Lossi 36 Weekly #33: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia13 min read
Originally published on 08.11.2021. Subscribe to our Weekly here.
In this week’s newsletter 📮: Political crisis in North Macedonia, new amnesty legislation in Azerbaijan, Kazakh teens protest conservative school staff, silent protests commemorate the first victim of Poland‘s stricter abortion laws, Zelensky signs Ukrainian anti-oligarch law, Putin travels to occupied Crimea for Unity Day, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Bosnian Serb leader Dodik’s attack on Bosnia and Herzegovina.Sophie Gueudet
Over the past weeks, tensions escalated tremendously in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik announced concrete measures for establishing distinct Serb institutions in Republika Srpska, thereby denying the central state’s control over the entity’s territory. Backed by Serbia’s Aleksandar Vučić and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Dodik can count on some vocal supporters within the EU as well, including Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Slovenia’s Janez Janša. Dodik’s provocations mark a triumph of illiberalism, nationalism, and populism in the Balkans. Despite having expressed their concerns and disapprobation for a few weeks, and despite reaffirming their commitment to a unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EU and the US, the main safeguards of the peace process since the Dayton Accords, have not adopted any measure to prevent Dodik from opening parallel institutions. On the contrary, they received a slap in the face on November 3, when China and Russia would only agree to vote in favour of extending the EU-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia if the resolution excluded all reference to the Office of the High Representative Christian Schmidt. The vote occurred a few days after Schmidt called out the “existential threat” caused by separatist actions by Bosnia Serbs in his recent report to the UN Security Council.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Governmental turmoil in North Macedonia. The crisis began on October 31, when Prime Minister Zoran Zaev announced his resignation following his party’s defeat in local elections. The ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) lost in several key municipalities, including Skopje, to its right-wing opponent, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). While Zaev’s resignation does not automatically trigger snap elections, over the course of last week the SDSM appeared to have lost its parliamentary majority, after the ethnic Albanian BESA Movement defected from the ruling coalition. Instead, it joined what could be the new majority led by VMRO-DPMNE, in cooperation with The Alliance for the Albanians and The Left. Once Zaev submits his official resignation, or is forced to resign by a vote of no-confidence, North Macedonia’s President will likely ask VMRO-DPMNE’s leader, Hirstijan Mickoski, to try and form a new government. Should he fail, a snap parliamentary election will take place.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Draft amnesty law sent to Azerbaijani Parliament. The President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, presented a draft resolution for mass amnesty in the Mili Medjlis, the Azerbaijani Parliament, which was approved by lawmakers on November 5. The bill affects nearly 16,000 individuals, many of whom are linked to Nagorno-Karabakh, either because they fought during the 44-Day War in 2020 or because they were considered victims of the First Karabakh War in the 1990s. The proposal has received mixed reviews from opposition representatives, as it would not provide amnesty to the dozens of political prisoners in the country. The bill would be implemented over four months, but it has been approved to mark the commemoration of Victory Day, celebrated on 8 November in Azerbaijan, in reference to its military victory over Armenia in 2020.
Saakashvili’s hunger strike continues. The 3rd president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, has been on hunger strike since he was jailed on October 1. His doctor says that his condition is worsening and that he needs to be treated in a medical facility outside the prison. However, the government seems reluctant to move him to a public hospital. Rati Bregadze, the Minister of Justice has accused the former president of breaking his hunger strike, stating that he has been receiving porridge, medicine, and natural juices, but Saakashvili’s personal physician has denied these allegations. On November 6, another large protest, organized by the United National Movement, took place outside the prison, in Rustavi. Georgian Dream however, has not taken any action to remedy the situation.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Lights out in rural Tajikistan. Central Asia’s energy security crisis seems to have worsened as winter approaches. After Kyrgyzstan’s primary energy producer announced restrictions on electricity use in mid-October, rural Tajikistan is now facing electricity shortages, with blackouts lasting for most of the workday and then during night time, seven days a week. The severity of the crisis has heavily impacted healthcare facilities, which are forced to function in the several hours when electricity is available. The government, however, has made no official announcement about the electricity rationing, and Barqi Tojik, the largest state-owned power company, continues to deny claims of shortages, stating that electricity supply might have been interrupted due to repair work on power lines. The surging prices of alternative energy sources like coal and firewood have left households without many options. It was expected that with the construction of the Roghun hydroelectric dam, the energy shortages would end. But even after inaugurating its first operational unit in 2018, Tajikistan still remains mired in electricity crises that have lasted for over a decade, following the 2009 Central Asia power grid collapse.
