Lossi 36 Weekly #18: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia8 min read

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This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 2 November 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

⭐️ This week’s special

Pro-choice protests in Poland gain momentum. On 30 October, over 100,000 Poles took to the streets of Warsaw, in the largest protest since the 22 October ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal, which declared abortion in cases of foetal defects unconstitutional. Although largely peaceful, the pro-choice march was marred by instances of nationalist and football hooligan groups attacking the protesters. Wyborcza has a detailed coverage of the evening (in Polish, but with pictures and videos). Earlier during the week, Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, called for PiS supporters to defend Polish churches following incidents of disruptions of masses and vandalism. In the meantime, authorities have scrambled to appease the protesters as the country experiences an exponential growth of coronavirus infections. President Andrzej Duda proposed an amendment to the abortion law, which would partially reverse the 22 October ruling. The Prime Minister and the First Lady also made conciliatory statements. However, activists from Nationwide Women’s Strike – the organiser of the protests – announced that they would set up a Belarus-style coordination council, and called for the PiS government to step down.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Leader of Orthodox Church in Montenegro dies at 82. On 30 October, Metropolitan Amfilohije Radovic, the senior bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, died in Podgorica. Amfilohije had contracted Covid-19 earlier in the month, resulting in complications due to pneumonia that caused his health to gradually deteriorate over the following weeks. On 1 November, thousands attended Amfilohije’s funeral service, led by Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej, despite concerns over a spiking in coronavirus cases in Montenegro. Amfilohije was a strong pro-Serbian voice in Montenegro since assuming his position in 1991, often in confrontation with President Milo Djukanovic before and after independence. In August of this year, Amfilohije had strongly called on people to vote against the ruling party in Montenegro’s parliamentary elections, and is seen as one of the key figures in the opposition parties’ narrow victory.

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…

No ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh amid rising number of civilian casualties. A third ceasefire agreement between representatives of Azerbaijan and Armenia, this time brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has failed as Azerbaijani forces continued to advance into Nagorno-Karabakh. Further negotiations between the foreign ministries of the countries and the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group are currently ongoing in Geneva. As the fighting continues, human rights violations including frequent attacks on civilians continue to be recorded. Amnesty International has now accused both sides of using cluster munitions against civilians after an Armenian rocket hit Barda in Azerbaijan and killed at least 21 people. On 30 October, Armenian officials published video footage indicating the use of phosphorus munitions in Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijani forces. According to Nagorno-Karabakh Ombudsman Artak Beglaryan there are 45 killed and 141 wounded civilians in the region. More than 13,000 houses and apartments have been destroyed so far. On 26 October, NGO Genocide Watch published a Genocide Emergency Alert stating that Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh face an existential threat. According to the alert, Azerbaijan’s actions in the region place the country at Stage 9 “Extermination” and Stage 10 “Denial”.

Saakashvili speaks at opposition rally as tense election looms in Georgia. Only a few days remain until parliamentary elections in Georgia and opposition figures including ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili are raising the stakes in anticipation of election fraud.. On 29 October, UNM, one of the biggest opposition parties, held a huge rally in the capital. From exile in Ukraine, Saakashvili gave a speech to the cheering crowd at an event accompanied by the performances of famous Georgian singers. Saakshvili declared that if elections are rigged, a violent response can be expected. These elections are set to decide the future in all aspects of Georgian political life, and as such, their fairness is a major concern. The EU ambassador and other international partners have all stressed the importance of conducting elections in democratic manner, with the formation of parliament and government itself a significant test of Georgia’s democracy.

🚃 In Central Europe…
New Czech health minister asked to resign after breaching his own coronavirus rules. Roman Prymula, in office since September 2020, was photographed on 21 October without a mask, while leaving a restaurant that, due to his own regulations, was closed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, whose electoral standing has steadily fallen with the mishandling of the pandemic, condemned such behaviour as unacceptable and only deepening citizens’ mistrust of the tightening regulations. Babiš asked Prymula to resign, or otherwise be removed. Prymula responded that he might consider resigning if the public wishes him to do so, but he does not feel guilty of any wrongdoing. A new minister could be appointed as early as this week.
Hungarian PM’s memorial speech draws criticism from Russian foreign affairs spokeswoman. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban may have a traditionally cozy relationship with Russia, but his recent speech was not to Moscow’s liking. In the statement, given on 27 October, he referred to a monument to the Red Army’s fallen soldiers as one ′′to the Soviet occupation.” This angered spokeswoman Maria Zaharova, who said “Such statements rudely pervert the historical truth and events of the World War II” in a Facebook post. She added: “The Red Army, saving the peoples of Europe from the “brown plague”, brought them peace and freedom.” This is not the first extreme criticism Zaharova has made toward European leaders in the recent past: she also compared Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić’s meeting with Donald Trump to a scene from the film Basic Instinct.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Nationwide local elections held in Ukraine. Despite the growing number of COVID-19 cases and over 100 administrative districts being in ‘red’ epidemic zones, Ukranians came out to vote at local elections on 25 October. The elections were held under a new electoral code that decentralizes power from Kyiv to local governing bodies. As expected, president Volodymyr Zelensky’s ruling party “Servants of the People” has suffered a setback as it failed to secure a mayoral seat in one out of nine major cities and regional centres across Ukraine. Their main opponent, the pro-Kremlin ‘Platform–For Life’ party did comparatively well. The participation of Ukrainian citizens was extremely low: voter turnout was reported at 37% an almost 10% decrease from the 2015 local elections. International observers reported that elections were generally transparent and well-organized.

Deputies resign from the Pro Moldova parliamentary group. Pro Moldova deputy Corneliu Padnevici announced on October 30 that he is leaving the parliamentary group and will continue to serve in parliament as an independent representative. Pro Moldova is a center-right pro-EU political party in Moldova that also advocates for beneficial cooperation with the Russian Federation. Padnevici made his announcement in a Facebook post, in which he also attached the withdrawal request. His actions follow a similar statement made on 23 October by four of his former Pro Moldova colleagues, who announced their resignations and chose to be independent representatives as well.

🛤 In Russia & Central Asia…
Kazakhstan embraces Borat publicity with “Very Nice” tourism slogan. Kairat Sadvakassov, deputy chairman of Kazakh Tourism, has chosen to exploit renewed attention on Kazakhstan from Borat by creating a tourist campaign around the slogan “Very Nice”. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the sequel to the 2006 hit mockumentary starring Sacha Baron Cohen, was released on October 23. The film has again brought Kazakhstan into the spotlight as the satirical comedy follows a journalist from Kazakhstan on another mission in the United States. This is a hint to Borat’s famous “very nice” quote that features in both the Borat movies. While the film’s portrayal of Kazakhstan continues to be viewed negatively throughout the country, the decision is rooted in the realization that the first Borat movie increased overall interest in Kazakhstan, and with it, tourism.

Ankara and Tashkent sign new agreements in defence and trade. On 27 October, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and Uzbek counterpart Bakhodir Kurbanov met in Tashkent to sign a new cooperation agreement underlining their will for further cooperation in defence and security. This agreement comes in a year that witnessed enhanced bilateral ties between the two countries, in the context of Turkey’s renewed interest in Eurasia. Earlier this year, Ankara and Tashkent set a goal of increasing bilateral trade to five billion USD. Since the death of long-term president Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan has sought to overcome its international isolation, with Turkey one of Uzbekistan’s most consistent foreign partners in trade and cooperation.

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

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