Lossi 36 Weekly #7: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia11 min read

 In News

This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 13 July 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

In the Balkans…

Accession Talks With Albania and North Macedonia, a Priority Under German Council Presidency. Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined that the start of EU accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia would be one of Germany’s priorities during the 2020 Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The European Commission had already presented to the EU Council a week before the draft negotiating frameworks for Albania and North Macedonia, laying out the guidelines and principles of the accession talks. Once the negotiating frameworks are adopted by the EU member states, the First Intergovernmental Conference will go ahead respectively with Albania and North Macedonia, possibly in November or December this year, as Merkel announced. Chancellor Merkel discussed in a plenary debate with Members of the European Parliament last Wednesday the goals and strategy of the German Council Presidency in the coming six months.

When Art Helps Commemorate Srebrenica Massacre. In July 1995, over 8,700 Bosnian Muslims were killed in the town of Srebrenica after reaching the UN Safe Zone. 25 years later, on 11 July 2020, commemorations of these events were held in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the former peacekeepers’ UN base, artist Safet Zec opened an exhibition displaying major artwork by several Bosnian artists with large paintings of victims’ faces. Another exhibition was inaugurated at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, which displays a six-hour video and 80 photos in memory of Srebrenica by award-winning photographer Ziyah Gafic, as well as Aida Sehovic’s original art project ŠTO TE NEMA (Why Are You Not Here?). Sehovic’s growing collection of fildžani (small porcelain coffee cups), continuously collected as donations from Bosnian families all over the world, symbolizes the growing number of victims discovered each year. Eight additional victims identified have been buried at the site so far this year.

US-Mediated Talks Canceled After Announcement of War Crimes Indictment Against Kosovo President. On 24 June, the Kosovo Specialist Chamber and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office charged President Hashim Thaçi, PDK leader Kadri Veseli, and others with “a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture”. Following this announcement, President Thaçi immediately postponed the long-awaited talks with his Serbian counterpart under the mediation of the White House in Washington, while denouncing the international community’s biased differentiation as regards war-crimes prosecution. Should the accusation be confirmed, President Thaçi would resign without delay, he said. Chancellor Merkel and President Macron quickly seized the opportunity to take over the Serbian-Kosovo dialogue and offered to host a video summit on 10 July together with the EU’s High Representative.

⛰️  In the Caucasus…

Gallup oll Shows More than 80 per cent Approval Rate for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. The results of the poll not only show how popular Armenia’s PM is but also reveal the relatively low approval rating of the opposition (23 per cent). Other state bodies like the National Assembly (68 per cent) and the President (79 per cent) were able to record quite high approval rates. However, these numbers should be taken with caution because such public polls related to political actors might not reflect the whole picture. As political scientist Hrant Mikaelyan puts it: “People are afraid to express their opinions […] if they believe that this opinion differs from the majority opinion.” Currently, there doesn’t seem to be a political force that can position itself as a potential alternative to the ruling government.

Georgian Gym-Goers Have Had Enough. Last year Georgians protested to demand electoral reforms, now they want their gyms and swimming pools back. Despite COVID-19 infection rates being much lower in Georgia than in many of the most-affected European countries, various sports establishments have still not been allowed to reopen. The authorities maintain that these types of businesses present “higher risk” to the population. While some try to negotiate less strict conditions for reopening, others have decided to take their frustration to the streets, staging several protests over the past few weeks. Allowing sports establishments to function again will be part of the 6th and last stage of reopening, which Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia described as the “most difficult”. A quick update on the electoral reform which we reported on in previous editions – the Georgian parliament passed it during a final vote on June 29.

