Serbia’s Tough Saturdays

by Tamás SZŰCS, Journalist specialized in foreign politics 

In the past few months, there have been demonstrations in several Eastern-European countries. The scenario is always similar; usually, the demonstrators are attempting to highlight the current government’s corruptness. Unfortunately, the situation of Serbia is unique; the country isn’t member of the EU, and its government, against which the marches are being held, is the guarantee for the Euro-Atlantic accession process.

The Serbian protests have been going on for three months to date, and initially, they were against the violent atmosphere and the intimidation of those who think differently as well as the journalists who were critical of the government. The protestors go out to the streets every Saturday to demand the resignation of Aleksandar Vucic. The demonstrators had other demands too, but as more and more opposition parties joined the protests, the number of demands decreased rather than increase. The reason for that is that the opposition is very divided and the only thing they agree upon is that Aleksandar Vucic needs to leave the Serbian political arena.

Over the course of the past few weeks, there have been protests against Vucic in over twenty municipalities in addition to the Serbian capital. The root cause of the demonstrations was an attack against an opposition politician in November. The leftist Borko Stefanovic was beaten by perpetrators whose identity is unknown to this day in Krusevac in East Serbia while he was attending an opposition event. According to the politician, his attackers can be connected to the Vucic-led Serbian Progressive Party. The slogan of the protests has become “One out of five million”, referring to the declaration of Aleksandar Vucic following the first protest, according to which he will not give into the protestors’ demands even if five million of them go out to the streets. 

In light of the fact that this approximately equals to the number of adult Serbians eligible to vote, the protestors took this to mean that the President is looking to instate a dictature. The For Serbia Association, which comprises every party on the political spectrum from far-right to far-left, signed a symbolic contract with the people that includes the program they would instate in the event they rose to power. Meanwhile, the tension has spread to the Parliament too; the For Serbia Association has announced their boycott of the Serbian parliament’s sessions, and the opposition grouping includes approximately 50 representatives out of the 250-member Parliament.

But Vucic’s troubles go beyond having to deal with the increasingly fierce division of the opposition. A prerequisite to the Euro-Atlantic accession is reaching some sort of agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. This seems more difficult than even just half a year ago. The government of Kosovo has imposed a 100% duty on the products imported from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina on November 21, after Kosovo was refused to join the Interpol’s international police organization last November as a result of Belgrade’s successful lobbying.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, similarly to Serbia, does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, as a result of which Pristina has extended the duty increase to include the country in question. Consequently, Serbia has put an end to negotiations with Kosovo, and the Serbian President refuses to return to the negotiation table until Pristina withdraws the measure. The head of Kosovo’s government has firmly stated that they are not going to withdraw the duty until Belgrade recognizes Kosovo’s independence. Haradinaj has also declared that there will be no exchange of territory with Serbia, commenting this way on Hashim Thaci President of Kosovo’s remarks on the matter. The press of Pristina has disclosed Thaci’s letter to Donald Trump in which he wrote that he is prepared to compromise with Serbia in order to put an end to the years-long conflict between Belgrade and Pristina.

The President of Kosovo has strived for compromise previously as well. Last summer, he stated that the conflict could be solved by border change or exchange of territory, more precisely if the Albanian-populated Serbian territories were attached to Kosovo while the Serbian-populated territories in Kosovo were attached to Serbia. So far, however, the possibility of border change and exchange of territory have been rejected by both the government of Serbia and that of Kosovo. Kosovo has declared its independence from Serbia unilaterally in 2008, which Belgrade still refuses to acknowledge, and continues to consider it as its own Southern province, inhabited primarily by Albanians. The coordination between the two parties began in 2013 with mediation by Brussels to smooth out relations, but no major strides have yet been made forward.

US Midterms: Blue Wave with a Red Splash

by András ROSTOVÁNYI, Journalist

The Democratic Party dealt a blow to US President Donald Trump in the midterm elections. The opposition party took control of the House of Representatives, gaining almost 40 seats in the process. Yet the Democrats' success wasn't the knockout they hoped for. The governing Republican Party was also able to claim victory, because they extended their majority in the Senate.

For months, experts forecasted the so-called „Blue Wave” - named after the colour typically associated with the Democratic Party. Opposition parties tend to do better in the midterms, because it’s usually easier for them to mobilise their base. The polling also clearly favoured the Democrats. Despite a roaring US economy and remarkably low unemployment, most Americans felt that their country is not moving to the right direction.

In a campaign spearheaded by the still-popular Former US President Barack Obama, Democratic candidates had a clear strategy. While occasionally taking jabs at the unpopular President Trump, they didn’t focus on him. Rather, they concentrated on bread and butter issues like health care. They emphasised to voters that the Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as Obamacare) was under threat from Congressional Republicans. The reform extended health insurance to some 20 million Americans, but it was almost repealed last year, the efforts fell just one vote short in the Senate. Democrats argued that if Republicans keep their majority, they might succeed the next time.

Come Election Day, the party’s campaign seemed to pay off. There was an exceptionally high turnout – not seen in decades. Almost half of the voting-eligible population cast their ballots and according to exit polls, health care was the deciding factor for more than 40% of them. No wonder, that the predicted „Blue Wave” did come, thus handing the House to the Democrats.

