📨 Lossi 36 Weekly #23: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read

 In News

This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 7 December 2020. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.

⭐️ This week’s special

Hungarian MEP of anti-LGBTQ party caught with drugs while fleeing gay orgy. When Fidesz MEP József Szájer resigned from his post in the European Parliament on November 29, few thought there was more to the decision than his proclaimed reason of being under “more and more mental stress.” The Fidesz politician has been an MEP since Hungary’s ascension to the EU in 2004 and besides helping write Hungary’s 2011 constitution, he has been fervently representing PM Viktor Orbán’s interests in the EP ever since. Who could blame him for burning out?

But his resignation was thrown under a different light as more news started to emerge from Brussels. Local papers confirmed that the police had broken up a house party that violated emergency lockdown rules instituted because of the coronavirus. They also confirmed the house party was a gay orgy. They also confirmed that one of the participants was “a recently resigned Hungarian MEP”, who tried to escape the police through the window. After he was apprehended, police found an ecstasy pill in his bag that he denied ownership of.

Ever since then, Szájer has issued a public apology and left Fidesz, his party he was a founding member of, which has been putting more and more emphasis on anti-LGBTQ rhetoric during recent months. His resignation comes during a crucial time for Hungary, as Viktor Orbán continues to veto the new 7-year-budget in protest of the recently established rule-of-law requirements for member countries’ receiving of EU funds. For this very reason, some voices on both the left and right in Hungary have raised the possibility that Szájer’s fall has been orchestrated by western secret services. So far, theories about this are still unsubstantiated.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Local elections in Kosovo show positive signs of the oppositions’ comeback. On November 30, the northern municipalities  of Podujeva and Mitrovica held snap local elections. Earlier this year, the  mayors of the two cities had resigned to join the central government as Interior Minister and Minister of Local Government respectively. Podujeva, a former LDK (Democratic League of Kosovo) stronghold, will from now on be administered by the Vetevendosje opposition movement, which won the election with 51,6 % of the vote and put an end to  20 years of LDK rule. In North Mitrovica, besides the expected victory of the Serbian candidate, Vetevendosje performed better than the PDK. These results can be understood in light of the decreasing popularity of the Hoti-led LDK government. The national government has been criticized for lacking a political vision, the cost of Covid-19 treatments for citizens, the current parliamentary deadlock, and the lack of transparency of ongoing dialogue with Brussels.

North Macedonia makes last-ditch effort to pass Bulgarian veto. North Macedonia has stepped up its final forces to overcome an official Bulgarian veto to open EU accession talks as the last European Council Summit under the German Presidency 2020 approaches on 10-11 December. Last week, the Macedonian government appointed a special envoy for talks with Bulgaria, the former PM Vlado Buckovski, who is expected to arrive in Sofia before the EU Summit to try to save the holding of the first EU-North Macedonia Inter-governmental Conference at the last minute. A Roadmap to resolving Bulgarian-Macedonian disputes is being discussed as a possible compromise, both parties announced. Meanwhile, Macedonian opposition protesters have called for the resignation of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Treaty with Russia sparks uproar in Abkhazia. On November 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the President of the de facto independent Republic of Abkhazia, Aslan Bzhania, signed a treaty decreeing the creation of a common socio-economic space. The agreement aims to harmonize Russian and Abkhaz legislation. According to the Abkhaz authorities, the treaty would be the logical continuation of the agreement on the Alliance and the Strategic Partnership signed in 2014. Nevertheless, many saw the threat of annexation of Abkhazia by Russia, particularly Georgia, which immediately denounced the signing of the treaty. Within Abkhaz society, the agreement has also caused an uproar. While the agreement grants Russian citizens more economic liberties in Abkhazia, including the right to buy real estate, specialists such as Inal Khashig and former political figures such as Akhra Bzhania have expressed concern about the risks the agreement poses to Abkhaz sovereignty. Weakened by an ongoing economic and energy crisis, it is unlikely Abkhazia had any choice but to sign the document.

Negotiations over Election Results continue in Georgia. Although a month has passed since parliamentary elections, the results remain to be disputed. With the involvement of the US and EU ambassadors, the talks have now left the streets of the capital. However, a resolution still remains to be found. The country is hanging in a delicate balance, and with stricter restrictions impacting the health and economic well-being of Georgia, the results of continued uncertainty can be well felt. The advice given by the facilitators has been to exhaust the institutional resources available and try to resolve most disputes in courts. The opposition continues to argue that no progress has been made, since the court rulings on such issues have often been unhelpful or unfair. On the other hand, the electorate seems to be tired of the continued uncertainty and changing tone of different opposition leaders. With the added stress of harsher social distancing measures, diminished resources and everyday problems experienced by society, many long for the end to this uncertainty.

