The show featured three case studies in which only one victim showed his face—and he was speaking from Canada. The reports illustrated the hostility and disbelief victims face in Poland when they tell their stories. They highlighted the Church’s stubborn refusal to take any responsibility as an institution and, worse, the individual priests’ apparent sense of impunity.
One of the three items also featured my own experience whilst trying to investigate a case for France 24 television. We had spoken to a man who told us he had been abused in the late 1970s by someone who was now rector of a parish in Szczecin. We travelled to the parish and found the cleric in question (who cannot be named for legal reasons) leading mass. Afterwards, I asked him whether he had any comment to make on the allegations, and got an astonishing reaction. Accusing us of filming illegally, the priest led both me and the cameraman into the rectory… and locked us in.
After a few minutes we tried to escape, and were violently blocked by the cleric. Fortunately, in the scuffle that ensued he dropped his keys and we were able to get out. Our detention had lasted less than ten minutes and nobody was hurt. But since we had managed to film the whole thing on two cameras, we gave some of the footage to local journalists.The story made the national news the following day, prompting a degree of fuss, though not exactly an uproar.
What is remarkable is the reaction from the Church. For two days neither parish nor diocese would comment at all. Then came a statement from the diocese spokesman to the effect that they were looking into the possibility of charging us with trespassing and slander. According to prosecutors no such complaint has yet been lodged. We had already reported the incident to the police.
The spokesman also told TVN he had no knowledge of paedophilia charges against the priest in question. The very same spokesman’s signature is on documents relating to the formal complaint the victim lodged with the diocese more than two years ago.
Back then, the bishop promised to investigate the matter, and both victim and priest were questioned. But as far as the victim is aware, there was no conclusion.The priest continued to work with minors, in clear breach of the Polish Church’s own rules, which state that a priest suspected of abuse must be distanced from working with children, pending investigation.
According to the Szczecin diocese, this particular rector continues to work even after the latest incident. TVN’s reporter, however, found no-one in the town who could confirm this. In fact, no one had seen him since our adventure. Clerics accused of abuse often vanish in this way, only to resurface in some faraway parish a little later.
Over the past decade media have regularly denounced such practices in America, Ireland and other countries. Huge scandals have erupted, forcing the Church to take responsibility and enhance safeguards. Not so in Poland, which has the highest proportion of practising Catholics in Europe (bar Malta). Cases do emerge, and priests are occasionally found guilty in the courts. But the Church has not paid any compensation to victims, and the true extent of abuse remains largely unknown.
Victims’ testimonies, gathered in a book published earlier this year by Ekke Overbeek, a Dutch journalist, would suggest that abuse in Poland is widespread and well-hidden. But though the dioceses must have, at the very least, information on the numbers of formal complaints they receive, the Church publishes no statistics.
Recently a radio station, TOK FM, sent a written request for information to Poland’s dioceses. None of the replies so far have been very helpful; one simply states, in capital letters, “It is none of your business”.
TOK FM’s initiative is another sign that this year, pressure from the media is slowly mounting. Mr Overbeek’s book led several publications to report on the phenomenon, though he remains sceptical of Polish editors’ willingness to really follow things up. Fear of Church power is one problem; another is fear of losing viewers and readers by broaching an unpopular topic.
Mr Overbeek has helped to inspire victims of sexual abuse to create a support organisation. They formally registered it earlier this month, and named it “Be Not Afraid” in a somewhat ironic quotation of the revered Polish Pope, John Paul II. The message is intended to encourage victims to speak out. It could equally be directed at journalists.]]>
HUNGARY and Germany are usually the best of friends. So the current diplomatic spat between Budapest and Berlin is raising eyebrows across central Europe.
It all started on May 16th, when Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, told an annual meeting of politicians and businessmen and women that while Berlin was concerned about the centralisation of political power under Viktor Orbán (pictured above), the Hungarian prime minister, the problem could be resolved. “We will do anything to get Hungary onto the right path – but not by sending in the cavalry right away.”
Most observers saw Mrs Merkel’s remarks as a pointed dig at Peer Steinbrück, Germany’s opposition leader, who is running against her in the autumn elections. Mr Steinbrück has been a vocal critic of Hungary, and even suggesting that the country could be excluded from the European Union.
Yet any mention of German military action is still deeply sensitive in Hungary. The Nazis invaded in March 1944 and met little resistance. The Hungarian state readily cooperated with the Nazis although Admiral Horthy, the country’s leader, sent out feelers to the Allies. Horthy stayed in power until October 1944, when he was finally toppled in a coup backed by the SS.
In an apparent response to Mrs Merkel’s remarks Mr Orbán said in a radio interview on May 17th: “The Germans have in the past sent the cavalry against Hungary, in the form of tanks, and we ask them not to send them again. It was not a good idea and it didn’t work.”
This statement caused a furore in Berlin, where politicians are even touchier than their Hungarian counterparts about references to the second world war. The Social Democrats, the Greens and even an MP from the ruling Christian Democratic Union, all weighed in with fresh salvoes against Budapest. Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, opined that Mr Orbán’s statement was “a regrettable lapse that we clearly reject”. Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, told the website of Der Spiegel, a German weekly, that he was certain that Mr Orbán “understood full well that the chancellor was sending an ironic warning in Hungary's direction—but his populist leanings won't let him refrain from attacking even his fellow party friend Merkel”, referring to the fact that Mr Orbán's Fidesz party is a sister party of Mrs Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. “The fact that Orbán reacted this way shows just how vulnerable he is,” he added,
Even so, Mr Orbán’s bluntness is unlikely to damage his standing at home, and nor will it derail Hungarian-German relations, which remain strong. To send a conciliatory signal to Berlin, the Hungarian ministry of foreign affairs quickly sent out a statement saying that the prime minister “reacted to the suggestion made by Peer Steinbrück…. the Hungarian Prime Minister is in complete agreement with the position of the German Chancellor”.
Both countries have invested, materially and otherwise, in their good relationship. German manufacturers, especially from the automobile sector, continue to pour money into the country. Cultural ties are as strong as ever. Despite the imposition of crisis taxes, there are 6,000 German businesses in Hungary, employing 300,000 people, a sizeable proportion of the labour force. Budapest is home to the German-language Andrassy University, the only institution of its kind outside Germany.
CORRECTION: The first version of this post had a rather complicated final paragraph, which confused even its author. This has since been deleted. The change was made on May 22nd.
NOT even Georgia’s bitter election campaign last year saw this level of animosity. To mark the International Day against Homophobia on May 17th, a small number of gay rights activists planned a rally in central Tbilisi. In response, several thousands of Georgians joined churchmen to stage a large counter-demonstration. What the authorities hoped would be an orderly event descended into violence as an angry mob broke through a police cordon to break up the rally. Police evacuated some gay rights activists in buses, which the crowd then attacked. Others took refuge where they could. In total, 28 people were injured, according to the minister of health, and 14 ended up in hospital.
This was not what the government had in mind. On May 14th, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the prime minister, said “sexual minorities are the same citizens as we are… society will gradually get used to it”. A similar event in 2012 ended with scuffles between gay rights activists and their orthodox opponents, so he promised a strong police presence to protect the rights of the minority. Given that reluctant governments elsewhere have forbidden gay pride demonstrations on public safety grounds (for instance, in Russia), this was a step forward.
But on May 16th Patriach Ilia II, head of the Georgian Church, called for the rally to be cancelled, claiming it would be “a violation of majority’s rights and as an insult to their traditions, religion and… way of thinking”. Homosexuality is a “grave sin”, he added. Encouraged by his words, a small group of Orthodox activists and priests then held an all-night vigil in front of the parliament building. Thousands joined them for the counter-demonstration the next morning.
On May 19th, Mr Ivanishvili praised the police for their actions, noting that 20 policemen were injured in the violence. But by any reckoning, they were under-prepared. A group of Georgian non-governmental organizations went further, arguing that the police did too little to protect the rally itself, and focused instead on evacuating those under threat. Once they had done so, the NGOs claim, the police became inactive, enabling further reprisals against gay rights activists.
Homophobia is deeply entrenched in Georgian society: in a 2011 public opinion survey, 88% of respondents stated that homosexuality is never justified. The key question now is how the government will react. Mr Ivanishvili condemned the violence, and promised to deal with the perpetrators “according to the law”. That is a start. Could clergymen face trial? Senior clerics admit that this is possible. After all, robed figures were at the heart of the violence. But is it likely? So far, there have been no arrests.
The church is certainly not showing any remorse. On May 17th, one senior cleric called this “the order of the nation”. On May 19th, he blamed the gay rights activists for the violence, because they had provoked the sensibilities of the majority.
Since the church is the most respected institution in Georgia, and the Patriarch by far its most trusted public figure, Georgian politicians are wary of criticizing it. After the short war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, the previous government trebled the amount of financial support it gave the church. In the last budget, the new government increased it yet further-perhaps in recognition for its implicit support during the election campaign.
Yet failure to stand up for gay rights in the aftermath of this violence will undermine the government’s European aspirations. The Dutch government was quick to register its shock at what happened. Georgia’s beleaguered gay rights activists will doubtless debate how best to proceed in light of these events. Mr Ivanishvili would do well to commit to more effective protection of a similar rally next year. Otherwise, May 17th 2013 will go down not as a day of protest against homophobia in Georgia, but rather of its triumph.]]>
Bearer shares make it impossible to know if state officials making decisions over public tenders are shareholders in the very firms that stand to profit from the contract. In cases where prosecutors or the police suspect such wrongdoing, they cannot prove it. Bearer shares are not registered with any central authority, regulatory agency or tax office. Often the company itself is unable to track the transfer of bearer shares between owners. The financing of major Czech political parties and their related clientelist networks are often intertwined with the practice. A study earlier this year found that 14,000 out of 25,000 of the country’s joint stock companies have outstanding bearer shares.
Following years of public frustration, every member of the lower house of parliament present voted to ban bearer shares on May 7th. As of January 2014 the new law will require holders of bearer shares to exchange anonymous shares for registered shares or deposit their shares under their name either at the Prague Stock Exchange or with a bank.
