Lossi 36 Weekly #16: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read

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This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 19 October 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

⭐️ This week’s special

Threats of live fire and Tikhanovskaya ultimatum raise the stakes as protests continue in Belarus. Tens of thousands of Belarusians took to the streets for the eleventh weekend in a row in Minsk as moves on both sides threaten to escalate the political crisis ongoing since the 9 August presidential elections. In a 12 October Interior Ministry Statement following the previous weekend’s protests, where 713 were arrested, the police warned that live ammunition could be used to quell unrest in the future. While protesters have so far been met by frequent use of water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades, the prospect of live ammunition is seen to represent a dangerous escalation in violence used by police. Meanwhile, opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled Belarus soon after the vote and has since met with many EU leaders, presented an ultimatum on 13 October to President Alexander Lukashenko to resign and halt the policy of “state terror” by 25 October or be faced with a “crippling” general strike.

? In the Balkans…

Three weeks into hunger strike, Albanian workers replaced by women colleagues. As part of protests ongoing for several months, workers of the Ballsh Oil Plant have been on an extended hunger strike over claims of months of unpaid wages. Since the hunger strike began in September, the health conditions of 10 workers who participated have deteriorated significantly, and the head of the Ballsh Oil Workers Union has been hospitalized. The workers promised from the beginning that if their conditions are not met, that they “will die here”, “here” referring to a small room kept locked in the refinery premises. Their worsening medical conditions forced them to be replaced by women on Thursday last week, as they continue the hunger strike and calling on the Prime Minister to use public stakeholding to solve the situation.

Vućič under fire over defective Covid-19 death toll in Serbia. Recent confessions from Serbia’s Crisis Staff have called into question the accuracy of the informational system and could force the Serbian government to revise the official figures upwards. According to Pedrag Kon, a member of the Crisis Staff, three times more citizens than initially announced would actually have died of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic in the country. “Serbia will do a complete revision of every death, of every person, to see what it looks like”, Vućič declared on the construction site of a new Covid-19 hospital in Belgrade. Vućič’s command of public trust is now under threat, all the more so since a dismissed report from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network already pinpointed these inconsistencies earlier in June. In addition, anger is also on the rise among doctors, after a signatory to the protest movement ‘United Against Covid’ was fired for political reasons.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

War over Nagorno-Karabakh continues with high intensity. Although Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed under Russian supervision to a ceasefire on 6 October in Moscow, this was broken soon after, with Azerbaijan shelling the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert. Meanwhile, Ganja, the second biggest city of Azerbaijan, has also been attacked several times since the ceasefire. Nagorno-Karabakh authorities have repeatedly reiterated their call to the international community to recognize their independence, which only “will guarantee peace [and] security in the region”. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan gave an address to the Armenian people. In his speech, he stated that Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh will not relinquish any territories surrounding the self-proclaimed republic to Azerbaijan. Additionally, he admitted the loss of hundreds of Armenian lives since the beginning of the war.

Election reform and diverse playing field key as elections approach in Georgia. Tensions are rising as two weeks remain before long-waited parliamentary elections in Georgia. At no point in thirty years of independence has the country had such a diverse and prominent opposition. With election reform adopted in July this year, room for change seems to have increased and with the opportunities granted as a result, many parties are hoping to be represented in parliament for the coming term. The governing party, Georgian Dream, is betting on victory in the elections, hoping to win with a majority, eliminating any need for a coalition. With the record of dealing with the COVID crisis, and many social assistance programs rolled out thereof, Georgian Dream can be hopeful of success. Yet with many significant domestic crises throughout its mandate, questions remain about the party’s leadership.

? In Central Europe…

Czech Senate elections dominated by the opposition. The Czech Republic held double elections earlier this October, when voters chose new regional representatives and one third of the Senate. While the ruling party ANO claimed victory in ten out of thirteen regions, the mostly centre-right opposition won all but one of the available Senate seats. This has led to a significant power shift in the upper Parliamentary chamber, with the ruling coalition and the Social Democratic Party holding only 8 mandates out of 81. This turn strengthens the already mostly oppositional character of the Senate, providing a counterbalance to the influence of the Prime Minister and President in the future. The ruling party paid a hefty price for its success in the regional elections, as it lost nearly all post-election negotiations and eventually obtained only three mayoral posts.

