Michal Chmela’s selection
Over the course of this weekend, the Czech Republic has taken its first steps towards removing the Russian infestation plaguing the Prague Castle; that’s right, the first round of presidential elections took place and it went as far as being noticed by some foreign media. The race between a cast of colorful characters including highlights such an arms dealer, a millionaire, a properly bigoted Catholic homophobe, a notoriously corrupt ex-PM, a musician and a racist has spit out two winners: our current beloved President, may his encounter with a half-naked lady give him a heart attack, and a man who turned being boring into an art form.
Jokes aside, Jiří Drahoš is a remarkably well-rounded candidate and being inoffensive might be just the antidote our country needs after five years of Zeman’s reign of drunken dementia, especially if he manages to unite the voters of his failed competitors who themselves have more or less unanimously (racist and arms dealer aside) pledged their support to him. The result would be a President who is not going to make any great changes but hopefully stop usurping the government’s executive powers and promoting racism and Russia. At this point, preventing the situation from even getting worse is about all we can hope for.
Getting there will not be easy, though. As ridiculous as Zeman saying that he’s young and at the top of his game while leaking embalming fluid was, he does have a whole propaganda machine at his side and the fact Drahoš is a non-politician without any scandals in his past is not going to stop it; let us remember the last Presidential elections, where the decisive vote was affected by false allegations and anonymous advertisements accusing Zeman’s competitor of links to Nazism. And the slander against Drahoš is already at full speed – since yesterday, we have so far found out he will arrest our brave patriots, allow our country to be overrun by Muslim hordes and is a member of the Illuminati to boot. Oh, and he worked for the Communist secret police and is a pedophile as well.
Which is really rather ironic since there indeed was a candidate who was in the Communist party and who had child porn in his computer – Zeman.
Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.
Anna Azarova’s selection
My favourite story of the year so far: a village in southern Hungary wanted to build a bus stop – but it wasn’t possible to apply for EU funds for bus stops, only for wildlife observation towers. So they built a wildlife observation tower: it’s not very tall and there’s not a lot of wildlife around – but there’s a spacious, sheltered waiting area downstairs. Could’ve fooled me.
The year also started pretty well for Hungary’s #1 oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros: as of now he owns 203 companies. Compare that to the 2 (yes, two) companies he owned in 2010 when Orbán’s Fidesz-KDNP came to power – or even the 104 he had 10 months ago. In the meantime, Index started compiling what we know about the new élite youth: do they take their money abroad? What do the hundreds of new millionaires invest in?
Anna Azarova is a graduate student in Budapest and a freelance translator.
Roman Broszkowski’s selection
Roman Broszkowski is an undergraduate International Politics student from New Jersey. His area of study is Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Poland’s ruling party is getting cocky. PiS is now pushing for even stricter abortion laws that would criminalize 95% of legal abortions in Poland by closing a loophole that allowed for abortion in the case of a congenital disorder present in the fetus. Currently abortion in Poland is only allowed if “the life of the foetus is under threat, there is a grave threat to the health of the mother, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.” However reducing abortion access is not a slam dunk crowd pleaser here, even if Poland remains a deeply Catholic country. Only 11% of Poles support measures that would further constrict reproductive freedom while almost 47% agree that restrictions should be relaxed. Yet numbers haven’t dissuaded PiS from rushing headlong towards a near complete prohibition of abortion nationwide. Kaczynski and Co. have tried this policy track before and backed off as a result of intense protest, but PiS is riding an all time high popularity wave. They feel confident and secure in their control of the government. Protesters have already to organize rallies outside the Parliament, but with PiS riding so high, reproductive rights activists will need record large numbers to block the move. If PiS and its allies succeed in passing new restrictions, it is likely that they will embrace the moment as ripe for aggressive legislative change. This bill and the new Polish electoral rules are the new government’s first test. 2018 might be the year PiS molds Poland in its image.