7 min read

Election Sunday in Serbia and Hungary.

I wrote something about the elections happening in Central Eastern Europe, which are important. But first, please read Olga Lautman's Substack on the Bucha massacres. The images being circulated are graphic. "Ukrainian civilians were murdered and dumped in sewer shafts by Russian forces west of Kyiv. Some victims were tortured before they were murdered," Olga writes.

At least 280 people were discovered in a mass grave in Bucha. Russian President Vladimir Putin and the soldiers under his command are responsible for this.

People in Serbia and Hungary are heading to the polls today. There are presidential, parliamentary, and municipal elections taking place in Serbia.

The opposition taking on Serbia's authoritarian leader Aleksandar Vučić is quite fractured. Still, the last parliament was dominated by Vučić's Srpska Napredna Stranka, or Serbian Progressive Party (which is not progressive by any usual standards), because the opposition boycotted the last elections altogether. That won't be the case this year.

In Hungary, an ideologically diverse coalition has banded together to back conservative candidate Péter Márki-Zay against right-wing populist Viktor Orbán.

Here's a quick primer on the elections. I'll have an in-depth article on the results for National Journal sometime on Monday, tomorrow...tomorrow is Monday ☕

Serbia:

Who is in power: President Aleksandar Vučić, whose Serbian Progressive Party has run the country for more than a decade. While in office, Vučić has cracked down on the free press and used state funds to campaign for office. He is also accused of widespread corruption and voter intimidation. A recent report from FPRI called Vučić's Serbia a "stalwart Russian and Chinese ally run by a semi-authoritarian government that proactively pursues ideologically irredentist territorial expansion in the Western Balkans."

His ruling center-right party has complete control over  Serbia’s government, judiciary, and security services.

Who is in the opposition:

United Serbia: A center-left coalition led by retired General Zdravko Ponoš, the party's presidential candidate. They pose the biggest threat to Vučić.

National Democratic Alternative: A nationalist right-leaning group that is pro-monarchy.  

Moramo: A new leftist green movement led mainly by people involved in the Ne Davimo Beograd (Don't Drown Belgrade)environmental movement in Serbia's capital.

I hear a lot of excitement about this group because they're young, enthusiastic, and new to Serbia's political scene.

Professor Biljana Stojković is Moramo's candidate for the presidency, and activist Dobrica Veselinović is up for mayor of Belgrade.

What is at stake? Vučić is expected to win over 50 percent of the vote and avoid a runoff.  However, there's a slight possibility his party could lose in Belgrade's municipal election. The political landscape could also get a little shakeup if Zdravko Ponoš makes it to the second round.

Hungary:

Who is in power: The nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has consolidated control over the past 12 years through gerrymandering and capturing the media.

Who is in the opposition: Six different political parties from various ideological backgrounds have teamed up to form United for Hungary. Márki-Zay, a Christian father of seven, is heading up the coalition.

What is at stake? Hungary is currently the most corrupt country in the European Union, and it plays a spoiler role in the EU's institutions. It also serves as a backdoor for Russian and Chinese influence in Europe.

Márki-Zay has said he would join the European Public Prosecutor’s Office and restore the rule of law in Hungary if he wins. That would be a big deal.

Polling has shown Orbán's Fidesz Party neck and neck with United for Hungary, making this the first serious challenge to his rule in over a decade.

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What I'm writing:

• I provide an inside look at the proposals Ukrainian negotiators put on the table when they met their Russian counterparts in Turkey this week.

• A bill that would end normal trade relations with Russia has stalled in the Senate due to concerns over language related to human rights violations, among other issues [This story is unlocked].

What I'm reading:

• Two low-flying attack helicopters swept over the southern Russian city of Belgorod, firing rockets and blowing up a fuel dump, the Washington Post reports, citing Russian media.  

• The U.K.’s defense ministry indicated that heavy fighting would likely occur in Kyiv in the coming days, the Guardian reports.

• Russia is increasingly focusing on grinding down Ukraine’s military in the east of Ukraine, potentially splitting the country in two and forcing Kyiv to surrender part of its territory, the Associated Press reports.

• Russian troops in Ukraine have frequently relied on unsecured communications devices such as smartphones, leaving units vulnerable to targeting, the Washington Post reports.

