Around the Bloc – 14 February
Headlines from around the region: a young man on the rise; Hungarian public opinion; Air Serbia; a Russian banker’s fall from grace; and more charges for Bulgarian billionaire.
14 February 2020
Latest Move in Turkmen Game of Thrones
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s promotion of his son to a full cabinet post is fueling speculation the authoritarian leader is laying the groundwork for his son’s eventual succession, according to RFE/RL. A year ago, the president’s only son, Serdar Berdymukhammedov, was named deputy governor of the Ahal region, and was later appointed governor. His new job is as minister for industry and construction. The 38-year-old has also served as deputy foreign minister. Adding even more fodder to the rumor mill, there are plans to expand the country’s legislature, Eurasianet reports. The proposed new upper house of parliament would consist of 56 members indirectly elected from each of the country’s five provinces and the capital city, Ashgabat. Together with the lower house of the parliament, the Mejlis, the planned upper house will then be part of a National Council, whose chair might take over if the country’s head dies, according to the current proposals.
Budapest Seeks Public Support for Hardline Policies
The Hungarian government has announced plans to poll the public next month on a number of topics ranging from school segregation to discrimination and prison overcrowding, Euractiv writes. “The government has a clear answer and opinion about these issues, but needs social support for it,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, told reporters yesterday. Orban has frequently hinted at what that opinion might be, criticizing last month court awards to prisoners over substandard jail conditions and saying it was “deeply unfair” for Romani families to receive money “without working for it,” RFE/RL writes. Orban also said that “for certain activist groups, the rights of violent criminals have become more important than the rights of law-abiding citizens.” The government has held a number of surveys since 2015, when the first national consultation was launched over “immigration and terrorism,” while another one, called “Let’s Stop Brussels” asked the advice of citizens on how to deal with unpopular EU policies.
Air Serbia Fashionably Late a Lot in 2019
Flights operated by Air Serbia are increasingly and more frequently late, according to an investigation by Balkan Insight. Almost a third of the flights operated by the airline between June and November 2019 were delayed, including 1,466 that were more than 45 minutes late, a sharp rise on the previous year. Most delays were on flights to or from the carrier’s Belgrade hub. Air Serbia was founded in 2013, when Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways bought 49 per cent of Serbia’s Yugoslav-era flag carrier JAT Airways, which was then rebranded. Aviation expert Petar Vojinovic told Balkan Insight that one of Air Serbia’s main problems is too many kinds of aircraft, and the age of the fleet, which translates to more time spent in maintenance.
From Exile, Russian Banker Tosses Brickbats at Kremlin
A former Russian banking mogul who fled to Cyprus told the Guardian that Russian politics are a “Muppet show” devoid of meaningful debate. Together with his brother Alexei, Dmitry Ananiev founded and owned the Promsvyazbank bank, as well as an IT firm, and real estate in Moscow. Forbes put Dmitry Ananiev’s net worth in 2017 at $1.4 billion. However, things changed once the businessman fell afoul of the Russian authorities, when he claims to have rejected their demand to turn his bank into a lender for the military. “They told me several times. If you don’t [sell], a criminal case awaits you,” he told the Guardian. A former lawmaker for the Yamal region in Siberia, Ananiev was also a keen art collector who kept his Soviet art treasures in a private museum, The Art Newspaper writes. A Russian gonzo-journalism site wrote that hundreds of rare books and paintings missing from the museum’s collection had been found in a storage facility next to a church in a village near Moscow.
Bulgarian Fugitive Billionaire Faces New Charges
In related art world news, new charges have been brought against one of the richest men in Bulgaria, Reuters writes. Vasil Bozhkov, who owns the country’s biggest lottery and the football club Levski Sofia, made his fortune estimated at more than $1.3 billion in the gambling business. Last month, he was charged in absentia with crimes including extortion and attempted bribery, and has now been charged with unlawful possession of antiquities of historical value. Authorities are investigating the origins and the provenance of the collection held by Bozhkov’s Thrace Foundation. At more than 3,000 pieces, Reuters writes, the collection is believed to be larger than that held by Bulgaria’s National Museum of History.
Compiled by Ioana Caloianu