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Quick Reads + Eastern & Central Europe

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Latest stories from Quick Reads + Eastern & Central Europe

Hungarian Far-Right Group Protests Against Fashion Designer

A group of far-right extremists occupied the exhibition opening of a Hungarian fashion designer on Friday, Kettős Mérce blog reported [hu].

The designer in question Koby's new fashion line was first withdrawn [hu] from a Hungarian sports brand shop in January 2014, after nationalist criticism rose against the t-shirt designs featuring some of Hungary's historical figures such as Lajos Kossuth, a leader of the Hungarian revolution of 1848. Photos of Koby's line of t-shirts can be found in a recent Funzine.hu article.

The public debate about Hungary's far-right groups and the far-right party Jobbik has become more tense as the 2014 elections approach, set for April 6. On March 15, the national holiday marking the 1848 revolution, a group of citizens dubbed “Vote against Jobbik” held a protest against-far right extremists in Hungary.

Suspected Government #SelfieMacedonia Campaign Backfires

A Facebook campaign with the hashtag #SelfieMacedonia was launched in March 2014 and Macedonian social media users now suspect that the country's government is behind it all.

Bouts of young social media users from Macedonia, individually or in groups, have been taking photos of themselves, typically called “selfies”, and sharing them on Facebook with the hashtag. None of this would be unusual were it not for the peculiar fact that national monuments and buildings constructed ​​by the current government are in most of these photos.

The Youth Force Union, a youth group of the ruling party in Macedonia, began taking these “selfie” photos that sometimes include the ruling party’s flag and logo. The hashtag aroused great interest and many users began commenting these features on social networks, indicating suspicion that the campaign is being staged by the ruling party’s headquarters.

In response to the “selfies” with the monuments and political symbols, an even greater number of photo-montage images can be found on Facebook now, some depicting government officials attending current events.

A widely circulated photoshopped image showing a Macedonian government official and US President Obama, part of the response of Macedonian social media users to the #SelfieMacedonia campaign.

A widely circulated photoshopped image showing a Macedonian government official and US President Obama, part of the response of Macedonian social media users to the #SelfieMacedonia campaign.

A1on.mk commented on the campaign in a recent article and included several of these images.

The Daily Lives of Sub-Saharan Immigrants in Prague

Chadian blogger Réndodjo Em-A Moundona [fr] writes about the daily lives of African immigrants in Prague [fr] : 

Une petite discussion avec ces Africains suffit pour se rendre à l´évidence que la communauté n´est ni menacée, ni totalement intégrée. Comme fille africaine, il est quasi impossible de trouver un travail conséquent [..] En général, les Tchèques sont un peuple renfermé, ils sont cependant gentils et tolérants. «Il n’y a absolument aucun problème à être noir à Prague, personne ne vous fera de remarque, ce serait un comble!» garantit un des matelots originaire de la Côte d´Ivoire. Mais cette tolérance n´est pas non plus le gage d´une acceptation totale.

A quick chat with Africans here is all you need to realize that the community here is not under any pressure but it is not  fully integrated either. As an African girl, it is almost impossible to find a real job.[..] In general, the Czechs are reserved but very tolerant. A sailor from from Côte d'Ivoire affirms that ”There is absolutely no issue with blacks in Prague, nobody will say anything untowards to you, to the contrary!”. Yet, this tolerance is in no way a guarantee that one will be fully integrated in the society. 

Macedonian Government to Introduce Internet Filtering

Airborne blog commented on the Macedonian government's plan to set up a new company to provide online betting and other gambling to residents of Macedonia:

The plan will involve “disabling of betting/gambling online games on foreign web sites”. This blockade is set to last two years beginning in March 2014.

Citing benefits for “the [Macedonian] state and society”, blocking of the sites will be carried out by the Agency for Electronic Communications and the Ministry for Information Society.

Given the extremely poor record of the Macedonian government on media freedom and previous unsuccessful attempts to legislate liability for Internet access providers for content published via their services, it's not too difficult to imagine a more broad use of the blocking mechanism once it is set up.

At this point, raising concern about the proposed plan for blocking access to site is the least we can do. The communities from the Internet should rally again.

The blocking mechanism is set to take effect sometime in March [mk], following a change in the Law on Games of Chance [mk] adopted on December 28, 2013.

The State Lottery operates under the motto “It's for good” and holds monopoly on most kinds of gambling, while it also administers other government lottery schemes.

Activists Add Female Heroines to Wikipedia in Macedonian

The informal citizens’ group “Fight Like a Woman”, (@borisezenski), organized a mini marathon with the purpose of adding articles about notable women from Macedonia to Wikipedia in Macedonian to raise awareness about women's rights and gender equality.

The campaign involved activists working within the site of International Women's Day celebrations titled “Firstborn, and a girl” [mk] (wordplay on a popular Balkan saying expounding the importance of firstborn male children, usually expressed as “Firstborn, and a boy!”), and from home, coordinated using the hashtags #ЖенскаАрхива (Female Archive) and #WikiFem.

A Facebook photo of the initial Female Archive team, whose description displays links to the new articles, garnered hundreds of likes/shares.

A Facebook photo of the basic Female Archive team, whose description displays links to the new articles, garnered hundreds of likes/shares.

