PC Press Digest

Weekly Press Digest – October 16

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

Michal Chmela’s selection

Only a week remains before the elections and all the parties’ propaganda machines have kicked into overdrive. Dirt is being dug up, skeletons exhumed and rumors spread: among all this mess, however, two things stand out regarding the Andrej Babiš, the man who would be PM. One, he has finally been formally accused of defrauding European money which means the police at least gets to pretend they tried to do something about it before his immunity is renewed by the new Parliament and two, a court verdict absolving him of being a communist secret police informant has been overruled in Slovakia. That might not mean much but there is still a decent amount of people who, while they give precisely zero cares about his political and economic crimes, may be swayed by the stigma of communism.

Speaking of stigmas, the Czech Republic managed to snatch the spotlight of foreign media twice during the last week: first when someone abroad finally pointed out the inherent absurdity of the most vocal Czech nationalist party leader being of Japanese – Czech descent and and secondly when our disaster of a President apparently slipped his minders and managed to shamble towards a plugged-in microphone is Strasbourg. The result would probably be an international diplomatic incident if anyone still took the clown seriously; as it stands, his suggestion that Ukraine should be happy to accept Russian reparations for Crimea have only managed to anger Ukraine (which demanded an apology and, upon refusal, claimed Zeman has lost his marbles – we know, right?) and confuse the hell out of the Russians (who hastily responded that paying reparations is out of the question and presumably sent some very harsh words to the agent responsible for running him). Sometime during the resulting chaos, Zeman’s bodyguards managed to half-carry him out of the room but not before he threatened a cameraman who caught it on tape. The joys of direct democracy, everyone.

Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.


Nino Sichinava’s selection

New constitution in Georgia
Last week’s Friday 13th was marked with Georgia’s full transition to Parliamentary republic. The amendments to the constitution were proposed on September 28th this year, which concluded that from 2024 the president of the country will be elected no longer through universal direct voting, but by an electoral college of 300 representatives. The ruling party explained the need to change once again the constitution of the country by the shortcomings of the current edition, which changed significantly as a result of the reform of 2010. However, the decision on which way to change the constitution received a serious backlash from the opposition, President and many experts, who believe that such  election system plays into the hands of the party in power, ‘Georgian Dream’ and prevents an equitable distribution of mandates. Nevertheless, parliament overruled the presidential veto on the constitutional amendments project., overriding it with 117 votes in favour and 7 against. Moreover, according to the new constitution, agricultural land can only be owned by the state, citizens or associations of citizens of Georgia, as well as units of self-government. The former authorities hoped that the experience and investments of foreign farmers would help revive agriculture in Georgia. But today the government says that such a free sale of land for a country with average per capita of just 0.24 hectares of agricultural land is not justified and contradicts national interests.

On the other hand, the amendments might have a good impact on LGBT community since the government will be redefining the notion of marriage between two individuals. Speaking of LGBT, Georgian footballer, Guram Kashia, who plays as a defender for the Dutch football club Vitesse Arnhem, covered his arm with the rainbow armband in support of LGBT rights. These are yet another small step towards reduction of homophobia in a deeply religious country.

Russia rolls into the debt hole with restrained optimism from the government
While Russian economy continues its desperate struggle for good life, for some reason the citizens embrace the imagined future of stability and prosper that the government rigorously tries to feed them with. The study by RANEPA “Monitoring of the economic situation in Russia” published on October 10, shows the drastic increase in recruitment of loans among Russian citizens, with ruble loans reaching a historic high. It is worth to notice that people usually take loans in a situation when their real incomes either do not grow, or fall. In fact, borrowers rely on the chance – that in the future their financial situation will improve, but for now credit means need to wait out the difficult times. Meanwhile, the prospects for revenue growth are only worsening. According to the head of the Accounting Chamber Tatyana Golikova, only in the first half of 2017 the number of poor in Russia increased by 2 million people, and reached 22 million (15% of the population). This is likely to turn into a serious economic crisis for a country in long run. 

Dissatisfied with the haircut for 200 rubles, the client stabbed the barber with a skewer
And of course, it wouldn’t be a true Friday 13 of the week, without a horrible murder of an ‘unskilled’ barber. A day earlier, an unknown man came to the hairdresser’s, where the victim worked, a native of Uzbekistan, to get a haircut. The next day the client returned, saying that he was unhappy with his haircut for 200 rubles, and asked him to fix it. However, the result of corrections did not satisfy the man either, so he pulled the hairdresser out and killed him with three stabs in the heart in the middle of the day.

Nino Sichinava is an International Relations student at Lazarski University (Poland) and Coventry University (UK). A contributor for Political Critique and European Alternatives.


