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#Newsletter Exclusive / True Story Project

Regional Press Review (10 – 16 Dec)

RUSSIA

 Russia starts nationwide COVID-19 vaccination. 

  • Moscow has started distributing the locally made Sputnik V vaccine, representing Russia’s first nationwide COVID-19 vaccination. The statement comes as opponents claim the vaccine, in line with proven clinical guidelines, has yet to reach the advanced studies required to ensure its efficacy and safety. The Russian officials state that the vaccine will firstly be allocated to health workers, teachers and social workers as their risk of exposure to the virus is the greatest. (Radio Free Europe, December 5)

Russian vessels are returning to the Baltic Sea regions to restart controversial pipeline project. 

  • A Russian pipeline building ship has sailed into a path to restart development of a natural gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea, which has been fiercely opposed by the United States, Ukraine, and other nations. German shipping authorities have released a warning for the Baltic Sea area, where the last few kilometers of the notorious Nord Stream 2 pipeline are to be installed and ships have been advised to avoid the region between 5 and 31 December. (Radio Free Europe, December 6)

Russia’s economy is developing better than that in the western world. 

  • According to the deputy finance minister, Moscow’s focused approach to aiding Russia’s economic development during the pandemic has helped it bounce back from the recession faster than most of the western world. While the Kremlin’s $54.3bn Covid-19 support program amounted to a mere 4% of gross domestic product, or less than a tenth of the aid offered by Germany, Italy and the United States, Russia reports that its GDP decline has slowed. (Financial Times, December 8)

Russia is testing its military nuclear forces.  

  • The Russian Army held comprehensive exercises of its tactical nuclear arms, which included many practical missile launches. The Ministry of Defense claimed in a declaration that the exercises involved the release of an intercontinental nuclear warhead from the Karelia nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea. As part of the exercises, a ground-based intercontinental ballistic missile was also deployed from the Plesetsk base in northwest Russia, and Tu-160 and Tu-95 strategic bombers fired cruise missiles at test targets. Russia has increased its combat exercises in recent years in the wake of uncertainties with the West as ties plunged to a low post-Cold War period after Russia’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. (Associated Press, December 9)

The Netherlands suspends two Russians after the detection of the ‘espionage network.’ 

  • The Netherlands expelled two suspected Russian agents who served as diplomats in the region, according to its intelligence service. They are suspected of exploiting the high-tech market and of creating a “significant network of outlets” in the industry. Russia characterized the charges as “unfounded” and declared that the action to remove its diplomats was “provocative”. (BBC, December 10)

Russia’s newest revolutionary press is going against President Putin. 

  • The Russian leader’s attempt to regulate the media outlets is backfiring in a technical world that he doesn’t grasp. Any strikingly bold Russian-language probes by President Putin and his closest relatives have hit the internet in the past few days. In the not-so-distant past, those bombs would have and would have cost reporters their work and outlets their existence. The Kremlin finds these proceedings to be part of an orchestrated operation. But if so, the Russian President himself is his unintentional number one organizer—not just because there’s plenty to probe, but because his ostensibly successful effort to regulate Russian media is backfiring in a technical climate that has left President Putin well behind. It must now deal with an emerging community of independent networks that are both more agile and less vulnerable to systemic strain. (Bloomberg, December 13)

Russia’s test—launches Angara’s A5 heavy lift space rocket.  

  • Russia successfully deployed on Monday its heavy lift Angara A5 space rocket for the second time, the country’s military and space officials confirmed. The rocket flew off from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northwest Russia. Its first operational test launch was in 2014 and was described by President Putin as a great milestone for the national space rocket industry and Russia as a whole.” (Associated Press, December 14)

The Russian hack spectrum is evident: several U.S. organizations have been targeted. 

  • The Pentagon, security services, nuclear laboratories and Fortune 500 firms use software that have been identified to have been hacked by Russian hackers. The complexity of the hack crafted by one of Russia’s leading intelligence services became evident on Monday, when some Trump administration officials admitted that other federal agencies—the State Department, the Homeland Security Department, and portions of the Pentagon—were in jeopardy. Investigators have been trying to assess the degree to which the military, the intelligence community and the nuclear laboratories have been compromised by an extremely sophisticated attack. The U.S. authorities could not discover the intrusion until the last few weeks, and then after a private cyber security agency, FireEye, warned the U.S. intelligence that hackers had skipped layers of protections. (The New York Times, December 14)

The joint study by Bellingcat claims that Russia’s FSB is behind Navalny poisoning. 

