News from Central and Eastern Europe, Thursday 18th April 2013

BALKANS

Reuters: Failure of Kosovo talks deals blow to Serbia’s EU hopes. ‘Serbia and Kosovo failed to agree on a plan to tackle the ethnic partition of Serbia’s former province on Thursday, casting doubt on Belgrade’s prospects of getting the go-ahead to start talks on joining the European Union in June.

After around 14 hours of talks in Brussels between the Serbian and Kosovo prime ministers, billed as a make-or-break session, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said differences remained between the two sides.

She said however that their differences were “narrow and very shallow” and held out hope there could yet be an agreement before an EU ministerial meeting on Monday at which she is expected to make a recommendation on whether Serbia is ready to start talks on joining the EU.’

BULGARIA

EurActiv: Commission asked to investigate Bulgaria’s ‘Watergate’ scandal. ‘

Hannes Swoboda, president of the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament, called yesterday (16 April) on the European Commission to investigate a wiretapping scandal in Bulgaria.

Media in Bulgaria have dubbed the unfolding eavesdropping scandal “the Bulgarian Watergate”, alluding to the 1970s secret taping of the Democratic party headquarters, which led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.

Bulgarians will vote in early parliamentary elections on 12 May. If the taping allegations prove to be true, the government of former prime minister Boyko Borissov, leader of the centre-right GERB party, would have spied on all major political players in the country.’

The Sofia Globe: Bulgarian prosecutors subpoena former MP in vote-buying investigation. ‘Bulgarian prosecutors have subpoenaed Emil Dimitrov, an MP for Boiko Borissov’s party GERB in the previous legislature, as part of an investigation into an alleged vote-buying scheme, Bulgarian media reported on April 17.

The prosecutors launched the investigation earlier this month after local broadcaster Nova Televizia showed footage shot with a hidden camera from a meeting whose participants were being “instructed” how to “attract votes”.

The footage was shot in a hotel owned by Dimitrov in the town of Etropole near Sofia and Dimitrov himself is briefly caught on camera, Nova Televizia’s report said. Dimitrov denied being the owner of the hotel.’

GREECE

The Times of Israel: Greek Jews protest TV airtime for neo-Nazi lawmakers. ‘The Greek Jewish community protested to a leading Greek television channel about a program hosting four lawmakers from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.

“The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece wishes to express its great indignation at the broadcasting, promotion and dissemination of the extremely racist sentiments displayed by Holocaust deniers and proponents of Nazism in Greece,” said a board letter addressed to Ioannis Alafouzos, president of the SKAI media group.’

The Jerusalem Post: Economy alone can’t explain Golden Dawn rise. ‘Economic factors alone cannot explain the meteoric rise of the far-right Golden Dawn party, David Saltiel, president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

Speaking with the Post at the 2013 International Forum of the newly established Israeli Jewish Congress, Saltiel said the nationalist faction is a “neo-Nazi party” and that it is impossible to say that people voted for Golden Dawn “because of the economic situation.”

However, Saltiel added, “people are against the [mainstream] parliamentarians” because of persistent corruption scandals and that there were many such grievances of which the Golden Dawn took advantage.’

HUNGARY

EU Observer: Hungary to pay EU fines via new tax on own citizens. ‘Hungarian authorities will pass on the cost of EU fines through a tax on its own citizens whenever it breaches EU law.

Giving details of the new Hungarian initiative, EU justice commissioner for justice Vivian Reding told euro-deputies at the Strasbourg plenary session on Wednesday (17 April) that: “in practice citizens would be penalised twice: once for not having had their rights under EU law upheld and a second time for having to pay for this.”

The so-called ad hoc tax was introduced into Hungary’s latest constitutional reform in March, its fourth in the past 15 months.

The latest changes are said to undermine the rule of law by limiting the power of the constitutional court.’

KOSOVO

SETimes: Pristina encourages minorities to join Kosovo Security Force. ‘Minorities have shown interest in serving in the Kosovo Security Force after Pristina authorities conducted a broad campaign to encourage inclusion, security experts said.

More than 200 candidates responded to the force’s call for new recruits in early April.

“Out of 224 candidates, there are 65 Bosnians, 54 Serbs [and] 36 Turks,” Ibrahim Shala, head of the press department at the Kosovo Security Force ministry, told SETimes.’

LITHUANIA

UPI:Lithuania, Serbia PMs hail breakthrough in strained relations. ‘Lithuania has reached a breakthrough in its strained relations with Serbia as Belgrade seeks closer EU ties, the countries’ prime ministers say.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius and Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic said at a news conference Tuesday in Vilnius they are putting disputes behind them as Lithuania considers whether to ratify Serbia’s Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union.

