Germany

This Week in European Conflict… February 18th-25th, 2012.

  • The former foreign secretary of the EU Jack Straw announced that the European Parliament should be abolished after failing to achieve its purpose of bridging the divide between the European people and EU. Straw argued that the body has a “major democratic deficit”  as a poll shows 78% believe their voice doesn’t count in the EU.
  • Tens of thousands reportedly rallied across Russia on Saturday in support of Vladimir Putin. Hundreds of cars circled central Moscow on Sunday to demand PM Putin allows free elections in the country; President Medvedev announced his intention to meet with some of the heads of the opposition protest movement; while PM Putin outlined plans for military reform and rearmament that would see the government spending 23 trillion rubles (around $770 billion) over a ten year period.  On Monday, a rare meeting between the President and opposition leaders produced talk of political reform but no sign of concessions strong enough to halt protests posing a challenge to Putin; a new poll predicts that Putin will be elected President in the first round of March’s election; while PM Putin announced that the country needs a stronger military to protect it against foreign attempts to stoke conflict around its borders. On Tuesday, Putin allegedly sought to bolster his authority ahead of the Presidential election by promising police in Moscow to pay hefty pay raises; the President of the southern republic of Tatarstan endorsed Putin, claiming Russia needs a “tsar” rather than a manager as head of state; while early voting began in remote areas ahead of the March 4th Presidential election. On Thursday, tens of thousands gathered in a central Moscow stadium to hear Putin, as he spouted nationalistic rhetoric and warned of the dangers of foreign influence, reportedly reminiscent of Soviet times. On Friday, Radio Free Europe ran an article detailing how a new protest movement, organized largely through social media, is rolling through the country; while Putin announced that he sees no new chill in ties with the Americans, but warned that he would not let the US gain nuclear supremacy and had no intention of playing “yes man” to the West on global issues.
  • An opposition activist in Belarus was sentenced to 10 days in jail on Wednesday for holding an unsanctioned “toy protest” in Minsk, and announced he will go on a hunger strike in protest. On Thursday, another toy protest activist was reportedly jailed, while both men announced the start of a hunger strike to protest their imprisonment.
  • A wave of execution-style shootings and a police station bombing have rocked Sweden’s third largest city, sparking fears of gangster violence taking hold of the country, once seen as the world’s safest places.
  • Police announced on Saturday that at least seventeen police and seven insurgents were reportedly killed in four days of fighting on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan. Another 24 police and security troops were also wounded in the fighting.
  • EU officials announced that a new round of talks in Brussels between Serbia and Kosovo was to be postponed to February 22nd after Pristina representatives failed to show up on time because their flight had been cancelled.  On Wednesday, Serbia announced its plans to open its first shelter for gays and lesbians in a southern city. On Thursday, the German Foreign Minister announced that Germany firmly supports Serbia’s bid to join the EU and would like to see it given candidate status at the upcoming week’s EU summit; while former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic slammed the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal as a puppet of NATO, calling it biased against him and other Serbs. On Friday, the EU Enlargement Commissioner announced that Serbia and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership reached a deal on border issues and Kosovo’s participation in Balkan regional meetings; while the Bosnian Education Minister has reportedly resigned and fled the country after receiving death threats for his decision to remove mandated religious classes from primary school.
  • Macedonia reportedly urged NATO to accept it as a member when the alliance holds a summit in May, despite Greek opposition due to a long-running dispute over its name.
  • The government of Germany and two main opposition parties agreed to jointly nominate a former East German human rights activist as the next President, following the resignation of the former President on Friday.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people protested across Spain on Sunday against reforms to the labour market, in fears it will destroy workers’ rights and the welfare state. The protests took place in some 57 towns and cities across the country. Thousands of students took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against alleged police violence, a day after security forces arrested 25 protesters and injured 4 at a demonstration against spending cuts in education.
  • Nearly 75 percent of voters in Latvia rejected the plan to change the constitution and introduce Russian as an official second language in the country on Saturday, a move praised by neighbouring Lithuania. Russia however, criticized the country for rejecting their language, calling the vote biased because it excluded so many Russian-speaking “non-citizens” from voting.
  • The Guardian ran an article outlining the six key elements of the deal for the bailout of Greece by the eurozone finance ministers. On Wednesday, trade unions promised a popular revolt over the bailout.
  • Emergency services in London, England began practising their response in the event of an attack during the summer Olympic Games, set to be staged in the capital this year.
  •  The European Court of Human Rights ordered Italy to pay thousands of dollars to 24 Somali and Eritrean migrants who fled Libya in 2009, but were subsequently returned. The court ruled that the migrants risked ill-treatment in Libya where such migrants were systematically detained.
  • President Saakashvili of Georgia challenged his political opponents to disclose their views on relations with Russia, while also underlining his commitment to strengthening the country’s ties with NATO and the EU.

