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Regional News Update - Feb 12

Czech Republic

Senators approve direct presidential elections

In 2013 Czechs will be able to vote for their president directly, for the first time in Czech and Czechoslovak history. The Czech senate voted on Wednesday 8 February to change the constitution, setting up direct presidential elections. Relinquishing their right to choose the next president, 49 out of the 75 senators present at the vote approved the amendment. The change will take effect on 1 October 2012.According to the amendment, a presidential candidate has to be nominated by at least 50,000 citizens over 18, twenty deputies or ten senators. According to Czech media, among possible candidates in the first direct elections are former non-elected Prime Minister Jan Fischer, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and economist and former presidential candidate Jan Švejnar.Current president Václav Klaus, whose final term will end in March 2013, is an outspoken opponent of direct presidential elections. But, according to Czech law, he cannot veto a constitutional amendment, unlike other laws that he has to approve. According to a poll carried out at the end of December, almost 75% of Czechs approved the passing the amendment by the senate earlier that month.

See also: Ten Questions for Jan Švejnar

ACTA ratification suspended

Following the widespread wave of protests, Czech Republic together with Slovakia and Poland has decided not to ratify the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) for the strengthening of the copyright observance. Prime Minister Petr Nečas announced on Monday 6 February that the government will have to analyze the possible impact of the Agreement on the everyday life of the citizens before proceeding with the ratification. He assured the public  that the Czech government will never ratify a document that threatens civic freedoms and free access to information. A number of lower house deputies have already distanced themselves from the agreement, refusing to vote for the ratification. Members of the Czech branch of Anonymous have hacked the official website of Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ party and of the Civic Democrats (ODS) and a number of other government websites.

Slovakia

SNS election posters cause a stir

Members the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) in Slovakia filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s office against the Slovak National Party (SNS) accusing it of spreading racist views on two pre-election billboards. One of the posters carried a slogan “How much longer will we pay for gypsies? Let’s change it!” and another said “From the Tatras to the Danube, only in Slovak”. SMK chairman József Berényi says that both the slogans and the visuals used on the posters is a clear example of the defamation of an ethnic group that is offensive to the Roma and the Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, and thus is. In response, chairman of SNS, Ján Slota, was quoted as saying “we were only stating the truth, that, I think, 99% of Slovaks agree with.”

See also: The Nature of Czech Xenophobia

Slovakia halts ACTA approval

Smer-SD party leader Robert Fico has distanced himself from the controversial ACTA agreement in protection of the copyright through stricter rules. Fico said at a press conference that the current shape of the agreement makes it hard for Slovakia to ratify the document. The Finance Minister Juraj Miškov (Freedom and Solidarity party/ SaS) shares Fico’s position on the ACTA, and has declared the document too vague and thus susceptible to undesired outcomes. Miškov has added that the agreement poses a threat to the individual’s freedom and right to privacy restricting the citizens’ basic human rights.

Hungary

New Theatre’s new director start meets with protests

As the new director of the New Theatre (Új Színház) in Budapest, György Dörner, started in his new position on Wednesday, supporters and opponents of the decision clashed in the streets. Dörner, a former actor and an open sympathizer with the far-right, was chosen by the Budapest mayor István Tarlós last October to replace István Márta, the liberal former director who criticized the current government. The mayor originally confirmed István Csurka, the founder of the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) to be Dörner’s advisor, but Csurka passed away on 2 February. Many of the theatre’s actors threatened to leave the theatre since the October decision, but only two have done so so far. On Wednesday members of the Hungarian Federation of Resistance Fighters and Antifascists (MEASZ) took to the streets to protest Dörner’s first day. Opposing them were supporters of the radical right, such as the Hungarian Guard.Márta’s sacking has not been the only instance of the current right-wing government’s attempt to change the face of culture in the capital. In September, the director of Trafó House of Contemporary Arts, György Szabó, was replaced with choreographer Yvette Bozsik. Szabó founded the center and has been its director for 13 years, and has raised its international profile. There is wide speculation that Bozsik’s appoitment is politically motivated.

Croatia

Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia agree on war crimes prosecution

At last Friday’s meeting on Jahorina mountain near Sarajevo between the heads of state of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia, an agreement was reached stipulating prosecution of war criminals in their home countries. The final decision had been made despite Bosnia’s preference to prosecute crimes in the countries in which they were committed. During the meeting, representatives of the three countries also discussed the possible impact of Croatia’s EU membership on the politics and economy of the region.

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