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Turbulent Mitrovica Mayoral Race Ends, Estonian Premier to Step Down

Plus, no end in sight to Bulgarian doctor exodus, and Slovakia bids for a giant Amazon shipping center.

by Ioana Caloianu, Sarah Fluck, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 25 February 2014

1. Serbia-backed candidate elected Mitrovica mayor


Goran RakicGoran Rakic
Kosovo’s largest Serb-majority town finally has a mayor after three failed attempts and the murder of one candidate.


Goran Rakic, a Belgrade-backed candidate, was elected with 52.6 percent of the vote in the 23 February election rerun in North Mitrovica, Balkan Insight reports. Just 5,134 of more than 28,000 registered voters cast a ballot, a sign that local Serbs are still reluctant to participate in elections organized by the Pristina government.


Rakic’s main rival, Oliver Ivanovic, is in detention after being arrested last month for war crimes against ethnic Albanians in 1999.


NATO peacekeepers and EU police were on heightened alert on election day, Radio Free Europe reports.


The first attempt to choose a mayor in November was disrupted by masked men who invaded polling stations, and the second was inconclusive, Balkan Insight writes. The winner of December’s run-off, Krstimir Pantic, refused to take office under the Pristina government. In January, the candidate of a Serbian party that cooperates with Pristina, Dimitrije Janicijevic was gunned down by unknown attackers.


2. Long-serving Estonian premier to step down


Andrus AnsipAndrus Ansip
Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip will step down “to improve his Reform Party’s chances of winning the March 2015 general election,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports.


Ansip said 23 February he will submit his resignation to President Toomas Ilves on 4 March. Former Prime Minister Siim Kallas is expected to replace his Reform Party colleague, Deutsche Welle reports.


Ansip, 57, became prime minister in April 2005, making him Europe’s longest-serving head of government. He pushed through biting austerity measures to counteract the economy’s drastic decline in 2008-2009 and steered the country to euro adoption in 2011, Bloomberg writes.


The liberal, pro-market Reform Party is the largest party in the Estonian parliament, but its support has slipped in recent polls as opposition parties exploit the public’s discontent with the flat income tax, Reuters writes. Even so, the party is likely to stay in government after next year’s elections, according to Baltic Business News.


Ansip will probably seek to exchange jobs with Kallas, currently the EU’s transport commissioner, Deutsche Welle writes.


3. Kazakhstani dissident’s former associates battle extradition requests


Tatiana ParaskevichTatiana Paraskevich
Czech authorities are offering to grant legal protection to a jailed associate of Kazakhstani dissident oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov. RFE says Tatiana Paraskevich has spent almost two years in a Czech prison awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings. The Interior Ministry’s offer would prevent Paraskevich’s extradition to Ukraine and would likely also apply to Russia’s extradition request. Either country would likely send her on to face justice in Kazakhstan in connection with Ablyazov’s alleged financial crimes, RFE writes.


As of October Kazakhstan was seeking the extradition of two other former Ablyazov associates, Czech Radio reported. Muratbek Ketebaev was granted refugee status by Poland in December, according to RFE, while Aleksandr Pavlov is under detention in Spain.


A former government minister wanted for alleged financial misdeeds in Kazakhstan and other former Soviet states, Ablyazov is currently jailed in France facing extradition bids from Kazakhstan and Ukraine.


Paraskevich’s daughter Maria told Czech Radio her harassment by Kazakhstan’s authorities started in 2001 while she was working at a bank part owned by Ablyazov. When the oligarch-turned-opposition-leader fled to Russia after spending a year in prison, the Paraskevich family followed.


“They [the Kazakhstani authorities] thought that she might provide evidence against him and they put her under pressure,” Maria Paraskevich said. Her mother was detained after arriving in the Czech Republic for spa treatment in May 2012.


Ablyazov suffered another blow this week when a Hong Kong judge ordered a freeze on assets and shares of two Hong Kong companies thought to be linked to him, the South China Morning Post reports. The freeze was requested by Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, which is seeking to recover more than $5 billion Ablyazov is accused of embezzling.


4. Rebuffed by Czech city, Amazon could turn to Slovakia


Slovakia hopes to fill the hole left after a nearby Czech city rejected a proposal for an Amazon logistics center, Bloomberg reports.


The online retailer plans to build at least five huge shipping centers in Central Europe, including three in Poland and one near Prague. But a proposed facility in the Czech Republic’s second city, Brno, not far from the Slovak border, was turned down by the city assembly earlier this month. Slovakia has initiated talks with Amazon over the possible location of a facility there, with state aid also perhaps on the table, Economy Ministry spokesman Stanislav Jurikovic told Bloomberg.


Amazon may be hoping that Central Europe’s lightly unionized workers will be less disruptive than in Germany or the UK, the tech news site ZD Net writes. Unionized Amazon workers in both countries struck last year over low pay and working conditions.


The Polish Solidarity union is concerned over Amazon’s arrival, ZD Net writes. However, only 12 percent of Polish and 17 percent of Czech workers belong to unions, and unemployment remains stubbornly high in both countries.


5. Bulgaria faces acute doctor shortage


The numbers add up to a poor prognosis for Bulgaria’s health care system: nearly half of the country’s doctors are expected to retire within a decade, and most medical graduates see no future in a country that pays doctors less than any other EU member.


The figures on the aging of Bulgaria’s doctor corps come from the Bulgarian Medical Union, which reports that around 70 percent of doctors are older than 45, Novinite reports.


“In 10 years this will create a serious shortage and we have to start thinking about this now,” the group’s deputy chairman said.


Four-fifths of recent medical graduates plan to move abroad for work, many to Germany, a survey by the doctors’ organization found.


The organization’s head, Tsvetan Raychinov, told Al Jazeera that the annual loss of doctors who emigrate is almost the same as the number of graduating medical students, around 600.


Al Jazeera cites a 2011 European Federation of Salaried Doctors study that ranked Bulgaria last in the EU in terms of doctors’ minimum salary, just below Romania and well under the minimum salaries paid in other Central and Eastern European members. 


One medical student complained that it is impossible to start a family on the monthly pay of around $200 most physicians earn in the first four years after earning their medical degree.


Part of the problem is migration of not just doctors, but millions of other Bulgarians, who pay health insurance premiums in other countries and thus starve the Bulgarian system.


Two million of Bulgaria’s 7.2 million citizens did not pay their health insurance in 2010, Novinite also reports this month. More than half of the nonpayers were emigrants. The next largest segment was the 460,000 people who could not afford the insurance, according to National Revenue Agency data released in 2013. Another 254,000 people used state health care facilities only for serious medical problems.

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Sarah Fluck and Karlo Marinovic are TOL editorial interns. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL.
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