Lossi 36 Weekly #40: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read
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In this week’s newsletter 📮: Kosovo sees spike in Femicide, Nakhchivan losing its autonomy to Baku, Tokayev meets with Putin and Macron, EU to withhold funds from Hungary, blood-soaked parcels and letter bombs at Ukrainian embassies, Kadyrov’s pyrrhic victory in Ingushetia, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
European Union to withhold funds from Hungary.Nathan Alan-Lee
On 30 November, the EU Commission announced their decision to stall the distribution of €7.5 billion in cohesion funds that Hungary was slated to receive. This move comes after Hungary failed to meet a mid-November deadline to implement the initial 17 of 27 so-called “super milestones.” These milestones are aimed at countering a rise in corruption and threats to rule of law posed by Orban’s policies in Hungary. The political struggle between the EU and Orban’s government on the ‘rule of law’ is hardly new, but with high financial stakes and a looming recession, the issue takes on a new economic significance. In addition to this, some €5.8 billion of the Covid recovery funds will remain frozen. Despite this decision, the EU Commissioner for Budget Johannes Hahn indicated that Hungary “has moved in the right direction,” but there is still much work to be done. The next step in this unfolding saga will be the ratification of the Commission’s decision by EU ministers in the council; they will have to reach a qualified majority by 19 December..”
🌺 In the Balkans…
Kosovo sees spike in femicide as second woman is murdered in a week. Pristina – a 35-year-old pregnant woman was murdered in front the gynaecology clinic at the University Clinical Center of Kosovo in what appears to be a case of domestic violence. The woman had previously taken out an order of protection from the court of Ferizaj/Urosevac against her husband. This was the second femicide reported in Kosovo within five days. A 70-year-old man murdered his 63-year-old wife, an elementary school teacher, in Pristina on 25 November. The killings come as the world marks the annual international “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” campaign, prompting the UN Gender and Security Group (SGG) to strongly condemn the acts. Protests were announced across Kosovo following the killings, organised by women’s rights groups and NGOs such as the Kosovo Women Network, to call attention to the long-standing issue of femicide in the country.
New Macedonian language school opens online courses in Greece. On 30 November, the Center for the Macedonian Language in Greece, based in Florina, in the north of the country, announced it will start offering free online courses of the southern Slavic language. The non-profit organisation also wants to “advocate for the recognition of the Macedonian language as a minority language in Greece” and to campaign for the rights of Macedonian speakers to use their language. Former North Macedonia PM Zoran Zaev thanked Greek PM Kyriakos Mitstotakis and former Greek Premier and SYRIZA leader PM Alexis Tsipras, the party that he negotiated the name change for North Macedonia with, for “this fine act which is particularly important as another confirmation of the close relations between the two countries.” The number of native Macedonian speakers in northern Greece is unknown, and the country only recognises them as Slavophone Greeks, with estimates from under 10,000 to 50,000 or more in 2015.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Nakhchivan – losing its autonomy to Baku. The Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, a landlocked exclave of Azerbaijan, has previously enjoyed a high degree of autonomy from Baku. A number of recent arrests have aroused suspicion that Baku may be trying to carry out a policy of centralization in the region. Arrests were made last month in Nakhchivan’s state security service and the service was turned into the department of Azerbaijan’s security service. On 23 November, Mansur Asgarov, the head of the Customs, Tariff Regulation, and Payments department in Nakhchivan, was charged with misappropriation of around $77 million while Rafael Aliyev, the republic’s finance minister, was accused of embezzling more than $85 million in public funds. Two days after the arrests, finance minister Samir Sharifov announced that subsidies allocated for the autonomous republic were going to be reduced by $18.3 million. On 28 November, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree dissolving the customs committee of Nakhchivan, and replacing it with a new one, controlled by the national committee.
Armenia’s last opposition bloc to collapse. On 28 November, the opposition party Reborn Armenia announced it is ceasing its activities in parliament, with three of the four MPs resigning from their parliamentary duties. Having been allied with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), forming the country’s second-largest parliamentary force, this move has effectively caused the collapse of the country’s last remaining opposition bloc. Since 2020, Armenia’s opposition has been relatively absent from parliament, instead turning to street protests as a way to oppose Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his Civil Contract party.
New Green and queer-feminist party founded in Tbilisi. The Georgian Greens party, Mtsvaneebi, officially launched a political party on 27 November, vowing to support social rights in addition to protecting the environment. Several hundred supporters and members attended the launch party, and 400 people have already signed up as members, according to Tornike Kusiani, one of the party’s leaders and founders. Though not the first Green party in Georgia, it is the first to focus on equality issues, including “the rights of queer people, women, people with disabilities, ethnic and religious minorities, and the rights of people from [less privileged] social categories,” as Tamar Jakeli, another one of the party’s leaders and founders told OC Media. Georgia’s next parliamentary elections are officially set to take place in 2024.
🛤 In Central Asia…
Kazakh president meets with Putin and Macron. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev went on several international trips last week. On 28 November, during his first trip abroad since being re-elected in November, he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The two leaders, whose countries share a 7,600km-long border, discussed the relationship between Russia and Kazakhstan, mainly in relation to trade and energy issues, with Putin qualifying Moscow and Astana’s bond as having a “special character.” Tokayev added that his visit had “political significance and, of course, a certain symbolism,” despite Kazakhstan’s distancing from Russia regarding the war in Ukraine. The next day, the Kazakh President was in Paris to meet with Emmanuel Macron. Their discussion was mainly centred around strategic partnership in the trade, economic, investment and humanitarian sectors, as France is currently one of the five largest investor countries in Kazakhstan. These successive meetings clearly demonstrate the fine line Astana has been treading between Russia and the West since the start of the war in Ukraine.