Girls from Uzbekistan prepare to launch nanosatellite in April. UNICEF offices in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, alongside the NGO Tech4Impact and the Ministry of Innovative Development of the Republic of Uzbekistan have launched an educational program Unisat, aimed at developing interest in space exploration among Uzbek girls. Participants aged 15-24 will be able to learn about engineering, programming, project management, and teamwork, with the eventual goal of launching a nanosatellite into the stratosphere by April 12, 2022. The program aims to narrow the gap between Uzbek boys and girls in the sphere of science and technology, and, as stated by Munir Mamedzade, head of Uzbekistan’s UNICEF office, raises societal awareness regarding issues of gender in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field. The nanosatellite will take the form of a CubeSat, a type of satellite slightly larger than a Rubik’s cube, often used in low earth orbit for remote sensing and communications purposes.
Boys in Kazakh schools wear skirts in protest of conservative staff. Boys throughout the prestigious Nazarbayev Intellectual School network in Kazakhstan have been wearing skirts in protest against conservative staff in light of a recent suicide. On 7 October, eighth-grader Sergey Kim attended a Harry Potter themed school party wearing a skirt, after which an instructor sent him to a school psychologist, then called his parents. Kim jumped from the eleventh floor of his family’s flat building the next day. After his suicide, boys at another Nazarbayev Intellectual School came to class in skirts, carrying flyers with a suicide prevention hotline and the slogans “Clothes have no gender,” and “You’re important. Don’t stay silent,” One of the organizers of the protest, Dariga Dzhanabaeva, wrote on Instagram that school administrators have been calling parents of students to school, claiming that the students belong to a “gay sect” Currently, Kazakh police are investigating this incident of “incitement to suicide.”
🚃 In Central Europe…
Young woman’s death brings Polish abortion law back to attention. Ever since the lawyer of a 30-year-old Polish woman recently reported a connection between her death and the Polish Constitutional Court ruling on abortion of October 2020, silent protests against restrictions on abortions have swept Kraków, Warsaw, and Gdańsk over the past week. Based on the Polish Constitutional Court ruling, Polish women can resort to abortion only in case of rape, incest, or threats to the mother’s health, thereby excluding cases of congenital deformities of the foetus. In September, the woman was hospitalized in her 22nd week of pregnancy due to a lack of amniotic fluid and eventually died of septic shock. The family lawyer believes that doctors chose to rigidly comply with the ruling not to risk sanctions, by avoiding the termination of the pregnancy and waiting for the death of the foetus, even though the risks to the mother’s life would have allowed to legally perform an abortion. Activists identify the woman as the first victim of the stricter abortion laws.
Czech woman convicted for drug smuggling in Pakistan acquitted. In January 2018, a Pakistani customs officer detained Tereza Hlůšová at Lahore International Airport with nine kilograms of heroin. In March 2019, the young Czech model was sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison. Having spent three years in prison, Hlůšová was released and acquitted on Monday, November 1, when the court upheld her appeal. According to the portal UrduPoint, the drugs found in her suitcase were worth around 24.5 million crowns ($1.115 million) on the black market. The well-known lawyer Saif ul Malúk prepared Hlůšová’s defence thoroughly and pointed out procedural errors in the case. For example, it had not been proven how drugs got into the suitcase, which is required by law. Hlůšová will return to the Czech Republic at the end of the following week.
Slovakia to label over seventy forests as ‘Primary Forest.’ As of December 1, it will be illegal to engage in constructing, hunting, mining, and making loud noises in 65 square kilometres of newly protected forests, a victory for environmental activists seeking to protect the rare Capercaillie bird species. The political will to take a radical measure is not only found among Slovak ecologists, but also the European Commission’s forest strategy. A month ago, Slovakia was still one of the EU countries to condemn this strategy. Amidst the COP26 global climate change conference, which committed to end worldwide deforestation this decade, the importance of forest protection is increasingly acknowledged as demand for wood grows. As Slovak MEP Michal Wiezik argued at EU level, “there is no way to fully integrate biodiversity considerations into forests only managed for wood production.”
