Gas crisis hits Eastern Europe

Theaters close as temperature drops

MOSCOW — Russia’s decision to cut off European gas supplies Wednesday as its dispute with Ukraine escalated has left cinema audiences shivering in the worst affected countries, including Bosnia and Bulgaria.

Cinema managers in some of the Eastern European countries that rely on Russian gas for 100% of their natural gas supplies were faced with stark choices as parts of the continent experienced the coldest weather in a decade, despite a European Union deal due to be signed Friday between Russia and Ukraine that promised to get the gas flowing again by next week.

In Bosnia, one of the hardest hit countries, where daytime temperatures Friday plunged to minus 8 degrees Celsius (17.6 degrees Fahrenheit) with minus 15 (5 degrees Fahrenheit) forecast overnight, tens of thousands of households are already without heating.

For those seeking solace in going to the movies, there was precious little comfort: Sarajevo’s Apolo Cinema shut up shop on Thursday, cancelled a scheduled screening of Richard Gere and Diane Lane romance “Nights in Rodanthe” and said there would be no more movies until gas supplies resumed.

Cinema managers decided against using electric heaters because they could not provide enough heat for the freezing screening room, Kenan Avdagic, a journalist with Bosnian newspaper Dnevni Avaz told Variety.

“Another cinema, Meeting Point, went ahead last night (Thursday) with the local premiere of Woody Allen’s ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona,’ despite problems with gas heating, having found an alternative,” Avdagic added.

In Bulgaria, also totally reliant on Russia for natural gas, Stefan Kitanov, film producer and head of the Sofia Intl. Film Festival, said Friday (Jan 9) screenings were still going ahead at Cinema House, the movie theater his company Art Fest manages.

“We still screen films there, although it is very cold,” Kitanov said, adding that he did not know for how much longer because, “we can’t warm up the cinema.”

The gas crisis was sparked after Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom stopped pumping gas to Europe through Ukraine’s pipeline system, claiming that Ukraine was stealing gas for its own use after refusing to pay new prices double those of last year demanded by Gazprom.

The dispute, which Gazprom says is a purely commercial one, has highlighted Europe’s vulnerability and dependence on Russian gas supplies. Around 24% of Europe’s gas is supplied by Russia and 80% of that is pumped through pipelines that transit Ukraine.

Other countries with major dependence on Russia gas include the Czech Republic (80% dependent), Poland (50%) and Hungary (64%).

Film industry figures in other parts of Eastern Europe affected by the gas cut off said back up supplies so far meant no public buildings were going unheated.

“Here they say there is enough gas even for factories for more than 40 days and although I understand that some Slovak factories have stopped running, the heating of civic buildings has not been affected at all either in the Czech Republic or Slovakia,” said Czech producer Pavel Strnad.

Sanja Ravlic, of the Croatian Audiovisual Center in Zagreb, Croatia, said the government had declared a “code orange” state of emergency and began putting some restrictions in place for industrial customers.

“We have enough gas for three weeks and there are talks under way to use our existing natural gas reserves in the northern and Adriatic part of the country for domestic use rather than exporting it,” Ravlic added.

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