Slovakia

This Week in European Conflict… March 3rd-10th, 2012.

  • The European Union pulled a TV ad from circulation and apologized after many considered it racist. The ad featured several non-Western martial artists who confront a white brunette (symbolizing Europe) with weaponry and ends with her surrounding them.
  • President Lukashenka of Belarus lashed out at the European Union for expanding sanctions against his country last week, specifically at the openly homosexual German Foreign Minister, reportedly saying it is “better to be a dictator than to be gay”. Prison authorities reportedly prevented a pastor from visiting jailed opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka in a bid to persuade him to end his hunger strike on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the leader of the opposition United Civic Party was reportedly blocked by officials from coring into neighbouring Lithuania.
  • Sweden has reportedly been secretly helping Saudi Arabia plan the construction of an arms factory to produce anti-tank missiles since 2005.
  • President Sarkozy said on Tuesday that there are too many immigrants in France, defending his re-election campaign promise to cut the number of new arrivals by half. On Thursday, Sarkozy promised Armenians he will eventually secure the adoption of a law that would make it a crime to deny the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. On Friday, authorities said they wanted the Basque separatist group ETA to completely disarm and would continue to work with the Spanish government to end the last major guerrilla conflict on the continent.
  • The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England tried to ambush the PM’s attempt to legalize same-sex marriage when he launched his “no” campaign from the pulpit on the weekend. The British government is planning to launch a formal consultation document on allowing homosexual couples to marry. Some disturbing statistics were revealed on Friday, citing that more than half of young black men available for work in the country are now unemployed and that women are being disproportionately affected by government funding cuts.
  • The President of Armenia accused leaders in neighbouring Azerbaijan of seeking to block progress on resolving the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday. Armenia is set to engage in its first ever joint military exercises with the United States.
  • Three police officers and one gunman were killed in Dagestan on Sunday as unknown gunmen reportedly attacked them near a polling station for the Russian Presidential elections. On Tuesday, a female suicide bomber killed five police officers during an attack on a police station. On Friday, Russian forces reportedly used helicopters and artillery fire to pursue a group of 15 suspected terrorists in the Dagestan region.
  • Around 3,000 coal miners blocked a major road in southwestern Romania on Thursday, demanding a pay raise that was promised to them by the previous government.
  • Slovakia held its Parliamentary elections amid widespread public anger over a major corruption scandal on Saturday.  Exit polls suggested that a leftist opposition party appeared to be winning.
  • Voters in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia held their Parliamentary elections on Sunday, despite Georgia not recognizing them as valid.
  • The Parliament of Moldova voted to legalize chemical castration for convicted pedophiles and some rapists on Tuesday. The law will also apply to foreign nationals. On Wednesday, the acting President set the Presidential elections for March 16th, as the Parliament had failed to agree on a candidate amid prolonged disagreements between political factions.
  • Vladimir Putin won a third term as President in Russia, amid reports of voting irregularities and fraud during Sunday’s vote, though the ruling United Russia party said the elections should serve as “a model for other countries” in terms of transparency. On Monday, the United States urged the Russian government to conduct “an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations” from the Presidential vote, after international elections monitors say the election was clearly skewed in favour of Putin; riot police detained opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny during an anti-government rally; while thousands of Russians joined a mass protest against Putin’s return to the Kremlin, resulting in the detention of hundreds. Two of the members of the feminist band “Pussy Riot” who were arrested on the weekend started a hunger strike in protest. On Tuesday, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said he was troubled by Putin’s claiming victory and called for a discussion on whether to hold a new election. On Wednesday, authorities granted permission to opposition activists to gather up to 50,000 people on the weekend to protest Putin’s win; while the Russian League of Voters condemned the Presidential election as an “insult to civil society”. On Thursday, wives of retired military officers marked International Women’s Day by staging a protest and a hunger strike outside the defense ministry to demand better housing for their families; Putin announced plans to start consultations immediately on the composition of a new government; while NATO’s Secretary-General phoned Putin to congratulate him on his victory and agreed to meet in the “not-too-distant future”. On Friday, police in Moscow announced they will take any necessary measures in the instance of violations at a critical opposition rally on Saturday; the Kremlin said they had dismissed Russia’s ambassador to Qatar in the wake of an altercation between the ambassador and airport authorities; a group of major Russian human rights organizations criticised US Secretary of State Clinton over her response calling Putin the “clear winner” in the Presidential election;  while American President Obama called Putin, in the first conversation between the two men since Putin won his controversial third term. On Saturday, about a dozen protesters were arrested by police as several thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators rallied to denounce the elections.
