Stories from Quick Reads and Eastern & Central Europe
Hungary's government monopolized the sale of tobacco goods in 2013, drawing criticism from all sides both for the monopoly and the restriction of the Freedom of Information Act that came with the secretive distribution of sales licenses for the goods. In a second round, Hungarian Parliament voted on Monday, December 15, 2014, to create a state-run national tobacco distributor. Trade unions protested against the law, arguing it would result in the loss of some 1600 jobs.
Ahead of the vote, a trade union group sent bars of chocolate to Hungarian members of Parliament with pictures of children and a message asking the MPs to vote against the parents of these children losing their jobs. Vastagbőr blog reported that Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also received a bar of chocolate, ate the chocolate, and then proceeded to vote in favor of creating the national tobacco distributor, which would leave hundreds of people unemployed. Photos of Prime Minister Orban consuming the chocolate bar before the deciding vote are included in the blog post and other local media.
Hungarians have been rallying in masses against a proposed tax on Internet traffic that many in the country find to be outrageous.
The Hungarian government plans to introduce a tax of approximately 0.6 US dollars per gigabyte of Internet traffic. This proposal tipped the scales for many, and tens of thousands went to the streets of the capital Budapest on Sunday, October 26, 2014, and Tuesday, October 28. The protests in the capital were soon joined by protests in several other cities as well.
The Facebook page has been used to coordinate these events and has accumulated more than 200,000 likes so far. Protesters raised their mobile phones in the air as a symbolic demonstration to Hungary's prime minister that they do use the Internet and need it for learning about the world daily. Atlatszo.hu investigative site published videos with footage of drones flying over both protests in Budapest:
The LGBT Muslims blog identified 5 Muslim nations where the legal system does not outlaw homosexuality. The 5 countries are : Mali, Jordan, Indonesia, Turkey and Albania. While the law in these countries does not criminalize gay lifestyles, the LGBT Muslims blog points out that LGBT communities still suffer from discrimination and non-negligible pressure to remain discreet regarding their lifestyles. Still, the main take away lesson is that gay rights may be more advanced than most would believe in the aforementioned countries.
A blog, ‘Kórházi koszt‘, was launched over the summer of 2014 in Hungary, exposing the poor quality and small rations of food in Hungarian hospitals.
The blog rose from the outrage among Hungarians who stayed at hospitals and received not only small portions of food, but often cheap and “disgusting” meals. The blog's Facebook page gathered almost 6000 followers within just weeks. In the meantime, Buzzfeed listed pictures of 22 hospital meals served in different countries, making Hungarian netizens envious of the quality of food served there.
„Патриотскиот“ говор на омраза е препознатлив по намерата за разгорување, поттикнување, или оправдување на омраза кон внатрешните и надворешните „непријатели“. Во основата на ваквиот говорот на омраза е поделбата на „Ние“ („патриотите“) и „Тие“ (непатриотите), кои се етикетирани со најразлични стигматизирачки називи. „Патриотскиот“ говор на омраза честопати се користи како инструмент за психолошко насилство врз критичарите на актуелната власт, од страна на провладини политичари, новинари или колумнисти.
Во првиот дел од анализава ќе се фокусираме на повеќе примери на „патриотски“ говор на омраза во кој се таргетираат домашни „предавници“, „странски платеници“, „кодоши“…
“Patriotic” hate speech is recognizable by the intention of inciting, encouraging or justifying hatred towards internal and external “enemies.” At the core of this hate speech is the division to “We” (“patriots”) and “Them” (non-patriots) that are labeled with various stigmatizing names. “Patriotic” hate speech is often used as an instrument of psychological violence against critics of the current government, by pro-government politicians, journalists or columnists.
In the first part of this analysis we will focus on several examples of “patriotic” hate speech targeting domestic “traitors”, “foreign mercenaries“, “informers” of the former regime…
Three parts of Trajanoski's independent analysis are available in Macedonian and English, while the author has promised to continue the series in the near future. The examples are informative both to those interested in the political and media situation in Macedonia, but also to students of hate speech as a wider phenomenon, in particular as an instance of wider anti-democratic trends in southeastern Europe.
The first part of the analysis covers Hate towards internal “enemies”. The second and third parts of Trajanoski's study document and discuss examples of hate speech directed at activists and non-government organizations in Macedonia. Trajanoski's work is also part of a larger on-going civic fact-checking project of Macedonian media.
