Lossi 36 Weekly #32: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia12 min read

 In News

Subscribe to our Weekly here.

In this week’s newsletter 📮: ​​Elections in Bosnia; youth protests in Abkhazia; planned prison uprising thwarted in Tajikistan; teachers’ protests in Hungary and Poland; Elon Musk’s ‘Ukraine-Russia Peace‘; team Navalny to relaunch its network in Russia’s regionsand much more!

⭐️ This week’s special

Bosnia’s election results deliver a blow to nationalist parties, High Representative rolls out a change to the country’s election law. Megan McCullough

On Sunday, 2 October, Bosnians took to the polls to elect new governments, from the municipal to the federal level. While many of the results remain contested, the election of newcomer Denis Bećirović (Social Democratic Party) and reformist Željko Komšić (Democratic Front), as the Bosniak and Croat members of the federal tripartite presidency respectively, delivered a clear mandate against nationalism. Bećirović’s win over past two-term Bosniak president Bakir Izetbegović, thanks in part to an 11-party coalition, is thought to reflect the country’s growing intolerance of corruption. Izetbegović’s former Prime Minister, Fadil Novalić, was recently sanctioned by the United States for misuse of pensioner data for election purposes.On the Serb side, nationalist politics continued to dominate, as Željka Cvijanović (Alliance of Independent Social Democrats) is slated to become Bosnia’s first female president. Having previously served as the Serb member of the federal tripartite presidency, strong man Milorad Dodik eyes a return to the role of President of Republika Srpska. 

Minutes after the polling stations closed, Bosnia’s High Representative (OHR), Christian Schmidt, used his so-called ‘Bonn powers’ to impose changes to the country’s election law. The changes include raising the number of representatives in the Federation entity’s House of Peoples, setting deadlines for the formation of the governments, and implementing measures to improve functionality. Earlier this year, Schmidt used his powers to break a political deadlock to ensure that general elections would take place. And while the full impact of those changes remain unclear, the timing, coupled with statements made by Croatia’s Prime Minister that suggests foreign involvement, has undermined the standing of Schmidt and the role of OHR among a significant portion of Bosnians.

🌺 In the Balkans…

Serbia’s Vučić welcomes the EU’s postponed decision on Russian oil ban in Western Balkans. Last Thursday, 6 October, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić announced that the European Commission had decided to postpone its decision on exempting the Western Balkans from the import ban of Russian crude oil. “We haven’t solved the problem, but it’s not bad news that the decision has been moved, postponed for some time,” Vučić said. In the first draft proposal for a new package of sanctions, Western Balkan countries were to be exempt from the limitations on the import of Russian crude oil in order to protect the region’s energy stability. Serbia imports all of its oil from Russia, with Gazprom controlling the main Serbian oil utility NIS. Until recently, Serbia had hoped that Croatia’s pipeline operator JANAF would continue to ship Russian crude oil, brought to Croatia on oil tankers, to NIS, in line with an agreement signed in January. This came to an end with the latest sanctions agreement. However, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković publicly stated that Serbia “can still, at any moment, import oil from anywhere except Russia, have it transported to our Adriatic port and through our pipeline to Serbia, without any problem.”

⛰️ In the Caucasus…

Georgian Dream loses parliamentary majority. On 4 October, the Georgian Dream (GD) officially lost its majority when five MPs left to join the anti-western public movement People Power. The new movement will be represented in parliament by 9 members, making them the third-largest political group in the legislative body. With only 75 out of 150 seats secured by GD, the Georgian parliament should dissolve, however, People Power deputy Sozar Subari stated that his movement still supported the majority in parliament. Despite their current support of GD, People Power have stated in the past that they will not rule out turning into an official political party. GD’s chairman, Irakli Kobakhidze, said “there is no significant difference between us (GD and People Power) on core values, which allows us to remain together in the parliamentary majority.” People Power was established in August of this year, with its main goal being “to provide society with the truth and to protect the national interests of Georgia.” 