There are thousands of high-profile, nefarious examples of bearer shares in action. One saw Prague City Hall pay more than 1.5 billion Czech crowns ($75m) to a private firm of unclear ownership to create a system of electronic cards for use as a transit passes and library cards. Another saw a government subsidy programme meant to encourage investment in solar power plants overrun by applicants as newly formed and anonymously owned firms sought to capitalise on state funds. In the private sector, bearer shares were at the heart of the financial troubles of one of the Czech Republic’s most popular football clubs, Slavia Praha, as anonymous owners allegedly used the club to launder money while stripping it of assets and diluting the ownership stake of legitimate investors.
While Czech anti-corruption campaigners are praising the new law, many find it equally discouraging that it has taken so long to tackle bearer shares. Even a noted tax haven like the British Virgin Islands began regulating the practice as far back as 2009. A 2012 report by the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), an inter-governmental group formed at a G7 summit, connected bearer shares with financing of terrorism and weapons proliferation. Among the report’s recommendations were for countries where bearer shares were still legal to “consider measures to facilitate access to beneficial ownership and control information by financial institutions”.
Petr Nečas, the Czech prime minster, campaigned on a promise to outlaw bearer shares. However, members of his Civic Democratic Party (ODS) proved to be the final hurdle in passing the bearer-share ban. As recently as February ODS MPs were trying to tack on an amendment to the bill that would have seen existing bearer shares grandfathered around regulations, meaning only newly issued bearer shares would be subject to the new law. That proposed amendment was eventually defeated. In a rarity on the Czech political scene, the proposed ban drew support from across the political spectrum. The law still requires the signature of Miloš Zeman, the president, but this remains a formality.]]>
THE arrest of Naser Kelmendi (pictured above), one of the most notorious gangsters in the Balkans, has unleashed a stream of speculation in the region’s press about who is connected to whom in the seamy underworld of Balkan crime and politics. Reputed to have dealt in drugs, a charge Mr Kelmendi, has denied, he is the only individual from the Balkans on the American Treasury’s so-called Kingpin list of “Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers”.
Mr Kelmendi, who comes from Peja (Pec in Serbian) in western Kosovo, was arrested in Pristina on May 5th on the basis of an Interpol warrant. He is also a citizen of Bosnia, where he has been based since the end of the war and is wanted for “attempted murder...[and] the sale of and distribution of illegal narcotics in South America, Turkey, Serbia, Croatia and other Western European countries.”
Along with his sons Mr Kelmendi has been investigated more than a dozen times in Bosnia but he has never been prosecuted there. In 1976 he served time for attempted murder in Kosovo. Last year he fled Bosnia, after being put on the American Kingpin list and after the Bosnians indicted him for the alleged 2007 murder of Ramiz Delalic “Celo”, a crime boss with whom he is believed to have clashed in a turf war with local Albanian mafiosi.
Mr Delalic was a legendary figure in the Bosnian capital. He had stood trial (and been acquitted) for the murder on March 1st 1992 of Nikola Gardovic who was killed at his son’s wedding. Mr Gardovic’s death is regarded by many as the first of the Bosnian war.
In 2008 SIPA, the Bosnian police investigation agency, gave a presentation to Interpol about Mr Kelmendi. In 2009, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) produced a major expose on him. They noted that while the Bosnian police said he controlled regional drug trafficking, they had given him and his sons firearms permits.
According to the OCCRP, the report by SIPA linked Mr Kelmendi’s organisation to drug trafficking as well as cigarette smuggling, money laundering and loan sharking. Even more importantly it also pointed to links between him and politicians in Kosovo and Bosnia.
Miranda Patrucic, regional editor of the OCCRP in Sarajevo, says that the reason that Mr Kelmendi was never brought to trial in Bosnia is that he had protection owing to the fact that he had connections “at the highest level of business and politics”. Fahrudin Radoncic, the Bosnian security minister, said: “we will use all diplomatic means to have Kelmendi tried in Sarajevo”. In the past Mr Radoncic has done legal business with Mr Kelmendi though he has denied knowing him personally.
Even so, on May 9th Zijad Turkovic, who is on trial for organised crime in Sarajevo, repeated an allegation he had made earlier in court that Mr Radoncic had given him money to murder Mr Kelmendi in 2010. E-mails to Mr Radoncic’s spokesman asking for a response to the allegation were not answered though a source close to him said that the accusations were baffling as he could see “no connection or motive”. He pointed out that as a powerful press baron and owner of the leading daily, Avaz, Mr Radoncic could use his media clout to settle scores if he wanted to. He speculated that there might be a political reason for the accusation.
The arrest of Mr Kelmendi, if it is followed through by a trial, could be a significant turning point in the fight against organised crime in the region. Rumours about who is frightened of any potential trial, in case Mr Kelmendi talks about high-level protection, is reaching fever pitch. It is being widely reported that Darko Saric, the region’s most infamous fugitive and alleged cocaine smuggler, has agreed to turn himself in and give evidence against Mr Kelmendi, though there is as yet no proof of this.
Kurir, a Serbian newspaper which has a reputation for having good sources in the Serbian intelligence services, also says that Mr Kelmendi could be “dangerous” for Milorad Dodik, the president of the Serb part of Bosnia. Serbia’s intelligence services are now under the control of Aleksandar Vucic, the powerful deputy prime minister. During Serbia’s last election Mr Dodik supported Mr Vucic’s political opponents. One Bosnian source says that this could be a means of Mr Vucic using the Kelmendi affair to send some form of warning message to Mr Dodik. The Bosnian Serb leader has dismissed the story as lies.
In Kosovo and Montenegro too there is much discussion about whether Mr Kelmendi had top-level protection or not. In Kosovo Vlora Citaku, the minister for European affairs, said she was “proud that our police arrested one of the most wanted men in the Balkans”, and this showed Kosovo’s resolve to “fight cross-border organised crime.” On May 14th Elvis, one of Kelmendis sons, was convicted in Pristina for attempted murder in Sarajevo. Maybe Ms Citaku is right.]]>
THREE months after the resignation of the government of Boyko Borisov (pictured above) on the back of the biggest demonstrations in 16 years, Bulgarians went to the polls on May 12th. The result of the election will do little to give Bulgaria the clear leadership and stability the poorest member state of the European Union so badly needs.
After a campaign marred by wiretapping scandals and accusations of vote-rigging, Mr Borisov’s centre-right GERB party won 31% of the vote against the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which got 27% of the vote, according to preliminary official results. The Turkish minority party, DPS, came third with about 11%. The fourth party to enter parliament was Ataka, an ultra-nationalist group, which received about 7% of the votes.
“For the first time in Bulgaria’s new history a party has won two consecutive elections,” said Georgi Markov, a former judge at the Constitutional Court. “However, also for the first time, a party has won with such a few number of votes, just about a million.” The outcome of the vote suggests a hung parliament, observers say. With 98 deputies GERB is well short of a majority in the 240-seat parliament. The party lost about a third of its votes compared with the elections in 2009.
GERB’s slim lead means that weeks of horse trading and backroom deals are likely to ensue. This is about the last time Bulgaria needs at a time when people are angry and disillusioned with the political elite. A coalition including GERB seems unlikely because all party leaders refused to negotiate with Mr Borisov. A minority government led by GERB is also improbable. In fact, there are a few options for a stable government according to Ognyan Minchev, a political analyst. “The results will probably be a ‘hidden’ coalition, whether it’s called a programme or expert government.”
The leader of the Socialists, Sergey Stanishev, proposed such a programme cabinet led by the BSP and supported by DPS and Ataka. How such a configuration would work is unclear: the nationalist Ataka has long antagonised the Turkish minority party and wanted it banned.
This was a listless election at an unhappy time. Voter turnout was at a record low with just above 50%. The run-up to the election was overshadowed by scandals. A day before the elections prosecutors found 350,000 unaccounted-for ballots at a printing house whose owner is reportedly close to Mr Borisov’s party. That led the opposition to accuse GERB of trying to rig the vote. “This was a preparation for the total falsification of the elections,” said Mr Stanishev. Allegations of illegal wiretapping led prosecutors to accuse GERB's campaign manager and Tsvetan Tsvetanov, a former interior minister, of "deliberately allowing his subordinates, the directors of the wiretapping department, to commit crimes". Mr Tsvetanov, who cannot be charged because he has immunity as a parliamentary candidate, has denied any wrongdoing.
A recent report by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation said that “what remains after the protests and the elections is the large discrepancy between those in power in politics and business and the ‘simple’ citizens. It gives the impression that the Bulgarian society is split not along the ‘left’ and ‘right’ lines but by ‘above’ and ‘below’. To overcome this division is one of the biggest future challenges for the Bulgarian policy. Otherwise there is the danger that the gap between policy and those who do not feel represented by it will grow further.” The new government (if it can be cobbled together) has a big job at hand.]]>
THOSE who thought that Miloš Zeman (pictured above), the new Czech president, would tone down his provocative statements in his stately office were soon proved wrong. You can't teach new tricks to an old dog.
During a visit to Austria last month, Mr Zeman told Austrian reporters that the so-called Sudeten Germans, or former Czechoslovakia's three-million-strong ethnic German minority, should have been happy to be merely expelled from their homeland in the wake of the second world war.
"When a citizen of some country collaborates with a country that has occupied his state, an expulsion is a subtler [form of] punishment than, for example, a death penalty," he told the APA news agency. The Czech president also argued that the expulsion was not an act of collective punishment because an "estimated ten percent" of the Sudeten Germans who were opponents of the Nazis were allowed to stay.
The assertions drew domestic criticism as preposterous and factually wrong. Matěj Spurný, a historian focusing on nationalism and ethnic minorities in the 20th Century Central Europe, compared Mr Zeman's logic to that of Slobodan Milošević, the late Serbian nationalist leader charged with genocide and other war crimes by an international tribunal in The Hague. "He is basically saying that a mass murder of three million people was also a legitimate option," Mr Spurný said.
Around 200,000 (far fewer than ten percent) Sudeten Germans avoided deportation, according to Mr Spurný. Less than 10,000 succeeded in proving anti-fascist activity in the past, which enabled them to stay. (The remainder stayed either because Germany stopped taking deportees or because they worked in professions that were in high demand.) The expulsion was an act of collective punishment because the burden of proof was with individuals, not with the state, Mr Spurný said.
