Lossi 36 Weekly #14: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia8 min read

 In News

This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 5 October 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

? In the Balkans…

River Vjosa to be protected as permits for hydropower plants rejected. With a source in Greek Pindus mountains, and then streaming for 200km  into Albania where it ends in the Adriatic coast, the Vjosa river is Europe’s longest wild river. This wilderness was previously threatened by Albanian government projects to build a hydropower plant. On Sunday, the Albanian PM Edi Rama communicated that “….Hydropower plants will not be built…and refused to grant permits…”. The news came as Ilir Meta, President of Albania, became the latest figure to defend the river’s wilderness. The protection efforts received European support from the Green party in the European Parliament, international NGOS and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.  The Energy Community Treaty had communicated two weeks ago that several procedures to grant a contract for the Pecem plant on the Vjosa breached EU directives on Energy and as such, should not be pursued.

Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office apprehends its first-ever suspect in Pristina. On 24 September, an arrest warrant, transfer order to the Detention Facility in The Hague and indictment were issued by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers against former Kosovo Liberation Army Commander, Salih Mustafa. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the Ex-Army leader and Adviser to the Defence Ministry is ‘criminally responsible for the war crimes of arbitrary detention, cruel treatment, torture and murder’ committed during and after the 1998-99 war. The arrest was largely boycotted by representatives of the War Veteran Organization, such as Nasim Haradinaj, who denounced the decision as an infringement of national sovereignty by the Court’s police forces. This corroborates the strained and deteriorating relations between the veterans and the Special Court. The latter has recently accused the KLA War Veterans Organization of ‘undermining the proper administration of justice’ after confidential materials were leaked by the Organization in early September.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

The world reacts to Nagorno-Karabakh escalation. The eruption of hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh area (for more details see our weekly special) has caused a mixed reaction in the international community. Major international organisations, such as the UN, the OSCE and the EU have so far provided rather laconic statements, deploring loss of life and calling on all sides to cease the fighting. Some world leaders have expressed a stronger opinion on the matter. French President Emmanuel Macron called Turkey’s political declarations of support for Azerbaijan “reckless and dangerous”, promising Armenia and the Armenians that France will “play its role”. Turkish Foreign Minister responded by accusing France of supporting the Armenian “occupation” of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia has offered to host mediation talks, as has neighbouring Iran. Moscow is also in contact with both France and the United States- fellow co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group tasked with resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Georgian National Security Council meets over Karabakh, maintains neutrality. On 3 October, a session of the National Security Council of Georgia was held regarding the outbreak of war between close neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan. In a statement following the session, the value of Georgia’s bilateral friendship with both countries respectively was stressed, and calls for ceasefire and dialogue through the OSCE Minsk Group were echoed. In an address following the session, Georgian President Salome called on the European Union to do more to use its resources and political leverage to help resolve the conflict, stressing the interest of the EU in peace and prosperity among its Eastern Partners. The statement also committed to continuing the role of Georgia as a transit route through the Caucasus, noting that while restrictions were being placed on land and air military shipments across Georgia’s borders with the two countries, there remained no such restrictions on civilian shipments.

? In Central Europe…

Leader of the biggest Czech civil society movement resigns, plans to start a new party – Mikuláš Minář, leader of the Million Moments for Democracy movement, stepped down from his position and is now considering starting a new party. With next year’s parliamentary elections approaching, he argued that this choice is his only way to help reverse the country’s worsening political climate. “We are witnessing the deepening of oligarchization, breaking of rules and misuse of power. […] I refuse to just watch it pass by.” His decision immediately raised criticism from oppositional leaders who fear that a new party will only make the opposition more divided. The fate of the Million Moments for Democracy movement is also left in limbo, as the movement that during its three years of existence successfully organized the biggest protests since the Velvet Revolution is now left without its leader.

LGBTQ-themed children’s book takes the national spotlight away from coronavirus in Hungary – Around a hundred far-right activists gathered in masks on 3 October to protest the publication of Fairytale Land is for Everyone, a children’s book that features LGBTQ-characters, as well as heroes from broken families and ones living with disabilities. The protest was organized by the radical Mi Hazánk Mozgalom party, whose member, Dóra Dúró publicly destroyed an edition of the book earlier last month. This action drew heavy criticism from the Association of Hungarian Publishers, as well as from many public figures, who made comparisons to the Nazis’ book-burning practices and called out the politician’s homophobia. It also turned out that Dúró, who claims that the book is “ homosexual propaganda,” reached an unintended effect with her performance, as the publication had quickly sold out, with reprints now on their way.

