Monday, August 2, 2010

Eastern Europe

Russian police corruption is out of hand. Latvia’s economy is recovering nicely. Poland’s economy is surprisingly strong. Bulgaria’s relationship with Turkey is gradually improving, despite the uncomfortable position of Bulgaria’s Turkish minority—10 percent of the country’s 7.6 citizens. Bulgaria’s president, Boyko Borisov is unpredictable. Eastern Europe doesn’t make sense as an economic or political description anymore, given the diversity of post-communist experience. Kyrgyzstan is unsafe for journalists. Kosovo is corrupt. Russia and Putin behave as American behaves in terms of throwing its international weight around but somehow doesn’t engender European anger. Russian is no longer capable of building first-class ships but is now buying from France. Tartarstan will continue to be ruled by strongman, Mintimer Shaimiev, despite Moscow’s technical ability to appoint a replacement. Moscow’s mayor was at war with a neighborhood called Rechnik, which was supported by the Kremlin. Croatia is the richest nation in the Western Balkans but its economic is victim to unemployment, stagnation, and widespread corruption; on the positive side, the new Croatian president is cooperating with its erstwhile enemy, Serbia. Russia is unable to stop terrorist attacks. Kazakhstan is attempting to become integrated with Europe but maintains a horrendous record with respect to voting, human rights, religious freedom, and freedom of the press. Russia and America have entered into a new age of arms control, with smaller numbers but new types of strategic complexity brought on by the advent of terrorism and Russia's problems with modernization. Russia is raising excise taxes on beer, but leaving vodka taxes alone; Russians drink twice the amount of other Europeans, and six times more hard liquor. The European Union's report on the Russian-Georgian war finds fault on both sides, with Georgia opening hostilities but Russia overreacting and supporting illegal succession movements. Medvedev, perhaps hypocritically, critiques Russia, citing over reliance on raw materials, a shrinking population, oil-dependence, weak democratic institutions, and a troubling situation in the Caucasus. Putin could theoretically return to power as president in 2012 and rule until 2024, at which time he would still be younger than Italy's Berlusconi. Chavez followed Russia's lead and almost immediately recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia's once burgeoning car market (and car industry) collapsed more rapidly than any other, with credit completely evaporing in the economic downturn. The Anna Politkovskaya trial ended with aquittals but was apparently as transparent and fair as Russian trials can be, according to the New Yorker's Keith Gessen.

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