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Warring Sides in Kyiv Sign Deal, Pussy Riot Crashes Sochi Games

Plus, Montenegro reopens a journalist murder case, and Budapest backpedals on a controversial war memorial.

by S. Adam Cardais, Sarah Fluck, and Karlo Marinovic 21 February 2014

1. Both sides in Ukraine agree on deal to end violence

 

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders have agreed on a deal to end the violence that has left scores dead, the Associated Press reports.

 

Viktor Yanukovych
It is not yet clear the form of the final deal, but earlier today Yanukovych had announced plans to form a national unity government, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

The agreement announced by Yanukovych also calls for presidential elections to take place in December, two months before they were tentatively scheduled, and a return to an earlier constitution under which the president held less power.

 

“Within 48 hours after signing this agreement, a bill should be drawn up to reinstate an earlier version of the constitution, …" said Oleksandr Yefremov, a parliamentary leader and member of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, Interfax reports.

 

Opposition leaders took some time to sign because they first consulted with a council of protesters, according to various reports.

 

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was involved in the negotiations, said the talks had left numerous issues unresolved. “It was done in an extremely difficult atmosphere, because there were dozens of dead and the country is on the verge of civil war,” he told Europe-1 radio, according to USA Today.

 

Even after Yanukovych’s morning announcement, demonstrators continued “reinforcing barricades” in Kyiv and repeated their calls for his immediate resignation, according to NBC News.

 

The agreement comes after the previous day's sharp rise in casualties. Citing the Health Ministry, the Chicago Tribune reports that 75 people have been killed since 18 February, meaning most of the deaths happened on 20 February, when a previously agreed truce was broken by police and demonstrators shooting at each other and security forces reportedly using snipers and Kalashnikovs.

 

The police use of automatic weapons was condemned by U.S. officials and was followed by a ban passed in parliament on the evening of 20 February on “antiterrorist operations,” Interfax reports

 

Following the deepening of the crisis, the EU’s foreign ministers introduced visa restrictions and asset freezes against Ukrainian officials, Interfax reports, and moved to stop the export “to Ukraine of military and special equipment that can be used for repressive goals.”

 

2. Pussy Riot releases new protest video day after members attacked

 

Feminist punk collective Pussy Riot released a new music video criticizing Russia's staging of the Winter Olympics on 20 February, a day after its members were attacked in Sochi.

 

 

The video shows the balaclava-clad performers in front of the Olympic rings slamming President Vladimir Putin for human rights abuses, media intimidation, and other issues. "Putin Will Teach You How to Love the Motherland" also directly targets the Sochi Games with references to two controversial opening ceremony torchbearers, one of whom is rumored to be Putin's lover, RFE reports.

 

The video is Pussy Riot's first to feature Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina since their amnesty in December after serving almost two years for performing an anti-government song in Moscow's main cathedral. It includes images of an incident a day earlier, when Cossacks beat Pussy Riot members with whips as they tried to perform a song beside a wall covered in Sochi Games logos, Reuters reports.

 

"The Olympics have created a space for the complete destruction of human rights in Russia," Tolokonnikova told the Sochi press corps, Reuters reports. "They have banned us from speaking. The rights of everyone are banned – political activists, LGBT activists, and anyone who has an alternative opinion."

 

Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina, and other Pussy Riot members have been repeatedly detained during the Games.

 

The International Olympic Committee pushed back against the new Pussy Riot video.

 

"It's a shame the Olympics are used as a political platform," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said, according to Reuters. "We ask that the Olympics are not used as a platform to express political views, and we continue to say that."

 

3. High-profile probe comes amid alarm over Montenegrin media environment

 

Montenegrin authorities are searching the halls of power in Podgorica for new evidence in the unsolved 2004 murder of Dusko Jovanovic, the editor of an independent newspaper, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Dusko Jovanovic
This week prosecutors reopened the investigation, questioning former Podgorica Police Chief Milan Vijanovic and several other top law enforcement officers. They also plan to speak to Deputy Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, who has been charged with withholding information from the initial investigation while serving as intelligence chief in 2004.

