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Romanian Liberals Join the Opposition, Lithuania Mulls Gazprom Price Cut

Plus, an editor is fined for insulting intellectuals and Croatia eyes its picturesque coast as a site for drilling rigs.

by Ioana Caloianu, Sarah Fluck, Ky Krauthamer, Karlo Marinovic, and Lily Sieradzki 26 February 2014

1. Socialist-led Romanian government likely to survive coalition party’s sudden exit

 

Crin_Antonescu100Crin Antonescu
Romania’s ruling center-left coalition has broken up after disagreements between the Liberal Party and the Socialists, the lead party in the coalition. Liberal cabinet ministers submitted their resignations today, a day after Liberal Party head Crin Antonescu demanded Socialist Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s resignation, Bloomberg reports.

 

Ponta is unlikely to go, Hotnews writes. Instead, the Liberals’ coalition spot will probably be taken by the Democratic Union of Romanian Hungarians, which has been supporting the Socialists, according to the Liberal Senate leader Puiu Hasotti.

 

The Social Liberal Union coalition has been in power since December 2012, when it won a clear majority in legislative elections. The widening gap between Antonescu and Ponta reached a critical point recently when Ponta vetoed the Liberals’ attempt to replace five government ministers, Bloomberg reports. The two leaders could face each other in the presidential election set for November.

 

Antonescu said his party’s defection became necessary because the coalition “could no longer tell people that the objectives laid out three years ago [when the Social Liberal Union formed] are being followed,” ProTV writes.

 

2. Lithuania weighs Gazprom offer

 

Dalia GrybauskaitÄ—Dalia GrybauskaitÄ—
Gazprom will cut Lithuania’s gas price by 20 percent if Vilnius drops its claims against the Russian energy giant, the Baltic Course reports, citing local media.

 

The report comes on the heels of Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite’s rejection of Gazprom’s “unfavorable conditions” in return for price cuts, Bloomberg reports.

 

In a suit filed in the Stockholm arbitration court in 2012, Lithuania claims Gazprom overcharged it by around $1.6 billion. Lithuania was also instrumental in launching a European Commission probe into the Russian company’s European pricing arrangements, Bloomberg reported in January.

 

Talks on a new gas deal began at the Sochi Olympics earlier this month when Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius met with Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller and Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. Gazprom’s new offer would bring the price down to the level paid by Latvia and Estonia, the Baltic Course reports.

 

Grybauskaite is urging Butkevicius to press for a better deal.

 

“Given the current Lithuanian position that includes our arbitration case against Gazprom and the construction of a natural-gas terminal, we cannot accept unfavorable conditions for Lithuania,” she wrote in a statement to Bloomberg.

 

Vilnius might be in a position to end its long-term contract with Gazprom when the liquefied natural gas terminal comes into operation later this year, Grybauskaite said in January, according to Bloomberg.

 

3. Croatia invites bids for Adriatic oil and gas exploration

 

Croatia’s government predicts annual earnings of up to 500 million euros ($688 million) from offshore oil and gas concessions it will open for bids in April, Balkan Insight reports.

 

The Economy Ministry will make 29 sections off the southern and central Adriatic coast available for oil and gas exploration.

 

Economy Minister Ivan Vrdoljak announced the tenders a month after a Norwegian company completed a seismic survey, according to Reuters.

 

"This is an extremely important project that could turn Croatia into an important energy hub," Vrdoljak said after the survey’s completion.

 

Commercial quantities of oil and gas should be available by 2019 or 2020, Vrdoljak said.

 

Croatia imports 80 percent of its annual oil needs, while existing offshore and onshore gas wells supply 60 to 65 percent of its gas, Reuters writes.

 

The island of Brac could become a lucrative source for hydrocarbons in addition to the huge income it earns from tourism, Digital Journal reports, citing the daily Slobodna Dalmacija.

 

Tourism is a major, and growing, segment of the country’s economy. Last year’s figure of 12.4 million visitors set a new record, while earnings of 7 billion euros were just under the record set in 2008, Croatia Week reports. Foreign tourists made up about 90 percent of the arrivals, many of whom head for the same stretches of coast soon to be opened for oil and gas drilling.

 

City of Bol on Brac Island. Photo by  Marin0110/Wikimedia CommonsBol, a town on Brac Island. Photo by Marin0110/Wikimedia Commons

 

4. Croatia and Serbia to continue counting war victims in The Hague

 

Croatia and Serbia have failed to resolve outstanding issues around each country’s genocide claims against the other, opening the way for the International Court of Justice to hear the cases next week, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Vesna PusicVesna Pusic
After meeting her Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, in Belgrade 24 February, Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Vesna Pusic said the fate of missing persons was unresolved, although each side had shown good will toward the other.

 

Zagreb is seeking information on about 1,700 people unaccounted for since the wars of the early and mid-1990s as Serbia sought to keep the Yugoslav federation together.

 

Serbia had no more information on the missing persons, Vucic said.

 

Each country accuses the other of genocide and other acts of war and destruction of cultural heritage. Serbia filed a counter-suit against Croatia in 2010, a decade after Zagreb’s initial suit, B92 reports.

 

Serbia has recently started negotiations for EU accession, and Pusic promised that other questions such as refugees’ property rights and border demarcation would be resolved bilaterally, Balkan Insight writes.

 

The international court in The Hague is scheduled to hold initial hearings on the cases on 3 March.

 

5. Lenin quotation lands Dushanbe editor in hot water

 

A newspaper editor in Tajikistan has been fined over a slighting comment on the slavishness of the country’s intellectuals.

 

A court in Dushanbe ordered Asia-Plus and its editor, Olga Tutubalina, to pay 30,000 somoni ($6,200) to three plaintiffs who along with five cultural organizations sued her over an article she published in May 2013, the newspaper reports.

 

In her story, Tutubalina cited a letter from Vladimir Lenin to writer Maxim Gorky in 1919 and quoted Lenin’s piquant description: “the educated classes, the lackeys of capital, who consider themselves the brains of the nation. In fact they are not its brains but its shit.”

 

Tutubalina told EurasiaNet.org last year she had not intended to insult anyone.

 

“One particular segment of the intelligentsia does not deserve respect. I meant those who speak only when they get permission from above,” she said.

 

She ran the scathing comments after a Soviet-era poet, Bozor Sobir, returned home from nearly 20 years of self-imposed exile last year. Sobir praised President Imomali Rahmon and questioned the need for a competitive party system, according to EurasiaNet.org.

 

Reacting to Tutubalina’s article, the chairman of the country’s Writers Union condemned her for insulting Tajikistan’s intellectuals and the entire nation, saying it was “obvious that she dislikes Tajiks.” Tutubalina is an ethnic Russian.

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Sarah FluckKarlo Marinovic, and Lily Sieradzki are TOL editorial interns. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL.
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