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Russia Hands Moldova an Ultimatum, Bucharest Targets Gold Mine Project

Plus, a Budapest theater cancels an anti-Semitic play and Macedonia persists with a controversial compensation bill for soldiers.

by Barbara Frye, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 17 September 2012

1. Moldova caught in the middle of EU-Russia gas row


Moscow has told Moldova to choose between discounts on the gas Gazprom supplies to the small post-Soviet country and membership in the EU energy community, Reuters reports.


In a few years Moldova is set to sign on to EU rules that seek to break up energy monopolies that generate and distribute power. That would force Gazprom, the majority owner of Moldova’s national gas company, to give up direct control of a lucrative pipeline that runs through the country.


Moldova is seeking lower gas prices, but Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that for the country to secure cheaper fuel it must reject membership in the European energy community.


Russia is sweetening the deal with an offer to discuss forgiving some of the $4.1 billion Russia says Moldova owes for gas. The lion’s share of that debt – about $3.5 billion – is owed by Moldova’s breakaway province of Transdniester, which stopped paying for gas from Russia in 2007.


Chisinau maintains that MoldovaGaz, the national gas company, is liable for that amount, not the government. Critics have accused Russia of using gas pricing and transport flows for geopolitical influence.


Russia’s ultimatum would make Moldova choose sides in an increasingly rocky relationship between Russia and the EU over gas prices.


Earlier this month the European Commission launched a probe into pricing and competition practices by Gazprom, which supplies more than 25 percent of Europe’s gas. Moscow said the company is beyond EU jurisdiction and it would fight the investigation, according to Reuters. On 14 September, the EU responded, saying Russia must stop offering gas at different prices to different member state and play by internal EU market rules, the news agency reports.


2. Romanian government seeks to cancel gold mine permit


The Romanian government will seek to revoke an environmental permit for a Canadian firm to mine for gold in the western Certej region, Bloomberg reports.


Victor Ponta
The move, a victory for local environmentalists, is also part of a battle between the leftist government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta and the center-right Democratic Liberals, unofficially led by President Traian Basescu. The Democratic Liberals held power until earlier this year, and Ponta’s successor government pursued a failed effort to have Basescu recalled.


Ponta announced last week on his Facebook page that the government would take legal action to cancel the permit. He said that according to Environment Minister Rovana Plumb, the permit had been issued by a previous government “without respecting the legal procedures and it will clearly be annulled.”


On 12 September Ponta asked Plumb to make a presentation at a future cabinet meeting about “the situation at Certej,” which he said might have been caused by “bribes received by the former Democratic Liberal government.”


The Romanian daily Adevarul writes that Plumb started an “emergency” investigation into the permit on 3 September. The minister suggested that Gabriela Lambrino, the local government’s environmental chief, be fired for not informing Bucharest about the issuance of the permit in 2010.


Lambrino insisted that the regional authority doesn’t have to inform Bucharest about strictly local projects and that the Environment Ministry already had some of the paperwork on the effort by the Canadian Eldorado Group, which wants to use cyanide to extract gold from mined rock. Lambrino said the waters flowing through the area would be only slightly contaminated by the mining and those waters “flow into the Mures River, which has such a large flow that not even the fish will be affected.”


Environmental groups maintain the project would have a devastating effect on the local ecology and population, rendering other activities such as tourism or agriculture impossible. In 2000, an accident at a gold mine in northwestern Romania sent tons of cyanide, zinc, and lead waste pouring into nearby rivers and killed thousands of fish.


3. Anti-Jewish take on Trianon won’t be staged in Budapest theater


Budapest’s New Theater has backed away from plans to stage a play that blames Hungary’s post-World War I division on American Jews, the Los Angeles Times reports.


The Treaty of Trianon cut away much of Hungary's territory.


The Sixth Coffin imagines a time machine that takes its owners back to the conference at which the Treaty of Trianon was crafted, giving parts of the Kingdom of Hungary to Yugoslavia, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. The playwright, Istvan Csurka, depicts non-Jewish participants in the conference as Jews and distorts the documented positions of those who took part, according to Eva Balogh, a former history professor and dean at Yale University.