Some commentators asked whether the president would employ the same reasoning for the collaborators with the 1968 Soviet-led occupation. Would he see their deportation to Russia as an act of just retribution? Should everyone who cannot prove active opposition to Soviet tanks be mercifully punished by losing property and citizenship rights?
Mr Zeman's statements are consistent with his earlier positions and reflect a prevalent (if gradually subsiding) Czech view on the matter. A 2011 survey showed that 42% of Czechs surveyed found the expulsion of Sudeten Germans just (down from 52% in 1995), while 39% believed in the opposite (up from 28% in 1995).
The deportations ended more than seven centuries of Czech-German co-existence in what is now the Czech Republic. The 19th century nationalist movements led to ethnic and political rivalry and social and cultural separation. The Czechs began to view the Germans as their nation's "ancestral foe", a deeply-rooted stereotype that still holds some sway, especially among the older generations.
When Czechoslovakia was created in 1918, Sudeten German leaders failed in their attempt to form German-speaking provinces that would join Austria. The minority was not happy in the new state. German-owned export industries took a hard hit in the Great Depression. In 1935 and 1938, the Sudeten Germans overwhelmingly voted for Konrad Henlein's far-right Sudetendeutsche Partei that later helped force Czechoslovakia to cede its German-speaking borderlands to Nazi Germany. When the war was over in 1945, the Czechs took an ugly revenge. According to estimates, anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 Sudeten Germans suffered a violent death in the process.
The thorny issue had been well alive when Mr Zeman was prime minister a decade ago. In 2002, the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, called off his Prague visit after Mr Zeman said that pre-war Czechoslovakia's German minority was "Hitler's fifth column". It took three years and a grand gesture (the then Czech prime minister, Jiří Paroubek, apologised to the Sudeten German opponents of the Nazis) to rebuild the relationship between Czechs and Germans.
Much has changed since Mr Zeman retired from his premiership, even if he gives the impression, some observers say, of having slept through it. The Bavarian state premier, Horst Seehofer, officially visited Prague twice and Petr Nečas, the Czech premier, was praised for his recent address in the Bavarian parliament. Czech diplomats have so far managed to explain Mr Zeman's latest statements away. Germany's leaders have publicly ignored them and preparations for the Czech president's upcoming Berlin visit are continuing. That does not mean that things can't go wrong. "A little is enough to cause great damage," says a diplomat.
FOREIGN POLICY magazine’s new list of the 500 most influential people in the world includes Donald Tusk and Radosław Sikorski. The Polish prime minister and foreign minister are the only Central Europeans to make the cut. Internationally, they have earned Poland a reputation as a rock of economic stability in a troubled Europe, and a diplomatic heavyweight.
Poles do not see things quite the same way. Though still in comparatively better economic shape than much of the European Union, Poland is suffering a slowdown and unemployment is high. The government is accused of inaction. In recent months Mr Tusk’s personal popularity has been falling steadily until, in April, it almost hit a par (at 34%) with that of Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the conservative opposition Law and Justice party. This happened despite the latter’s apparent obsession with conspiracy theories surrounding the plane crash that killed his brother, Lech Kaczyński, who was the president in 2010.
Among those hoping to take advantage of Mr Tusk’s weakening is Jarosław Gowin, sacked from his position as justice minister on April 29th. A leading conservative within the governing Civic Platform party, Mr Gowin’s departure had been on the cards for months, as his relationship with Mr Tusk grew ever more fractious. His most public conflict with the party leadership came in January, when he declared a bill legalising civil partnerships to be unconstitutional, helping to fuel a rebellion that defeated the proposed legislation.
The trigger for his ultimate sacking (and Mr Tusk was at pains to stress that it was a sacking, not a resignation) was his suggestion, made in a TV interview, that German scientists were buying Polish embryos from in vitro fertilisation procedures and using them for scientific experiments.
The question of how to regulate in vitro fertilisation is one of the fault lines separating Civic Platform’s conservative and liberal wings. Mr Gowin’s provocative statement – darkly resonant given the history of Nazi scientists’ “experiments” on Polish prisoners – suggested he might be experimenting with Mr Kaczyński’s German-baiting rhetoric.
Since his dismissal, Mr Gowin has asserted that his real disagreement with Mr Tusk concerns economic policy. Reforms are going too slowly, he says. The thinking seems clear: that there is a gap in the electoral market for someone as conservative as Mr Kaczyński (perhaps even someone who shares his suspicion of Germans and Russians), but who is nevertheless more sensible and more focused on economic issues.
But Mr Gowin also knows the time is not yet ripe. Others have gone this way before. In the past three years two splinter parties have broken from Law and Justice in a bid to create an economically liberal, socially conservative alternative. Neither managed to capture the public imagination.
It seems unlikely that Mr Gowin will attempt to try the same trick from the other side by creating a conservative splinter party from Civic Platform. He says he wishes to remain in the party, and perhaps seek its nomination for the post of mayor of Kraków. That could be a good place to bide his time, remaining in the public eye whilst waiting for Mr Tusk to weaken further.
In any case, the prime minister appears to have pre-empted any risk of a conservative exodus from his party by naming Marek Biernacki as Mr Gowin’s replacement. Mr Biernacki is regarded as even more conservative than Mr Gowin.
Civic Platform’s more liberal supporters, cheered by Mr Gowin’s dismissal, were swiftly disappointed: Mr Biernacki also opposed the civil partnerships bill, and has voted in favour of discussing tighter controls on abortion. As Mr Tusk is well aware, those disgruntled liberals have nowhere else to turn, for the moment. Attempts to revitalise the left are floundering, so keeping the right flank on side is more urgent. But the nomination is a sticking plaster over a gaping rift between conservatives and liberals that is paralysing the governing party.
Increasingly, Mr Tusk’s government seems to be trading solely on its reputation for competent management. With Law and Justice as the main opposition it is easy for Civic Platform to portray itself as the only party fit to govern.
Yet even that reputation took a blow last month, when another ministerial dismissal took place in rather messier circumstances. Mikołaj Budzanowski was sacked as treasury minister after Poland’s national gas company, PGNiG, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Russian monopolist, Gazprom, to build a gas pipeline that would take Russian gas from Belarus through Poland to Slovakia, circumventing Ukraine. The minister had not only failed to inform Mr Tusk of such a highly geopolitically charged project, but claimed not to know about it himself.]]>
THIS was not how the Hungarian government wanted the week to start. Ferenc Orosz, the head of the Raoul Wallenberg Association, was watching a football match in a stadium with his family when nearby spectators started chanting ‘Mussolini’ and ‘Sieg Heil’.
Mr Orosz asked them to stop. He was threatened and called a ‘Jewish Communist’. When he tried to leave the stadium, two men blocked his way. One hit him in the face and broke his nose. Mr Orosz discharged himself from hospital to recount the details of his assault at a conference on hate speech on April 29th.
The attack comes at a particularly sensitive time. This weekend Budapest will host the World Jewish Congress (WJC), which represents Jewish communities around the world. The congress usually meets in Jerusalem, but has chosen to gather in Budapest to show solidarity with the Hungarian Jewish community after a series of anti-Semitic incidents that have caused alarm both in Hungary and abroad. “Anti-Semitism in Hungary is on the rise and we have also witnessed a dramatic growth in the number of attacks on other minorities such as the Roma,” Ronald Lauder, president of the WJC, told Reuters, a news agency.
A new report compiled by the Anti-Semitism Research Group, detailing anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary in 2012, will be distributed to WJC delegates. The report, a copy of which has been obtained by The Economist, makes depressing reading: cemeteries desecrated; pigs trotters draped over a statue of Raoul Wallenberg; Nazi graffiti, verbal abuse, intimidation at football matches, sporadic physical attacks and Menorahs on display in public being kicked over.
The rise in anti-Semitism results from a number of factors. Certainly the gloomy state of the Hungarian economy is fuelling prejudice, not just against Jews but also against the Roma. The rise of the far-right Jobbik, the third-largest party in Parliament, has encouraged extremists. Jobbik denies it is anti-Semitic but Marton Gyöngyösi, a Jobbik MP, caused outrage last November when he called for Hungarian authorities to compile a list of Hungarian Jews for posing what he called “a national-security risk”. He later issued a qualified apology. Jobbik, its supporters, and groups even further to the right have a tightly organised presence on the internet, which is a major recruiting ground for extremism.
The government has repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism, expressed its solidarity with the Jewish community and assured Hungarian Jews of their safety and security. When József Schweitzer, the former Chief Rabbi, was insulted in the street, János Áder, the president of Hungary, quickly paid a personal call to show his solidarity. Viktor Orbán (picture above), the Hungarian prime minister, will speak at the WJC congress on Sunday to reinforce this message. A new government-sponsored committee is planning nationwide commemoration events for 2014, the seventieth anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust. Far-right demonstrations, including one called ‘Give Gas’, have been arbitrarily banned, incidentally raising concerns about civil liberties. Extremists mock the ruling Fidesz party as ‘Zsidesz’ a play on the Hungarian word ‘zsidó, meaning Jew.
It can sometimes seem that the government sends out different messages for different audiences. Ministers have stayed largely silent over the growing cult of Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s leader from 1920 to 1944, after several streets and squares were renamed in his honour.
Horthy was a staunch ally of Hitler and passed several anti-Semitic laws but refused to deport Hungarian Jews. However, after the Nazis invaded in March 1944, he stood by when Hungarian Gendarmes rounded more than 500,000 Jews and sent them to their deaths. In March the government triggered an outcry when it gave a prestigious award to several far-right wingers, including Ferenc Szaniszlo, a journalist prone to conspiracy theories. The government asked him to return the prize.
Despite the rise in anti-Semitism, it would be a mistake for the WJC to focus solely on the negative. Hungary is home to the third-largest Jewish community in Europe, between 80,000 and 100,000 strong. Jewish life here is enjoying a vibrant new renaissance. Budapest has numerous functioning synagogues, Jewish schools, restaurants and a community centre.
Each year the Jewish Summer Festival, which is heavily publicised across the city, brings tens of thousands of visitors to enjoy concerts, culinary and cultural events.
Budapest’s old Jewish quarter, the site of the former wartime ghetto, is now the liveliest part of town, with a buzzing nightlife to rival any European capital. For a real sense of Jewish life in Hungary, WJC delegates should leave their hotels and take a walk down Kazinczy street, where Hasidim and hipsters live congenially side by side.
