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‘Separate but Equal’ at Risk in Bosnia, Slovakia Mulls Wealth Taxes

Plus, pressure mounts on Ukraine ahead of Euro 2012 tournament and the case of the vanished Czech bridge.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ryan Isakow, and Stanislav Maselnik 1 May 2012

1. European leaders threaten Euro 2012 boycott

 

Jose Manuel Barroso
European statesmen and EU officials are hinting they will boycott the Euro 2012 soccer tournament unless Ukraine releases ailing Yulia Tymoshenko from jail, further raising the pressure on Kyiv just over a month ahead of the tournament, which Ukraine will co-host with Poland.

 

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said 30 April he would not go to Ukraine during the tournament unless there is significant improvement in the human rights situation, according to AP. Earlier, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said she would skip the 8 June opening ceremony.

 

Spiegel Online speculates that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will follow suit unless Tymoshenko is released soon, and Czech President Vaclav Klaus on 30 April pulled out of an upcoming summit of Central European leaders in Ukraine over Tymoshenko’s treatment.

 

Tymoshenko’s husband, Oleksandr, and former Ukrainian government minister Bohdan Danylyshyn have been granted political asylum in the Czech Republic.

 

Meanwhile, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski expressed concern the Dnipropetrovsk bomb blasts might mar the tournament.

 

2. Slovak government mulls wealth taxes

 

Slovakia’s new center-left government is drafting a plan that would replace the current 19 percent flat tax with a progressive tax system, with the goal of getting the budget deficit below 3 percent of GDP by 2013. The government has ruled out increasing consumption taxes, opting instead to add a second income tax bracket of 25 percent on incomes above 33,000 euros ($43,800) annually. The average gross salary in 2009 was about 10,000 euros, according to the Slovak statistics agency. The government is also looking into a financial transaction tax and a 22 percent tax on “lucrative companies” including banks and telecoms, AFP reports.

 

Robert Fico
Businesses and liberal circles praised the flat tax introduced by a center-right government in 2004. Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party ousted that government’s successor in early elections held in March, pledging to pursue austerity measures that would not disproportionately affect the poor. Smer’s 83 parliamentary seats out of 150 gave it the first absolute majority in Slovakia’s parliament since independence. Slovakia is struggling to get its deficit below the EU mandated 3 percent of GDP, anticipating a 4.6 percent deficit this year.

 

3. Breakthrough ruling finds discrimination in Bosnian schools

 

A court has overturned the “two schools under one roof” system in one Bosnian city.

 

A Mostar court ruling on 27 April upheld a lawsuit filed by the Vasa Prava legal-aid group, finding that the system used in a number of Bosnian schools, where children from the country’s main ethnic groups are educated separately in the same building, amounts to discrimination.

 

A Spanish peacekeeper on a devastated Mostar street during the Bosnian war. Photo by legio09/flickr.

 

“Two schools under one roof” is most common in the Bosnian-Croat Federation, where Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslim) and Croats are the dominant groups. During the Bosnian War in the 1990s, the two communities fought a fierce battle for Mostar that left the city’s famous stone bridge in ruins, and the city remains sharply divided along ethnic lines.

 

The court ordered Mostar schools to end the separate-but-equal policy by the beginning of the next school year in September, a Vasa Prava spokesman said, according to the Swiss SDA news agency and AFP.

 

4. Medvedev fires two more provincial governors

 

In one of his final acts in office, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed the heads of Yaroslavl and Perm regions late last week. They joined nearly a dozen regional chiefs who have been relieved of their duties since December.

 

Medvedev said he was displeased by Yaroslavl region Governor Sergei Vakhrukov’s handling of the recent Yaroslavl mayoral election, The Moscow Times reports. Vakhrukov’s hand-picked candidate ended up losing to an opposition-backed candidate. Although former deputy mayor of Yaroslavl Sergei Yastrebov won the ruling United Russia party’s mayoral primary, Vakhrukov ignored the result and personally decided on a different candidate. Medvedev has now appointed Yastrebov to be acting governor.

 

Medvedev also accepted the resignation of Perm Governor Oleg Chirkonov, who will be temporarily replaced by Regional Development Minister Viktor Basargin, according to Gazeta.ru.

 

In a televised interview last week cited by The Moscow Times, Medvedev said he had replaced more than half the country’s governors during his tenure and suggested corruption had motivated several of the sackings.

 

5. Baffling reports of daring Czech bridge caper

 

A gang of thieves made off with a 10-ton railway bridge and 200 meters of track last week in the western Czech Republic, Mlada fronta Dnes reports.

 

The thieves pretended to be bona fide workers and had a fake contract authorizing them to remove the disused track and bridge to make way for a cycle path, Railway Infrastructure Administration spokesman Pavel Halla said. The fake document apparently satisfied police who dropped by to question the thieves.

 

The bridge theft made little impact in the Czech media, where stories of metal theft are common, but Mlada fronta’s website ran a follow up story 30 April, highlighting that Britain’s Daily Telegraph had picked up the story. Mlada fronta chided the Telegraph for placing the scene of the crime at the opposite end of the country, but there appears to be some geopolitical confusion in the newsroom of the largest Czech daily as well. The map accompanying the original story labeled the largest city in the area “Carlsbad,” the old German name for Karlovy Vary.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOL. Ryan Isakow and Stanislav Maselnik are TOL editorial interns.
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Eastern Europe Looks East for Trade, Hungary Goes Begging to Brussels

Plus, Tymoshenko may have been beaten by prison guards and Bosnia joins up with Turkey in NATO bid.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Joshua Boissevain and Stanislav Maselnik
26 April 2012

1. Chinese premier talks trade in Warsaw


Heads of government from 16 Central and Eastern European countries were expected to meet Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at a trade and investment forum in Warsaw today.


