Lossi 36 Weekly #9: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia7 min read
This edition of Lossi 36 Weekly was originally sent by email on 15 March 2021. Subscribe to Lossi 36 Weekly here.
This Week’s Special
Russian opposition arrested en masse at forum. A weekend conference attended by oppositionists from across Russia had barely managed to kick off when it was broken up by Russian police, who detained around 200 of its participants. According to the police, the event was organised by an “undesirable organisation” and it violated coronavirus restrictions, with many participants not wearing masks. The conference was meant to serve as preparation for the Russian parliamentary elections set to take place in September. The “undesirable organisation” in question was said to be Open Russia, established by Mikhail Khodorkovsky – a former oligarch turned Vladimir Putin’s opponent – who has been living in exile since 2013. Among those detained were the director of Open Russia Andrei Pivovarov, an oppositionist Vladimir Kara-Murza, former Yekaterinburg mayor Yevgeny Roizman, Moscow municipal council member Yulia Galyamina and Ilya Yashin, a politician leading one of Moscow’s municipal districts. The breaking up of the conference comes amid a widespread crackdown on the Russian opposition, following Alexei Navalny’s sentencing to prison in February.
In the Balkans…
OCCRP accuses Serbian state media of smear campaign against journalist. In a statement released on 10 March, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has expressed deep concern over the treatment of OCCRP journalist Stevan Dojčinović in Serbian pro-government media reports that have repeatedly made unsubstantiated claims about Dojčinović’s links to gangs. The statement accused several pro-state media outlets, including, Kurrir, Srpski Telegraf, Informer, and Alo! of falsely connecting the journalist, who is the OCCRP Regional Editor and editor-in-chief of local investigative network KRIK, of being connected to the Kavac gang in Montenegro. According to KRIK, the attack is a backlash from the Vucic regime against their own May 2020 investigation connecting the same gang to the president’s son Danilo Vucic.
Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro makes official state visit to North Macedonia. Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro Dritan Abazovic is on an official visit to North Macedonia at the invitation of the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of economic affairs Fatmir Bitici, with whom he discussed opportunities for improving economic and regional cooperation, especially in the field of tourism, trade, and agriculture. Abazovic pointed out that, after the health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus, new opportunities will arise for the Western Balkans, and that Montenegro and Northern Macedonia have a great chance to play a significant role in this. Mr. Bitici also mentioned that the Berlin Process, in which Podgorica and Skopje have been working diligently to achieve the goals set by his initiation, has been important for the citizens and economies of the Western Balkans in recent years.
In the Caucasus…
Abkhazia: Abkhaz opposition calls for the resignation of de facto President Aslan Bjania. In early March, protest rallies were held to condemn the visit to Tbilisi of the former aide to the de facto president of Abkhazia, Benur Kviraiaa. The opposition had taken over the case, denouncing “secret negotiations” with the Georgian side. He responded to this by claiming to have stayed in Tbilisi to attract investment in Abkhazia. On March 11, a failed coup attempt was allegedly instigated by Akhra Avidzba, himself also a former aide to the Abkhaz president. In this context, the Abkhaz opposition called for Aslan Bjania to resign from his post of president during a congress on March 11, accusing him of the mismanagement of the Abkhaz economy and denouncing his “concept of foreign policy” in which we could see an outline of a dialogue with Georgia.
Espionage accusations hit demining NGO in Nagorno-Karabakh. On 12 March, Boris Avagyan, special representative for the president of the de-facto Nagorno-Karabakh republic, accused the demining NGO HALO Trust of espionage, saying that according to his sources, the British-based NGO leaked maps of minefields in Karabakh to Turkey. Though the HALO Trust immediately denied the allegations, the response from the authorities has been less clear. While the Nagorno-Karabakh State Security said they were looking into the allegations, presidential spokesperson Lusine Avasenyan distanced Avagyan’s comments from the administration, saying that the representative “doesn’t have that kind of authority”.