The story reached its climax on April 26th when the chief prosecutor in Sofia, Nikolay Kokinov, resigned following leaked wiretaps of a conversation between him, the former agriculture minister, Miroslav Naydenov, and Boyko Borisov, the former prime minister. In what observers call a “vulgar and cynical” conversation, the three men discuss a corruption case against Mr Naydenov, absorption of European Union funds, relations with the media and the choice of Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor earlier this year. Mr Kokinov told Mr Borisov: “You chose him, don’t smile now”.
The leaked chat, which raises serious questions about the independence of the judicial system, follows an interview with Mr Naydenov on April 25th where the ex-minister accused the former interior minister, Tzvetan Tzvetanov, who is Mr Borisov’s right-hand man, of illegally wiretapping everyone in the previous cabinet. Earlier this month, prosecutors pressed charges against four former police officials accusing them of wiretapping political figures, businessmen and journalists. According to Mr Naydenov, even Rosen Plevneliev, the president, was a target: Mr Naydenov cited a meeting with the president when the two had to leave their mobile phones in another room and turn on the television to avoid being wiretapped.
Mr Tzvetanov denied ordering any surveillance and instead blamed the Socialist opposition of stirring up the scandal. Mr Borisov went even further: the former prime minister spoke of a “private interior ministry” which is involved in illegal activities and manipulations and is organised by people from the surroundings of Sergey Stanishev, the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).
The current controversy follows a long tradition of wiretapping senior politicians in Bulgaria including Mr Borisov himself in 2011. The American State Department cites the abuse of wiretapping as one of Bulgaria’s most pressing human rights problems.
The current scandal might have profound implications on the upcoming snap elections following the resignation of Mr Borisov’s government in early February. “The undecided voters now have a strong motive not to vote or to vote for one of the smaller parties,” says Rumyana Kolarova, a political scientist at Sofia University. “While Borisov’s party might lose some votes, it is clear that the opposition, especially the Socialists, will not profit from this scandal.”
Mr Borisov’s centre-right GERB party is currently leading the polls with up to 25% ahead of BSP with up to 19%. According to analysts, the lack of a clear winner and the polarised campaign will make it difficult to build a coalition after the elections and increase the chances of a new vote. The strongest parties after GERB and BSP are the Turkish minority party and the ultranationalist Attack, which both come in at around 5%. The centrist party of Meglena Kuneva, a former EU commissioner, is currently hovering around the threshold for entering parliament (4%) but it could take away some votes from GERB’s periphery in the wake of the scandal, Ms Kolarova says.
The outcome of the election will depend on the undecided voters, which constiture about a fifth of the electorate, according to a recent opinion poll. “The voters of GERB and BSP are like opposing football fans,” says Tihomir Bezlov from the Centre for the Study of Democracy in Sofia. “They cannot vote for the other team and cannot miss the game— that would be treason. Those who will not go to the stadium are the undecided voters.”]]>
SEARCH the archives of this newspaper and you won't find much on Slovenia. Since independence in 1991 not that much has happened here. Slovenes had a reputation of being prim, thrifty and hardworking and they got on with their lives. Their governments worked hard to get them into NATO, the European Union and the euro. Slovenia seemed to be a rather sleepy, if happily boring, kind of place.
Admittedly a small group of people at the top appeared to get very rich quickly. But as everyone else was relatively well off too, no one seemed to mind too much. As the years rolled on the Slovene economy prospered.
Then came the crisis and people started to take a closer and more critical look at what their politicians and their business elite were up to. It was a slow process: Janez Jansa (pictured above), on trial for corruption in an arms dealing scandal, was still able to become prime minister in February last year.
Last November something snapped. Anger at Franc Kangler, the mayor of Maribor, turned into demonstrations. Tear gas was used provoking waves of demonstrations elsewhere. Then, in January, the anti-corruption commission demanded answers about money and business deals from Mr Jansa and Zoran Jankovic, the leader of the opposition and mayor of Ljubljana.
Mr Jankovic resigned as head of his party though remains mayor of Ljubljana. Mr Jansa’s government fell, as did Mr Kangler. “Something has changed and it is irreversible,” says Gorazd Kovacic, a sociologist at Ljubljana University. Now he says, “politicians need to take into account that people are concerned about corruption and abuse of power.” A year ago, he says, Mr Jansa “was a very strong politician. He had no effective opposition and he got strong support from business and from abroad. But he has gone and his coalition government would not have broken apart if it had not been for public pressure."
Sitting in an office of Delo, one of the country’s main dailies, Bostjan Videmsek and his colleague Andej Miholic are surrounded by framed front pages. Hitler in Maribor, Tito, Kennedy and Nixon are all here. The problem says Mr Videmsek, is that while the protest movement was fizzing with anger and energy there was nowhere for new ideas to surface and be discussed. So together with Mr Miholic, a fellow Delo reporter, they opened the Revolt in Alternative pages on the Delo website.
Out of 350 submissions some 200 have been published. Weeded out have been articles by lobbyists, those connected to political parties trying to push their own agendas and loonies. The editors of the "Revolt in Alternative" pages are trying to exclude the old political elite, because so much of Slovene politics in the last quarter of a century has seen the recycling of faces.
The point is to activate citizens according to Mr Videmsek. Slovenia had an active civil society at the end of the 1980s and then most people went to sleep. Most citizens withdrew from politics seeing their role only as voting once in four years. Now more and more people see there is a problem—and they would like to have some control. Ideas on the site range from proposals for direct democracy to Green politics and economics. One, for example, proposes creating 50,000 new jobs by lowering Slovene dependency on imported oil and food.
“Revolt is non ideological,” says Mr Videmsek, “but I cannot deny that most of the ideas have a leftist aroma.” A big criticism of some of the ideas launched on the site is that they are often simply unfeasible. Sonja Smuc, the director of the Managers' Association, a business grouping, says: "They are completely right with demands for a state of law and zero tolerance for corruption but sometimes their remedies for economy are a bit like prescribing homoeopathic medicine for cancer."
Even Mr Kovacic, who has launched two ideas on Revolt, agrees that many of the ideas "are about the world we would like to live in with no description of how they could be made real". His ideas by contrast are far from impossible. He suggests that no one should be allowed more than three terms as either a deputy in parliament or a minister. This would reduce the concentration of power in the hands of a very few people, he argues, which has reduced the main political parties in parliament to simple voting machines.
His second idea is that instead of borrowing at high rates of interest from abroad the government should borrow from civil servants by, say, taking 5% of their salaries every month, repayable at a smaller rate of interest after a certain period of time. Civil servants would agree to this, he says, rather than being fired as part of an austerity drive.
Are these ideas getting anywhere? Alenka Bratusek, Slovenia’s prime minister, said she did not know the site. She did know who Mr Kovacic was either. But when asked about his second idea, she knew all about it. “There is one problem,” she says, “it would not have a direct effect on the deficit. It would not cut expenditure.” But, she said, “We will discuss this idea.”]]>
TEXAS is a long way from the Czech Republic. Yet the massive fertilizer plant explosion on April 17th that killed at least four civilians, ten fire fighters and injured some 200 others in the city of West in Texas (pictured above) triggered a huge wave of empathy amongst Czechs at home and abroad.
Some 75% of West’s 2,800 residents claim Czech ancestry. The ties were felt so strongly that Petr Gandalovič, the Czech ambassador to the United States, was dispatched from Washington within days of the blast to see if help might be needed. Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO summit on April 22nd, Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech foreign minister, said he would push for a $200,000 donation to help rebuild a community centre. The government cleared that donation on April 24th.
Czechs from Moravia, the eastern part of the present day Czech Republic, settled in and around West beginning in the late 19th century when much of Central Europe remained the domain of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. "Czechs came to Texas for freedom. They didn't want to be forced to speak German. They wanted to keep their church. They wanted to live their own way. That is a close-knit community," Jerry Janecka, an 80 year-old fifth-generation Czech-American told The Fort Worth Star Telegram.
West is named after the area’s first postmaster. It is located in north-central Texas, just off the I-35 highway that runs between Dallas and the state capital of Austin. Just off that route, the Czech Stop houses a deli, bakery and gas station and serves up traditional Czech pastries. The small cakes are open-faced dough baked with jam, poppy seeds or cream in the centre. In Texas, the Czech word for the cakes, koláče, becomes a slightly Americanised kolache. In much the same way, surnames have dropped the diacriticals over the years, but continue to have a distinctive Central European feel to them, including that of Tommy Muska, the city’s mayor. The community centre the Czech donation will help rebuild is affiliated with the Sokol movement, a fitness and culture organisation founded in Prague in the 1860s that persists in the Czech Republic to this day with facilities in most Czech towns.
Investigators looking into the explosion on April 17th that left behind a hole, 93 feet in diameter and 10 feet deep, are blaming the inordinate amount of combustible ammonium nitrate stored at the fertilizer plant. It seems neither the local fire department nor several federal agencies were aware of the large amount of ammonium nitrate, possibly adding to the casualties as surrounding areas were not immediately evacuated after a fire broke out at the plant.
Czech-American relations have a unique history. The agreement to create the first Czechoslovak state in the wake of the first world war was drawn up in Pittsburgh. Czechoslovakia’s founding father, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, once lived in Chicago and was married to an American. A number of Czech-American institutions have begun fundraising efforts of their own in the aftermath of the deadly West explosion, including the American Friends of the Czech Republic and the Czech School of Dallas.
West hosts the applicably named West Fest each year over the American Labour Day holiday weekend that occurs in early September and generally serves as the unofficial end to summer. The celebration is branded a “Czech and Polka festival” and includes Czech sausages, koláče, dancing and a beauty contest. (According to the website fajitas are also on offer, it is Texas after all.) There may very well be a few new guests this year.]]>
CZECHS thought they had less of an international identity problem than people from other small Central European countries, say Slovaks, Latvians or Lithuanians. After all, Václav Havel, Milos Forman, Jaromír Jágr (pictured above) and other famous Czechs must have put their country on the map.
