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Hungary’s Leader Makes His Case, Bosnian Town Elects Muslim Woman Mayor

Plus, cigarette makers make a last push against a new Russian smoking ban, and Baku blames BP for a production slump.

by S. Adam Cardais and Ioana Caloianu 12 October 2012

1. Orban: Europe needs strong leadership in the face of crisis


Viktor Orban
Europe's democracies may not be able to withstand the ongoing euro zone crisis, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told German media 11 October, evidently making a case for what many see as Budapest's recent authoritarian turn, Reuters reports.


The former dissident told the daily Handelsblatt that he is "a passionate supporter of democracy."


"But the question has to be asked if the leadership structures in democratic systems are still up to the times,” Orban said. “Our current democratic systems have built-in weaknesses. A presidential system is probably more suitable than a parliamentary system in times when difficult reforms need to be pushed through."


Since Orban's election in 2010, rights groups, international leaders, lenders, and many Hungarians have slammed the prime minister and his conservative-populist Fidesz party for pursuing a raft of regressive policies targeting everything from the media to the judiciary. Most recently, Orban has been faulted for scuttling negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on an aid package to buttress Hungary's economy, in its second recession in four years.

Commentators have called the prime minister capricious. But Orban said now is the time for strong leadership.


"The longer the [debt] crisis lasts, the louder the calls will be for strong political leadership," he said, according to Reuters.


Some observers have pointed out the irony of Hungary's backslide. Under so-called "Goulash communism," the country was among the most moderate Warsaw Pact regimes. Orban himself was a prominent dissident in the 1980s.


2. Bosnia's new Hijab-clad woman mayor is a victory for, well, somebody …


Amra Babic
Balkan media are claiming a victory for Bosnian women following the election of Amra Babic as mayor of Visoko on 7 October, Radio Free Europe reports. At the same time, media in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia are proclaiming Babic, who wears the Islamic headscarf, "Europe's first hijab-wearing mayor."


Babic is an economist and former finance minister at Bosnia's rough equivalent of the municipal level. She has called her election "a model for Europe and Islam," as well as "a great victory for democracy."


Babic said she "will never abuse politics for religion."


RFE frames the story as a victory for tolerance and governance in a country still riven by ethnic and religious tensions among the Muslim, Croat, and Serb populations two decades after the outbreak of the 1992-1995 conflict. Local media, RFE notes, have downplayed the Muslim angle because the hijab is as much fashion accessory as religious symbol in Bosnia.


3. Cigarette companies make final push against Russian anti-smoking bill


Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco, and other cigarette makers have launched a last-ditch lobbying effort against a Russian bill that would ban smoking in public places, among other measures, Bloomberg reports.


The Union of Industrialists lobbying group is calling instead for “specially isolated” smoking areas in bars and restaurants, according to Bloomberg. Union director Alexander Shokhin says tobacco producers support efforts to reduce smoking-related health problems, but "it's another question how exactly to proceed and which measures are effective and which aren't. In several countries, a total ban has had the opposite effect."


Russia has one of the highest smoking rates in the world. It is a major market for Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, and Japan Tobacco International.


Bloomberg points out that President Vladimir Putin is targeting smoking, as well as alcohol, to address the country's population decline. According to the Health Ministry, smoking-related illnesses kill 23 percent of Russian men and cost the economy the equivalent 6.3 percent of GDP.


An aide to Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets said the anti-smoking measure, which goes before parliament 1 November, might be tweaked but will not be changed significantly, Bloomberg reports.


4. Azerbaijani leader blames BP for poor oil production


Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev is faulting a BP-led consortium for a drop in production at the hydrocarbon-rich country's main oil field, Radio Free Europe reports. In televised remarks on 11 October, Aliev blamed the decline on "numerous mistakes" by the consortium.


Production at the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli field has shorted BP's own forecasts for years, he said, at a cost of more than $8 billion to Baku. A WikiLeaks cable revealed that in late 2008, production at a platform in the oil field was shut down for two months after a major gas leak that forced the evacuation of the rig’s 220 workers. The problem was later traced to a faulty cementing job on a few wells.


The Chirag-Guneshli is the largest oil field under development in Azerbaijan's portion of the Caspian Sea. This Chirag platform is located 120 kilometers east of Baku. Photo by BP Caspian.


A BP spokesman said the company was working to reverse the production slump alongside Azerbaijan's state oil firm, RFE reports.


BP also leads the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that pumps Caspian oil to Turkey and onto Western markets.


5. Greenpeace stages Vilnius protest ahead of nuclear plant vote


Dozens of protesters led by activists from Greenpeace staged an event in Vilnius this week to urge people to vote against a planned nuclear power plant, the Associated Press reports.


On 10 October, activists hung a banner from a city bridge that read, "The nuclear plant is dangerous – vote NO." Lithuanians will vote 14 October in a nonbinding referendum to express their opinion on the Visaginas nuclear power plant.


The Greenpeace activists noted that the Japanese consortium Hitachi-GE that plans to build reactors in Lithuania also built the ill-fated reactors in Fukushima, according to the 15min.let news website. They also cite the problem of storing nuclear waste.


Kestutis Navickas, chairman of the Lithuanian Environment Coalition, said the government has been unwilling to hold an honest debate on the issue. "The president's instructions to comprehensively inform the public were turned into emotional propaganda (...) any disagreement with the government's energy policy is equated to high treason."


Proponents of the plant say it will help Lithuania become more independent of Russian energy.


After joining the EU, Lithuania was forced to close down its Ignalina nuclear power plant, which produced 70 percent of the country's electrical energy. Previous defenders of nuclear energy, 88 percent of Lithuanians declared themselves against the construction of a new nuclear power plant in May 2011, in the aftermath of Fukushima and after the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor.Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant.

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