IP addresses inside the Russian government continue to be active on Wikipedia, where a computer at the Russian Secret Service, the FSO, revised the German entry for Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, changing the word “separatists” into “rebels.” The Twitter bot @RuGovEdits, which automatically logs all Wikipedia edits made from Russian government IP addresses, caught five separate attempts by an FSO computer this morning to make the “rebels” language stick. The effort failed. German Wikipedia editors reverted the article's language to the original text, every time.
Aleksandar Lambros, a Serbian-born photographer currently living and working in Monaco, has been snapping photos of tell-tale details of Belgrade's architectural history and collecting them on his blog.
While the city still retains snippets of Roman and Ottoman architecture, as parts of the city were under both Roman and Ottoman rule throughout history, most of what is today downtown Belgrade expanded during the 19th century, under the still very visible influence of the highly popular European Art Nouveau movement of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Lambros has captured some of the most interesting decorative details on Belgrade's older buildings in a set of 18 photographs that depict the quaint, unique mixture of Serbian culture with a well-known European architectural style. The full set, along with Lambros’ other work, is available on his blog.
Ukraine's new foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, is in hot water on the Russian Internet today, where bloggers are drawing attention to his first subscriptions on Twitter. RuNet users have noticed that some of the first accounts Klimkin chose to follow are US politicians John McCain and Mitt Romney, the neoconservative American think tanks the Foreign Policy Institute and the Lugar Center, and the US State Department itself. Serving a new government in Kiev that Moscow regularly accuses of kowtowing to Washington, Klimkin has provided critics of Ukraine with fresh ammunition in the information war between Russia and the West.
The image of the poorest segments of the population rummaging through trash cans has, unfortunately, become a common one in many Balkan countries in the past few years. From some of the 38,000 pensioners who currently receive the minimum monthly pension of barely 120 euro in Serbia, not enough to survive an entire month on, to the numerous Roma living in Serbian cities, many have turned to searching the last resort for food and clothing items – the neighborhood trash collectors.
A group of artists, dubbed “Blatobran” (“Mudflap”) entered and won a competition at Mikser Festival 2014 in Belgrade recently, their project being a “neighborly hanger” (“Komšijski čiviluk”), devised for hanging edible food and clothing items that those more fortunate in Serbia throw out. As the group explains on their Facebook page:
[The] idea behind the project ‘Komsijski civiluk’ (thank you Mikser for making it happen and TTK for the final product ‘The Neighborly Hanger’). Many poor people every day dig through garbage bins looking for food, clothes and recycling materials. Of all the segments of the population, the Roma are the most vulnerable. This project was designed to raise awareness of food waste and recycling and to help the poorest citizens to use it; about 50% of wasted food in industrialized countries ends up in the trash even though it is edible. The idea is to place ‘Neighborhood hanger’ next to garbage container so that citizens can leave the food and clothing that would be available to users in a dignified manner and to contribute to the quality of life of local communities.
According to a report [uk] by RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe), heads of district police departments in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv have been ordered to set up Facebook profiles. As of June 25, 2014, all of them can be found and contacted through the social network, which the Head of the Lviv Regional Department of the Ministry of Interior believes will ensure prompt reaction [uk] of law enforcement officials towards reports from citizens.
Public trust towards law enforcement institutions in Ukraine has reached an all time low during the recent public uprisings, known as #Euromaidan. After a consequent change of government, the new Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov has led a practice of publicly reporting on his activities through a personal Facebook profile [ru], which has been received positively by a large audience.
A link from the official website of the Privatization Agency of the Republic of Serbia began circulating on social networks in early December 2014. The link led to 19 gigabytes of text files on the agency's site that revealed the personal information of over 5 million Serbian citizens who had registered for free stock of state-owned companies in 2008. The files included the full names of citizens who had registered, as well as their Unique Master Citizen Numbers (JMBG), a number given to each citizen from which a birth date, place of birth and other information can easily be deduced.
The link was caught on Twitter during the week of December 8, 2014, by the legal team of SHARE Defense, the think tank unit of local non-government organization SHARE Foundation that conducts research and offers legal aid in the realm of human and civic rights. The foundation's team analysed the documents and reported the issue to the office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection of the Republic of Serbia. The links were removed from the agency's website in the afternoon hours of Friday, December 12, but it is impossible to know who downloaded the information in the meantime.
Citizens have started reacting on social networks, many calling this an “unforgivable” offense by a government agency. Twitter user Vladan Joler tweeted a common sentiment:
— Vladan Joler (@TheCreaturesLab) December 15, 2014
— Vladan Joler (@TheCreaturesLab) December 15, 2014
It remains unclear why the documents were published on the site, if by mistake or otherwise. The office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection took on the case immediately and it is expected that it will follow through with an investigation.
