Lossi 36 Weekly #17: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia8 min read

 In News

This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 26 October 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

⭐️ This week’s special

Poland moves towards complete ban on abortion. On 22 October, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortion in cases of foetal defects was unconstitutional. Thousands of Poles joined multiple protests against the decision, with police reportedly using pepper spray against the protesters in Warsaw on Thursday night. The ruling leaves only two legal reasons for terminating pregnancy – in cases of rape or incest and when the mother’s life is in danger. It has been heavily criticised, including by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and Amnesty International. Further controversy has arisen from the fact that the ruling was delivered as coronavirus infections in Poland are soaring, with 13,632 cases reported on 23 October. Moreover, all but one current judges of the Constitutional Tribunal were nominated by the ruling conservative Law and Justice Party, which supports the abortion ban.

? In the Balkans…

Albanian-Greek maritime dispute referred to The Hague, state of war to end. Greece and Albania have agreed to refer their maritime border dispute in the Ionian Sea to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, announced last week on a visit by Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias to Tirana. Amid high tensions with Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece has recently increased efforts to delineate its sea borders, having signed recent deals with Italy and Egypt. Greece has now turned to Albania to resolve a longstanding maritime border dispute. Relations between Greece and Albania have been historically tense over minority rights and the Ionian Sea maritime border dispute. Dendias also announced that Greece will bring an end to a 60-year formal state of war still in place between the two countries since WWII. An agreement over maritime borders was almost reached in 2009, however Albania’s Constitutional Court nullified the deal a year later following a legal challenge by the then-opposition Socialist Party, claiming it violated Albania’s territorial integrity. US diplomatic cables leaked in 2011 claimed that the Greek government had blackmailed Albania to accept an unfavourable deal using the veto power that Athens has over EU enlargement. In response to the latest announcement, dozens of nationalist party supporters gathered to protest, of which Albanian police detained 18 people.

Kosovo Journalist intimidated for working on investigation in Mitrovica. On 19 October, Kosovo journalist Shkumbin Kajtazi found his car damaged by gunshots overnight near his home. Kajtazi immediately reported the attack to Kosovo police, who connected it to his investigation work as a journalist. He was already similarly threatened in June this year by an attempted arson act on his car. Kajtazi states that these attacks are motivated by his investigative project at reporti.net. Kosovo PM Avdullah Hoti has urged authorities to treat the case with high priority. The shooting of the car occurred in the divided town of Mitrovica, near where Serb journalist Tatjana Lazarevic was also arrested in April this year going from Serb-majority municipality of North Mitrovica, on her way to Zvečan. It was widely condemned by authorities, NGOs and the international community.

President Vućič desperately searches for renewed democratic legitimacy. On 20 October, the Serbian President announced early parliamentary elections to be held together with the presidential election in April 2022, at the latest. Vućič also confirmed at the press conference that the coalition formed with the Socialist Party would be given a ministerial position within the newly appointed government. In response, the opposition expressed its intention to renew its political boycott in 2022. Commentators see Vućič’s move as a political strategy aimed at regaining democratic legitimacy after the last massive round of protests in Belgrade against the autocratic nature of the regime: “By calling early parliamentary elections the ruling party will control the agenda, and, by joining it with presidential polls and the politically uncertain Belgrade city elections, it will ensure itself an electoral advantage”, political scientist Vujo Ilic commented.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Former Abkhaz presidential candidate establishes new opposition movement. Adgur Ardzinba, former Minister of the Economy and incumbent candidate in the March 2020 presidential elections against Aslan Bzhania, presented a new opposition movement: the Abkhaz People’s Movement. The movement, backed by veterans’ organizations that supported Ardzinba during the campaign and some civil society organizations, has already started to criticize the current government for its handling of COVID-19 and the lack of initiative in terms of development. However, according to Ardzinba, he plans to cooperate with the government, helping and making recommendations if possible. For the record, Adgur Ardzinba lost to Aslan Bzhania in March 2020 in the presidential elections, by 35% against 58%, in the relatively tense contest following the resignation of former President of the Republic Raul Khadjimba in January 2020.

