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New Czech Coalition May Include Communists, Russia Lets Ukraine off With a Warning

Also, Azerbaijan 's new libel law’s first conviction is a bank whistleblower, and Bulgaria’s refugee authorities throw up their hands.

by Erik N. Nelson, Ioana Caloianu, Vladimir Matan, and Sintija Treimane 22 August 2013

1. Prague Winter? Communists may be invited into new government

 

For the first time since the Velvet Revolution replaced the Soviet-orbit communist government in Prague, the Czech Communist Party might return to an influential position in the country’s political life after early elections scheduled for this fall, Reuters reports.

 

Czech lawmakers voted 20 August to dissolve parliament, triggering elections on a date to be announced by President Milos Zeman.

 

For the first time since the Velvet Revolution, the Czech Communist Party might become part of a governing coalition this year. Photo by Adam Jones/flickriver.com.

 

So far, opinion polls indicate that 27 percent – a plurality – of the vote would go to the center-left Social Democrats, followed by the Communists, with nearly 17 percent, according to Reuters.

 

That means the Social Democrats would be likely to entertain the idea of making the Communist Party part of a ruling coalition. Since the fall of communism, participation with the unreconstructed party has been taboo for most Czech politicians.

 

Bohuslav Sobotka
Social Democratic leader Bohuslav Sobotka said it would “definitely (be) possible to expect negotiations with KSCM (the Communist Party),” given the party’s "presence in a number of town halls and in regional leaderships.” Sobotka added, however, that his party will not accommodate the Communist Party program.

 

Dissident figures, such as writer Jiri Stransky, who was imprisoned during communism, have expressed dismay upon hearing the news.

 

“I am saddened that after nearly 24 years, the country has ended this way, when we started out so amazingly,” Stransky said.

 

Czech politics has been in upheaval since June, when Prime Minister Petr Necas was forced to resign due to a corruption scandal involving his closest aide.

 

2. Russia declares cease-fire in trade war with Ukraine

 

Russia has reportedly lifted its punitive customs checks against Ukrainian goods but issued a warning that it can once again tighten the noose if Ukraine decides to conclude a trade pact with the European Union, the Financial Times reports.

 

“We are preparing to tighten customs procedures if suddenly Ukraine makes this suicidal step of signing the EU association agreement,” said Sergei Glazyev, who advises Russian President Vladimir Putin on a Moscow-led free-trade group of former Soviet republics, which Kyiv has refused to join.

 

Russia’s tough love approach earned a stern warning from Ukraine’s gentler suitor to the west. The European Union's trade spokesman, John Clancy, issued a statement saying the EU “questions the grounds” for Russia’s stopping Ukrainian goods at the border.

 

“In the view of the EU any economic threat from Russia directed against Ukraine and linked to the country’s possible signature of the association agreement with the EU is unacceptable,” he added. The agreement could be signed at a November summit, although some EU members are pushing Kyiv to release Yulia Tymoshenko, the imprisoned former prime minister of Ukraine, before that can happen.

 

According to state-controlled RT, Russian customs authorities stopped almost 1,000 freight vehicles at the country’s border with Ukraine last week. The business advocacy group Federation of Ukrainian Employers estimated that further trade measures could cost Ukrainian companies as much as $2.5 billion.

 

And over the weekend, the Ukrainian newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnia (Mirror Weekly) published a document detailing trade and other pressure the Kremlin planned to apply to bring Ukraine to heel, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

The document, whose authenticity is uncertain, lists goals such as thwarting Ukraine’s membership in the EU Association Agreement, creating a group of Russian-friendly organizations within Ukraine, and securing Ukraine as a member of the Russian-led customs group.

 

3. Azerbaijani gets jail for dissing bank as corrupt on Facebook

 

It calls itself “Your Accessible European Bank” and is partly owned by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, an institution pledged to uphold democratic values.

