Imagining Eastern Europe

As friction grows between East and West Europe, we look at just how monolithic the East is, a potential new migrant wave as well as the opportunities and challenges posed by elections and government formation. 

Milos Damnjanovic
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's policy of strengthening ties with Russia might lead to a political dependence in the future, exeperts warn. Photo: European People's Party/Flikr.

Divided Unity

Amid growing tensions over key issues between Brussels and certain ‘old’ EU member states on the one hand and ‘new’ EU member states such as Poland and Hungary, there is a tendency in many corners of the ‘old’ EU to view the states of Eastern Europe (and the Balkans) as one, homogenous, often trouble-making block.

Yet, as our analysis reveals, on closer inspection, the countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans are far from homogenous on numerous issues. There may be a certain amount of common ground between a number of the ‘new’ EU member states when it comes to issues such as migration. Yet on other issues, particularly their attitudes towards Russia, the EU member-states and candidate countries are anything but united.

Read more: Discord Over Russia Widens Cracks in Eastern Europe (September 15, 2017)

A group of Iraqis and Iranians being rescued by the Romanian Border Police on September 13. Photo: politiadefrontiera.ro

New Wave?

Will Romania find itself on a new path for migrants heading towards Western Europe? This has increasingly become a topic of concern both in Romania and across the region.

There has been an increase in the number of migrants attempting to cross into the EU from Turkey via Romania’s Black Sea coast, as well as by land. Experts are playing down such fears, arguing that the numbers in question hardly constitute a wave. Meanwhile, life for migrants who make it to Romania is tough.

Read more: Refugee Experts Downplay Romania’s Migrant ‘Crisis’ (September 20, 2017)

Ali Ahmeti, the leader of DUI, Ziadin Sela,the leader of the Alliance of Albanians, and Bilal Kasami, BESA leader. Photos: Anadolu, BIRN and Facedook

Telling Election

Macedonia’s local elections, due to be held on October 15, are as important for who will win control of different local governments as for what they will reveal about the relative support for the country’s different political parties. Indeed, the latter will probably be more closely watched, given the important change in government earlier in the year and the current government’s narrow, albeit stable, majority.

As our analysis suggests, a good result for the ruling SDSM against the (formerly ruling) VMRO-DPMNE could encourage the former to go to an early election in the spring in order to give it a wider majority in Parliament. Yet the more interesting battle to watch will play itself out among the parties representing the country’s ethnic Albanians. Here, parties within the existing governing coalition will be squaring off against each other, with well-established parties such as DUI being challenged by some rising stars.

Read more: Albanian Parties Face High Stakes in Macedonia Polls (September 18, 2017)

Ramush Haradinaj, Kosovo Prime Minister, and Aleksandar Vucic, Serbian President. Photos: Kallxo, Beta

Of Love and Hate

Yet again, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic has demonstrated what a skilled political acrobat he is. At the beginning of the year, he was busy denouncing Ramush Haradinaj, the former KLA commander and now newly-elected Prime Minister of Kosovo, as a war criminal with Serbian blood on his hands. By September, his own allies from the Srpska Lista in Kosovo’s Parliament were raising their hands to elect Haradinaj as Prime Minister, joining him in government as ministers.

What is even more remarkable is that such acrobatics do not seem to have damaged Vucic’s popularity among his own voters one little bit. On the contrary, he has managed to present himself as the pragmatist able to make difficult decisions for the wider good. In his comment for Balkan Insight, Milenko Vasovic charts the course of a very convenient mutual love-hate relationship between Vucic and Haradinaj.

Read more: Haradinaj Has Been Useful Enemy for Serbia’s Leader (September 20, 2017)

'Rama 2' Government. Photo: Gent Shkullaku/LSA

Record Government

Albania’s new government, elected on September 13, has broken some small records. To begin with, it is the smallest government in recent history, with just 15 ministries. It is also the first government to be formed by a single party since 2001.

The new trimmed down government has been presented as part of a push for greater efficiency and better management. Quite whether this will work out remains to be seen – as we explain, some experts worry that the changes have created unwieldy ‘super-ministries’.

Read more: Albanians Query Wisdom of Slimmed-Down Government (September 19, 2017)

The town fountain, which is made to sprout endless light "ruzica" wine, which is made from Prokupac grapes. Photo: Zupska Berba

Time for Wine

Serbia’s best known festivals may be the Guca Trumpet Festival and the Exit Music Festival, but the country has a wide array of interesting yet less well-known festivities to offer.

One such event – the Zupska Berba (or harvest) festival – will be held this coming weekend to mark the grape harvest in the town of Aleksandrovac. Zupa, as the wine-growing valley area around Aleksandrovac is know, is famed for its grape growing and wine making. Over the weekend, visitors to the small town will be able explore the variety of interesting wines produced in this valley in an unpretentious, jovial atmosphere. Yet as we explain, the town and its wines are also worth discovering year-round.

Read more: Wine Lovers’ Paradise in Vibrant Zupa Region (September 18, 2017)

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