Lossi 36 Weekly #10: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read

 In News

This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 7 September 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

In the Balkans…

Unlawful road construction in Kosovo undermines dialogue with Serbia. While President Vučić and Prime Minister Hoti arrived at a meeting in Washington to begin negotiations, an unlawful road construction in Serbian monastery’s protected area threatened to hamper the resumption of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue process. The Decan-Plav road is aimed at linking the country with Montenegro but should be located 400m from the the Visoki Dečani Monastery, which belongs to the UNESCO world heritage list and serves as a place of pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians. The project was suspended by Hoti in early August, before being resumed by the Mayor of Decan, going against the government ruling. Vučić immediately asked for ‘an urgent and permanent suspension of construction work‘. EU diplomats along with the US and international organizations have urged local authorities to cease construction in accordance with the 2008 Kosovo law on the special protected zone.

Albanian Government asks for more public information in “Greek Water” deal. The Albanian government has acted without the  “unease” that often characterises tense Greek-Albanian relations, confirmed Athens’ request to extend its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea. The Prime Minister, Edi Rama, said that the request is compliant with the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea treaties, and that such extension does not violate any of  Albania’s territorial integrity. The issue escalated after the President of Albania, Ilir Meta, as well as members of opposition criticized the government for lack of transparency, and officially  asked for  information to be made available to the public. The issue is of particular sensitivity as it is intertwined with that of Albanian borders and relations with the Greek minorities in the Southern region of Epirus, whereas for Greece, it more concerns relations with Turkey.

⛰️  In the Caucasus…

Internally Displaced Persons Continue to Be on The UN Agenda. During its 74th Session on 3rd September, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution supporting Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia and the Tskhinvali Region (South Ossetia), which it has been doing consistently since 2008. The resolution was drafted by Georgia and was co-sponsored by 53 states. Amongst others, it emphasises the importance of humanitarian access to these regions and the right to a safe return of IDPs to their places of origin. The resolution received an unprecedented 84 votes in favour. Georgian PM Giorgi Gakharia commented that this is “a proof that Georgia has a global, fair international support in terms of restoration of its territorial integrity”. President Salome Zurabishvili expressed her thanks to the states supporting the resolution: “This shows that despite the global crisis, Georgia is on the international agenda”.

In Central Europe…

Head of Czech parliament says “I am Taiwanese,” angering China. On Sunday 30 August, Miloš Vystrčil, the head of the Upper chamber of the Czech Parliament, arrived in Taiwan for a visit, during which he declared “I am Taiwanese.” Chinese representatives later said he would “pay a heavy price for the statement.” Vystrčil was accompanied on his trip by a 90-member delegation of business and cultural representatives, scientists, journalists and politicians, including the mayor of Prague Zdeněk Hřib. The goals of the visit were threefold: new trade deals; cooperation in the fields of science, technology and innovation; and cultural exchange. Vystrčil also met with the Taiwanese president Ing-wen, Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang, as well as the head of the Legislation Yu Shyi-kun, from whom he obtained a medal for parliamentary democracy. During his speech to the Taiwanese legislative body, Vystrčil received a standing ovation for his remarks. Refusing to recognise the independence of Taiwan, the Chinese representatives strongly condemned Vystrčil’s trip, to which the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs reacted by summoning the Chinese ambassador.

Students Protest as Hungary’s Government Strengthens its Grasp Over the Arts. Students have blockaded the entrance of SZFE, Hungary’s most prominent theatre and film arts university on 31 August, after authorities stripped the autonomy of the institution and handed control over to a foundation composed of figures close to the government. Foundation leader Attila Vidnyánszky has been known to harbor hostile feelings to the supposedly left-wing, liberal institution and had accused them of propagating a low-quality, ideological approach to higher education.

After months of failing to ratify the democratically elected leadership of the university, many important figures have quit their positions. In their turn, they accused Vidnyánszky of waging his own ideological warfare against the university and its students, without having a clear path forward for the school or the willingness to enter into a discussion with its representatives. On Monday hundreds of people showed their solidarity with the leadership and the students during a protest held in front of the university building. The protests have continued later in the week, with more and more prominent Hungarian artists expressing support for the university.

Slovakian Businessman Acquitted of Ordering the Murder of Investigative Journalist. Infamous Bratislava businessman Marián Kočner, who was charged with ordering the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak was acquitted on 3 September. Kuciak, along with his fiancee, Martina Kušnírová, were shot in a murder that shocked the nation this February. The victims’ families left the courtroom in tears.

