PC Press Digest

Weekly Press Digest – January 29

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

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Michal Chmela’s selection

The number one news item is obviously the re-election of our beloved President, may his long-suffering cronies slip something into his daily slop, but this has been reflected on long and hard elsewhere. It has gained some notoriety in foreign media, though. About the only hope for the country lies in Zeman’s apparently rapidly deteriorating health so with any luck the bastard will kick the bucket before I run out of creative ways of wishing death upon him.

A somewhat hilarious development in local politics ensued when the de facto head of the social democratic party announced upon being officially elected such, he would return the party to the Left and “sever it from influence of Miloš Zeman“. Which would sound fine and dandy, if the same man wasn’t one of the strongest pro-Zeman voices in the party and among the first to congratulate the freshly re-minted alcoholic-in-chief. Still, the slowly unraveling collapse of what was once the strongest party in the country should be fun to watch.

And, last but not the least, the current out-of-office (wanted by police) PM Andrej Babiš has announced he will be travelling to Brussels to reassure the EU of our country still being firmly in it (while defrauding European money), even more firmly refusing the immigrant quotas (which were never really on the table in the first place – the issue was with paying the fines for refusing them) and most of all to assure Juncker that the law and justice (as opposed to Law and Justice) are still firmly in place and working in this country, as evidenced by the fact a man wanted by the police can be PM.

Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.


Hana Grgić’s selection

Just because you couldn’t read about it in the media, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. It seems that the media in the Balkans often tend to go blind even when thousands of people are marching through the cities. But, once you pay, this blindness goes away and the front page can be yours. Needless to say, very few are actually able to pay, which leaves citizen’s voices mostly unheard. Ask the activists from the Ne da(vi)mo Beograd (Don’t let Belgrade d(r)own) initiative – they can tell a lot about it. Once you start facing media censorship followed by continuous imputations and attacks, one thing is certain: the media is not your ally.

On Monday 22nd, the initiative started to collect signatures for  the upcoming local elections in March 2018. Meetings in local communities were held to offer the citizens the opportunity to sign the list, be involved in discussions and suggest improvements with the proposed programme. Although Ksenija Radovanović is the candidate for the major, the purpose of the initiative is to act as a team, which means that the activists and citizens working with the initiative now will have the opportunity to enter the City Assembly. The process cannot be perceived only as a campaign but also as an open space for citizens’ participation in the development of the city. After all, the change comes from below. Drawing the inspiration and support from different initiatives from all around the Europe, in the past few years’ the initiative was an eyesore for the authorities. So far they have faced manipulations, accusations, threats and, as mentioned above, media censorship and malicious media representation. Whoever wants to know more about the initiative should NOT read the majority of Serbian media.

The beginning of 2018 was rough for the Croatian media. The ridiculous Croatian government used the holiday break to produce more and more goofs. This week, however, I just couldn’t find anything that was interesting enough – maybe my criteria and hunger just became stronger. But the decision in Bulgaria on the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, commonly known as the Istanbul Convention, just confirmed the darkest thoughts. GERB is withdrawing the Istanbul Convention and postponing ratification until after the Bulgarian EU Presidency “because of the disagreement between religious and political groups saying that it could promote a moral plight”. This could potentially encourage the very same decision in Croatia.  The strongest opponent, surprisingly, was the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

Hana Grgić is a feminist with a cat. Studied political science and journalism in Zagreb. Left Croatia, now based in Berlin.


Anna Azarova’s selection

Although true from their takeover in 2010 on, after the beginning of the so-called “refugee crisis” in September 2015, the government’s political meaning-making project centred even more strongly around being more European than Europe, defending Christendom from Islam, liberalism, and “gender-ideology;” which accelerated again in the past year with the pronouncement of Soros as public enemy #1. In the past two weeks, however, governmental communication has become more confusing to follow. Two weeks ago, the Minister of Interior claimed, that no, Soros is not organising illegal immigration. We need to Stop Soros, but no, not him personally… And last week it turned out that despite having been inciting hate against refugees for two years and proclaiming Hungary “Europe’s only migrant-free zone,” Hungary has not only accepted 1297 refugees, but is also running a housing program, funding the same organisations targeted in the “Stop Soros” law package – which several government members, including Orbán spoke of as if it were normal. And, of course, it is – except for the “reality show” we’ve been running for 2 years.

The electoral campaigns are rolling on, and several oppositional parties announced willingness to cooperate with and recall their candidates in support of each other – so the Election Commission decided that a party can only have a party-list at the elections if they have at least 27 single constituent candidates, as well as candidates in 9 counties. This would be okay for the two bigger parties MSZP and PM (the formerly ruling and still struggling with having been discredited socialists and the green–centre left liberals); but questionable for the others. On the other hand, RTL, one of Hungary’s two commercial TV channels (the one which isn’t a mouthpiece) decided it will broadcast parties’ ads. According to election law, commercial channels can decide whether they do this or not (and if they do, it has to be balanced), and after deciding not to in 2014, this decision is pretty much in line with RTL’s growing criticism of the government in the last couple of years.

But what would happen if someone else actually won? According to Átlátszó’s calculation, the national elite is in €417 million’s worth of “politically risky” debt: in the past years, so many loans have been given basically for free, that several banks will likely go bankrupt. Click on the link to check interactive infographics, we like stats over here at PC.

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


Roman Broszkowski’s selection

Back in October, I added this innocuous line to the end of my digest section: “Polish newspapers announced that the Polish government had bought 11,000 tons of anthracite coal indirectly from the Luhansk People’s Republic, the pro-Russian breakaway region of Ukraine. The coal was smuggled out of Ukraine by Russian secessionists, re-labeled in Russia, and finally sold in Poland by a company called DonCoalTrade.” At the time the story appeared to be just an embarrassing blimp on the international arena. However, over the following weeks, DonCoalTrade and its dealing between Poland and the LPR revealed themselves to be part of a larger conspiracy involving funding for terrorism, illegal resource extraction, and money laundering. For a quick summary of the developments back in October check here. Essentially the scheme involved a member of the separatist government, Oleksandr Melnychuk, conducting business in Poland without repercussions due a curious fluke where he and his brother, Sergiy, avoided being put on any international sanctions list. Well the news this week is that their luck has run out. While visiting Poland, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a series of new sanctions directed against Russia and its Donbas proxies. The updated list now includes both Melnychuk brothers and Oleksandr’s company based in Poland. While a forceful step in the right direction, the new American sanctions might be skin deep if similar sanctions are imposed by the EU.

In the meantime, Tillerson also announced US support for preventing Gulf Stream 2’s completion. The Polish government has been vigorously lobbying the American’s for their support, seeing recent Russo-American tensions following the American election as perfect opportunity to leverage their reluctant allies.  At this time, like the sanctions, Tillerson’s support has an unclear impact. Other than labeling the pipeline “not a healthy piece of infrastructure,” suggesting a counter pipeline from Norway to Poland, and offering to increase LNG exports from the US, Tillerson was short on concrete ways to prevent the Russian plan from being accomplished. It’s fate rests on several factors including continued support from the German SPD and if the EU’s proposed gas pipeline rules will be enacted and enforced.

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 Roberto Taddeo via Flickr.