On September 14, 2020 in Sochi, Vladimir Putin met with Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and the meeting, as expected, did not bring about any crucial changes. It was supposed to be a symbolic message – Russia has confirmed that Belarus would remain in the sphere of its influence and in the “Russian world” the West should not interfere. Humiliated and put in a spot, Alyaksandr Lukashenka admitted that he had to cooperate with his “older brother”. At least in the short and medium term, it can be expected, that Belarus’ economic dependence on Russia will deepen, the military cooperation of both states will intensify, and Russia’s influence on Belarus’ foreign policy will increase.
The presidential elections in Belarus and the post-election protests have raised a discussion in Central European countries. The Belarusian issue was debated during the meetings of the Visegrad Group, including the V4 summit organized on September 11, 2020 in Lublin. The Belarusian issue highlighted certain differences within the Visegrad Group. However, there is still no declaration by the heads of government of the V4 that would emphasize the common position on the perception of the situation in Belarus. Such a position is necessary, irrespective of the joint statement of the presidents of the Visegrad Group published on August 19.
Lithuania has become the greatest advocate for the Belarusian problem, not only regionally but also globally. Its quick response and strong voice in favor of democratic processes in Belarus are determined by its experiences related to the Lithuanian resistance to the Soviet regime and its security concerns in the region. Despite the tense bilateral relations, the historical heritage and moral responsibility empower Lithuania to commit more strongly to the aspirations for independence of its southern neighbor. Thus, its position and credibility as a responsible partner in international relations have been increasing.
The parliamentary elections were held in Montenegro on August 30, 2020. For the first time in 30 years, a change of power has become possible in this country. Three opposition coalitions gained a slight advantage over the winning coalition, formed by the hitherto ruling Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (Demokratska partija socijalista Crne Gore, DPS). However, given the differences that divide them, it remains unclear whether they will succeed in forming a stable government.
By the end of the century, the population of Central and Eastern Europe can be halved. The latest forecast for 2100 published by the scientific journal The Lancet is another source that puts the region in the fastest depopulating position in the world. This will cause serious disturbances in the labor market, difficulties in financing public services, a reduction in investment and economic growth, and, therefore, will weaken the geopolitical power of the region. Depopulation is becoming one of the most important development challenges facing this part of Europe.
For a decade in Hungary, i.e., since the current Fidesz-KDNP coalition took office in Spring 2010, a policy has been pursued aimed at a management system for media market pluralism. Building the media system from scratch is aimed at subordinating it to the ruling narratives, thus ensuring the mobilization of the electorate that will keep the ruling coalition in power. New economic elites play an important role in this construction – oligarchs involved in the media market, paying off their debt to the government, and benefiting from its actions. Achieving the acquisition of the largest portal, namely Index.hu, two months ago is just one piece of the puzzle.
On 30 June 2020, Czechia finished its rotating presidency of Visegrad Group, which on 1 July 2020 had passed to Poland based on the yearly rotating principle. Continuing on a similar note as the preceding Slovak term, the Czech presidency can be characterised as a reasonable and pragmatic way forward in the Visegrad cooperation. The Czech diplomacy used the Visegrad platform for advancing its goals and priorities, including in the realm of foreign policy, or when applying the traditionally prominent V4+ formats of cooperation with third parties. Among the successes, the Czech and Visegrad contribution to the future of Eastern Partnership, as well as shaping the EU’s policy towards Western Balkan countries should be highlighted as the most significant ones. Despite this positive agenda, the Visegrad cooperation remained a contested subject in the Czech domestic politics and society, especially when assessed against the activity of the V4 prime ministers.
Lithuania is preparing for the increasing number of Belarusian citizens seeking asylum in its territory. Although there have not been many cases of individuals applying for this status so far, Lithuania is already experienced in granting asylum for political emigrants from Russia and Ukraine. Lithuania’s hitherto activity confirms its deep engagement in supporting Eastern Europe’s democratization processes and its assistance towards those who, for political reasons, have been forced to leave their own country. As a result, Lithuania hopes to improve regional security and strengthen its position in the international arena.
On June 17, 2020, Norway was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for 2021-2022. Of the five priorities presented by Norway, special attention was paid to the need to respect international law and strengthen the structures of multilateral cooperation. These ambitious goals are accompanied by numerous global challenges, requiring the involvement of a substantial number of staff members at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the use of their accumulated experience. Therefore, it will be difficult for Norway to play the role of a strategist and an efficient facilitator between the UNSC conflicted permanent members, especially since there was no consensus among Norwegian political parties regarding the country’s very candidacy.
