A mass rally against a tax on unemployment is scheduled to take place March 15 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, amid signs that authorities are losing patience for such public expressions of discontent.
Dozens of activists, journalists and politicians associated with the protest movement have been taken into custody in recent days, with some sentenced to administrative detention. The civil society organization Nash Dom (Our House) said the clampdown has been especially harsh on what it described as “socially active women,” as well as female journalists.
The upheaval is a response to a presidential decree, titled “On Prevention of Social Dependency.” Although on the books for over a year, authorities only recently tried to enforce the statute.
Authorities earlier announced that they would suspend the implementation of the decree until 2018, but that announcement has not appeared to slowed the protest movement’s momentum.
Rights groups, along with US and European Union officials, have expressed concern over the government crackdown.
During the initial weeks of protests, authorities were slow to take action against participants, apparently not wanting to disrupt improving relations between Minsk and the EU.
President Alexander Lukashenko’s recent dalliance with EU leaders occurred against a background of strained relations with his chief ally, Russia. Observers say this tension was connected to the Euromaidan Revolution in Kyiv, and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea and its meddling in eastern Ukraine.
Grigory Mikhailov, a Regnum editor formerly based in Kyrgyzstan, attending a conference in 2016. (Photo: Facebook account, Sergey Kozlov)
Russia’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan has in a startling break from custom declined to come out in defense of a Russian reporter expelled from the country.
Unprecedented might be putting it too strongly, but for the Russian Foreign Ministry to willingly throw a reporter for a Kremlin-supporting news outlet under the bus is a notable development.
Andrei Krutko told news website Vesti.kg on March 13 that Grigory Mikhailov, a formerly Bishkek-based editor with Regnum website, had violated migration agreements between Russia and Kyrgyzstan.
“Also, we pulled up all our documents, and we have no record of Grigory Mikhailov ever being registered with us. It turns out that we had no legal record of his presence. For all five years in which I have been in Kyrgyzstan, Mikhailov never came to a single [embassy] event,” Krutko said. “It also turned out that he was not accredited with the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry or with the government.”
Krutko said Mikhailov’s situation was entirely analogous to that of the tens of thousands of Kyrgyz citizens deported from Russia for violating similar rules and that there was no evidence of any political motives in the case.
Any perceived mistreatment of Russian government-friendly journalists overseas — immaterial of the mitigating circumstances — typically provokes fiery protests from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, but the response here has strayed from the regular script.
Regnum’s reaction to Krutko’s remarks has been indignant.
Abkhazia's Central Election Commission announces preliminary results of the March 12 parliamentary elections. (photo: www.abkhazinform.com)
Former Abkhazian President Alexander Ankvab has made a successful comeback in politics after winning a seat in Abkhazia's 35-member parliament, one of several surprise results in the March 12 elections.
The parliamentary vote was the fifth to be held in the breakaway territory since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, all of the which have been ritually condemned as illegal by Georgia and Western governments. Recent elections have been genuinely competitive and unpredictable, however, and dramatic defeats of veteran politicians by independent challengers have been a regular feature. This year's edition did not fail to deliver.
The stakes were high for Abkhazia's opposition after it failed to depose President Raul Khajimba in a referendum in July 2016, and after a tense stand-off between opposition and government protesters in December ended in a draw. In late January, news emerged that former president Alexander Ankvab, ousted from office in 2014, had been nominated in three constituencies. This triggered a protest by pro-government veterans of the 1992-1993 war with Georgia, who proclaimed that while Ankvab had the legal right to participate, he did not have the moral right, having fled to a Russian military base in 2014.
Parking tickets may be hated universally, but car owners in the Georgian city of Batumi took it to an extreme this past Saturday with mass rioting that revived old memories of civil unrest. The political blame-game that followed left little hope for a widely acceptable explanation of why one parking ticket led to fierce clashes between police and protesters in the country’s top seaside resort.
