Lossi 36 This Summer’s Highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia8 min read

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Originally published on 16.08.2021. Subscribe to our Weekly here.

In this summer special 📮: The impact of Girl Power from Bosnia; the Iranian Community in Armenia; unrest at the Tajik-Afghan border; the evolving crisis on the Belarus-Lithuania border; an unexpected candidate at Russia’s upcoming Duma elections; and the upcoming Hungarian Presidency over the Visegrád Group. 

🌺 In the Balkans…

Girl Power!: Bosnia’s best cultural ambassadors may just be an all-female team of entrepreneurs. Megan McCullough

While Bosnia will likely have to wait another two years for a chance at Olympic glory, another dream team has been actively exporting Bosnian language and culture to eager consumers worldwide since 2016. The Sarajevo-based language school Bosnian 2GO, its name a riff on a popular local chain of coffee shops, was founded five years ago by Azra Polimac-Bajric. Combining a love for Bosnian language, art, culture and — yes, even coffee — into their lesson plans, Bosnian 2GO’s team of all-female “teacherpreneurs” are 21st century cultural ambassadors. 

This has been especially true during the last year and a half, as the pandemic forced Bosnian 2GO to adjust its business model. The school’s early adoption of online learning platforms back in March 2020, when Bosnia went into lockdown, allowed Bosnian 2GO to greatly expand its reach to a truly global audience. Students range from foreign dignitaries and members of multi-national corporations to academics and language enthusiasts. The school has even become a linguistic and cultural lifeline for the Bosnian diaspora, giving young children as far away as the United States and Canada the ability to connect with their heritage. For a relatively young country of 3.2 million people that continues to suffer from post-conflict political quagmires and ongoing ethnic and religious tensions, Bosnia’s young entrepreneurs are succeeding in building cultural bridges and presenting the face of a unified Bosnia and Herzegovina to the world.

Photo taken from Bosnian 2GO’s website

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

The Iranian community in Armenia.  Ricardo Bergmann

When you spend some time in Armenia, you will definitely meet Iranians at some point. The Iranian community in Armenia is very diverse, with all Iranians having their own story to tell about their stay in Armenia. A part of the community consists of Iranians who came to Armenia to learn German, get their language certificate, and continue their studies in Germany. Our contributor Ricardo talked to Sevil, one of these students, in Yerevan.

“I went to Armenia to study German and to immigrate to Germany, because it was difficult to go from Iran to Germany directly. I think Armenia is a very beautiful country with traditions and nature. People are complaisant, and they don’t bother other people. You can go outside easily at midnight, even if you’re alone. Most of my Iranian friends were in the same situation for a German visa. Some of them received their visas and went to Germany, while some others are still waiting for their visas here. But some, having studied and lived in Yerevan for a couple of years, decided to stay. For some Iranian people, Yerevan is a better choice because it is so close to Iran, and because it is easy to travel to Iranian cities from here. I eventually hope to study Interior Architecture in Germany, to work in Germany, and to travel across Europe and all the other regions all over the world.”

🛤 In Central Asia…

Summer of unrest at the Tajik-Afghan border. Kirsty Dick 

Due to the power vacuum created by the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, there has been fierce fighting taking place along the Tajik-Afghan border this summer as the Taliban gains ground. During a battle between Afghan forces and the Taliban at the Shir Khan Bandar border crossing on June 22, 134 Afghan troops were forced to flee into Tajikistan. Shir Khan Bandar is connected to Tajikistan by a US-funded bridge built in 2007 to increase trade between the neighboring countries. Yodgor Faizov, the governor of the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan remarked that the Tajik border guards are in a state of permanent readiness and that Tajikistan was willing to accept more than 10,000 Afghan refugees. 

On July 5, Tajikistan mobilized 20,000 troops to send to the volatile border, and on July 8, Tajikistan called on its partners of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to help them secure the border. CSTO members include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. In Tajikistan, Russia owns the 201st military base, Russia’s largest non-naval military facility outside the country. On July 23, Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko remarked that “an intergovernmental agreement is now being prepared for signing on the provision of aid to Tajikistan for the construction of a border outpost.” Between August 5 and 10, military drills were conducted in Tajikistan in cooperation with Uzbekistan and Russia. In recent weeks the Afghan provinces of Samangan, Kunduz and Takhar, which all border Tajikistan, have come under control of the Taliban.

