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(updated 20 April 2012)

   Rise and fall of Hungary's president
   Russian carmaker AvtoVAZ axes classic Lada
   Building of oil pipeline from Iran to Armenia to begin in next two years
  Czech coalition party in turmoil after conviction of leader
   Family Law struck down in Slovenian referendum

   Belarus-Russia air traffic tit-for-tat ban

   Former KGB chief ahead in South Ossetia presidential election
   Storms leave 86 Ukrainian towns and villages without electricity
   Slovak MPs might donate a month’s salary to restore Krásna Hôrka Castle
   A ballot choice 'Against All' would have given Putin 47%
   Two men executed for Minsk metro bombing
   Moldovan parliament elects President, ending 3-year deadlock
   Slovak election result can provide single-party government

   Rail controller faces prosecution over Polish train crash
   Lithuania and Gazprom negotiate over EU gas market reform
   Second round of negotiations on Transdnestr open in Dublin

   EU foreign policy chief backs Serbia's bid for candidate status

 

Sub-zero weather in Russia risks gas shortage in Europe
UNDP research pinpoints areas of social exclusion
Roma - implementing the EU Framework
Muslim leaders lament restrictive legislation and media bias in central Europe
European Parliament 2009 election results
Schengen area enlargement
How the European Union has grown

 

Albania
Armenia
Belarus
Bosnia
Bulgaria
Croatia
Czech Republic
Estonia
Georgia (Gruziya)
Hungary
Kaliningrad

Kosovo

 

Latvia
Lithuania
Macedonia (FYR)
Moldova
Montenegro

Poland
România
Russia
Serbia

Slovakia
Slovenija
Ukraine

 

News from central and eastern Europe

Reports are grouped by country, alphabetically
  For quick links use the News Index at the top of the page or the indexed Map

Poland   (Polska)

Coalition in peril over pension reform

The leadership of the ruling PO party (Civic Platform) has called on Prime Minister Donald Tusk to open broad-based political discussion on government-proposed pension reform, PO caucus head Rafal Grupinski said on 21 March. He said PO will continue to try to convince its junior coalition partner PSL (Polish People’s Party) to support the reform aimed at raising retirement age.

The previous day coalition partners PO and the PSL failed yet again to reach a compromise on the shape of the pension reform. PSL leader and deputy PM Waldemar Pawlak left the meeting with PM Tusk saying that he was not yet ready to support the reform.

The PO has been determined to implement pension reform as originally proposed, ruling out 'rotten' compromises, and might therefore look for another political partner to get the reform approved, Justice Minister Jaroslaw Gowin said in a TV interview. The senior coalition party PO reportedly threatened to seek support in the ranks of opposition MPs, probably from the Palikot Movement.

Rail controller faces prosecution over train crash

A rail traffic controller is to be prosecuted over a train crash on 3 March that left 16 people dead and more than 50 others injured. Prosecutor Tomasz Ozimek said that two officials on duty at the time of the disaster had been questioned. One would be charged because both trains ended up on the same track. He could face eight years in jail. He has not yet been formally accused of unintentionally causing the crash because of the state of his health. He was said to be in a state of shock and had been taken to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.

Two days of mourning wee being observed after two passenger trains crashed head-on near the southern city of Krakow on the Saturday night. Flags were flying at half-mast on public buildings.

The two trains crashed near the village of Szczekociny

In Poland's worst train accident for 20 years the two trains crashed near the village of Szczekociny. 10 carriages were involved, carrying about 350 passengers. The regional train travelling north from Przemysl to Warsaw was powered by a very heavy locomotive and suffered much less damage than the southbound Warsaw-Krakow express train.

The wreckage was being investigated in an attempt to find out why both trains came to be on the same track. Reports suggested a set of points had been installed in the area in recent months and one of the lines of inquiry is that the points either failed or were not set correctly. Investigators hoped that statements from the drivers and data from the trains' black boxes would reveal whether human error was to blame.

Need to complete A2 motorway for Euro 2012

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on 16 February that a way must be found to help contractors complete the unfinished sections of the A2 motorway in time for the Euro 2012 football championship. He asked Transport Minister Sławomir Nowak for a full briefing on the problems holding up the project.

Nowak had earlier admitted on TV that Poland’s two key motorways – the north-south A1 and the A4, linking its borders with Ukraine, would not be completed in time for Euro 2012. It would even be a struggle to complete the last section of the A2 motorway linking with Germany.

