Lossi 36 Weekly #15: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read

 In News

This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 12 October 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

⭐️ This week’s special

Political crisis erupts in Kyrgyzstan. The outcome of the Kyrgyz parliamentary election, announced on 4 October, has sparked violent political unrest in Bishkek. On October 5, while protesters stormed parliament, former president Almazbek Atambayev was freed from prison. The following day, the Central Election Commission decided to annul the results of the parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov resigned from office and has since been replaced by Sadyr Japarov, who was also freed from jail by protestors on October 8. The protestors’ grievances are rooted in the alleged undemocratic and fraudulent nature of the election process. Some parties were accused of bribing and intimidating voters, especially in marginal electorates.  Furthermore, only four out of the sixteen parties passed the threshold for entry into parliament, three of which were closely linked with president Jeenbekov. The international community has raised concerns following this escalation and the situation remains tense and unstable. In what is now being described as a power vacuum in Kyrgyzstan, events continue to develop rapidly.

? In the Balkans…

Bihac refugee camp eviction sparks clashes among refugees. Two migrants have died amidst clashes between refugee as Bosnian authorities officially closed the Bira migrant camp in Bihac. 18 were wounded, ten of which severely, in the brawl, in which over 80 migrants of Afghan and Pakistani origins participated, not counting those that the police said “may have fled the scene” to a nearby forest. The closing of the camp and transfer of refugees have been heavily criticized by the EU, who stated it will “amplify the humanitarian crisis on the ground, jeopardize COVID-19 protection measures, and severely worsen the overall security situation”. The local crackdown comes amidst concerns from the local population over the presence of migrants that are now relocating to a nearby camp in Lipa, already at full capacity. This move will force migrants to sleep outside in cold weather and wait for support from Bosnian authorities.

Croatian borders challenged once again by Montenegro territorial claim. Although the statute of the Prevlaka peninsula has so far been defined by the UN-backed interim agreement under which the disputed territory shall remain Croatian, the Head of Property Directorate in Montenegro, Dragan Kovacevic, recently relaunched the debate on border correction. “If someone says that Prevlaka is his, then he should prove it with arguments and have some information about expropriation” he told the media. The right to an international legal remedy had already been claimed by Montenegro after Croatia started oil and gas probes in the area in 2015. Earlier this week, Gordan Grlic Radman, Croatia’s Foreign Minister, declared “the affiliation with Croatian state territory [was] unquestionable” but expressed his willingness of his government to solve the sea demarcation.

Serbian Officials double down on anti-Albanian ethnic insults. Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin has used the word “shiptar” to refer to Albanians at least six times in official communiques over the past month, reports RFEL. “Shiptar” is a derogatory term referring to the word “Albanian” – which Serbian courts themselves have on occasions ruled to be hate speech. Vulin also openly suggests that Belgrade’s official foreign policy is the unification of the Serbs in an institutional fashion. A week ago, Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic spoke degradingly of efforts to find the remains of missing victims during the 1998-9 war, threatening Serbians in a TV debate by saying: “What shall we do with the Serbs who are showing where Albanians are buried all over Serbia?”. As such, Serbia and its neighbours Kosovo and Albania have descended into a bitter diplomatic exchange. On 3 October, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama called on Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to denounce his Minister of Defense on the use of ethnic slurs in an official ministry statement. Reacting to the topic, Kosovo’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have publicly condemned Belgrade’s comments on missing war victims, which have so far not met any reaction from the EU.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Geneva International Peace Talks delayed further. The 51st round of the Geneva International Talks (GDI), set to take place this week, have been postponed to December. The multilateral forum aims to address the consequences of the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, with participants from the EU, UN, OSCE, Georgia, Russia, the US, as well as Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Last week, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement expressing its concern over the refusal of Russian representatives to participate in the negotiations, leading to their postponement. As argued by the MFA, this undermines the entire peace process and hinders previous efforts to solve the problems of the conflict-affected population. The MFA points to the fact that the talks were to take place despite the pandemic, reflecting the critical security and humanitarian situation in the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions. The MFA further called on the Russian Federation to return to the negotiating table and to fulfil its international obligations, including the EU-brokered ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008.

Ceasefire negotiated between Armenia and Azerbaijan, broken soon after. After fourteen days of fierce fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed in Moscow on a ceasefire to take effect from midday 10 October.  After ten hours of negotiations, Russian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani foreign ministers agreed on an end to the fighting. The ceasefire will serve to recover the bodies of fallen soldiers and possibly to operate prisoner exchanges. At present, 376 people are reportedly dead on the Armenian side, while no such figures have been released on the Azerbaijani side.Although the signed document explicitly mentions that negotiations on peaceful settlement of the conflict will continue, with the mediation of the Minsk Group, former Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofiq Zulfuqarov suggested that it was “inevitable” that hostilities would resume. Until this Saturday, Azerbaijani drone attacks took place in Nagorno-Karabakh, and according to Armenian Press Secretary of the Defense Ministry, Shushan Stepanyan, in the Syunik region of Armenia. Since then, accusations of heavy shelling on both sides suggest the ceasefire has been broken almost immediately after its signing.

