Lossi 36 Weekly #6: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia9 min read
This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 22 February 2021. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.
This Week’s Special
Prime Minister resigns amid political crisis in Georgia. On February 18, following a court ruling that ordered the arrest of Nika Melia – chairman of Georgia’s main opposition force United National Movement (UNM) – over accusations of organizing ‘mass violence’ during anti-government protests in June 2019. Gakharia, who had served as Prime Minister since 2019, resigned three months after the parliamentary elections in October that were marred by irregularities, completing the severe political crisis in the country. In his resignation statement, Gakharia explained his resignation as a result of disagreements within his own team over enforcing Melia’s arrest. Melia’s detention was postponed following the PM’s resignation. “Unfortunately, I was unable to reach a consensus with my team on this issue, so I have decided to resign,” Gakharia stated, adding that he hopes his move will reduce political polarization in Georgia. The former PM is quite a controversial figure: having been labeled as “Moscow’s Man,” he was a Minister of Internal Affairs during the violent crackdown of protests in June 2019, which mainly targeted young people. Following Gakharia’s resignation, the ruling Georgian Dream party nominated Irakli Gharibashvili – defense minister in Gakharia’s cabinet and former Prime Minister – as a prime ministerial candidate. Gharibashvili’s appointment needs to be confirmed by parliament, which is boycotted by the opposition. By nominating Gharibashvili, infamous for his criticism of the UNM, the ruling party seems to have taken an even more “aggressive” stance, critics say, while snap elections to defuse the crisis seem to be the only solution to many.
In the Balkans…
Draft legal amendments possibly harmful to Montenegro’s EU accession process. The proposal to amend The Law on the State Prosecutor’s Office and The Law on the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime and Corruption are potentially harmful to the progress in negotiations between Montenegro and the EU. Prime Minister Krivokapic has confirmed that changes in regulations that were originally created in line with European guidelines, could delay the already significantly slowed negotiation process. On the other hand, significant pressure from opposing parties, civil society, and the media has led to the postponing of the discussion on the changes until an official evaluation of the Venice Commission and comment from the EU are received on this topic.
Crushing victory for the anti-establishment Vetevendosje party in Kosovo. The main opposition party Vetevendosje inflicted a historical defeat to the LDK and the PDK on Sunday, February 14. It seems that LDK and PDK failed to restore confidence among the population. Anti-establishment party Vetevendosje has won the election with 48% of the votes, while Kosovo’s two historical parties have come second and third far behind with 13% (LDK) and 17% (PDK). Following the announcement of the results, LDK leader Isa Mustafa officially tendered his resignation. ‘This referendum for justice and employment, and against corruption, has been won,’ Albin Kurti said, adding that the dialogue with Belgrade was not the highest priority on his government’s agenda. The European Union welcomed the formation of the newly elected parliament but stressed its willingness to pursue the EU-facilitated dialogue.
Salafi religious community allowed to register in North Macedonia, motives unclear. A Macedonian judge has allowed the recognition of a new Salafist Islamic Religious Community in North Macedonia in a controversial decision. The news emerged after North Macedonia’s officially recognized Islamic Religious Community (IRC) criticized the recognition of this new institution: a spokesperson of IRC, Evzal Sinani, claimed that the decision made by judge Suzana Doncevska is in violation of Macedonian law. Sinani added that the judge has violated legal practice: ‘for the establishment of any new religious community an opinion shall be issued by the other five official religious communities in North Macedonia.’ Meanwhile, he called on Muslim believers not to be manipulated by the newly recognized community with a similar name until a solution is found. PM Zoran Zaev stressed that the establishment of the Salafist Islamic Religious Community poses a security problem for the state, while the Albanian opposition party accuses the state itself of having a hand in the formation of the new Islamic community.
In the Caucasus…
Former Armenian president gives scathing criticism of government in interview. In the interview, the Armenian ex-President and ex-Prime Minister criticize the current Armenian Government harshly. He accuses the Government of blatant mistakes in the military operations of the recent war with Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, and he suggested that the Iskander missile system should have been used at the beginning of the war in order to hit critical infrastructure in Azerbaijani territory. Furthermore, he states that these missiles had been used at the end of the war in the defense of Shushi (Shusha) against the Azerbaijani forces. Moreover, he criticized the Government for not recognizing the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh during the war and for creating bad relations with all of Armenia’s neighbors.
Nagorno-Karabakh President aims to make Russian a co-official language. The president of Nagorno-Karabakh has presented a draft law to make Russian an official language alongside Armenian, which would remain the sole state language listed in the constitution, to Parliament. The proposal follows the Russia-brokered peace deal, which sees nearly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers deployed to the region for a renewable five-year mandate. The explanatory note states: ‘realizing the need for the long-term presence of Russian peacemakers in Artsakh, the joint solution of many social problems, cooperation in the spheres of construction, health care, education and science, a reassessment of the role of the Russian language is needed.’ If passed, the law enables government work to be conducted in Russian and will encourage all printed materials to be published in both Russian and Armenian.
