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More Losers Than Winners in Czech Elections, Georgia Jails Saakashvili Ally

Plus, Romania’s ethnic Hungarians march for greater autonomy and Bosnian Muslims stage a sleep-in protest over school curricula.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Alexander Silady 29 October 2013

1. Outlook cloudy after Czech snap elections


Czech political observers foresee lengthy talks among seven parties before a new government can be formed after early parliamentary elections – and some predict another snap vote will be needed to clear up the mess.


The voting on 25-26 October was disastrous for mainstream parties, evidence of the public’s deep disgust with the main center-right and center-left forces that have long dominated the political scene. The Civic Democrats, main party in the scandal-battered government that resigned in June, crashed to just 7.7 percent of the vote, and the Social Democrats (CSSD), came in first as expected, but with a disappointing 20.5 percent, a result that threw a massive wrench into their hopes of heading up a new left-leaning coalition. CSSD leader Bohuslav Sobotka is fending off calls from party rivals to resign.


Andrej Babis
The big winner from a poll marked by poor turnout of just under 60 percent was the new ANO (Yes) party. Headed by wealthy entrepreneur Andrej Babis, the centrist party placed second at 18.7 percent, potentially giving it a prominent role in forming a new coalition.


It was a miserable election for parties associated with the current president, Milos Zeman, and his predecessor, Vaclav Klaus, who lent his face to a euroskeptic party that garnered only 0.42 percent. Zeman’s SPOZ (Party of Citizen’s Rights – Zemanites) also fell far short of the 5-percent threshold needed to enter parliament. Even so, Zeman could play a crucial part in the coming months as he decides whom to entrust with forming the next government to replace a caretaker administration loaded with his political allies.


Business-friendly Babis is distancing himself from the Social Democrats’ calls to raise taxes, EurActiv writes, but ANO’s strong showing may force it to choose between joining a CSSD-led coalition and losing its new-found influence, political analyst Lukas Linek told the website.


“Success in the end will force Babis to join the government and take on responsibility. Otherwise I don't know who could form the government at all,” Linek said.


The Communist Party ended up in its usual third-strongest position and, combined with the Social Democrats’ embarrassment, the results make a CSSD-Communist coalition predicted by some look unlikely. Polls had suggested the Communists could finish in second place and possibly enter government for the first time since they lost power in 1989.


2. Prison term for former Georgian high official Akhalaia


Former Georgian minister of defense and the interior Bacho Akhalaia was ordered to serve almost four years in prison 28 October for inhumane treatment of prison inmates during a riot in 2006.


Bacho Akhalaia
A court in Tbilisi sentenced Akhalaia to three years and nine months in prison and a fine of 4,000 lari ($2,400), Civil Georgia reports. Three other defendants who remain at large were given similar punishments.


The court ruling came a day after Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s candidate for president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, easily defeated Davit Bakradze of outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement.


As Radio Free Europe writes, Akhalaia is the first former Saakashvili ally to be convicted in a series of trials launched after Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition came to power last year. Visiting Tbilisi last week, the Polish and Swedish foreign ministers, Radek Sikorski and Carl Bildt, urged the government to avoid the appearance of carrying out politically motivated cases against Saakashvili’s former associates.


"The best that Georgia can do” if it wants to sign an EU Association Agreement at a November summit “is to continue to modernize and to avoid both the substance and even the appearance of politically motivated justice," Sikorski said. 


Akhalaia was accused of using excessive force to put down a 2006 prison riot in which seven inmates were killed. He headed the Georgian prison system at the time, going on to serve as defense minister and then interior minister. He resigned that post in September 2012 after videos emerged purporting to show the abuse of prison inmates.


3. Grybauskaite renews critique of Russia ahead of Eastern Partnership summit


Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite recently told Radio Free Europe she is concerned about Russian political and economic pressure on the Eastern European countries whose leaders will meet with EU officials in Vilnius in late November.