  • A recent joint operation between Bellingcat and several media outlets has uncovered reports that the alleged poisoning of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has been conducted by the Russian Federal Security Service. Citing “voluminous evidence in the form of telecom and travel data,” the report, which involved Insider, a Russian investigative website, and collaboration with Der Spiegel and CNN, found that August’s poisoning of Kremlin critic in the Siberian city of Tomsk seems to have been ongoing since at least the beginning of 2017. (Radio Free Europe, December 14)

ARMENIA

Pressure on Pashinyan grows as Church leaders call for his resignation. 

  • Protests against PM Pashinyan continue in Armenia, as leaders of the Armenian Apostolic Church also join calls for his resignation. A coalition of 16 Armenian opposition parties gave Pashinyan an ultimatum to step down or face nationwide “civil disobedience” on Saturday, nominating veteran politician Manukian for an interim administration. Other top officials who have demanded Pashinyan’s resignation include President Sarkissian and all three of the country’s former presidents, as well as city mayors from the Syunik province.  (OC Media December 9) 

Armenia setting up new anti-corruption body. 

  • The Armenian Government has approved the creation of a special law-enforcement agency tasked with investigating corruption cases. The Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC) will start operating in the second half of 2021, and will be set up in accordance with the Government’s anti-graft strategy and three-year action plan adopted in October 2019. It will inherit most of its powers from anti-corruption divisions of four Armenian law-enforcement agencies, and will include civil society members alongside state officials. (Azatutyun December 4) 

 Armenia: Unlawful Rocket, Missile Strikes on Azerbaijan. 

  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) has found that Armenian military forces carried out unlawfully indiscriminate rocket and missile strikes on Azerbaijan during the September–November 2020 hostilities. HRW has documented 11 incidents in which Armenian forces hit populated areas in apparent indiscriminate attacks, and four cases where civilians were struck in areas with no apparent military targets. Armenian attacks led to 98 civilians killed and 414 wounded, and over 3,000 homes and 100 apartment buildings destroyed or damaged. HRW has called on the Armenian Government to investigate the attacks by Armenian forces that appear to violate international humanitarian law or the laws of war. (Human Rights Watch December 11) 

Azerbaijan, Armenia swap prisoners as part of Nagorno-Karabakh truce deal. 

  • Azerbaijan and Armenia have started exchanging prisoners, facilitated by the Russian peacekeepers who have been deployed in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. The Russian Defense Ministry announced that 12 prisoners were handed over to Azerbaijan and 44 to Armenia so far.  (Radio Free Europe December 14)

 AZERBAIJAN

Turkey’s Erdoğan arrives in Baku after Nagorno-Karabakh truce. 

  • President Erdoğan went to Baku for a two-day working visit, during which Senior Azerbaijani and Turkish officials signed multiple agreements on transport, business, strategic cooperation and mutual visa exemption. Turkish officials and personnel also attended the military parade held in Baku on December 10.  (Today.az December 11) 

Azerbaijan holds military parade to mark declared victory in Nagorno-Karabakh war. 

  • On December 10, Azerbaijan held a military parade to mark its declared victory over Armenia in the recent war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. More than 3,000 military personnel and 150 pieces of military hardware were involved in the procession, while Navy vessels performed maneuvers in the Bay of Baku. Turkish military personnel also participated in the event. (Radio Free Europe December 10) 

Azerbaijan: Unlawful Strikes in Nagorno-Karabakh. 