In Central Europe…
Lithuania, the new home to expelled Belarusian students. Lithuania has become a new home to numerous Belarusian students fleeing their home country after facing prosecution for attending protests. Hundreds of young Belarusians were expelled from their universities for opposing Lukashenka’s regime, to which Lithuanian Universities have responded by inviting persecuted students to continue their education in Lithuania for free. The European Humanities University (EHU), founded in Minsk in 1992 but relocated to Vilnius in 2005 after its shutdown by the Belarusian authorities, has welcomed over fifty expelled Belarusian students, which was made possible by Swedish donations amounting to €100.000. The Belarusian grassroots organization Honest University has played an important role as well: the organization keeps track of the students in need of help and tries to bring them into contact with universities in Lithuania, Ukraine, and Poland. Along with EHU, three other universities in Lithuania have offered a spot for Belarusian students.
In Eastern Europe…
IMF Negotiations Stall in Kyiv after Ukrainian Inaction. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) states that the Ukrainian government needs further work on reforms to secure a new tranche of $2.2 billion this year. This loan is part of a $5 billion ‘Stand-by-Arrangement’ the two parties agreed to last year. However, the IMF says that the Ukrainian government still has much work to do in advancing reforms, particularly in relation to the country’s troubled judicial system. Since independence, Ukraine’s corrupt judiciary has widely been regarded as perhaps the biggest obstacle for genuine reform and development. Reforming the judicial system is seen as a top priority by Ukraine’s Western allies and partners, with the EU High Representative going as far as to call it “the mother of all reforms”. The IMF expects talks to resume at a later date, but any new tranches are entirely dependent on further Ukrainian reforms.
Belarusian democratic leader Tikhanouskaya named among TIME 100 Next leaders of the future. Tikhanouskaya was added to the list by Juan Guaido, leader of Venezuela’s opposition, due to her “example of resistance and dignity for [those] who are fighting for democracy in the world”. In 2020, the BBC included her in a list of 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world. She was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda for her courage to fight for free elections in Belarus on January 30, 2021. At the same time, the protests are still ongoing in Belarus. Summing up the results of the past six months and looking ahead, Tikhanouskaya, together with other opposition figures, published a ‘victory strategy’. Holding presidential and parliamentary elections in Belarus under international supervision is one of the most important parts of the strategy.
In Russia and Central Asia…
Kyrgyzstan’s highest clerical figure forced to resign. Grand Mufti Maksatbek Hajji Toktomushev was arrested in Bishkek on February 11 on corruption charges, allegedly misusing $2 million of the Mecca pilgrimage funds raised by the religious community. He resigned after the scandal-launching detention of his accountant, who allegedly attempted to bribe a member of the State Committee for National Security (UKMK). Toktomushev claims the original list of pilgrims includes forged names he never heard of, and denounces classified corruption charges as a scheme to remove him as Head of Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (DUMK), an important social function. The country is credited for its secular approach, despite a majority of Kyrgyz identifying as Sunni Muslims. A new Muslim political party was created after newly elected President Sadyr Japarov took office, who further promotes religious and traditional values. This involvement of national authorities in religious affairs can question Kyrgyz respect for secular political practices going forward.
European Court of Human Rights demands Navalny’s release. In a ruling released on February 17, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) called on the Russian government to release Alexey Navalny from prison immediately. The ECHR ruling cites ‘the nature and extent of risk to the applicant’s life’ in detention as the reason for its decision. In response, Russian Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko called the decision ‘baseless and unlawful,’ adding that it represents ‘clear and gross interference’ in Russia’s justice system and that there is no intention among Russian authorities to release Navalny. Although Russia is a member of the Council of Europe, which obliges Russia to comply with ECHR rulings, Russia has failed to do so on several occasions in the past. In addition, last year’s constitutional referendum introduced constitutional amendments that place Russian domestic law above international law.
Serdar Berdimuhamedow builds his path to become the next Turkmenistan leader. On February 11, 2021, Serdar Berdimuhamedow, son of Turkmenistan’s current President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, was appointed deputy prime minister and chairman of the Supreme Control Chamber. He also became a member of the State Security Council. The continued political rise of Serdar Berdimuhamedow gives the impression that he is one of the main candidates to become the next president. His father, the second president of Turkmenistan, has held the post since 2007 and, like his predecessor, is the subject of a personality cult. It is believed that Serdar’s rise started with his re-election to the parliament in March 2018, each following appointment passing with his father’s influence. However, Turkmenistan is not going to hold presidential elections before 2024, and a lot can change in Turkmenistan’s political scheme until then.