Poland’s state of emergency: Emerging Europe this week

poland border
Central Europe

Polish President Andrzej Duda has imposed a state of emergency in parts of two regions bordering Belarus amid an influx of migrants from the former Soviet state. The September 2 decision came following a request by his government earlier in the week. The emergency rules would ban demonstrations in a thin strip along the border as well as require people to carry identity documentation. It will last for 30 days but could be extended by Duda. About 3,000 migrants tried to enter Poland last month from Belarus. Poland last week began the construction of a 2.5-metre-tall fence along its 418-kilometre border with Belarus to slow the inflow.

Poland’s constitutional court on Tuesday reopened but then recessed its proceedings in a case over whether Polish or European Union law has primacy in the country. The Constitutional Tribunal said it would take up the question again on September 22. The court’s ruling, when it eventually comes, is expected to define the future relationship of the EU member nation with the rest of the bloc. On Wednesday, European Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said that Poland’s challenge to the primacy of European Union law over national law was holding up the release of 57 billion euros in EU recovery funds to Warsaw.

Also in Poland, PepsiCo has announced plans to build a new manufacturing plant in the southwest of the country to produce potato snacks for export to over 20 European markets. The firm claims that the factory, its fifth and largest investment in Poland so far, will be the biggest and most sustainable such facility in Europe. The one billion zloty (218 million euros) plant, producing Lay’s potato chips and Doritos tortilla chips, will be located near the town of Środa Śląska in Lower Silesia and is expected to be completed in 2025.

Romanian Prime Minister Florin Cîțu sacked his justice minister late on September 1, plunging the EU member’s governing coalition into crisis. Cîțu accused Justice Minister Stelian Ion of undermining a community development plan worth around 10 billion euros aimed at modernising infrastructure. The plan needed the Justice Ministry’s approval. “I will not accept ministers in the Romanian government who oppose the modernisation of Romania,” Cîțu told a news briefing. The move threatens a coalition made up of Cîțu’s Liberal party, Ion’s USR-PLUS and the ethnic Hungarians group, which jointly control 56 per cent of parliament. Following the sacking, USR-PLUS – which claims the development plan lacks oversight and would feed corruption – decided to withdraw its support for the prime minister and called for the start of coalition talks to form a new government.

Hungary has agreed with Russia on all the conditions for a new long-term gas supply deal to take effect from October 1, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said on his Facebook page on Monday. Szijjártó said the agreement with Gazprom is for 15 years, with an option to modify purchased quantities after 10 years. “We have also agreed on the price, which is much more favourable than that we paid under the deal that Hungary signed in 1995, which expires now,” he said, without giving exact details. He added the deal would be signed by the end of September and Gazprom would ship 4.5 billion cubic metres of natural gas to Hungary annually, via two routes: 3.5 billion cubic metres via Serbia and one billion cubic meters via Austria.

Slovakia on Tuesday announced it will halt the use of the Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine due to low demand among its population. “Today [Tuesday] is the last day when citizens of Slovakia who wanted to vaccinate can get the second dose of the Sputnik vaccine,” Russia’s state-run TASS news agency quoted Slovakia’s health ministry as saying. In total, only 18,500 Slovak citizens are said to have received both doses of the Russian vaccine. Slovakia had sold most of its Sputnik V doses back to Russia this summer, citing low demand.

Bulgaria will hold a presidential election on November 14, lawmakers decided on Thursday, as the politically fractured country also gears up for a snap parliamentary election likely to take place in the same month. Incumbent Rumen Radev, who has maintained high approval ratings since he was elected in 2016, is running for a second term. He is supported by the Socialists and the anti-establishment ITN party, and is an ardent critic of former premier Boyko Borissov, who led the country for most of the past decade until April. Inconclusive parliamentary elections in that month led to the appointment of an interim government by Radev. Snap national polls in July again produced a hung parliament and Bulgaria now looks set to hold its third national election of 2021 in November.

Eastern Europe

US President Joe Biden assured Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday that the United States opposes “Russian aggression” but he showed no sign of moving on requests to open NATO to the eastern European country. “The United States remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression and our support for Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” Biden told the Ukrainian president in the Oval Office. Zelensky, who spent Tuesday at the Pentagon pressing for military assistance to combat Russia and Russian-backed separatists, is only the second European leader to get a White House meeting so far under Biden.

The Georgian government has decided to turn down a 75 million euros loan from the European Union following an EU threat to cut financial assistance in response to Tbilisi’s failure to implement reforms. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili announced the refusal of the loan on August 31, and government officials have justified the move by a desire to reduce foreign debt and “high economic growth” that Tbilisi claims has obviated the need for the loan. The 150-million-Euro loan was offered to Georgia last year to help the country manage the Covid-19 pandemic. Half had already been disbursed, and the other half was conditioned on Georgia meeting certain political obligations, most notably judicial reforms aimed at reducing the control of the ruling party over the court system.

Russia will soon deliver a huge military hardware consignment to Belarus, including aircraft, helicopters and air defence systems, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko was quoted as saying on Wednesday by the Belta news agency. The delivery is likely to be interpreted as a further sign of Moscow’s unwavering support for Lukashenko who faced down the biggest opposition protests of his rule last year by overseeing a violent crackdown condemned by the West. Russian and Belarusian forces are set to hold large joint military exercises later this month. Russia sees its Belarusian ally as a security buffer on its western flank against the NATO military alliance and the European Union.