🚃 In Central Europe…
Key political events in the Baltics to be expected in December. In Latvia, President Egils Levits nominated JV leader and incumbent Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš as Prime Minister on 22 November, and officially asked him to form a new government. As the final phase of the government formation talks among New Unity (JV), United List (AS), and National Alliance (NA) parties are taking place, the Saeima may approve the new government in mid-December. Meanwhile, in Estonia, President Alar Karis called the parliamentary elections on 5 March 2023 to elect all 101 members of the Riigikogu. The competing parties will officially start their campaigns after the holidays. Here is a sneak peek into the latest polling data and some main domestic issues: economy, cost of living, taxation, energy security, home defence, support for Ukraine, and migration.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Blood-soaked parcels and letter bombs target Ukrainian embassies. Last week saw a series of attacks and provocations targeted at Ukrainian embassies around the world. The diplomatic missions in Spain, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Italy, and Austria received blood-soaked parcels containing animal eyes; the entrance to the residence of Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican was vandalised; and the embassy in Kazakhstan received false bomb threats. The most serious incident so far was reported in Spain, where a series of letter bombs targeted not only the Ukrainian embassy, where an explosion injured one person, but also the US embassy, the Spanish Prime Minister and Defence Minister, weapons manufacturer Instalaza, and the Torrejón Air Base, which provides intelligence information to Ukraine. While no one has claimed responsibility for the incidents, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that he suspected that the parcels were used by Russia, or someone sympathising with it, to intimidate Ukraine’s diplomatic service.
Jailed Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kalesnikava in intensive care. On 29 November, the Telegram channel of Viktor Babaryka, one of the leading opposition figures in Belarus and Maria Kalesnikava’s spouse, shared the news that Kalesnikava was in intensive care at the Homel hospital. Little is known about the diagnosis, only that the political activist underwent a surgical operation and is now in a grave but stable condition. Kalesnikava’s lawyer said she had been placed in a penitentiary cell before she was taken to the hospital, but there was no information on when and for how long she got there. According to Belarusian media, it is common for political prisoners to be periodically placed in penitentiary cells, sometimes for a long time, without any reason. Maria Kalesnikava was one of the female figures, together with Veronika Tsepkalo and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, to become the face of the 2020 Belarusian protests. She was jailed after refusing forced expulsion from Belarus by ripping up her passport on the Belarus-Ukrainian border in September 2022.
🌲 In Russia…
Ban on LGBTIQ+ propaganda in Russia. LGBTIQ+ rights have been a highly disputable topic in Russia since the adoption of the “gay propaganda law” in June 2013. Under this law, promoting “drugs, paedophilia, and homosexuality” or anything else that contradicts “traditional family values” to children was banned. However, this was not the last step taken by Russia on the LGBTIQ+ question. On 24 November 2022, Russia’s parliament approved a bill that widens the prohibition of “LGBTIQ+ propaganda” and restricts the demonstration of LGBTIQ+ behaviour to all ages. The new law stipulates fines of up to 400,000 roubles ($6,600) for individuals and up to 5 million roubles ($82,100) for legal entities, while foreigners could face 15 days of arrest and subsequent expulsion. This ban gives even more power to Russia’s internet censorship agency Roskomnadzor, which has already acquired the role of “political police.” Earlier this October, Moscow’s Tagansky District Court issued a three million rouble penalty to a video-sharing platform TikTok for failing to delete online LGBT+ material.
Pope comments on Chechens and Buryat soldiers. In a recent interview, Pope Francis caused a minor row in international politics by mentioning that soldiers from Buryatia and Chechnya were known for their cruelty. These statements have elicited a reaction from the head of the Russian Buddhist community, Damba Ayusheev. Following the state propaganda narrative, when referring to the war in Ukraine Ayusheev claimed that Buryats were merely protecting their country from fascism, further stating that ‘buddha is with us’. Both Chechnya and Buryatia have seen a disproportionate amount of men leaving for the front compared to the European part of Russia. Some commentators even argue that this could lead to a national awakening of ethnic minorities in Russian regions.
Kadyrov’s pyrrhic victory in Ingushetia. Over the past couple of weeks, rumours have swirled on conspiratorial pro-regime Telegram channels that a new armed group had been created in Chechnya. It was not until 1 December that reliable media confirmed its existence. This unit, BOBR-Akhmat, is comprised of thirty-one members of the Batalkhadzhintsy Sufi brotherhood and is led by Abubakar Aushev, who is wanted for attempted murder. The Ingush authorities have been severely cracking down on the brotherhood recently. The Batalkhadzhintsy have resisted being co-opted, and the recent attempt to fully eliminate them caused them to seek refuge with Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov convinced the brotherhood to form a volunteer unit to deploy to Ukraine, in exchange for his protection. Thus, BOBR-Akhmat was formed and the Batalkhadzhintsy were finally co-opted. While this has been a victory for Kadyrov, it also means he has lost one of his best forms of influence in the neighbouring republic.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Megan McCullough, Ariadna Mane, Xandie Kuenning, Lucie Tafforin, Thapanee Tubonghee, Nathan Alan-Lee, Agnieszka Widłaszewska, Adriano Rodari, Bart Alting, Kirsty Dick, Vira Kompaniiets, & Harold Chambers 💘