On July 1, Poland took over the annual presidency of the Visegrad Group (V4) for the sixth time. In the program of the new presidency, the emphasis was placed on taking joint actions to return to economic and social normality. The most important element of the functioning of the V4 in the coming year is to stimulate the economy weakened by the pandemic. The tasks of particular importance for the Polish side include the development of a common V4 position on the issues of admission of the Western Balkan states (WB) to the European Union (EU), the development of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) and the common migration policy. Digital cooperation is also to be an important element of the Polish Presidency, the importance of which has been demonstrated by the spread of the pandemic and the closure of economies.
June 4th marks 100 since the treaty was signed in Trianon, which resulted in the loss of a significant part of Hungary’s territory and population and in Slovakia being proclaimed as part of the newly created Czechoslovakia. In early June, Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok and Prime Minister Igor Matovič paid official visits to Budapest. Both politicians declare a new opening in the Slovak-Hungarian relations: the dynamization of bilateral relations, the legislative changes regarding national minorities, and the implementation of joint cross-border projects. During the meeting of the Prime Minister with representatives of the Hungarian minority, the non-parliamentary Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) submitted a memorandum demanding that Hungary be granted special rights, which was widely criticized by Slovak politicians.
On May 19th, a meeting of foreign ministers of the Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS) was held. The virtual meeting (videoconference) was organized due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the session, the ministers approved the CBSS reform, as well as raised issues of cooperation in the Baltic Sea region during the COVID-19 pandemic, while other issues involved youth involvement in the region, climate change and the fight against organized crime. The meeting was also to summarize the Danish presidency, which lasted from July 1st, 2019. In the light of the adopted documents, the CBSS should remain the center of political dialogue in the Baltic Sea Region (BSR).
The issue of Macedonian national identity has returned to the international forum. Bulgaria’s position may complicate the process of integration of North Macedonia with the European Union and currently threatens to escalate another regional controversy based on their history. The aggravation of the returning historical conflict may also lead to a decline of political support for the ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and the victory of the largest opposition party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
At the end of April 2020, the Romanian Parliament dealt with a bill aimed at establishing an autonomous region covering areas inhabited by the Hungarian-speaking ethnic group Székelys. The bill was rejected by the senate, however, the initiative caused a number of controversies on the political scene in Romania, including, above all, the statement of President Klaus Iohannis. The President’s statement was criticized by the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Romanian National Council for Combating Discrimination. The whole matter is more contentious because of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Trianon Treaty, which was celebrated this year. June 4th, 1920, was marked differently in the history of these two countries: as the emergence of Greater Romania and as the end of Greater Hungary.
Economic crises usually mean a return to state interventionism and a more active role for the state as owner. It is no different today. The COVID-19 pandemic reopens the debate on state-owned enterprises. Due to the history of economic ownership, it has particular resonance in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Especially that in the region is increasingly announcing the recapitalisation of state-owned enterprises and even nationalisation of private. The focus of the current issue is on airlines.
The Baltic States are recording their first successes in stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus. Although it is too early to pinpoint exactly the actions that have contributed to such an effect, the swift decisions taken to introduce restrictions and the readiness of societies to comply with the relevant measures were certainly of key importance. Maintaining the intensity of disease spread at a similar level in all three countries allows for the gradual lifting of restrictions and for the restoration of the free movement of persons across the internal borders.
In the context of Croatia, the consequences of COVID-19 will depend on two aspects: the length of the pandemic, and the scale of assistance from the European Union (EU). It is clear, however, that the economic aftermath will be severe. This is an obvious threat to the dominant Croatian Democratic Union under the leadership of liberal Andrej Plenković, who is serving as the prime minister. On the other hand, the pandemic might serve as a long-awaited (by interest groups) stimulus to introduce reforms in some important areas of the country’s economy. Adopted on the 28th of April, the National Reform Programme for 2020-2021 might constitute a stepping stone towards such a solution.
On April 19 Slovakian Prime Minister Igor Matovič presented the government’s program for 2020-2024, which was subsequently adopted by the National Council of the Slovak Republic on April 30. The anti-corruption activities, the reform of the justice system, and the pro-social policy constitute the central pillars of the new document. In the field of foreign policy, a clear Euro-Atlantic orientation of Slovakia was emphasised along with the active participation of this state in the activities of the Visegrad Group (V4). The United States (US) was indicated as a key security ally. A continuation of the pro-European policy of the predecessors is planned. In the region, the relations with the Czech Republic as well as with Austria, Poland and Hungary are mentioned as a priority. Ukraine, which remains outside the European Union (EU), is also to be supported by Slovakia. Russia is not acknowledged in the document, which demonstrates a desire to break with the pro-Russian actions of some of the previous government’s politicians.