They were in for a surprise. The aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing proved that not even Mr Jágr, a popular ice-hockey player who was traded to the Boston Bruins from Dallas only weeks before the attack, managed to make his country known to many Americans. After officials said on April 19th that the suspects of the Boston carnage hailed from Chechnya, angry users across America flooded social media with vulgar posts targeting the Czech Republic. Some even pointed the finger at Czechoslovakia, a country that has not existed for 20 years.
The blunder was not limited to Twitter and Facebook: an analyst on CNN confused the two. The anchor, Anderson Cooper, did not correct him.
"When I first saw it I could not believe it," said David Krejčí, Mr Jágr's Czech teammate at the Boston Bruins, in a phone interview just before an out-of-town game with the Philadelphia Flyers. "How can these people get it mixed up? I guess they never went to school." The Czech ambassador in Washington, Petr Gandalovič, stepped in with a geography lesson in the form of a statement.
The differences between the two go well beyond name and location. Czechs are proud to have shed communism and split their former country in two without a single bullet being fired. Chechnya, on the other hand, suffered through an on-and-off bloody conflict with Russia until 2009. The Czech Republic has also been among America’s staunchest allies in the so-called war on terror (though it was the source of some bad intelligence). It was one of eight European nations to back America's invasion of Iraq against the wish of the continent's heavyweights, Germany and France. Over the years, the country of 10m (a population on par with that of Moscow) deployed nearly 11,500 troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Czech government also agreed to host an American anti-missile-shield radar outside of Prague, a plan that was unpopular with locals and irked Russia. It was later scrapped under Barack Obama. "It's even a little funny in the light of all those battles waged over the radar," said Jiří Pehe, a former Havel adviser who heads the New York University branch in Prague. "Remember all this talk about the manifestation of our alliance, about how the US eagerly awaits our decision. And, clearly, so many Americans have no clue where it is. We have tendencies to overrate our role in the world."
Online the Czech reaction to the confusion has included rage, lofty scorn, frustrated self-flagellation and humour. Ondřej Benešík is the mayor of Strání, a small south-eastern town which collects money for West, the largely Czech-American town in Texas devastated by a recent fertiliser-plant explosion. "It was like a scene from Borat," said Mr Benešík. "I suppose that the responsible people will never mix it up. That's clearly more important."
A website created in four hours over the weekend by a 25-year-old hotel marketing manager, Josef Polčiák, attempts to undo the confusion in cyberspace. The site received some 85,000 hits in the first two days, with less than a fifth from America, said Mr Polčiák. Most visitors so far have been Czech. "People seem to be sharing the link on Twitter in an act of patriotism," according to Mr Polčiák.
The affair turned into farce when many Czech social-media users (and also some Slovak and Polish media) took seriously a report published by the Daily Currant, a satirical online newspaper, that Sarah Palin had called for an invasion of the Czech Republic. "Years of diplomacy, friendly gestures and all that has fallen victim to the American educational system. I say let them come! They will probably land in Estonia anyway," one user wrote on Facebook.
Hold on. As recently as 2008, Czech football officials printed a match booklet that featured a Latvian flag and a picture of the Latvian squad. They played the Latvian anthem before the game. The Czechs crushed the Lithuanians 2-0 in that night's otherwise forgettable friendly.]]>
ONE of the most discussed issues in Bulgarian media is the topic of the deteriorating media freedom in the country. Consistently ranking last among European Union members the country keeps regressing. Bulgaria now ranks 87th in Reporters Without Borders’ latest annual Press Freedom Index, down from 35th in 2006.
“There is a growing concern that most of the media have retreated from their main function, to inform the public on relevant topics,” says Nelly Ognyanova, a Bulgarian media law expert. “The media is often serving political parties and various economic groups.”
Several calls from abroad underline Ms Ognyanova’s assessment: the American Department of State counts the “gravely damaged media pluralism” in the country as one of its most pressing human rights problems; the European commissioner for digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, wrote a letter to the then prime minister Boyko Borisov urging him to protect independent media. Matthias Höpfner, the German Ambassador to Bulgaria, is often quoted commenting on the “dangerous challenges” facing the media freedom in the country.
One of these challenges is the fact that “reporters continue to face pressure and intimidation aimed at protecting economic, political, and criminal interests", Freedom House wrote in its latest “Freedom of the Press” report. The pressure comes from all sides, even from the state: in early April a journalist, Boris Mitov, was questioned by prosecutors in connection with an article of his that alleged a connection between the Sofia deputy city prosecutor, Roman Vassilev, and illicit wiretapping. Mr Mitov was pressured to reveal his sources. When he declined he was reportedly told that he could be jailed for up to five years for disclosing state secrets.
Last summer, Spas Spassov, an investigative journalist from Varna, received a more subtle reminder of the boundaries journalists should not cross: after a series of critical articles on a local business group, he got Sun Tzu’s"The Art of War" in his mail. Included was a note quoting a passage from the book: “You should avoid those you can’t either defeat or befriend.”
Another distinctive feature of Bulgarian media is the lack of transparency of who owns it “Media ownership in Bulgaria is like a Matryoshka doll: there is always one figure behind the other,” says Orlin Spassov at Sofia University. For instance, New Bulgarian Media Group, a company with close ties to the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, a political party, owns numerous high-circulation newspapers and a popular TV channel. Before the parliamentary elections in 2009, the newspapers owned by the group were highly critical of the Movement’s political rival, the GERB party and its leader, Boyko Borisov. After GERB won the elections, the group’s papers changed their tone overnight and became strong supporters of Mr Borisov.
One Matryoshka doll behind, the New Bulgarian Media Group is largely financed by the Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB). As it happens, in recent years the rather small private bank held a large portion of the funds of the state-owned enterprises in the energy, transport and defence sectors. This means, observers say, that the CCB is, in effect, financing the group’s media outlets, including the country’s highest-circulation newspaper, Telegraph, with public funds.
This is not an isolated case. Financial troubles in the media industry have left many outlets depending on public funds. (The advertising market has contracted by more than a third since 2008.) While there are no official subsidies for the press, according to Freedom House, the advertising expenditures of state agencies represent the second-largest source of advertising revenue for the print media. Since 2009, the state, through its ministries and government agencies, has directed over 28m leva ($19.5m) to private media by placing advertisements and launching information campaigns. Most of these funds come from the EU’s programmes. A telling anecdote is the case of a 25-year-old former employee of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food who received €50.000 for the task of creating Facebook and Twitter profiles for promoting the EU's Rural Development Programme.
“It is widely believed that by using public resources the authorities are securing media comfort,” says Nelly Ognyanova. “The EU membership did not lead to more media freedom. On the contrary, EU funds are increasing the rift between media close to the government and the rest.”
This rift is becoming especially apparent during election campaigns. Bulgaria is facing a snap poll on May 12th after the government resigned amid mass protest earlier this year. The (legal) practise of political parties paying for coverage becomes problematic since the paid-for political reports are rarely identified as such. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) noted on the previous election campaign in 2011 that “virtually all campaign coverage in the media had to be paid which resulted in a near-absence of editorial coverage of the campaign”. Not much seems to have changed this time around as the Council for Electronic Media, the independent media regulator in the country, has acknowledged.
Election coverage, opaque ownership structures and harassment of journalists are the main reasons for the deterioration of media freedom in Bulgaria. Some disagree. According to Tzvetan Vassilev, a banker, there is too much media freedom in Bulgaria. Mr Vassilev is the majority shareholder in the CCB.]]>
PETR NEČAS, the Czech prime minister, is accusing the opposition Social Democrats of a “coup” because of their recent move to displace the director of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (ÚSTR). He is being accused of “rightist Bolshevism” in return.
What may appear to the casual observer as a staid research institute has been a hotbed of ideological struggle since its founding in 2008. The ÚSTR is charged with researching not only the 20th century Communist era (1948-1989), but also the time of Nazi occupation (1939-1945) in what was then Czechoslovakia. It maintains the massive Security Services Archive, which contains the remaining records of the Communist-era secret police. Disclosing names of all collaborators with the totalitarian security services has the potential to shake up the country’s power structure significantly. Left-wing parties have long accused the right of using the institute as a tool to discredit the left. The right-wing alleges that left-leaning parties seek to control the institute and cover the tracks of present day politicians with Communist pasts.
Daniel Herman (pictured above), who previously served as spokesman for the Czech Bishop’s Conference, was ousted as ÚSTR director earlier this month. But his dismissal is only the latest in the institute’s tumultuous past. Including the interim director now in charge, it has had five directors in six years. In 2010 four different directors led the institute. While the archives are in the process of being digitised and lists of intelligence and counter-intelligence officials have previously been published, the size of the Security Services Archive means many more such names—including those of collaborators rather than official agents—remain undisclosed. The relatively late creation of the ÚSTR 19 years after the fall of the communist regime is in stark contrast to how some other post-Communist states dealt with their past. The former East Germany, for example, allowed citizens to access security service archives in short order. The relative silence in then-Czechoslovakia’s immediate post-Communist years allowed people with ties to the former regime to gain influential positions in business and politics, some making a seamless transition from Marxist ideologue to crusading capitalist.
Mr Nečas contends that the Social Democrats (ČSSD) are paving the way for a future coalition government with the present-day Communist party. He argues there is a plan afoot to whitewash certain people with a Communist past to make them more palatable to the public. “They are former [Communist-era] border guards, army ideological teachers, staunch Marxists and Communists...The goal is to eliminate the [Security Services Archive] as a barrier to a massive infiltration of the future state administration by Communist candidates,” he said on April 15th.
Based on opinion polls, the ČSSD and the Communists would likely be able to form a coalition government if elections were held today. During past campaigns the ČSSD has foresworn the possibility of cooperating with the Communists. However, repeated failures to form a left-leaning government despite gaining the largest share of seats in parliament’s lower house (as is the case now) is forcing a strategic rethink.
The country’s most popular politician, according to opinion polls, Jiři Dienstbier Jr., is among the ČSSD members who openly speak of cooperating with the Communist Party. While he was left off the ČSSD official leadership group at a March party congress, Mr Dienstbier’s strong showing in presidential elections earlier this year and his ability to attract younger voters to an aging party base makes him influential. His relative youth (Mr Dienstbier is 43) and the fact the he is the son of a noted Communist-era dissident insulates him against charges that he sympathises with 20th century communists. Still, Mr Nečas specifically pointed the finger at Mr Dienstbier as an instigator in the latest ÚSTR row.