In the meantime, SHARE Foundation's legal think tank team has warned any and all who have downloaded the data that any use of part or all of the information in these files would represent a a criminal offense and has recommended that anyone who has retained a copy of any or all of the documents delete them permanently.
Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) was among the very few media to report about an attack on the second anniversary celebration of the center for support of the LGBT community in a cafe in the Old Bazaar are of Skopje. On October 23, 2014, some 20 hooded young men attacked those attending the celebration and vandalized the venue.
“The hooligans entered the cafe and started throwing everything, like bottles, crates… It was a stampedе. One girl was injured and was taken to the accident and emergency center. She is fine, but still recovering,” Uranija Pirovska, director of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Macedonia, a host of the event, said.
Outgoing Dutch Ambassador to Macedonia, Marriët Schuurman, also spoke to BIRN openly about the use of violence to “shut people up” in Macedonia, in particular expressing deep concern about how acceptable such practices had become in the country.
Schuurman says Macedonia faces serious problem when it comes to the rule of law: “Citizens no longer feel protected by the authorities who, under the constitution, should protect their rights, and particularly those minorities.”
The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) appealed in October 2014 to all journalists and citizens to show solidarity with the journalists of Fokus magazine, who are subject to what has been deemed by many as harsh punishment due to a lost defamation law suit for some of the investigative pieces they published. A Fokus journalist and its editor-in-chief have to pay over 9,300 euros to the Director of the Macedonian Security and Counter-Intelligence Directorate Sasho Mijalkov, who brought the defamation law suit against them.
AJM believes that the verdict is unfair and directed against critical journalism, which is essential for the functioning of Macedonian democracy.
Our colleagues are not able to pay the fee, therefore AJM appeals for mobilization and solidarity of the membership, the journalistic community and the public in Macedonia.
We believe that our support will be a contribution for the survival of free thought and criticism towards the ways the government is practicing power in the country.
Moreover, we believe that the support of the press and public will be a direct contribution to safeguarding the freedom of expression in Macedonia. Therefore we urge within your capabilities to donate to the following bank account:
AJM Solidarity Fund: 300000003296484
The Commercial Bank
Purpose of payment: Donation for the reporters from Focus
Mijalkov announced that, when Fokus staff paid the fine, he would donate the part of the money he receives to an orphanage. This, nevertheless, means endangering the survival of the magazine and the livelihood of its staff.
Other civic organizations also sounded alarms after hearing of the fine decided by a Skopje court. For instance, the National Network against Homophobia and Transphobia of Macedonia is organizing a fundraising event in Skopje Old Town on October 14, 2014, to aid Fokus in covering the defamation fine and cover court costs.
Traveling duo Jürgen Horn from Germany and Mike Powell from the United States wander around the world by picking a country and staying there for three months, or about 91 days. During their three-month stays, the two globe-trotters attempt to experience life in their new location more thoroughly than a regular tourist and relate their experiences in a blog, saying they plan on eventually authoring e-books on the subject.
Horn and Powell have visited lands on different continents, from Japan to Yucatan, from Idaho to Iceland and Istanbul, with Sri Lanka and many others in between. Currently, they are exploring and writing about Macedonia, providing multimedia notes on the small southeast European country's cities and towns, places related to culture, history and nature. The duo's journey can be followed on social networks and their blog
— For 91 Days (@for91days) September 1, 2014
Police harassment of media seems to have become a regular occurrence in Macedonia, which has included the detainment and sentencing of some journalists in the country. On August 25, 2014, Macedonian Nova TV journalists were harassed and “stopped from doing their jobs” by police officers while covering protests held in front of the Customs building in Skopje.
In May 2014, there were no consequences for the Macedonian police officers who strong-armed journalists into erasing footage of arrests during riots in the ethnically-charged protests in Skopje. After a complaint was filed by journalists involved in the incident, the Minister of Interior stated that all 34 policemen engaged in the action were interviewed and not one reported such incident. Nova TV compared the metadata in the Word document sent as statement by deputy minister [mk] at the time and calculated that each interview and the compiling of written statements had taken about 7 minutes per policemen, consecutively. Nevertheless, the official investigation of the incident was closed.
On August 26, 2014, Nova TV editor-in-chief Borjan Jovanovski published a public protest letter [mk] informing that police again obstructed journalists while covering a protest. This time it was a protest of disgruntled former Customs workers [mk] in Skopje, who were fired after complaining about work conditions.
Полицијата пресудува на лице место
По не знам кој пат полицијата дрско спречува новинари на НОВА во извршувањето на работните задачи.
