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Hungary Could Land in Fiscal Doghouse, Risks from Afghanistan ‘Exaggerated’ in Central Asia

Plus, U.S. submits its new Russia envoy to Moscow for approval, and plagiarism mars academic research in Kazakhstan.

by Piers Lawson, Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, Mane Grigoryan, and Madeleine Stern 3 July 2014

1. Hungary must act to reduce its debt, Brussels warns

 

Hungary will have to be more aggressive about taming its debt in 2015, the European Commission has warned, or it could fall back into a kind of fiscal probation administered by Brussels.

 

After a late-June visit to Budapest, commission staff noted that the Hungarian government has managed to keep its annual deficits below the EU-mandated level of 3 percent of gross domestic product, but overall government debt – at 79 percent of GDP – needs to come down. Otherwise, the growing debt could once again push up the deficits and trigger the EU’s “excessive deficit procedure” – which was lifted for Hungary only a year ago.

 

EU members that don’t keep their deficits under control can be subject to penalties or fines. Hungary faced the loss of nearly 500 million euros from Brussels in 2012 before it cut its deficit.

 

But Finance Minister Mihaly Varga dismissed the commission’s fears, insisting in that there is “absolutely no talk” of relaunching an EDP against his country, according to state-owned news agency MTI.

 

Varga said Hungary had made progress in reforming its tax system and was creating more jobs. He specifically rejected Brussels’ criticism of “distortive sector-specific taxes.” Hungary has levied special taxes on telecommunications companies and banks, most of which are foreign-owned.

 

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch in London said the commission’s warning “is the strongest incentive to keep Hungary’s budget in order,” according to MTI.

 

2. Central Asia ‘unaffected’ by Afghan security risk

 

“Security risks” that link Afghanistan to the former Soviet republics of Central Asia are “often highly exaggerated,” according to a new report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

 

That is especially the case when it comes to “the alleged link between narcotics trafficking and radical Islamist groups,” authors Christian Bleuer and Said Reza Kazemi write. “In reality throughout Central Asia the main players in narcotics trafficking are government employees, security officers, and mafia figures.”

 

Tajikistani guards along the border with Afghanistan in late 2010, a time of heightened anxiety about security. Photo by Abdujalil Abdurasulov.

 

The report downplays the threat to Central Asia of “terrorists and insurgents in northern Afghanistan, who are overwhelmingly recruited from among Afghan citizens and focused locally.”

 

Critics have long charged that the governments of Central Asia exaggerate the insurgent activities of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other transnational fighters to justify crackdowns on their vocal opponents.

 

While most governments in Central Asia are preoccupied by internal threats to their authority, those threats have “little to do with Afghanistan,” it says.

 

Among the report’s other conclusions:

 

  • Kazakhstan is “by far the most insulated from Afghanistan, and the modest security risks it faces are tied to other regions”
  • Kyrgyzstan also faces “overwhelmingly internal” security threats that are more connected to the restive North Caucasus region than Afghanistan
  • Uzbekistan “perceives a certain level of security risk from Afghanistan” even though there have been no serious incidents for the last 10 years
  • Tajikistan is “the most vulnerable state in Central Asia with regard to trends in Afghanistan.” Its “relatively weak government and unprofessional security forces have not proved highly successful in recent years.” But even in this country “security problems are highly localized and have few, if any, direct connections to Afghanistan.”

 

Although the report says Turkmenistan enjoys “apparent isolation from Afghanistan” it has seen recent attacks along the countries’ shared border.

 

Overall Central Asian states will “continue to face domestic problems, both economic and political – with Afghanistan having very little role to play there now and in the near future,” according to the report.

 

3. Washington submits new choice for Russia posting to Moscow for approval

 

The U.S. State Department has asked the Russian Foreign Ministry to approve its selection of John Tefft as the U.S. ambassador to Russia, The Moscow Times reports.

 

John Tefft
Tefft was most recently ambassador to Ukraine from 2009 to 2013. He has also been ambassador to Lithuania and Georgia in his more than 40 years in the diplomatic corps. Moscow is likely to give its approval, an anonymous Foreign Ministry source told Kommersant.