  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) has found that Azerbaijani forces carried out apparently indiscriminate attacks in Stepanakert during the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, in violation of the laws of war. HRW has found numerous incidents in which Azerbaijan’s forces used inherently indiscriminate weapons that did not distinguish between military targets and civilian objects, even in residential areas with no apparent military objectives, resulting in 13 civilians killed and 51 injured, as well as considerable damage to the city’s infrastructure. HRW has urged the Azerbaijani Government to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for serious laws-of-war violations. (Human Rights Watch December 11) 

Armenia, Azerbaijan blame each other for deadly post-ceasefire clashes

  • New clashes in the Nagorno-Karabakh region have killed four Azeri and six Armenian servicemen last weekend, in the first reports of casualties since the ceasefire was agreed upon. Negotiations between Armenia, Russia, and Azerbaijan are underway to resolve the situation. Russian peacekeepers deployed in the conflict area have reported no major clashes outside one ceasefire violation over the weekend, but the peacekeepers had not been deployed to Hadrut, where the casualties were reported(Euractiv December 14)

Russian peacekeepers extend control following skirmish near Hadrut

  • Russian peacekeepers have extended their area of control in Nagorno-Karabakh after fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces took place over Hin Tagher and Khtsaberd, two villages from the Azerbaijani side of the line of contact that were outside the mandate of the peacekeeping forces. Following the arrival of peacekeepers to the area, a new map released by Russian authorities on December 13 shows Armenian-controlled territory extending to the South and including the two villages. (OC Media December 14)

Azerbaijan: war leaves many homeless

  • For scores of Azerbaijanis who lost their homes during the recent fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, the relief from the ceasefire agreement is overshadowed by a growing uncertainty about what the coming months will bring. 3,410 houses and 120 apartment buildings, as well as 512 privately owned properties were damaged during the war. With shelters recently evacuated, many families in the region have found themselves homeless or living in unsafe, sometimes virtually destroyed homes. (Institute for War&Peace Reporting December 11)

BULGARIA

Buckovski: we can’t change history; we need to focus on the future. 

  • After Special Representative Buckovski conducted his first talks in Sofia, he observed that the loss of trust between the two countries has exacerbated, and will approach the issue as a priority in the coming period. Buckovski kicked off the talks with FM Zaharieva in a one-on-one meeting, and is scheduled to also meet with PM Borissov, PM Karakachanov, and President Radev. Buckovski assured Zaharieva that North Macedonia is determined to implement the  Friendship Agreement. Zaharieva has explained that it is wrong to call the Bulgarian position as a “veto,” reiterating that Bulgaria is ready to continue the talks and pave the way for North Macedonia’s EU accession. (IBNA December 9) 

North Macedonia: PM criticizes Bulgaria’s veto of EU membership talks. 

  • North Macedonia’s PM has criticized Bulgaria’s veto to start his country’s membership talks with the EU, stating that the “completely irrational and offensive” move shows “neither friendship nor brotherhood,” and that “in the 21st Century, it is neither European nor democratic to tell another how to feel, how to self-determine … [or] to write the history of another nation.” PM Zaev assured that North Macedonia remains “committed in seeking a solution” with Bulgaria, however. The EU has warned Bulgaria that its veto risked undermining security in the Balkans.  (Euronews December 9) 

Merkel and Borissov blocked EU sanctions against Turkey at summit. 

  • Germany and Bulgaria were the most vocal among the EU countries who blocked sanctions against Turkey at the EU summit on Thursday. Spain, Italy, Malta, and Hungary were also against sanctions, though less vehemently so. The EU leaders have condemned Turkey’s aggressiveness and unilateral actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, but decided on taking a soft stance, granting Ankara another three-month grace period in lieu of hard sanctions. (Euractiv December 11) 

Interior Minister: crime in Bulgaria falls sharply during pandemic, domestic violence keeps same levels

  • Data for 2020 show a downtrend in all types of criminal activity in Bulgaria, especially among theft and fraud incidents. Reported domestic violence levels, however, were similar to those in 2019. Interior Minister Terziiski has commented on notable cases of theft performed by people without criminal records, noting that the pandemic-related economic situation might push “throw some people into disarray”. (Novinite December 14)

European Parliament again invites Bulgarian authorities for hearing.

  • The European Parliament Monitoring Group on Democracy, Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law has declared dissatisfaction with Bulgaria’s answers to the written questions that were sent to Bulgarian authorities after its hearing in August. Therefore, the Group invited Bulgarian Government representatives to an additional meeting on December 17. (Novinite December 15 )

GEORGIA

High level EU Diplomat comments on post-election Georgia negotiations. 

