Lossi 36 Weekly #19: news highlights from Central Europe to Central Asia10 min read
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In this week’s newsletter: local candidate wins Albanian local election from jail cell, alleged kidnapping of Pashinyan’s son in Armenia, China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an, controversy over public commemoration in Slovenia, Moldova to leave the CIS, Russia issues arrest warrants for four ICC officials, and much more!
⭐️ This week’s special
Serbian civilians surrender over 13,500 weapons in response to mass shootings.Autumn Mozeliak
Due to public pressure surrounding the school shooting in Belgrade, the Serbian government declared a one-month amnesty period, where any citizen possessing legally or illegally obtained firearms would be able to surrender these possessions to the government without legal repercussions. Since the amnesty period began on 8 May, thousands of weapons, even including grenades and anti-tank rocket launchers, have been given up. Police say over 300,000 rounds of ammunition have also been surrendered. President Aleksandar Vučić says approximately half of the weapons were illegally possessed. Serbia has been estimated to have the most firearms per capita and amnesties like this have occurred in the past, largely due to the tens of thousands of firearms left over from the war in Yugoslavia, but with much less success. The surrendered weapons will go to the Serbian military.
🌺 In the Balkans…
Greek candidate wins Albanian local election from a jail cell. In the local municipality of Himara, an ethnic Greek candidate, Fredi Beleri, was elected as mayor. The only issue was that he had to celebrate his victory from a jail cell after being arrested by local authorities on suspicion of vote buying. Running as a candidate of a local Greek party under the broad banner of the current opposition, his arrest was soon picked up by representatives in Greece, who threatened to bring his case to the EU if he is not released. Beleri was accused of buying eight votes for the local equivalent of 360 euros. The local election results were also seen as a disaster for a fragmented opposition, which has struggled for years to find both a winning anti-government platform to attract new voters, or to decide on a main leader to spearhead its electoral campaigns.
⛰️ In the Caucasus…
Conflicting stories about alleged attempted kidnapping of Armenian PM’s son. Various stories have emerged about last week’s incident, in which Ashot Pashinyan, the son of Nikol Pashinyan, alleges he was almost kidnapped. Initial sources claimed that Armenian security services had thwarted the kidnapping attempt, but the story became more complex with time. According to the version published by a national Armenian newspaper owned by the Pashinyan family, Ashot Pashinyan had agreed to meet with families of soldiers who died in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. A bereaved mother then asked him to discuss further in her car. After he agreed, she began to speed off, and Pashinyan was forced to jump out to save himself. According to the woman’s account, Pashinyan got into the car of his own volition, and was never at risk of any harm. Although the incident is still being investigated, it has been seen as illustrative of the increasingly personalised vitriol about the war directed at Armenian politicians, which can now also involve their family members.
Restart of direct Russian flights to Georgia sparks protests. On 19 May, the first Russian commercial aircraft in four years landed at Tbilisi’s international airport, after a ban had been put in place after anti-Russian protests took place in Georgia in 2019. The Russian Azimuth plane carried a number of pro-Russian Georgian activists, including the chairman of the Solidarity For Peace organisation, Merab Chikashvili, the director of the Georgian-Russian Public Centre, Dmitry Lortkipanidze, and the head of the Georgian-Russian Friendship Centre, Valery Kvaratskhelia. Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted the ban on 10 May and cancelled visa restrictions for Georgian citizens. Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili called Putin’s decision ‘another Russian provocation’ while protestors met the plane outside the airport carrying Georgian and Ukrainian flags and signs stating ‘Russia is a terrorist state.’ When asked in Parliament if the resumption of direct flights with Russia would harm Georgia’s relations with the EU, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili stated that it was ‘a wrong interpretation and a wrong connection.’
🛤 In Central Asia…
China-Central Asia Summit takes place in Xi’an; Kazakhstan to host next year. The five Central Asian leaders met abroad once again, this week for a China-Central Asia summit hosted in Xi’an by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The summit took place over two days (18 and 19 May), but ‘the chief outcome was a rehash of hopeful rhetoric,’ specifically about economic development as China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative makes headway in the region. The main focuses of the summit were ensuring regional security — with terrorism, domestic stability, and defence being particularly noted. Xi also outlined potential opportunities for cooperation between China and Central Asian states in industry, agriculture, transportation and future cultural exchanges. Although concrete agreements or programs failed to materialise, the meeting leadership decided to make the China-Central Asia Summit a biannual event, with Kazakhstan to host in 2025.
A year since Pamiri uprising in GBAO. This week marks the anniversary of the Tajik state’s brutal crackdown in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan. On 16 May last year, the region’s capital, Khorog, lay witness to the escalation of the conflict in GBAO after arbitrary dismissal of the governor by the capital, which led to intense protests. The protests were dealt with violently, killing at least 25 individuals. During that time, several outliers and upholders of Pamiri customs and culture were detained by the government for their “extremist” or “terrorist” activities including clerics and journalists, all through secret trials. Officials have allegedly taken to cultural and religious erasure, by advising residents to remove posters of Aga Khan, a revered Ismaili figure. Since 2012, even the Aga Khan Foundation’s activities have been tried to be limited by Dushanbe, especially in the GBAO regions.
