Stories from Quick Reads and Eastern & Central Europe
On Saturday, June 20, human rights expert and activist Suad Missini ended the hunger strike he started six days prior in protest of inhumane treatment of migrants passing through Macedonia. Mr. Missini issued the following statement [links added]:
While the effects of the changes of the Asylum Law are yet to be seen in practice, the conditions in the migrant center in Gazi Baba has not been improved. The refugees are still kept in the center which gains characteristics of a concentration camp, under impossible, inhuman and degrading conditions, out of the legal framework and international human rights standards which are part of the national legal system.
Authorities in Republic of Macedonia chose to remain deaf to the demands for solving of this problem by numerous international organizations and institutions. They act blind to the fact that the UN Committee Against Torture characterized the treatment of refugees in this center as torture and breach of the UN Convention Against Torture in its latest report. And all this while our country is a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
On the other hand, I'd like to stress that Macedonia, as member of Council of Europe (CoE), received a visit by the CoE Committee for Prevention of Torture, which included a visit to Gazi Baba center. This summer, the president of this committee Mikola Gnatovskij visited Macedonia and also talked to the authorities about this center, among other things. I emphasize that Macedonian authorities have still not issued approval for the report of this visit to be published.
Finally, two days before the start of the hunger strike, the Ombudsman of Republic of Macedonia presented the catastrophic situation and lawlessness that rule in this center.
Today, we can acknowledge that the public in Republic of Macedonia, as well as the international public and foreign media and organizations, are fully aware and informed about the problem with this center. These days, Gazi Baba center is an international topic. If the government decided that this catastrophic problem should not be a subject of immediate reaction and subsequent solution, then this definitely puts our country among those which openly and unscrupulously conduct torture, while the authorities are legitimized as institutions lead by persons which have no respect for human lives. The lives of hundreds of people detained within this center. And finally, about my life.
Therefore, on this day I end the hunger strike. Because the limits of health risks are already surpassed, and because the potentials of this strike are fulfilled.
My demands, which are demands by an enormous part of the public in Republic of Macedonia, are partially fulfilled.
My civic act was a drop which made waves, which, I sincerely hope, together with all the other efforts, will lead to solving of this problem which turns our country into an uncivilized space.
I am immensely grateful to the thousands who sincerely and unambiguously expressed their support, making this civil act as much theirs, as it was mine.
Meanwhile, Twitter users continue sharing leaked photos showing the conditions of detained refugees.
The fifth Split Pride parade was held on June 6, 2015, with around 200 members of the LGBT community walking through Split, Croatia. No incidents or violence happened during the manifestation. The Split Pride parade has been held since 2010 and in previous years saw more than 500 participants joined in the Split Pride marches, but in 2011 an anti-gay mob attacked the participants, leaving some participants injured.
Since the introduction of Life Partnership Act in 2014 in Croatia, same-sex couples have had equal rights in almost everything but marriage and adoption, quite a significant progress for the conservative mostly Catholic country.
The fact that the number of participants was lower then last year may seem negative to some, but organizers claim it is a good sign. Many foreigners, including the Ambassador of Sweden to Croatia, Lars Schmidt, and the deputy of the ambassador of England, Nicole Davison came to support the parade, saying that it is their responsibility to support those who love each other.
Citing Split Pride Parade's motto. “Come out in a safe Split”, Marko Mlinar from the LGBT rights NGO Respect stated:
Ne želimo nasilje ni na ulicama ni na stadionima. Imamo česte pritužbe pripadnika LGBT zajednice na napade koje oni međutim ne prijavljuju zbog straha od vlastite obitelji i bliže okoline.
We don't want violence in the streets or the stadiums. We get frequent complaints from members of the LGBT community of attacks that they however don't report due to fear from their own families and closer communities.
Croatian LGBT website CroL tweeted:
— CroL (@CroL_Hr) June 6, 2015
— CroL (@CroL_Hr) June 6, 2015
The organizers were satisfied with this year's parade, even though they expected more people to join the procession, and said they were expecting many more participants at the after party that began at 8:30 p.m. that same evening.
Bulgaria, a member of the European Union, has a big problem with freedom of the media. The Balkan country is ranked 106 out of 180 countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.
Against this unpleasant background, a new media project was established with the ambitious task of opposing the media empires of local oligarchs and providing an alternative way to access information to the public.
KlinKlin.bg, founded by journalists, designers and bloggers, aims to establish an independent crowdfunding journalist project similar in spirit to those established by colleagues in the Netherlands (decorespondent.nl), Germany (krautreporter.de) and Canada (ricochet.media). But KlinKlin faces a major challenge: 86.5% of the population has no confidence in the local media.
