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Unrest Spreads in Bosnia, Macedonia Adopts Chemical Castration

Plus, police in Slovakia launch a belated probe into a skinhead attack and half of Tajikistan’s GDP comes from remittances.

by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Karlo Marinovic 7 February 2014

1. Violent protests erupt in Bosnia over economy


Police clashed with demonstrators 6 February in the second straight day of economic protests in Bosnia's third-largest city, Balkan Insight reports. The unrest is also spreading to other cities.


Some 70 people, including 50 police officers, were hospitalized after clashes erupted in Tuzla, northern Bosnia, when demonstrators threw rocks and eggs at a local government building. Thousands were rallying over unemployment and the economic collapse of the industrial town.


"The people have nothing to eat, people are hungry, young people do not have jobs, there is no health insurance, no basic rights," a protester identified only as Maja told Balkan Insight. "It can't get any worse."

A photo of the Tuzla protest from the Facebook page of Enough is Enough.


In Sarajevo, meanwhile, several hundred gathered outside a government building in solidarity with the Tuzla protestors, the news agency reports. They also expressed anger over an abysmal Bosnian economy beset with high double-digit unemployment.


"Everyone must go out [onto the streets] because this Titanic will sink soon," protester Sanin Cepalo told Balkan Insight.


Two police were reportedly injured in Sarajevo. At least two smaller towns also saw protests 6 February.


The Tuzla unrest began 5 February when 600 people tried to break into a regional administration building over the closure of Dita, a detergent company, and several other local factories. Saying they hadn't been paid for months, the protesters accused the government of illegally privatizing state-owned companies and then allowing them to fail, Radio Free Europe reports.


The protests quickly escalated into a broader demonstration against the state of Bosnia's economy.


2. Macedonia approves chemical castration for pedophiles


Macedonia is the first Balkan country to introduce chemical castration for convicted pedophiles, a "treatment" that is proliferating elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, Balkan Insight reports.


Dime Spasov
Under the amendment passed 5 February, first-time offenders may opt for the procedure in exchange for a reduced sentence. Repeat offenders will have no choice.


Chemical castration involves injecting a man with a drug to lower testosterone in a procedure that human rights groups such as Amnesty International call inhumane. In 2012 Moldova and Russia passed chemical castration legislation. In Poland, the procedure is mandatory in some cases.


Macedonian Social Affairs Minister Dime Spasov cited these countries as models in presenting the legislation to parliament. The ministry has also said the procedure is justified because many convicted pedophiles are repeat offenders, Balkan Insight reports.


Megjasi, Macedonia's leading child protection group, called the law too lenient, the Guardian reports. It said the procedure should be mandatory for first-time offenders.


Legislators also raised the minimum prison sentence for sexual assault of a minor. 


3. Police launch belated probe into skinhead attack in Slovakia


Slovak police have started to investigate what appears to be a skinhead attack on patrons at a bar in a western city months after it took place, World News Australia Radio reports.


Police took up the matter in late January only after the Sme newspaper published footage from surveillance cameras in the city of Nitra in October that showed a group of men attacking young people emerging from a bar. “Pictures from Facebook show the attackers as young men with shaved heads and tattoos. One has a tattoo of a swastika on his forearm,” The Slovak Spectator reported on 30 January.


Writing in The Spectator, and citing a Sme report, commentator Beata Balogova said the skinheads are linked to the far-right People’s Party – Our Slovakia, whose leader was elected governor of the neighboring Banska Bystrica region in November. Marian Kotleba won the vote on a platform that combined anti-Roma rhetoric with veneration of Slovakia’s wartime Nazi puppet regime.


Balogova notes that Prime Minister Robert Fico refused to comment on the story when asked by various media outlets. However, on 30 January Fico said one of his priorities is the reform of the country’s judicial system, widely perceived as corrupt. When asked why he had not moved on the issue before – Fico served a previous stint as prime minister and has been in office this time since 2012 – he said, “It is not possible to chase 10 rabbits at the same time.”


Anti-Roma feeling is widespread in Slovakia, and a recent poll showed Kotleba’s party with enough support to make it into parliament for the first time, according to The Spectator.


4. Half of Tajikistan’s GDP comes from remittances


Remittances from Tajikistani workers in Russia amounted to half of their homeland’s GDP in 2013, RIA Novosti reports.


The migrant workers sent home some $3.6 billion, according to a press statement ahead of a 6 February meeting of the two countries' presidents, Imomali Rahmon and Vladimir Putin, to discuss economic and military cooperation, according to RIA Novosti.


The figure is a slight drop from $3.8 billion in remittances in 2012 but well above the $2.9 billion sent home in 2011, according to the news agency. In 2009, migrant workers' remittances from Russia amounted to 49.6 percent of Tajikistan’s economic output.


The official statement released this week said 1.1 million Tajikistanis work in Russia. “More than half of Tajikistan's families live on migrants’ remittances,” RIA Novosti reported last year. The average monthly salary in Tajikistan amounts to about $156, according to the statistical office of the Commonwealth of Independent States.


Russia has been a crucial source of employment for people from surrounding, poorer, countries. The Russian government estimates that some 11 million immigrants work in the country, with human rights groups and others putting the number of undocumented workers at 2 million to 4 million.


Usually engaged in low-skill and poorly paid jobs, immigrant workers in Russia are vulnerable to abuse ad exploitation by employers or recruiters and sometimes suffer xenophobic attacks.


Foreign workers saw their options limited in 2010, when Putin signed a bill to prevent them from working in trade and newly appointed Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin set a cap of 200,000 on the number allowed in the city.


In order to familiarize Tajikistan’s migrant workers with their rights and responsibilities, the EU recently launched a program called Migrant Workers and Their Families: Empowered Institutions - Protected Rights, Asia-Plus reports.


5. Kyrgyzstan approves 50-50 ownership of Kumtor


After months of political fights and public protests, Kyrgyzstan's parliament has accepted controversial terms to restructure ownership of the country's key industrial asset, the Kumtor gold mine, reports.


On 6 February, legislators voted in favor of a deal that will, in effect, increase Kyrgyzstan's stake in Kumtor to 50 percent from its current 33 percent. After 2026, the government may up its share to 67 percent.


The deal creates a new joint venture that will own and operate Kumtor, currently operated by Canada-based Centerra Gold. It was drafted in December after Kyrgyz legislators rejected a similar 50-50 partnership in October, demanding the government negotiate a 67 percent stake despite Centerra's insistence that it would not accept a minority share.


To break the impasse, the government created a reconciliation committee that prepared the current Kumtor "road map," RFE reports. The government must now hammer out the details with Centerra, which signaled that it might not accept some of the terms in the 6 February resolution.


Kyrgyzstan's largest industrial asset, Kumtor accounts for more than 10 percent of the country's GDP. But many say Centerra Gold pays too little in taxes, and 2013 saw frequent protests near Kumtor demanding its nationalization.


The ownership dispute has reportedly cost the state budget $80 million in losses

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Karlo Marinovic is a TOL editorial intern.
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