Fighting continues in Nagorno-Karabakh, United States calls parties to talks. The hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan which began on 27 September over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh remain ongoing, with estimates of total military and civilian deaths in the thousands. A second ceasefire since the beginning of the outbreak of war was announced on 17 October, yet failed less than 24 hours later, with both sides of the conflict accusing each other of breaking the peace. Shelling has increasingly hit residential areas although both Azeri and Armenian representatives deny targeting civilians. Besides calls for a diplomatic settlement of the dispute, the international community had so far been rather inactive, although Turkey’s support of the regime in Baku has been criticised by some, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He fears Turkey’s involvement as increasing the overall risk in the conflict. On 23 October, Pompeo invited the foreign ministers from both sides to Washington where he is expected to advocate for a peaceful conflict resolution.

? In Central Europe…

Slovenian opposition parties propose establishment of alternative government. Opposition parties in Slovenia have been urged to form a Constitutional Arch Coalition by representatives of civil society. The proposal argues for an alternative government on the basis of the current coalition’s perceived mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the government’s many alleged infringements of the Constitution in the past months, such as the involvement of the Minister of the Interior in proceedings outside his jurisdiction, or the Prime Minister’s attempt to privatise the public media. The leaders of the opposition approved the proposal and started negotiations to enact it. For the composition of this alternative government, the opposition now needs two-thirds of the electorate of the National Assembly. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has openly condemned the Constitutional Arch as unconstitutional mockery.

Thousands of Hungarians march to protest the government on national holiday. Despite all the customary mass events having been cancelled due to the pandemic, more than ten thousand Hungarians took to the streets to protest the government’s attempt to take over the University of Theater and Film Arts on 23 October, the anniversary of the 1956 anti-communist revolution. The crowd has marched through Budapest and lit torches to remember the heroes of the revolution, and also to show solidarity with the students and teachers of the institution, who have been blockading university buildings from the new, government-appointed management since the beginning of the school year. Representatives of unions and healthcare professionals also raised their voices against what they see as unfair governmental influence in their sectors. Opposition politicians were notably absent from the speakers’ lineup and only participated as private individuals.

? In Eastern Europe…

Bulgaria and North Macedonia renew attempts to reach a consensus on their shared history. The Joint Commission on History met in Skopje on 15 and 16 October, after 10 months of interruption, to continue with their attempt to reach a consensus on the shared history of Bulgaria and North Macedina. Created in 2017, the commission is composed mainly of historians and aims at reducing the gap between the two countries’ visions on the topic. Their main disputes concern the “artificiality” of the Macedonian language and the ethnicity of Goce Delchev who both countries consider their national hero. The main obstacle appears not to be a scientific, but a political one. North Macedonia received the green light from Brussels in March 2020 to open talks on joining the EU, but Bulgaria intends to hinder its integration until the dispute is settled.

Investigative journalists present evidence on Moldovan president’s ties with Russian intelligence. A joint investigation project conducted by RISE Moldova (The Association of Investigative Reporters and Editorial Security) and Dossier Centre from Russia has revealed that Igor Dodon, the current President of the Republic of Moldova, was responsible for sharing sensitive information on Moldovan politicians with the Kremlin. In an article entitled “The President of the Russian intelligence”, RISE Moldova outline facts indicating that Igor Dodon cooperated with the Russian propaganda machine and political strategy groups, including the so-called “Moldovan subdivision”. The investigation caused significant uproar in Moldovan media, social media and civil society, especially as the scandal takes place during the ongoing presidential campaign.

? In Russia & Central Asia…

Russia proposes extended New START. On 16 October, the Russian Foreign Ministry sent an official note to the US Department of State, proposing an extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), set to expire in February 2021, by one year. Initially, the proposal did not include any preconditions to the extension. The proposal was swiftly rejected by the US, with Russia subsequently declaring its willingness to commit to a mutual freezing of the number of nuclear warheads during the extension period. However, the Russian MFA made it clear that any other requirements were out of the question. The US reacted laconically but enthusiastically, indicating its preparedness to meet and finalise an agreement. CNN points out that the proposal very conveniently coincides with the upcoming American elections, suggesting that President Donald Trump has been urging his national security team to get the deal done before 3 November.

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

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