A new Sheriff in town: Emerging Europe this week

Central Europe

Poland’s prime minister insisted on Tuesday that efforts by Middle Eastern migrants to enter the country from neighbouring Belarus are part of a plot by the Minsk regime to sow political instability in the EU. Mateusz Morawiecki spoke in Kuznica, in the east of country, during a visit to the border guards securing Poland’s — also the EU’s — border with Belarus. Almost 3,000 migrants have tried to enter illegally from Belarus this month alone, and a group of some 30 people — including from Afghanistan and Iraq — have remained at the border, sleeping outdoors for over two weeks. On Wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) requested that Poland and Latvia provide aid for the migrants stranded on the EU border with Belarus.

Bulgaria’s centre-right GERB party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov last Friday rejected the president’s offer to form a government after last month’s inconclusive vote, pushing the country a step closer to a third election this year. President Rumen Radev offered the mandate to GERB after the anti-establishment There Is Such a People party (ITN), which narrowly won the July poll, had failed to form a minority government. Borissov, who was at the helm of the government for more than a decade, lacks support from any other party in parliament after the current caretaker government made public allegations of widespread corruption during his rule. The president must now ask a third party to try to form a government, but political analysts are pessimistic about its chances, making a new election likely.

Hungary raised interest rates for the third time in as many months this week as focus shifted to whether policy makers may be preparing to slow Europe’s most aggressive tightening cycle. The central bank raised the benchmark rate as expected by 30 basis points to 1.5 per cent, the highest in the European Union and matching the pace of hikes in June and July. The central bank on Tuesday also raised the overnight deposit rate to 0.55 per cent from 0.25 per cent and increased the one-week collateralised loan rate to 2.45 per cent from 2.15 per cent. The Hungarian forint has appreciated 3.2 per cent against the euro over the last month.

Romania will start issuing electronic ID cards in September in line with EU regulations to replace and harmonise the various identity cards that currently exist in countries across the bloc, Interior Minister Lucian Bode said this week. Months of disagreements have preceded the new documents, the first new version since 1997. The main bone of contention is how sex/gender appears on the new document, and if a third gender should be permitted in line with EU rules. Not allowing a third gender could breach EU law, some analysts believe. The influential Romanian Orthodox Church and some politicians want to keep the traditional way of describing the sexes. They want the new document to reflect that. Bode said on Monday however that Romania would opt for the term ‘gen’ rather than ‘sex’, following four months of talks. ‘Gen’ is a translation of ‘gender’, he said.

A Polish city is selling the remains of an 18th century palace after abandoning plans for renovation as too expensive. Local authorities are now looking to private investors, who will be able to bid for the building at an auction in November, with a starting price of 37.8 million złoty (8.2 million euros). The Hatzfeld Palace in Wrocław was built between 1765-73, at a time when the city, then known by the German name of Breslau, was part of Prussia. It was designed in neoclassical style by Carl Gotthard Langhans, the same architect who later created the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. During World War II, the building served as a headquarters for Karl Hanke, the leader of Gau Lower Silesia, an administrative division of Nazi Germany. During the Red Army’s siege of Breslau in 1945, the palace was severely damaged by Soviet artillery. After the war, some remaining parts of the building collapsed or were demolished, and the ruins were used as a film set in postwar Poland (to which Breslau, now known by the Polish name of Wrocław, had passed).

Eastern Europe

Ukraine’s president on Tuesday urged closer ties between the ex-Soviet nation and NATO and the European Union in a speech marking the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence. Ukraine celebrated its independence day on Tuesday with a military parade and massive festivities in the capital Kyiv. Opening the parade, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that a strong Ukraine is a country that dreams ambitiously and acts decisively. “Such a country becomes NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partner; such a country is officially supported by others when it applies to join the European Union,” Zelensky said. Ukraine didn’t officially become independent until the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. But like most of the 15 former Soviet republics, it declared its sovereignty immediately after the failed hard-line coup against reformist Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