Authorities in Batumi, seat of the Black-Sea region of Achara, have been taking stock of the damage done on a night of rampage that left cars burnt, property vandalized and dozens arrested. City Mayor Giorgi Ermakov put the damage at 150,000 laris (about $60,000). He said that the local government already has repaved cobbled sidewalks that provided ammunition for protesters. Riot police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
The trouble began on the evening of March 11, after a Batumi man and his son came out of a drugstore to find police ticketing their car for being parked in a restricted area, eyewitnesses say. An altercation followed that ended in both men’s arrest. (Their names have not been released.)
Bystanders tried to intervene, blaming police for using excessive force. “They pushed [the son] in like a sack of potatoes,” an emotional woman told Rustavi2 television station.
A journalist for a fiercely pro-Kremlin news agency has been expelled from Kyrgyzstan in a move that has political observers in the Moscow-friendly nation scratching their heads.
Grigory Mikhailov, an editor with Regnum website, posted an update on Facebook on March 13 to say he was returning to Russia from Kazakhstan after having been denied entry to Kyrgyzstan, where he has been based for more than a decade.
Mikhailov was stopped by police on the evening of March 10 while he was strolling with his wife in the center of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and ordered to show his documents. The journalist, a Russian citizen, was not carrying his passport, but it was eventually established that his registration in Kyrgyzstan had expired, which constitutes a violation of migration law.
While Mikhailov admits his papers were not in order, he toldfergana.ru that police made no note of this fact in their reports.
“The police advised us to cross the nearest Kyrgyz-Kazakhstani border point and to return to Kyrgyzstan so that they could put a note about registration at the passport control booth,” Mikhailov’s wife, Yevgeniya Kim, told EurasiaNet.org.
But when Mikhailov attempted to do just that, he was denied re-entry at the border.
Mikhailov has said he believes he has been singled out for this treatment because of his work.
“It is possible that the evaluations that I made in my articles — and I have had a few recently — were not to somebody’s pleasing,” he said.
Technically speaking, Mikhailov was not even deported, since he left Kyrgyzstan of his own will.
Almaty resident Natalia Galiakbarova speaking to Channel 31 about the compensation being offered for the compulsory purchase of her home. (Photo: Channel 31 screengrab)
Barely a week passes in Kazakhstan without the authorities somehow creating a public uproar around land-related issues.
This time it is residents of an area of the business capital, Almaty, that have come out in protest over what they say is the paltry compensation being offered to them for the compulsory purchase of their homes.
Over the weekend, privately owned Channel 31 reported that some residents are being offered as little as 300,000 tenge ($1,000) for their homes and land, which lie on the route of a planned ring road.
Almaty has for many years been plagued by chronic traffic jams, prompting the authorities to embark on several ambitious road building projects to alleviate the problem. Doing so, however, has required them to pursue the demolition of swaths of often ramshackle homes that sprung up around the city limits in the years following independence.
This latest route has been designed “strategically important” and is intended to link to the northern districts of Almaty to the center. The bulk of traffic coming in that direction currently runs along one single road — Seifullina — and invariably cars get horrendously clogged up at peak hours.
Plans for the new road has been on the drawing table for many years, although work is only now going ahead.
After working out valuations for the houses set for removal, the city government sent out sale agreements that in some instances ranged between 300,000 and 700,000 tenge ($1000-$2,200) — an amount that would pay for only a few months of apartment rental costs in the city.
Kazakhstan is dangling more than $100 million in financial support in front of struggling neighbor Kyrgyzstan, but the transfer is reportedly being hindered by a combination of bureaucratic muddling and a turn of diplomatic ill-will.
The fate of the funds, which have been earmarked to smooth integration within the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), came up in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament on March 13 as MPs wondered aloud why the money was taking so long to arrive.
Agreement on the payment of $100 million in aid was reached late last year, and Kazakhstan’s prime minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev said earlier this month that he had agreed with his Kyrgyz counterpart for the sum to be increased by a further $41 million.
Saidulla Nyshanov, a deputy with the Ata-Meken party, said that the delay had been caused by the failure of Kyrgyz government departments to provide Kazakhstan with certain required paperwork.
