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Georgian Patriarch Visits Moscow, Slovenia Braces for Strike

Plus, a Belarusian journalist dies in a suspicious fall and a gunman disrupts the resignation speech of a Bulgarian politician.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, Anna Novosad, Richard Parrish, and Nino Tsintsadze 22 January 2013

1. Russian Orthodox leader welcomes Georgian counterpart


The leader of Georgia's nearly 4 million Orthodox believers made an appeal for brotherly relations with Russia in a visit to that country this week, Reuters reports.


In one of the highest-profile visits to Russia by a Georgian in years, Patriarch Ilia II spoke in Moscow 21 January of the Orthodox faith as a bond between the two countries, which went to war in 2008.




Ilia is visiting Russia to receive an award from Russian Patriarch Kirill for his contributions to “strengthening unity of the Orthodox Christian nations,” writes.


Ilia said he hoped to reach “mutual understanding” on the issue of Georgia’s separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “Russia needs a united Georgia, and Georgia needs a strong Russia,” he said, according to Interfax.


Ilia’s itinerary includes a meeting with President Vladimir Putin tomorrow. Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told Reuters his visit should be viewed in the context of Putin’s use of ideology to reunite the old Soviet world.


"This perfectly fits into Putin's strategy of rebuilding a post-Soviet 'neo-USSR,’ ” he said.


Putin has moved increasingly closer to the church since being elected to a third term.


On 20 January NTV, a large, pro-Kremlin television station, broadcast a documentary targeting what it called “godless” enemies of the Orthodox Church, RIA Novosti reports. The documentary compared the criticism over religious figures’ luxurious lifestyles to the massive persecution of Christians under Stalin’s rule.


2. Belarusian journalist dies in suspicious fall


The mother of Belarusian journalist Yury Humenyuk believes his death 19 January was murder, Radio Free Europe reports.


Humenyuk, 43, a correspondent for the Belarusian service of Polish Radio and a noted poet, died after falling from a balcony on the ninth floor of a dormitory in the western city of Hrodna.

Yury Humenyuk


Police said the death was probably suicide, writes, citing Belarusian media. A witness who saw Humenyuk minutes before the fall said he looked confused and did not want to talk. Authorities opened an investigation into his death, according to RFE, which adds that Humenyuk was known for criticizing the Belarusian government in his reports.


The journalist’s mother told RFE her son had no friends or acquaintances at the dormitory, which is close to the home they shared.


3. Angry Slovenian public workers to strike


After nearly two months of anti-government demonstrations, Slovenia is bracing for a public sector strike 23 January, according to Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso.


Discontent boiled over in November in a wave of protest against Prime Minister Janez Jansa’s austerity measures, including drastic cuts in public spending. Anger at official corruption created an additional goad for the protesters. As Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso notes, economic indicators like public debt, inflation, and unemployment are not high by regional standards, although they have been painful in a country that had grown accustomed to the highest standard of living in southeastern Europe.


If political heads roll, the most probable casualties are Jansa and Zoran Jankovic, mayor of Ljubljana and leader of the opposition Positive Slovenia party, The Economist notes. Two weeks ago a national anti-corruption commission accused both of repeated failures to declare their assets as the law requires.


The protests first targeted the alleged corrupt activities of disgraced former Maribor Mayor Franc Kangler, and more broadly attacked the murky privatizations of state companies and other suspicious deals dating back to Jansa’s first term as prime minister between 2004 and 2008.


4. Puzzling attack on Bulgarian Turkish leader


The Bulgarian media are buzzing with rumors and speculation after an armed man confronted the country’s leading ethnic Turkish politician on live television.


The incident occurred 19 January as Ahmed Dogan, the founder and leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, addressed a party conference in Sofia. A man identified as Oktay Enimehmedov, 25, approached the podium and pointed a gas pistol at Dogan’s head at close range. Dogan knocked the assailant’s arm away and security guards then tackled and beat him in front of the cameras.


Ahmed Dogan

Dogan was not injured and returned to the podium later to announce his retirement from his leadership post, a move that had been rumored for some time. The party holds 35 seats in the 240-member legislature. As the de facto leader of the one in 10 Bulgarians who claim Turkish ethnicity, Dogan has been at or near the center of political life for most of the past two decades.

Police said Enimehmedov’s weapon was a pepper-spray gun, according to the Guardian. He was charged with a death threat and hooliganism, Novinite reports. Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said the attacker could face more serious charges because he was also carrying two knives.


Dogan’s successor, Lyutvi Mestan, said 20 January the party would request an international probe into the incident, according to Novinite.


5. Region’s workers toil in the shadow of illegality


The “shadow economy” in Central and Eastern Europe not only keeps millions of workers in legal limbo, but also contributes significantly to the region’s chronically poor record of tax collection, thus contributing to poorer public services for everyone, the World Bank’s latest report on the problem notes.


The informal economy is especially vibrant in the Balkans, SE Times writes this week. Undocumented workers often cannot get a bank loan for housing or other needs because they cannot prove they earn enough to pay it back. A pressure group made up of regional civil organizations, Decent Work Balkan Network, estimates that undocumented workers cost the Serbian government 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) per year.


According to an official from the Bulgarian Industrial Association, the informal economy makes up more than 30 percent of the total, SE Times writes, while the situation is likely worse still in Kosovo, although lack of data complicates efforts to put numbers on the shadow economy. Ilir Berisha of the Kosovo Agency of Statistics said the agency plans to gather the needed data in 2014 or 2015, if the budget allows.


Data in the World Bank report suggest that countries with low per capita incomes tend to have the largest informal economies. The bank estimates the size of the shadow economy at around 35 percent in Bulgaria and Romania and only slightly lower in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Hungary. However, the countries where informal workers – those without a contract, the informally self-employed, and unpaid family members – make up the largest share of all workers are Cyprus, Israel, Greece, Ireland, and the UK.

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Anna Novosad, Richard Parrish, and Nino Tsintsadze are TOL editorial interns.

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