? In Central Europe…

Concerns rise over Slovenian government’s Demographic Fund Bill. The Slovenian parliament is set to start debating the Demographic Fund Bill, which is meant to solve the growing demographic problem in the country’s aging population. The percentage of retirees over 65 is rising at an alarming rate compared to the actively employed population, which has prompted both the governing parties and the opposition to draw up their own proposal for demographic reform. The governing coalition’s Demographic Fund Bill so far has been highly criticised: their Fund would function as an independent corporative body, with the entire state-holding in the hands of the Fund – as well as most of the state’s investments. However, Slovenia’s large national debt makes holdings and investments overly unstable, which brings no guarantees that the Fund would function as intended.

Hungarian government announces complete overhaul of health sector. Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced steps to completely restructure the country’s health sector that has been struggling under the coronavirus pandemic. His motion includes a steep pay raise for doctors working in state hospitals, a ban on soliciting and accepting gifts and hefty tips from patients, as well as forbidding physicians to maintain a private practice while working for the state. The proposal, voted into law on 6 October, was developed at the behest of the Hungarian Chamber of Doctors, an independent body that has been known for being critical of Orbán’s government. In spite of their support for the law’s main tenets, they later criticised its strict deadlines and one-sided drafting, saying that the government needs to have more cooperation with the sector during the implementation process.

? In Eastern Europe…

Belarusian protests transform into war of attrition. After two months of street protests following the re-election of Lukashenko as President, the uprising in Belarus is slowly turning into a more long-term struggle, with both protesters and the government showing resilience over time. This shift has opened a window for foreign powers to intervene, as has done the European Union through its decision on 2 October imposing a travel ban and asset freeze against 40 individuals close to the government. Although Lukashenko said he wasn’t concerned by the sanctions, the very same day his Minister of Foreign Affairs canceled the accreditations of all foreign journalists in the country. As they have done consistently on Sundays since the elections, more than 100 000 citizens protested once more on 4 October in Minsk.

EU-Ukraine summit releases joint statement condemning the annexation of Crimea. EU leaders reiterated their support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and their condemnation of Crimea’s illegal annexation by Russia in a joint statement released on 6 October, after the 22nd EU-Ukraine Summit was held in Brussels. In addition, they highlighted the importance of continuing the implementation of the Association Agreement, and also acknowledged Ukraine’s progress in land reform, decentralisation, and the launch of the High Anti-corruption Court. EU leaders also highlighted their support for Ukraine’s fight against hybrid threats such as disinformation, and have agreed to launch a cybersecurity dialogue with the country.

MEPs call for EU values to be fully and unconditionally respected. Following more than 90 days of uninterrupted protests in Bulgaria, demanding the resignations of the Prime Minister and the Prosecutor General, the European Parliament adopted a resolution expressing “solidarity with the people of Bulgaria in their legitimate demands and aspirations for justice, transparency, accountability and democracy”. The resolution, voted last Thursday, also notes the “large number of high-profile corruption allegations, some of which have directly involved the Prime Minister”. Of particular concern for the MEPs is the “serious deterioration of media freedom in Bulgaria over the past decade” and the “climate of hostility against people of Romani origin”. The document points out that many Roma “had to leave their homes following rallies targeting their communities”. Finally, the European Parliament calls the Bulgarian government to address concerns that “taxpayers’ money is being used for the enrichment of circles associated with the ruling party”.

? In Russia & Central Asia…

Tajik President favoured to enter fourth decade as president. Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan, in power since 1992, is now almost certain to win another 7-year term during presidential elections taking place on 11 October. Although officially there are four other contenders for the post, they are not considered to be serious competition. It was initially speculated that this time President Rahmon’s son, Rustam Emomali, might run for the post instead, but ultimately, his father was registered again. Rustam Emomali is the current chairman of the National Assembly and mayor of Dushanbe. In a 2016 constitutional referendum the age threshold for presidential candidates was lowered from 35 to 30 – the president’s son is now 32. However, that same referendum also allowed Rahmon to run for the post an indefinite number of times, a privilege he intends on using for now.

Mystery environmental crisis unfolds in Kamchatka, downplayed by officials. Marine life in far-eastern Kamchatka’s Avacha Bay has been devastated by an unknown chemical release, believed to be of petroleum products, in late September, with scientists reporting that nearly all marine life has been killed on the bay’s seabed. The disaster was first reported in early October by surfers in the bay, and in the following days, pictures of large numbers of dead marine life washed up on the beach flooded social media. Many versions of the disaster’s cause are being discussed, from that of an oil spill from nearby vessels, to a release of biotoxins from plants, while activists point to a military facility located up the Angara river as a source of the release. While Russia’s Natural Resources Minister initially denied that the disaster was man-made, scientists have since been invited to participate in an official investigation.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Máté Mohos, Masa Sebek, Charles Fourmi, Louise Guillon, Naser Bislimi, Ilinka Leger, Roxana Chiriac, Bojidar Kolov, Kristin Aldag, Zadig Tisserand, Agnieszka Widlaszewska, Evguenia Roussel, and Francis Farrell ?

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