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Plus, a major snowfall creates a 100-mile traffic jam in Russia and Ukraine is hoodwinked in a phony gas deal.by Barbara Frye, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 3 December 2012
Hungary’s bitterly divided partisans made a rare show of solidarity over the weekend when tens of thousands of people turned out in Budapest to denounce anti-Semitic remarks by a far-right politician.
Marton Gyongyosi, a leader of the Jobbik party, had suggested last week that the country’s Jews be screened as possible security risks. A member of parliament, Gyongyosi was speaking during a debate on Hungary’s stance toward the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Rejecting those comments at a rally Sunday, Antal Rogan, parliamentary leader of the ruling Fidesz party, told the crowd, “We cannot allow things which belong to the darkest pages of history books to repeat themselves," according to Deutsche Welle.
Rogan was joined on the platform by Gordon Bajnai, a former prime minister who has put together a coalition to try to wrest power from Fidesz in elections in 2014.
Hungary lost at least two-thirds of its Jewish population from 1941 to 1945, according to the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
The past few years have seen a rise in nationalism and anti-Semitism in Hungary. Earlier this year, a play that posited a Jewish conspiracy to orchestrate Hungary’s dismemberment in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon was pulled from the schedule of Budapest’s New Theater after threats of an artistic boycott.
Jobbik received 17 percent of the vote in the 2010 parliamentary elections, during which its pose as a defender of the nation included invoking a fantastical claim that Israel intended to take over Hungary.
On the issue of whether Moldova will orient itself toward Russia or Europe, the Kremlin has been holding a stick over the country’s head: Russia keeps troops and military hardware in Transdniester, a breakaway region of Moldova, it demands repayment of a $3.5 billion gas bill rung up largely by Transdniester, and it is pushing to open consulates in Transdniester, which Chisinau says will amount to de facto recognition of the territory.
But last week, Brussels stepped in with a few carrots. During a visit to Chisinau, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the bloc would lift the requirement that Moldovans obtain a visa to visit the EU, providing the Moldovan government “makes progress against widespread corruption, improves democratic standards, and reforms its justice system,” Radio Free Europe reports.
Barroso also said 2013 could be the year Moldova signs key trade and cooperation agreements with the EU, according to Reuters.
Prime Minister Vlad Filat said, “Moldova has made its strategic choice and it is a natural one for us. Moldova has no options other than EU integration,” Reuters reports.
Filat leads a pro-EU government that came to power in 2009 after defeating the Communist Party.
Aside from trying to maintain influence in Moldova, Moscow is intent on preventing the country from implementing EU regulations against energy monopolies, which would complicate life for state-owned energy giant Gazprom.
Heavy snowfall northwest of Moscow blocked the highway connecting it to St. Petersburg and caused a traffic jam for a stretch of almost 200 kilometers (124 miles) at its peak, RIA Novosti reports. The traffic disruptions started in the morning of 30 November after almost a meter (3.3 feet) of snow fell in the region crossed by the 700 kilometer long M10 highway that connects the two largest Russian cities.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s State Automobile Inspectorate said the jams were still around 50 kilometers long the evening of 2 December and that trucks were moving at 5 to 10 kilometers per hour. The news agency notes that at that pace, trucks would pass through the jam in 13 and a half hours on average.
The spokesman said the jams were decreasing by 6 to 7 kilometers every hour, and early on 3 December the Voice of Russia quoted the office of the highway patrol in the Tver region as saying that traffic on the M10 was fully restored.
Dubbed the “road of death,” most of the highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg is one lane in each direction and allows heavy-truck traffic. Although the Emergencies Ministry set up warming stations, hot food distribution, and even a psychological support hotline, many drivers complained about the lack of assistance offered to them. Reuters quotes Sergei, a truck driver who told the Rossiya 24 TV channel that the only help came from other drivers. “[T]he problems are on the side of the authorities, there are no gasoline tankers, no water, nothing, we are just stuck here," he said.
Ukraine’s effort to wean itself off Russian gas took a strange and embarrassing turn last week when a seemingly major deal with a Spanish firm to build a new fuel terminal on the Black Sea turned out to be bogus.
On 26 November, the Ukrainian state investment agency signed what it thought was a game-changing $1.1-billion contract for a liquefied natural gas terminal with Barcelona-based Gas Natural Fenosa. Two days later, the company denied signing the contract and said it had no connection to the mysterious representative who apparently made the deal on its behalf, according to Reuters.
Gas Natural Fenosa said it “has not signed any contract to invest in an LNG plant project in Ukraine," The New York Times reports. "Nor does it have representatives working in Ukraine on this issue."
Officials in Ukraine identified the imposter as Jordi Sarda Bonvehi, who signed the deal on behalf of the company at a ceremony attended by Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. Following news of Gas Natural Fenosa’s denial, Vladislav Kaskiv, head of the Ukrainian investment agency, told The New York Times he was surprised by the news and said no one had any suspicions about Bonvehi’s claim to represent the Spanish firm. Kaskiv said Bonvehi had been acting as the middleman on the deal for more than two months.
Reuters reports it contacted a man in Barcelona claiming to be Bonvehi. He told the news agency he knew he wasn’t authorized to represent Gas Natural Fenosa but said, "I thought I could sign it and then settle it with the company.”
Ukraine, which produces only 35 percent of the natural gas it consumes, has been eager to free itself from reliance on Russian gas. The two countries have long been at odds over the price of gas coming into Ukraine following a January 2009 dispute that saw Russia-owned Gazprom shut off the tap. In November, Ukraine received its first delivery of 3.3 million cubic meters of natural gas from Germany’s RWE as part of a new contract for an annual 1.4 billion cubic meters.
Beginning this year, 1 December will commemorate the first election of President Nursultan Nazarbaev in 1991, when he took more than 98 percent of the vote and launched more than 20 years at the helm of the energy-rich Central Asian country.
In Astana, the celebrations were capped with a show titled “One Country! One Destiny! One Leader!” featuring a mass singalong and the waving of banners depicting Nazarbaev. The president is the subject of flattering books and appears in fairy tales and movies, with a 3D film trilogy about his life called Way of the Leader now in production. Institutions and parks have been named after him as well, the Associated Press notes.
Nazarbaev is exempt from the country’s term limit law and some supporters launched an unsuccessful bid two years ago to do away with elections, simply keeping him in office until 2020.
The holiday celebrations come shortly after a crackdown on the Kazakh opposition and independent media. Several local newspapers were named extremist by the state prosecutor’s office and a court ordered their suspension.
Now available! A new TOL e-book: "Crimea: The Anatomy of a Crisis" is a compilation of articles from TOL’s past coverage about Russia's annexation of Crimea, placed in the context of long-running disputes over the region. Find out also what's happened to Crimea and its people nearly a year after Russia's move shocked the international community.