  • Among other topics, the EU Foreign Affairs Council addressed the post-election political ongoing crisis in Georgia during the talks mediated by the EU and the US between the governing Georgian Dream and opposition parties. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, staed “it is time for Georgian political forces to show leadership and enable parliamentarian representation”. Expressing hope that the “latest proposal from Georgian Dream will open the door for a compromise,” High Representative Borell underscored the need for the Parliament to advance on “much needed” electoral and judicial reform and to address socio-economic challenges. (Civil.ge, December 7) 

OSCE chairs endorse declaration in favor of Georgia. 

  • The OSCE chairs from Slovakia, Albania, Sweden, Poland and Macedonia, affirmed their enthusiasm for the freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia at the 27th ministerial meeting of the OSCE in Tirana. They have shared their staunch encouragement for the International Discussions in Geneva. “We reiterate our support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders. “We underline our concern over the continuing the deterioration of human rights situation in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’’. (Georgia Today, December 7) 

First China-bound Turkish cargo train to travel through Georgia. 

  • Turkey’s Anadolu Agency estimates that the first China-bound Turkish cargo train will depart on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railroad on December 8 after leaving from Istanbul last Friday. The train entering Georgia through eastern Kars province, is expected to stop at the southern town of Akhalkalaki and then pass-through Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan before transporting freight to the Chinese province of Xi’an. By following the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, also known as the Middle Corridor, the Iron Silk Road connectivity program, covering 8,693 km and five nations, cuts the cargo time between Turkey and China from one month to 12 days. (Civil.ge, December 8) 

Germany and France are supporting Georgia to progress with institutional reforms.

  • In a joint declaration on Georgia, the German and French FMs declared that the construction of strong institutions is the foundation of a healthy nation – as is a functioning democratic pluralism.” The remarks come as the new Georgian Parliament reopened with the participation of only ruling Georgian Dream Party representatives, as all opposition parties dismissed the parliamentary election results of October 31 and declined to participate. (Civil.ge, December 12)

MOLDOVA

U.S. Embassy condemns Moldovan parliament for land sale cancellation. 

  • On Thursday, after the Moldovan authorities suspended the selling of the former Republican Stadium in Chisinau, proposed for a future US embassy, the US embassy in Moldova responded harshly. Deputies of the Socialist Party, PSRM, and For Moldova Party approved fast-forward a draft bill that restores the land to the state, annulling the last government’s resolution in 2019. The vote was criticized by opposition representatives. “This repeal violates a binding bilateral agreement, violates international law and adversely affects relations between the United States and Moldova,” the U.S. embassy stated in a press release. The U.S. had negotiated the sale of the plot in the center of Chisinau for ten years. (Balkan Insight, December 4) 

Protestors are seeking an opportunity to overthrow the pro-Russian parliament. 

  • Opposition leader Maia Sandu, elected president two weeks ago, accusing pro-Russian office-holder Igor Dodon of not wanting to acknowledge the presidential election loss, addressing at least 20,000 supporters in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau. “He wants now to set fire to the country, provoke chaos, drive Moldova into international isolation,” declared the former World Bank economist. Sandu called on the government to resign, echoing protesters demands for fresh legislative elections. “An early election is inevitable and the shortest way to achieve that is through the resignation of the government,” she declared. (Deutsche Welle, December 6) 

ROMANIA

Bucharest to host new EU cyber research hub.

  • Bucharest was selected to host the European Cybersecurity Competence Center. The center will manage cybersecurity funds from the EU’s research budgets, including the €2 billion earmarked in the Digital Europe program, and many millions more via innovation funding, coronavirus recovery funds, and national contributions. An agreement on a new law establishing the center is expected to be struck before the end of the year. (Politico December 10) 

TURKEY

EU leaders back sanctions on Turkey over gas drilling. 

  • EU leaders have agreed on limited sanctions targeting individuals and companies in response to Turkey’s gas exploration in waters off the coast of Greece and Cyprus. Friday’s proposal steps back from the arms embargo and wider sanctions that had been under consideration. The Turkish MFA has called the EU’s approach “biased and illegal.” EU leaders left the door open for stricter measures in the future, instructing EU Foreign Policy Chief Borrell to compile a report on EU–Turkey political, economic and trade relations to “expand the scope of action” by the March 2021 EU leaders’ summit. (Deutsche Welle December 11) 

Turkey fines social media giants second time for defying law. 