Anna Azarova’s selection

As widely reported elsewhere, the new National Consultation surveys on the so-called Soros Plan were mailed out to all citizens last week – dead or alive. Several incidents have been reported where people deceased for decades also received the letter, including the former communist leader Béla Kun, executed in Moscow in the 1930s. The government’s spokesperson, however, said that the letters are taken from the official address list open to all political parties – and the mistakes must be due to an error from “the communist times,” and it is rude to hold the present government accountable for them.

On Sunday, the young liberal Momentum party finally, finally presented their program for the 2018 elections and revealed what they’re all about in a thoroughly coordinated, grandiose show. Chockfull of ambitious promises, it provides detailed plans such as “dismantling systematically institutionalised corruption,” paternal leave, progressive taxation, as well as keeping the border fence, with only the financial part kept vague – so how’s all this gonna be paid for? And I’m also still waiting to see a follow-up to that party program styled as an Ikea catalog…

The Őcsény village community, which achieved infamy in September for rejecting asylum status holder families, threatening the guesthouse owner with arson, and pushing the unanimously popular mayor to resign, has now had enough of all the hoopla. Most in the village wish no journalists came anymore, and to have peace – and the old mayor back – again. The future of the village is still unknown, as the interim mayor is largely unknown to the inhabitants, and most other candidates are way less popular.

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


Roman Broszkowski’s selection

It’s election week in Central Europe! This weekend, voters in Austria finished their parliamentary elections and on the 20th Czechs will head to the polls. It is within this context that Poland announced on Sunday the 15th, that it would not participate in the EU’s new asylum resettlement project. The relationship between the decision and recent regional elections is actually pretty straightforward. The winners in Austria, the Austrian People’s Party (OVP) and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) are both right wing, eurosceptic, and anti-immigrant; perfect matches for the Polish government. While many countries expressed fear at the fact that the FPO, which has Nazi roots, might be invited to join the government by OVP, Polish and Hungarian governments extended their warmest congratulations. This has generated speculation that Austria may join the informal right-wing coalition of Central European countries led by Poland’s PIS and Hungary’s FIDESZ parties. With the political cover of another regional ally, Poland definitely feels more comfortable rebuffing the EU’s line on immigration. These actions are also domestically popular; PiS also just posted it’s highest approval rating (47%) since 2015. The elections in the Czech Republic could further bolster Poland’s position if a right-wing government forms there too. The current front-runner, Andrzej Babis’s ANO, espouses a pro-business “centrist” right populism. I put “centrist” in quotes because the prime minster to be has said things like, “The biggest added value of the European Union is the national identity of each country. A strong Europe thanks to strong states – that’s logical, no? We have to fight for what our ancestors built here. If there will be more Muslims than Belgians in Brussels, that’s their problem. I don’t want that here. They won’t be telling us who should live here.”  Meanwhile the Polish Ambassador to Ukraine said that Ukrainian immigration to Poland actually helps both countries. So Poland’s real problem with immigration is only that they might be Muslims. Time (and us here at PC) will tell if the region slips further into the right and xenophobia.

The other story in Poland that should really be getting more attention is the DonCoal Trade scheme. Last week we talked about how Polish newspapers discovered that Poland may have accidently bought 11,000 tons of anthracite coal smuggled out of the Donbas by pro-Russian seperatists. Well on Thursday, The Jamestown Foundation republished a report by Ukrainian newspaper Liga stating that the real number is actually 93,000 tons and that trade has been happening since January. This raises the amount sold from $1.54 million to over $13 million. Additionally, it directly contradicts the Polish Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchórzewski who claimed that only 1 days worth of coal (11,000 tons) had been imported. At the center of the scheme are the Melnychuk brothers, Oleksander and Sergy. The brothers’ co-own a number of front companies that help transport the stolen coal around the world as well as other companies that are involved in its actual trading. Oleksander’s company DonCoal Trade is registered in Poland which is how the coal was bought there in the first place, but he is also a known “government official” of the break-away Luhansk People’s Republic. The situation is nowhere close to being cleared up as many questions remain. The company has been registered in Poland since 2012, have there been more deliveries since the war broke out in 2014? How was Oleksander able to keep his company in an EU member state? Did the Polish government know about the Melnychuks’ ties to secessionists? All of these questions rest on a backdrop of rising electrical usage in Poland and its government recently agreeing to an EU CO2 reduction deal only after recieving a carbon allowances covering 115 million tonnes. The demand for cheap coal keeps growing and hopefully so does this story.

Some other minor stories to look into: Polish country-wide protests supporting a doctors’ strike in Warsaw, opposition figures on both the left and right are lobbying the Polish President to veto his own party’s revised judicial reform proposal, and PiS MPs have announced that former Prime Minister Donald Tusk will be asked to testify about his government’s handling of the Amber Gold pyramid scheme back in 2012.

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


Featured photo by gato-gato-gato via Flickr.