 

However, Tefft’s selection has caused some controversy in Russia. He is “notorious in Moscow for his deep involvement in the domestic affairs of Georgia and Ukraine,” which “may increase suspicion to his actions in Russia and result in a cautious approach to any of his initiatives,” said Dmitri Polikanov, vice president of the Russian think tank PIR Center, Voice of Russia reports.

 

The Foreign Ministry nevertheless seems prepared to approve the appointment, with the source telling Kommersant that “policy is not defined by ambassadors.”

 

Tefft’s predecessor, Michael McFaul, stepped down in February. He was criticized by Russian officials for meeting with opposition civil society groups and hounded by pro-Kremlin youth activists.

 

The United States has not had an ambassador in Moscow since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, Eurasia Outlook notes. Dmitri Trenin, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that absence hurts the United States more than Russia because “the government responsible for such a vacancy deprives itself of day-to-day contact with senior figures in the other country, [limiting] its understanding of the host nation's policies.”

 

4. Plagiarism widespread in Kazakhstan’s academic community

 

One in 10 academic papers in Kazakhstan contains some plagiarism, Tengri News reports, citing the National Center of Science and Technical Information.

 

A computerized check of 7,000 papers written for master’s and doctoral programs in the country since 2010 found that 9.7 percent contained work “borrowed” from another author without proper citation, according to Tengri.

 

In addition, the number of foreign journal articles by authors in Kazakhstan is on the rise, but most are in periodicals “that cannot be considered reputable sources.”

 

Only two of the five journals where Kazakhstani researchers were most frequently published are highly rated, according to Daniyar Sapargaliev, deputy director of the Research and Development Center at Almaty Management University.

Plagiarism is also causing problems in the country’s legislative process, Tengri News reports, as the habit among some government officials of indiscriminately copying laws from other countries slows down the work of parliament.

 

Using other countries’ laws as a model is not unique to Kazakhstan, but the bills’ drafters are doing wholesale copying, not adapting the bills to local circumstances.

 

As a result, of 114 bills proposed by the government during the current session of parliament, only 38 percent did not contravene some national law or regulation, Tengri News reports.

 

"Oftentimes, a developer borrows rules from a foreign law without taking into consideration the national legislation. For example, many of the rules in the Draft Law on Personal Data duplicated rules of a similar law of one of the CIS countries and contradicted seven codes and 27 laws of Kazakhstan. The parliament had to rework the bill completely," legislator Kabibulla Dzhakupov told a joint session of parliament, according to Tengri News.

 

Asked about the governmental plagiarism allegations, Economy Minister Yerbolat Dossaev told journalists that the guilty would be held responsible.

 

Even the quality of the translations of foreign legislation is debatable, Dossaev acknowledged.

 

5. Lukashenka causes a stir by speaking in Belarusian

 

Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka has caused a stir by delivering his first speech in Belarusian since 1994, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Alyaksandr Lukashenka
People who had gathered in expectation that the president’s speech to commemorate Independence Day would be delivered as usual in Russian were startled by his decision instead to speak in Belarusian.

 

His move was all the more surprising because he has in the past been rude about its merits.

 

“People who speak in Belarusian cannot do anything other than speak it, because you can’t express anything lofty in Belarusian,” he said in 1994, RFE notes.

 

The president’s speech spurred speculation that he is seeking to stress Belarus’ independence from Russia “in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine,” according to RFE.

 

But former presidential spokesman Alyaksandr Fiaduta said people should not read too much into the president’s decision and he was not “turning his back” on Russia.

 

The president in 1995 declared Russian a state language alongside Belarusian.

 

Historically Belarusian has been dismissed by its detractors as an inferior language, with some critics deriding it as a “language of peasants,” according to RFE.

 

Belarusian is an eastern Slavic language mostly spoken in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. The most recent census, in 2009, put the number of native speakers in Belarus at almost 61 percent, although only 26 percent said they speak it at home.

 

“Nowadays, Belarusian is favored mostly by opposition sympathizers, nationalists, and intellectuals,” according to RFE, which says most Belarusians speak a mix of Russian and Belarusian called “trasianka.”

 

The president’s decision was the green light for a number of sarcastic comments online, but Fiaduta urged the jokers to be politic.

 

“Stop joking about the president’s Belarusian. … Don’t scare him, or else we’ll have to wait another 20 years."

Piers Lawson is a TOL contributing editor. Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Mane Grigoryan and Madeleine Stern are TOL editorial interns.
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