The activists who were, as they put it, “defying oblivion”, managed to create 40 articles during the short campaign, with short biographies of important women, from early 20th century feminists and human rights activists to World War 2 freedom fighters, contemporary academics and artists.

Update: Russia Blocks Fifth Liberal Website

In addition to Grani.ru, EJ.ru, Kasparov.ru, and Alexey Navalny's LiveJournal blog [Global Voices report], today some ISPs also blocked the website of the liberal radio station Echo Moskvy (Moscow's Echo). According to antizapret.info, the website was blocked at the behest of the Attorney General's office because it contains a mirror of Alexey Navalny's blog at www.echo.msk.ru/blog/navalny. Echo Moskvy Deputy Editor-in-Chief Vladimir Varfolomeev tweeted that at least one ISP is working on resolving the problem:

Akado's [ISP -ed.] press secretary told me that they are working on returning access to Echo, but Navalny's page there will still be blocked.  

Some bloggers are also reporting [ru] problems accessing their LiveJournal blogs, likely because of the same issue of over-zealous blocking.

Pavel Durov's Seven Reasons to Stay in Russia

Pavel Durov, Russian entrepreneur and the brains behind the social networking site VKontakte.ru, recently wrote on his page there, that more and more young people are deciding to emigrate from Russia over the past eight months. Durov quipped [ru], “In typical fashion, I've decided to go against the trend — and want to outline seven reasons to stay put in Russia.”

Here are Durov's seven reasons:

1) Low Taxes — Russia has a flat income tax of 13%, something that Europeans can only dream of. 

2) Talented People — Russians often show off their talents by becoming champions in many fields, from computer programming to figure skating. 

3) Breathtaking Scenery — Russia is a leader in terms of the volume and diversity of natural resources on its territory. 

4) Beautiful People – As someone who has spent several years outside of Russia, Durov says that he can confirm that the percentage of beautiful girls in Russia is significantly higher than in most other countries.

5) Freedom of Expression — Taking a creative approach to pushing the envelope is Russia's national characteristic. 

6) Potential for Economic Development — Many like to underscore Russia's lack of development. However, thanks to the lack of development, this leaves the possibility to create new possibilities, which developed countries lack. 

7) A Rich Cultural History — Russia gave the world dozens of writers, architects, composers, artists, and scientists.

It remains to be seen if these positive aspects of Russian life are enough to outweigh the negative, and convince potential emigrants that they have more of a chance at home.

Macedonian Students Campaign Against Unlivable Conditions in Dormitories

Macedonian students demanding better life conditions in public university dormitories published a blog entitled “Operacija studentski” [mk] (“Operation Dorm”) displaying photos of everyday life in the facilities and urging students to contribute. Many of the photos show highly inadequate living conditions in the student dormitories.

The blog and photos have gained much visibility on social networks, as many social media users react to the inactivity of the official student organizations sanctioned by the state. Prompted by “Operation Dorm”, many other students have also taken to social networks to post photos of the horrible living conditions in some of the state university dormitories. Since these dormitories are the only ones in the country, the competition to gain beds in them is fierce and mired with suspicions of corruption.

Dormitory reception with signs "There's no hot water, we are fixing the problem" and "Go to your boyfriends' places to take a bath."

Dormitory reception with signs “There's no hot water, we are fixing the problem” and “Go to your boyfriends’ places to take a bath.” Photo by Operacija studentski.

The following video from A1on article [mk] about the dorms also displays the situation.

Sharing on social networks increased after posting of an imgur English-language photo gallery. This also spawned parodies, such as “an image of Alexander the Great appeared in the mold” [mk] (referring to recent development promoted by politicians), “Hollywood will rent the site to film horror movies” [mk], a comparison with Norwegian prison, and articles in foreign media [hr].

New Macedonian Public Service Campaign Calls Drug Users “Mules”

Over the last seven years, the Government of the Republic of Macedonia has spent undisclosed amounts of taxpayers money to produce and air public service campaigns against drug use and drug trafficking. A new campaign has been launched by the government, calling drug users “mules”.

Artist Ines Efremova tweeted:

The slogan of the new campaign against drugs is: “Stay clean! Don't be a mule!!! The decision is yours!”
I have nothing to add.

While the term “mule” has been used internationally in the context of smuggling, signifying a person carrying concealed drugs over a border, in this context it only has the pejorative meaning of stubborn and stupid draft animal.

According to the official announcement [mk] of the Macedonian Ministry of Interior, the campaign's “goal is to raise awareness among high school students about the fight against narco-trafficking, and to act preventively and educationally over the young population.” The campaign will consist of presentations conducted by customs officers.

One of the previous campaigns was against the use of illegal drugs, titled “My life is my movie”, and was comprised of several film-like commercials (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), with an initial cost of 592,000 euro (800,000 dollars). According to a 2010 article [mk] in Dnevnik daily, the number of registered illicit drug users actually increased after the campaign.

A warning message sent to Taiwan from Ukraine

The decision Russia made to send military force to Crimea worries many Taiwanese. Taiwan Explore, a blogger who devoted to introducing Taiwan, explained the parallels between Taiwan and Ukraine and why many Taiwanese feel worried about themselves when they watch the news about Ukraine these days.

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