Style leader Sandra Roelofs, brain drain in the Czech Republic and election watch Estonia.
Mikheil Saakashvili was never much like other post-Soviet presidents, and the Georgian leader’s wife is equally different to the region’s other first ladies. A confident, stylish polyglot, Dutch-born Sandra Roelofs is the perfect foil for her husband’s drive to westernise Georgia.
The pair are very much an international couple, having met in Strasbourg and lived together in New York. Besides Dutch and English, Roelofs also speaks fluent Georgian, French and German. Before her husband took over the presidency she worked as a translator and business consultant but has since taken on more traditional first lady roles, spearheading a number of health and charitable initiatives.
Her dress sense has evolved during her time as first lady, as she has swapped outfits that were often a little frumpy for elegant long overcoats, fitted dresses and high heels. Women in Georgia are traditionally supposed to be glamorous and homely at the same time, a balancing act that she has recently got the hang of.
“She is a great hit with the western diplomatic corps,” says one diplomat formerly posted in Tbilisi. “Saakashvili’s whole shtick is that he is a civilised westerner who is going to make Georgia a European country. It might sound patronising, but having a real European wife reinforces that image."
Despite constant rumours about the state of her marriage, Roelofs exudes a breezy cheerfulness in public situations, and her body language is always positive.
Roelofs’ jewellery isn’t tasteless, but neither is it that subtle. Like with much of her attire, she exudes a certain level of bling and raciness without going over the top.
Her husband has been known to wear a Swatch watch depicting frolicking rabbits but Roelofs goes for functionality and style over chunky ostentation.
Knee-length lace skirt:
Roelofs can dress to impress, and the frumpy outfits of the drab wives of many post-Soviet leaders (just look at Ludmila Putin) are not for her.
Roelofs’ Dutch blood ensures a healthy stature, but she can still wear heels without worrying too much. Her husband is a bear of a man and almost two metres tall, so she needn’t fret about an embarrassing Sarkozyesque height discrepancy.
Date: 6 March
Candidates: Prime minister Andrus Ansip, in office since 2005, remains popular. But his Estonian Reform Party will nevertheless face challenges for the 101 seats from the opposition centre party. Not that either really disagree on much.
Main issues: The economy, inevitably – not least because Estonia joined the euro on 1 January, as other countries talked about leaving it. Things are generally recovering well, with 2.4 per cent growth in 2010 – although unemployment, at a horrendous 17.5 per cent, is a problem. — am
Monocle comment: Less than two decades ago, Estonia was a reluctant chattel of the Soviet Union. It’s now a thriving state with a pioneering IT industry.
News of a national perfume emerging from the Eastern Bloc would once have prompted mirthless jokes about Eau de Turnip. However, exactly such a product has been created in Lithuania – and adopted by its government. Lietuvos Kvapas (“Scent of Lithuania”) was developed by journalist Dainius Rutkauskas with marketeers Mindaugas Stongvilas and Laima Drukneryte.
“It doesn’t exactly smell like Lithuania,” says Rutkauskas, “but it tells our country’s story in fragrances.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs agrees – Lietuvos Kvapas was sent to Lithuanian ambassadors to distribute as a Christmas gift.
Almost 4,000 Czech doctors – 20 per cent of the country’s total – are preparing to pack their bags and head abroad to find better paid jobs. The physicians signed up to a campaign called “Thank you, we are leaving” after the government refused to meet their demands for better working conditions, improved hospital management and higher salaries. They resigned en masse on 1 January.
The number of asylum-seeking migrants dropped 33 per cent in southern Europe in 2009, with the biggest decline in Italy (42 per cent), Turkey and Greece. But the Nordic region recorded the highest increase in six years, with over 51,000 new applicants.