This meant that Poland would not have a motorway connection to Ukraine, its co-host for the European Football Championship in June.

Progress of work on the essential road-building projects have been slowed by problems with the former contractor Chinese company COVEC, which failed to pay Polish subcontractors, bringing the construction to a lengthy halt in May 2011. Floods later in 2011 further hindered progress and led to drastic delays in construction.

Bill to raise retirement age ready for Parliament

The government has completed work on its bill to push the retirement age in Poland up to 67 while levelling the retirement age for men and women. Announcing this on 15 February, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the government would do its best to keep the bill unchanged during a period of social consultations now about to begin.

The bill would gradually increase retirement age to 67 years for both men and women by adding 1 month to the retirement age every four months starting from 2013, hitting the target level for men in 2020 and women in 2040.

The reform has earned hefty criticism, among others for its disadvantages to women.   Tusk defended the proposals by citing the demographic outlook – projections suggest that Poland could go from roughly 3:1 workers to pensioners today to 2:1 in 2040 and 1:1 in 2060.

"We can't have our current negative experiences with the labour market direct our policy," Tusk said of a generation bred on the past twenty years of constantly high unemployment. "But we have no doubt that the Polish reality during the 40s, 50s and 60s will be a situation in which there will be a shortage of workers."

A plan by junior coalition partner the PSL (Polish People’s Party) - to reduce the working age for women based on the number of children they have - should be avoided, Tusk added. Poland should "find solutions that are good for Polish families, but without distorting the bill on pensions."

The proposals by members of the governing PO party include deducting costs of establishing kindergartens by companies, introducing vouchers for senior care, and facilitating self-employment for women.

PM to probe controversy around construction of National Stadium 

All controversial matters surrounding the construction of Warsaw's National Stadium would be carefully analysed, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on 14 February.

Rafal Kapler, the head of the National Sport Centre, resigned the previous day. The Centre has been responsible for overseeing the construction of the National Stadium in Warsaw – the key venue for Euro 2012. Controversy heated up when the media reported that he would still receive a bonus of 570,000 złoty (£113,000) in line with the contract he had agreed in 2008.

PM Tusk said "I do not see why we must pay bonuses to people who have not done everything they should have."

Kapler himself commented: "As an executive I am convinced this magnificent object has the potential to become not only an entertainment and culture centre ... but also a profitable undertaking." He had headed the National Sport Centre since 2008. Delays around the Warsaw stadium's completion focused criticism on the Centre. A Polish super-cup final scheduled to be played in the new arena had to be cancelled because of safety issues.


Poland: background facts and figures

Population   38.6 million, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. The official language is Polish. More than a third of the population lives in rural areas.

Geography   Poland covers 312,700 square km (120,700 square miles). It borders the Baltic Sea to the north, Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad enclave to the northeast, Belarus and Ukraine to the east, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to the south and Germany to the west (Central European map). Poland is divided into 16 provinces.

Cities  Warsaw the capital has a population of 1.8 million. Other major cities are Łódź, Kraków, Poznan, Gdańsk, Wroclaw and Katowice.

Political system   Parliamentary democracy, with a 460-seat lower house of parliament (Sejm) and a 100-seat senate elected to four-year terms. The president, elected by popular vote, designates the prime minister and can veto bills.

Economy  Poland launched market reforms in 1990 to transform a centrally planned economy. The government slashed subsidies, freed prices and imposed tighter monetary curbs and wage controls to combat hyper-inflation.  Rapid economic growth of up to 7% per annum followed in the mid-1990s, but has slowed since the 1998 economic crisis in Russia.

The biggest challenge for the government has been to ease unemployment, originally at 18%, while making spending cuts to prepare the budget for EU entry and later adopt the euro. There has also been concern at the large numbers of Poles who have migrated to find work elsewhere in the EU.

Polish gross domestic product per capita is 42% of the EU average.

Defence  Poland has halved its military personnel to 200,000 since 1989. It has been a staunch ally of NATO, which it joined in 1999. It recently bought 48 F-16 jet fighters from the United States, and after its support for the war to oust Saddam Hussein, the US called on Poland to lead one of the stabilisation zones in post-war Iraq.

History   Poland was a regional power from the 14th to the 17th century. It was then carved up between Austria, Prussia and Russia at the end of the 18th century.

