Plus, no more Russian and Chinese vaccines for Hungary, an end to free electricity in northern Kosovo, and more.
The Big Story: National Mourning in North Macedonia After Dozens Killed in Bulgarian Bus Crash
What happened: Skopje declared three days of national mourning after a bus accident in Bulgaria led to the deaths of 46 people, including 12 children, The Guardian reports. With the exception of one Belgian citizen, all the victims were North Macedonians from the country’s ethnic Albanian minority. Bulgaria’s Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov called the accident scene “terrifying … I have never seen anything like it before.”
More context: The crash occurred in western Bulgaria as the bus was returning from a weekend trip to Istanbul. “Human error by the driver or a technical malfunction are the two initial versions for the accident,” Bulgaria’s investigative service chief Borislav Sarafov said. The bus was registered in North Macedonia and belonged to a fleet owned by Besa Trans, a travel firm that organizes trips across Europe.
Worth noting: According to the BBC, the travel company issued a statement on social media saying it was “not able to respond to requests for information because we are in a state of shock” and that the company was cooperating with officials in North Macedonia and Bulgaria. The accident was the second-deadliest incident in North Macedonia’s three decades of independence; only the 2001 armed insurgency by the Albanian National Liberation Army resulted in more deaths.
News from the Regions
Central Europe and the Baltics
- Budapest will not include Chinese and Russian vaccines in its next order of coronavirus shots, Euractiv reports. Government spokesman Gergely Gulyas also said Hungary will not take part in the EU’s second round of vaccine procurement, a decision that he called “wise and responsible,” because the country still has 10 million vaccines in stock, which is enough to inoculate its population with the third shot. Of those 10 million vaccines on hand, 80% are Western, according to Hungarian media cited by Euractiv. Hungarians who got vaccinated earlier this year with the Chinese Sinopharm or the Russian Sputnik V vaccine found themselves unable to travel within the EU, RFE/RL reports.
- Kosovo’s electric grid operator KOSTT announced yesterday that it will no longer supply electricity free of charge to residents of four northern municipalities, BIRN reports. The government in Kosovo started paying the electric bills for residents of four Serb-dominated municipalities at the end of the Kosovo war in 1999 and has continued paying even after Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in 2008. The agreement between KOSTT and Pristina to provide 11 million euros in subsidies for these municipalities expired this month, KOSTT chairman Jeton Mehmeti said. “If we continue with paying the bills for the next year, then we cannot implement our plans,” he said.
- Bosnia’s brain drain, fueled by corruption, lack of job prospects, and an ailing economy could lead to its population decreasing by half, Reuters reports. A study from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released earlier this year found that 47% of Bosnians, or 269,000 people aged 18-29, want to emigrate either temporarily or for good. Around 50,000 people leave the country annually, a trend that would lead to the population dropping from about 3 million now to less than 1.6 million by 2070. “That should alarm every country, that should alarm every segment of society, that should alarm policymakers…[and] business people,” said UNFPA’s representative in Bosnia, John Kennedy Mosoti.
Eastern Europe and Russia
- Kyiv launched a military operation today at its border with Belarus amid the migrant crisis and reports of a massive Russian military buildup by the Russian-Ukrainian border, Reuters reports. The Ukrainian state border service said the “special operation” at the border with Belarus involved 8,500 troops of the National Guard, police, armed forces and other reserves. “Aviation [and] drones will also be actively used for patrolling and monitoring,” the border service said. Belarus has been the source of a cross-border migrant crisis, and Kyiv is concerned Belarusian territory could be used by Russia to stage a military assault or invasion. In recent weeks, Washington has been sharing intelligence with European NATO allies showing the buildup of Russian troops near its border with Ukraine.
- Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu said yesterday that Moldova would pay off its gas bill to Russia after the Gazprom energy company gave Chisinau an ultimatum over its outstanding debt, Euronews reports. Spinu said Moldova would “fulfill its obligations” and pay off the debt of 65.8 million euros to the Russian state-owned gas giant. The announcement came after Gazprom spokesperson Sergei Kuprianov told Russian media on Monday that gas to Moldova could be cut off within 48 hours. Kuprianov said the gas contract that Chisinau signed at the end of October stipulated that Moldova would pay its bills fully and on time. Facing energy shortages, Moldovan authorities declared a state of emergency last month and bought gas from Poland.
- A German-Armenian team of archeologists found evidence that the easternmost Roman-era aqueduct was located in Armenia, Eurasianet reports. Published in the German journal Archaeologischer Anzeiger, the findings show evidence of about 460 meters of aqueduct support pillars in the city of Artaxata, most likely constructed between 114 and 117 CE before the project was abandoned. At the time, Artaxata briefly came under the control of the Roman Empire. “The unfinished aqueduct of Artaxata is proof of a failed Roman Imperialism in Armenia and an impressive testimony to the Roman attempt to establish a Roman province,” the report says.
- Uzbek police authorities were criticized after the posting of an explicit sex video of a city official from Tashkent on social media, which was seen as an attempt to blackmail her, RFE/RL reports. Feruza Babasheva, a member of Tashkent’s Orta Chirchiq district council from the ruling People’s Democratic Party, said the video posted yesterday was meant to hinder her work. “This would have never happened to me if I had not been a lawmaker,” Babasheva said. “It doesn’t happen to other legislators who, [unlike me], refrain from criticism.” Babasheva apologized to the public over the situation but also received an outpouring of support from Uzbek bloggers and fellow lawmakers who accused the police of using “gangster” techniques to invade her privacy.
- A Turkish opposition figure urged people to keep calm after protests yesterday over the widening economic crisis, BIRN reports. “There will be provocations, but we will stay calm,” Meral Aksener, the leader of the opposition Good Party, said. “The [ruling Justice and Development Party] AKP is a burden on this country’s shoulders. … It is shameful to bear the government’s lies even for one more day,” he said. The protests took place in several cities across Turkey, including Istanbul, after the Turkish lira fell by 15% against the U.S. dollar yesterday, its second-worst daily performance ever. The lira’s decline came after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended recent sharp rate cuts and promised to win his “economic war of independence.”