Mr Dienstbier reacted strongly to the allegations accusing the prime minister of “"rightist Bolshevism." He went on to call Mr Nečas’ use of anti-Communist rhetoric, "the logical consequence of the despair of rightist politics in the Czech Republic”.
The seven member board that oversees the ÚSTR is appointed by the Senate, in which the ČSSD has an outright majority. Another 15 member group of “scientific experts” are meant to guide the research agenda. The scientific group has resigned over the director’s firing. The tug of war is likely to continue as the process of appointing a new director has yet to begin.]]>
“HABEMUS PACTUM!” tweeted Vlora Citaku, Kosovo’s minister for European integration. Serbia and Kosovo had just reached a deal. It came on April 19th after ten grueling rounds of negotiation between the prime ministers of the two countries under the personal supervision of Baroness Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief (pictured above).
The deal is a huge breakthrough for the two countries, for the western Balkans as a whole and a triumph for Lady Ashton and her team. On April 2nd , after eight rounds, it seemed possible that the whole process had failed.
The deal was initialed by Hashim Thaci, the prime minister of Kosovo, who is a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a guerrilla force which fought the Serbs in 1998-99. He negotiated with Ivica Dacic, the Serbian prime minister who, during the Balkan wars of the 1990s was a close associate of Slobodan Milosevic, the then Serbian leader. Also present was Aleksandar Vucic, the Serbian deputy prime minister, a former extreme nationalist.
The agreement unlocks the way for both countries to continue on their path to EU integration. Implicit is the understanding that, by making the agreement, Serbia will be now be given a green light to open EU accession talks. Kosovo will get a formal commitment to negotiating an earlier step in the process, known as a Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
The 15-point agreement (scroll down for English) is expected to be formally endorsed by the two governments and parliaments in the next 48 hours.
Kosovo, with its majority Albanian population declared independence from Serbia in 2008. It had not been under Serbian control since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999. Kosovo is now recognised by just under 100 countries (the exact number is disputed) but not Serbia, Russia, China and five of 27 EU countries.
The deal is being hailed by diplomats and politicians in both countries as a “win-win” situation although it will be resisted by hard-line nationalists on both sides. Still, Petrit Selimi, Kosovo’s deputy foreign minister was certainly right when he said yesterday, while attending Globsec, a global security conference in Bratislava in Slovakia, a country that does not recognise Kosovo that: “The dam has been broken. There is no way back.”
The essence of the deal is that while Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as a state, it concedes its legal authority over the whole territory. In exchange the Kosovo authorities concede a level of autonomy to four Serb-controlled areas of northern Kosovo. They will set up an association, which will take care of education and health and other matters. The deal says that there will be one police force in Kosovo but that the Serb regional commander for the north will be chosen from a list nominated by the mayors of the north.
A compromise formula was found over the vexed issue of courts and elections are to be held this year for the northern municipalities which are now elected under the Serbian not Kosovo system.
There are believed to be some 140,000 Serbs in Kosovo out of a total population of 1.7m. About one third of them live in the north. The rest live in areas of Kosovo which, in the last few years, have begun to integrate into the rest of the country in terms of municipal organsations, though not in terms of education and health. Some of these areas could accede to the new Serbian association.
The deal does not prevent Serbia from funding education and other services as it does now. According to Mr Dacic and Mr Selimi, the Kosovo Security Force, Kosovo’s de facto army, will not deploy in the north, at least for some years. Following the making of the deal Lady Ashton, Mr Dacic and Mr Thaci went to visit NATO to discuss help in implementing the deal. A photo showed them together on the same side of the table talking to NATO chiefs, not facing one another as they have until now.
Kosovo Serb leaders in the north have said they will do all they can to oppose the deal, and even talked in the past few weeks of some form of secession from Kosovo. In February last year Kosovo Serbs in the north voted overwhelmingly to reject any cooperation with the authorities in the south. In the long run their objections look set to be in vain.
Sources in the north believe that once the message comes from the authorities in Belgrade that it is in the interests of the Serbian state for Kosovo Serbs to fall into line, they will do so. Money will certainly play a role here. As leaders of newly elected municipalities, recognised as legal by both Kosovo and Serbia they could be set for a financial windfall. Reintegrated into Kosovo they will receive money from the central government and also from Serbia.
A previous deal also means they will get a good proportion of customs receipts from the two northern border points to Serbia. The EU and the US, which played a crucial but behind the scenes role in securing the deal will also doubtless make funds available.
Failure to strike deal could have had dire consequences for Serbia, Kosovo and the rest of the region. Outsiders would have concluded that the parties were so stubborn and unwilling to take risks for the best interests of their people that it was no longer worth bothering trying to help them. A long period of stagnation would almost certainly have set in.
Implementation of the deal will certainly be difficult but a huge psychological barrier has been passed. With Serbia and Kosovo moving ahead in terms of their mutual relations and in terms of European integration diplomats hope that their example will give a prod to both the Bosnians, who are now lagging behind because of a failure to make similar necessary compromises, and the Macedonians.
The talks are a rare success for EU foreign policy. They began in March 2011 when Boris Tadic was in power in Serbia. They moved up from so-called technical talks to the political level in September last year.
Until now Serbian officials have attempted to avoid contact with their Kosovar counterparts. In Bratislava however it was clear that there was a new spirit. Both sides toasted the deal. “All of us are winners,” said one Serbian official who asked to remain nameless. He added prudently, that equally both sides would do well to “avoid triumphalism.”
THE Tsarnaev family, like many families from Chechnya, were part of a diaspora that had scattered all over the globe: Turkey, Syria, Poland, and Austria, and, apparently, suburban Massachusetts. Displaced first by Stalin, who was as distrustful as he was vengeful, and then driven out by the indiscriminate violence of two wars since the fall of the Soviet Union, modern-day Chechens are a people that live outside their homeland as much as inside it. Before 19-year-old Dzhokhar and 26-year-old Tamarlan (pictured above) ended up in Watertown, they traveled a long, searching route familiar to many Chechens, passing through Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country in Central Asia, and Dagestan, a Muslim republic in Russia that borders Chechnya.
How they came to set off a series of bombs at the finish line of the Boston marathon is now a matter for investigators. For the most part, they seem to have remained apart from the evolution of the conflict in Russia’s North Caucasus over the last decade. What began as a war of national separatism in Chechnya in the mid-1990s has metastasised into an Islamist-inspired insurgency spread throughout the other republics of the Russian North Caucasus: Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and especially Dagestan, where Dzhokhar attended school for some years.
Over the past decade, the more moderate, secular figures in the original Chechen resistance were purposefully ignored by Moscow and pushed aside by more extremist fighters. Today’s conflict is a grinding civil war fuelled in equal parts by the more violent strains of Salafi Islam and a toxic cycle of never-ending revenge killing. Across the whole of the North Caucasus, the police battle militants that are organised into jamaats, local cells that range in size and sophistication from a few teenagers watching jihadi videos at home to organised and hierarchical militias.
A cocktail of violence, poverty, and in some places, a near total breakdown of the state, has led to the ascendancy of Salafism, an extremist strain of political Islam with roots in Saudi Arabia. If nothing else, the sense of order and self-organisation offered by Salafism offers an alternative to being an idle spectator of your own misfortune. Many Salafis in the North Caucasus are outwardly peaceful, if wholly illiberal. They speak of wanting to be left alone to live in autonomous communities governed by Sharia law; the more militant ones who have fled “to the forest” dream of creating a pan-Caucasus Islamic emirate.
Most of those who live in the North Caucasus are caught somewhere in the middle: between a perpetually fearful state that is wary of the independent power base even peaceful Salafism represents and the Islamist rebels who, by simply asking for a package of bandages or a piece of stale bread before they return to the mountains, make them a target for the police. Local authorities have responded with paranoid and indiscriminate crackdowns, treating every Salafist as a potential terrorist. Moscow is largely out of energy and ideas; the conflict may have crossed into a state of intractability.
Chechnya itself, the site of two wars and the historic homeland of the Tsarnaev family, has, at least on the surface, been pacified under the eccentric and brutal rule of Ramzan Kadyrov, the republic’s 36 year-old president. Funded by billions of dollars sent from Moscow, Grozny has undergone a startling reconstruction. The Chechen capital is now intersected by wide, grassy boulevards (especially the main thoroughfare, now called Prospect Putin) and fountains spray arcs of water lit by colored lamps, making it a surreally pleasant place to take a stroll. There is a whiff of Las Vegas in the air, cut with the odor of Pyongyang. The rise of Mr Kadyrov has unleashed an ironic, if not nightmarish, turn of events for the republic: in a desperate bargain to fend off the separatists of the 1990s, the Kremlin has allowed Chechnya to become a kind of self-ruled and foreign territory of which the original separatists could only have dreamed.
It remains unclear how much of this history had to do with the bombs in Boston. The fact that two young men of Chechen origin committed an act of terror is not the same as saying Chechen terrorism has come to United States. Mr Kadyrov, usually spectacularly unreliable in his pronouncements, may have gotten it more or less right when he suggested via his Instagram account (his preferred method of communication these days) that the “roots” of Dzhokhar and Tamarlan’s “evil” are best found in America, not Chechnya. Although Doku Umarov, the nominal head of the North Caucasus militancy, declared in 2007 that “anyone who wages war against Islam and Muslims” are potential targets, no terror attacks in the West have been linked to Chechen or Caucasus militants. The website Kavkaz Center, the mouthpiece for the rebels that normally glorifies acts of terror carried out by North Caucasus fighters, made pains to disavow the Tsarnaev brothers and distance itself from the Boston attack. It may be that the marathon bombings signal, at least in one way, the al-Qaeda-fication of the North Caucasus militancy: the internet allows anyone, anywhere to find the final nudge of inspiration and justification in a ready-made ideology.
In the end, whatever twisted sense of grievance and fury that drove the Tsarnaevs may have found its ultimate trigger in their adopted homeland more than in the one of their memory. Dzhokhar and Tamarlan are Chechen and Muslim, but they are also immigrant young men, struggling with their own sense of isolation and frustration. The language and motifs of the Caucasus militancy may have acted as a kind of salve, however desperate, for whatever dislocation they felt in America. Their uncle, who lives in Maryland, called the brothers “losers” who didn’t know what to make of themselves in America and thus were left “hating everyone who did”.