KlinKlin is in the early stage of collecting support and funding. For now, the site is in Bulgarian, but the team is considering an English version too. In less than a week, the Facebook page of KlinKlin has just under 2,700 fans. Below is the group's promo video complete with English subtitles.
Although southeast European countries are progressive in many other ways, the decline of women's reproductive rights in some Western Balkan countries has been a worrying trend. In Macedonia, several small protests have been held in recent years to demonstrate people's opposition to government involvement in determining public sentiment on issues like abortion and family planning, after the government implemented a national anti-abortion campaign that began in 2011.
In recent years Macedonia has undergone a very subtle, yet dreadfully pervasive deterioration of the situation with women's rights. Mainly unnoticed or overlooked, the government latched on the popular, deeply misogynist sentiment of the suffering mother (a metaphor often used for the country itself) and after the initial surge of promise with the introduction of the gender quotas in 2006 and the adoption of the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, which paired with the history of equal treatment from the previous system led to even higher percentages in female representation in certain areas compared to the EU average, things started moving downwards steadily, without sufficient public resistance.
It can arguably be claimed that the ploy began with the anti-abortion posters and newspaper ads which started littering the public space out of nowhere circa 2006-2007 without anyone claiming responsibility for them…
Ukrainian graffiti and street art, previously visible mostly to Ukrainians and tourists walking the streets of Ukrainian cities, is now available to Internet users across the globe. Google Art Project, an extensive online collection of works of art of different genres and periods, curated by the Google Cultural Institute, now features a collection of Ukrainian street art.
Street art first appeared on Google Art Project in June 2014, and today the website features over 10 000 high resolution works of street art from 86 artistic collectives in 34 countries. The newly added Ukrainian works come from participants of “Respublica,” an international street art festival, and add to an extensive collection of captured images in an attempt to archive graffiti and murals before they disappear.
Стріт-арт перетворює вулиці міст у відкриті галереї. На жаль, ця форма мистецтва є дуже ефемерною – вона може існувати сьогодні, а вже завтра зникне назавжди. За допомогою Google Art Project ми намагаємось зберегти вуличні шедеври та зробити їх доступними для всіх.
Street art turns the city streets into open galleries. Unfortunately, this art form is rather ephemeral—it can exist today, and be gone forever tomorrow. With Google Art Project, we try to preserve the street masterpieces and make them accessible to everyone.
The growing migration crisis has recently also affected countries in southeastern Europe, with new issues arising almost daily. Reacting to the inhumane treatment of migrants who pass through Republic of Macedonia, renowned human rights activist Suad Missini started a hunger strike in front of the Parliament building in Skopje. He began the strike immediately after publishing his three demands in a Facebook post on Sunday, June 14, which garnered almost 300 likes and over 90 shares in just the first day.
I am just starting a hunger strike.
In front of the Parliament.
I demand urgently and immediately:
- Urgent adoption of the changes of the Asylum law, that would enable safe transit or temporary stay of refugees passing through the Macedonian territory, as well as free use of all publicly available means of transport.
- Concrete and publicly announced measures by the Ministry of Interior in view to safeguard the life, security and possessions of refugees passing through Macedonia.
- Immediate liberation of all refugees and migrants detained in the Gazi Baba center and its immediate closure.
The strike will not end unless these demands are fulfilled.
Thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria and other war zones pass through Macedonia, traveling from Greece towards Serbia on a path to try to reach Germany or other well-off EU countries. The migrants used to follow the railway tracks on foot, suffering horrific “accidents.” Lately the migrants buy bicycles, reportedly at inflated prices, in southern Macedonian towns and cycle on the main highway. Many of them fall victim to human trafficking rings and gangs of robbers. Some of the refugees are held as “witnesses” in the Reception Center for Foreigners “Gazi Baba” in Skopje in what Macedonian Ombudsman Idzhet Memeti has called “inhuman, unhealthy, and undignified” conditions.
The Government is supposed to discuss the amendments to the Asylum Law on June 16.
Some pro-Russian videos appear to have gone viral, and not in a good sense. Motherboard reports that a group of unknown hackers has been infecting Internet users’ computers with viruses and using them to inflate views on news videos with a pro-Russian slant, as well as some other content.
New research by security firm Trustwave shows that victims got infected by visiting a compromised website that installed an exploit kit (an off-the-shelf software package allowing for easy attacks) on their computer, along with a trojan virus. The infected computers would then stealthily rack up views on the videos.
The videos identified by the researchers all appear to be pro-Russian, such as a one from the Iranian English-language broadcaster PressTV that quotes a Russian Parliament member justifying the annexation of Crimea. The goal of the operation, according to Trustwave researchers Rami Kogan and Arseny Levin, was to artificially increase the popularity of a video and make it more visible to users of the site Dailymotion.