The earmarked funds have been described as “technical aid” required to enable Kyrgyzstan to implement regulations in line with its membership in the EEU, which it joined in mid-2015. More specifically, the money is to be spent on building customs infrastructure and developing laboratory facilities for testing goods destined for export with the trading bloc. Kyrgyz deputy prime minister Oleg Pankratov also said in the last week of December that the support would go toward harmonization of railway cargo tariffs.
The Abkhazia-Georgia de facto border crossing at Inguri in 2014. It has since been renovated. (photo: Joshua Kucera)
Abkhazia has closed all but two of its de facto border crossings with Georgia, triggering protests from Tbilisi, Washington, Brussels, and the ethnic Georgians of Abkhazia whose daily lives will be complicated by the new restrictions.
Abkhazia's government announced the closures of two crossing points on March 5, following a law passed last April reducing the number of border points “in order to better control the border” and raising fines for illegal border crossings. The crossing points are considered to be an international border by the Abkhazian authorities and an “administrative boundary line” by the Georgian government and most of the rest of the world. The border is guarded jointly by Abkhazian security forces and Russian border guards. In addition to the main border crossing, at the town of Inguri, one other one remains open: at Papynyrkhua,
The crossings are used mainly by residents of Gali District in Abkhazia and Zugdidi District in Georgia, on either side of the border, both inhabited almost exclusively by Mingrelian Georgians with many family ties between them. Many Gali residents have moved to Zugdidi while coming back regularly to look after family, property and crops.
Yelena Urlaeva, an activist being held in a psychiatric institution, speaking in a video appeal posted on March 2, 2017. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)
For almost two weeks, one of Uzbekistan’s best-known human rights activists has been forcibly confined to a psychiatric institution in Tashkent, prompting deepening alarm among her supporters.
Yelena Urlaeva, who has fearlessly documented cases of rights abuses in Uzbekistan for decades, was detained by police on March 1 and checked into a hospital against her will, according to her own video testimony. fergana.ru, which has published a petition on its website calling for Urlaeva’s release, reported earlier in the week that the activist has been visited in hospital by representatives from the US Embassy, among others.
Photographer Timur Karpov managed to take a photograph of Urlaeva, which was posted on fergana.ru on March 9, but he was not admitted to see her.
“He was not allowed to see the patient with the excuse that the only days on which visits are permitted are Wednesday and Saturday,” a doctor was quoted as saying by the website.
The renewed harassment against Urlaeva comes as the authorities elsewhere display signs of wishing to soften their ruthless authoritarian rule.
The US Embassy had registered its satisfaction with the recent release from jail of Muhammad Bekjanov, a journalist who served 18 years in jail on likely trumped up charges, and Jamshid Karimov, a journalist, relative of the late president and government critic who had been held in a psychiatric clinic for more than a decade. But that progress has been compromised by Urlaeva’s plight and that of Azam Farmonov, another activist languishing in jail, the embassy noted.
As elsewhere in the Caucasus, flower-giving for International Women's Day in Armenia contrasts starkly with the widespread problem of domestic violence. (http://www.medialab.am/gallery/cartoon_lab/id/5108)
In the South Caucasus, International Women’s Day is still largely about men offering flowers, candies and compliments to their mothers, wives and significant female others. But many women in the region are now saying that they want “rights, not flowers.”
Throughout the post-Soviet part of the world, March 8 has long ranked as a bit of a Soviet Valentine’s Day. In keeping with that tradition, Russia’s Vladimir Putin this year panegyrized women’s beauty and grace, and threw in a poem for good measure. “Woman is with us when we are born; woman is with us in our final hour; woman is the flag we fight for,” the Kremlin boss rhapsodized, borrowing lines by the 19th-century Russian symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont.
Caucasus leaders avoided poetry, but their governments did have other offerings.
In Armenia, female arrivals at the Yerevan airport received flowers, courtesy of the Armenian capital’s authorities. Meanwhile, in Yerevan’s central square, Armenian Sports Minister Hrachya Rostomian whirled about with a group of cyclists, doling out both flowers and greetings to women.