  • A bomb exploded near the Prime Ministry building in Ankara, Turkey, lightly injuring one person on Monday; while the Turkish authorities were reportedly exploring paths to end the Kurdish conflict. On Friday, authorities expelled members of a Ukrainian feminist group from the country after they staged a topless protest to mark International Women’s Day; while state prosecutors sought permission from the PM to question spy chiefs over their secret contacts with Kurdish militants, challenging the government’s move to cub the investigation.
  • The interior minister of Macedonia condemned a recent wave of ethnically motivated violence, including a series of attacks over the week that left nearly a dozen people injured.
  • Prosecutors at the UN’s Yugoslav war crimes court asked for a 28-year sentence for Vojislave Seselj of Serbia on Wednesday, accusing him of incitement to commit atrocities in the 1990s Balkan wars; while mayors of ethnic Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo said they had received assurances from the Serbian Parliament speaker that local and Parliamentary elections will be held in Kosovo as well. Former Bosnia politician and warlord Fikret Abdic was released from prison after serving two-thirds of his sentence for crimes against Muslims during the 1992-5 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday and was met by some 3,000 supporters.
  • The Parliament of Croatia unanimously ratified a treaty on the country’s entry into the European Union on Friday.
  • The European Union announced that Hungary had not answered all the questions raised by the bloc about its respect for democratic rights and freedoms, with the EU threatening legal actions on Wednesday.
  • The President of the Ukraine ordered the government to work on a series of new reforms that he says are aimed at improving social welfare and public trust in the government on Wednesday during a televised cabinet meeting.

This Week in European Conflict… January 25th-February 4th, 2012.

  • The Council of Europe Commission for Human Rights warned this week of rising racism and xenophobia in Europe amid the current economic crisis, with austerity budgets undermining social rights and putting vulnerable groups at greater risk.  On Wednesday, British PM Cameron accused the European court of human rights of having a “corrosive effect” on people’s support for civil liberties; highlighting controversial rulings undermine the public confidence in the rights court.
  • A group known as the Global Zero NATO-Russia Commission urged the US and Russia to start preparatory talks immediately to remove tactical nuclear weapons from combat bases in Europe as a step towards comprehensive nuclear disarmament. The group stated that nuclear weaponry has “virtually no military utility, incur significant financial costs and security risks, including terrorist capture, and create political friction between NATO and Russia”.
  • On Monday, twenty-five of the EU’s twenty-seven member states agreed to join into a fiscal treaty to help overcome the financial crisis and enforce budget discipline. The Czech Republic and the UK refused to sign, citing “constitutional reasons” and “legal concerns” about the use of the EU institutions in enforcement as reasons.
  • Nearly two dozen aligned opposition groups in Armenia decided to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections jointly, angry at the system of proportional representation.  The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) re-stated its intention to bring down the current President.
  • On Sunday, Greece dismissed a German plan to install an EU budget commissioner with oversight of its economy and veto powers as “laughable”. Under the plan, European institutions would have direct control over Greece’s budget decisions in what would amount to an extraordinary depletion of a member state’s independence in conducting its own affairs.
  • On Sunday, thousands took to the streets in Spain to protest the charges against “superjudge” Baltasar Garzon, who controversially investigated the mass killings by the Francoist dictatorship and corruption in the ruling People’s Party in violation of a 1977 amnesty law.
  • Five centre-right parties in Slovenia formally named conservative Janez Jansa as PM-designate on Wednesday; almost two months after a snap election ousted the Social Democrats from power but produced no outright winner. Jansa was confirmed as PM on Saturday.