It regained its independence after World War I, but was invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 at the start of World War Two. Six million Poles died during the war. As Soviet forces drove the Germans out of Poland in 1944-1945, Stalin installed the communist party in power. Part of former Poland is still in the territory of Belarus. The party crushed workers' revolts in 1956, 1970 and 1976. General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed 18 months of martial law from December 1981 to suppress the Solidarity free trade union. Solidarity later helped to oust the communist regime in 1989 and Poland launched democratic reforms, electing the union's leader Lech Wałęsa as President in 1990.

In 1995, Wałęsa lost a presidential election to ex-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, who was re-elected in 2000.

The social democratic party won general elections in 2001 and its leader, prime minister Leszek Miller, completed EU accession talks.  A new right-wing coalition government took power in 2004, eventually allowing the extraordinary situation where President and Prime Minister were twin brothers.  Elections in October 2007 dismissed Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, but his brother Lech remained as President. Donald Tusk became prime minister as leader of the Civic Platform party, allied to the agrarian party.


Polskie Radio Londyn is available on DAB digital radio, in the London area.


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România

New government's cautious economic plans

New Prime Minister Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu said on 9 February that while increased salaries and pensions were the backbone of the new government's plan for the economy, prudence and responsibility must also be the key words of this government. "I do not come forth with unrealistic promises in these hard times. An era of prosperity will not start tomorrow. Prudence and responsibility are the key words of this government. Salaries and pensions will be raised only if this is possible," Ungureanu told Parliament.

The new government programme emphasises its intention to improve Romanian standards of living by raising the population's income through salary or pension raises, decreasing social security contributions and increasing taxes on the wealthy.

Plans also include promoting policies to stimulate economic growth and creating new jobs by attracting EU funds to an absorption rate of 29%, or 6 billion euros, Ungureanu said. A National Job Creation Plan will be established to encourage employment by means of financial incentives for employers, while a "responsible" salary grid will be conceived for state employees.

Prime Minister resigns in face of austerity protests

Prime Minister Emil Bloc resigned on 6 February amid widespread protests against his government’s austerity measures. Boc said he was stepping down to "defuse political and social tension" in the face of three weeks of protests. Speaking after a cabinet meeting, he said he had given up the government's mandate as "it is the moment for important political decisions".

President Traian Băsescu shortly afterwards nominated the country's former foreign minister and current intelligence service chief Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu as prime minister designate. "The ruling coalition agreed to appoint Ungureanu as prime minister designate," Băsescu said in a statement. The nomination must then go to parliament for approval.

As prime minister Emil Boc had imposed a 25% cut in public sector wages and a freeze on pensions. Sales tax was also increased to 24%.
România's economy actually grew last year, but it was in Europe's second poorest country. Both the European Commission and the IMF expect România to have a higher economic growth than the €urozone this year.

The government said it needed to implement the austerity measures in order to qualify for the next instalment of a €20 billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund. Emil Boc said that in a time of crisis, his centrist government was not in a popularity contest but had acted to save the country. Protests broke out in January, initially against the resignation of popular junior health minister Raed Arafat, but soon became an expression of discontent against austerity and corruption.

Prime Minister designate Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu has a master's degree from Oxford University and was Foreign Minister between 2004 and 2007 during Traian Băsescu's first term of office. "Reforms will continue," he said after being nominated. "The added value that I will bring resides in my experience as a manager."

The next elections in
România are scheduled to take place in November 2012.

2011 census shows population down 2.6 million

România has a stable population of 19.042 million people forming 7.1 million households, preliminary results of the census which took place in autumn 2011 show. According to data from the National Statistics Institute presented on 2 February, there are some 8.5 million homes and 5.1 million buildings in Romania.

The last time
România reported a population of about 19 million people was in 1966. The last census, which took place in 2002, reported a population of 21.68 million people in Romania.

According to the census, of the whole stable population of
România, 10,058 thousand people had residence in towns and cities (52.8%), while 8,989 thousands lived in the countryside. 22 counties reported less than 400,000 inhabitants and only two counties had more than 700,000 inhabitants.

Bucharest has a reported population of 1.678 million people.

88.6% of the registered population declared themselves ethnic
Românians, 6.5% Hungarian, and 619,000 (3.2%) declared themselves ethnic Roma.

The census did not include people who had gone abroad for a period of at least 12 months, nor people who were staying in
România temporarily.

Progress reports on EU measures

On 23 July 2008 the European Commission issued its latest reports on progress by România and Bulgaria in meeting the measures required by the Commission when both countries joined the EU.