The targeted killings triggered protests in the country and ultimately led to the resignation of the then-Prime Minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico. As a journalist, Kuciak worked on a story which had involved Slovakia’s prominent political and business figures before his death. The murder trial began in 2019, and the hitman had already received a 23-year prison sentence. On 3 September, another accused was found guilty. However, the court did not find sufficient evidence to tie Kočner to the crime. The decision is likely to be appealed in the supreme court.

In Eastern Europe…

A New Attack on Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau? On 28 August, the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional the decree issued to appoint Artem Sytnyk the Director of National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) by President Poroshenko on 16 April 2015. The President’s Office announced that the decision is already taken into account and that elections will be organized soon. Until then, Sytnyk remains the Acting Director. Who becomes the new Head of NABU will mainly depend on current President Volodymyr Zelensky. It has been speculated that the President seeks to appoint loyal candidates to the top positions in law enforcement agencies. NABU has called the decision politically motivated and emphasizes the absence of legal grounds for the immediate dismissal of Sytnyk. The next step in the case is expected to be the filing of a constitutional petition by Members of the Ukrainian Parliament on the alleged unconstitutionality of the establishment of NABU. The Bureau warns that initiators of these petitions are involved in the corrupt schemes under their investigation and thus they remain eager to weaken NABU.

Moldovan Government Meets to Discuss Upcoming Budget Amendments. The government met on 3rd September in an executive meeting where several budget issues were discussed. According to estimates, state revenues amount to 37.2 billion lei, a decrease of 649.5 million lei (or 1.7%) compared to the approved figure. The proposed changes contain both reductions and increases in revenue. The main reductions are proposed for value-added tax on imported goods, grants received from international organizations, receipts from the provision of paid services, taxes for foreign trade and others. Additionally,  the Cabinet of Ministers decided to allocate 31 million lei to provide disinfectants to educational institutions in the 2020-2021 academic year. Moreover, pensioners who receive a pension of less than 3000 lei per month will receive twice a year an allowance of 900 lei.

?  In Russia & Central Asia…

Kazakhstan closes new military deals with Russia. Kazah state-owned company Kazakhstan Engineering signed multiple contracts amounting to 6 billion Tenge ($14,3 million) with Russia during the latter’s Army-2020 Expo. The contracts regarded the import and export of dual-use products, as well as other items and services, including aviation components. Kazakhstan and Russia share the longest land border in the world, and both countries are aware of the necessary cooperation that this situation entails. The countries have deep and enduring defense relations, as Kazakhstan’s military doctrine had been influenced by post-Soviet approaches from the beginning. This also influenced and was reflected in the outcome of the Army-2020 Expo.

Putin: the voice of Belarusian protesters should be heard. Russian president Vladimir Putin expressed that the voice of the protesters in Belarus should be heard and that President Lukashenko was ready to discuss reforms. In an interview with the state-owned TV channel “Rossiya,” the president – who had been noted for his apparent passivity towards the Belarusian situation – also talked of a special law enforcement contingent that had been formed in Russia. The contingent, established at the request of an embattled Alexander Lukashenko, is to be deployed only if the situation in the country is no longer deemed to be under control. Putin further underlined how close Belarus and Russia were as countries and guaranteed that Russia would fulfill all its obligations under their Union State agreement and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The two presidents are scheduled to meet in Moscow in the coming weeks.

⭐️  This week’s special

August uprisings in Belarus fall through the cracks of police repression. A month after the presidential elections in Belarus, street protests still remain vigorous in Minsk and in the country’s main cities. On Sunday 30, tens of thousands of people were again demonstrating to denounce the fraudulent re-election of their President, Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994. State security forces have continued to crack down upon protestors and journalists. The same day, the police arrested 180 people according to the Visna Center for Human Rights; among them, foreign journalists from Reuters, Sputnik, and Associated Press. Widespread police abuses have been documented and broadcast on social media. EU leaders condemned the violence against peaceful protesters and expressed solidarity with the people of Belarus in a video conference held on 19 August. They agreed on sanctions against around 20 individuals responsible for violence, repression, and election fraud. Lukashenko has continuously blamed the unrest on foreign conspiracies aimed at weakening Belarus and Russia in an effort to elicit support from the Kremlin.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Lucie Janatova, Mate Mohos, Marton Gera, Charles Fourmi, Louise Guillon, Hanna Boiko, Catalina Ceban, Kristin Aldag, Agnieszka Widłaszewska, Evguenia Roussel, Élise Mazaud ?

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