  • Turkey has fined Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Periscope, and TikTok once again for breaking the July 2020 digital law. The €3.10 million fines were imposed for failing to appoint official representatives and move their servers to Turkey, as required by the new digital media law, and sanctions such as an advertising ban and a cut of up to 90% of their bandwidth will ensue if they do not do so in the near future. Opposition parties and human rights groups have criticized the law as an attempt to control media platforms and silence critics. (Balkan Insight December 11) 

Two Russian reporters held in Istanbul for filming drone production unit. 

  • Two journalists from the Russian television channel NTV have been arrested by Turkish police for allegedly filming a drone production unit without permission on December 3. The Russian Embassy is in contact with Turkish authorities and hopes for cooperation. (Hurriyet Daily News December 6) 

U.S. Sanctions NATO Ally Turkey over purchase of Russian missile-defense system. 

  • The U.S. has sanctioned Turkey for its purchase of a missile defense system from Russia, banning all U.S. export licenses to the Presidency of Defense Industries and freezing the assets of its president, vice president, and two employees. Secretary of State Pompeo called the action “a clear signal that the U.S. will…not tolerate significant transactions with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors.” Turkey and Russia were quick to condemn the move, urging the U.S. to “reconsider this unfair decision.” (Radio Free Europe December 14)

Turkey “upset,” but undeterred by U.S. sanctions and EU threats.

  • FM Çavuşoğlu has announced that Turkey will not abandon its rights and interests in the eastern Mediterranean because of possible EU sanctions or criticism. President Erdoğan also criticized the U.S. and EU for moving forward with sanctions processes against Turkey, adding that Turkey expected the EU “not to sanction it but rather to realize its promise of full (EU) membership.” (Euractiv December 15)

Turkey: crackdown on independent TV channels. 

  • Human Rights Watch has accused Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), of imposing punitive and disproportionate sanctions against independent television and radio channels that broadcast government-critical commentary and news coverage. In 2020, RTÜK issued at least 43 sanctions against seven independent TV channels and radio stations, ordered the suspension of seven programs, and imposed fines totaling $1,086,470 for alleged violations of Article 8 of Law 6112, which prohibits content that is contrary to Turkey’s “existence and independence,” incites hatred and hostility, and/or glorifies terrorism(Human Rights Watch December 15)

UKRAINE

Ukrainian FM stressed Kyiv and Budapest must respect each other’s legislation and national interests. 

  • FM Kuleba of Ukraine stated that Ukraine was reluctant to intensify the political dispute with Hungary, trying to preserve diplomatic relations with its neighbors. “Firstly, it is an important neighbor country in Central Europe, and we are also part of this space… Secondly, it is a NATO Ally, and we would like to pursue normal work with Hungary on the issue of Euro-Atlantic integration. Thirdly, this is a European Union member state, whose position is also important to us,” he declared. (UNIAN, December 7) 

UN General Assembly adopts resolution on the question of Crimean military expansion. 

  • A resolution called “The problem of militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, and parts of the Black Sea and the Azov Sea” was approved by the UN General Assembly. 63 countries sponsored the paper., with just 17 states voting against the resolution, including Russia. The resolution notes in particular that the Russian Federation’s occupation of Crimea violates the structure of international security and control over arms, such as those able to carry nuclear warheads. The paper opposes Russian army bases being established in Crimea. Furthermore, the resolution calls on Russia to restrict the military training of children living on the peninsula of Crimea with a view to conscription into the Russian Armed Forces. (Ukrinform, December 8) 

Ukrainian FM is embracing the introduction by the U.S. Senate of the assistance program and measures targeting Nord Stream 2. 

  • The MFA of Ukraine acknowledges the recognition of the U.S. Senate and House of Members of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA 2021), which offers aid to Ukraine and sanctions the Russian Nord Stream 2 program. This was reported in the MFA commentary on the implementation of NDAA 2021, presented on the Ministry’s website. “The provisions of this document envisage, in particular, the allocation of a significant package of security assistance to Ukraine, including by increasing available funds for the purchase of lethal weapons for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as well as intensifying sanctions pressure against the subversive activities of the Russian Federation,” the report reads. (Ukrinform, December 14) 

The Ukrainian FM and his counterpart from Finland are considering collaboration in the fight against cyber threats. 