This Week in European Conflict… February 11th-18th, 2012.

  • On Friday, France and Britain agreed to jointly work to develop next-generation unmanned drones as part of their military cooperation.
  • The Guardian ran a set of interesting articles detailing Scotland Yard’s investigation into Britain’s MI5 instances of torture, murder and rendition.
  • Nicolas Sarkozy formally declared that he will be running for a second term as President of France this spring.
  • The chief editor of the leading liberal radio station in Russia announced that a surprise management reshuffle at the station is aimed at dictating the station’s coverage ahead of the March 4th Presidential elections on Tuesday; while it was released that the country came close to a nuclear disaster last December when a blaze engulfed a nuclear-powered submarine carrying atomic weapons. On Wednesday, a fake video showing Vladimir Putin in a courtroom cage in what seemed to be a real trial for terrorism went viral on the internet; while the white ribbon protest gained steam, especially among those fashion-conscious Russians. On Thursday, the European Parliament expressed concern over the disputed Russian State Duma elections in December, but stopped short of called for their annulment; while an official responsible for foreign arms sales says the country set a weapons export record in 2011, selling $13.2 billion in arms to foreign clients, with India, Algeria and Vietnam accounting for half of all exports.
  • Serbs in northern Kosovo began voting on Monday in a referendum asking whether or not they accept the authority of ethnic Albanian rulers. The referendum has no legal weight, but is likely to further complicate the EU-sponsored dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and Serbia’s efforts to eventually join the EU. By Thursday, 99.74% of Serbs who voted rejected Albanian rule; and European Union-brokered talks were set to resume between Serbia and Kosovo.
  • At least three Russian police officers were reportedly killed and six others injured on Monday in a gun battle with suspected militants along the Chechen-Dagestan border.  On Tuesday, Russian security forces allegedly killed the leader of a rebel group, Ibragimkhalil Daudov in Dagestan.
  • Veterans of the Afghan-Soviet war in the Ukraine snubbed the President by turning their backs on him at a ceremony on Wednesday to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The daughter of former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko said that her mother has been subjected to poor medical care and abusive conditions in prison during an interview.
  • On Saturday, the people of Latvia voted in a referendum on whether or not to make Russian the second official language of the country.
  • On Sunday night, tens of thousands of people in Greece reportedly tried to demonstrate peacefully in front of the parliament building, but were almost immediately met with teargas, and then took to rioting—setting fire to banks, stores and cafes. On Monday, the country announced it will hold general elections in April, only hours after Parliament voted through tough new austerity measures aimed at saving the country from bankruptcy.
  • The European Parliament President announced he is “appalled” by the deteriorating situation in Belarus regarding human rights and political freedoms on Tuesday and called upon authorities to release opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka and all other political prisoners. On Friday, another prominent Belarusian human rights activist who was sentenced to 4 ½ years in jail for tax evasion was transferred from a detention centre in Minsk to a labour camp in Babruysk.
  • Two international watchdogs condemned recent attacks on a Turkish newspaper office in Germany and France allegedly carried out by Kurdish activists. On Friday, the German President was forced into a humiliating resignation, after being caught up in an alleged corruption scandal and misguided attempt to muzzle the press.

This Week in European Conflict… December 4th-10th, 2011.

