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Documenting the Systematic Decline of Women's Rights in Macedonia

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.  

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“My body – my decision” sigh at a protest against new abortion law. Photo by Vanco Dzhambaski, CC BY-NC-SA.

Recently, Macedonian equal rights activist Ana Vasileva, known as @Amateuress on Twitter, provided a lengthy overview of the systematic decline of women's rights in Macedonia on her blog:

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[1], 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…

Google Art Project Now Features Ukrainian Street Art

Street art by Ukrainian collective Dobrye Ludi. Image from respublicafest.com.

Street art by Ukrainian collective Dobrye Ludi. Image from respublicafest.com.

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.

Art by M-97.

Art by M-97.

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.

Art by Kislow.

Art by Kislow.

Russian Journalist Crowdfunding New Media Project on Kickstarter

Screenshot from Yakovlev's Kickstarter project page.

Screenshot from Yakovlev's Kickstarter project page.

Vladimir Yakovlev, the founder of Kommersant newspaper and former editor of Snob website, is raising funds for a new Russian independent media project on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. The project's description on the Kickstarter page claims the goal is to create a media outlet that will counteract the Russian “state propaganda machine” and help “turn zombies back into people.”

Russia today is torn by hatred caused by a multimillion-dollar state propaganda machine. This is a real danger for an entire world as we know it.
People hate each other. They have a terrible delusion that Russia is surrounded by enemies. Recent murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov is just one of numerous casualties of state-funded hatred campaign.
Now, more than ever, we need a new independent media to unite the best journalists by common goal: to stop propaganda of hatred; to find a way to resist the madness that is tearing apart an entire country bringing it closer and closer to a horrible social disaster.
I want to start this new media project as soon as possible. It will be a powerful, formidable, effective multi-media platform free of political control and Kremlin power.
[...]
If Kremlin media is so good in turning people into zombies, why can’t we create a media to turn zombies back to people?

Macedonian NGO Develops First Ever Android and iOS App to Battle Hate Speech

Macedonian Metamorphosis Foundation has developed a first among mobile applications – an app against hate speech, aiming to bring information from this area to the fingertips of mobile phone users and help them battle this odious occurrence on the Internet.

The app, available for free download both Android and iOS users, was developed in order to more effectively combat hate speech online, enabling access to the latest news in this area, access to educational and expert resources, such as a library with e-books on the matter, interactive tutorials about the various opportunities for reporting hate speech, as well as participation in events related to the fight against hate speech through an integrated calendar.

The application, dubbed simply “Don't Hate”, is the first mobile app of this kind in the world and is currently only available in Macedonian and Albanian, while its creators do plan on developing it further for other languages and markets in the near future. 

 

Hijacked Printers in Eastern Ukraine and Russia Print Pro-Ukraine Messages

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

As the world watches Russian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists occupy Ukrainian administration buildings, cities, and even an entire peninsula, a group of Ukrainian hackers is fighting back by launching an invasion of their own.

Since this summer, Ukrainian hacker Yevgeniy Dokukin and his group of fellow computer pros calling themselves Ukrainian Cyber Forces have carried out “Operation Bond, James Bond,” in which they leaked web camera and security footage from Crimea, separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine, and even government offices in Russia. Dokukin and the Ukrainian Cyber Forces have been leaking videos from cameras for months now, including a video supposedly from a separatist base in Donetsk.

A few weeks ago, Dokukin and his allies took up new weapons in their cyberwar: printers. In a series of Facebook posts, Dokukin has explained how, after accessing private WiFi networks, the Ukrainian Cyber Forces were able to print documents on vulnerable networked printers in various offices in Crimea and separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine, and were now trying to do the same in Russian networks.

#UkrainianCyberForces have begun occupying networked printers in Donbas and in Crimea.

As Dokukin told RuNet Echo, he sees the wasted ink and paper in Russia as a variant on Ukraine’s own “economic sanctions” aimed at its neighbor. The messages appearing on these printers vary, but they share a common theme:

Якщо ваш мережевий принтер передасть “вітання Путіну” чи надрукує “Слава Україні!” та інші цікаві надписи, то знайте, що він під нашим контролем.

If your network printer passes along “greetings to Putin” or prints “Glory to Ukraine!” or other interesting messages, then you know that it is under our control.

Not all of Dokukin’s printer messages were meant to be confrontational. Recently, the Ukrainian Cyber Forces accessed an open network printer in Canada—an especially strong ally of Ukraine throughout the ongoing crisis—and printed the message “Thanks for supporting Ukraine!” in English.

As Russia increases its support of information warfare, including slick redesigns of its news agencies and propping up fake Ukrainian news sites, Ukrainian Cyber Forces are taking the trolling and information war to their opponents—and their offices—more directly.

Macedonian Journalist Describes How it Feels to be Subject of State Surveillance

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: 

Meri Jordanovska. Photo: Prizma Project. Used with permission.

Meri Jordanovska. Photo: BIRN Prizma Project. Used with permission.

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.

Russia's Internet Ombudsman Advocates for Storing User Data Abroad

Dmitry Marinichev. Photo by Vpetrov-71 on Wikimedia Commons.

