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No, thanks Photo: Abbas Atilay
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The Noose Tightens for Democracy in Eurasia, Bulgaria’s Leader Poised to Resign

Plus, Croatia will try a Hungarian energy exec in absentia and a major Macedonian university launches studies in family values and ‘deviance.’

by Barbara Frye, Rebecca Johnson, and Madeleine Stern 12 June 2014

1. Space for freedom in Eurasia getting even smaller


Democracy is taking a beating across much of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, according to this year’s Nations in Transit report by watchdog group Freedom House.


The situation is especially dire in Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, where authoritarian regimes have found new ways to stifle dissent, the report says.


Many of those methods were pioneered in Russia and have been imported by its neighbors. Anti-gay rights legislation modeled on that passed in Russia has been mooted in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, and Latvia. Measures similar to a 2012 Russian law requiring some civic groups to register as foreign agents were adopted in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, both of which already maintained a firm grip on any civic activity, the report notes.


Protesters are detained during a 2011 rally in Baku. Photo by Abbas Atilay.

Freedom House laments a deepening “fault line” between European and Eurasian ideology and politics, and its worst performers are Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, each of which had a composite score of 6.93 – with 7 as worst – on a range of indicators including the integrity of the election process, the strength of civil society, corruption, media independence, judicial integrity, and governance.


The best performers were Slovenia, at 1.93, and Estonia, at 1.96, though even Slovenia slipped a bit from last year due to corruption convictions and charges against some top politicians.


Overall, the report contained many more downward arrows than upward ones. Sixteen of 29 countries surveyed saw their scores downgraded, although that masks an even grimmer picture, given that Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan’s dismal performances were unchanged from last year. Only five countries – Albania, Kosovo, Romania, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan – showed clear improvements, while the rest were unchanged.


2. Death watch starts for Bulgaria’s government


Bulgaria’s prime minister said he is ready to resign next week, and the cabinet could go with him, according to various reports.


The government faces a 13 June confidence vote. Although it could survive, The Sofia Globe reports, recent disagreements have shaken the fragile ruling coalition’s hold on power and undermined its ability to get legislation through parliament.


Last week, the leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, a predominantly Turkish party that is the junior coalition member, called for early elections.


Lyutvi Mestan criticized the coalition partner Socialists for pushing ahead with plans to build a pipeline to bring Russian natural gas under the Black Sea and ashore at Bulgaria despite EU concerns over the project and the contracting process.


Plamen Oresharski
Days later, Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski suspended the project after meeting with a group of visiting U.S. senators.


That move angered Volen Siderov, the fiery leader of the nationalist Ataka (Attack) party, who joined in the call for early elections. Though not a member of the ruling coalition, Ataka has played ball with the coalition on key votes in parliament.


Referring to the South Stream reversal, Siderov said Oresharski “stooped” to the senators. “This anti-colonial policy has to stop,” he told a Bulgarian newspaper, according to Novinite.


The confidence motion was tabled by GERB, a center-right opposition party that lost power to the Socialists last year but left the Socialists far behind in May’s elections to the European Parliament.


The debate now is whether elections would be held in July or September.


“Now, political talk is that the elections are likely to be closer to the end of September, with the cabinet in which Plamen Oresharski was installed in the prime minister’s chair in May 2013 remaining in place until late July,” The Sofia Globe reports.


Whoever wins, the task of running Bulgaria has become a kind of poison chalice, with recent governments beset by persistent demonstrations and most Bulgarians deeply disillusioned by a political class widely perceived, at home and abroad, as corrupt.


3. Croatian prosecutors will try Hungarian energy exec in absentia


Zsolt Hernadi
Prosecutors in Croatia have announced they will try Zsolt Hernadi, head of the Hungarian energy company MOL, in absentia on charges of bribery, Balkan Insight reports.


Hernadi is accused of paying Croatia’s then-prime minister, Ivo Sanader, 10 million euros ($13.5 million) in 2008, as MOL was buying a 49.1 percent stake in Croatian state oil company INA, to secure management rights in INA.


Sanader was sentenced to 10 years in prison in connection with the case in November 2012 but is appealing the decision, Reuters reports


The Croatian state attorney’s office issued a warrant for Hernadi’s arrest in October 2013. Hernadi has refused to come to Croatia for questioning.


The conflict between the Croatian government, which wants to regain management rights over INA, and MOL have led the Hungarian company to consider selling its stake in INA, the Budapest Business Journal reported in May.


The companies are among the largest in their countries. The Hungarian government owns about 25 percent of MOL.


Hernadi was sued in May by an MOL shareholder who said her shares lost value after the bribery charges involving Sanader and Hernadi became public, but the case was thrown out by a Budapest court, reported.


Hernadi denies the charges against him, citing a previous investigation in Hungary that found no grounds for prosecution, according to the Budapest Business Journal.


Croatian prosecutors’ attempt to build a case against him is like “sewing a coat to a button,” Hernadi told a Croatian television station in April.


4. New studies program in Skopje focuses on family values, ‘deviance’


A new studies program at Saints Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje teaches that homosexuality, divorce, and drug addiction are “socio-pathological problems” and deviant behavior that can and should be prevented with strong family values, Balkan Insight reports.


“We have a moral vacuum, with an increased number of divorces, prostitution, alcoholism, and drug addiction all lowering moral values. We intend to restore family values through these studies,” said sociology and religion professor Zoran Matevski, who helped create the curriculum.


The courses include “Family Values and Morality,” “Family and Religion,” and “Family and Social Deviations,” the last of which lumps in homosexuality, alcoholism, suicide, drug addiction, and divorce with murder and corruption as deviant behavior.


A coalition of rights groups blasted the new institute and asked the country’s Anti-Discrimination Commission to take action, according to Balkan Insight. Neither the commission nor the government has commented on the issue.


In a statement, the coalition said the courses display “homophobic attitudes” and emphasize the role of women instead of men in the family. In addition, it decried the treatment of homosexuality and divorce as “socio-pathological phenomena” and of drug addiction as a deviation instead of a health problem.


Describing divorce as a problem is “a direct attack on the right of free will … guaranteed by international law and Macedonian law on the family,” said the Women’s Alliance, according to Balkan Insight.


The group noted that the World Health Organization stopped classifying homosexuality as a disease in 1990.


Macedonia adopted anti-discrimination laws in 2010, but it did not extend protections to homosexuals.


5. Winner in South Ossetia elections calls for union with Russia


A party calling for union with Russia won the weekend’s parliamentary elections in South Ossetia, a breakaway province of Georgia, reports.


United Ossetia took 20 of the de facto legislature’s 34 seats, RIA Novosti reports.


“[T]he major expectation that voters have from us is a prompt return back to the Russian Federation,” party leader Anatoly Bibilov said after the election results were announced, according to, citing local media.


“We have said multiple times that we are ready to spare no effort [in] achieving this goal. Without shelving this issue, we will start working on it immediately,” he said. 


Georgia and Russia went to war over South Ossetia in 2008, with Moscow claiming the right, as it did this year in Crimea, to defend Russian speakers beyond its borders.


Turnout in the vote was 60.47 percent, reports. That is low for South Ossetia, and a Russian legislator who was monitoring the vote said many registered voters had moved to Russia and could not participate, Radio Free Europe reports.


South Ossetia considers itself a state. Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Nauru are the only countries to recognize its independence.


Monitors from Russia praised the conduct of the vote, while officials from NATO and the EU did not recognize the elections.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Rebecca Johnson and Madeleine Stern are TOL editorial interns.
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