According to the EC Report, România's commitment to reforms in the key institutions was not being steadily implemented, and it needed to demonstrate its willingness to punish high-level corruption.

The report on România condemned parliament for delaying corruption inquiries involving the former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and other top officials. The report also noted that in 90% of corruption cases, lenient judges had delivered only the minimum penalty.

Download key findings:  Word  or PDF

Download the EC monitoring report


Romanian government website

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Serbia    (Република Србија)

EU foreign policy chief backs bid for candidate status

The EU head of foreign policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton, has strongly backed Serbia's bid to get candidate status - a key step towards EU membership. After talks with President Boris Tadic she spoke on 27 February of progress with Serbia after months of difficult talks. A week earlier Serbia made some concessions on Kosovo - the breakaway territory which has been a major stumbling block. On 24 February Serbia agreed to allow Kosovo to take part in west Balkan regional meetings, despite refusing to recognise its self-declared independence. An EU proposal to have Kosovo's nameplate at meetings followed by an asterisk was accepted. The asterisk will indicate a footnote explaining the territory's disputed status.

EU foreign ministers are expected to make a statement on the Serbian bid shortly. Lithuania and Romania have been reported as still voicing concerns about granting Serbia candidate status. Some 80 countries have recognised Kosovo since it declared independence in 2008, but a still larger number have withheld recognition.

Catherine Ashton, who heads the EU's External Action Service, said "I have long believed that Serbia's place is in the European Union and I really hope that tomorrow we will see the General Affairs Council [foreign ministers] move forward on that decision".

EU leaders will meet in Brussels later this week and Serbia's bid still requires their approval - a formality if the foreign ministers have given the go-ahead.

Court compensates daughter of murdered Hungarian

Zombor municipal court has awarded about 750,000 dinars (£5,775) to Emma Merey Zagyva in compensation after finding that her father was murdered by Tito's partisans in 1944.

This could be the first case in which Serbia pays compensation to the relatives of a victim of the mass murder of an estimated 30,000-40,000 people. The verdict is still open to appeal.

German diplomat suggests EU candidacy in jeopardy

Citing German diplomatic sources in Brussels on 7 February, a report suggested that Serbia could not become a candidate for EU membership if the Serb government failed, by the end of the next week, to reach an agreement with Priština on Kosovo's representation.

EU foreign ministers are scheduled meet on the last day of February to debate whether Serbia has met the conditions that were put before the country by the European Council late in 2011.

The first of the conditions is the resumption of the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština and reaching an agreement on regional representation of Kosovo.

However, the dialogue has been suspended for more than two months now as the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement on having “UN Security Resolution 1244” written under the name of Kosovo.

The source recalled a recent meeting between German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and his Serbian counterpart Vuk Jeremić, when Westerwelle had cautioned the Serbian minister about the deadline being close to expiry.

Other diplomatic sources also say that Serbia is unlikely to get the status if an agreement on representation is not reached. The sources hinted that if Serbia did not get candidate status by the end of February or early in March, the possibility would probably not be debated prior to the EU Summit in December.

the government's chief negotiator in the ongoing Kosovo talks Borislav Stefanović claimed that the Kosovan side was holding up the negotiations. He said that Belgrade continued to maintain a constructive approach, insisting on the continuation of the dialogue and providing new solutions. "We do not want to wait for the last moment (to reach an agreement) and it is important that the entire international community sees that Serbia is very constructive and has put forth new solutions and propositions," Stefanovic said and added that "Serbia is not the side that is currently stalling the talks or finding a solution - it is Priština that is doing that".


the former
Union of Serbia and Montenegro

Area  38,900 sq miles
Population: Around 10.6 million

Ethnic groups: Serb 62.6%, Albanian 16.5%, Montenegrin 5.0%, Hungarian 3.3%, others 12.6%.
Languages: Serbian 95%, Albanian 5.0%.
Religions: Orthodox 65%, Muslim 19%, Roman Catholic 4%, Protestant 1%, others 11%.

Territory: The Union covered the same territories of Montenegro and Serbia as Jugoslavija, and included the UN-administered province of Kosovo.
Administrative centre: Belgrade.

Institutions: It has a 126-strong parliament, which chooses a president. The President nominates a five-member council of ministers: defence, foreign affairs, international economic relations, economy and human and minority rights. The Union will have its own court along with an army reporting to a joint supreme defence council. A special provision allows for rotation of the union government's five ministers with their deputies from different member states to ensure equitable representation.