Dmitry Marinichev. Photo by Vpetrov-71 on Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Epic Car Chase in Moscow's Red Square Caught on Video

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

An unlikely event occurred in Moscow last week, when police chased a towing truck hauling a bright yellow minivan through the Red Square in the heart of the capital.

The car chase drew many spectators, not in the least because no cars, motorbikes, or bicycles are allowed on the Red Square. And where there are spectators with smartphones, there are always photos.

 A towing truck with a minivan broke through to the Red Square—photo report:

The story only got weirder from there, as it turned out the towing truck was hijacked by the indignant owner of the very minivan it was attempting to tow. Reportedly, the man attacked the towing truck's driver and them drove off.

“The owner of the minivan that was on the towing truck hijacked the truck himself and drove into the Red Square.

Some Twitter users noted the color scheme of the two cars was reminiscent of the Ukrainian flag and drew immediate parallels with the ongoing confrontation between Ukraine and Russia.

 ”A towing truck in Ukrainian colors staged a protest ride under Putlo's [Putin's] nose in the Red Square.”

Police pursued the hijacker, but he led them on quite a merry chase before they managed to stop him. Because the Red Square is one of the most popular tourist locations not only in Moscow, but in all of Russia, the event was also caught on video.

Police and a towing truck in hot pursuit in the Red Square:

The ban on access to the Red Square for motorized vehicles has been in place since 1963, when it was instituted in order to preserve the pedestrian area for the hordes of tourists admiring the views. Apparently, though, the ban does little to prevent daredevils like the towing truck hijacker from driving right through the heart of downtown Moscow—and going viral on social media while doing so.

The Ustashi Legacy: Remembering the Children's Concentration Camp in Sisak

Children sitting in front of one of the barrack's in the Sisak concentration camp. Public domain.

Children sitting in front of one of the barrack's in the Sisak concentration camp. Public domain.

In 1941, the Croatian radical right-wing Ustashi movement came to power and formed the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), led by Ante Pavelić. NDH followed fascist regimes in Europe by forming concentration camps, and killing and persecuting Serbs, Jews, and Romas, not to mention Croatian partisans and their families.

In August 1942, NDH built a camp in Sisak, Croatia, for both adults and children. The children's section of the concentration camp was dubbed the “Shelter for Children of Refugees“ and was the biggest of its kind in the Ustashi-run Independent State of Croatia. The so-called “shelter” was led by Dr. Antun Najžer, under the patronage of The Female Lineages of the Ustashi movement and Ustashi surveillance services. Today we have documents showing that Dr. Najžer and his team performed tests on the children held in the camp, starving to death some, and torturing in various ways others.

A monument in children section's camp graveyard says approximately 2,000 people are buried there, but there's never been an organized effort to exhume the bodies, so no one knows for sure. A recent article on the Croatian news site Portal Novosti describes the history of the camp, bearing the chilling headline “Sisak Also Had Its Mengele” (referring to the Auschwitz concentration camp's infamous physician).

The town of Sisak, subjected to another devastating conflict in the 1990s during the Croatian Independence War, holds an event annually at the graveyard on WWII Remembrance Day, laying wreaths on the memorial and inviting the camp's survivors to speak.

Dobrila Kukolj is one of the children who managed to survive the horrors of the concentration camp. Born in 1931 in Međeđa village, Bosnia-Herzegovina, she was placed in several children's camps during the war. Her life changed forever in 1941, when Ustashi forces attacked her village. In Portal Novosti's article, Kukolj says she best recalls the Sisak and Jasenovac concentration camps, both in Croatia, and describes what arriving at the camps was like:

Ulazak u logor bio je ravan klubu smrti u kojem su vladali bezakonje i ludilo, gdje se čuo samo vrisak, plač i jauk do neba. Prizor od kojeg mi se i danas ledi krv u žilama je bježanje ispred ustaša koji su hvatali djevojčice i nad njima se iživljavali. Tada sam nehotice stala na tek rođeno dijete na zemlji, a taj plač mi i danas zvoni u ušima. Mi preživjeli logoraši smo na izmaku snage, a naša svjedočanstva ne smiju pasti u zaborav i zato molim sadašnju i buduće generacije da se bore da se zlo koje je donio rat više nikada ne ponovi, kako kod nas, tako i u cijelom svijetu.

Entering the concentration camp was the same thing as entering a death club ruled only by lawlessness and madness, where you could hear only screams, crying and moaning, all the way to the sky. One sight that still freezes the blood in my veins is running from the Ustashes who were capturing little girls and then brutalizing them. That's when I accidentally stepped on a newborn lying on the ground. The cry it let out still rings in my ears. We who have survived the camps are at the end of our journeys, but our legacy shouldn't ever be forgotten and that's why I ask the generations who are here and who are yet to come to ensure that such evil brought by war never again returns—not in our country or any other.

Hungarian PM Receives Chocolates from Union Workers’ Children, Then Votes for Parents to Lose Jobs

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

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Photo from LIGA Trade Unions FB page, widely circulated on social networks.

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.

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