  • The government in the Netherlands announced plans to ban Muslim face veils such as burqas and other forms of clothing that cover the face starting next year. A government coalition has agreed to submit a new law to parliament next week that would charge offenders fines of up to 390 Euros ($510 USD).
  • Around sixty-seven percent voted to join the European Union in a referendum vote on Sunday afternoon in Croatia. Less than half the voting population was said to have turned out for the vote, prompting an anti-EU group to say the vote was invalidated.
  • The PM in Turkey was angered over the possible passing of the Armenian genocide denial bill in France, saying that they “murdered freedom of thought” and warned the French President of retaliatory measures if it is implemented. The bill was passed late last Monday, with Armenian blessing. On Friday, security forces reportedly killed five Kurdish insurgents after discovering them hiding in a cave in the southeastern province of Batman; while prominent journalists charged with involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the government were denied released from custody in a controversial trial on media freedom.
  • The President of Georgia denied opposition claims on Tuesday that he wants to stay in power as the PM when his term expires next year, saying his country “can have no Putin”.
  • The UN refugee agency voiced their concern this week over the plight of asylum-seekers, including some minors, held in two detention centres in Ukraine. More than 100 people are reportedly challenging their detention or have complained that they were denied the right to apply for asylum.
  • The PM of Romania fired his foreign minister last Monday allegedly for calling anti-government protesters “inept violent slum-dwellers” after more than a week of sometimes violent demonstrations. On Tuesday, a new foreign minister was sworn in amid continued protests; while the PM called for unity on that the country’s national Day of Unity. On Wednesday, the constitutional court overturned a government plan to hold local and parliamentary elections on the same day, further unsettling the current centrist government. On Saturday, hundreds protested against a plan to set up Europe’s biggest open-cast gold mine, saying it would destroy ancient Roman gold mines and villages and be environmentally damaging. On Monday, the Supreme Court sentenced former PM Adrian Nastase to two years in prison for corruption, though Nastase denies any wrongdoing; while the main opposition group were winning in opinion polls around the country, as protests continued to rock the ruling PDL party.
  • Thousands of angry demonstrators took to the streets of Bratislava and several other towns in Slovakia on Friday in protest at a major corruption scandal ahead of the March elections. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
  • On Friday, Norway apologized for the arrest and deportation of Jews during the Second World War on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some 772 Norwegian Jews and refugees were deported to Germany during the war with only around 34 survivors.
  • Four former Yugoslav soldiers were sentenced to up to four years in Montenegro for war crimes committed against ethnic Croatian prisoners of war during the 1991-5 Croatian conflict. The four were charged with torturing prisoners in a makeshift prisoner camp. Meanwhile Bosnia-Herzegovina’s war crimes court upheld a 31-year prison sentence against Radomir Vukovic, a former Bosnian Serb police officer convicted on genocide charges in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
  • Occupy London protesters in the United Kingdom marked 100 days since beginning last Monday, but were forced into retreat in a new office building. On Friday, Occupy activists attempted to disrupt a debate in Davos for the World Economic Forum, calling on delegates to leave the stage and join them in protest; while Occupy protesters in London were evicted by police from the vacant property they had occupied earlier in the week.