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Rising military tensions on the Polish-Belarusian border. With the backdrop of a humanitarian crisis caused by the instrumentalization of Iraqi and Afghan migrants by the Belarusian regime, Poland has accused Belarus of staging an armed intrusion at the border. On November 1, the Polish Foreign Ministry affirmed that unidentified and armed individuals in uniform had entered Polish territory the night before. Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk claimed that the “actions taken by the Belarusian authorities in recent weeks have the increasingly evident hallmarks of a deliberate escalation.” The Belarusian State Border Guard Committee spokesperson denied the accusation, by saying that it gave Poland an excuse to extend its state of emergency at the border. Consequently, on 2 November, the Belarusian envoy Alexander Chesnovsky was summoned to complain about the “a deliberate escalation” of the migrant crisis at the frontier. It is the third time this month that the Belarusian chargé d’affaires was summoned, a clear sign of rising hostility between Warsaw and Minsk.
Ukrainian President Zelensky Signs ‘anti-oligarch Law.’ According to the Ukrainian president’s office, Zelensky immediately signed the anti-oligarch law passed by the Ukrainian parliament. He claims that “there can be no other option but to dismantle the oligarchic system. Without this, it is simply impossible to overcome poverty in Ukraine and fully join the European community.” According to the law, an oligarch is defined as a person who not only has significant political and economic influence, but his or her control over the media is also taken into consideration. A person who is on the list of oligarchs is prohibited from financing political parties, advertisements, and participating in the process of privatising state assets. The list of oligarchs would be made by Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council. However, there are already concerns about whether the law could be used to target oligarchs unfairly and whether the anti-oligarch law would really be effective without a major reconfiguration in the Ukrainian judicial system.
Moldova reaches agreement with Russia on gas supply. On November 1, Moldovagaz announced that a new contract to supply gas to Moldova was signed with Russia’s Gazprom. In the last two weeks, Moldova has declared a state of emergency after it was unable to renew the contract with Gazprom, who proposed a sharp rise in prices, compared to the previous year. Russia currently supplies 100% of the natural gas used in the country. Ukraine, the Netherlands and Poland had provided in-kind aid and the EU had offered emergency aid. According to observers and EU foreign policy chief, Joseph Borrell, the reasons for the price increase were politically motivated, as Moldova elected ‘pro-Western’ president Maia Sandu last year. Russia rejects the accusation, saying that prices are dictated by the global market. Russia is known to use energy prices to reward or punish other countries, as seen in Belarus in 2021, where gas prices have decreased since last year.
🌲 In Russia…
Scandal-filled week in Chechnya. The Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, and some of his associates have found themselves in trouble on many fronts. First, a new victim of Kadyrov’s anti-LGBTQ campaign has spoken out, discussing his abduction and torture in 2019. Also connected to human rights, Said-Muhammad Dzhumaev has been declared a political prisoner by Memorial Human Rights Centre. Dzhumaev fought back against OMON (special police units) during the January protests in support of Alexei Navalny, and defied Kadyrov by not apologizing. Furthermore, Kadyrov’s reaction to several Chechen soldiers cheating during a military trial has led the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) to implement reforms. Lastly, an employee of Chechnya’s Representative Office in the Northwestern Federal District was arrested in St. Petersburg for drug possession, resulting in house arrest. While human rights is not a domestically promoted cause, the above-mentioned cases could raise international attention, while the Rosgvardia and narcotics incidents indicate that federal security services are not willing to tolerate all of Kadyrov’s actions.
Russia’s Unity Day in Crimea. On November 4, Russia’s Unity Day, Russian President Vladimir Putin marked the occasion with a trip to Crimea, declaring the Crimean Peninsula to be “forever a part of Russia.” The visit was held in Sevastopol, the home port of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Putin’s rhetoric was clear: the Russian Federation has finally reunited with Crimea, and this act should not be considered a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and of international law. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the visit and called upon the Russian authorities to stop countless violations of human rights in Crimea, release Ukrainian prisoners, and concentrate the efforts on the resolution of the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict to re-establish the territorial integrity of Ukraine. At the same time, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko complained at the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia that, despite earlier promises, Putin did not invite him to Crimea on the occasion of the Unity Day.