Trustwave experts say the suspicious videos all share the same traits: they all have a fairly high number of views (around 320K, most of them within minutes of each other) but no social media shares or comments. By artificially inflating the clip's popularity, the fraudsters also make the video more visible to other users of the video site.
Using bots to generate fake traffic to video clips is nothing new. It is a technique to raise a clip's popularity score and achieve higher visibility. However, this is the first time we've observed the tactic used to promote video clips with a seemingly political agenda.
Both Trustwave analysts and independent security researchers told Motherboard that using malware for political aims was new, but that such ‘invisible propaganda’ could be very effective, as only its results were visible,but not the fraudulent mechanisms behind them.
“We have seen hacks that are motivated by money and other ‘hacktivist’ attacks that are motivated by politics,” Karl Sigler, the threat intelligence manager at Trustwave, told Motherboard. “This current campaign shows that those two motivations are starting to evolve and blend together.”
While it is unclear who is behind the campaign, Trustware experts speculate that those who spread the exploit kit and the malware simply aimed to make money, and that someone else paid them to add fake views to pro-Russian propaganda videos.
The local council of the Municipality of Centar, part of the Skopje downtown area, approved a proposal to hold a referendum to preserve the authentic look of the iconic Skopje Shopping Center. As Meta.mk reports, the referendum will take place on April 26. For the referendum to be successful, it needs a turnout of 50 percent plus one of the registered voters in the Municipality of Centar to vote in favor of preserving the original edifice.
The decision is the result of a two-year-long campaign to save the landmark from a faux-baroque reconstruction plan. The Skopje City Shopping Center is known by the local acronym GTC.
“GTC requires nurturing, renovation, reconstruction, while not losing the concept and function. Project for changing the look of GTC means distorting the essence of the object. The investor who will reconstruct the facility has to know the essence and what does GTC means to the citizens. We have nothing against the reconstruction of the GTC, its authenticity as a heritage must be kept,” said Danica Pavlovska from the Association of Architects.
She added that the referendum is the most democratic way to solve the problems of citizens and is something that allows the citizens to be aware of their power.
— Го сакам ГТЦ (@GoSakamGTC) March 30, 2015
Centar decided! On April 26, we go to referendum to save GTC.
The voice of the citizens will be heard. Municipality of Centar voted to allow a referendum on GTC.
Prominent investigative journalist Meri Jordanovska wrote a testimony about her experience on receiving evidence that she was one of allegedly twenty thousand individuals who have been subjected to state surveillance in Macedonia. In an op-ed on Balkan Insight, Jordanovska explains:
Each report on one of my wiretapped conversations was true: the date, the story I was working on and the sources I was getting briefed by. Everything was correct. I am not sure I will get another “diploma”. This folder was more than enough for me to clearly see what is happening in my country.I can clearly see that someone knew in advance what story I was working on. Enough for me to conclude that my sources of information were endangered. Enough for the centers of power to be able to react preventively before the story was published. Enough to become aware, even though I had always suspected this, that some people know the problems of those closest to me – people who had shared personal matters with me over the phone.
Jordanovska received a file containing surveillance of her communications during a press conference by the opposition party SDSM, at which representatives of the party also revealed that journalists had been wiretapped en masse in Macedonia. Besides publishing several conversation as proof, twenty journalists were given folders with CDs containing their own files, leaked by sources from within the Ministry of Interior. Her text is also available in Macedonian and has been republished by several independent portals in her home country, including Mojot grad.
SDSM leader Zoran Zaev claims that National Security Services illegally targeted over twenty thousand people with the surveillance, which involved illegally recording and storing phone conversations of these individuals over at least four years. His party has not yet published a list of all the alleged victims, nor a list of the wiretapped phone numbers. According to SDSM representatives, these included both citizens of Macedonia and foreigners using local telecom services, including several diplomats.
Internet Ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev has written a letter to President Vladimir Putin, proposing amendments to the new data retention law and suggesting that Russians’ personal data could be stored abroad with the permission of the owners.
Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI) reports:
Marinichev has proposed allowing foreign online companies to store Russians’ personal data in a country that is a signatory to the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data, according to Izvestia.
A total of 46 countries have ratified the convention, including Russia, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, as well as post-Soviet countries including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Ukraine.
“We don’t want to lose global online services, which will be unable to operate in Russia unless the law is amended. I suggest that amendments be discussed with the expert community,” Marinichev said, as quoted by Izvestia.
The data retention law that requires social networking sites and foreign companies providing Internet services (like airline tickets and consumer goods sales) in Russia to store Russians’ personal data on servers inside the Russian Federation, will come into effect on September 1.