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Hungary’s Fidesz Gets a Landslide, Separatists Seize Buildings in Eastern Ukraine

Plus, Russia and Kyiv spar over a gas price hike and NATO will likely shore up forces in Poland.

by Ioana Caloianu, Barbara Frye, Annabel Lau, Piers Lawson, and Erin Murphy 7 April 2014

1. Hungary’s ruling party claims a commanding victory

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party has won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in which the far-right Jobbik party came in third with enough votes to make it one of Europe’s most popular extreme right parties.


Fidesz won about 133 of the 199 seats in the parliament, enabling it to form a government on its own. It is also close to the required number for changing the constitution.


Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses supporters after his Fidesz party once again won big in elections. Photo from the Fidesz website.


One in every five voters backed Jobbik, a far-right opposition party accused of anti-Semitism, Reuters reports.


“This was not just any odd victory. We have scored such a comprehensive victory, the significance of which we cannot yet fully grasp tonight,” Orban told supporters in Budapest, according to the BBC.


He said the results “showed that Hungarians wanted to stay in the European Union, but with a strong national government.”


Foreign investors and EU officials are likely girding for another era of difficult dealings with Budapest. Since coming to power in 2010, Fidesz has levied special taxes on banks, telecommunications, and mining, and has forced energy companies to cut their tariffs.


Orban has also led the charge to control the judiciary, gutting the high court’s ability to review some legislation and pushing changes to the constitution to get around adverse court decisions. His government has also tightened restrictions on the country’s media. Those actions have led to censure from Brussels, human rights groups, and the UN.


But many Hungarians see the 50-year-old former dissident as a champion of national interests, according to Reuters, and they welcome his moves to cut energy bills and income taxes.


The opposition said it was hamstrung by new election laws that prohibited paid television and radio advertising while companies allied to Fidesz controlled most outdoor advertising space, the Financial Times reports.


Orban promised to continue reducing the influence of “foreign-owned alleged monopolies, ensuring at least 50 percent of Hungarian banking is under domestic control, and giving an enhanced role to Hungarian companies in the economy,” according to the Financial Times.


2. Separatists seize Donetsk government HQ, vow referendum

Pro-Russian separatists have seized a government building in an eastern Ukrainian city and have “voted for a declaration of the sovereignty of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic,” the Kyiv Post reports.


The group is vowing to hold a referendum on regional sovereignty within the next month, the Guardian reports, citing local media. “The region's news website, Ostrov (Island), said the activists wanted to join the Russian Federation in a similar way to the Crimean peninsula,” according to the Guardian.


In the most recent census, conducted in 2001, the Donetsk region was home to 4.8 million people, including 1.8 million ethnic Russians and 2.7 million Ukrainians.


The storming of the building came 6 April, as other separatist groups temporarily took over the offices of the national security service in Luhansk and the local administration in Kharkiv. A day later, “about 1,000 people are still outside the building of the Donetsk regional state administration,” Interfax Ukraine reports.


Ukraine’s top security officials headed to eastern Ukraine to deal with the crisis, The Washington Post reports.


Arseniy Yatsenyuk
The country’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has blamed Russia for the unrest in the east. Before leading an emergency cabinet meeting today, he said, “Everyone understands that they are realizing an anti-Ukrainian, anti-Donetsk, anti-Luhansk, and anti-Kharkiv plan, a plan to destabilize the situation, a plan to ensure that foreign troops could cross the border and capture the territory of the country,” according to Interfax.


Russia has amassed about 40,000 troops near the border with Ukraine.


Alexander Dugin, a sociology professor in Moscow who is probably the loudest proponent of Russian expansionism, told a Russian separatist in Ukraine that “the Kremlin is resolutely determined to struggle for the independence of south and eastern Ukraine,” in a Skype conversation posted on YouTube last week.


3. Kyiv threatens arbitration over higher gas price from Russia

Ukraine and Russia are at odds over a nullified gas discount that has triggered a rise in the price of gas sold by Moscow to Kyiv.


