Protesters in Warsaw rallying in support of Poland's membership in the European Union on 10 October 2021. Photo by Kacper Pempel via Globe Media/Reuters.

Plus, Czech president in hospital following elections, health care crisis in Romania, and more. 

The Big Story: Poles Take to the Streets Amid ‘Polexit’ Fears 

What happened: More than 100,000 people attended a rally in Warsaw yesterday amid fears that Poland might leave the European Union, the BBC reports. The fears were stoked when the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled last week that some EU treaty articles were at odds with Poland’s constitution, which it said had primacy in certain judicial matters. Similar rallies took place in 100 towns and cities across Poland. 

More context: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki dismissed rumors of Poland potentially leaving the EU. “This is a harmful myth, which the opposition uses for its own lack of ideas about Poland’s responsible place in Europe,” Morawiecki wrote on Facebook following the rallies. European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton also said he did not believe “for one second” there would be a Polexit after last week’s ruling.

Worth noting: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban backed the Polish court ruling and called on the EU to “respect member states’ sovereignty” in a government decree he signed on Saturday, Reuters reports. The decree said “The primacy of EU law can only apply in those areas where the EU has powers, the framework for this had been set out in the EU’s treaties,” according to state news agency MTI, cited by Reuters. 

News from the Regions

Central Europe and the Baltics

  • All eyes are on the health of President Milos Zeman following last week’s Czech elections which resulted in a defeat for the ruling ANO Party, Radio Prague International reports. The Czech leader, who is expected to name a prime minister tasked with forming a new government, was hospitalized yesterday after a deterioration in his ongoing health problems. The election resulted in a close victory for center-right coalition SPOLU — composed of the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the TOP 09 Party — which received 27.79% of votes. Still, ANO remains the strongest single party in the Czech Chamber of Deputies with 27.12% of the vote. Despite leading in pre-election polls, the coalition of the Mayors and Independents Party (STAN) and the Pirate Party placed third with 15.62% of the vote. 
  • The upcoming release of a film based on a controversial episode in Hungarian politics could prove a test for the Hungarian opposition, the BBC reports. Entitled The Cost of Deception in the English-language version and set to be released on 21 October, the thriller looks into the large street protests that broke out in 2006 after then-Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany admitted to lying “morning, noon and evening” in a secret speech that year. The movie comes as the opposition is holding the second round of primary elections to select a challenger to Prime Minister Viktor Orban in next year’s parliamentary elections; the opposition includes a party founded by Gyurcsany while his wife is an opposition candidate for prime minister. “For children’s movies, the perfect timing is just before Christmas, for political thrillers the perfect time is just before elections,” said Gabor Kalomista, the head of the company that produced the film. 

Southeastern Europe

  • Senior officials say Romania is facing a health “catastrophe” as the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic takes its toll on the health care system, Al Jazeera reports. Romania is planning to transfer between 200 and 300 patients abroad for treatment, according to health ministry adviser Victor Costache. With only 34% of its population fully vaccinated, Romania has the second-lowest rate of vaccination in the EU after Bulgaria, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. The lack of free ICU beds left ambulances lined up outside hospitals in Bucharest and the northern city of Iasi. Catalin Apostolescu, director of Matei Bals hospital in Bucharest, said the hospital is “110%” occupied and the medical system might collapse in a couple of days if the current situation continues.
  • A spate of suicides at the University Clinical Center of Republika Srpska in the Bosnian city of Banja Luka this year point to a possible mental-health crisis among coronavirus patients, RFE/RL reports. In five out of six of the deaths, people jumped from windows in the hospital’s coronavirus wards. Calling the suicides an alarming phenomenon, Miodrag Femic, president of the Republika Srpska Medical Doctors Union, said it was time “to look into why this is happening and to save people’s lives so that it never happens again.” At 4.5%, the coronavirus mortality rate in Bosnia-Herzegovina is the highest in Europe.

Eastern Europe and Russia 

  • Hundreds of people protested yesterday in Chisinau over last week’s arrest of Moldovan Prosecutor General Alexandru Stoianoglo, RFE/RL reports. Stoianoglo has been charged with abuse of office “in favor of criminal groups,” according to Victor Furtuna, a state prosecutor who initiated the investigation. Stoianoglo said his arrest was a “settling of scores by President Maia Sandu.” Deputy Prosecutor Iurie Perevoznic announced on Facebook that he had resigned in anticipation of being suspended, adding “As a former colleague, I am addressing the prosecutors who are handling these cases and imploring them to stop.” One of Stoianoglo’s deputies, Ruslan Popov, was also detained and suspended in the same probe.
  • A mass poisoning due to illegal alcohol led to 34 deaths in southern Russia as of Sunday and dozens more have been hospitalized, Reuters reports. Police in the southern region of Orenburg detained 10 people last week in connection to the production and sale of illegal alcohol. “There are 67 known victims of surrogate alcohol in the region, 34 of whom have died,” the local government in Orenburg told Reuters. Police said they identified the toxic component methanol in 2,000 bottles of alcohol seized on Saturday. Seven of the hospitalized patients were said to be in bad condition, with four on ventilators. 

The Caucasus

  • The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled last Thursday that Azerbaijan should pay 5,000 euros to each member of a group of Bosnian workers who sued the country for cross-border human trafficking and forced labor, OCCRP reports. The group of 34 Bosnians took their case to the Strasbourg-based ECHR in 2012 after losing in Azerbaijani courts. The ECHR ruled that Azerbaijani authorities did not “institute and conduct an effective investigation into migrant workers’ arguable claims of cross-border human trafficking and forced labor.” Plaintiff Seudin Zoletic said he was satisfied with the verdict, while adding “There is no money that can reimburse for what I have gone through.”

Central Asia

  • An energy crisis is forcing China to import coal from neighboring Kazakhstan, Eurasianet reports. Coal shortages have caused blackouts in China — the world’s largest coal consumer — while coal prices have increased four times over the last 12 months. A shipment of Kazakh coal reached the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang last week after a roundabout delivery through a Black Sea port. Kazakhstan’s planned switch to less polluting sources of energy, such as gas and renewables, is likely to free up more coal for international exports, according to the Association of Mining and Metallurgical Enterprises.