Elections: Parliaments of Serbia and Montenegro elected deputies to the union parliament after the adoption of the union charter. Serbia had 91 seats and Montenegro 35. After the first two years direct parliamentary elections were held.

Economy: The two member states operate a common market and seek to harmonise their economic systems with that of the EU to overcome differences, especially in customs and trade policy. Initial economic reforms have already been implemented.
Currency: Serbia sticks to the dinar. Montenegro uses euros. The Serbian central bank became the Union central bank.


Montenegro:  In June 2006 Serbia acknowledged the independence of Montenegro, following a referendum the previous month, in which 55.5% of Montenegrins had voted in favour of independence.

News from Montenegro is listed separately


Serbia's EU Integration Office

News about Kosovo

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Slovakia    (Slovenská republika)

Unhappy passenger hijacks tram in Bratislava,

When some tram routes in Bratislava changed in mid March not everyone was happy. One passenger pulled a gun on the driver after complaining the no.9 tram was going in the wrong direction.

The driver called the police while the gunman and his companion were still on the tram but the pair has got off before they arrived. The driver decided it more discreet to meet their demand by letting the pair off near a city centre square. Police are now looking for two tall men aged around 30 wearing dark jackets.

Finance Ministry predicts GDP growth of 2.3%

The Financial Policy Institute (IFP) of the Finance Ministry has re-evaluated the possible growth of Slovakia's GDP for 2012 and announced on 21 March that GDP was expected to increase between 1.9 and 2.6 percent.

"It is 2.3% growth that seems most likely at the moment," the institute reported, adding that even after taking the lower revenues from excise taxes into account, the more dynamic economic growth could bring in €53 million more in comparison with the original estimates.

The Institute chose to draft a new prognosis due to more positive results of Slovakia's economy recorded in the 4th quarter of 2011 as well as better prospects for the eurozone economy in the first half of 2012.

"The positive result was recorded in late 2011 mostly by Slovak exports, which managed to see significant gains despite the worsening economic situation of our major trading partners," the IFP said. It was this that influenced the decision made by IFP to re-evaluate its forecasts.

MPs might donate a month’s salary to restore Krásna Hôrka Castle

Representatives of all parties in the newly elected parliament said on 21 March that they were ready to consider an idea suggested by President Ivan Gašparovi
č. The President had called on MPs to donate their first monthly salary as MPs towards restoration of the fire-ravaged Krásna Hôrka Castle near Rožňava in the eastern Košice region. The damage caused by the fire has been estimated at €8 million.

"Far be it from me to issue messages that may sound populist," said Pavol Hrušovský of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) parliamentary caucus, "but we all feel the responsibility for this exceptional national cultural monument that has fallen victim to irresponsible behaviour [the fire was started by youths lighting cigarettes]. I'm not ruling out any kind of active involvement in minimising the damage. "

The leader of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party, Igor Matovi
č, also embraced the idea but underlined that true charity lies in donating funds away from the limelight. Most-Híd caucus chairman László Solymos said that his party had considered such a fundraising drive even before Gašparovič suggested it. Smer party MP Miroslav Číž said that a fundraising drive among MPs would be helpful in kick-starting a nationwide fundraising initiative.

Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) leader Richard Sulík expressed his doubts over whether or not it would actually be possible to accommodate the President’s suggestion. "I'm not sure if parliament is able not to pay a salary and send it to Krásna Hôrka instead. I believe this isn't possible," Sulík said but added that he has already contributed towards the restoration work on the castle.

"I don't know what others reckon, but I have no problem with it. I hope the President follows suit," said SDKÚ MP Magdaléna Vášáryová.

‘Gorilla’ book author appeals court's ban on publication

Investigative journalist Tom Nicholson is arguing that a court’s decision to block publication of a book he was preparing about the ‘Gorilla file’ has restricted his right to work. The claim is the basis of an appeal Nicholson has launched against a preliminary injunction issued by the Bratislava I District Court based on a motion by Jaroslav Hašcák, a co-owner of the Penta financial group whose name features heavily in the file.

The ‘Gorilla file’ is an as-yet unverified document which was published on the internet in December 2011 which purports to contain transcripts of conversations between politicians, senior state officials and businessmen, including Jaroslav Hašcák, covertly recorded by the SIS intelligence agency in 2005-06 under the codename Gorilla. The conversations imply high-level political corruption during the second government of Mikuláš Dzurinda.