Ukraine was forced to seek other sources of gas from its neighbors after Russian state-run energy giant Gazprom discontinued the discount and raised the price of gas from $268.50 to $485.50.


Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk described the move as an act of aggression, Reuters reports.


“Our Russian neighbors have carried out yet another form of aggression against Ukraine – aggression through its gas supplies,” Yatsenyuk said, according to Reuters. “This price is the highest on European territory and it is not an economic but a political price.”


Kyiv is hoping to get gas from pipelines in Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland, reversing the usual flow. The move could save Ukraine between $120 and $150 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, Reuters writes. Ukraine could import up to 20 billion cubic meters of gas from Europe each year, ITAR-Tass reports.


However, Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuri Prodan said Slovakian gas company Eustream rejected Ukraine’s requests to inspect its transit facilities, which the company has denied, Reuters reports.


Gazprom’s chief executive has questioned the legality of the reverse-gas-flow plan, as it would happen in pipelines owned by his company.


“It’s unclear what grounds Ukraine has to use Gazprom’s gas in the pipeline on its territory. This may raise legal questions,” Alexei Miller told Russian television, ITAR-Tass reports.


Prodan said if ongoing talks between Ukraine and Russia over the gas price fail, Ukraine would take the dispute to an arbitration court.


"If we don't come to an agreement [with Russia], then there is a procedure laid out in our contract, [for] going to the arbitration court in Stockholm,” he said, according to Reuters. “We are not trying to break our contract but to set up a fair price like in Europe.”


4. NATO mulls beefed-up protection for Poland, Baltics

Two decades after the end of the Cold War, NATO will beef up its presence in Poland, the country’s prime minister said 5 April.


“The strengthening of NATO's presence [in Poland], also military presence, has become a fact and will be visible in the coming days, weeks,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a Polish television network, according to Reuters. “The discussion is not about if, but rather about the scale, pace, and some technical aspects of strengthening Poland's security.”


Poland last week asked NATO to deploy 10,000 troops as a “visible demonstration of the alliance's resolve to defend all its members” after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea, The Telegraph reported.


NATO foreign ministers met in Brussels last week to consider Poland’s request and similar ones from Baltic countries. They ordered senior NATO military officers “to devise ways to better protect alliance members that feel threatened by Russia,” according to The Telegraph


To minimize the risk of war with Russia, NATO is more likely to boost Eastern European security through “rotating reinforcements” rather than permanently basing large numbers of extra combat forces, Reuters reports.


Military planners have been told to return with detailed ideas by 15 April, Reuters reports.


Since November 2012, Poland has been host to 10 U.S. airmen at the Lask military airport about 100 miles southwest of Warsaw. Their numbers are augmented by “up to 200 visiting airmen conducting quarterly training rotations,” according to a dispatch from the U.S. Defense Department when the detachment was established.


During the Crimean crisis NATO deployed reconnaissance aircraft to Lask to monitor developments in Ukraine, according to The Wall Street Journal. The United States also sent 12 F-16 fighter jets and 300 troops to Poland.


5. Romanian teen charged in ‘granny spinning’ case

A Romanian teenager awaits a court hearing after he reportedly picked up a middle-aged woman and spun her around several times to amuse his friends on 3 April, the Associated Press reports.


The incident has shocked Romania since it was posted on Facebook, with newspapers describing it as "disgusting," according to the AP.


The video shows a teenager grabbing the 50-year-old woman by the collar of her robe and spinning her in circles. As she screams in terror, the boy’s friends laugh.


He then releases the woman, who tries to escape, but at his friends’ urging grabs and spins her again, the Mirror reports.


The incident happened in Ilfov county, near the capital, Bucharest.


A police spokeswoman told the AP on 6 April that police have charged a 17-year-old with disturbing public order.  He has been freed until a court hearing. 

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Annabel Lau is a TOL editorial intern. Piers Lawson is a TOL contributing editor. Erin Murphy is an outreach and development officer at TOL.
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