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Serbian Gays on Film, Trillions for the Russian Military

Plus, Latvia says “Ne” to official status for Russian, and Poles keep the euro at arm’s length.

by Barbara Frye, Joshua Boissevain, and Ioana Caloianu 20 February 2012

1. Comedy takes aim at Balkan homophobia


A Serbian filmmaker who set out to show how most of his countrymen treat gays – and to change their attitudes – says his film, Parada, has achieved nearly all of the goals he had for it.


Milos Samolov, right, plays a gay man who wants to hold a pride parade in Belgrade, under the protection of Nikola Kojo, left. Photo from


In an interview with Spiegel Online, Srdjan Dragojevic said he made Parada, a comedy about a gay couple who want to have a pride parade in Belgrade and the thuggish war veteran they hire to protect them, “to show as many people as possible how the majority treats the minority.”


The film screened at the Berlin International Film Festival in mid-February.


Dragojevic said 330,000 people have seen the movie in Serbia, but he considers it a film for the entire former Yugoslavia. As for changing attitudes, he said, “A friend of mine told me that his teenage son came back home in a bad mood after seeing Parada. The teenager said he thought the film was shit because after seeing it he can no longer hate gays. I made the film for such people.”


The director said homophobia has spread widely across the Balkans because it’s used by the region’s “nouveau riche” as a convenient distraction from glaring economic inequalities that have risen up since the fall of Yugoslavia.


2. Putin outlines massive military development plan


Russia’s military would see massive development in the next decade under a plan outlined by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in today’s issue of Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the government-owned daily.


The 23 trillion ruble ($773 billion) spending package is meant, Putin writes, to reverse a situation in which a “chronically underfunded” army and navy lagged behind as other countries have built up their “military muscle.”


Vladimir Putin says the Russian military needs a 23 trillion ruble upgrade. Photo from the Russian Ministry of Defense website.


Putin calls on Russians’ recollections of the 1990s, when the military was starved; tens of thousands of soldiers left, salaries went unpaid, and defense industries went idle. Still, the demoralized armed forces “fulfilled their duty” in the Chechen war in 1999, he says, and the state stepped up to meet basic needs such as social security and salary payments for soldiers.


Now the goal is to create a military that is in a constant state of readiness and can respond to emerging types of combat with new types of weapons. The prime minister also wants to develop a system of scientific and technical education for members of the military.


In the lengthy article, Putin also said he wants to develop a missile system capable of overcoming the U.S. missile shield being deployed in Europe.


The plan does not amount to a Soviet-style “militarization of the budget,” Putin insists, saying it will have knock-on effects throughout the economy. “The most important priority of Russian state policy in the future will remain issues of dynamic development of the armed forces, nuclear and aerospace industry, defense industry, military education, military science, [and] fundamental and applied research programs.”


3. No official status for Russian in Latvia


A referendum to give Russian official-language status in Latvia was rejected by more than three-quarters of the voters on 18 February, The Associated Press reports.


The referendum was seen by some opponents as a threat to the Baltic state's sovereignty and identity. "Latvia is the only place throughout the world where Latvian is spoken, so we have to protect it. But Russian is everywhere," Martins Dzerve, a resident of the capital, Riga, told the AP.


Almost one-third of the country's population of 2.2 million are Russian speakers with roots in other states in the former Soviet Union.


Since Latvia gained independence in 1991, the country's Russian-speaking minority has had to go through a naturalization process, including a Latvian language exam, in order to gain citizenship. The 2011 census identified almost 300,000 Latvian “non-citizens” who are not allowed to vote.


The conduct of the referendum drew criticism from Moscow. The results “far from fully reflect national sentiments,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, asserting that the exclusion of the “non-citizens” from the vote raises questions about the implementation of “basic laws protecting the legal rights and interests of minorities.”


Tension has traditionally simmered between ethnic Latvians and Russian speakers, many of whom were born in Latvia, but recently the issue became more heated. In September’s parliamentary election, a party that represents the interests of the Russian minority won the most seats but was kept out of a governing coalition.


4. More Poles say they don’t want the euro


Opposition in Poland to adopting the euro is growing, according to a poll taken in late January, The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog reports.


Sixty percent of respondents said they do not want Poland to join the single currency, with 35 percent saying they were strongly opposed, up from 31 percent in March 2011.


A majority – 57 percent – is also against contributing to a 6.27 billion euro ($8.3 billion) loan to the IMF. As the Journal notes, Poland has committed itself to adopting the euro, but the initial target date of 2012 has been abandoned. Now Warsaw says it will wait until the euro zone crisis has passed.


5. Cancer drugs may be at risk in Bulgaria bonus scandal


A bonus scandal at Bulgaria’s National Health Insurance Fund could mean a delay for cancer patients getting their treatments, according to Novinite.


On 17 February, the fund’s managing director, Neli Nesheva, resigned under pressure from Prime Minister Boyko Borisov after she admitted to giving herself and her employees year-end bonuses. At a press conference before her resignation, Nesheva said she gave herself 12,500 levs ($8,400).


Nesheva’s departure has some doctors worried about the impact of the personnel shakeup on the supply of medication for patients around the country. Antoaneta Tomova, director of the chemotherapy ward at a Plovdiv cancer hospital, told Novinite, “Cancer patients may be left without medication in the coming weeks because the health insurance fund still has not given hospitals in the country the codes necessary for the prescription of cancer medicines.”


Until recently the supply of cancer treatments in Bulgaria was controlled by the Health Ministry, but that responsibility was given to the insurance fund at the beginning of this year, according to the article.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu and Joshua Boissevain are TOL editorial assistants.
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