Azerbaijan Enters Second Lockdown. After an easing of coronavirus-related restrictions and the lifting of a state of emergency on 31 May, the number of COVID-19 cases in Azerbaijan has doubled. In response, public institutions like shopping malls and restaurants were ordered to close and the government  imposed a second lockdown. Citizens are now  allowed to leave their home for a maximum of 2 hours a day and need permission to do so from the authorities, issued via text message. The measures will remain in place until 1 August. Meanwhile, upon invitation by President Aliyev, several foreign medical experts from Russia and Turkey arrived in Azerbaijan to help the country cope with the pandemic. As of 8 July the country has around 22.00 cases and 274 deaths, while 8542 people are under treatment in hospitals. The lockdown takes an especially painful toll on already marginalised groups such as trans people.

In Central Europe…

2020 Slovenian Architecture Prize Awarded to Contemporary Art Building –.  Slovenias prestigious Plenčnik Prize for Architecture – bearing the name of Slovenia’s most esteemed architect – has been awarded this year to architects Matija Bevk, Vasa J. Perović, and Cristophe Riss for their Islamic Religious Cultural Center in Ljubljana. The 34 million-euro building has inspired both awe and repulsion among Ljubljana’s inhabitants. The jury characterised it as an urbanistically well-considered architectural achievement, worthy of Slovenian pride. All awarded projects, in total, three medals and two commendations, were meant to show the importance and quality of contemporary architectural design in Slovenia and to evaluate its sustainability

Czechs Commemorate Jan Hus’ Execution 605 Years Ago. On 6 July, the Czech Republic celebrated the 605th anniversary of Jan Hus. The date has been a national holiday since 2000, in memory of Jan Hus. Born a century before Martin Luther, the ancient rector at the Charles University in Prague is considered the second predecessor of Protestantism. Hus took inspiration from the writings of English philosopher and theologian John Wycliffe to openly criticise the corrupt practices of the Roman Catholic Church. He was burnt at the stake for heresy on 6 July 1415. His execution sparked a massive reformist movement led by his followers, the Hussites, who organised the First Prague Defenestration and won over five papal crusades between 1420 and 1431. The population living on the territory we now know as the Czech Republic remained primarily Hussite until the 1620s, when the Czech lands were defeated by the Habsburg monarchy, followed by a forced conversion back to Catholicism.

TV Polska sided with Duda? The outcome of the Polish presidential elections held on 28 June shows a divided country. Western Poland mainly supported Rafał Trzaskowski, the current mayor of Warsaw and a representative of the Civic Platform, who won 30.46% of votes.  Eastern Poland predominantly voted  to renew the mandate of incumbent President  Andrzej Duda, who won 43.50% of votes. Telewizja Polska (TVP) has been criticised for the disparity of treatment towards the candidates during the electoral campaign: while Duda was praised, Trzaskowski was presented as one of the greatest enemies of conservative and patriotic Poland. Trzaskowski has also alleged that Duda knew the questions of the debate on TVP in advance. “The President answers questions only rarely”, affirmed Trzaskowski “this is why I am inviting him to a real debate” with journalists. “What debate?” asked Duda, maybe realising that there is no real debate indeed.

In Eastern Europe…

Bulgarian Judiciary Decides to Protect Investigative Journalism. Investigative journalist Nikolay Staykov, co-founder of the NGO Anti-Corruption Fund, was assigned security guards by order of the prosecution service of the Republic of Bulgaria. His latest report, “The Eight Dwarfs”, denounces the involvement of certain official Bulgarian entities in financial fraud. Since its release, Staykov has received death threats, which he reported to the Bulgarian police. However, it was not until Reporters Without Borders (RSF) intervened via a press release targeting the Bulgarian authorities that police protection was granted to Staykov. The situation for investigative journalism is particularly critical in Bulgaria, especially when it comes to investigating corruption cases. The country ranks 111th out of 180 in RSF’s Press Freedom Index for the third consecutive year, far behind its Romanian neighbor, which ranks 48th.

Threats to the Independence of Ukraine’s Central Bank. The governor of Ukraine’s Central Bank announced his resignation on 1 July, citing “systematic political pressure” which some analysts believe came directly from President Volodymyr Zelensky, casting doubt over an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In June 2020, the IMF had agreed to a 5$ billion Stand-By Arrangement for Ukraine to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. The private sector is now concerned about the future independence of the bank’s management and the continuation of the IMF program. The European Union also stressed that the announcement is sending a worrying signal. There is no doubt that an independent Central Bank is crucial for further economic development and continuation of reforms in Ukraine. By mid-July President Zelenskiy will propose a successor to be voted in Parliament.

