is gone, and the pro-NS2 SPD seems poised to re-enter power along side Merkel’s CDU. Meanwhile despite continued protests from eastern EU members, Gazprom has kept building. All the proper permits and applications have been filed; even the final contracts for construction supplies have been completed. Even worse, Trump is implementing Russian sanctions at a snail’s pace. All these signs point to what was unthinkable three weeks ago: Nord Stream 2 will be built. If completed, NS2 will be a phenomenal foreign policy coup for Russia. Putin will have new leverage on Germany and completely by pass troublesome Ukraine.
But the opposition remains loyal and determined. Denmark, whose water the final section of the underwater pipeline must pass through before reaching Germany, is looking for a fight. The government recently passed a bill allowing regulators to deny a pipeline application on the basis on national interest or foreign policy. The law applies both to future pipelines and to those currently under consideration such as NS2. If Denmark decides to deny Gazprom’s application, the pipeline would have to be rerouted through international waters. It may not kill NS2, but it sure is an unneeded thorn in Russia’s side.
Meanwhile, Poland and Ukraine are putting up a united front. The presidents of both countries held a press conference where they stated that the new pipeline was a threat to European security and the economic stability of the region. Duda and Poroshenko implied that any pipeline must go through Ukraine so as to develop the region and put at least some pressure of Russia.
Finally, the U.S. State Department remains cautiously optimistic about the fate of NS2. Officials reasserted their opposition to the pipeline and expressed near certainty that it would not be completed.
Nord Stream 2 is important to Russia’s overall European strategy and Putin will be unlikely to give up so easily. Russia sees its advantage is is mounting a full court-press in the dying minutes of the game. With only seconds left, who knows if they’ll make their shot.
Roman Broszkowski is an undergraduate International Politics student from New Jersey. His area of study is Eastern Europe and the Middle East.