Archive for March, 2009

Bulgaria’s electoral adventurism

Bulgaria’s president has campaigned on behalf of the Communist party in Moldova, while Bulgarian MPs think that European states should learn from Azeri electoral practices. In both cases Bulgaria has been quite out of the loop with the rest of the European Union. Bulgaria’s electoral adventures in the post-Soviet space make it look more like a CIS state, than a responsible, democratic EU member state that acts and sings in tune with the rest of the European Union.

Azerbaijan as an example

Azerbaijan is among the least democratic European states. At the beginning of 2009 Azerbaijan banned foreign radio broadcasts, getting rid of BBC, Radio Liberty and Voice of America. On 18 March 2009  Azerbaijan also held a referendum which eliminates the constitutional restriction on two consecutive presidential terms. Over 90% voted in favour of the change. Now president Ilham Aliev can constitutionally remain president for the rest of his life. With this referendum Azerbaijan becomes the only Council of Europe state that might have a life-long president. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Eastern Partnership in crisis

The EU has recently approved the Eastern Partnership initiative, just at the moment when the global economic crisis is changing the rules of the game in the Eastern neighbourhood, and elsewhere.  Both Russia and the EU will have fewer resources – money and political attention – to be too preoccupied with the neighbours. I previously wrote about the Russian neighbourhood policy in times of crisis. The Eastern Partnership is not in crisis, but will have to be implemented in times of crisis. But what is the likely impact of the crisis on the Eastern Partnership?

The Eastern Partnership is an attempt to resuscitate the European neighbourhood policy and focus EU’s political attention on the East. But now the economic crisis is stealing the show. Concentrated on itself, with the growing danger of protectionism inside the EU, and growing negative attitudes to “foreign” workers, many aspects of the European integration process, let alone the EU neighbourhood policy will come under strain. Read the rest of this entry »

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Georgia-Ossetia: fragile frontline

I just returned from Georgia, where I managed to get to the Georgian-Ossetian/Russian frontline. Peace is incredibly fragile there. Nothing separates the Georgian military police from the Russian and Ossetian troops. No peacekeepers, no natural barriers, and no man-made fortifications. Just a  few checkpoints and small sandbag fortifications. The checkpoints of the two conflict parties in Ergneti are just a hundred meters from each other. And nothing else.


Tskhinvali today. Photo taken from Nikozi, some 300 metres south-west of Tskhinvali.

The relative calm rests almost exclusively on the lack of any (current) interest for renewed hostilities from either Russia or Georgia. Russia has a military victory in its pocket, and an economic crisis on its hands. Georgia is deterred by Russia’s military presence. The EU Monitoring Mission might have some psychologically restraining effects on the conflict sides. But here is little else that would prevent renewed hostilities should any of the parties become interested in stirring them. And they might be. If not now, then in the future. If not by Russia and Georgia, then by South Ossetia. Read the rest of this entry »

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Medvedev skiing

Since this is a blog, not a collection or articles,  it is sometimes fun to discuss not-so-serious things about the Eastern neighbourhood. The Eastern neighbourhood is not just about wars and gas crises. There are quite a number of fun things to do there, such as skiing…

Once elected – the young, modern and (supposedly more) liberal president Medvedev thought it appropriate to launch a video-blog – a modern way of conveying his message. My favourite video-blog is Medvedev skiing in Krasnaya Polyana (in the Caucasus mountains), where the Sochi 2014 Olympics will take place. Probably the weirdest thing about this blog was that it appeared in the middle of the January 2009 Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis, and Medvedev was talking about the necessity of investing in sport. It looked like Putin was in charge of the gas crisis, while Medvedev was in charge of education and sports. (For those who want a fresher video – here is Medvedev’s most recent video-blog.) Read the rest of this entry »

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The Return of “Eastern Europe”

The global economic crisis led to a sudden, forceful, even brutal return of the term “Eastern Europe” applied indiscriminately to all of non-Western Europe. It has always been difficult to brand the bunch of very diverse former socialist countries. Terms such as Central and East Europe (CEE) or South East Europe (SEE) have been used for a while. But they were never too clearly defined (and analytically useful), nor very satisfactory for the countries included in these categories. The “Central Europoean “ Hungary did not really want to be part of “Eastern Europe” together with Ukraine. Romania or Slovenia also did not really like to be South East European together with Albania or Serbia. The more countries diverged in their reform trajectories – the less meaningful the terms CEE and SEE became. More to the east – the term “post-soviet” was not particularly precise either, since technically it would include Estonia or Lithuania which were light years ahead in reforms and democratization from central Asia or Belarus, which are really post-Soviet. Such terminology has never been very meaningful. They were crude Western simplifications of a complex set of “non-western” small states. Read the rest of this entry »

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