Lithuania is only EU country yet to approve the key agreement, which Serbia needs to continue on its path toward membership in the European bloc.’

RUSSIA

The Globe and Mail: Support builds for Russian dissident. ‘The embezzlement trial of a Russian opposition leader was adjourned for a week shortly after it started Wednesday in a northwestern city besieged by hundreds of activists and journalists. In the evening, hundreds more rallied in Moscow to show their support.

Lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, who spearheaded anti-government protests in 2011, and his former colleague are accused of leading an organized criminal group that embezzled the equivalent of $515,000 worth of timber from a state-owned company in the city of Kirov.’

RAPSI: Corruption crimes increase by almost one-fourth. ‘The number of corruption crimes has increased by about one-fourth in 2012, according to a report submitted by Prosecutor General Yury Chaika to the Federation Council.

“The number of registered crimes reached 49,513 in 2012, which is 22.5% more than the number of crimes registered in 2011 (40,407),” according to the report.
Charges were brought against more than 13,500 people.

The greatest number of corruption crimes involved fraud, embezzlement and the illegal use of property and funds. Meanwhile, the number of crimes committed against the state, state services and local governments, as well as the number of registered bribery cases, has dropped.’

RFE/RL: Russian Prosecutor-General Says Terrorism Increased In 2012. ‘Russia’s prosecutor-general says incidents of terrorism increased in 2012, mainly in Russia’s North Caucasus region. Yuri Chaika said on April 17 that 565 crimes related to terrorism were committed in the North Caucasus last year.

The numbers are based on a report to be presented to the Federation Council next week. He said 211 members of law-enforcement agencies in the Caucasus were killed and 405 wounded.

Chaika conceded that militants have a solid support base supplying them with not only weapons, but also food, medicine, shelter, and transportation.’

Ria Novosti: State Duma Adopts Street Shooting Bill in First Reading. ‘Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on Wednesday adopted in the first reading a bill toughening punishment for shooting in public places.

The amendments to the Russian Administrative Offenses Code were proposed by a group of Duma deputies. In line with the draft law, those shooting in inhabited localities and at sites where shooting is not allowed will be fined 50,000 rubles ($1,575), their weapons license suspended, weapons seized, and may also face short jail terms of up to 15 days.’

Russian Communist Leader Zyuganov Slams Government Policy. ‘The head of Russia’s Communist Party on Wednesday lambasted the government’s current social and economic policies, saying they are detrimental to the country’s economy and that a new cabinet is required to lead Russia out of a crisis.

“We must warn society that should the current social and economic course be continued, Russia would face a collapse,” Gennady Zyuganov said after Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev addressed the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, delivering a report on the cabinet’s work in 2012.’

Video – The Telegraph: Vladimir Putin filmed haranguing group of Russian ministers. ‘The release of allegedly secret footage of Vladimir Putin haranguing a group of ministers and senior government officials has prompted fresh speculation about tension between the Russian president and his long-time ally, Dmitry Medvedev.’

Vestnik Kavkaza: Militant cache found at mosque in Dagestan’s Gimry. ‘A militant cache of weapons was found at the central mosque in Gimry of the Untsukulsky District of Dagestan yesterday, RIA Novosti reports.

The cache included a 5.45mm AK-74, a Makarov pistol with a silencer, an SR 99 pneumatic pistol, 2 magazines for AK-74, an RGD-5 grenade, a large quantity of ammo, radios, car alarms, instructions for bomb construction, maps, 240,000 rubles, alarm controls and religious literature.’

TURKEY

Vestnik Kavkaza: Turkish court agrees to discuss alleged murder of former president Turgut Özal. ‘Today a court in the Turkish capital of Ankara filed a lawsuit against former general Levent Ersöz. The former general is accused of taking part in the alleged assassination of former Turkish president Turgut Özal, Hürriyet Daily News reports.

The decision was made only a day before the statute of limitations expired in the case.’

UKRAINE

Video – The Moscow Times: TV Host Apologizes for Joking About Ukrainian Killings. ‘A popular television personality has apologized to the Ukrainian people after he likened the way he chopped fresh herbs on a cooking show to the slaughter of Ukrainian villagers by Bolshevik forces.

The comments by Ivan Urgant on the “Smak” show sparked an angry protest from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and a rally of a couple dozen tomato-hurling Ukrainian nationalists outside the Russian Embassy in Kiev.

“I just said a stupid thing without thinking,” Urgant said on Channel One on Wednesday evening. “Believe me, I don’t embrace the monstrous and chauvinistic notions that some people have seen in this stupid phrase. Indeed, I never imagined that this would cause an international scandal.”‘

 

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