• Russian soldiers have refused to carry out orders, sabotaged their own equipment, and accidentally shot down their own aircraft, a top U.K. intelligence official said during a speech at the Australian National University. The Wall Street Journal has the report.

• Russia is considering sending in reinforcements, including conscripts, foreign fighters from Syria, and members of the Wagner Group, Foreign Policy reports. The Pentagon estimates around 1,000 Wagner Group mercenaries are in the Donbas already.

• Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators, including Ukrainian MP Rustem Umerov, suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting in Kyiv earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reports. Bellingcat later confirmed this report, but Umerov has denied he was poisoned.

• Al Jazeera reports on why Roman Abramovich has emerged as a key negotiator.

• Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s last remaining independent news outlets, said it will cease operations until the end of the war in Ukraine, the Guardian reports.

• Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shadowed by an agent linked to a political assassination team for almost a year before he was murdered in 2015, Bellingcat, The Insider, and the BBC found.

• While the number of refugees leaving Ukraine since the war began reached 4 million, thousands of Ukrainian refugees are heading home, Una Hajdari reports for Politico Europe.

• Shaun Walker has a beautiful piece for the Guardian, with gorgeous photographs, detailing how Ukrainians have kept their railway working throughout the war. I've often heard from people in Ukraine that railway workers are heroes.

• The leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Church, Patriarch Batholomew, denounced Russia’s attack on Ukraine during a visit to Poland, the New York Times reports.

• Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that Warsaw would end all imports of Russian energy by the end of this year, Politico Europe reports.

• Groups of students are smuggling HIV drugs and hormone replacement therapy into Ukraine, VICE reports.

• Germany declared an “early warning” that it could be heading towards a gas supply emergency amid demands from Russia that it be paid for energy supplies in rubles, NBC News reports.

• Mainstream Indian television channels have been portraying the U.S. as the culprit and instigator of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Washington Post reports.

• A group of Russian citizens who fled their country after the invasion of Ukraine and spent a week camped out at the U.S.-Mexico border was quietly admitted to the U.S. in a secret deal with Mexican officials, VICE World News reports.

• Moscow-friendly Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been on the receiving end of some harsh words from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. But despite Orbán’s coziness with Putin, he leads the field, Lili Bayer reports for Politico Europe.

• A $5.35 billion spending spree by Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban ahead of next week's election left a budget hole that may spell trouble for whoever wins, Reuters reports.

• Boxes of ballots for the Hungarian election were found burned and dumped on Thursday in an area of Romania with a large ethnic Hungarian population, Bloomberg reports.

• Four convicted war criminals campaigned for Serbia's ruling party ahead of the elections, Balkan Insight reports.

• Central Asian migrants are losing work as Russian businesses close or downsize, Radio Free Europe reports.

• The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that people in Afghanistan are “selling their children and their body parts” to provide for their families amid the country’s near economic collapse.

• Israel’s security forces bolstered their presence across the country and the occupied territories following another terror attack. The New York Times has a profile of the latest victims, including an Arab Christian who was about to buy a house with his Jewish fiancée.  

• Israeli forces killed three Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including one suspected of a stabbing attack, during an army raid, Al Jazeera reported.

• Tunisia’s president, Kais Saied, issued a decree dissolving parliament. Tunisia's parliament was suspended last year after it defied the President and voted to repeal laws he had used to assume near-total power, Reuters reports.

• El Salvador’s parliament approved a state of emergency after the country recorded dozens of gang-related murders in a single day, the BBC reports.

• Hundreds were arrested in El Salvador as the government responded to last weekend’s gang violence. The arrests stoked fears that the Salvadoran government's emergency measures would allow President Nayib Bukele to consolidate even more power, the New York Times reports.

• Tigrayan rebels in Ethiopia agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” following the government’s announcement of an indefinite humanitarian truce, Agence France Presse reports.

• Reuters reports that Myanmar’s military junta chief, Min Aung Hlaing, said the military will not negotiate with “terrorist” opposition forces and vowed to “annihilate” them.

• Sri Lanka’s president declared a state of emergency, giving sweeping powers to security forces one day after hundreds of demonstrators tried to storm his house in anger over an unprecedented economic crisis, Al Jazeera reports.


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