Dalia GrybauskaitÄ—
Grybauskaite said Russia was attempting to thwart Ukraine's ambitions to move closer to the EU, calling trade restrictions a source of “huge pressure.” Ukraine hopes to sign a free trade and association agreement at the summit.


“They are also under pressure on energy prices, and all of this pressure is still increasingly visible. All of the pressure is also having an impact on public opinion in Ukraine and Europe and also on the decisions and the speed of decision in Ukraine itself,” she told Radio Free Europe.


Lithuania holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, giving it a larger say than normal over the agenda of union meetings.


The Vilnius summit will not go down as a failure if Ukraine does not sign the association agreement with the EU, she said. Ukraine and other countries have made significant progress toward free-trade agreements, visa liberalization, and reforming their legal systems: “I think already [Ukraine is] successfully achieving very good results for themselves because they are on the path of reform,” she said.


Lithuania has had its own recent economic battles with Russia, which banned imports of Lithuanian dairy products in early October, citing health concerns, and in September stepped up border checks on trucks crossing from Lithuania into the Kaliningrad enclave.


The Russian consumer rights agency Rospotrebnadzor said 28 October that the ban could be lifted soon, according to RIA Novosti.


4. Bosniaks stage Sarajevo tent protest over school ‘discrimination’


Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) parents from a village in the Serb-majority Republika Srpska half of Bosnia and Herzegovina set up a tent camp across the street from the office of the international community’s High Commissioner in Bosnia in early October, Balkan Insight reports.


Parents from Konjevic Polje and another partly Bosniak village have been keeping their children home from school since September in a dispute over the lack of teaching in the Bosnian language, SETimes reported earlier this month.


Just over half of the 280 pupils in the elementary school in Vrbanjci last year were Bosniaks, while all 148 pupils at the Konjevic Polje school were Bosniaks, according to SETimes.


One protester told Balkan Insight the Bosniaks were being “discriminated against” in the village. The school is a branch of an all-Serb school in nearby Kravice and uses the Serbian curriculum for subjects such as history, geography, language, and literature.


Parents said they would not drop their demand that at least language and literature classes be taught in the Bosnian language, although, Balkan Insight writes, “Bosnian and Serbian are largely the same and much of the dispute turns on the name of the language and choosing the different literature.”


Most of the 2,000 residents of Konjevic Polje are Bosniaks who returned to their homes after fleeing or being forced out during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Many villagers fled to nearby Srebrenica, according to Balkan Insight. The town was the site of the war’s worst atrocity when Serb forces executed about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1995.


The tent camp remains, reports FENA, the official news agency of the Bosniak-Croat Federation, the non-Serb half of ethnically divided Bosnia.


5. Hungarians rally for greater autonomy in Transylvania


Thousands of ethnic Hungarians from central Transylvania staged a march on 27 October in support of greater autonomy for the so-called Szekler region, according to AFP.


Szeklers hold a rally for greater autonomy at the Romanian Embassy in Budapest in March. Photo by Derzsi Elekes Andor/Wikimedia Commons.


Part of Hungary until after World War I, with a majority Hungarian population, the Szekler region straddles several Romanian counties. It has been a source of tension between Romanian and Hungarian authorities over administrative matters and the display of national symbols. AFP notes that the protesters carried Hungarian and Szekler flags, as well as banners asserting their claims, such as “We want autonomy, not independence” and “Romania is our country as well.” writes that rallies in support of Szekler autonomy claims took place in 13 countries, including Hungary, as by one estimate 10,000 people protested peacefully near the Romanian Embassy in Budapest.


In Romania, a Szekler leader said 120,000 ralliers formed a 54-kilometer (34-mile) human chain between two Szekler towns, reports, though Romanian authorities put the turnout at 15,000.


Around 75 percent of the Szekler land’s 800,000 residents are ethnic Hungarians. Numbering 1.4 million, Hungarians are the largest minority in Romania.

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Alexander Silady is a TOL editorial intern.
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