Денеска нашиот репортер Дехран Муратов имаше задача да го регистрира протестот на граѓаните кои сметаат дека им биле повредени правата при одлуката на Царинската управа да ги избрка од работа. Овие лица заглавени во правните лавиринти на (не)правната држава денеска сакаа да добијат одговор од одговорните во Царинската управа за нивниот нерешен статус. Нивниот обид да го добијат тоа што им следува НОВА имаше намера да го регистрира аудиовизуелно. При извршувањето на оваа задача на новинарот Муратов дрско му пристапи полицијата со барање да им го даде неговиот мобилен телефон. Телефонот му бил привремено одземен по што полицајците без никаква основа си дозволиле да ги прегледуваат содржините во телефонот на новинарот Муратов.
Овој случај на дрско попречување при извршување на професионална задача од страна на полицијата и уште погрубо одземање на нечија сопственост, како и претурање во базата на неговите лични податоци немаме намера да го пријавиме во службата за внатрешна контрола бидејќи немаме дилеми дека станува збор за грубо прекршување на законите од страна на полицијата, но и како последица на нашето последно и горчливо искуство со Секторот за внатрешна контрола при МВР кога наша колешка од НОВА и други новинари од Фокус и Радио Слободна Европа на свој грб ја почуствуваа „независноста“ на Секторот за внатрешна контрола на полицијата. Нашата преставка ја споделуваме јавно со потсетување на членовите од законот за полиција. Во членот 57 од овој закон се вели:
Полицискиот службеник може привремено да одземе предмети со наредба на суд, во случаите утврдени со Законот за кривичната постапка.
Одземањето на предмети може да се изврши и без наредба на суд во следниве случаи:
1) кога постојат основи за сомневање дека се работи за предмет на кривично дело, прекршок или имотна корист прибавена со кривично дело или прекршок кој може да послужи како доказ во постапката, доколку постои опасност од одлагање;
2) кога заради заштита на општата безбедност, одземањето на предметот неопходно е потребно и
3) на лице на кое привремено му е ограничена слободата на движење, а поседува или може да употреби предмет за самоповредување, напад или бегство.
Исто така, јавно се обраќаме до Здружението на новинарите за ова грубо кршење на слободата на медиумите и попречување на новинарите да си ја извршуваат својата работа. По поплаките кои во минатото ги упативмe директно до ЗНМ за слични инциденти сега до нив упатуваме јавен апел да ги превземат сите неопходни мерки за да ги заштитата правата на новинарите на што ги обврзуваат сите основачки акти.
Police Passes Judgement on the Spot
Yet another time police impertinently stopped NOVA journalists in performance of their work tasks.
Today our reporter Dehran Muratov had an assignment to register the protest of citizens [mk] who claim that their rights were violated with the decision of the Customs Authority to fire them. These people are stuck into the legal labyrinths of the (un)legal state gathered to demand answers by the Customs Authority about their unsolved status. NOVA intended to create audiovisual documentation of these efforts. While performing this assignment, police officers approached the journalist Muratov, harshly ordering him to hand over his mobile telephone. Muratov’s telephone was temporarily requisitioned, and without any legal ground the policemen browsed through the stored contents.
We do not intend to file an official complaint to the Police Internal Control Office regarding this case of impudent prohibition by the police in performing a professional task, and moreover the rough seizure of personal property, including rummaging through a database containing personal data. While we have no dilemmas that this is a case of harsh violation of the laws by the police, we base our decision on the previous bitter experience with the Ministry of Interior Internal Control Office. Then, our colleague from NOVA, as well as colleagues from Fokus and Radio Free Europe felt the “independence” [mk] of this sector. Therefore we share our complaint publicly, to remind about the relevant Article 57 of the Law on Police, which states:
Police officer can temporarily seize objects with a court order, in cases proscribed by the Law on Criminal Procedure.
Seizure of objects can be done without court order in the following situations:
1) When there are grounds to suspect that the object has been appropriated during performance of a criminal act, misdemeanor or as material benefit resulting from a criminal act or misdemeanor which can be used as evidence during the court procedure, if there’s an peril of postponement;
2) When in order to ensure protection of public safety, the seizure of the object is necessary, and
3) From a person with a temporarily limited freedom of movement, and owns or may use the object to inflict self-harm, for assault or escape.
NOVA also publicly demands that the Association of Journalists of Macedonia address this harsh violation of freedom of the media and obstructing journalists to perform their duties. After the complaints we addressed to AJM about similar incident we now send a public appeal to conduct all necessary measures to protect the rights of journalists, according to their acts of incorporation [i.e. Statutes].