  • PM Putin of Russia warned last Monday of the damage of ethnic tensions in the country and vowed he would toughen migration rules and keep a tight rein on Russia’s regions. On Tuesday, the government purchased 60 Iveco armored vehicles from Italy, with plans to spend some $30 billion on new military equipment, including 120 helicopters. On Wednesday, the Central Election Commission registered Mikhail Prokhorov as a Presidential candidate; while current President Medvedev announced he might run for President again following Putin’s anticipated return to the Presidency. On Friday, election authorities formally disqualified the founder of the liberal opposition Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, from running in the March 4th Presidential election. On Saturday, some 15,000 people reportedly attended a rally in the Russian Urals in support of PM Putin’s bid for the Presidency. On Sunday, the Yabloko opposition party said that the office of a regional newspaper that it publishes have been destroyed in an attack with a Molotov cocktail; while “For Fair Elections” demonstrators displaying a white ribbon or other symbols on their vehicles circled around the Garden Ring in Moscow in protest of the flawed parliamentary vote. On Tuesday, the opposition drafted their protest demands, including the annulment of the December 2011 parliamentary elections and the dismissal of the chief election official. On Thursday, activists say they have come under pressure and scare tactics from police and security services ahead of their next big protest against Putin’s likely return to the presidency; the Russian state-run arms exported Rosoboronesksport reported $11 billion in sales from the 2011 year, despite billions in lost sales from the UN embargo on Libya; and the Deputy PM expressed his wish to see the country’s children play with toy guns and tanks made in Russia rather than the West, giving a “command” for manufacturers to create toy versions of Russian weapons and military equipment. On Saturday, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in Moscow shouting “Russia without Putin” and calling for a rerun of disputed parliamentary elections; while an international commission has developed a new proposal that would allow NATO and Russia to share data from radars and satellites about missile attacks to try and allay fears of the planned US missile shield in Europe neutralizing Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
  • At least 8 alleged Islamist militants, four Russian servicemen and possibly a civilian were killed in three separate incidents in the North Caucasus region on Tuesday; while five suspected Islamist rebels and four Russian servicemen were killed in a clash in the Republic of Dagestan. On Friday, Russian security forces allegedly killed three militants, including the regional leader of an insurgent group, in a shootout in a private home in the village of Ekazhevo; while other reports claimed that Russian security forces and militants killed some 12 people.
  • Police in Belarus have reportedly arrested well-known human rights activist Aleh Vouchak and charged him with hooliganism on Tuesday.

This Week in European Conflict… December 11th-17th, 2011.

  • The EU is set to restrict the sale of the main active substances needed for lethal injections to the United States. By Friday, the export of sodium thiopental will only be possible with special permission.
  • French President Sarkozy said that there are now clearly “two Europes” following a summit last week where the UK vetoed EU treaty changes, while former Belgian PM Verhofstadt called upon a boycott of the English language within the EU. European leaders agreed in Brussels to plans for deeper economic integration among the countries that use the euro currency and to impose sanctions on states that go over an agreed budget deficit limit.
  • On Monday, a package bomb thought to have been sent from Italy was sent to the Greek Embassy in Paris, France, but was disabled before it could cause any injuries or damage. Former PM Dominique de Villepin announced he is running for President as an independent candidate on French television. On Thursday, former President Jacques Chirac was convicted by a French court of embezzling public funds and gave him a two-year suspended prison sentence on corruption charges.
  • Rumours that the Swedish-owned Swedbank was facing liquidity and legal problems prompted more than 10,000 Latvians to withdraw their deposits on Sunday. The police have launched an investigation into the source of the rumours, as spreading false rumours that threaten the stability of the banking system is a criminal offence in the country.
  • On Thursday, a gang of seven people were arrested in Slovakia on suspicion of trying to smuggle radioactive material to sell in the Czech Republic. The material was set to arrive from the former Soviet Union and be worth an estimated 500,000 Euros.
  • The President of the breakaway region of Transdniester called upon the election to be scrapped because of numerous violations in voting, after he failed to even qualify for an expected runoff. The Electoral Commission received many complaints from voters and candidates alike. On Friday, the election commission announced it will hold a Presidential runoff on December 25th, after throwing out incumbent Smirnov’s complaints of election irregularities.
  • A Deputy Interior Minister in Belarus was arrested on Monday for possible abuses of office. The man is best known for his leading role in dispersing opposition gatherings and protests and arresting activists. On Friday, two leading activists were charged with verbally insulting police, in an action seen to be taken to prevent their participation in an upcoming party congress; authorities in the eastern city of Vitseksk warned activists of possible consequences should they hold an unsanctioned mass gathering; while the EU imposed sanctions on two officials involved in the trial of human rights activists Ales Byalyatski who was sentenced to prison for tax evasion in November.
  • The Parliament of Moldova has failed to select a new President this week, after he failed to receive the required two-thirds of the vote because of a Communist party boycott. The only Presidential candidate Marian Lupu, alleged that three Communist deputies who recently defected and might have helped him get elected were locked away somewhere by the Communist party. A new ballot will be held in January, and if undecided, will result in the dissolution of Parliament.