🚃 In Central Europe…

Visegrad Group’s outlook under Hungarian Presidency. Thapanee Tubnonghee 

The Visegrád Group (V4) marks its 30th anniversary and a rotation of the group’s presidency to Hungary in 2021. This year, illegal migration, economic revival, and EU enlargement are the top concerns of V4 leaders.

While stressing the importance of the EU’s support to third countries, the group stands for defending the European border and against the EU’s compulsory migrant relocation and resettlement scheme. In Late July, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó announced that on top of the EU consensus, the group has agreed to exclusively help Lithuania handle the influx of illegal migrants from Belarus.

For a quick investment boost, the group leaders agree that tax reduction would help to stimulate the economy after the pandemic. Regarding the sustainable economic recovery, Hungary expects the positive impact of Hungarian railway development projects on regional economic growth. A comprehensive Central European high-speed rail network is one of the principal regional investments. This summer, Hungary is anticipating the review of the Budapest-Warsaw high-speed railway development project from the Connecting European Facility (CEF) fund. If the Commission accepts the grant application, works can start in early 2030. The group aims at a smooth connection of V4 capitals to Western Europe and a fulfillment of the EU’s emissions reduction goal.

The EU’s Balkan expansion is another crucial issue for V4. The group stresses the significance of peace and development in the Western Balkans as EU’s security. Hungary has been actively urging the EU key figures to accelerate Serbia’s accession process, as the acquis chapter negotiations are laggard.

Photo courtesy of Thapanee

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

The evolving crisis on the Belarus-Lithuania border. Agnieszka Widlaszewska

The EU is once again struggling with a migration crisis, this time coming from a rather unexpected direction. Since this spring, scores of migrants, mostly of Iraqi origin, have been illegally crossing the border from Belarus into Lithuania. Lithuanian authorities are accusing Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating the crossings in reaction to Lithuania’s active and vocal support for Belarusian opposition leaders and activists.

As of July 1, 672 migrants had been detained while trying to cross into Lithuania, which was already eight times more than the total number of illegal crossings in 2020. As that number reached over 4000 in early August, Lithuania started to introduce measures aiming at blocking further arrivals and reducing the number of migrants already present on its soil. Some migrants were sent back to Belarus, while others were offered financial incentives (300 euros) for returning to their country of origin. Moreover, Lithuania’s parliament approved plans to build a four-meter high fence along the Belarusian border.

Although the numbers may seem small in comparison to the 2015 migrant crisis, the Union should not disregard the risks of illegal migrants coming into Europe through Belarus. Increased numbers of illegal crossings have also been recorded in Poland and Latvia, with the Polish Border Guard detaining almost 350 people over the course of one weekend. Moreover, with the Taliban advancing in Afghanistan, fears of a new migration wave are rising, giving ample possibilities to third states who might want to use migration as a weapon.

🌲 In Russia…

Dogged signature-collecting pays off as independent candidate registers for Duma elections. Francis Farrell

In 2021, “Here we are all against Putin” and “Russia will be free” are not slogans you would think could be used by anyone allowed to participate in Russia’s state-sanctioned political process. Yet it seems when there is a will, there is a way, as 27-year-old Muscovite Anastasia Bryukhanova was officially registered by the Moscow District Electoral Commission on August 13.

With the dramatic downfall of Alexei Navalny and the crushing of his organizations, 2021 has been marked by a significant escalation in repression against non-systemic opposition activity in Russia. Through its actions, the Kremlin has made it known loud and clear that there will be no space for competitive politics in September’s coming State Duma elections. Anyone linked to Navalny’s activities, such as prominent figure Ilya Yashin, were banned en masse from running over their ties to “extremist organizations,” while even systemic opposition members, such as former Communist Party presidential candidate Pavel Grudinin, have been barred if they are considered to pose a threat to United Russia.

Nonetheless, Bryukhanova prevailed where others failed, thanks to a large team of volunteers and a pedantically thorough approach to collecting signatures. In 2019, Bryukhanova was one of many independent opposition candidates whose registration for the Moscow city council elections was denied on the grounds of falsified signatures. This time, she refused to make the same mistake, as her team collected 15,941 signatures (three times the amount required), making sure not only to photograph every signatory’s passport, but also to record their signatures on video. Russians will go to the polls from 17-19 September to elect a new parliament. For the first time since 1993, OSCE/ODIHR observers will not be present due to lack of access given by Russian authorities.

Photo: @Max_Katz on Twitter

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