  • The top military commander in the US announced that he believes the eurozone is at great risk and warned that any breakup of the bloc could have serious consequences for the Pentagon. He warned of the potential for civil unrest after 26 of the 27 EU countries agreed to forge a tighter fiscal union.
  • On Sunday, opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov was arrested by plainclothes police in Russia on his way to a protest calling on Russians to boycott the day’s problematic elections processes. The ruling United Russia party garnered just fewer than 50% of the votes, amid allegations of people being bused from polling station to polling station, vote rigging, fraud and other problems, including  the shutdown of several websites that provide independent election data by suspected hackers intent on silencing allegations of violations in the vote. Hundreds were arrested in a protest in central Moscow on Tuesday, including opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, journalists, several other human rights leaders, bloggers and opposition activists; while an election observer in the republic of Tatarstan says she witnessed several cases of vote rigging in the elections and several other international election observers complained of violations tilted in favour of the ruling United Russia party. PM Putin responded to the allegations and protests by promising to reshuffle the government next year, amid warnings from his spokesman that any unsanctioned rallies would be stopped. On Wednesday, ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urged authorities to annul the parliamentary vote results and hold a new election as protests and instability increased while police blocked any new protest attempts. Though as many as 800 protesters were arrested in less than 24 hours, opposition groups began calling upon daily protests. President Medvedev posted an insulting post on his Twitter feed against the opposition that was later blamed upon an unidentified official who interfered with the feed. On Thursday, Putin accused US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton of encouraging the Russian protests and giving “the signal” to opposition leaders to protest; while more than 35,000 demonstrators took to the streets with Russians flooding Facebook and Twitter to organize. On Friday, the founder and director general of a Russian online social network was summoned to the prosecutor’s office in Saint Petersburg after he announced they would not comply with an order from the Federal Security Service to block seven groups calling for demonstrations.
  • On Tuesday, three people were charged with a plot to murder a cartoonist in Sweden who depicted the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) in a newspaper in 2005.
  • Serbs in Kosovo started to dismantle roadblocks on Monday that had caused clashes with NATO peacekeepers. A local Serb leader said the removal was part of an agreement with the peacekeeping mission (KFOR).  On Tuesday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the resumption of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo to adopt border controls.
  • Croatia went to the polling stations in its general elections on Sunday, electing a new centre-left government. On Friday, the country was embraced as the 28th member of the European Union, formally joining on July 1, 2013.
  • A letter bomb addressed to Deutsche Bank Chief Josef Ackermann was intercepted in Frankfurt, Germany on Wednesday. No group has yet claimed responsibility.
  • A letter bomb exploded at a tax collection agency office in Italy on Friday, wounding the organization’s director. The Italian group, Informal Anarchist Federation, claimed responsibility.
  • Several Greenpeace activists stormed into the grounds of a nuclear power plant in France trying to show the vulnerability of atomic sites in the country. Seven of the nine intruders were detained.
  • On Monday, politicians in Belgium finally agreed to form a government after almost 18 months after the last elections. The government will be headed by Elio Di Rupo, an openly gay francophone from the Wallonia region.
  • On Wednesday, the coalition government in Greece passed an austerity budget aimed at shrinking its debt amid clashes between police and protesters outside of Parliament. Police fired teargas at protesters, who reportedly hurled petrol bombs; broken pavement slabs, and sticks at them, causing over two dozen injuries and 38 arrests.
  • Hundreds of farmers protested in Sofia, Bulgaria on Tuesday against subsidy cuts due next year, calling upon the finance and agricultural ministers to resign.
  • The opposition leader in South Ossetia announced that a deal with former de facto President Eduard Kokoity to end protests had been violated, calling upon her supporters to demonstrate in the capital.  Dzhioyeva said that just prior to quitting his post as President, Kokoity created a Constitutional Court and made dozens of appointments.
  • On Saturday, at least 15,000 supporters of the Communist Party in Moldova demonstrated to demand the resignation of the government, which they say is run from Brussels, the US and Bucharest. Presidential elections are set to be held on December 16th.
  • The European commissioner for human rights warned that any attempt by the government to overhaul human rights laws in the UK would have a damaging effect on global democracy, after the PM expressed his desire to replace the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights. The convention was drawn up after the Second World War and ratified in 1950.
  • Twelve of the some 30 hunger strikers in Kyiv, Ukraine protesting social benefits cuts for Chernobyl cleanup veterans have switched to a so-called dry hunger strike in an attempt to intensify the protest.
  • On Sunday, Parliamentary elections in Slovenia saw a narrow victory for the centre-left mayor of the capital, Ljubljana. The Positive Slovenia party won some 28.5% of the votes (or 28 seats), the Slovenian Democratic Party garnered 26.3% and the Social Democrats got 10.5%.
  • An opposition activist in Belarus reportedly disappeared after reporting to police for questioning in the eastern part of the country. Dzmitry Toustsik has been missing since December 6th.