Stories from Quick Reads and Eastern & Central Europe
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 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.
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.
— MustLive (@MustLiveUA) December 8, 2014
#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.
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.”
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.
— События дня (@GazetaRu) February 25, 2015
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.
Хозяин машины, помещенной на эвакуатор, сам отобрал эвакуатор и выехал на нем на Красную площадь pic.twitter.com/4lMbi9J1Hw
— RIP Новости (@riarip) February 25, 2015
“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.
Эвакуатор цветов украинского флага устроил протестное катание перед носом Путла по Красной площади pic.twitter.com/2MLLcKhRka
— Європейський вибір (@European_choice) February 25, 2015
“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.
Полиция и эвакуатор устроили погоню на Красной площади: http://t.co/paEuXNA7Z3
— Djigit of the USSR (@Djigit_USSR) February 25, 2015
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.
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.
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.