President Maia Sandu says Moldova wants its relations with Russia to be based on pragmatism and will work to prevent a destabilisation of the situation with regard to the frozen conflict between Chișinău and its Moscow-backed breakaway region, Transnistria. Sandu, who defeated Russia-backed incumbent Igor Dodon in November on a ticket of closer relations with the West, called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria in an interview with RFE/RL on the 30th anniversary of Moldova’s independence from the Soviet Union, August 23. “We want a pragmatic relationship with the Russian Federation,” Sandu told RFE/RL. “First of all we want peace, we are in a complicated region, we have a frozen conflict on our territory. For me, the most important goal is not to allow a destabilisation of the situation, and I will negotiate with whomever necessary to reach this goal.”

Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party has rejected calls to delay municipal elections, criticising the country’s public defender as a “political activist”, for making such a suggestion. On Monday, Public Defender Nino Lomjaria lambasted the Georgian authorities for relaxing anti-Covid-19 regulations earlier this summer and called on the authorities and political groups to start discussing delaying municipal elections, currently scheduled for October 2. Georgia is currently in its worst wave of the pandemic yet, with nearly 60,000 active cases. As of 24 August, Georgian health authorities accounted for 6,891 deaths by Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, including 1,038 fatalities this month so far.

A total of 3,773 Armenian servicemen were killed during the 44-day war with Azerbaijan last autumn, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in giving the first official military death toll in the conflict over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region. Speaking to lawmakers on August 24 to introduce the government’s new five-year plan, Pashinyan said that the fate of another 243 soldiers remained unknown, while some prisoners had yet to return home.

Sheriff Tiraspol on Wednesday became the first Moldovan football team to qualify for the Champions League, defeating Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 on aggregate in a play-off. Moldova is typically described as the poorest country in Europe but Sheriff – based in Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria – will now earn at least 16 million euros in guaranteed prize money from UEFA, European football’s governing body. The team, which includes just one Moldovan (a naturalised Brazilian) in its squad, will face Spanish giants Real Madrid, Italy’s Inter and Ukraine’s Shakthar Donetsk in the group stage, which begins next month.

North East Europe

Swedbank has raised its forecast for Estonia’s economic growth this year by five percentage points to eight per cent, up from three per cent in the spring. Economic growth of eight per cent would represent Estonia’s highest growth in the past 15 years. Swedbank said it raised its forecast for this year as GDP growth in the first quarter of the year was stronger than previously expected. “This sharp jump in growth provided additional momentum also for the rest of the year. This year’s economic growth is going to be broad-based, driven by strong private consumption, investment and exports,” said Tonu Mertsina, chief economist at Swedbank Estonia.

Lithuania said on Monday it would complete a 508 kilometre fence along its border with Belarus by September next year to stop migrants it says are crossing in record numbers orchestrated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Lithuania, Latvia and Poland have reported major increases in migrants reaching their territory from Belarus and have accused Lukashenko of using them to put pressure on the European Union to lift sanctions against his country. “The physical barrier is vital for us to repel this hybrid attack, which the Belarus regime is undertaking against Lithuania and the EU,” Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė said.

South East Europe

The Serbian Defence Ministry on Tuesday denied any joint activities with the military of Montenegro or any presence of its personnel in the neighbouring country. “The Defence Ministry states in response to ill-intentioned claims in the public that reports of Serbian military personnel moving illegally through Montenegro are absolutely untrue,” a press release said. Montenegrin media had reported that a Serbian military police special purpose unit, the Cobras, was in Montenegro along with agents from Serbia’s top civilian security and intelligence agency (BIA) for a “final security risk assessment” ahead of the enthronement of Bishop Joanikije as the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro at Cetinje Monastery on September 5.

