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A (Small) Boost for Bulgaria's Government, A Fatal Blow to Nabucco?

Plus, a court confirms UN immunity over Srebrenica, and Russia will overhaul a storied research institute.

by S. Adam Cardais and Molly Jane Zuckerman 28 June 2013

1. Two appointments buttress shaky Bulgarian government


On the 14th straight day of public protests against the struggling new left of center Bulgarian government, parliament approved two new deputy prime ministers, Reuters reports.


Banker Daniela Bobeva and Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev were named as deputies under Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, whose coalition government – formed by the Socialist Party in May – remains weak with only around half the seats in parliament. It has also faced a wave of protests since a clumsy move to appoint a controversial media mogul to lead the State Agency for National Security earlier this month.


sofia protest, 14.6.2013Protesters rallied against the government of Plamen Oresharski in Sofia on 14 June. Photo from a video by badlydrawngirl1/YouTube


While Oresharski quickly reversed course on the appointment, the demonstrators say it generally reflects corruption and a lack of transparency.


Bobeva, 55, said she is committed to reforming Bulgaria's economy, while emphasizing that a stable government is necessary for such efforts. Yovchev, 49, a former top aide to President Rosen Plevneliev, has publicly sympathized with the protesters' wish for political reform, Reuters reports.


The appointments came the same day as Oresharski again rejected calls for his resignation.


Plamen Oresharski
"I will not resign as long as my government has the support of Bulgaria's parliament," he said, Novinite reports.


In February, the previous center-right government collapsed amid protests over high energy prices and other grievances, leading to snap polls in May. Oresharski has said that stepping down would exacerbate the political instability and jeopardize negotiations with Brussels over EU subsidies.


Despite his evident determination to hold on, another snap poll could be on the horizon if the opposition continues to boycott parliament, as it did 26 June, Balkan Insight reports, citing comments from the ruling Socialists. 


2. Mongolian president wins a second term


Incumbent Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj won a second four-year term in the 26 June election, Radio Free Europe reports.


Elbegdorj, a Democratic Party member, received just over 50 percent of the vote and thus avoided a runoff, The Economist reports.


A former wrestler, Badmaanyambuu Bat-erdene, now a member of parliament representing the Mongolian People’s Party, took 42.5 percent of the vote, and Health Minister Natsag Udval of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party took 6.6 percent.


Udval is an ally of former President Nambar Enkhbayar. Enkhbayar was convicted on corruption charges last August.


Elbegdorj ran on an anti-corruption campaign that focused on his time as a protest leader during the 1990 demonstrations that ended Mongolia’s communist rule, RFE reports.


The campaign also addressed the important issue of distributing the proceeds from Mongolia’s booming mining industry.


U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Elbegdorj on his victory, calling him an “important leader in advancing democracy and freedom in his country and a key partner for the United States in Asia and globally,” Global Post reports. 


3. Report: EU-backed Nabucco pipeline loses key supply bid


In a potentially fatal blow, the Nabucco West pipeline envisioned to reduce Europe's reliance on Russian energy imports has lost a critical supply bid with Azerbaijan, The Wall Street Journal reports.


Nabucco partner OMV of Austria said 26 June that the consortium managing Azerbaijan's massive Shah Deniz 2 gas field has rejected the pipeline as its European export route. The WSJ cites insiders as saying that the British Petroleum-led consortium will award the contract to the rival Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) on 28 June.


Radio Free Europe reports that, though the details of the deal remain murky, TAP was able to underbid Nabucco partly because its route is roughly 400 kilometers shorter.


This is the most recent blow for Nabucco, envisioned a decade ago to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy by pumping 32 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually through Turkey and southeastern Europe to Austria. But the project inched along without signing a single supply deal, and in May 2012 its financial backers proposed the scaled-back Nabucco West to the Shah Deniz 2 consortium amid cost concerns about the original design.


A month later, Shah picked Nabucco as its potential export route to Europe, with TAP the only other rival. Spanning western Turkey to southern Italy, TAP will still enable Europe to diversify away from Russia, the WSJ points out, but its initial volume of 10 billion cubic meters annually represents a fraction of the continent's gas imports.


While some analysts say Nabucco may yet survive to find other suppliers in Azerbaijan or elsewhere, OMV, at least, is ready to walk away.


"The Nabucco project is over for us," chief executive Gerhard Roiss said at a 26 June press conference, Novinite reports.


4. UN cannot face prosecution for Bosnian war massacre, court rules


A European court has upheld a 2012 ruling confirming that the United Nations is immune from prosecution in national courts over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslims during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, AFP reports.


The survivors' group Mothers of Srebrenica has sought a trial against the UN and the Dutch state for failing to protect the enclave that became the site of arguably the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II. But on 27 June, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld a 2012 ruling by the Dutch Supreme Court to reject the suit.


Srebrenica_massacre_memorial_wall_of_namesNames of victims of the Srebrenica mass killings are inscribed on this memorial in Potocari, near Srebrenica. Photo by Michael Büker/Wikimedia Commons


The unanimous decision held that the appeal was inadmissible because there were legitimate grounds to grant the UN immunity. Giving national courts jurisdiction over the UN, the ECHR said, would allow states to potentially meddle in its mission to promote international security.


Mothers of Srebrenica's suit against the Dutch state is still pending.


In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran Dutch peacekeepers guarding a UN "safe area" around Srebrenica and killed over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. Two international courts have termed the massacre an act of genocide.


The remains of 404 victims found in mass graves in the last year will be buried on 11 July, the 18th anniversary of the killings.


5. Medvedev: Russian scholars should focus on research, not real estate


Moscow is set to overhaul the Russian Academy of Sciences, months after a top education official said the organization had "no future," RIA Novosti reports.


Among the changes, a new government agency will manage the academy's sizable Soviet-era property holdings, the leases for which allowed it to survive the brain and funding drains of the 1990s.


"It's important to allow the scholars to focus on science and research and spare them of the irrelevant function of managing real estate and communal utilities," Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said 27 June.


Established by Tsar Peter the Great in 1724, the institution will also be merged with two other state academies. Members will see their monthly stipends increase up to 10-fold to 100,000 rubles ($3,050).


The overhaul follows a wave of criticism of the academy by Russian officials. In March, Education and Science Minister Dmitry Livanov, who outlined the coming changes, described it as "unsustainable and with no future." Earlier this month, meanwhile, the respected journal Nature ranked it 193 among 200 international research institutions, based on the number of scientific papers published in 2012 – much to the outrage of at least one Russian scientist.


A bill on the overhaul will go before the Russian parliament next week. Academy members were reportedly not consulted on the changes.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Molly Jane Zuckerman is a TOL editorial intern.
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