And so, in Boston, the cultivated sense of grievance and justification of the North Caucasus militants may been infused with the feelings of loneliness and revenge found in American men who commit acts of horrific violence: a case of “Beslan meets Columbine”, with disastrous results. If al-Qaeda and American male-rage have anything in common, it is that both foster the sort of self-obsessed nihilism that can have tragically bloody results. “I don’t have a single American friend,” Tamerlan is quoted as saying in a photo essay that followed his aspirations as a competitive boxer. “I don’t understand them.” Now it is America struggling to understand the Tsarnaevs.
(Photo credit: AFP)]]>
THE 19th of April 1943, exactly 70 years ago, saw the first insurrection against the Nazis in occupied Europe: the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The event symbolises both Jewish courage and Jewish suffering. For Poland, its anniversary is also a resonant event in the country’s ongoing reconnection with its Jewish heritage and fight against anti-Semitism.
Last week, more than a hundred volunteers showed up to work on cleaning and restoring the dilapidated Jewish cemetery, perhaps the strongest visual testament to the fact that this city was once one of the largest Jewish centres in the world – and is no more. Almost none of them were Jewish. They told me they had come out of a sense of duty.
The event had been listed on a website devoted to the anniversary commemorations, which are extensive. From now until the May 16th when the Great Synagogue on Tłomackie Street was destroyed, marking the end of the uprising and effectively of all Jewish life in Warsaw, the city hosts ceremonies, exhibitions, concerts and lectures devoted to Poland’s Jewish heritage.
The new Museum of the History of Polish Jews is co-ordinating much of the proceedings. It has used the occasion to officially open as an educational centre even though its permanent exhibition is a year away from being ready evidently hoping its impressive architecture and cultural programme will trump the dubious symbolism of its emptiness.
The guest of honour is Simcha Rotem (pictured above), nom de guerre ‘Kazik’. At 89, he is the only former member of the Jewish Combat Organisation (ŻOB) still in good enough health to make the trip. I met him in Israel, where he has lived since shortly after the war, last month. Though tired and in low spirits, he told our correspondent he had decided long ago that if he could possibly make it to this anniversary, he would, regardless of what kind of commemoration was planned for the sake of the memory of his comrades who are no longer alive.
Some of those comrades did live for years after the war though—thanks to Kazik. His is an astonishing story of courage and luck in hellish circumstances. As a 19-year-old, fair-haired ruffian from the Warsaw district of Czerniaków, Kazik did not look Jewish. For that reason the insurgent leader, Marek Edelman, chose him to go to the Aryan side and try to organise a rescue operation for the Jews trapped in the ghetto, already in flames.
After a week on the Aryan side, Kazik finally found two sewer workers who thanks to much goading with vodka in one hand and a pistol in the other, showed him an underground route back into the ghetto. Emerging on Zamenhofa street, he found nothing but smouldering ruins.
It’s at that point that Simcha Rotem’s testimony ends Claude Lanzmann’s epic documentary, Shoah: he believes he is the “last Jew” and has nothing left to do but wait for the Germans. But that is not what he did.
Returning to the sewers, he hears voices: a dozen or so fighters. They say there are more hiding elsewhere, and he tells them to gather and make their way through the sewers to a manhole under Prosta Street, just outside the ghetto.
Simcha Rotem to this day does not know exactly people he saved: “A few dozen. Do you think I had time to count them?” he exclaims. After meeting the group in the sewer, he had returned to the Aryan side and organised for two vans to pick up the survivors at dawn. Only one van arrived, at 10am, and its driver had to be held at gunpoint to prevent him from driving off while the Jews were coming out of the manhole.
After it seemed that no-one else was emerging from the manhole, Kazik told the van to move off. Against all the odds, the few dozen made it to safety the forests north of Warsaw. Yet some had remained underground. Simcha Rotem has had to live with the idea that perhaps he could have done better. But today he says he feels it was the only decision he could make in the circumstances: “The Germans were 100 metres away. It was broad daylight. It was now or never.”
Asked whether his memory of that moment is still vivid today, Simcha Rotem is almost offended: “It is not the sort of thing a person could forget”. His anger at the Nazis is still very much alive, too: “I regret in a way that we didn’t get revenge on the SS. Because they were not conscripts, they chose to do what they did. So they were murderers. And murderers should be hanged. They were not people, but animals walking upright.”
Fear that the world could forget the horror of the Holocaust, or that it could happen again, animates those who do remember it ever more as their numbers dwindle. Irena Boldok, who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto aged eight or nine, gives talks in schools and elsewhere as a member of the Children of the Holocaust association. She speaks gloomily about the experience: “some of them understand, not many. It’s hard to talk to fourteen-year-old kids. It is like a history lesson for them.”
According to the Polish psychologist Barbara Engelking, one reason the ghetto uprising did not happen sooner is that Jews in the Warsaw ghetto maintained the illusion that they might live: the death camps were simply beyond human imagination. With fewer and fewer survivors around to remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust, marking the anniversaries of its key events becomes an ever more important way of ensuring that we don’t forget something that was so unthinkable at the time.]]>
THE court case against Alexei Navalny (pictured above), the anti-corruption blogger who coined the phrase “the party of crooks and thieves” to describe Vladimir Putin’s United Russia, has been widely described as a show trial. But what kind of show is it?
Mr Navalny, who has exposed the financial dealings of assorted high-ranking Putinistas, stands accused of, among other things, embezzling funds from a state-run timber firm in 2009. On the face of it, the charges look flimsy to absurd. (The trial opened this morning, but was adjourned until later this month.) But then, so do the cases that have been brought against several others who irritated the Kremlin or its allies.
The accusations against Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who helped to expose a big corruption scam, would be silly even if he didn’t happen to be dead. In the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the dangerously outspoken ex-richest man in Russia, he was accused of stealing the same oil on whose sale, in his first trial, he was supposed to have avoided taxes. Leonid Razvozzhayev, an anti-Putin activist who was last year kidnapped in Ukraine (and, he alleges, tortured), has been accused of stealing 500 fur hats in Siberia in 1997. In this company, the Pussy Riot case is distinguished by the fact that its members actually committed the act over which they were arraigned—singing in a church—even if the interpretation of it by the court, and the sentence imposed, were unjust.
One common interpretation of these trials is that the prosecutors involved are ridiculously sloppy in their work. In this view, frantic officials reach for the first “crimes” that they stumble on or invent, however implausible those may seem. It isn’t only criminal cases: the purchase at auction of a big chunk of Yukos, Mr Khodorkovsky’s oil firm, by a front company registered to a provincial grocery store, had the same whiff of slapdash panic.
There is another possible reading of these antics. It is that, at least in part, they are knowingly ridiculous and sloppy.
In other words, they may be designed to show that the regime is powerful and unaccountable enough to be as sloppy and ridiculous as it likes. The extravagance of the amateurism unmistakably conveys to the accused, and their supporters, that everyone is vulnerable, and that the state doesn’t much care how outlandish its pseudo-judicial repressions may appear. In a way, the more outlandish, the better to send a message of unrestrained power. As in much of Russia’s foreign policy, the regime here behaves like a man in a pub who picks a fight by accusing you of spilling his pint. You know you haven’t spilled it, and he knows you know—and the fact that you both know is part of the point. Forcing the lie on you is part of the thug’s power.
It is often said that the caprices of government in Russia are beyond satire. If so, that may be because some are a conscious form of satire themselves: a satire on the legal process and the idea of impartial government. The fact that people like Mr Navalny who expose corruption are routinely accused of it themselves, in some warped version of Mosaic justice, contributes to the dark humour.
So if Mr Navalny’s is a show trial, the show is probably best described as a sort of satirical pantomime. But, like most satire, it is a joke with a serious point.]]>
METROPOLITAN Hilarion of Volokolamsk, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, recently expressed hope that the new pope, Francis, will continue the policy of rapprochement with the Orthodox Church and will not support, what he calls the expansion of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics. “The union is the most painful topic in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, in relations between the Orthodox and the Catholics. If the pope will support the union, then, of course, it will bring no good," he said
The metropolitan is worried: it is said that the new pope has an affinity for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC). So much so that one Russian commentator claimed that in Francis, “we have a Ukrainian pope”. This may worsen relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Church.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church confuses most outsiders. It is an Eastern rite church that is in communion with the Vatican. Drawing on the Christian legacy of medieval Kievan-Rus', it was officially founded through the 1596 Union of Brest (hence the church’s other widespread name, Uniate). “Greek” was added later to distinguish it from the Roman Catholic Church.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the new pope, had a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest as his mentor and is familiar with the Church's rites, says Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the UGCC. Major Archbishop Shevchuk previously served in Buenos Aires and got to know the future pope there. Many in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church hope that Francis will elevate it to a patriarchate, from its current status as a Major Archepiscopate
Today Greek Catholics make up about 15% of Ukraine's population. Most of them live in the west of the country, including the city of Lviv. (They also have a strong presence in the Ukrainian diaspora.) After almost half a century of persecution under Soviet rule, the Church resurfaced as one of the pillars of national identity in western Ukraine. It is an influential force here, though it has kept its distance from politics.
Someone once quipped: in the rest of Ukraine, religious people go to church; in Lviv, everyone goes to church. The city is famous for its panoply of churches, most of them now Greek Catholic, though it still has both a Roman Catholic and an Armenian cathedral. (Up until 1941, Lviv was also an important centre of the Jewish religion.) In the mornings the sound of the liturgy, sung in Ukrainian, spills out into the cobbled streets.
Lviv Business School, part of the Ukrainian Catholic University which is affiliated with the [Ukrainian Greek Catholic] Church, has become known for combining business education with ethics. Encouraging “trust, openness and ethics” in the new generation of business leaders can help change negative trends in Ukraine, says Sophia Opatska, the School's chief executive. This is especially important in Ukraine, where “business often takes on social and economic responsibilities that belong to government in democratic countries”, she adds.