The Interior Ministry of Uzbekistan busts ‘sextortion’ telegram group. Six men were arrested by the Interior Ministry for creating a telegram channel called ‘Hello Tashkent, Salam Tashkent’ that was dedicated to sharing nude photos of women. Female victims whose nude photos were shared in the group were extorted by the group admins, who charged victims money to have the pictures removed. The leaders also offered group members a ‘private VIP’ channel for more money that published more explicit photos/videos of women. The arrested men face extortion charges, which carry sentences of up to 10 years in prison. However, in Uzbekistan, where women are often subject to conservative and sexist attitudes, some are calling for the women to be publicly shamed and punished for their private images being shared—which often happens without the woman’s knowledge or consent. A young female victim of this type of crime recently committed suicide in Samarkand, sparking larger conversations on nude photos shared online and lack of consent in Uzbekistan.
🚃 In Central Europe & the Baltics…
Slovenian government revokes decree on communist victims’ day of remembrance. A few hours before the National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Communist Violence, which falls in Slovenia on 17 May, the commemoration – established by the preceding government led by Janez Janša – was cancelled by Slovenia’s current government. The move was justified by referring to a lack of a “public and expert debate” on the establishment of the commemoration day. The recent decision was met with criticism by Borut Pahor, former president of Slovenia, who described the revocation as “unacceptable,” as well as from Janša himself. Janša’s government had established the day of remembrance on the legal basis of a decree issued on 12 May 2022. When the National Day was declared in 2022, the initiative received disapproval from the left wing, which accused the ruling government of creating divisions.
Verdict in retrial over Ján Kuciak’s murder. Last week, a specialised criminal court in Pezinok, Slovakia, acquitted Slovak businessman Marián Kočner on charges of ordering the killing of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. Kočner’s co-defendant, Alena Zsuzsavá, was in turn found guilty of ordering and planning the murder, and received a 25-year sentence. Kuciak and Kušnírová were shot dead in February 2018 and their murder has been linked to Kuciak’s investigative journalism targeting major Slovak businessmen. Up until last week, three people had been sentenced for the murders, including Zoltán Andruskó, who cooperated with the police since 2018 and pointed to Kočner as the mastermind behind the killings. The first trial of Kočner and Zsuzsavá ended in acquittal of both defendants, however, this verdict was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court which ordered a retrial. The families of the murdered couple stated that they would appeal against the latest verdict as well.
🏢 In Eastern Europe…
Moldova begins the withdrawal process from the CIS. The President of the Parliament of Moldova, Igor Grosu, announced on 15 May that Moldova will initiate the withdrawal procedure from the Agreement on the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Community of Independent States, claiming the move as a first step. Later in the week, the Chisinau approved a decision to denounce the Agreement on the exchange of information regarding border protection and the Agreement on the conditions of delivery of goods. The latter was denounced as Moldova is a market economy and exchange is carried out based on individual contacts between economic agents, without the state’s involvement. As for the former, the treaty reflects the realities and particularities of the period in which it was previously signed. It was concluded that both agreements “have lost their relevance” and are no longer viable instruments for the country’s interest, especially in the context of the European path followed by Moldova.
🌲 In Russia…
Russia issues arrest warrants for four ICC officials. The list includes the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan, whom Russia accuses of “criminal prosecution of a person known to be innocent […] and preparation of an attack on a representative of a foreign state enjoying international protection.” The tit-for-tat move is a reaction to the ICC’s arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s children’s rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova. The ICC issued these warrants in March amid ongoing investigations into deportations of Ukrainian children from Ukrainian occupied territories, which is a war crime. Soon after the ICC’s decision Russia’s Investigative Committee opened their own investigations into the Court. It remains unlikely that anyone will be extradited, either to Russia or to the ICC. However, the new warrants signal a further schism between the global legal system and Russia and its allies, who dismiss the ICC as western puppets.
Russian Prosecutor General’s Office recognises Greenpeace’s activities as undesirable. The organisation’s activities have been considered to threaten the foundations of the constitutional order and security of the Russian Federation. The Russian branch of the organisation, established in 1992 in Moscow, has been found guilty of financing the activities of foreign agents willing to implement changes in Russia’s legislation. Receiving funds from both Russian and Western contributors, Greenpeace Russia is known for creating two nature reserves, four national parks, and for adding eight more territories to UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites. In what appears as a careful NGO-targeting strategy, Greenpeace is only one of many examples of civil society organisations being dismantled for not being on the same political line as the Kremlin – the World Wide Fund (WWF), for instance, was recognised as a foreign agent in March 2023.
Thank you to this week’s contributors: Cameron MacBride, Chaharika Uppal, Myriam Marino, Agnieszka Widłaszewska, Patricia Raposo, Daan Verkuil, Romain le Dily, Kirsty Dick, Nate Ostiller, Autumn Mozeliak, & Teresa Reilly 💌