"If a court bans my book, they thus ban my main source of income, and this is anti-constitutional," the investigative journalist said on 20 March. Nicholson stated that the contents of his book do not interfere with Jaroslav Hašcák's rights in any way. Bratislava I District Court judge Branislav Král decided to block publication of Nicholson’s book, which has yet to be completed or edited, by issuing a preliminary injunction based on a motion by Hašcák.

Several journalistic organisations have criticised the judge's decision, labelling it censorship. The judge has argued that it is not censorship, as under the present circumstances the right to protection of one’s person prevails over the right to provide information by publishing a book.

Judges have not been unanimous on the issue. Another Bratislava judge turned down a similar motion against the book's publication which had been lodged by the owner of the apartment where the alleged participants in the conversations recorded in Gorilla were wiretapped by the secret service.

New cabinet emerges

On 15 March the prospective prime minister Robert Fico had formed the larger part of his cabinet.  The head of the Smer party had been the interim Deputy Prime Minister.  He is a lawyer by profession and has also represented Slovakia at the European Court of Human Rights.
   
Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák is a former interior minister holding the same post in Fico's first government and had been a deputy prime minister. He began as a commercial lawyer.
   
Finance Minister Peter Kazimír is a trained economist who worked in the private IT sector. He has previously been a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance.

Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák returns to a post he previously held. He is a career diplomat and has represented Slovakia in Brussels. Recently he was the EU High Representative for Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Krásna Hôrka Castle badly damaged by fire

14th century Krásna Hôrka Castle damaged by fire

A huge fire has severely damaged one of the best preserved mediæval castles in Slovakia, Krásna Hôrka, near Rožňava in the Košice region. The fire began on the afternoon of 10 March, and was probably sparked by grass burning nearby.

Police in the Košice region said two boys had set fire to some tinder dry grass at the foot of the castle after sneaking into the grounds to smoke. Police spokesman Jana Mešarová said: “A unit sent to the site found that two local boys aged 11 and 12 were trying to light up a cigarette and because of careless use of safety matches, they set grass at the castle hill on fire.”

Much of the 14th-century historic castle was destroyed by the fire. According to fire service officials, the castle's wooden roof was completely destroyed while the interior of the building was gutted. A helicopter was called to dump water onto the flames from the air - and 11 regional fire services helped tackle the blaze. A firefighter reportedly suffered a minor injury.

The country's culture ministry has said the damage was serious - but could not yet estimate the likely cost of repair. There also seems to have been a narrow escape for several tourists, who had finished a sightseeing trip shortly before the blaze started.

Built to protect a mining trade route, the first written reference to Krásna Hôrka was in 1333.  The aristocratic dynasties of Mariassy, Bebekov and Andrassy have all owned the castle in the course of its history.

Live news feed from Slovakia


Slovakia: facts and figures

Population: 5.38 million (51.4 percent women), 84% Roman Catholic, 7% Protestants and 4.1% Greek Orthodox. The official language is Slovak. Ten percent of the population are ethnic Hungarians. Other minorities include Roma (or gypsies), about two percent by official records.

Geography: Landlocked Slovakia covers 49,035 square km in central Europe. It borders Austria and Hungary in the south, Ukraine to the east, Poland to the north and the Czech Republic to the west.

Cities: Bratislava (population 500,000) is the largest city and the capital. Other cities include Košice, Žilina, Banská Bystrica and Nitra.

Political system: Parliamentary democracy, with a single, 150-seat house elected to four-year terms. The mostly-ceremonial president serves a five-year term.

Economy: GDP growth is expected to be one of the highest in central Europe at 3.5 percent this year, inflation is benign and industry is growing steadily. Other problems, like wide current account and fiscal gaps, are slowly improving.

History

What is now Slovakia was for hundreds of years a part of the Hungarian state, which was founded and converted to Christianity by King István I, later Saint Stephen, in 1001. The modern history of the country dates back to 1918, when the first common state with the Czechs, Czechoslovakia, was formed.

Slovakia was split off to become a separate state for the first time in 1939, when Hitler captured the Czech, Moravian and Silesian regions, and a Nazi puppet regime was formed.

Czechoslovakia reunited as a democratic state after World War Two but was taken over by communist rule in 1948. It remained a Soviet satellite until 1989, when the Moscow-supported regime fell in a bloodless revolution. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two, leading to the present independent, democratic Slovakia.


