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Albanians March on Skopje, Protesters Chill Out in Moscow

Plus, Warsaw faces blowback over retirement age and Moscow uses accusations, diplomacy against Tbilisi. by Barbara Frye and Ioana Caloianu 14 May 2012

1. Thousands protest arrests in Macedonia murders

 

What one reporter described as a “river of people” marched in Skopje on 11 May to protest the arrest of three ethnic Albanians charged with the murders of five ethnic Macedonians at a lake north of the city in early April. Two others charged in the case have not been arrested.

 

Photo from a video by portalb.mk.

 

Some 10,000 protesters, mostly Albanian and virtually all male, walked from the Jaja Pasha mosque toward the government building, Balkan Insight reports. Many held banners reading “I am a Muslim. I am not a terrorist” or shaming an ethnic Albanian party that is part of the ruling coalition.

 

Police have said the accused men are Muslim extremists who fought against NATO troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While an unsigned flyer distributed at the rally expressed sympathy for the murder victims and their families, the demonstration’s organizers say they suspect Muslims are being scapegoated and innocent people are being framed for the crime.

 

A demonstration the next day by ethnic Macedonians in support of the arrests drew a much smaller crowd, according to Balkan Insight. About 100 young people gathered in front of the government building. “With extended arms in a form of a Nazi salute the crowd was shouting ‘[ethnically] Clean Macedonia,’ ” the news agency reports.

 

About one-fourth of Macedonia’s population is ethnic Albanian.

 

2. Moscow gets its own chill Occupy scene

 

White ribbons, anti-corruption rhetoric, and, sometimes, riot-police batons have been the emblems of Russia’s contemporary protest movement. But a quieter, more slow-burning action is taking place “on a leafy Moscow boulevard,” the Guardian reports.

 

With echoes of the Occupy movement, demonstrators lounge in lawn chairs, play chess, read poetry aloud, hold and attend lectures, organize drum circles, and sometimes break into song, the newspaper reports.

 

About 15,000 people marched in Moscow 13 May to support the hundreds who have camped out for several days on Chistye Prudy boulevard. Many settled here after riot police violently broke up demonstrations last week as Vladimir Putin was sworn in for a third term as president.

 

“It's a huge number of people, happy and smiling people without a drop of aggression,” Lyudmila Ulitskaya, one of Russia's best-known novelists, told the Guardian. “I'd call it the birth of civil society, which we in Russia have always had such a hard time with.”

 

3. Hike in pension age shakes up Polish politics

 

The retirement age for Poles will ease upward over the next several years under legislation passed by lawmakers 11 May. Men will be able to start drawing a state pension at age 67, up from 65, by 2020. For women, who can now retire at 60, the hike to 67 will take place by 2040.

 

Donald Tusk
The changes in the pension system have been hotly contested, with opponents calling the center-right government “thieves” and likening the measure to euthanasia, according to the Financial Times. The newspaper reports that union members hung in effigy Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

 

The critics say the new rules will make people work longer when they are less physically able and will mean fewer jobs open up for young people. The government says an exodus of young people from Poland after its accession to the EU and a low birth rate are jeopardizing the country’s ability to fund pensions.

 

The measure has energized the opposition and has cost Tusk’s party in the opinion polls. A member of the conservative, populist Law and Justice party said it “would throw the new law to the ‘trash bin’ if it wins power,” according to the Associated Press.

 

4. Moscow pokes at Tbilisi

 

The Kremlin seems busy twisting the knife these days in its dealings with Georgia, as Vladimir Putin meets with leaders of that country’s breakaway regions and accuses Tbilisi of aiding terrorist groups in the North Caucasus.

 

Putin met with the de facto president of Abkhazia, Alexander Ankvab, on 11 May to pledge for development of the region’s economy, according to The Moscow Times. He particularly stressed that border crossings between Russia and Abkhazia should be simple and painless.

 

The next day, the Russian president met with Leonid Tibilov, the newly elected de facto leader of South Ossetia, over which Russian and Georgia went to war in August 2008.

 

Meanwhile, authorities in Moscow claim Georgian security services helped accused terrorists move weapons to be used in an attack on the 2014 Sochi Olympics across Georgia and into Abkhazia, which is adjacent to Sochi on the Black Sea coast.

 

Tbilisi has dismissed the allegations, but Radio Free Europe notes that there is a history, though not under current President Mikheil Saakashvili, of Georgia cooperating with Chechen militants in and near Abkhazia. The news agency also recalls that Georgia has been courting the sympathy of the Circassians, a group expelled from the North Caucasus by Russia in the 19th century.

 

Still, RFE writes, neither the accused plot leader “nor any of the insurgency websites has ever mentioned the existence of an insurgency wing in Abkhazia,” and the Russian-Georgia border is tightly controlled, making it an unlikely route for a clandestine weapons shipment.

 

5. Czech bike tours take in scenes of brutality against Germans

 

Those interested in the darker aspects of Central European history can now tour sites in the Czech Republic where the local German-speaking populations were brutalized at the end of World War II.

 

Germans leave Czechoslovakia in 1945.

 

The entrepreneur behind this new travel offering is research chemist Jiri Blazek, Czech Position reports. Blazek said his bike tours are in the spirit of Killing Czech Style, a documentary that focused on the 1945 executions of 763 boys and men in the northwestern town of Postoloprty.

 

The five-day-long excursions, which cover the Czech southeast, aim to shed light on the “so-called ‘wild expulsion’ of the Germans [which] is still treated as a just payback” for collusion with Nazis but which had “no foundation in any judicial grounds,” Blazek said.

 

More than 3 million Germans were expelled or fled from Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II on the basis of decrees by Czechoslovak President Edvard Benes. The massive population displacements were accompanied by brutality and sometimes massacres. It is estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 Germans were killed during the early postwar months. The topic remains divisive among the Czech public and has been a source of tension in the country's relationship with Germany.  

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is TOL's editorial assistant.
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