Amnesty International’s arms experts have identified Serbian-manufactured weapons in videos posted by armed groups operating in the Sahel, including an Islamic State affiliate which has claimed responsibility for hundreds of civilian deaths. The new rifles, some the latest available models, match trade records of Serbia’s sales to Burkina Faso, suggesting the weapons were recently sold to the government before falling into the hands of armed groups. Amnesty International’s analysis of commercial trade data also shows that Czechia, France and Slovakia have exported large quantities of small arms and light weapons to Sahel governments since widespread conflict broke out. Serbia, the Czech Republic, France and Slovakia have all ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which prohibits the transfer of arms if there is a risk they will be used to commit or facilitate human rights violations.

Authorities in North Macedonia on Monday started issuing new identity cards to citizens bearing the constitutional name of the state. The new ID cards state that the citizenship of the holder is “Macedonian/Citizen of the Republic of North Macedonia” in the state’s Slavic language as well as in English. Details on the cards of ethnic Albanian citizens of the state will be entered automatically in the Albanian language. Citizens of other ethnic groups can also request that their details be entered in the language and script that they use. Last month, North Macedonia starting issuing passports bearing the country’s new name. The issuing of new police ID cards and passports is an obligation of the state under the Prespa Agreement with Greece.

Albanian police have arrested two people for allegedly hurling tear gas canisters during a concert by a Bosnian Serb musician whom many in the country accuse of not condemning the 1998-99 war in Kosovo. A statement said Redon Leka, 21, was arrested after hurling a tear gas canister while songwriter Goran Bregović was performing Sunday night at the Korca Beer Fest, 165 kilometres southeast of the capital, Tirana. Another man was arrested after trying to stop police from taking Leka away. Bregović didn’t stop singing but the tear gas caused panic among some fans. Bregović’s presence had sparked a national debate, with some condemning him for not speaking out against Serb atrocities on ethnic Albanians in neighbouring Kosovo. Prime Minister Edi Rama denounced criticism against Bregović as a “medieval hysteria” against “one of the most extraordinary musicians of the Balkans.”

Central Asia

Former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariev, who was charged with corruption during the development of the Kumtor gold mine project, has been remanded in pretrial detention. Dozens of Sariev’s supporters rallied in front of the Bishkek City Court on August 25 as the court rejected Sariev’s request to be transferred to house arrest. The 58-year-old Sariev, who served as the Central Asian nation’s economy minister from 2011-15 and as prime minister in 2015-16, was arrested in early August and charged with allegedly aiding Canada’s Centerra Gold Company, Kumtor’s operator, in covering up ecological damage caused by its mining operations. Earlier this year, the Kyrgyz government temporarily took control of the mine in what President Sadyr Japarov has called a necessary move to address environmental and safety violations.

Russia began evacuating more than 500 people from Afghanistan on Wednesday while at the same time holding military exercises for its tank forces in neighbouring Tajikistan. The US exit from Afghanistan is a security headache for Moscow, which sees Central Asia as part of its southern defensive flank and fears radical Islamism spreading into the region. Russia is holding a month of military exercises in Tajikistan, a Moscow ally, and has reinforced its base there. Russia’s Defence Ministry said it had deployed a number of T-72 tanks to Tajikistan’s mountains and practiced long-range firing at moving targets, the Interfax news agency reported.

China’s state-owned CNPC has started work to set up new wells at Turkmenistan’s giant natural gas fields in exchange for future gas supplies, news reports said Tuesday. It will take China National Petroleum Corporation two and a half years to make three new wells at the Galkynysh field operational, Turkmen media reported. Each will have a daily output of three million cubic meters of gas. Under the deal with CNPC, Turkmenistan will pay for its services by supplying 17 billion cubic metres of gas a year for the period of three years to a total of 51 billion cubic metres of gas.

Kazakhstan said on Wednesday it would ban unvaccinated people from shopping malls, restaurants and cafes on weekends in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19. People wanting to shop or eat out will have to show a “green” status on a mobile app, proving that they have had a shot, or a recent negative test or have recovered from the disease within the past three months, the government said. The order comes into effect on Saturday, August 28.

Photo: FC Sheriff official Facebook page.

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