 

Jovanovic was shot while leaving the Podgorica offices of Dan in May 2004. He had written many stories critical of the government and received death threats.

 

In September, the state prosecutor said he would launch a new investigation because the culprit remains at large. An accomplice, Damir Mandic, has been convicted. He's serving 18 years, Balkan Insight reports.

 

The new investigation comes amid escalating attacks on journalists and their property. Last week, a car belonging to the daily Vijesti was torched. In January, a Dan reporter was attacked and, in December, a bomb exploded outside the home of Vijesti editor Mihailo Jovovic.

 

In January, Reporters Without Borders slammed what it called a climate of "impunity for violence against media personnel" in Montenegro effectively condoned by the justice system.

 

4. Hungary delays controversial World War II monument

 

Facing pressure from Israel and Jewish and civic groups worldwide, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has postponed plans to erect a controversial monument commemorating the 1944 Nazi occupation of Hungary, The Wall Street Journal reports.

 

The monument will not be unveiled until 31 May, after upcoming Hungarian and European parliamentary elections. The statue depicts the imperial eagle of Germany attacking the Archangel Gabriel – meant to symbolize Hungary's innocence during World War II – and was to be unveiled 19 March in Budapest's Freedom Square.

 

Critics called the monument an attempt by Orban's ruling Fidesz party to downplay the role Hungarians played in the Holocaust under the authoritarian rule of Miklos Horthy from 1920 to 1944. Roughly 600,000 Hungarian Jews died, some of them before the Nazi invasion, according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia.

 

Historian and Holocaust survivor Randolph Braham recently returned a high state prize over the memorial, which he called "a cowardly attempt to deflect attention from the role the Horthy regime played in the annihilation of the Jews." Last week, Israeli leaders discussed the memorial with Hungary's envoy to Jerusalem, and Mazsihisz, the federation of Hungarian Jewish faith communities, is protesting it, The Journal reports.

 

In a 20 February letter to Mazsihisz, Orban suggested continuing the dialogue after the Easter holiday because the campaign season will make it difficult to "tell each other our opinions in a compassionate and sober manner," the AP reports. He has said the monument is dedicated to the victims of the German occupation, which Jewish groups, Hungarian historians, and opposition leaders say paints a false picture because the state was complicit in the Hungarian Holocaust.

 

Last month, Hungarian authorities issued the first official apology for the country's role in the Holocaust.

 

5. Investigators identify suspects behind bank run in Kazakhstan

 

Authorities in Kazakhstan say they have identified suspects responsible for disseminating inaccurate information about the health of three banks there, RFE reports.

 

The information, distributed via text messages and social media, warned that Kaspi Bank, Alyans (Alliance) Bank, and TsenrKredit (CenterCredit) Bank would go bankrupt in three days, Reuters reports.

 

On 18 February hundreds of the banks’ clients waited in long lines to withdraw their savings. The National Bank reacted the next day, calling on the public to ignore the “false information” and remain calm, EurasiaNet.org writes

 

National Bank Governor Kairat Kelimbetov said the banks hold enough reserves to “meet all their obligations to depositors,” Reuters reports. He would not say how much money had been withdrawn in the run on the banks, but Kaspi Bank reported midday on 19 February that “sums five times greater than usual had been withdrawn in cash on that day alone,” according to EurasiaNet.org.

 

 Officials have not disclosed the names of the suspects. The prosecutor-general’s office said they could be charged with intentional distribution of false information and be ordered to pay a fine to the banks, according to RFE.  

 

The run on the banks came a week after Kazakhstan’s currency lost one-fifth of its value against the dollar and anxiety about inflation runs high.

 

Kazakhstan’s banks “have one of the world’s highest ratios of bad loans, at 31.4 percent of the overall credit portfolio at the beginning of 2014,” EurasiaNet.org notes.

 

On 18 February Moody’s upgraded its deposit rating for Alliance Bank “given the bank's government ownership and the support that has been provided to the bank by the government and state-controlled entities.” At the same time, it downgraded some of the bank’s debt as the Alliance negotiates a debt restructuring that is likely to see some creditors take a loss. 

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Sarah Fluck and Karlo Marinovic are TOL editorial interns.
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