Abkhaz youth protest against dacha transfer to Russia. Over the last month, Abkhazia’s youth have been protesting against the authorities’ decision to hand over a famous, Soviet-era Pitsunda state dacha to Russia. On 17 September, the Hara H-Pitsunda (‘Our Pitsunda’) movement took to the streets of Sukhumi (Sukhum) in protest of the move, the second such demonstration. On 23 September, during a meeting between Abkhazian and Russian “young leaders” at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia, the ratification of the Pitsunda dacha agreement dominated the conversation, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs arguing that today, Russia is the only country whose interests converge with those of Abkhazia, making concessions necessary. While protesting, youth leaders have made it clear this is not a geopolitical issue, but rather one focused on “the independence of Abkhazia and the preservation of its territory, resources, and heritage.” On 28 September, Belarus President Lukashenko was hosted in the Pitsunda residence while meeting with Abkhazian President Aslan Bzhania and other senior officials.  

🛤 In Central Asia…

Kazakhstan refuses to expel Ukrainian ambassador despite Moscow’s request. Kazakhstan’s government has rejected Russia’s Foreign Ministry’s demand to expel Ukraine’s ambassador to Kazakhstan over his comments about killing Russians. Kyiv’s envoy, Petro Vrubrevskiy, was caught in a scandal in late August after he gave an interview to a Kazakh blogger in which he said that “the more Russians we kill now, the fewer of them our children will have to kill in the future.” On 5 October, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Aibek Smadiyarov, hit back at Russia’s request, calling its tone inappropriate between “equal strategic partners”. Smadiyarov also added that the Russian ambassador to Kazakhstan had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry over the situation. This incident sheds light on the complex relations between former steadfast allies as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Since February 2022, Kazakhstan has refrained from outright criticism of the war while asserting its support to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, thus creating tensions with Moscow.

68 prisoners to appear in Tajik court over planned prison uprising. According to an article published by Radio Ozodi, Tajikistan’s General Prosecutor’s Office completed an investigation of over 60 prisoners in a prison colony in Khujand, who were suspected to have planned an uprising and a murder of a prison officer at Correctional Facility 3/3. Several of Radio Ozodi’s anonymous sources stated that the prisoners had planned the uprising as a sign of their “religious courage”. Prison guards at the facility also maintained that those who had planned the uprising “received prison sentences for membership in banned organizations, including Jamaat al-Muwahhidun, a terrorist organization closely related to ISIS”. However, some of Radio Ozodi’s sources believe that the uprising was being planned not due to religious beliefs, but rather due to unbearable conditions in the prison. The conspiracy, as one source noted, may have also been completely fabricated, as a way for certain prison workers to receive ranked positions. 

🚃 In Central Europe…

Teachers protest in Hungary and Poland. On 5 October, thousands of Hungarian students formed kilometres-long human chains and marched on the Parliament in Budapest in solidarity with their teachers, who are calling for an immediate salary increase of 45%, semiannual wage adjustment to inflation, and better working conditions, including the right to strike. As there is no education ministry in Hungary, the interior ministry has argued that the teachers’ demands cannot be fulfilled until Hungary’s share of EU recovery funds is unblocked. Meanwhile, the Polish Teachers’ Union called upon teachers to wear black and stop providing teaching materials at their own expense for one week in early October. Polish teachers have been pushing for workload reduction, wage increases of 20% backdated to 1 September, and salary increases from next year of at least 5 percentage points above inflation. Hungary and Poland have been facing critical teacher shortages for years due to heavy workload and stagnant salaries below national average wages. Both countries’ teachers unions have announced nationwide protests for 14 October.

Prague and the ‘European Political Community.’ Last week, Czech PM Petr Fiala hosted the first gathering of the ‘European Political Community’ (EPC). Nearly the entire European continent was invited: only Belarus, Russia, and four microstates did not make the cut. Although the EPC could claim some success for presenting a Europe-wide front against Putin’s war on Ukraine and facilitating “a direct open exchange” between leaders that would otherwise be unlikely to meet directly, such as Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, many questioned the rationale behind the meeting. Critics worried that the EPC would amount to yet another “talking shop devoid of any real decision-making clout or content,” while others feared that the EPC would distract Europe from stalled EU accession procedures. Notably, the Council of Europe, Europe’s leading human rights platform, voiced its scepticism by stating “in the field of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, such a pan-European community already exists: it is the Council of Europe.” Perhaps the EPC’s next convention, scheduled for Spring 2023 in Moldova, can convince its sceptics of the forum’s added value.