Gyorgy Dorner
The decision to stage The Sixth Coffin was made by the New Theater’s artistic director, Gyorgy Dorner, who was hired last fall. “We want to use our own tools to make it possible to say proudly, I love my country, I am a Hungarian, a Christian Hungarian, and I live according to European Christian moral values,” Dorner said on national television after his appointment, according to the BBC.


Dorner tried unsuccessfully to give Csurka a post in the theater before the writer’s death in February at age 77.


The Los Angeles Times reports that the play was nixed on the order of Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos, who appointed Dorner, after protests and threats of a boycott by artists within and outside of Hungary.


The naming of Dorner is part of rightist trend in Hungary, where the conservative, populist Fidesz party rules with a heavy hand and the nationalist Jobbik party took 17 percent of the vote in the 2010 parliamentary elections. Recently, the government has revamped the core public school curriculum to include the works of anti-Semitic interwar writers viewed by admirers as defenders of Hungary.


4. Skopje presses on with measure to reward Macedonian veterans of 2001 conflict


The Macedonian government is moving forward with a bill to give additional benefits to soldiers and survivors of those who fought in the country’s ethnic conflict in 2001, despite warnings that it could lead to political instability and re-ignite ethnic tensions, SETimes reports.


The fighting in 2001 pitted ethnic Albanians, who make up about one-quarter of the country’s population, against ethnic Macedonians. It ended with a treaty signed in the town of Ohrid that year.


The measure introduced by the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party last week would offer compensation, free health care, employment, and low-cost housing loans to the fighters and their families, but it applies only to those who fought on the side of Macedonian troops.


The Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, which makes up part of the ruling coalition, has threatened to withdraw from the government over the measure and push for early elections.


“The public will be witness to a long, challenging debate on a law that is inconsistent with the Ohrid Framework Agreement. It is a universal principle and on behalf of the protection of these universal principles we will vote against this draft law,” Ermira Mehmeti, a spokeswoman for the Albanian party, told SETimes.


But the president of a Macedonian soldiers’ association said to include Albanians in the new measure “would be like rewarding terrorists,” according to the news agency. Predrag Petrusevski Bingo said it was enough that members of Albanian paramilitary groups had received amnesties for their roles in the conflict and that Albanians had certain rights enshrined in the Ohrid agreement.


Macedonia was plagued by ethnic violence earlier this year. Revelers at a carnival in January wore costumes perceived as mocking the Koran and women in burqas (Macedonia’s Albanians are predominantly Muslim). This was followed by an arson at an Orthodox church and a spate of violent attacks in March that police say were ethnically motivated.


Vlado Dimovski of the Center for Interethnic Tolerance, a Skopje think tank, told SETimes,I would recommend to the government partners not to play with interethnic relations.”


5. Azerbaijan civic groups complain of blocks to operating legally


Groups working on matters related to democracy, human rights, and press freedom complain that they cannot register to operate legally in Azerbaijan, IWPR reports.


Civic groups must register with the Justice Ministry. A recent study noted that organizations operating in less sensitive areas, such as environmental protection, have much less trouble having their applications approved.


“I think that although I submit the registration documents to the Justice Ministry, they are actually reviewed in the presidential administration. We have applied three times, and each time we’ve been refused,” Rasul Jafarov, director of the Human Rights Club, told the news agency.


Courts typically refuse to hear groups’ appeals of the Justice Ministry’s rejection of applications, according to IWPR.


Earlier this year, Jafarov’s group organized the Sing for Democracy campaign during Eurovision, aimed at raising awareness among locals and foreign visitors about the perilous state of human rights in Azerbaijan. The government has been criticized by many international groups, including Human Rights Watch, the Council of Europe, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders, for imprisoning pro-democracy activists, opposition supporters, and critical journalists.


According to the Zerkalo newspaper, 2,700 legally registered nongovernmental organizations operate in Azerbaijan. IWPR reports that the number of such groups has declined since 2006.


An official with the presidential administration refused to comment for IWPR because it is not registered, the agency reports, noting that its second application is in process.


Another official in the president’s office who oversees government grants to civic groups said some organizations are created “only for the sake of obtaining grants,” according to Zerkalo.

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