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Czech Senate Impeaches Klaus, EU Wary of Expanding Schengen Zone

Plus, North Caucasus republics face off over a border dispute and Latvia makes a bid for euro adoption.

by Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Connor Zickgraf 5 March 2013

1. Czech President Klaus accused of treason as term ends


The Czech Senate voted to impeach outgoing President Vaclav Klaus for treason 4 March, in what the country’s media are viewing either as revenge by the left for Klaus’ stubbornly conservative views or as a warning that he can expect no quarter if he decides to return to politics.


Vaclav Klaus
Thirty-eight senators voted in favor of impeachment and 30 against. The 81-member upper chamber is dominated by left-of-center parties. Although the vote was closed, the daily Mlada fronta Dnes today released the results, showing that Social Democrats and their allies contributed almost all the votes in favor of impeachment. Eleven Social Democrats reportedly voted against.


Klaus stands accused of treason and violating the constitution by issuing a mass amnesty and by delaying signature of the Lisbon Treaty and other legally binding documents. The Senate’s vote refers the matter to the Constitutional Court. Klaus will leave office 7 March but could face the loss of his presidential pension and be barred from standing for president in the future Reuters reports.


President-elect Milos Zeman, the former Social Democratic leader who will be inaugurated in two days, called the vote a hysterical reaction, saying “treason” was too strong a term for what Klaus is accused of. Zeman sharply criticized the New Year’s amnesty of some 6,000 prisoners, the Czech Press Agency writes. However, he has often spoken of his respect for Klaus, and in 1998 the two controversially negotiated a working agreement allowing Zeman to stay in office as prime minister with the support of Klaus’ conservative Civic Democratic Party.


Klaus has not ruled out a return to politics.


2. Germany says no Schengen entry yet for Romania, Bulgaria


Germany says it will oppose Romanian and Bulgarian entry to the Schengen area until the two countries do more to fight corruption, according to The Irish Times. The question is on the agenda for a 7 March meeting of European justice ministers in Brussels. But German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told Der Spiegel on 4 March that his country would use its veto to block Sofia and Bucharest if either tried to call a vote at the meeting.


In the interview, Friedrich cited corruption as the chief reason for his government’s opposition to the two countries joining the border-free zone. “Those who acquire a visa through bribery could travel all the way to Germany without further controls,” he told the magazine.


Friedrich also touched on the fear of mass immigration, an issue that has become more controversial in Western Europe  as restrictions on the rights of Bulgarians and Romanians to live and work elsewhere in the EU set to expire next year.


Victor Ponta
“The right to freedom of movement means that every citizen of the EU can remain in any member state when he or she studies or works there,” he said in the interview. “But those who only come to receive social welfare, and thus abuse the freedom of movement – they must be effectively prevented from doing so.”


These sentiments were echoed in Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron said his government is looking for ways to limit benefits for labor migrants, according to The New York Times.


In response to Germany’s threat, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said there would be no point in his requesting a vote on joining Schengen any time soon, EurActiv Romania reports.


3. Latvia applies to join the euro zone


Latvia’s formal application to join the euro zone marks its continued recovery from the worst recession in the EU and renewed hope for the battered common currency, EurActiv writes. If Latvia’s membership is approved, it would become the second Baltic country after Estonia to adopt the common currency.


Ilmars Rimsevics

Latvia pegged its currency to the euro after joining the EU in 2004. After a dramatic financial contraction in 2009, thecountry recovered quickly and its economy has been growing since 2011, so much so that it became the only EU country to receive a positive forecast for 2013 from the three major rating agencies.


Latvian Central Bank Governor Ilmars Rimsevics said the country was not deterred by the current euro zone crisis, EUObserver reports. With a budget deficit of 1.5 percent and government debt at 42 percent of GDP, the country is well within the criteria for euro membership. 


However, Latvian public opinion is divided on the euro, Rimsevics admitted. He said the government would work to boost public support for it from around 30 percent to 50 percent by the summer.


4. Moscow, Tbilisi talk travel, trade


In another sign of improving relations between Georgia and Russia, officials of the two countries say Moscow may ease visa restrictions on Georgian citizens.


Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and the Georgian representative for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, discussed the matter during a 1 March meeting in Prague, Radio Free Europe reports. No time frame for talks was announced.


Tbilisi cut diplomatic relations with Russia after their short 2008 war and Moscow’s subsequent recognition of Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia territories as independent states. Improving ties is a major policy goal of Georgia’s new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, and his Georgian Dream coalition.


A month ago, a Georgian delegation traveled to Moscow to discuss re-establishing the export of Georgian wine and mineral water, a once-lucrative market that Russia shut down in 2006 because of alleged violations of health rules. Russia followed up last week by sending food safety inspectors to Georgian wineries. A Georgian wine industry group said some 80 wineries were trying to re-enter the Russian market, reports.


5. Chechen leader stands his ground over border dispute


Moscow’s attempt to fix a border dispute between Chechnya and Ingushetia appears to have failed, according to Radio Free Europe, which reports that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov recently signed a legal amendment that incorporates a small disputed territory into the republic.


The Kremlin tried to heal the breach in September, when North Caucasus Federal District head Aleksandr Khloponin urged the two North Caucasus republics to resolve the dispute over the Sunzha region, which was split between them when a separate Ingush republic was carved out of Chechnya in 1992. Shortly afterward, the Chechen parliament approved and Kadyrov later signed the amendment, which was not made public until January, RFE reports.


Kadyrov and Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov have had touchy relations for some time. Last fall they argued over who should take credit for the killings of several suspected insurgents and disputed the proper way to bury the bodies of dead rebel fighters.


The speaker of the Ingush parliament, Mukharbek Didigov, said Chechnya’s vote to incorporate the area was an instance of political and psychological pressure, Vestnik Kavkaza writes.

Joshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Connor Zickgraf is a TOL editorial intern.
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