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Bulgaria’s center-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party won a plurality of votes in the country’s 12 May elections, but party leader and former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov faces an uphill battle to turn that win into a ruling coalition, according to Deutsche Welle. Bulgaria headed for snap parliamentary elections after Borisov’s government resigned in February following deadly nationwide protests.
GERB came out of the elections with 31 percent of the vote. The opposition Socialists finished second with 27 percent, according to initial results from the country’s election committee, Deutsche Welle reports. Following the announcement, GERB deputy leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov announced his party was open to running a minority government with Borisov at the helm.
However, Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev rejected a GERB victory and said his party would do everything it could to come up with its own coalition.
“Because of controlled, bought votes, [GERB] are nominally the leading force, but this does not give them the right to govern, especially given that they are in total isolation,” Stanishev said, according to The Sofia Globe. “It would be an offense and humiliation for the dignity of all Bulgarian citizens if GERB was to be acknowledged as the political winner of this election.”
The elections were marred by voter apathy, violence, and charges of fraud. Voter turnout was just 53 percent, the lowest in more than two decades, Deutsche Welle reports. At the close of polls, a demonstration turned violent outside the National Palace of Culture in Sofia after protesters – chanting “mafia” and calling for the elections to be annulled – clashed with police after trying to storm the building, The Sofia Globe reports.
The election campaign also saw widespread allegations of voter fraud. Prosecutors have launched 190 fraud cases related to the election, although most have been closed for want of evidence. More than 40 cases are still open, with more than one-third related to cases of potential vote buying, the news website also reports.
2. Georgia meets its first post-Saakashvili presidential candidate
Georgia’s ruling coalition has named its candidate to run in October’s presidential election. Giorgi Margvelashvili, the current education minister and deputy prime minister, is described by Reuters as “a pro-Western ally” of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Saakashvili and Ivanishvili are bitter rivals, and Margvelashvili has been a vocal critic of the president. Prior to joining the government he served two stints as rector of the respected Georgian Institute of Public Affairs. He was also a consultant for the National Democratic Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes democracy worldwide and counts prominent Democratic politicians among its directors. His official biography says he is fluent in Russian and English.
Billionaire Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia, has been eyed suspiciously by some Western officials. He has stressed that he wants to restore relations with Russia, severed after the brief war between the two countries in August 2008, but his government has also reiterated support for joining NATO and the European Union.
Ivanishvili told reporters that Margvelashvili’s election would aid Georgian Dream’s “ambition to establish a genuine democracy” and show the world that “Georgians are Europeans and we deserve to become an EU member state as soon as possible,” according to Civil.ge.
The news service also reported Saakashvili’s reaction: “I will say nothing specifically about this ... but generally speaking, when the Roman emperor decided to demonstrate his dominance over the Roman society, he appointed his horse to the senate,” the incumbent told journalists.
3. Lawyer: suspects in Macedonia mass murder could stay in Kosovo for a while
Attempts by Macedonia to extradite two men wanted in connection with a notorious mass murder last year have hit a snag in Kosovo, Balkan Insight reports.
Alil Demiri and Afrim Ismailovic face murder and terrorism charges in Macedonia in connection with the slaying of five men at a lake near Skopje. Four other suspects are already on trial in Skopje, but Demiri and Ismailovic fled to Kosovo before they could be arrested.
Police in Kosovo detained the pair in March, and their lawyer has said they must first be tried in Kosovo on charges of holding illegal weapons, which were found when the men taken in. Attorney Besnik Berisha told reporters that the trial could take as long as a year and if convicted the men could be locked up in Kosovo for two to 10 years, according to Balkan Insight.
The murders took place in April 2012. Four men were shot side by side in what looked like an execution, police said. A fifth man was killed nearby and police speculated at the time that he may have witnessed the other killings.
The following month, police conducted a series of raids and rounded up 20 ethnic Albanians, whom they said took part in the murder plot to ignite already strained relations between Macedonia’s majority community and ethnic Albanians, who make up about a quarter of the country’s population. Most of those detained were subsequently released.
Despite the apparent setback this week, an anonymous source in Macedonian’s Justice Ministry told Balkan Insight that Skopje was optimistic that a transfer would be worked out, as Macedonia and Kosovo have an extradition treaty.
The country has nearly 300,000 people who moved there, or are descendants of people who moved there, from other parts of the Soviet Union but did not automatically receive citizenship when Latvia won its independence in 1991. Many are ethnic Russians whose loyalty to Latvia was questioned.
Latvian lawmakers last week passed a bill to naturalize non-citizens’ children born after 21 August 1991, the day the country became independent. To qualify, they must live in Latvia and their parents – presumably in the case of minors – must pledge to “help the child learn the Latvian language and honor and respect the Republic of Latvia,” according to The Baltic Times. Previously, knowledge of the Latvian language was a requirement for naturalization.
A top minority-rights official in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized the loyalty pledge last year, as it is not required for other citizens.
The parliament also eased restrictions on conferring dual citizenship, making it easier for those who fled Latvia during the Nazi and Soviet eras to regain their citizenship. The status of exiles has been an issue in many post-communist countries, which have not been completely welcoming because of resentment among those who stayed and because of fear that restoring citizenship could pave the way for restitution claims by those whose property was seized.
5. Moscow finds ways to work with critical Western partners
Russia has been hit with Western criticism for its deteriorating human rights record as the Kremlin clamps down on dissent and steps up vilification of independent civic groups, and some Russian officials have even been banned from entering the United States. Still, a few recent events suggest that Moscow is finding ways of working with Brussels and Washington amid the strain.
In U.S.-Russia relations, The Washington Post notes, Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit yielded an agreement for a joint peace conference on Syria and cooperation on an investigation into the use of chemical weapons in the conflict.
“Although no one is actually using the word ‘reset,’ the Kremlin is nonetheless promoting the idea that Russia and the United States can pursue productive cooperation where their interests coincide and agree to disagree on other matters,” The Post’s Will Englund writes.
In EU-Russian relations, both sides are nearing an agreement to allow Russians to travel to the union without a visa, RIA Novosti reports. Talks are in the final stage and an agreement should be in place before Russia hosts the Winter Olympics in Sochi in March 2014, according to various reports.
Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov told journalists he would not speculate on the terms of the deal, according to RIA Novosti, but Deutsche Welle reported in March that “Russian journalists, students, and businesspeople will be able to obtain multiple-entry visas more easily, while travel to Russia will also be easier for EU citizens.”
Moscow had sought visa-free status for its army of civil servants, or “service passport” holders, but limited the number in that category to 15,000 people with biometric service passports – about “10 times less than the number of current service passport holders,” according to Deutsche Welle – after the EU raised objections.
After months of preparation, we’re officially introducing our partner project Press Start. The site will become the first global crowdfunding platform for reporters in countries where the press cannot report freely, potentially revolutionizing the way independent journalism is funded in the developing world and countries in transition.