  • The FMs of Ukraine and Finland addressed the goals for collaboration between the two nations in 2021. The two ministers addressed this topic during a tele conference on 14 December, reports the Ukrainian FM press office. “I am convinced that next year, Ukraine and Finland will be able to fully realize their cooperation potential in fighting COVID-19, countering hybrid threats, boosting trade and investment volumes, and reforming education,” the Ukrainian FM declared. (Ukrinform, December 15)

CZECH REPUBLIC

Czech Republic: further action needed to integrate Roma children in schools and to prevent discrimination against LGBTI persons. 

  • A report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) calls on Czech authorities to end segregation of Roma children in schoolsto implement a national strategy to identify and confront areas of LGBTI discrimination, and to combat hate speechECRI welcomes positive developments such as the Public Defender of Rights promoting equality and combating racism, the conversion of former Roma concentration camp site into a center on historical Roma genocideand promising practices in inclusive educationHowever, the report identifies various shortcomings and concludes with 16 recommendations for the Czech Republic to solve them. (Council of Europe Portal December 8)

HUNGARY

Hungary, Poland lift EU budget veto. 

  • EU heads of states and governments have agreed on December 10 on a deal that will see Hungary and Poland lift their veto of the bloc’s multi-year budget and COVID-19 recovery package. The compromise ties EU disbursements to respect for the rule of law, but the European Court of Justice must rule on the legality of the mechanism, a process that could take more than a year to complete. The draft deal will be voteon by the European Parliament next week. (Emerging Europe December 10)

Hungary: homophobic adoption bill is part of an ongoing attack on LGBTQ community. 

  • On 15 December, the Hungarian Parliament is expected to vote on a bill prohibiting adoption for non-married couples, and amending the Constitution to state that “the mother is female and the father is male” and that Hungary “protects self-identity of the children’s sex by birth.” Amnesty Hungary has criticized the “discriminatory, homophobic and transphobic new laws,” calling them “part of an ongoing attack on LGBTQ people by Hungarian authorities.” (Amnesty International December 14)

POLAND

EU agrees on tougher climate goals for 2030. 

  • EU leaders have agreed on cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. The increase from the 40% reduction target was proposed by the European Commission in September and was met with resistance by Poland and other coal-dependent countriesAs a result, member states agreed that the new target should be delivered collectively, and will take into account specific national situations when establishing measures.  (Deutsche Welle December 11)

Polska Press deal stokes concerns for media freedom in Poland.

  • The purchase of local independent publisher Polska Press by state-run oil refiner PKN Orlen raises new concerns over media freedom in Poland. Polska Press owns 20 of Poland’s 24 regional newspapers and almost 120 local weekliesThe deal has been discussed for some time, following calls from the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) for the “repolonisation” of Poland’s private media, whom they claim is influenced too much by foreign groups.  (Emerging Europe December 8)

Polish students strike against Education Minister.

  • This week, Polish students protested against Education Minister Czarnekaccusing him of holding homophobic and misogynistic views and politicizing the education system. The protests took place on social media and in online classes. On Wednesday, many students abandoned online classes and, in some cases, joined protest actions such as a climate strike march in WarsawCzarnek has met with strong opposition from students and teachers since his appointment to the post in October, with a petition demanding his dismissal collecting 90,000 signatures. (Balkan Insight December 10)

Poland: Protesters march to home of PiS party leader on anniversary of Communist crackdown

  • Thousands of people marched in Warsaw to protest Poland’s Government on Sunday, on the 39th anniversary of the 1981 martial law crackdown by the country’s former authoritarian regime. Brought together by a women’s rights organization, many carried EU and rainbow flags. Disgruntled farmers carried out a separate protest, leaving eggs, potatoes, and a dead pig in front of Law and Justice (PiSParty Leader Kaczyński’s home. (Euronews December 14)

President Duda invites the U.S. President-elect Biden to Poland.

  • President Duda has officially congratulated President-elect Biden on his victory in the U.S. presidential elections and invited him to Poland. Duda praised the Poland–U.S. relationship and Strategic Dialogue, as well as the decision to enhance U.S. military presence in Polandand expressed hope to expand the Three Seas InitiativeDuda added that “today we are in a dire need to address other challenges to the international security equilibrium rooted in imperial sentiments, as well as the abuse of power and human rights. We need to stand firmly and speak with one powerful voice for sovereignty, democratic rights, territorial integrity and freedom of nations.” (Poland.IN December 15)

SLOVAKIA

Freed in the Kuciak murder case, guilty of another murder. 