In Central Europe…
French minister not allowed to visit an ‘LGBT-free’ zone in Poland. French European Affairs Minister Clément Beaune claims that during his recent visit to Poland he was denied access to the town of Kraśnik, one of over 100 Polish municipalities which adopted resolutions declaring themselves free from ‘LGBT ideology’. According to Beaune’s spokesperson, the Polish authorities motivated their decision with a “difficult health situation” in the area. Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, Secretary of State at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, declared Beaune’s claims “clearly untrue”, stating that no one forbid or prevented the minister’s visit to Kraśnik. In other news directly related to the ‘LGBT-ideology free’ zones in Poland, on 11 March the European Parliament adopted a resolution “on the declaration of the EU as an LGBTIQ Freedom Zone”, with 492 votes in favour, 141 against and 46 abstentions.
In Eastern Europe…
New film exposes Lukashenko’s alleged corrupt wealth. On 8 March, the Poland-based Belarusian online media network, NEXTA, released a film titled “Lukashenko. Goldmine,” revealing the alleged hidden wealth and corruption of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko. The film claims that Lukashenko owns numerous expensive villas, luxury cars, and private airplanes. It also highlights a large mansion outside Minsk that Lukashenko allegedly received as a gift from Russian oligarch Mikhail Gutseriyev, as well as the Palace of Independence in Minsk, the construction of which reportedly cost taxpayers over $250mln. In addition, the film also asserts that EU development funds directed towards Belarus were used to finance Lukashenko’s properties, which was denied by an EU spokesperson. The film, which already amassed over four million views at the time of publication, resembles a similar film published by Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation on the Black Sea palace allegedly belonging to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Before the film’s publication, President Lukashenko already denied any allegations of corruption.
Disinformation continues to scare Ukrainian people from being vaccinated. On 24 February Ukraine started the vaccination campaign after receiving five hundred thousand doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine. As of 12 March, only 47541 people received one dose of vaccine (out of nearly forty-two millions Ukrainians) – official statistics of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine says. Currently, the Ministry of Health expects to use the four types of vaccine such as Covishield, Sinovac Biotech, Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax. Opponents of President Volodymyr Zelensky have expressed their criticism of the two vaccines his administration has put into use – Covishield and Sinovac. The UNDP and UNICEF recently released a study about the impact of disinformation on the vaccination and spread of COVID-19 in Ukraine. According to this study, over 250,000 messages with disinformation narratives related to COVID-19 in Ukrainian social media were identified in the period from March to November 2020. Keeping in mind disinformation, corruption and mistrust to the vaccine, the vaccination campaign continues three times slower than it was expected by the Ministry of Health of Ukraine.
In Russia and Central Asia…
Roskomnadzor makes failed attempt to slow down Twitter. On Wednesday, March 10, Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor (RKN) attempted to slow down Twitter in Russia, officially as a response to the company’s failure to remove all content that RKN flagged for allegedly making reference to suicide, extremism, narcotics, and child pornography. Many believe that the ongoing wave of protests over the past few months added a sense of urgency to existing Russian plans to gain more control over social media. When Roskomnadzor executed its plans, however, several Russian government’s websites – including Kremlin.ru – stopped working, while important commercial websites started showing bugs as well. Soon it transpired that in its attempt to slow down Twitter and Twitter’s short link ‘t.co,’ Roskomnadzor had blocked all domain names containing ‘t.co,’ which affected RT.com, Reddit.com, Microsoft.com, as well as many other websites. Moscow Times’ Andrei Soldatov dubbed the attempt to slow down Twitter a “nationwide test of the sovereign internet” – one that failed miserably. As such, the failed operation bears similarity to Roskomnadzor’s failed attempt to block Telegram in 2018.
Kazakhstan holds first Women’s March. March 8, 2021 marked the first legally approved Women’s March in Almaty. Participants used this event as an opportunity to raise their concerns on gender equality in Kazakhstan and the current domestic violence laws of the country. Other concerns raised included the rights of transexual, lesbian and bisexual women. At the moment, despite an amelioration of the situation, gender inequality is still strong in Kazakhstan, especially in terms of women’s participation in the labor force and in gender wage difference. Furthermore, according to Human’s Right Watch, ‘Domestic violence remains deeply rooted in Kazakh society’.