🏢 In Eastern Europe…

Elon Musk’s ‘Ukraine-Russia Peace,’ and what about Starlink? October 3rd, 2022, could be named as the busiest day on Twitter with Elon Musk’s tweet on bringing peace to Ukraine. Musk asked his followers on Twitter whether they approved of his ‘four-point peace plan’ to end the war: redo the referenda on the illegally annexed territories under UN supervision, admit Crimea as a part of Russia, provide water supply for the peninsula, and set Ukraine’s status as neutral in stone. 59.1% of Musk’s followers voted against his proposal, while 40.9% were in favour. Zelenskyy didn’t wait for the outcome, and created a similar poll: would his followers rather see Musk supporting Ukraine or Russia (78.8% against 21.2%)? The post did not pass the Kremlin unnoticed, either: spokesperson Dmitry Peskov praised Musk for suggesting a possible peace deal, while  reiterating that “achieving peace without fulfilling Russia’s conditions is impossible.” While Twitter discussions over Musk’s proposal remain vigorous, Ukrainian army members reported that numerous Starlink devices, provided by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, stopped working after Ukrainian troops liberated Russia-held territory. This situation caused a “catastrophic” loss of communication between the country’s military forces.

Human rights activists from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine awarded Nobel Peace Prize. The imprisoned Belarus activist Ales Bialiatski and two human rights organisations, Russia’s Memorial and Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties, were chosen by the committee for their effort in the field of “human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence” in the three countries. Ales Bialiatski founded human rights organization ‘Viasna’ (Spring) in 1996 in response to the controversial constitutional amendments pushed forward by Lukashenko that expanded the president’s powers. Bialiatski has been imprisoned by Lukashenko’s regime since 2021, and he is the fourth laureate to be honoured while in detentionMemorial, founded in the late 1980s to document political repressions carried out under the Soviet Union, built a database of victims of the Great Terror and gulag camps. The organization was shut down by Russia’s supreme court last year. Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties was funded in 2007 in Kyiv, and it has been central in documenting Russian war crimes since the start of the war in Ukraine. The news of the award has caused mixed reactions. Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior Ukrainian presidential aide, tweeted “Nobel Committee has an interesting understanding of the word ‘peace’ if representatives of two countries that attacked a third one receive Nobel Prize together.”

🌲 In Russia…

Team Navalny relaunches regional network. The new aims of the organisation will be to oppose mobilisation and to engage in partisan warfare. Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief-of-staff, called on Russians to ‘spread information, provide legal assistance, volunteer, or sabotage the work of military enlistment offices.’ Team Navalny closed its network of regional offices in April 2021 as it faced charges of extremism. The renewed resistance will face a challenging future. First, partisan actions are decentralised, but loosely coordinated already by Rospartizans; it is unclear how Team Navalny will work in an already filled niche. Second, the organisation will struggle to reach some of the regions most impacted by, and opposed to, mobilisation and the war. Navalnyites have clashed repeatedly with North Caucasus actors for years, including since the 24 February invasion. It is doubtful the past can be overcome here.

Kadyrov’s sons to go to Ukraine. Akhmed, Zelimkhan, and Adam Kadyrov – aged 16, 15, and 14, respectively – recorded a training video before their departure. The Chechen governor’s three eldest sons will certainly stay far from the fighting and will likely record a multitude of videos of them allegedly engaged in combat. The justification for such an action is that his sons will need to have proved themselves militarily in order to one day rule Chechnya. In other words, this comes down to domestic propaganda and the governmental transition currently underway in the Kadyrov administration. The sons are still years from taking on official government positions, but Akhmed recently took over all youth organisations in Chechnya. Kadyrov’s decision to send his sons to the front also undermines domestic opposition to mobilisation, as the public can no longer claim ‘why my son and not yours?’ The sons’ trip will achieve nothing but furthering the family’s personality cult.

Thank you to this week’s contributors: Megan McCullough, Ariadna Mane, Marie Mach, Lucie Tafforin, Thapanee Tubnonghee, Tijs van de Vijver, Adriano Rodari, Kirsty Dick, Xandie Kuenning, Vira Kompaniiets, & Harold Chambers 💘

Recent Posts