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Eastern Europe Gets a (Big) Loan, Czech Schools Still Discriminate Against Roma

Plus, Serbs would choose Kosovo over the EU, and  Romania gets green.

by S. Adam Cardais and Joshua Boissevain 9 November 2012

1. Eastern Europe to receive $38 billion in international loans, investments


International lenders will offer Eastern Europe some 30 billion euros ($38 billion) through 2014 to insulate its economies from the euro zone crisis, Bloomberg reports.


At an 8 November meeting in London, the European Investment Bank (EIB), World Bank, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) agreed on a plan similar to one from 2009 to support industry and governments through loans and investments in everything from infrastructure to small businesses. Given the relative stability of Eastern European economies today compared with three years ago, the size of the aid is surprising, London-based economist William Jackson told Bloomberg.


Nevertheless, Eastern European economies have been hit by slowdowns in their largest trading partners, many in Western Europe. Economic growth in Estonia, for instance, is expected to fall from 8.3 percent in 2011 to 2.5 percent this year on falling exports.


Bloomberg also points out that Western European banks are continuing to pull money out of their Eastern subsidiaries, long a concern of economists.


Under the new plan, the EIB will offer some 20 billion euros in long-term loans. The World Bank pledged 6.5 billion euros, while the EBRD is putting up around 4 billion euros, Bloomberg reports.


After the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers undercut Eastern Europe, the three lenders pledged nearly 25 billion euros and wound up distributing considerably more.


2. Rights groups slam mistreatment of Romani children in Czech schools


Romani children in the Czech Republic still do not have equal opportunity to an education five years after a European court found authorities guilty of discrimination, according to an 8 November report by Amnesty International and the European Roma Rights Center.


The report says Romani children are still segregated into separate schools and over-represented in special education classes within the mainstream Czech education system. That’s despite a November 2007 European Court of Human Rights ruling that condemned the Czech Republic for discriminating against Romani students through the same methods.


"The Czech Republic's education system is failing Romani children, with devastating consequences for their future," said the European Roma Rights Center's Dezideriu Gergely. "Thousands of Romani pupils are trapped in segregated schools, which leaves them with few chances for further education and extremely limited options of finding work."


The report is based on interviews with parents and children in four schools in Ostrava, the third-largest Czech city. The day before the report's publication, some 150 Roma demonstrated there over school discrimination.


Rights groups frequently fault Czech authorities for mistreatment of Roma, the largest minority in Europe.


3. Poll: Serbs won't give up Kosovo for EU membership


If referendum voters in Serbia were asked to choose between recognizing Kosovo and joining the European Union, 59 percent would tell Brussels to take a hike, according to a new B92 poll. Some 27 percent favor the EU.


The EU has made good relations with Kosovo a condition of Serbia's membership. Rumors have swirled all year that Belgrade will ultimately have to recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence to join the bloc, and reports leaked in September that Serbia's new nationalist-leaning government might hold a referendum on the issue.


Catherine Ashton
All this comes at a key moment of evident progress in Kosovo-Serbia relations. On 7 November, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton praised Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, for holding "open and honest" talks in Brussels and pledging to implement agreements from the EU-brokered bilateral negotiations over technical issues like customs that began in March 2011.


In October, Thaci and Dacic met for the first time, with Ashton in Brussels. Afterward, Dacic said it was "time for a historic agreement." He insists, however, that his government will never recognize Kosovo.


4. Romania to replant decimated forest areas


Bucharest will plant millions of saplings in forests ravaged by loggers in recent years, Balkan Insight reports.


In November alone, the Environment Ministry's "Let's reforest the country" initiative aims to plant some 26 million new trees in the areas most harmed by illegal logging.


Rovana Plumb
"Forests were always the pride of Romania, but in recent years we have witnessed their continuous degradation and loss, which is why we decided to start this campaign, … ," Environment Minister Rovana Plumb told Balkan Insight.


Only around 20 percent of Romania's forests are protected as natural parks, and some areas have been nearly stripped by illegal logging since the early 1990s, Balkan Insight reports. The government registered more than 30,000 cases from 2009 to 2011 alone.


Nevertheless, Romania is still boasts 65 percent of Europe's virgin forests outside Russia, with most located in the mountainous Carpathian region, according to Balkan Insight.


5. Moscow wants flexibility from Obama on missile defense


Now that the U.S. presidential election is over, Russia wants to see more guarantees from Washington over NATO missile-defense plans in Europe, a top Kremlin official said 8 November, according to RIA Novosti. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the Russian defense industry, said at an international conference on nuclear weapons in Moscow that promises the missile shield wouldn’t target Russia are not enough.


“As far as public statements that the U.S. missile shield is not against Russia, we do not believe in words alone,” said Rogozin, according to RIA Novosti. “[Former Soviet leader] Mikhail Gorbachev believed in words, but we do not.”


Russia has long voiced opposition to U.S.-backed plans to deploy a short-range missile defense system in Europe, which American officials say is designed for use against rogue countries like Iran. Moscow, however, maintains the shield could be used to counteract its own missile systems. Rogozin said Russia now wants legally binding assurances that the U.S. missile defense system would not be targeted at Russia, something Washington has so far been unwilling to offer.


In March, unaware that a microphone was recording their conversation, Obama told outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev that he needed more space on the issue of missile defense from incoming President Vladimir Putin and adding, “After my election, I have more flexibility,” The Washington Post reported.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Joshua Boissevain is a TOL editorial assistant.
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