The Senate, however was quite a different story, there the governing Republicans were able to make a splash. The Grand Old Party was always considered a strong favourite, because only third of the chamber were up for re-election, and the Election Map clearly favoured the GOP. Out of the 35 races, Republicans had to defend their seats only in nine, and they were able to compete for the rest.

The GOP at first campaigned with their economic success, saying that their tax cuts is the reason for the booming economy. However, they changed course in mid-September, turning instead to the divisive issue of immigration. Donald Trump fired up his supporters by ramping up his hostile rhetoric. The US President referred to groups of Central American asylum seekers as ’invaders’, while he also ordered soldiers to the border in anticipation of their arrival. He also announced plans to end birth right citizenship by executive order, which most law experts argue would be unconstitutional.

In the end fifth of the voters said that immigration was a deciding factor for them. Still, Republicans were able to add two seats to their existing Senate majority. Thus Donald Trump could claim a ’historic victory’, as there were only five other midterms in the last 100 years, where the President’s party made gains in the upper chamber of the Congress.

While both of the major parties say they triumphed, the fact that Democrats gained the control of the House will undoubtedly be more important in the next two-years. This gives them the ability to launch investigations into the Trump administration and veto power over his legislative plans. Although Democratic leaders vow to be constructive, it remains to be seen how the new balance of power will affect the United States. Will the deep polarisation of American politics widen or will the new Congress be able narrow divisions?

 

Building a Truly Unitary Eurasia

by Gábor TÓTH, President, Gateway to Europe V4-China Association

Shanghai got to the focus of attention for a week in November 2018 whereas the first China International Import Expo took place with the participation of over 2800 companies from 130 countries and regions of the world. Hungary was a guest of honour among many other “great” nations such as Great Britain, Russia and Germany. Hungarian companies promoted their products as politicians paved the way for smooth cooperation. 

This is an enormous achievement for Hungarian economic diplomacy that we were the only country from the CEE region to be invited as main guests. For several days the Hungarian press analyzed all the benefits of this landmark expo, praising Hungarian-Chinese relations which have never been so strong in the course of our 70 years of official cooperation.

However, an event of even greater significance was held right after Mr. Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary traveled back from Shanghai that the press did not deal with so much, perhaps because it wasn’t as spectacular as the one in China.

Leaders of the 16+1 central banks met in Budapest to strengthen their ties in the field of finance, opening a new chapter in CEE-China relations.

PM Orban gave a speech that had certain thoughts to be noted because they are visionary.

This was the first time that the central bankers of the sixteen Central European countries and China have held a joint conference. 

“The past ten years have proved that the rise of the Chinese economy is not a temporary phenomenon. China will be a fixed star in the period ahead, and will be a major player in the world economy for a very long time”- the PM said. 

He further noted that in addition to historical and geographical relations, economic relations will also come into being between the two rising power centres: China and Central Europe. The two regions will be increasingly connected to each other.

“This involves no less than China and Central Europe forming part of a single continuous geographical region” - continued Mr. Orban, adding that by rail it may be possible to travel and transport any goods between China and CEE in two weeks. If we are able to build a rapid rail link from the Greek ports to Europe, this journey will be even faster.

There’s one big issue, though, that makes building Eurasia harder than it should be. The emotional and ideological trap that some western European countries are in. However, eventually everyone will realise that we must adopt an approach to China that is free from ideology. We must accept that we are different, we organise our lives differently and we lead our countries in different ways.

When it comes to Hungary the trade volume between us and China amounts to more then 7 billion dollars, and its rate of growth is staggering, standing at an average of 10 per cent during the last years; and it grew by 18 per cent in the first three quarters of 2018.

Another very important point was made by the Prime Minister, stating that it seemed increasingly likely that we would need to prepare ourselves for the dollar losing its monopoly in world trade. This is a statement not to be taken lightly.

Well, Hungarians take it seriously, which is reflected in our monetary policy as well. Orban told his audience: “When we issue bonds abroad, we will do so in the direction of the East, and we shall work on creating the possibility for the yuan to be the currency in which bilateral trade is settled.” Can you see why I believe that this event with this speech is more important than the expo in Shanghai?

The shocking remarks kept coming: According to analyses - partly Hungarian and partly international - that land on the premier’s desk, there is a 70 per cent probability of another approaching crisis. They claim that we should expect an economic decline of unspecified nature: smaller than in 2008, but almost certain to take place. This makes it all the more essential for Hungary to stand on two feet and stick to her policy of opening to the East.

If we are serious about building Eurasia, we must implement major developments, primarily infrastructure developments, because we must link China, Central Europe and the Balkans to a single network: a network on a global scale.

Hungary is in the frontlines of history, yet again. We are at the door of a new era, and our Central European friends can trust us and look to us when it comes to building cooperation with China, after all we must be doing something right, being the only ones in the heart of Europe to enjoy the most special attention and strategic political partnership with the Asian giant. Building a truly unitary Eurasia will depend on how CEE countries finally find a common ground and work together to make the journey on the New Silk Road a future success.

About us

The GLOBS is the only magazine in Hungary that focuses on global affairs and trade. The topics cover the different aspects of social life, business and culture (especially business culture), research and development, investment opportunities, charity initiatives, and the everyday life of the diplomatic delegations.
 
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