Lossi 36 Weekly #6: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read

 In News

This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 6 July 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

In the Balkans…

Police Violence in Montenegro: Budva Caught up in the Turmoil. While the government celebrates the impending opening of its final negotiating chapter on the road of joining the EU, the European Commission has expressed concerns about the rule of law in the city Budva and has called for a peaceful end to the crisis which began with the arrest of opposition Mayor Marko Carevic, who had refused to hand over power to the ruling DPS majority, and erupted in violent clashes with the police across the country. Law enforcement officers have been accused of exceeding their boundaries and disproportionately using force against the outgoing mayor and his supporters. The opposition also pointed to the irregularity of his dismissal and the use of corrupt political practices by the DPS. In Podgorica, the situation is also escalating. Civic activists, ‘Odupri se’ members, and opposition MPs have been arrested.

Floods Cause Severe Damage in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Raising Concerns about Protective Infrastructure. Ten municipalities declared emergencies in western Serbia, and two in the northeast after days of heavy rainfalls caused severe flooding last week. Around 700 houses were underwater in central and western Serbia, despite recent investments aimed at mitigating damage caused by annual floods. Since the devastating 2014 floods, Serbia has spent more than €78 million on restoring and improving defenses, according to a BIRN investigation. Most of the money has been allocated to the maintenance of existing infrastructure. Mirjana Todosijevic, professor at the forestry faculty of the University of Belgrade, thinks working on flood prevention at an earlier stage would have been more important and cheaper. In a written letter, she told BIRN: “The main problem is certainly the lack of investment in systematic protection against environmental pollution, as well as inappropriate, I would say negligent, behavior towards the environment.”

Srebrenica Prepares for the 25th-Anniversary Commemoration of Genocide. Despite the pandemic, authorities decided within the last couple of months to go through with the anniversary memorial of genocide in Srebrenica. These critical events come amidst the alleged ‘mainstreamization’ of genocide denial and revisionism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to Balkan Transitional Justice News. One of Srebrenica Memorial’s institutional missions is to confront this trend. Over 8,700 Muslims died in Srebrenica alone, and 25,000 people were displaced in 1995. Remembering Srebrenica International is preparing numerous events that will be organized online and are hoped to reach audiences globally. The main commemoration will take place on the eve of 11 July, and will feature speeches by UN Ambassador Angelina Jolie and Prince Charles. Additional events will take place all week, including the opening of the virtual exhibition.

⛰️  In the Caucasus…

Heated Debates in Armenia after a New Property Tax Law Passes. After the transition from a progressive tax to a flat income tax in September 2019, the debate on taxation is back in Armenia. A new property tax law has been passed and is expected to come into force on 1 January, 2021. This new law plans to change the way the Cadastre Committee assesses the value of a property. This value, which until now was below the market price, could approach it with the help of this bill. The law has created heated debates in the country. The government argues that the most vulnerable will not be affected and that the law will improve the quality of services in towns and villages. However, the opposing camp expresses fears about gentrification and claims that a tax on luxuries would have been more efficient and less dangerous.

Yet another Controversy around Election Reform in Georgia. German Ambassador to Georgia Hubert Knirsch faced criticism from opposition parties after stating that Giorgi Rurua was not part of the 8 March agreement, a cross-party resolution to introduce constitutional changes. Rurua, a co-founder of Mtavari Arkhi TV, a channel that is critical of the government, was jailed on a felony weapons charge last November. The move was accused both domestically and internationally of having been politically motivated. At the time of the agreement, the opposition did not set Rurua’s release as a condition, yet now they are threatening to boycott the process if Rurua is not freed. European delegation representatives, including Mr. Knirsch, were the key facilitators of the talks and have supported the attempts to achieve compromise and implement changes that would further deepen the process of democratization in the country. The ambassador and EU delegations reportedly found the new demands “surprising”.

Azerbaijani Activist-Turned-Politician is Fighting Off a Smear Campaign. Vafa Naghi, an Azerbaijani activist, recently elected to a role in municipal government, has accused her municipality chairman, Alibala Salimov, of launching a smear campaign against her and her family following her attempts at denouncing corruption within local authorities. Naghi, 36, is a former journalist and graduate of Istanbul’s Sabahattin Zaim University. Following her studies, she returned to her home village and started a sewing business employing local women. Her involvement in the community got her a win in the elections. Still, subsequent requests for information on municipality funds and properties and her corruption accusations against Salimov have resulted in open conflict with the chairman. The Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center issued a statement expressing concern over the pressure exerted on Naghi, calling the actions of Salimov and others involved a “breach of a series of laws”, including the Constitution of Azerbaijan.

In Central Europe…

Slovakian Parliament’s Spokesperson Accused of Academic Plagiarism. It seems that history is repeating itself: two years after Andrej Danko, former Speaker of the Slovakian Parliament, was accused of plagiarism, his successor, Boris Kollár, is facing similar allegations. According to an investigation by the newspaper Denník N, 52 percent of Kollár’s master’s thesis overlaps with a paper by his supervisor. Kollár  – who wrote his thesis in 2015 at the University of Central Europe in Slovakia – denied the allegations, arguing he had cited  his sources properly. The current Speaker of Parliament did not feel like apologizing, but announced still that he would not use his academic title anymore. Although the opposition called for his resignation, Kollár will not step down from one of the most important constitutional posts in Slovakia.