  • The Specialized Criminal Court has sentenced Alena Zsuzsová to 21 years in prison for ordering the murder of László BasternákHurbanovo mayor who was killed in 2010, as well as for preparing the murders of Daniel Lipšic, Prosecutor Šufliarsky, and General Prosecutor ŽilinkaRoman Ostružlík and Vladimír Mosnár were also sentenced to 21 years in maximum security prison for Basternák’s murderZsuzso was helping Ostružlík when he ran against Basternák in the 2010 municipal election. Zsuzsová was previously stripped of the charges of ordering the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak(Slovak Spectator December 4)

President Čaputová one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. 

  • President Čaputová has appeared on the Forbes list of World’s 100 most powerful women for the second time, ranking 83rdThe list features women from 30 countries, and includes 10 heads of state, 38 CEOs, and five entertainers, and is topped by Chancellor Merkel for the 10th year in a row, followed by President of the European Central Bank Lagarde, and U.S. Vice President-elect Harris. (Slovak Spectator December 9)

Slovakia still lacks better education for Roma and anti-discrimination legislation for LGBTI people. 

  • The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has called on Slovakia to improve the education of Roma children and develop an action plan for LGBTI-based discrimination, hate crimes, and hate speech. ECRI welcomed progress such as the increase in the budget of the National Centre for Human Rights, the adoption of an action plan against racism, penalties for hate speech imposed on some politicians and mediaand the strengthening oCriminal Code provisions on hate crimes. However, the report identifies various shortcomings and concludes with 15 recommendations for Slovakia to solve them.  (Slovak Spectator December 9)

U.S. Embassy awards three Slovaks for pursuing human rights

  • The U.S. Embassy has awarded three Slovak personalities for their extraordinary contribution to pursuing human rights and transparency on International Human Rights DayHolocaust survivor Eva Mosnáková was awarded the Human Rights Award for sharing her story and helping build a more tolerant and inclusive future. Investigative journalist Monika Tódová received the Woman of Courage Prize for revealing corruption in top state positions and defending the freedom of the press. Jaroslav Macek, who chairs the district court in Žilina, was awarded the Ján Kuciak Transparency Award for pursuing transparency and enforcing the responsibility of state representatives. (Slovak Spectator December 11)

People protested against the Government again.

  • Another anti-government protest was held in Bratislava on December 12, organized by the far-right Kotlebovci—People’s Party Our Slovakia (ĽSNS). Most did not wear masks. The protest ended after an hour, but people refused to leave, and the police had to intervene to disperse the crowd, detaining at least two protesters. (Slovak Spectator December 12)

SLOVENIA

U.S. and Slovenia sign Nuclear Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding. 

  • The U.S. and Slovenia have signed a Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Strategic Civil Nuclear Cooperation (NCMOU), a diplomatic mechanism that strengthens and expand strategic ties between the two countries by providing a framework for cooperation on civil nuclear issues and for engagement between experts from the respective countries’ governments, industries, national laboratories, and academic institutions. (U.S. Department of State December 8)

Slovenia’s Ministry of Culture vandalized

  • The Culture Ministry building was pelted with black paint, in what has been described as yet another attack on the Ministry and its staff, who claim that they are under pressure to the point where they are afraid to go to workThe Ministry has been heavily criticized by artists since the start of the epidemic, and several manifestations have been staged in protest. (Total Slovenia News December 4)

CoE commissioner calls on Janša to reintroduce STA funding. 

  • Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Mijatović has urged PM Janša on Monday to immediately reintroduce funding to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), expressing concern that the suspension of public funding could jeopardize the agency’s future. The suspension of STA funding is “one of the various incidents reported to me that point to the worsening of the working environment for journalists and media outlets in Slovenia over recent months,” Mijatović stated. (The Slovenia Times December 10)

Slovenia, Italy and Croatia to hold meeting on EEZ in Adriatic

  • Slovenian FM Logar and Italian FM di Maio have met to discuss the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) that Italy and Croatia intend to demarcate in the Adriatic Seaand will soon hold another meeting alongside Croatian FM Radman. EEZ demarcation is to be carried out with full trilateral cooperation and in accordance with the principles of international maritime law and of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. (IBNA December 11)

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