PC Press Digest

Weekly Press Digest – November 6

Political Critique's weekly selection from the Eastern European press.

Michal Chmela’s selection

Post-election negotiations are at a standstill with all the threats from last week still looming in the air, but life sadly does not stop just because government does and politicians are already in a state of red alert for the next democratic farce: the presidential elections in January. A more optimistic estimation would welcome the opportunity to finally get the country rid of the shambling alco-zombie Zeman but let us face it, even after all he put us through in the last (hopefully) five years of his tenure, he is still a strong contender. Which says quite a lot about the average Czech voter and none of it is flattering. However, at least part of the politically necrophiliac target group might be swayed by the exhumation of yet another cadaver: ex-PM Topolánek, known mostly for right-wing policies, rampant corruption and alarmingly underdressed pictures in the tabloids, announced his intent to become head of state. If nothing else, it will make for a good litmus test on the limits of the voters’ memory and gullibility.

Speaking of, allow me to jump a bit across a totally nonexistent border and talk about the communal elections in Slovakia. Local government typically does not draw as much attention as the current roster of clowns honing their craft in the Parliament but this time, it should be pointed out and celebrated that Slovakia made a tiny move towards sanity: the bewilderingly popular neo-Nazi party LSNS failed to achieve a single victory. The currently ruling social democratic party Smer also took a hit, securing only two regions. We can obviously speculate on whether this will result in anything positive and just what kind of politicians are taking their places, but let’s face it, less neo-Nazis in power is universally good news. Speaking from a country that just let its first openly fascist party into its Parliament.

And, just to spoil the atmosphere of careful optimism, also from a country from where the leader of the Slovakian neo-Nazis apparently got the idea of going into politics in the first place.

Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.


Anna Azarova’s selection

What a year this has been for Lőrinc Mészáros, mayor of Orbán’s home village Felcsút – a good old plumber by profession, he is now among the richest people in Hungary. His wealth tripled this year and 82 of his 121 companies were founded this year – that’s roughly 2 per week. These companies range from construction to real estate to agriculture; and, of course, he practically owns almost all of Hungary’s printed media. His companies win almost all public procurement contracts, together with state and EU subsidies. As mayor of Felcsút, his 1600-strong village also receives financial support to maintain the 3800-seats football stadium in the backyard of Orbán’s family estate.

According to a high-ranking Fidesz member, Orbán is discouraged from doing a public debate with other candidates “under any circumstances.” Apparently, these debates only make sense if there’s an actual opponent, but currently no one is challenging enough for the Prime Minister – and others “don’t deserve his time.” Meanwhile, long gone are the times when the so-called democratic opposition boldly rejected any association with the far-rightist Jobbik. The former head of the green party LMP András Schiffer and the hardliner and former Jobbik vice president Előd Novák participated in a public debate on national consciousness this weekend, which was spent in a friendly atmosphere, and apparently the two were largely in agreement. Novák even said that anyone can be part of the nation, provided they consider Trianon a national trauma. According to Schiffer, most of the world’s nationalisms are actually left-wing (why that would be important for him though I don’t know, since he definitely is not), and both agreed on how important it is to remain European.

The other side of last week’s bleak prison news is the grim life of prison guards. Apparently, ever since the current head of prison management took office in 2014, regulations have been tightening, while the reintegrative programs withering. Now, all prison regulations have been standardised, guards are expected to surveil each other, are fired if they ask questions or for help, the pay’s too low, the uniforms are trash quality and very expensive, the media are practically not allowed in anymore, the prisoners are too many and the guards too few.

And to round off the bad news, here’s a pleasant shortie about what philosopher Gáspár Miklós Tamás is reading at the moment.

Anna Azarova is a graduate student in Budapest and a freelance translator.