? In Eastern Europe…

Ukrainian military transport plane crashes outside Kharkiv – Twenty-six people, most of them air cadets of Kharkiv Airforce University, have been killed in a military plane crash in Ukraine on 25 September. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that the plane crashed about 2 kilometres away from the military airport. Only one person survived the crash. Investigators are reportedly considering a number of possible causes for the accident – a technical malfunction of the aircraft, poor maintanance and improper performance by either the flight crew or ground control. The aircraft was built in 1977, and experts say that its old age might have been a factor in not being in line with current safety standards. Among those killed in the crash was 20-year-old Alexander Skochkov, whose father died in a similar incident in 2014, when militants shot down a Ukrainian military transporter, killing 40 paratroopers, and 9 crew members.

EU member states urge Moldova to hold transparent and credible presidential elections – As presidential elections approach in Moldova, 19 EU member states have highlighted the importance of transparency, credibility and inclusivity in a joint statement released on September 30. They cite the country’s commitment to the Association Agreement with the EU and have emphasized that the upcoming elections shall be held in a manner which excludes previous intolerable practices, such as vote-buying and unfairly pressuring local leaders and civil servants. Maia Sandu, Moldova’s pro-EU candidate, had repeatedly drawn attention to increasing evidence that pro-Russian president Igor Dodon was planning to commit election fraud. Following in Sandu’s footsteps, four other presidential candidates appealed to the international community to help prevent such actions by the president.

? In Russia & Central Asia…

Coronavirus’ impact on human rights in Kazakhstan. The 2020 coronavirus pandemic has shed light on some of Kazakhstan’s human right abuses. One of the major problems reported is the lack of scrutiny associated with the now-mandatory holding of trials online. Danaya Kalieva, an Almaty-based activist, explained that during her trial she experienced internet connections issues, which she described as “convenient” for the prosecution. Furthermore, she said that the judge pretended that he could not hear her. Publicly however, President Tokayev, in an address to the United Nations, stated on 23 September that the public health crisis was a challenge to all countries and to international cooperation and that Kazakhstan was doing its best to build a strong, democratically advanced and human-oriented Listening State.

A new row between Iran and Tajikistan. Adding to an already unstable situation in the region, Eurasianet reports that a series of incidents have soured Iranian-Tajikistani relations. Firstly, a documentary aired on Tajikistani television this month accused the Iranian government of sponsoring terrirorism in Tajikistan. Since then, numerous Tajikistani graduates from Iranian universities have been given lengthy prison sentences on extremism charges. As a result, the Tajikistani ambassador to Iran was summoned twice by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, most recently on 26 September. Cooperation has not completely ceased, however, as on 27 September it was reported that both countries are on track to exchange prisoners.

⭐️ This week’s special

War resumes in Nagorno-Karabakh, threatening regional stability. Nagorno-Karabakh, a self-proclaimed republic within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan, is again the arena of a bloody war. In a week of heavy fighting that started in the morning of 27 September, both sides claim to have killed several thousand enemy soldiers. The defense ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities confirmed the death of 208 soldiers on Saturday. This is the deadliest outbreak of fighting since 1994, when, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, war over Nagorno-Karabakh resulted in 20,000 deaths, more than half a million IDPs (foremost in Azerbaijan) and a fragile ceasefire. After more than 25 years of failed negotiations and several short-term confrontations, Azerbaijan, under authoritarian ruler Ilham Aliyev has now actively embarked upon reaching a military resolution to the conflict. While Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused the Azerbaijani and Turkish Governments of aiming at completing the Armenian Genocide, the Azerbaijani Government claims to be fighting against an occupational regime in Nagorno-Karabakh. On the Azerbaijani side, Syrian mercenaries, allegedly employed by a private Turkish security company on behalf of the Turkish Government, have found to be fighting. Many instances of targeting of civilian residential areas have been recorded, including shelling of Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Lucie Janotová, Máté Mohos, Marton Gera, Charles Fourmi, Louise Guillon, Hanna Boiko, Roxana Chiarac, Cătălina Ceban, Ricardo Bergmann, Agnieszka Widlaszewska, Evguenia Roussel, Ivan Ulises Klyszcz, and Francis Farrell ?

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