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Budapest Battles the Danube, Skopje Tightens Abortion Law

Plus, a Kosovo mufti calls some women ‘sluts’ and ‘garbage,’ and Turkmenistan becomes a two-party country, barely.

by Ioana Caloianu, Barbara Frye, Erik N. Nelson, Vladimir Matan, and Molly Jane Zuckerman 11 June 2013

1. Hungary ‘in control’ of swollen Danube

 

As flood waters continued to cause havoc elsewhere in Europe, Hungarian authorities declared victory in their battle to contain the Danube’s record-high crest, Bloomberg reports.

 

Some 20,000 people, including more than 7,000 Hungarian soldiers, put up sandbag barriers to contain the river as it rose the evening of 9 June to 8.91 meters (29 feet), 30 centimeters above the previous record set during 2006 flooding, The New York Times writes. Hungarian lawmakers, with emergency flooding measures on their agenda, could look out their windows to see the Danube’s waters lapping against the base of the riverside parliament building.

 

A man surveys a flooded Budapest street. Photo by beta.robot/flickr.

 

This spring’s flooding has prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, and Germany, where the rising waters of the Elbe River burst a levee and shut down a key railway linking Berlin to the rest of the country on 10 June.

 

By then, however, the Danube’s waters were receding, leading Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to declare that authorities were “in control” of Europe’s second-longest river, Bloomberg writes. “We aren’t surrendering a single dike, we’re defending everywhere,” he said on Hungarian state-run television.


Flood-defense efforts are shifting to the south, where the river flows out of Hungary into Serbia, Orban added.

 

In the Czech Republic, where 10 have been killed and 22,000 evacuated in the worst flooding in 11 years, a state of emergency was lifted in Prague but continued in six other regions on 10 June as the Vltava and Elbe rivers receded.

 

2. Macedonia passes tighter abortion law

 

The Macedonian parliament has adopted a law that requires women to file a request with the Health Ministry to terminate her pregnancy. The vote came 10 June in a shortened parliamentary procedure “that left no time for a wider public debate,” Balkan Insight reports.

 

In addition to the formal request, a woman seeking an abortion must confirm that she has consulted a counselor and a gynecologist and informed the baby’s father of her decision. Women will also be prohibited from having more than one abortion in a year.

 

The law passed with 62 votes, all from the ruling conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, in the 123-seat unicameral parliament. The session was boycotted by the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, in protest of the shortened voting procedure as well as the measure’s violation of “constitutional right of choice and other rights and freedoms,” Social Democratic lawmaker Oliver Spasovski said.

 

Suzana Anova, a member of parliament who supported the measure, said it is “directed toward the protection and care of the women and their reproductive and mental health” and that it does not infringe on reproductive rights, Balkan Insight reports.

 

The law could result in a rise in illegal abortions, warned Emilija Dimoska, a program officer in Skopje for the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, which tries to address the impact of war on women’s lives.

 

Macedonian politicians have been struggling to reverse the country's sinking birth rate – part of a larger trend in the Balkans – but their efforts are hampered by high unemployment and low living standards that discourage large families.

 

3. Kosovo’s Muslim leaders to investigate mufti’s misogynistic outburst

 

An Islamic clergyman in Kosovo is in hot water for calling women who have sex before marriage “sluts” and “bitches,” Balkan Insight reports.

 

Mufti Irfan Salihu, who preaches in Prizren, made the remarks in a sermon posted last week on YouTube. “Any woman who has intimate acts without being married according to the provisions of Islam is a slut and a bitch. Leave the garbage out so everyone will know which of them was used,” the cleric said, according to Balkan Insight.

Irfan Salihu

 

The news agency says a local council of Muslim leaders is investigating Salihu after some groups called for disciplinary action. Other sources say he has already been ousted from his position or soon will be.

 

“The video is a hail of unrestrained hateful emotions, which do not look like those of a preacher. On the contrary, this [is] a sermon about violence containing grave insults,” opposition politician Teuta Sahatqija told Balkan Insight.

 

Kosovo is a predominantly Muslim country. A member of the opposition Self-Determination party, Alma Lama, warned the country faces a “huge risk of religious fundamentalism,” according to Balkan Insight.

 

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 report for Kosovo notes that patriarchal attitudes are strong there, threatening women’s access to employment, education, and political representation. It also calls domestic violence “a serious problem” in Kosovo.

 

In April 2011 Kosovo saw its first female president, Atifete Jahjaga, elected by parliament.

 

4. Turkmenistan finally gets a second party

 

Ovezmammed Mammedov, chairman of the new Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs in Turkmenistan, has become the first lawmaker in the country’s post-Soviet history who is not a member of the ruling Democratic Party of Turkmenistan.

 

Mammedov won a seat in parliament to represent the eastern Lebap province in a special election held 10 June, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

The new party was founded by Aleksandr Dadaev, a friend of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, according to Chronicles of Turkmenistan, a website published by a group of human rights advocates in exile.

 

RFE reports that many see the creation of this second party as “lip service to criticism over the country's one-party system.”

 

Turkmenistan’s parliament passed a law allowing for the formation of new political parties in January 2012 after Berdymukhammedov promised to open up politics to a multiparty system and allow the registration of independent media sources, RFE reported at the time.

 

The law requires that all of the country’s political parties exist only on Turkmenistan territory, which excludes any real opposition parties from forming, as most opposition leaders are in exile, Business New Europe notes.

 

Last year, the Los Angeles Times called the law “one sign that Berdymukhammedov is seeking to ease Turkmenistan's international isolation and win foreign investment for the energy-rich state.”

 

Turkmenistan consistently scrapes the bottom in international rankings for human rights and freedom of speech. It is on democracy watchdog group Freedom House’s Worst of the Worst list of nine countries for political rights and civil liberties.

 

5. Averting showdown with Brussels, Budapest backtracks on laws

 

The Hungarian government is once again tinkering with a constitution that was adopted only two years ago. To avoid a “legal tangle” with the European Commission, Budapest is backing away from two recent amendments dealing with taxes and the courts, The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog reports.

 

An amendment allowing the government to levy a national tax in order to pay for judgments against it at the European Court of Justice will be changed to avoid mention of the court but will still allow the levy “for a broader range of extraordinary expenses,” Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi told reporters, according to The Journal.

 

Another jettisoned amendment would have allowed the president of the Hungarian judiciary to reassign cases among courts. It was seen in Brussels and by good-governance groups as a dangerous intrusion into the workings of the courts, although its defenders in Budapest said it was meant to right an imbalanced caseload.

 

The moves could help Hungary avoid legal proceedings in Brussels for possible infringements of EU law. The Journal notes this is the fifth time the government has changed the constitution since its rewrite in 2011.

 

It is also part of a pattern of advance and retreat with oversight institutions. Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party, Fidesz, has held a two-thirds majority in parliament since 2010 and has introduced hundreds of new laws in addition to the new constitution.

 

The country’s constitutional court invalidated some provisions of a hotly contested media law passed in 2010, only to have parliament later strip the court of its ability to review most legislation. The court also threw out a law lowering the mandatory retirement age for judges that would have created scores, or possibly hundreds, of vacancies that Fidesz could then fill. That decision was later reinforced by a ruling from the European Court of Justice.

 

Last year, Orban abandoned a plan to merge the country’s central bank with its financial markets regulator after protests from Brussels.

Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. Erik N. Nelson is a TOL contributing editorIoana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Vladimir Matan and Molly Jane Zuckerman are TOL editorial interns.
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