On April 7th crowds of Greek Catholics joined a procession through Lviv representing the way of the cross, slowing down the traffic. The Church's leaders have already invited pope Francis to visit Ukraine. The new pope himself has made no special mention of Ukraine since his election as the Ukrainian media has pointed out. All the same, many of Ukraine's Greek Catholics eagerly await the visit of pope Francis, the closest they have had to a Ukrainian pope.]]>
THE feeling is widespread in the Czech Republic that the rich and politically connected can avoid prison no matter how egregious their crimes. That mood alone is enough to bring plenty of attention to the allegations made against Roman Janoušek (pictured above), an infamous Prague lobbyist. The sensational nature of his case makes it all the more of a landmark.
Police have announced they are pushing for attempted murder charges against this shadowy figure once nicknamed “Voldemort” after the villain in the Harry Potter series who is more often referred to as “He who must not be named”. (Mr Janoušek refutes the allegations.) Mr Janoušek was originally charged with “causing intentional bodily harm,” the equivalent of battery, in connection with a March 2012 incident where police allege he first crashed into a car driving in front of him, before driving on. Some 50 metres away, Mr Janoušek stopped at a traffic light, where the women he had hit confronted him, police say. Mr Janoušek is said to have sped away, hitting the women in the process. A surreal process followed, whereby police caught up with Mr Janoušek, who then attempted to flee on foot. Much of this aftermath, including a decision by the arresting officers that allowed Mr Janoušek to make calls on his mobile phone, was caught on camera by TV Prima, one of the country’s major private broadcasters. While in custody Mr Janoušek blew a 2.2 parts per thousand blood-alcohol-level in breathalyzer test, according to police, which means Mr Janoušek was driving drunk in a country where drivers are not allowed to have any alcohol at all. All of this occurred at around 10 in the morning.
Additional police missteps also angered the public, including a decision to release Mr Janoušek from custody, after brief questioning, when suspects in cases of intentional bodily harm are normally detained for 48 hours. At the time, a police spokeswoman said that Mr Janoušek’s attorney had “worked out an agreement” with the prosecutor on the case. In the intervening months, Mr Janoušek reached a financial settlement with his alleged victim, with amount of money changing hands remaining a secret. The whole ordeal has led to the perception among much of the public that the case represents the most egregious in a long line of incidents that have seen the moneyed and powerful influence judicial cases and dodge punishment.
If this were not enough to stoke resentment, the automobile incident occurred just days after Mláda Fronta Dnes, a daily, had published a series of explosive stories based on wire taps that purported to have Mr Janoušek speaking with the then mayor of Prague, Pavel Bém, in 2007. The recordings seemingly confirmed what had been among the worst kept secrets in Czech politics: Mr Janoušek was among the most influential people at City Hall. Mr Bém has remained a member of parliament, and though he temporarily suspended his membership in the Civic Democratic Party of Petr Nečas, the prime minister, after the wiretap stories. He was quietly reinstated early this year.
While police are urging a charge of attempted murder for Mr Janoušek, the final decision rests with the state attorney who is meant to decide before the middle of May. If convicted, Mr Janoušek would face 18 years in prison. He also faces charges of endangerment under the influence of drugs. But even this process has been thrown into confusion as the indictment against Mr Janoušek has been delayed. While details are not forthcoming, his attorney claims Mr Janoušek had surgery on his head in February and thus has not yet been able to review his police file.]]>
THIS weekend’s decision by Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president, to pardon Yury Lutsenko (pictured above), a jailed opposition politician, was a nice “gesture,” as one western diplomat in Kiev put it. Yet it may not be followed up with more concrete steps to appease the European Union’s pressing concerns about political persecution and the gradual demise of democracy in Ukraine under Mr Yanukovych’s rule.
Mr Yanukovych is still seen internationally as the villain of the 2004 Orange Revolution. He has taken to constant brinkmanship since becoming president in 2010. But with a May deadline, set by the EU, for Mr Yanukovych to demonstrate concrete progress and commitment to EU values, his government’s chances of inking landmark association and free trade agreements with the EU are as uncertain as the fate of Yulia Tymoshenko, the jailed Ukrainian opposition leader.
All signs on the ground in Kyiv are that Mr Yanukovych, whose popularity at home is plummeting , is not yet ready to release Ms Tymoshenko, his fierce and feared political rival.
“For Yanukovych, the release of Tymoshenko is not even on the table,” said Kost Bondarenko, a Ukrainian political analyst who advised Mr Yanukovych’s political team last year. “Yanukovych wants to deliver a bare minimum of what the West is demanding. He made a calculated bet that the West will accept the release of Lutsenko, a less threatening political figure than Tymoshenko, as enough … along with some legislative reforms changes soon to be adopted” to address concerns about how elections are handled as well as worries about the independence of courts and prosecutors. “In releasing Lutsenko, Yanukovych hopes in the very least to keep the door to the EU open, so that he can buy time and continue playing off the West and Russia to the East,” Mr Bondarenko added.
Mr Yanukovych’s unrefined ways are duping neither the West nor East. Russia is keen to keep a hold over Kiev, foremost by derailing its western integration drive. With Mr Yanukovych himself testing the EU’s patience to the limit, Moscow has no impetus to grant lower energy prices for an ailing and inefficient Ukrainian economy that largely runs on imported fuel.
Strong-arm power grabs, rampant kleptocracy, widespread corruption and curtails on democracy at home continue to jeopardise Kiev’s chances of inking agreements with Brussels even though Mr Yanukovych calls them a top priority and part of Ukraine’s “European choice".
“Yanukovych’s poker game is not working. We are not fooled by it,” said a western diplomat in Kiev. “Mr Yanukovych should not expect that the release of Lutsenko is enough.” Indeed, upon hearing of Mr Lutsenko’s release, Stefan Fuele, the EU enlargement commissioner, stressed that it was a “first but important step to deal with selective justice.” On April 8th the White House added: “much more remains to be done. We urge Ukrainian authorities to end all politically motivated prosecutions, undertake comprehensive judicial reform to ensure such selective justice does not recur, and fully implement the OSCE recommendations made after the 2012 parliamentary elections.”
Addressing the issue during a briefing, Mr Yanukovych’s foreign policy advisor, Andriy Goncharuk, expressed hope that recent steps taken by Kiev to address “so-called selective justice” and other concerns, demonstrate that progress was being made towards establishing the right atmosphere to sign the agreements with Brussels at an EU summit to be held in Vilnius this autumn. Even so, Ms Tymoshenko’s release is still considered by many European leaders the main litmus test of just how committed Mr Yanukovych is to democracy and EU values.
Sitting out a seven-year jail sentence condemned by the West as politically motivated, the heroine of the Orange Revolution is facing additional (many say dubious) charges ranging from tax evasion to murder. If found guilty of the charges, the 52-year old could spend the rest of her life behind bars.
“Obviously there is no desire by Yanukovych to release Tymoshenko,” said Serhiy Vlasenko, her defence lawyer. “Our hopes are now that she will be freed by an appeal ruling expected any day now from the European Court of Human Rights … and that the West will not be duped by Yanukovych again. The West needs to maintain pressure not only to release Tymoshenko, but also keep on systemic pressure to end the use of politically motivated trials in Ukraine and put the country back on a democratic path.”]]>
JULIA KIRÁLY, a deputy-governor of the National Bank of Hungary, stepped down on April 8th. Her resignation was not unexpected but her very public attack on György Matolcsy, the new governor of Hungary’s central bank, has caused ripples at home and abroad.
Mr Matolcsy, the former economy minister, and a close ally of the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, was damaging both the national bank’s credibility and the Hungarian economy, Ms Király claimed. She would no longer be part of this.
“Decisions have been made that could cause serious damage not only to the National Bank of Hungary but in the longer term also to the Hungarian economy,” she wrote in her resignation letter. “Taking all of this into account, I can see an increasing likelihood that decisions could be made that are not well-founded, and (which are) mistaken, for which I do not wish to take any responsibility.”
Ms Király’s broadside follows a similar attack by György Kopits, who had served as chair of Hungary’s fiscal council and as a member of the national bank’s monetary council.
Her departure, however, will have no effect on monetary policy. She was the last remaining member of the eight-strong monetary council who had not been appointed by the ruling Fidesz party or Mr Orbán’s government. Her term was due to end in July. Last week she abstained on a vote on a financial growth-package put together by Mr Matolcsy. She complained that she was given the plan 35 minutes before it was put to the vote, which was insufficient time to read it.
As economy minister, Mr. Matolcsy spearheaded what he called “unorthodox” policies including taxes on banks and multi-nationals, the nationalisation of private pension funds and frequent verbal attacks on the IMF and European Union.
The new “Funding for Growth” plan, modeled on the Bank of England’s “Funding for Lending” programme, marks a far less confrontational approach. The national bank will offer zero-interest loans to retail banks, with the aim of increasing lending to small and medium companies. A part of the country’s foreign exchange reserves will be used to finance the loans. The retail banks will be allowed to charge a maximum interest rate of two per cent. The retail banks will also convert private firms’ foreign currency loans to forints. The high proportion of private and business debt denominated in foreign currency is one of the biggest drags on the Hungarian economy.
Several of Hungary’s largest retail banks attended a meeting at the national bank and gave a cautious welcome to the programme. The banks, including OTP, Unicredit and Raffeisen, have agreed to hold regular business breakfasts with the national bank management. However Erste Bank, the country’s second largest bank, and MKB, the fourth largest, did not attend, Dow Jones reported.
Market analysts have watched the personnel changes at the national bank with intense interest, poring over the promotions and demotions like Cold War Kremlinologists who analysed the photographs of the Soviet leaders on May Day Parades. Several senior officials have been sacked since Mr Matolcsy replaced András Simor.
The meeting room, where bank officials once discussed policy options, has now been handed to one of Mr Matolcsy’s closest aides. Bank officials said there are other suitable rooms for discussions.
Insiders complain of a climate of fear, where the old guard and non-government loyalists are sidelined or fired. Mr Matolcsy rejects such criticism and says he is committed to maintaining the central bank’s independence, but that new economic tools are needed to bring Hungary out of its recession. The government argues that its radical policies have prevented the Hungarian economy from collapsing and have reduced the country’s debt.
So far, the markets have given Mr Matolcsy’s programme a guarded welcome. Ms Király’s resignation does not seem to have changed perceptions. The forint, which had recently slid to 308 against the euro, continued its rally.]]>