 

Thus it was shocking to many associated with Azerbaijan’s AccessBank when it turned out to be the first entity to put someone in jail for speaking his mind about the bank on Facebook, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Mikail Talibov lost his job with AccessBank several years ago and after failing to reverse the dismissal in court, he vented frustration with what he called the bank’s corruption on Facebook. The bank sued under Azerbaijan’s recent and much-criticized libel law, and on 14 August a court sentenced Talibov to a year of “corrective labor,” RFE writes.

 

The law allows civil penalties of up to three years in prison for discourse on the Internet deemed defamatory, as well as fines of up to 1,000 manats ($1,280).

 

Amnesty International and the Council of Europe – which gets development aid advice from the EBRD – expressed disappointment at the sentence, with the council’s human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, saying the law “further chills freedom of expression.”

 

In Baku, the Media Rights Institute, which opposed the law, said Talibov’s imprisonment can be placed at the feet of the very international organizations that purport to protect rights such as freedom of expression.

 

“People here still hoped these international organizations would never take these kinds of steps,” said the institute’s head, Rashid Hajili. “Unfortunately, we're now witnessing a blow to free speech by these very organizations.”

 

The EBRD and other international entities share ownership of the bank, although RFE writes that AccessBank’s management board does not have an EDRB representative. EDRB did not comment for RFE’s article.

 

The development bank’s own statement about rights in Azerbaijan even addresses the libel issue directly: “Decriminalization of libel is needed to protect freedom of expression for members of the media and is a vital component of democratic governance.”

 

4. Bulgaria can’t handle more refugees from Turkey, official says

 

As newcomers continue to surge across Bulgaria’s borders, the country’s foreign minister says the country can’t cope with the logistics of dealing with them, novinite.com reports.

 

Kristian Vigenin
Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin said on national TV 20 August that the influx of refugees was increasing. In just the first six months of this year, 1,880 people applied for asylum in Bulgaria. At that pace, the country would see a nearly threefold increase in asylum-seekers in 2013 over 2012, when applicants totaled 1,380.

 

Echoing comments by Vice President Margarita Popova last week, the foreign minister said the country may have to build a new center to accommodate more refugees. There are three now, novinite.com writes, in the capital, Sofia, and two others near villages in the southeast, near Bulgaria’s border with Turkey.

 

And the known number who don’t apply and have entered illegally so far this year is six times higher than for the same period last year, the Independent Balkan News Agency writes. With unrest in Turkey and a government crackdown unfolding, many people pay large sums to get into Bulgaria.

 

5. Ukraine: We’re the least-failed state in the non-EU, post-USSR world

 

It seems a sunny spot on the Failed States Index, between Malaysia and Jamaica, but Ukrainian officials can now boast – should they want to – of something even better than being the 117th-worst failed state on the planet: Ukraine is the most stable of the former Soviet countries that have not become EU members.

 

The Failed States Index is the best-known product put out each year by the Washington, D.C.,-based Fund for Peace.

 

It tallies factors such as “violation of human rights and rule of law,” “uneven economic development,” and “intervention of external actors,” and rates each on a scale of 1 to 10. The total score determines where a country sits in the rankings.

 

Ukraine scores 65.9 total, with its worst category, factionalized elites, earning a score of 8. Its best score was 3.2 for refugee problems. 

 

Ukraine's nearest rival in the post-Soviet, non-EU club is Kazakhstan, which scores 69.8 (lower is better) and ends up in 109th place.

 

In the less exclusive club of former Soviet republics, EU members Latvia (140), Estonia (145), and Lithuania (150) score significantly better than Ukraine.

 

Still, at No. 117, Ukraine just failed to make it into the top third of the 178 countries on the index, which, for instance, does not include Kosovo.

 

The three countries highest in the ranking, deemed most stable, are Finland, Sweden, and Norway. At the other end of the scale, Somalia is ranked first.

 

Erik N. Nelson is a TOL contributing editorIoana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Vladimir Matan and Sintija Treimane are TOL editorial interns.
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