Wen Jiabao
Wen’s two-day stopover in Poland, part of a four-day European visit, was due to focus on building business ties with the region. Three hundred Chinese companies and a similar number of Polish ones were due to attend the forum, together with 150 more from around the region, AFP reports.


Speaking in Warsaw on 25 April, Wen said China hoped to double trade with Poland over the next five years, although, as the Wall Street Journal reports, Polish imports from China far exceed its exports. Poland bought 13 billion euros’ ($17 billion) worth of Chinese goods in 2011.


China expert Cui Hongjian said Beijing’s interest in the region was primed by its comparatively low labor costs and preferential trade policies, according to AFP. A Europe expert at the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Institute for International Studies told AFP, "Comparatively speaking, China has fewer political contradictions with Central and Eastern European countries [than with Western Europe] and feels comfortable cooperating with them."


2. Kyiv denies prison attack on Tymoshenko


Ukrainian authorities have denied former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's claims that she was beaten in prison and asked a team of German doctors to examine her, the BBC reports. According to a statement released by Tymoshenko, the attack took place on 20 April, when she was moved from a prison in Kharkiv to a hospital for treatment of back pain. She described how three prison staff members “approached my bed, put a sheet over me, and started dragging me off the bed, using brute physical force.” A doctor at the hospital reportedly saw no bruises on the parts of Tymoshenko’s body – the face and hands – that Tymoshenko permitted her to examine. The former prime minister’s lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, said she had visible bruises after the attack.


The Ukrainian parliament’s human rights ombudsman, Nina Karpachova, said 25 April that a member of her staff had visited Tymoshenko in prison and confirmed that she was bruised.


In February, a team of German and Canadian doctors examined the ailing Tymoshenko. A government spokesperson said another request for an examination has been sent to the Charite Clinic in Berlin. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the request “is now being examined [to see] if, and under which conditions, sending in medical assistance would be useful,” the BBC reports.


On 26 April, a spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was "deeply preoccupied" by Tymoshenko’s case, and had instructed the EU’s chief envoy to Ukraine, Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira, to travel to Kharkiv “accompanied by independent medical specialists” and request permission to visit Tymoshenko in prison.


3. EU “prepared to discuss” bailout with Hungary


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Hungary’s relations with EU institutions, under strain recently over controversial laws and constitutional changes enacted by the conservative government, may be taking a turn for the better, opening the way for a bailout of the country’s debt-burdened economy.


Hungary offered guarantees relating to the independence of the central bank, the European Commission said 25 April. As a result, “the commission is today prepared to discuss financial assistance as requested by Hungary from the EU and the IMF last November,” commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said.


The country’s new constitution limits the independence of the central bank, leading to calls by EU officials earlier this year to revise it.


Budapest had asked for a bailout package of 15 billion to 20 billion euros.


The financial crisis and recession hit Hungary’s economy as hard as any in the EU. Before the crisis, Hungarian banks offered attractive loans in Swiss francs and other foreign currencies, but the rising value of the franc has made those loans impossible for many borrowers to repay.


4. Turkey backs Bosnia’s NATO ambitions

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina is on track toward a Membership Action Plan, the last step before full membership in NATO, alliance members said after a 10 April meeting in Brussels. But the country must sort out technical problems, and internal politics could still derail its membership bid.


The main technical obstacle is determining ownership of dozens of military facilities, including bases, barracks, and warehouses, Southeast European Times writes. The facilities once belonged to the Yugoslav armed forces, but the complex political structure in place since the end of the Bosnian war in 1995 has hampered the process of divvying them up between the country’s two entities, Republika Srpska and the Bosnian-Croat Federation. Resolving the issue of military property was a condition set by NATO leaders in April 2010 when Bosnia was formally offered an action plan. Republika Srpska citizens should be allowed to decide on NATO membership in a referendum in the future, the semi-autonomous region’s president, Milorad Dodik, said in March, according to Southeast European Times.


The newspaper also reported that U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton urged the tripartite Bosnian presidency to register the military assets as soon as possible. NATO will hold its next summit in late May in Chicago.


Bosnia’s former ruler, Turkey, has emerged as the country’s strongest supporter within NATO, B92 writes. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is said to be pressing other members to include Bosnia in the MAP program at the Chicago summit.


5. Sharia comment sparks debate in Russia


The question of whether Islamic Sharia courts could exist in Russia came into focus after lawyer Dagir Khasavov told REN TV on 24 April that Russian Muslims don’t trust the secular courts and wanted their own court system based on the Koran, according to The Moscow Times. He added, "Any attempts to stop this will end in bloodshed. There will be a second Dead Sea here – we will fill the city with blood."


Top Kremlin-backed Muslim clerics distanced themselves from Khasavov’s comments and rejected the idea of using Sharia in Russia, saying it would violate the country’s divide between church and state, according to Radio Free Europe. A spokesman for Russia's Orthodox Church, however, defended the lawyer, saying it was not clear if Khasavov meant that Sharia would be applicable only to Muslims or to all Russians. While he condemned Khasavov’s threats of violence, he said religious communities in Russia have the right to live in keeping with their own religious practices, according to Interfax.


The leader of the small, liberal Yabloko party, Sergei Mitrokhin, said Khasavov’s remarks violated Russian law by calling for extremism and sowing national hatred, according to RT.com. The Russian Interior Ministry said it was investigating the remarks. In November, Khasavov called for the creation of a national council of imams and an Islamic social organization.


The Kul Sharif mosque in Kazan. Photo: hadoken/Flickr
Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOL.
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