Few would contest that 2016 was, on balance, a disappointing year. Indeed, by now descriptions of the year just concluded as unfortunate, or terrible, or an annus horribilis are so common as to approach cliché. Still, the year is unlikely to be remembered fondly, in CEE or anywhere else.
And indeed, recalling the stories from this part of the world that generated global media coverage in 2016 is a painful exercise. In Turkey alone, a woeful series of terrorist attacks killed an estimated 276 people (with an additional 39 killed in the bombing of the Raina nightclub in Istanbul on January 1, 2017), and a failed coup attempt resulted in the deaths of an additional 300+ people, the imposition of a still-ongoing state of emergency, and the subsequent arrests of over 40,000 individuals, including some 2,745 judges.
The country was hardly alone in its misfortune. The ongoing refugee crisis saw hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing Syria and other war-torn Middle Eastern states to reach European (usually Greek) shores, from which they wound their way up through Croatia, Hungary, and Austria, and then into Germany, France, and Northern Europe. The conflict in Eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels and separatists remains active, as does the persistent Greek debt crisis, with that country still in a state of enforced austerity and with economic recovery – and hope – still seemingly far away. Russia, of course, continues to suffer the effects of Western sanctions and still-low oil prices as well.
The sense that these crises are increasing, both in severity and frequency, seems to have dropped a veil of anxiety upon CEE, as in much of the rest of the world, and voters in member states are responding to nationalist appeals as a result. Thus right wing governments in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Russia, and Turkey consolidated their power in 2016, opposing what they see as unwarranted and unjustified EU infringement on national autonomy and instilling anxiety in potential investors and international observers alike. Although more progressive governments were elected in 2016 in both Romania and Austria, the trend is undeniably rightward.
Against this gloomy backdrop, optimism might seem to be in short supply. And yet, at least in the legal industry, it’s perhaps not completely unwarranted.
First, as the participants in this year’s Expert Summit (page 12) attest, business in CEE continues to grow. Partners at law firms in some of the most troubled CEE countries, such as Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey, remain positive, and firms in many other CEE countries, such as Austria, Hungary, and Romania, report increased growth, profits, and enthusiasm. Those reports are borne out by our annual Table of Deals ( page 32) as well, which is much larger than it was in 2015 – which itself, in turn, was much larger than it was in 2014.
Perhaps not coincidentally, CEE Legal Matters had a good 2016 as well. The 2016 GC Summit, which convened in Istanbul with Chairman Sponsors Baker & McKenzie and Slaughter & May, was a rousing success, creating growing momentum for the third GC Summit, scheduled this June in Warsaw. The CEE Legal Matters magazine – which published more articles and more interviews than ever before – recorded more subscribers than ever before as well, giving us little choice but to make the magazine a monthly publication in 2017 for the first time. And in the fall of 2016 we were pleased to introduce our brand new CEE Legal Matter website, with far more features, platforms, and stories than the previous one, which was starting to become creaky from overuse.
CEE Legal Matters is growing, month after month and year after year, and our confidence that 2017 will be our best yet is pure. We’re grateful for those of you who have been along for the ride throughout our history and equally grateful for those of you who have signed up more recently. The very point of CEE Legal Matters is to inform and entertain you, our readers, and the results of 2016 indicate that we’re succeeding in that goal.
Despite the region’s growth, last year was a mixed bag at best. Here’s hoping 2017 takes the best parts of 2016 and makes them even better and takes the worst parts of last year and turns them around. Peace, happiness, and healing, to all of our readers.