In an effort to stay under the EU's deficit-spending cap and end budget monitoring by the European Commission, the Hungarian government will cut this year's budget by a further 92.9 billion forints ($400 million), Economy Minister Mihaly Varga said 10 May, according to the Hungarian Press Agency.
Varga said the cuts come to 0.3 percent of GDP, the difference between the government’s and the European Commission's projected deficits for 2013.
Hungary has been subject to the EU's “excessive deficit procedure” for nine years. Two weeks ago Varga said the EU's projection of a rising deficit to 3 percent this year and 3.3 percent in 2014 was “wrong” and “unjust,” Reuters reported.
If necessary to stay under the EU's 3 percent cap, Hungary may be forced to sell state assets, halt spending on expensive building projects, or raise taxes, the Hungarian Press Agency writes.
Last year the government resorted to budget cuts to avert threatened cutoffs of EU funding, Bloomberg reports, helping bring the deficit down to 1.9 percent. EU funding accounts for 95 percent of spending on infrastructure projects.
A video featuring an unsteady Czech President Milos Zeman is sparking speculation that he was drunk at a state ceremony. At last week’s event at Prague Castle, Zeman and other high officials presided as the Czech crown jewels were brought out for a rare public display. The video shows Zeman stumbling over a threshold, supporting himself against a wall, apparently struggling to keep his eyes open, and being helped down a step by the archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Dominik Duka.
Zeman, who often jokes about his fondness for alcohol, denies that he was drunk. His office said he was suffering from a virus and needed a day of rest, the Associated Press reports. However, the video inspired banter on social media across the country. Czechs have been posting bar pictures with quips like “Here I am getting a virus,” the AP writes.
During the presidential campaign this winter, the eventual loser, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, said, “Milos Zeman was in my opinion one of the most intelligent prime ministers this country has ever had,” according to the AP, “and had he not drunk so much he’d have been a really good prime minister.”
Zeman, 68, underwent kidney surgery in 2008 and had cataracts removed last year. The presidential office said his unsteady gait was a result of an injury to his big toe in February, the Czech daily Lidove noviny reports.
In Tajikistan, a proposal to ban marriages between first cousins may not pass muster with the public, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting writes.
One of the bill's authors, Saodat Amirshoeva, said the measure was needed to stop the worrying number of babies with birth defects. Data from the Tajik Health Ministry indicate that from 30 to 35 percent of disabled people were born to parents who are close relatives, Amirshoeva said.
“Parents want their son to marry the daughter of his aunt or uncle, and they don’t realize this could lead to a child being born with a disability,” she said, according to IWPR.
Although some Tajiks are questioning the official statistics, IWPR reports, medical professionals support restrictions on cousin marriages.
In 2008, the Tajik institute of gynecology and pediatrics said 27 percent of birth defects it recorded the previous year were attributable to such marriages. At that time, marriages between first cousins were thought to account for almost one-fifth of new marriages.
In a related development, opposition politician Zayd Saidov is under investigation for polygamy and theft, Radio Free Europe reports.
Businessman Saidov said the authorities began putting pressure on him after he co-founded a new party in April. Polygamy is illegal in Tajikistan but is widely practiced there as in other Muslim Central Asian countries.
“Mob rule” is holding Kyrgyzstan back and is keeping much needed foreign investment at bay, President Almazbek Atambaev told officials 14 May, Reuters reports.
The outburst came in the wake of a failed attempt to sell the rights to exploit Jerooy, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest gold field. The tender, announced last month, closed 10 May with only one bid.
Atambaev said local clan pressure forced the government to set the price too high for the undeveloped field, estimated to contain some 100 metric tons of gold. In March Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiev told Reuters that the government was forced to triple its original asking price to $300 million because of local pressure.
“We are an independent nation only on paper,” Atambaev said, according to Reuters. “In Kazakhstan, life is better because they work. They fired up plants and factories, they developed their natural resources, while here natural riches are not allowed to be developed.”
Disputes between the central government and local people over natural resources in Kyrgyzstan, a country that has seen the overthrow of two presidents in the last decade, have made foreign investors skittish.
Adding to complications with Jerooy is a $400 million arbitration claim from a Kazakh company that says that its license to run the mine was illegally revoked after it had already invested tens of millions of dollars into developing the field, according to Reuters.
Bishkek is also in the process of trying to negotiate a deal with Canadian mining firm Centerra Gold over operations at Kumtor, Kyrgyzstan’s largest gold mine. Officials contend that the original deal, signed in 2009 by former President Kurmanbek Bakiev, leaves the Canadians paying too little for the mine, a significant problem for Kyrgyzstan, as the mine accounts for up to 12 percent of its GDP. Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has given a deadline of 1 June to renegotiate the agreement. Centerra said it wasn't interested in the Jerooy tender, according to Reuters.
Leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church may back the government's agreement with Kosovo on limiting the autonomy of Kosovo Serbs, Balkan Insight writes.
“The Church will try to find an acceptable solution for the Kosovo issue,” at its Holy Synod on 21 May, religion expert Zivica Tucic told the website.
The EU-brokered agreement has angered Serbian nationalists, who insist Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia.
Under the 19 April agreement, municipalities in Kosovo where Serbs constitute the majority will form a community association to oversee economic development, education, health, and urban and rural planning. That arrangement is meant to break the hold of alternative institutions in northern Kosovo that have been funded by Belgrade.
A decision by church leaders to back the agreement would signal a change in policy from previous denunciations of any acknowledgment of Kosovo's separation from Serbia.
Some elements in the church hierarchy continue to voice such hard-line views. Speaking at a Belgrade protest on 10 May, Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro spoke out against the deal and referred to Serbia’s leaders as “traitors who believe NATO's guarantees.” The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, said neither he nor the church held such views, according to Balkan Insight.