For a comprehensive and excellent up-to-date history, free of ideological or political bias, see
Kirschbaum, Stanislav J   Slovakia - the struggle for survival

Palgrave Macmillan; revised 2nd edition 2006.
A Canadian of Slovak origin, Kirschbaum is Professor of International Studies at York University, Glendon College, Canada. He is also the author of a Historical Dictionary of Slovakia.

The Illustrated Encyclopædia of Monuments in Slovakia introduces the artistic and architectural sights of the country in the context of their respective regions. The authors work with regions divided geographically into South-West, North-West, the Cradle of the Country, South of Central Slovakia, Central Slovakia, Northern Slovakia, East of the Tatras and Eastern Slovakia. The encyclopædia can be ordered on-line.

The path to EU entry
27 June 1995 - Slovakia applies for EU membership.
15 February 2000 - Slovakia starts EU accession negotiations.
December 2002 - EU Copenhagen summit gives the final green light to enlargement from May 2004.
9 April 2003 - European Parliament officially approves the accession of 10 countries including Slovakia
.
1 May 2004 - Slovakia joins the European Union.


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Slovenia    (Slovenija)

Janković returns as Mayor of Ljubljana

In the mayoral elections for the capital Ljubljana held on 25 March the former mayor won just short of 61% of the vote, rendering a second round of elections unnecessary. The elections had been called after Jankovi
ć, who had won in the parliamentary elections in December, was forced to resign from his position since a new law decrees that nobody can simultaneously be an MP and a mayor.

Mojca Kucler Dolinar, the joint candidate of the coalition New Slovenia (NSi) and Democrats (SDS), picked up 25.8% of the vote. There were a total of eight candidates on the ballot. Miha Jazbinšek, councilman for the Greens, won 6.5% and Vito Rožej of the Zares party 4.1% - all other candidates won around or below 1%. Turnout in the election was 45.4%.

Jankovi
ć said he was "pleasantly surprised" to have won over 60% despite the disappointing turnout, adding that this was the third election in a year and a half that he and his party won. "It is unbelievable," he said.

Jankovi
ć will return as mayor after a three-month break. He had to leave City Hall after he was elected MP on the slate of his Positive Slovenia grouping, due to a law that bans MPs from serving as mayors. He will return to the same environment he was in when he was first elected mayor in 2006: with Democrat (SDS) leader Janez Janša as prime minister.

Between 2006 and 2008 tense relations between national government and the capital led the the government cutting funding for the capital. The relations "cannot be worse than they had been," Jankovi
ć said. "If we want to emerge from this crisis as winners, we must work hand-in-hand."

Jankovi
ć will also continue to lead Positive Slovenia, the biggest party in Parliament, from City Hall.

Family Law struck down in referendum

In a referendum on 25 March the proposal that gay couples should be given almost the same rights as married partners was voted down. A majority of 55% of the vote was against the proposed Family Law. The law would also have introduced a number of other far-reaching changes.

Demonstrators before the Family Law referendum

Most opinion polls ahead of the referendum suggested the law would be endorsed in the Sunday referendum, but they also projected a higher turnout than the actual 30%, which may be one of the reasons why only 45% backed the controversial piece of legislation.

Out of the eight electoral districts only the traditionally liberal-minded central Ljubljana voted ‘yes’, along with many of the urban districts in other electoral units. The highest percentage of opponents was in the north-eastern Ptuj district, where more than 64% voted ‘no’.

Aleš Primc of the civil initiative that had demanded the referendum said the vote showed that citizens "respect motherhood and fatherhood", a reference to the definition of family in the law as a "community of a child or children with one or two parents or guardians".

Similarly, the Archbishop of Ljubljana Anton Stres said that a majority of voters had recognised the "irreplaceable role of family" in life. The Catholic Church, along with the Muslim and Serbian Orthodox churches had publicly called on voters to reject the law, while the Lutheran Evangelical Church endorsed it.

The family law, which would be a first comprehensive overhaul of family legislation in 35 years, was passed by Parliament in June 2011 after almost three years of debate. The proposed law had included a number of far-reaching changes, notably with respect to protection of children. Debate had however largely focused on same-sex couples.

One of the issues in the final days of campaign was the suggestion made by the opponents that the law would allow gay couples to have children born by surrogate mothers abroad, although the family law does not deal with the issue and surrogacy is explicitly banned in the infertility treatment act.