The European Green Deal implementation requires significant investment and a profound economic and social transformation. Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary consider that the pandemic and its aftermath do not allow time for green ideas and that the economies should recover first. On the other hand, integrating the economic stimulus packages in the European Green Deal could support economic activity, prepare for the recovery, and lead the clean industrial revolution. It is advisable that cooperation between most affected regions, including some Croatian and Polish regions, could facilitate green growth and deep structural change. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that rapid and radical changes are possible.
After several years of dispute, the authorities of Prague 6 removed the monument of Marshal Ivan Konev from the public space. The statue is to be sent to the not-yet-existent Museum of Memory of the 20th century. The conflict over the memorial related to the history of World War II indicates a deepening crisis in Czech-Russian reactions, in which Prague’s local government is also involved.
The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has become a global stress test. The restrictions of social distancing have led the world to accelerated “lessons” in the areas of communication, digital skills, online activities, information technology for businesses and digital public services. Paradoxically, this could be a turning point in the digital transformation of the Central European countries in the coming years.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the authorities of Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia to adopt a number of similar solutions such as strict lockdown or closing the borders. Decisive steps to limit and slow down the spread of COVID-19 have been undertaken in these countries earlier than in Western Europe. Each authorities have prepared an assistance package for domestic economies. At the same time, Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia are strongly dependent on development in Western European countries, primarily in Germany, France and Austria.
Montenegro was the last European country to confirm a case of SARS-CoV-2. Yet even before receiving this information, the Montenegrin government undertook a number of actions to prepare the state and its society for the pandemic. Also an economic package was presented with the aim of helping entrepreneurs to survive the crisis. Simultaneously, the Montenegrin authorities look to receive some support from their foreign partners in the struggle with the spreading coronavirus and its negative influence on the state’s socio-economic situation.
On 11 March in Minsk, the Tripartite Contact Group on a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Donbas (TCG) signed an agreement about the establishment of the Consultative Council: an advisory body in which representatives of Ukraine and the separatist republics should deal with the political aspects of the Ukrainian crisis. Information about the new Minsk agreement caused indignation of the Ukrainian society and sharp criticism of President Volodymyr Zełensky.
Several measures to protect citizens and limit the spread of coronavirus have been implemented by Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as a result of the first cases of the COVID-19 disease confirmed. Currently, three Baltic states have adopted mechanisms and preventive measures similar to Poland’s. Due to the borders being closed and private cars being refused to transit through Poland, numbers of the Baltic states’ citizens found it difficult to get back home. This temporarily affected the Polish-Estonian relations.
Since the day when the first two cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection were confirmed (8th March), the Albanian government has consistently introduced subsequent restrictive measures aimed at limiting the scale at which this virus can spread in Albania. The discipline in the society is to be enforced by high fines for breaking the new rules as well as by police and military controls. Prime Minister Edi Rama has also presented a plan to protect the Albanian economy from the negative effects of the crisis.
According to information provided by Vytautas Bakas, a member of Lithuanian Seimas, the State Security Department (Valstybės saugumo departamentas, VSD) in 2018–2019 allegedly gathered information about the entourage of the then presidential candidate Gitanas Nausėda and about Vygaudas Ušackas, a candidate for nomination in the presidential primaries in the opposition Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) party. Although the leadership of VSD denies it, and leading politicians emphasize their confidence in the services, the scandal that erupted will probably become one of the main topics of the upcoming campaign before the Seimas elections.
The growing influence of China on the global international order and the Euro-Atlantic security system will be a challenge for many states. This process has been recognized in the foreign and security policy strategies of Denmark and Norway, which are particularly interested in China’s policy and developments in the North Atlantic area and the Arctic. Both regions have a strategic importance to them. Considering the current priorities and defence spending planned in the budgets of both states, this may result in a change in the scale of involvement in the Baltic Sea Region (BSR).
The goal of Rail Baltica is to integrate the Baltic states into the European rail network. In addition to the mobility, the quality of rail services and the improvement access to them, the project is also expected to contribute to the development of business and tourism, and the increase of goods exchange within the region. However, an audit published in December 2019 questioned, the possibility to complete the project within the assumed time. Currently, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have to focus on improving project management efficiency, tender procedures and ownership structure. Increased mobilization will be fostered by the fear of funding being reduced in the next long-term EU budget.
