The New Autocrats of the East

As his photo of the day, Prime Minister Edi Rama posted yesterday a picture taken in the context of the World Petroleum Congress, held this year in Istanbul. The photo features 5 regional leaders, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, Prime Minister Edi Rama, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Bulgar Boyko Borisov, and President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

President Erdoğan’s hand is on top of Prime Minister Rama’s, a sign of affection that the two often display in public. Whereas for of the leaders are seated on plush couches, President Vučić sits rather uncomfortably on the edge of a chair, responding to Prime Minister Rama’s broad grin with a rather forced smile.

However, these five heads of state have more in common than meets the eye.

President Aliyev inherited the office of the President of Azerbaijan in 2003 after the death of his father, and is considered one of the most corrupt leaders in Europe, with an awful human rights track record. Before he became president, he was director of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan and afterward head of the Azerbaijani Council of Europe delegation.

Prime Minister Borisov was first elected in 2009, and has been frequently accused by the EU for suppression of the free press, corruption, and links to organized crime. Before he became prime minister, Borisov was mayor of Sofia.

President Erdoğan has recently become one of the most powerful autocrats in the world, after winning the presidency and changing the constitution of Turkey in his own favor. So far, the Turkish President has by decree imprisoned from than 40,000 people accused of organizing a coup d’état, fired more than 140,000 civil servants, banned 1,500 NGOs, arrested at least 120 journalists, and closed 150 media outlets. Before becoming president in 2014, Erdoğan was prime minister and mayor of Istanbul.

President Vučić has been recently elected in spite of massive protests against his regime. His party has full control over the government, parliament, and most of the media. The new prime minister, Ana Brnabić, is widely considered to be a placeholder figure that will implement Vučić’s policies without having a political platform on her own. Before becoming President, Vučić was Minister of Information from 1998–2000, during the presidency of Slobodan Milošević. He later became Minister of Defense and Prime Minister.