  • The founder of a newspaper critical of the authorities of Dagestan died after being gunned down outside his office on Friday. Staff at the newspaper said he was deliberately killed in front of the newspaper office to scare the staff, while other rights activists have stated that his death is payback for his work in the North Caucasus.
  • The mayor of a village in Armenia has resigned in protest at a government decision to transfer large patches of communal land to a German-owned mining company, claiming it would result in an ecological disaster that would lead to a mass exodus of the population, effectively destroying his village. The company plans to extend its open-pit mining operations in the area.
  • After 18 years of negotiations, the World Trade Organization has decided to accept Russia as a member, after the last country to block its bid– Georgia– lifted its objections.  Over the weekend, President Medvedev issued instructions for the government to investigate allegations of electoral fraud during the December 4th parliamentary vote, though claimed he disagreed with demands for a re-vote; while tens of thousands rallied in the streets in the largest anti-government protests in the country’s post-Soviet history. On Monday, one of the richest men in Russia, Mikhail Prokhorov announced that he will run in next year’s Presidential election against PM Putin. On Tuesday, two senior managers of the respected Kommersant publishing group were fired over their coverage of alleged violations during the elections process; while the Director General submitted his resignation in protest; and President Medvedev announced that the first session of the newly elected Parliament would be held on December 21st.  On Wednesday, a Putin loyalist who served as the speaker of Parliament resigned from his position in a move that appeared to be a governmental effort to stem public anger. On Thursday, PM Putin dismissed and mocked the anti-government protesters and claimed that they were “paid agents of the West” on a television program, though he also claimed that they have the right to protest, as long as it is within the law; while DOS attacks on liberal websites and blacklisting of “undesirables” from state television continued.
  • Five people were killed and three wounded in the North Caucasus region in two separate incidences on Wednesday, including four suspected rebel fighters shot dead by Russian soldiers and a senior police investigator who was caught in a road ambush. Three army engineers were injured by a remote-controlled bomb in Ingushetia.
  • On Wednesday, the UN Security Council decided to extend the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus until July 2012 and called upon the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to accelerate reunification talks. The force has been in place since 1964.
  • On Tuesday, a man killed four people and wounded another 122 in Belgium after he lobbed three hand grenades and opened fire at a crowded bus stop before killing himself. The following day, police found the body of another woman, suspected of being Nordine Amrani’s cleaner, while searching the attacker’s garage. Amrani’s lawyer said that he was afraid of being questioned regarding sexual crimes and going back to jail.
  • A lone gunman went on a shooting spree in Florence, Italy on Tuesday, killing two Senegalese street vendors and wounding three others before he turned the gun on himself. The man was described as a far-right personality with a strong anti-immigration stance. Around 300 Africans marched in protest, demanding to see the gunman’s corpse.
  • Security forces in Turkey reportedly killed eight Kurdish militants in fighting in the east on Thursday after helicopter gunships were dispatched to a camp thought to be a winter compound for the PKK. Five of the militants killed were women. The Turkish government has also reportedly threatened to recall its French ambassador and freeze all ties with France if the French parliament passes a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide, considering it a “dishonor” to their country.
  • On Tuesday, demonstrators supporting former PM Tymoshenko of the Ukraine battled police outside a court hearing her appeal against a seven-year prison sentence; while the offices of the opposition Ukraine’s Future party were vandalized and robbed in what party officials claim to be a politically motivated attack.
  • On Tuesday, international envoys in Bosnia extended their mandate to oversee the strategic district of Brcko in between two feuding regions, contrary to the advice of the International Crisis Group who claimed that ongoing supervision only encourages local leaders to shirk responsibility. The envoys were to end their mandate two years ago, but stayed in place due to the threats of seccession.
  • On Tuesday, some 25 Russian trucks were refused entry by the EU mission in Kosovo (Eulex), with Eulex saying the convoy must accept its escort or enter through a crossing run by Pristina authorities, which Russia does not recognize as a legitimate body, since Russia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence declaration. The Russian ambassador to Serbia accused Eulex of blocking aid, which Eulex claims is not destined for the general Serbian population but for those manning roadblocks in resistance to the government in Pristina.