The border treaty is one of the most problematic aspects of Estonian-Russian relations. The political consensus developed in Estonia in recent years has been undermined recently by the populist Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), which has raised the issue of territorial claims against Russia. The controversial statements of EKRE politicians demanding the return of Estonia’s territory before 1940 may weaken the government coalition in Estonia, as well as worsen the already cold Estonian-Russian relations. However, Estonia’s domestic policy does not foresee a split in the coalition against this background. In foreign policy, an opportunity to normalise relations and return to negotiations on a border agreement between Estonia and Russia may be the extension of cross-border cooperation.
27 August marked 100 days of Volodymyr Zelensky’s term as the president of Ukraine. In this time, he succeeded in acquiring control over the executive government and legislature. The initial foreign visits of the president manifested that the general direction of Ukrainian foreign affairs will not be altered. The issue of Donbas and relations with the Russian Federation remain the most pressing challenges.
On 3 August, Nord Stream 2 AG, responsible for designing, developing and subsequent maintenance of Nord Stream 2 (North European Gas Pipeline, NS2), announced that one gas pipeline, located in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Sweden, was completed. However, the company has not been granted the permission to continue with NS2 on Danish waters. Jeppe Kofod, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, has expressed his negative feelings towards the development of NS2. However, after Nord Stream 2 AG withdrew one of its proposals, his hands are tied and he has no means for blocking the project further. The Danish Energy Agency (DEA), responsible for proceeding motions and proposals, is currently evaluating responses submitted in the course of consultations with stakeholders and countries of the region. Due to the complexity of the proposal and complications associated with the construction process itself, it is highly probable that NS2 will not be completed on schedule, i.e. by the end of 2019.
Estonia has been objecting to the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality strategy. The country’s decision-makers argue that the EU member states ought to enjoy enough flexibility as to select domestic instruments of climate policies in relation to the level of the country’s development and social justice. The issue revolves around Estonia being able to introduce incremental changes while maintaining the competitiveness of the country’s economy which pivots around the extraction of oil shale whose processing entails high CO2 emission. Estonia’s prospective position towards the EU’s climate strategy will be determined by the results of analyses outlining solutions offering the capability to shift to climate-neutral economy in the country. These are to be presented to the government in the autumn of 2019.
An evident intensification of cooperation between Belarus and the People's Republic of China has been observed since 2017. Alexander Lukashenko’s latest presidential visit to China occurred on 25-27 April in the framework of the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. During the trip, the president met with several politicians, e.g. Xi Jinping, the President of the People's Republic of China, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the President of Uzbekistan, and Aleksandar Vučić, the President of Serbia. The consolidation of cooperation between Belarus and China, as well as attempts at establishing relations with other countries indicate that Lukashenko pursues a greater degree of economic independence from the Russian Federation, while maintaining friendly relations with China, and prospectively the EU.
A change of power occurred in Moldova in June. It was motivated by an understanding and engagement of external actors – Russia, USA, and the EU. This understanding bears significant implications not only for Moldova, but in a greater picture, for the structure of the international order as well, especially in Eastern Europe. It may stimulate the emergence of a new, more consensual stage of the relationship between the West and Russia as regards this geographic area.
The suspension of the bilateral dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo proves that negotiations, ongoing since 2011 under the auspices of the EU, came to yet another standstill. Positions of both parties becoming stiff results in the prospects for the development of a compromise to end the conflict concerning Kosovo’s international legal status and boundaries becoming unlikely.
The anniversary commemorating the end of WWII is a significant day not only in Russia but also throughout the post-Soviet space. 9 May celebrations are treated as an instrument for shaping national identity and memory, developing political myths, and as a vital element of the politics of memory. However, a rift emerged between Russia’s narration concerning the Victory Day in the Great Patriotic War and the narration and formula of celebrations in the remaining countries. In Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, the discrepancy reflects an attempt at becoming independent from Russia’s influence. In each of these countries, the process has its own specific character and distinct motivations and determinants.
“Magna Hungaria” and “the Treaty of Trianon” are two of several fundamental terms featured in the Hungarian politics of memory. Owing to a strong position they occupy in the cultural memory of Hungarians, they are a flexible substance for Fidesz and Viktor Orbán to base their actions upon and subordinate these to their present political objectives. These encompass e.g. the legitimization of the governing party, and regional politics.