Czechs Marked the 70th Anniversary of the Execution of Milada Horakova, Jan Buchal, Oldřich Pecl, and Záviš Kalandra by the Communist regime on 27 June 1950 after a show trial. In Prague and in other cities this year, the 70th anniversary of their execution has been  commemorated with banners, portraying Milada Horakova as a symbol of the communist terror of the 1950s, and with broadcasts of sequences from the show trial. Milada Horakova was a lawyer who  joined the anti-Nazi resistance during WWII, and was consequently imprisoned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. After the war, she served as a deputy in the National Assembly until she resigned, right after the communist coup. Many personalities abroad, like Albert Einstein, opposed her and other’s executions, asking the Communist Party for grace.

In Eastern Europe…

Two Senior Anti-Drug Police Officials Arrested in Bulgaria for Protecting Traffickers. The Ministry of Interior’s chief of the Anti-Drug Sector, Kiril Vankov, and the head of the Anti-Drug Trafficking Department, Tsvetan Pankov, were taken into custody on 26 June. Pankov was arrested while receiving a bribe of banknotes. The Ministry of Interior clarified that both are suspected of having provided logistics to certain criminal groups involved in drug trafficking, while taking action against their competitors. Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev announced that the detained police officers may have provided logistics not only within the country, but also within the framework of international drug trafficking. A few hours after Geshev’s statement, the director of the General Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, Ivaylo Spiridonov, and the Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Interior, Georgi Arabadjiev, resigned.

Withdrawal of Gațcan’s Mandate as Moldovan Deputy. Ștefan Gațcan, deputy of Moldova’s Socialist Party (PSMR), announced on 30 June 2020 that he was leaving the PSRM faction in Moldovan Parliament to join the opposition’s Pro-Moldova party,  led by Andrian Candu, godson of the fugitive tycoon Vladimir Plahotniuc. Confronted with the danger of giving the majority to the opposition with Gațcan’s political reversal, the ruling Socialists stopped him in the outskirts of Chisinau, threatened him with psychical violence, and forced him to resign his mandate. The deputy declared later that he would remain in the PSRM, but that he was renouncing his mandate to return to practice medicine. With Ștefan Gațcan staying with the opposition, the balance of power in the Parliament would have, indeed, changed in their favour with 51 seats against 49 for the PSMR. Thus, the situation remains unchanged, but no parliamentary majority is ruling the country.

?  In Russia & Central Asia…

Citizens Express Concern About Proposed Kyrgyz Law That Could Curb Freedom of Speech Online. The Kyrgyz parliament passed a new law that allows authorities to remove internet content they deem false or inaccurate. The bill, which aims to regulate the accessibility of online information, has become the source of international worry due to its allegedly vague language. Human Rights Watch fears that it will result in the criminalization of freedom of expression. Kyrgyz citizens have also expressed their worries by protesting on the symbolic Erkindik Boulevard (Freedom Boulevard in Kyrgyz). The participants articulated their concerns regarding the possible consequences of the law on independent journalism in the country. Whether or not the law will be implemented is now in the hands of President Jeenbekov.

North Caucasus has Troubles Measuring Coronavirus Impact. A recent statistical decrease in the number of coronavirus deaths in the North Caucasus is due to administrative failures, rather than an actual fall, according to Caucasian Knot. A recent report by Mediazona showed inconsistent growth in death rates during the pandemic in the Russian Federation, with Moscow and St. Petersburg showing an increase in total deaths, while other regions, predominantly in the North Caucasus, exhibiting a decrease. Knot says this is caused by problems in the registration of deceased people in the region. This issue compounds the ongoing challenges for the response of local authorities in the fight against the coronavirus.

Diplomatic Scuffle Breaks out in Turkmenistan over Coronavirus Warning. A short diplomatic scuffle followed a health warning issued by the US Embassy in Ashgabat on 23 June. The warning referred to coronavirus as a present danger in the country, opposing the official narrative by authorities claiming there are no COVID19 cases in Turkmenistan. The government openly dismissed the statement of the US Embassy, claiming the reference to the coronavirus was ‘fake news.’ On 21 June, the US Embassy announced that it was temporarily closing for unspecified reasons. Local medics who were not authorized to discuss the outbreak in the country recently claimed that it was ‘out of control.’

⭐️  This week’s special

Next Steps in EU-EaP Rapprochement. The European Union is ready for discussions for the liberalization of visa permissions with partner countries of the Eastern Partnership (EaP), including Azerbaijan. However, the process in case of the mentioned country is expected to be long and discussions may last for years. EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Olivér Várhelyi, said: “I think our benchmarks and the conditions are well known. Should be we approached by such a request, of course, we’ll engage”. The significance of the Eastern Partnership was emphasized by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas who declared that it will be one of the most important topics during the presidency of Germany of the Council of the European Union, which started  on 1 July 2020.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Agnieszka Widłaszewska, Ana Robakidze, Bojidar Kolov, Cătălina Ceban, Elise Mazaud, Evguenia Roussel, Fourmi Charles, Ivan Ulises Klyszcz, Louise Guillon, Margarita Zilinskaya, Marton Gera, Zadig Tisserand, Zuzana Krulichova

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