North East Europe

Estonia’s parliament elected the chief of a major national museum as the country’s new president Tuesday in a second round of voting after lawmakers rejected the appointment a day earlier. Estonian National Museum director Alar Karis secured support from 72 members of the 101-seat Riigikogu. Karis was the only candidate in both rounds, but he failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds support, or 68 votes, in Monday’s secret ballot. “I thank all of those who voted for me and also those who didn’t. I promise to be a good partner for the Riigikogu,” Karis, 63, said in a short speech after the tally was announced. The former state auditor and university leader will succeed Kersti Kaljulaid, Estonia’s first female president.

The first pride march in Lithuania’s second city, Kaunas, will move ahead, even as the municipality refuses to issue a permit. The organisers have published a list of demands which includes the recognition of gender identity of trans people and inclusive sex education. The event is planned for Saturday afternoon on the city’s main street, Laisvės Avenue. Kaunas authorities initially refused to issue a permit, but organisers sued the city and won the case. However, Kaunas Municipality has appealed the decision. The organisers have nevertheless said that the event will go ahead even if there is no ruling in time.

South East Europe

Serbia is becoming less enthusiastic about the process of joining the European Union as the procedure drags on and its citizens don’t see progress, President Aleksandar Vučić said this week. Vučić, Serbia’s most powerful politician since the nation started accession talks in 2014, has repeatedly complained that EU leaders haven’t given his country and five other Balkan membership aspirants a timetable for joining. “We were very enthusiastic about the accession process — today we are not,” Vučić said in a panel of Balkan and EU leaders in Bled, Slovenia, on Wednesday. “We don’t care anymore.”

European Union leaders will resolve an impasse over opening accession talks with North Macedonia once its neighbour Bulgaria resolves its political limbo, the bloc’s special envoy to the Western Balkans said this week. Miroslav Lajčák said starting negotiations with the former Yugoslav republic, whose accession path is being held up by Bulgaria – paralysed by two inconclusive general elections this year – in a dispute over North Macedonia’s name, the origin of its language and the two nation’s shared history, remained a “priority” for EU leaders. “We need to overcome this last obstacle with Bulgaria,” Lajčák said on Monday. “We will resolve it as soon as the political situation in Bulgaria allows it, or as soon as there is a political party there with a clear mandate to rule.”

Kosovo on Tuesday postponed the beginning of the school year for students up through high school by two weeks following a surge of coronavirus infections due to the delta variant. Perparim Kryeziu, the spokesman for the Kosovo government, told the Associated Press that “we have put up some new restrictive measures,” which include postponing classes until September 13. In neighbouring Albania, school was postponed until September 27. The Tirana government is urging people to get their vaccine shots, warning that otherwise it may make vaccines compulsory for health workers, teachers, professors and students. About one-third of Albania’s 2.8 million people have been vaccinated.

Central Asia

Tajik Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda says his country is unable to host many refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan, as thousands look to flee after Taliban insurgents took control of the country. Rahimzoda cited a lack of infrastructure to host Afghan refugees as the reason and called on international organisations, including the United Nations, to assist the Central Asian state to build such infrastructure. He was speaking during a meeting with Mulugeta Zewdie, the country director for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, on September 1. Rahimzoda noted that 80 Afghan families were currently in a neutral segment of the Tajik-Afghan border area and seeking to enter Tajikistan, fearing for their lives. Some 5,000 Afghan government troops have already entered Tajikistan as they fled from Taliban advances in recent weeks. The troops were later sent back to Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan meanwhile is warning the US that Afghan pilots trained by American forces who fled to the Central Asian country after the Taliban took over in Afghanistan may face expulsion. Hundreds of Afghan service members fled to Uzbekistan aboard dozens of US-supplied planes and helicopters, along with families and colleagues, after the Taliban seized control of the capital city of Kabul earlier this month. Uzbekistan, however, is now urging the US to extract those Afghan pilots to a different country to avoid clashes between them and the Taliban, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing officials. Uzbekistan has continued relations with the Taliban for years, the Journal noted.

An opposition politician in Kyrgyzstan has complained that police wiretapping of dozens of activists and opposition figures is tantamount to persecution for holding dissident views. Klara Sooronkulova, a leader of the liberal-leaning Reforma party, said on August 30 that the surveillance appears to have primarily targeted individuals critical of the current government. “Most of the people on the list have adopted an active civic position, they boldly and openly express their opinion and criticise current state policies. Wiretapping in order to collect information about the private life of these citizens is nothing more than persecution for dissent,” she said. The Interior Ministry responded by saying that any wiretapping it had done was carried out with approval from the courts as part of an investigation into the political turmoil that rocked the country in October.

Sources in Ashgabat’s health directorate say deaths from Covid-19 are rising in Turkmenistan, where the government has not publicly confirmed a single coronavirus infection since the start of the pandemic last year. The sources, who were not authorised to speak publicly on the topic, told RFE/RL that the daily death toll in the tightly controlled Central Asian state’s capital had reached 70 by last weekend. Around one million of the country’s six million or so residents live in the capital. The sources said Ashgabat’s hospitals were being overwhelmed, and confirmed earlier reports that medical authorities were discouraging patients from going to the hospital or referring them to a newly built hospital in the Yzgant, in the south-central region of Ahal.

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