Thousands of Ukrainians and a Ukrainian opposition party headed by a world-champion boxer helped block the country's parliamentary chamber on 3 April to protest delays in organizing mayoral elections for Kyiv, Bloomberg reports.
The start of the parliament had to be delayed because of the blockade by protesters and boxing champ and liberal Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party head Vitali Klitschko. Also at the rally were members of the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the far-right Svoboda party.
Klitschko said the ruling party, which is unpopular in Kyiv, was causing delays in the electoral process out of fear “of losing administrative and financial influence in the capital.” The city has been without a mayor since June 2012.
Last year, Leonid Chernovetskyi quit as mayor amid allegations of corruption and cronyism. But since 2010 Kyiv has actually been run by city administrator Oleksandr Popov. As AFP writes, Popov has been criticized for his unwillingness to organize elections as well as his poor management of the city, in particular after a heavy snowstorm that paralyzed Kyiv at the end of March.
Along with other opposition figures, Klitschko had previously organized and led 5,000 protesters on 2 April on the streets of Kyiv, according to AFP. The protesters held placards with messages accusing Popov of “robbing Kyiv residents of their choice.”
With the memory of the Czech Republic’s European Union-bashing former president still fresh, the simple act of running the EU’s golden stars on a field of blue up the flagpole at Prague Castle was not pro-forma, as it would have been in most member nations.
This small act framed Czech President Milos Zeman’s hospitality for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on 3 April, marking a new chapter in Czech-EU relations. Barroso and Zeman watched the EU flag being raised next to the Czech flag for the first time at the castle since the Czech Republic entered the EU in 2004. Former President Vaclav Klaus forbade flying the EU flag over the president’s official address as a clear signal that his government would not be subservient to Brussels.
Zeman, a declared euro-federalist, also signed a treaty that day that enables the launch of the European Stability Mechanism, the rescue fund for Europe’s shaky single currency. The Czech Republic was the only one of the EU’s 27 members that had not ratified the plan. Because the Czech Republic is not part of the euro zone, the signature is symbolic, The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog notes.
According to Radio Praha, Zeman said he would like the Czech Republic to be part of what he termed the EU hard core. He also said he believed the EU should enact “joint foreign, defense, and fiscal policies,” and that it needs “a harmonization of the tax system.”
For at least the second year in a row, the Russian weapons-export industry is flourishing.
President Vladimir Putin, speaking at a televised meeting 3 April, announced that the country had exported a record $15.2 billion in arms in 2012, up 12 percent from the previous year, according to RIA Novosti. Russia is now the second-biggest arms exporter in the world, behind the United States’ estimated $30 billion foreign trade.
The 2012 numbers follow on the heels of record sales in 2011, when the country exported $13.2 billion worth of arms.
But there are some negative indicators when it comes to arming the world for profit. Analysts say Russia is being pushed out of the market in India, currently its biggest arms buyer. Russia’s share of the Indian market is expected to fall from 57 percent to 29 percent by 2016 largely because of competition from U.S. exporters, according to a report by Novye Izvestia cited by the ITAR-TASS news agency.
The announcement comes a day after the United Nations announced the adoption of a new treaty to regulate the $70 billion global arms industry. The resolution will put the sale of small arms, as well as tanks, jets, and missiles under the same control as nuclear weapons, the Guardian reports.
Putin said his country needed to step up the number of loans to boost its arms sales but that these loans should be made according to their economic viability, RIA Novosti reports. “This must surely not be the type of loans that the Soviet Union used to provide, based on ideology and not on market values, in which it never saw the loans again,” he said.
After coming home from a disappointing eighth round of talks with Kosovan leaders in Brussels, Serbian officials said on 3 April that they must make some hard choices about Kosovo if they are to gain entry into the EU, Reuters reports.
“Unfortunately, our worst fears for the [Kosovo] talks have come true,” said Marko Djuric, who advises Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic on foreign policy, after Serbian representatives returned to Belgrade. “In the coming days, the state leadership will face incredibly difficult decisions.”
The burning issue is how much control of Serb-majority northern Kosovo the Serbian government is willing to cede to Kosovo’s breakaway government, now recognized by more than 90 nations. If it wants EU leaders to begin the process to admit Serbia to the EU in June, Serbia will have to allow much more Kosovan authority over the small Serb-populated part of Kosovo.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, gave both Kosovo and Serbia a “few days” to respond to concerns raised in the talks.
Meanwhile, another sign of defiance of Serbian authority is taking shape in the southern reaches of Serbia proper, Balkan Insight reports.
Ethnic Albanians are spending 100,000 euros ($128,000) on a 3,000-square-meter (32,300-square-foot) memorial complex in the village of Oraovica honoring rebels who died fighting against Serbian government forces in 2001.
Some of the worst fighting between the government and the ethnic Albanian separatist Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac occurred in Oraovica. A similar monument was built in November in nearby Presevo, but Serbian police were sent in to remove what government authorities condemned as celebrating a terrorist group.
Bulgarian prosecutors have closed an investigation spawned by numerous wiretaps leaked two years ago that implicated former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and other officials of his government the Sofia-based Novinite.com reports.
The scandal erupted after leaks of a recorded conversation in which Borisov is alleged to have asked a customs official to stop a tax and customs investigation against a brewery owned by Mihail Mihov. Mihov turned up dead two years ago in a hotel room. Doctors attributed the death to a heart attack, according to Novinite, but the timing of the death has prompted suspicion.
"This is just an example of an untimely death, which is convenient for everyone,” said former Interior Ministry chief secretary Tsvyatko Tsvetkov, a member of the opposition Socialist party. Tsvetkov said a heart attack can easily be induced, Novinite writes.
Political scandal is not something the Bulgarian government needs at the moment. Borisov resigned in February after nationwide protests over poverty and utility rates. The protests started with a fatal self-immolation, an example followed by five others who set themselves alight, four of whom perished. A caretaker cabinet is now in charge and new parliamentary elections are scheduled for 12 May.
Since then, approval ratings for Borisov’s center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party have inched slightly upward, according to the Sofia Globe. A recent poll by Alpha Research showed that compared to an earlier poll done in January, GERB’s approval rating had climbed one percentage point to 21.9 percent. Its nearest rival, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, saw its rating drop a point, to 17.4 percent approval.