On July 17, 2014, four men from Kosovo completed a 78-day walk from eastern Kosovo to Brussels, Belgium. The goal of their trek was to incite EU officials to grant Kosovo visa-free travel throughout the EU, a privilege that has been available to all other Western Balkan countries for some time.
The four men began their trip entirely independently and with their own financing, but say that they received both financial and moral support from others throughout the countries of the region as they made their way to the headquarters of the European Union. Radio Free Europe reported after the men reached Brussels, where they met with EU officials:
Calling themselves The “Free Travellers” group (“Shtegtarët e lire”), the men walked under the slogan “5 million steps for one step” in the hope that Brussels will grant citizens of Kosovo the possibility to travel to the European Union without visas.
A not-for-profit, self-financed group of artists calling themselves Kooperacija (“Cooperation”, Macedonian slang for a general store in small villages) hosted an exhibition titled “Melting Point: Art as Anti-Hegemonic Propaganda” [en, mk, with photos] in Skopje recently.
As reported [mk] by several news outlets that cover culture [mk], including Belgrade-based SEE Cult [sr], the event presented works by several individuals and groups of world renowned artists. Among them were pieces by Vitaly Komar, IRWIN, Santiago Sierra, DETEXT, as well as by some of the most vibrant artists from the region, like Nemanja Cvijanović, Ibro Hasanović, Igor Toševski, Kristina Gorovska & Jure Lavrin, Ines Efremova, Filip Jovanovski, O-P-A, and others.
The group of artists who put together the exhibition described it on their pages as:
Kooperacija is an initiative whose purpose is artistic activity outside the inert institutional frameworks, thus suggesting an exceptional approach to the creation and experience of contemporary art […]
[Its] basic strategy is the occupation of temporarily free space dispersed throughout the urban landscape and exhibiting through a chain of blitzkrieg events. The desired effect is a constructive dialogue regarding the re-questioning of the critical positions in art and producing a favorable environment for a free exchange of ideas, experience and freedom of expression.
Balkan Insight reports that an ethnic Albanian NGO in Macedonia has condemned a recent court verdict convicting six Albanian men for the execution-style murder of five ethnic Macedonians on Christian Orthodox Easter in 2012.
The NGO claims that the entire investigation and verdict were politically-motivated and set against the six accused men from the beginning, leaving little to no room for other suspects or a more in-depth investigation. The six men stood trial for terrorism and were sentenced to the longest possible prison term for terrorism in Macedonia – life in prison.
Balkan Insight previously reported on the murders and the jailing of the six accused men.
Serbian daily Blic reports on a curious case in which Serbian insurance company Takovo Osiguranje has, in writing, refused to pay damages to the widow and children of a car accident victim, based on his ethnicity. Blic journalists and an attorney representing the victim's family claim that the insurance company clearly stated in their written refusal to pay out damages that the family is legally owed:
…“da se javio neuobičajeni broj nesreća u kojima je stradao veliki broj učesnika romske nacionalnosti – u vozilu našeg osiguranika bilo ih je čak sedam”
…”that there has been an unusually large number of accidents in which a large number of victims have been of Roma ethnicity – in the vehicles of those insured with us there were as many as seven”
A Russian chocolate company in Novosibirsk has released a new candy bar called “The Crimea” with the slogan, “Just try to grab it!” A product announcement shared with the press features a super-hero character wearing the colors of the Russian flag, standing before a map of Crimea, with the following tagline:
Даже в то время, когда страна принимает непростые решения, мы не перестаем улыбаться. Потому что мы—Россияне!
Even in times when the country is making difficult decisions, we never stop smiling. That's because we are Russians!
The company responsible for this new confection, “Chocolate Traditions,” has produced other specially themed sweets. Earlier this year, it announced a fudge bar called “the Viagra.” There are also several holiday-themed candy collections, for Victory Day, Women's Day, and so on. One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of the Crimea chocolates costs 130 rubles (about $4).
Russian Internet users have showed great interest in the new Crimea-themed candy bar. According to Yandex's blogs search engine, the past few hours have seen over a thousand posts on the subject. Many Russians have noticed that the chocolate bars expire after ten months, leading several bloggers to joke that Russia's occupation of Crimea won't last another year.
В российских конфетах “Крым – а ну-ка, отбери” срок годности 10 месяцев. В январе Крым вновь станет украинским. pic.twitter.com/10y2Zhd4uu
— Льовочкинъ (@slevo4kin) June 5, 2014
The Russian candy “Crimea—just try to grab it” has a shelf life of 10 months. In January, Crimea will become Ukrainian again.