Plus, China downgrades ties with Lithuania, U.S. imposes new sanctions on Nord Stream 2, and more.
The Big Story: Czechs Take to the Streets Against New COVID-19 Measures
What happened: Hundreds of people marched in Prague yesterday to protest new restrictions on unvaccinated people, Euronews reports. The march was peaceful and attended by fewer people than a similar one last week. As part of the new restrictions which came into effect yesterday, proof of a negative coronavirus test is no longer sufficient for an unvaccinated person to gain access to public events, bars, restaurants, hairdressers, or hotels.
More context: At 58.1%, Czechia’s vaccination rate is below the EU average of 65.5%. There has recently been an exponential increase in the number of new infections, with 1,002 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, which is the first time the figure has surpassed 1,000 since the start of the pandemic, the Health Ministry said Monday.
Worth noting: The economy of both Czechia and Slovakia are heavily dependent on the automotive industry which will likely suffer a major downturn due to a global chip shortage, Deutsche Welle reports. According to the Automotive Industry Association, Czech car production will fall by 13% this year to around 1 million vehicles. The Slovak Automotive Industry Association said that, following an 11% drop in 2020, the output in 2021 will not recover to pre-pandemic levels.
News from the Regions
Central Europe and the Baltics
- China downgraded its diplomatic ties with Lithuania after Vilnius allowed Taiwan to open a diplomatic office last week, Politico reports. In a statement issued Sunday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania “openly creates the false impression of ‘one China, one Taiwan’ in the world” and announced that it would reduce its diplomatic engagement with Lithuania to the level of charge d’affaires, a step down from that of an ambassadorship. Earlier this year, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said the Baltic country respects the “One China” principle which denies Taiwan’s independence from China, but it also seeks to develop mutually beneficial ties with Taiwan.
- The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled today that judges from EU states are entitled to seek advice from the EU’s top court and cannot be sanctioned for doing so, RFE/RL reports. The ruling referred to a Hungarian judge who sought ECJ’s advice on the required competencies of an interpreter working on a court case against a Swedish national who did not speak Hungarian and whose interpreter seemed to have limited qualifications. Hungary’s Supreme Court declared the judge’s request unlawful and submitted him to a disciplinary process.
- Romanian President Klaus Iohannis made another nomination yesterday for prime minister in a bid to end the country’s political crisis, AP reports. This is the second nomination for Nicolae Ciuca, a member of the National Liberal Party (PNL) who gave up his mandate to form a government earlier this month after discussions with other PNL members. A newly-formed coalition between PNL, the Social Democrats, and the ethnic Hungarian party UDMR will be put to a confidence vote on Thursday. The country has been in crisis since the government of Florin Citu collapsed in a no-confidence vote in early October stemming from a dispute over a regional development fund, the alleged mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis, and other issues.
- The Council of Europe has issued a new report informing Montenegro that the country must do more to tackle corruption and money laundering, according to BIRN. At the report launch held today, Yngve Engstrom of the EU delegation to Montenegro said that authorities in Podgorica should improve measures to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism. “Montenegro should make sure that its financial system does not allow the circulation of dirty money and thus cause an increase in the number of committed crimes,” Engstrom said. The report noted that criminal sanctions for money-laundering in Montenegro are exclusively based on plea bargaining, which results in “modest sentences” affecting “the proportionality of the sanctions applied in these cases.”
Eastern Europe and Russia
- The U.S. State Department announced new sanctions yesterday over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, AP reports. The move targets Russia-linked company Transadria Limited and one of its ships that did work on the pipeline, which is owned by the Russian state-owned company Gazprom. The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has now sanctioned eight people and 17 vessels linked to the pipeline, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. The pipeline will transport Russian gas to Germany underneath the Baltic Sea, circumventing Ukraine, which objects to the project because it deprives Kyiv of gas transit fees. Last week, the energy regulator in Germany announced that it had suspended the approval process of the pipeline.
- Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanouskaya told Austrian press that Vienna should do more to support her movement against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Reuters reports. Tikhanouskaya appealed to the Austrian government and Austrian companies working in Belarus, such as Raiffeisen Bank International’s Priorbank and phone operator A1 Telekom Austria, in a joint interview with Austrian newspapers Kleine Zeitung and Die Presse published Sunday. While acknowledging that companies don’t want to give up their business in Belarus, Tikhanouskaya said they could “make their presence subject to certain conditions and make clear that their employees cannot be thrown in prison simply because they have a different opinion to Lukashenka.”
- The language of campaign materials in Kyrgyzstan’s southern city of Osh has turned into a hot-button issue ahead of parliamentary elections later this month, Eurasianet reports. Businessman Sherzod Sabirov from the People’s Hope party is the first candidate to ever put out campaign materials in the Uzbek language, sparking public outrage in the process because it is not an official language in Kyrgyzstan. Osh resident Kalmurza Mamatkadyrov told Eurasianet that because Uzbek is not an official language, it should not have the same status in society as the two official languages, Russian and Kyrgyz. Osh has a sizable Uzbek minority and was the scene of ethnic violence in 2010 that left hundreds of people dead.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a rare conversation with his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog last week, Al Jazeera reports. According to a statement from Turkey’s Communications Directorate regarding last Thursday’s discussion, Erdogan spoke about the importance of relations between the two countries for the “security and stability of the Middle East,” adding that “differences of opinion can be minimized” via “mutual understanding in both bilateral and regional issues.” Erdogan also spoke about enhancing Palestinian-Israeli relations and the resumption of the peace process, saying that maintaining talks and dialogue between Turkey and Israel would be “mutually beneficial.” In the past, Erdogan repeatedly accused Israel of “terrorism” against Palestine.