🚃 In Central Europe…

Slovenia battles for the independence of its media. The Slovenian government continues its battle against independent media. After a previous scandal with the Radio and Television Slovenia, the National Assembly has now passed the agreement on the termination of funding of the independent Slovenian news agency that contributes substantially to Slovenian media platforms and has been working uninterruptedly for the past 30 years. The agency is accused of the dissemination of controversial content, but accusations so far are largely unsubstantiated. The opposition has demanded the agreement’s suspension and while the public is highly critical of the government as it expects complete supervision of the content and editorial activity.

Police aggression angers protesting Poles. Protests against abortion restrictions in Poland continue, by increasingly aggressive police reactions. During a protest in Warsaw on November 19, police troops in plain clothes were seen beating people with telescopic batons and using tear gas, including against a journalist as well as an MP, Magdalena Biejat. On November 28, the Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet activist group organised a series of protests to celebrate the 102nd anniversary of Polish women’s voting rights. Police attempted to block off parts of the crowd using so-called “kettling tactics”. Another MP, Barbara Nowacka, was sprayed with tear gas just as she was showing her parliamentary ID to a police officer. An investigation was launched in relation to the incident. Police aggression has prompted protest organisers to issue warnings and legal advice for protesters who might find themselves in direct interaction with the police.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Ukraine-Hungary diplomatic row continues. A long-running diplomatic row between the Ukrainian and Hungarian governments worsened this week after two incidents in the western Ukrainian region of Zakarpattia, which borders Hungary. On 30 November, a Facebook video showing local deputies of the Syurte municipality in Zakarpattia singing the Hungarian national anthem appeared. The same day, Ukrainian authorities conducted raids targeting the local KMKSZ Party (Party of Hungarians in Ukraine) and The Hungarian Cultural Association in Zakarpattia under suspicion of having “information about the involvement of the foreign fund in activities aimed at violating the state sovereignty of Ukraine.” Ukrainian law enforcement is said to have seized “a number of printed materials that popularize the so-called ‘Greater Hungary’ and the creation of ethnic autonomy in Zakarpattia,” as well as other documents pertaining to an ongoing investigation into potential financial crimes. In response, a number of Hungarian Fidesz MEPs accused Ukraine of “creating a civil war” and called the raids “politically motivated, aimed at intimidation and pressure.” Hungary has hinted at blocking the accession of Ukraine into NATO, but NATO head Jens Stoltenberg reiterated the organisation’s strengthening partnership with Ukraine.

Protests break out in Moldova over adoption of controversial National Intelligence law. Protests broke out in Moldova on 3 December over the Socialist Party’s passing of a controversial law, which would transfer the Security and Information Service, Moldova’s national intelligence agency, out of the President’s control to that of the Parliament. The adoption of the controversial law has also resulted in clashes within the Parliament, mainly between the MPs from Maia Sandu’s and former President Igor Dodon’s respective political parties. The protests intensified on 7 December, with Maia Sandu- the newly elected president of the country- taking part in the rally and calling for snap parliamentary elections and for the restoration of the respect for the democratic process. The EU has also reacted to the current situation in a press release, outlining that the voting of the laws has taken place in a non-transparent manner, with the aim of serving vested interests.

🛤 In Russia & Central Asia…

Uzbekistan to repatriate citizens from Syrian camps. Uzbekistan decided to repatriate over 100 of its stranded citizens in Syria, mostly the wives and children of Uzbek Islamic State fighters. The conditions in the Syrian camps are deplorable, the access to food, water and medical assistance is difficult, and the housing situation is precarious. Of the estimated thousands of Central Asian Islamic State fighters, most came originally from Uzbekistan, explaining the complicated and isolated situation in which the Uzbek wives and children were left. Last year, 220 Uzbek citizens were repatriated from Syria under similar arrangements.

Navalny to EU: I’m not the first, and unfortunately not the last to be poisoned or killed. The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee invited Aleksei Navalny to join their online debate. During the debate, Navalny urged the EU to adopt a new approach to Russia in light of his poisoning. A distinction between the Russian people and the Russian state should form the basis of the new approach. According to Navalny, the EU should not recognize the outcome of the 2021 Duma elections if the likely exclusion of opposition candidates becomes a reality and it should impose sanctions on judges who fail to follow decisions taken by the European Court of Human Rights. Navalny also implored the EU to impose sanctions on the financial assets of influential “Russian oligarchs” close to Vladimir Putin, insisting that these are more effective and will be taken more seriously than current sanctions. In the context of the debate, the EU expanded its black list to include the first deputy head of the presidential administration Sergei Kirienko, FSB director Alexander Bortnikov, and two deputy defense ministers. Some domestic commentators have criticized Navalny on calling foreign governments to act, for they expect domestic opposition to come under even tighter pressure from the Russian authorities as a result.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Masa Sebek, Mate Mohos, Louise Guillon, Naser Bislimi, Ryan Patterson, Roxana Chiriac, Ana Robakidze, Zadig Tisserand, Agnieszka Widlaszewska, Tijs van de Vijver and Evguenia Roussel 💘

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