Roman Broszkowski’s selection

Although the government reshuffle will be big news, the story is developing at a snail-like pace. So the red meat today is all energy; specifically Russian LNG or liquified natural gas. This week saw the European Commission announce its intention to vote on a rule change regarding off-shore gas pipelines. It’s pretty clear the rule change is referencing Russia’s proposed Nord Stream 2. The change would insist that all import pipelines be in compliance with EU anti-monopoly regulations. No small problem for NS2 which is completely owned by Russian gas monopoly Gazprom. If you remember our Press Digest two weeks ago, this sort of new EU regulation is exactly what Poland was aiming for when it prodded its European partners at a joint summit. However, Poland isn’t letting everything ride on blue. On Sunday, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marek Magierowski visited the US to enlist help killing NS2 one way or another. Magierowski’s big plan is to use a Russia sanction bill passed by the US congress in August to block the pipeline.

Unfortunately for Magierowski, the Trump administration has been dragging its Kremlin-loving feet in actually enacting the bill into law. Trump and friends were supposed to announce which Russian actors would be targeted by October 1st, but the deadline has passed without a decision. Perhaps Magierowski believes that this still means he has a chance to add Gazprom to the list; if such a list does or will ever exist.

Finally, an investigation has been opened by prosecutors in Warsaw into the former Deputy Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak over allegations that he took bribes while negotiating a Russian gas contract. However, some important disclaimers. Firstly, the original source of the story comes from the highly partisan weekly Sieci Prawdy. Secondly, the Prosecutor’s Office is under the control of the ruling coalition. And finally, such accusations further PiS’s argument that the previous government was in cahoots with Russia and that Poland must seek energy independence from its unfriendly Eastern partner.

Some other interesting stories: the man who lit himself on fire in the shadow of the Palace of Culture as an act of protest against the PiS government has succumbed to his injuries last week. After visiting a Polish cemetery in Lviv, Ukraine, Polish Foreign Minister Waszczykowski announced that Ukrainians with anti-Polish feelings won’t receive visas. And Poland gears up to fight with the EU about potential pollution restrictions.

Roman Broszkowski is an undergraduate International Politics student from New Jersey. His area of study is Eastern Europe and the Middle East.


Alieksandr Filipau’s selection

On November 2-3 the Fifth October Economic Forum (KEF-2017 “The Foundations of the Future”) was held in Belarus. The participants who represented the Belarusian economic authorities, the delegation of IMF, the World Bank, EU delegation, NGOs and foreign experts, including Artur Radziwill, the former  Polish deputy minister of finances, discussed the future of the country’s economy and the results of 25-years cooperation with the IMF. One of the prominent feature of the Forum as much less discussion on the economic reforms in the country. As some participants joked “why should we listen about what we have not done.” In spite of the first deputy prime-minister Vasily Matsiushevsky’s statement that 8 from 10 documents on economy liberalization have been already signed, experts doubt Belarusian authorities’ capacity and willingness to implement any real reforms. This year Belarus has managed to allocate new loans, including Eurobonds, and has no default risks.

Moreover, talking about cooperation with the IMF neither the Head of the National Bank Pavel Kallaur, nor the head of IMF mission in Belarus Peter Dolman have mentioned an opportunity to receive a new loan from the Fund. The reason is clear – absence of real reforms results in no guarantees that Belarus will manage to pay the loan back.

Definitely, the participants, including high-ranking officials told many right words about the status quo in the Belarusian economy, ‘making a right diagnosis‘ to its disease. Poland was mentioned several times compared to Belarus as an example of equal conditions in the beginning and completely different results after the transformation. But the remedy was discussed much less than the diagnosis.

It seems that the Belarusian authorities are ready to further treat the disease without appropriate treatment which seems to be dangerous for the political foundations of the country. We have the typical situation when everybody understands everything but lack of political will is becoming an impassable barrier for everybody.

Aliaksandr Filipau serves as the Dean of Extended Education Faculty at the Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts in Minsk, Belarus. He is also working for the Political Studies Institute “Political Sphere, ” the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies in Vilnius, Lithuania, and is a member of the UN initiative “Alliance of Civilizations.”

Featured photo by Bartek Kuzia via Flickr.