Meanwhile both the pro- and the anti- camp called for a fresh debate to find a consensus on a new family law. Miha Lobnik of the Movement for the Family Law called on the ministry to draft a new law that would build on common ground shared by both opponents and supporters of the rejected legislation.

Several years ago the Constitutional Court had decided that same-sex couples must be given the same rights as heterosexual couples, and that ruling has yet to be.


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Ukraine     (Україна)

Storms leave 86 towns and villages without electricity

A total of 86 towns and villages in eight regions in Ukraine were left without electricity in the early hours of 26 March because of heavy rain and strong wind gusts, the Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry reported. Power crews were working to restore electricity supply in the regions.

Some 28 towns and villages were left without electricity in Cherkasy region, 22 in Zhytomyr region, 12 in Rivne region, seven in Kirovohrad region, six in Volyn region, five in Chernihiv region, four in Kyiv region, and two in Dnipropetrovsk region.

Prison doctors say Tymoshenko gradually improving

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison on abuse of office charges in a signing a gas deal with Russia in 2009 and subsequently lost her appeal. She has since been serving the sentence in the Kachanivska penal colony in Kharkiv.

Concern was expressed later by her supporters and other European organisations about her deteriorating health. On 26 March the State Penitentiary Service issued a statement claiming that Tymoshenko "had no complaints, the patient's condition has not deteriorated, and she is moving around the room using a walking frame, gradually extending her moving regime.”

The statement also said that Tymoshenko had again refused to undergo treatment and medical examinations by doctors from the medical unit of Kachanivska Penal Colony.

Army reform to cost 155 billion hryvnia

A substantial increase is to be allocated by 2017 for army reforms planned by the Defence Ministry.   
   
The newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnia quoted on 24 March a document stating that the strategy cross-references to European practices and promise to bring the level of military spending to 1.4% of GDP. At the same time, the planned defence budget for 2013 at 17.4 billion hryvnia (£1.35 billion) is to be increased to 19.7 billion, and in 2014, instead of the planned 21.3 billion, it is to be raised to 25.8 billion hryvnia (£2 billion).

"As for the future provision of the Ukrainian Armed Forces with weapons and military equipment," the statement read, "a lot of priority areas are envisaged until 2017, for example, the modernisation and procurement of combat aircraft, helicopters, ammunition, the modernisation of air defence missile systems and missiles for them, as well as the creation of high-precision weapons and an air surveillance radar system, the procurement and joint production of multi-purpose unmanned aerial vehicles. Thorough re-equipment is scheduled from 2014."

Council of Europe  condemns jailing of former interior minister

The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly has condemned Ukraine for jailing former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko, saying he did not receive a fair trial. Jean-Claude Mignon, President of the Parliamentary Assembly, urged Ukraine to free him.

Lutsenko, who served under jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was sentenced on 27 February to four years imprisonment for abuse of office and embezzlement. Lutsenko was convicted of giving illegal bonuses and perks to his driver at the expense of the state. He maintained his innocence, saying he had been the victim of a show trial.

He was also ordered to pay the equivalent of £73,000 to compensate for misused funds, including some spent on celebrating the police force's professional day.

Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years in October 2011 for abuse of office, at a controversial trial. She and Lutsenko were allies during the Orange Revolution which overturned the discredited presidential election result of 2004, ejecting Viktor Yanukovych from office.

Two years ago Viktor Yanukovych won the last presidential election, legitimately this time, defeating Tymoshenko.

The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly President, Jean-Claude Mignon, said the charges on which Lutsenko was convicted were "absolutely no justification for a prison sentence". He suggested that the trial had been politically motivated. "It is unacceptable for former members of the government of a Council of Europe member state to be prosecuted for political reasons. This practice is contrary to the rule of law and takes Ukraine further away [from] the principles of our organisation as well as the European integration to which this country aspires."

Yulia Tymoshenko herself praised her former minister for his courage on trial. She and other political prisoners, she said, were struggling for "liberation" from President Yanukovych's rule. "Today we are behind bars," she was quoted as saying, "but if this is the price we should pay for the liberation of the country, we agree to pay it. "

Yulia Tymoshenko’s husband Oleksander was granted political asylum in the Czech Republic. He had stood by his wife in court during her trial. The Czech interior ministry confirmed his request for asylum had been granted on 24 February. He has Czech business interests, a stake in the Czech company International Industrial Projects. In 2011 the Czech republic also granted asylum to Bohdan Danylyshyn, a former economy minister in Yulia Tymoshenko's cabinet.


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