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Azerbaijan’s Opposition Takes Out Insurance, Hungary’s Left Struggles to Unite

Plus, Pristina says it’s time for the UN's Kosovo mission to close, and Cossacks protest a show by their hip-swaying namesakes.

by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, Vladimir Matan, and Sintija Treimane 26 August 2013

1. Azerbaijan’s opposition picks backup candidate for president


Fearing that their chosen candidate might be legally ineligible to run in October’s presidential election, members of Azerbaijan’s political opposition have chosen a backup contender, Radio Free Europe reports.


camil hesenli 100Camil Hasanli
Camil Hasanli, a historian, would run if first choice Rustam Ibragimbekov cannot manage to surrender his second citizenship, in Russia, in time to launch his candidacy. Azerbaijan’s constitution does not allow those with multiple citizenship to run for president.


Hasanli is a former member of parliament and teaches modern history at Baku State University. Upon his nomination on 23 August, he issued a statement about returning power to the country’s people. Azerbaijan’s government brooks little dissent, with the few opposition rallies permitted typically relegated to out-of-the-way locations and usually resulting in detentions. Critical journalists are frequent targets of attacks or intimidation; Reporters Without Borders, a press rights group, counts strongman President Ilham Aliev among its global list of “predators of press freedom.” 


Ibragimbekov, a screenwriter whose credits include the Oscar-winning Russian film Burnt by the Sun, has accused the Kremlin of holding up his request to cancel his Russian citizenship as a favor to Aliev.

Richard Kauzlarich, a former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, told RFE that Aliev would win the balloting no matter what. “The real question is will the government conduct these elections as they always have, where it's so blatant that the elections are manipulated, or will they be concerned enough to begin to show a different sign of at least movement toward a more democratic future,” he said.


2. Hungary’s left still hobbled by divisions


Gordon Bajnai
While the conservative-populist government of Hungary has provoked passionate opposition, it has managed to hold a lead in polls at least in part because those arrayed against it have not offered a coherent alternative. Now the parties on the left are trying to unite, but a breakdown in talks on 23 August shows how remote that prospect remains.


The division between the Socialists and Egyutt 2014 (Together 2014) is over how to choose a joint candidate for prime minister in next year’s elections, Reuters reports. Socialist leader Attila Mesterhazy and Egyutt 2014 chairman Gordon Bajnai, a businessman and former prime minister, are vying to lead the opposition coalition.


The Socialists led Hungary’s government from 2002 until 2010, when they lost elections to the now-ruling Fidesz party. Since then, some Socialists, including ex-Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, have left to launch their own political groups. Bajnai created Egyutt 2014 last year from a coalition of civil society organizations specifically to field candidates in the 2014 elections.


Bajnai wants the coalition leader to be chosen after a campaign and a televised debate. In response, Mesterhazy has called for a series of primaries.


As Reuters reports, while Fidesz leads in the polls, “about half of Hungarian voters are undecided and the economy is barely growing after a recession last year.”


One analyst told Reuters, “Anti-government voters can consider this opposition totally incompetent. How can these people govern the country if they are unable to make any compromise on the nomination?”


3. Kosovo pushing to shut down UN mission there


Enver Hoxhaj
Officials from Kosovo are calling for the UN’s administrative mission there to be wrapped up, Southeast European Times reports.


The mission, known as UNMIK, was established in 1999 by the UN Security Council for the purpose of ensuring security in the breakaway Serbian province. Its work has been cut back since Kosovo declared independence in 2008.


Kosovo’s foreign minister, Enver Hoxhaj, said “all the conditions have been met” to shut down the UN agency.


“We have said it several times and we will insist that UNMIK concludes its work in Kosovo and Kosovo becomes a member of the UN and a member of the UN system,” he said.


Serbia’s top official for Kosovo, Aleksandar Vulin, said the mission should stay on. He said institutions that remain neutral on the question of Kosovo’s status, such as UNMIK, “constitute a problem for Pristina because it is hoping for recognition of independence by the international community and Serbia as well.”


UNMIK’s closure is unlikely as long as Security Council members Russia and China continue to oppose Kosovo’s independence, SETimes notes.


Hoxhaj said an April agreement between Kosovo and Serbia on governmental competencies and security “should be a factor in any UN deliberations on the issue,” according to SETimes.


4. Cossacks protest leather-clad, hip-swaying namesakes


A group of Russian Cossacks kicked up a fuss over a weekend performance by an all-male Ukrainian pop quartet that performs in scant clothing, celebrates homoeroticism, and goes by the name Kazaky, the Russian term for Cossacks, RIA Novosti reports.


Members of the synth-pop band “wear stiletto shoes and skin-tight clothes – sometimes reduced to nothing but leather pants or underwear,” according to RIA Novosti. Some Cossacks deemed the group’s show at a nightclub in the city of Perm in western Russia inappropriate, and one protester reportedly suggested that those behind the show be punished under the country’s new law against gay "propaganda."


Cossacks donned their warrior uniforms, shouted “Get out of Perm!” and sang traditional songs outside the club, but the show went on. “We are used to such pranks, the threats were nothing special,” the band’s manager, Aleksei Mironichev, told RIA Novosti.


A scheduled 2011 performance by Kazaky in the southern city of Rostov was canceled after “local Cossacks threatened to use violence,” according to the news agency.


5. Mongolian contortionists still awaiting UNESCO nod


Wrestling may be Mongolia’s most popular sport, but the country is also home to hundreds of talented contortionists who want UNESCO to recognize their art, writes.


In 2011, a national committee asked UNESCO to put Mongolian contortionism on its intangible heritage list of traditions worth safeguarding. Inclusion by the UN organization would mean funds to help keep the art alive and raise its profile around the world.

mongolian angels 350The Mongolian Angels contortionist and acrobatics troupe. Photo by Usien/Wikimedia Commons.


UNESCO still has not replied, according to


“UNESCO recognition can reassure [the world] that there is dedication from the people of Mongolia to contortion and it should be recognized as a Mongolian heritage,” art historian and former contortionist Nomintuya Baasankhuu told the website.


Many Mongolian contortionists perform and work as trainers abroad and there is concern that the country might lose its special claim to the art. One of Mongolia’s most famous trainers, Norovsambuu Budbazar, said, “There are many countries that want to claim contortion as their own.”


She said Mongolians have been practicing some form of contortionist art for hundreds of years.

Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Vladimir Matan and Sintija Treimane are TOL editorial interns.
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