Moldovan MEP Launches Signatures for Dismissal of President Dodon. Last week, the Pro Moldova Party, a centre-right political party that holds a small minority of seats in Moldovan Parliament, initiated a signatures campaign for the dismissal of pro-Russian President Igor Dodon. The campaign was launched on the initiative of Pro Moldova Party leader Andrian Candu, previously a member of the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM). The DPM was formerly led by the controversial oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, who has been charged for corruption including money laundering. The main arguments for the launching of an anti-Dodon campaign were the President’s betrayal of national interests, contribution to further dividing the society, and mismanagement of the pandemic situation. The dismissal campaign has come under criticism, with media sources accusing Candu of employing tactics previously used by Vladimir Plahotniuc in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, and contending that the dismissal campaign has so far failed to attract enough supporters.

?  In Russia & Central Asia…

Kazakhstan’s Growing Meat Industry Gets a $500 Million Boost The World Bank announced on 7 July announced that it will allocate 500 million dollars to Kazakhstan’s meat industry. The country has been expressing its will to develop the industry for the past decade livestock now makes up about 53% of its agricultural output. Further growth potential is attributed to the country’s geographical vastness, making it the right candidate for an export-oriented industry. The World Bank loan will be allocated in a Program-for-Results manner, meaning that Kazakhstan will receive the full amount of the investment only if it fulfills all the contractual conditions. In the long term, the World Bank hopes to increase beef production in Kazakhstan by 10%. The project is also expected to expand livestock production in a sustainable and environmentally conscious way.

New Monument in Sochi Draws Criticism. A new memorial unveiled on 3 July in Sochi sparked the ire of locals. The monument depicts a fort built in the area in 1837, during the long Russian conquest of the North Caucasus. Caucasian historians referred to the memorial as a mistaken political move by the Sochi authorities, as the Caucasus War is remembered by the local Circassians, a native group from the region, as a colonial war that nearly exterminated their people. Local Circassian activists protested what was called a monument that commemorates colonialism. After much criticisms and many signatures, the monument was taken down on 8 July.

As the Situation Deteriorates, Uzbekistan Introduces COVID-19 Restrictions. Beginning 10 July, public health measures previously lifted in Uzbekistan will return, as the country has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases in the past few days. Most businesses involving the gathering of people will close again until 10 August. Once more, most companies, public and private, will have to operate from home. These restrictions were introduced originally in March only to be relaxed in mid-June. It is still unclear how Uzbekistan’s plan to attract tourism back to the country after the pandemic will work now that restrictions are coming back into place.

⭐️  This week’s special

European Commission Commemorates Srebrenica Massacre. On 7 July, the European Commission organized a digital conference aimed at marking the 25th anniversary of Srebrenica Massacre, the July 1995 massacre of more than 8,000 Bosniak boys and men by Bosnian Serb forces, which is considered the worst incident of mass murder in Europe since World War II. The event was opened by Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood, who highlighted that Srebrenica is still “an open wound in the heart of Europe”, calling for accountability of those responsible and reminding attendees of the responsibility to prevent genocide from ever happening again. The conference gathered representatives from academia, civil society and youth organisations and was structured around two sessions – ‘Srebrenica, the past and its place in the history of Europe’, and ‘Looking towards the future: Justice and reconciliation in the Western Balkans’.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Agnieszka Widlaszewska, Evguenia Roussel, Fourmi Charles, Hanna Boiko, Ilinka Leger, Ivan Ulises Klyszcz, Kristin Aldag, Louise Guillon, Lucie Janotová, Maria Suchcitz, Maša Šebek, Naser Bislimi, Ricardo Bergmann, Roxana Chiriac ?

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