Controversial opposition candidate loses election, becomes embroiled in corruption scandal in Hungary. Bad luck is following László Bíró, the opposition candidate of center-right Jobbik whose loss at a recent interim mayoral election in Szerencs was partly attributed to fervent anti-semitic comments he had made in the past. After losing to the ruling party’s candidate by 5 points on 11 October, he was to face yet another scandal, as fellow opposition politician Ákos Hadházy revealed that he had found evidence of corruption practiced by the politician. He is now also planning to officially report Bíró to the authorities, which will likely be of concern for the leaders of the opposition. Commentators say that these turns of events deepened the rift between opposition actors and further endangered their ability to pose a veritable challenge to the ruling party at the parliamentary elections in 2022.

? In Eastern Europe…

Ukraine enters into strategic agreement with the UK. Representatives of Ukraine and the United Kingdom signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement on 8 October in London. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the Agreement as proof that Britain was Ukraine’s “most fervent supporter.” The Political, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership Agreement is fully based on provisions of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. It grants free access to ninety-eight per cent of Ukrainian goods to the UK market. Additionally, a Memorandum of Intent was signed, stating that the UK is willing to provide a lethal weapons contract and a £1bn loan to help re-arm the Naval Forces of Ukraine.

Moldovan President argues for the reintroduction of Russian language as a compulsory subject in schools.  Igor Dodon, who is running for a new presidency, stated on an online show on October 16 that Russian must once again become a compulsory subject in Moldovan schools. The Political Movement UNIREA condemned the statement, recalling that the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Moldova, the country’s constitution, and a 2013 Constitutional Court decision all stipulate that the official language in the Republic of Moldova is Romanian. The Movement states that the imposition of the compulsory study of Russian discriminates and contradicts the rights of other ethnic communities in the Republic of Moldova, because the Russian language, which belongs to one of the ethnic minorities in the Republic of Moldova, cannot be put above all other minority languages spoken in the country.

? In Russia & Central Asia…

President resigns as post-election turmoil continues in Kyrgyzstan The political situation in Kyrgyzstan remains unstable after the announcement of parliamentary election results on 4 October. Many opposition groups have seen this turmoil as an opportunity to gain political influence, resulting in a chaotic situation with no clear understanding as to who is actually in charge. On 15 October, after previously having urged both politicians and civilians to stay within the boundaries of the law to resolve grievances, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov resigned from his post after three years in power. On the same day, newly-elected Prime Minister Sadyr Japarov told a crowd in Bishkek that “all power” was now in his hands. The protests so far, especially in the capital, have been violent, resulting in one death and 686 injuries.

District attorneys in Moscow ask universities to report anti-regime activities by students or faculty members. According to several sources, district attorneys in Moscow have started requiring universities to report any students who get involved in activities such as protesting or publishing on topics such as poor quality of life in Russia. On a practical level, administrative employees will be expected to complete forms in which politically sensitive activities conducted by students are reported, particularly those with the potential to propagate anti-regime or ethnically separatist ideas. In addition, administrators will be asked to report any academic papers, such as articles or literature reviews, which have the potential of discrediting the current leadership. Media sources also reported that Moscow prosecutors will require information to be provided on any events or activities conducted by young people and which might represent a threat to Russia’s spiritual values.

Uzbekistan elected to UN Human Rights Council. Following a vote held on 13 October, Uzbekistan was elected to join the highest UN body on human rights. In a move further emphasising Uzbekistan’s move away from its previous isolationist foreign policy, the country has been lobbying to join the council in recent years. Uzbekistan’s overall human rights’ record remains very poor, yet the country has seen improvements since the end of Islam Karimov’s reign in 2016. Notably, Tashkent has moved to end unfree labour practices in the cotton industry that employs over 100 000 people. Saudi Arabia, also vying for a spot at the council, did not receive the votes needed.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Lucie Janotová, Máté Mohos, 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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