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Skopje Hit by Ethnic Unrest, Ukrainian Communists Face Ban

Plus, Hungary’s harsh sentencing laws come under scrutiny by Strasbourg human-rights court and Lithuania bans energy drinks for kids.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Barbara Frye, and Rebecca Johnson 21 May 2014

1. Skopje rocked by second night of ethnic violence


Ethnic Macedonians clashed with police for the second night running 20-21 May in violence sparked by the 19 May stabbing death of a teenager.


Police detained 27 people by the night of 20-21 May, the Associated Press reports. Officials said six police were injured in clashes with hundreds of youths in the Skopje suburb where the killing occurred.


The clashes broke out 19 May in the Gjorce Petrov district after the fatal stabbing of a recent high school graduate, identified as Angel P., after he and his father caught a man trying to steal a bicycle from their house, Balkan Insight reports. Police soon detained a suspect, identified as Naser E., a name suggesting he is an ethnic Albanian. Ethnic Macedonians then tried to march on the neighboring, predominantly Albanian Saraj district but their path was blocked by special police units. Later that night several shops and restaurants “believed to be owned by ethnic Albanians were demolished and one set on fire,” according to Balkan Insight.


Ethnic Albanians make up a quarter of Macedonia’s 2.1 million population. Albanian insurgents fought the Macedonian army briefly in 2001 in an episode that brought the country to the brink of civil war and was resolved when the two sides accepted a new power sharing arrangement brokered by international mediators.


“The murder and protests again raised fears of renewed ethnic violence on the streets. In 2012 and 2013, similar violent protests broke out in Skopje, as well as mob attacks in the streets and on buses that were seen as ethnically motivated,” Balkan Insight writes.


2. Ukraine’s president accuses Communists of separatism


Petro SymonenkoPetro Symonenko
Ukraine’s acting president has asked the justice minister to look into the Communist Party’s role in separatist actions and to take measures to ban the party – just as the party has vowed not to recognize the results of the 25 May presidential election.


In a letter on his website, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov makes a series of allegations against the party or its officials, including working to ban pro-Western parties in Slovyansk, directing some of the military-like preparations for a takeover of that city, initiating the 11 May independence referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk, and calling for Russian intervention in Ukraine.


Last week, Turchynov and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko faced off in parliament when Symonenko “accused Ukrainian security forces of firing on a police station in Mariupol,” according to Radio Free Europe. In turn, Turchynov, who is also the speaker of parliament, accused Symonenko of lying and had his microphone turned off.


Later, Symonenko said it was “representatives of the national-fascist regime” who were tearing the country apart, according to RFE.


Symonenko is on the ballot in this weekend’s presidential election, although he earlier tried to withdraw. He is not expected to be among the top vote-getters.


“Everything happening now is a farce and we acknowledge neither the results of this election nor the person who will be elected president,” Communist member of parliament Alexander Golub told RIA Novosti.


Banning the party, which controls 32 seats in the 450-member national parliament, could pose a threat to Ukraine’s government, one analyst told RFE, because it gets most of its support from the embattled regions in the east and southeast – and with the collapse of former President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, it’s the only game in town in those areas.


“The south and the east are losing practically their last political representation,” said Ruslan Bortnik, director of the Institute of Analysis and Management Policy in Kyiv. “The Party of Regions doesn't represent them anymore, but the Communists, at least to some extent, reflect the whole range of opinions in those regions. Such a step, definitely, would prompt the Communists to initiate more radical forms of resistance. And the Communists have the necessary human and financial resources.”


3. Lithuania slaps ban on energy drinks


Lithuania’s parliament voted 15 May to prohibit the sale of energy drinks to minors, becoming the first EU country to do so and antagonizing beverage companies in the process.


“We hope that some countries of the EU that don’t have a clear position will follow the Lithuanian way,” Health Ministry official Almantas Kranauskas told The Wall Street Journal.


The ban applies to drinks with more than 150 milligrams of caffeine per liter and drinks with certain stimulants, and makes it illegal for adults to purchase energy drinks for minors, according to The Journal.


Beverage companies say the decision unfairly targets their products.


The executive director of the trade association representing Lithuania’s drinks industry said the new law was “inadequate” and suggested that retailers keep the sale of energy drinks separate from other beverages, the just-drinks industry website reports.


In a 2013 study the European Food Safety Authority found that 68 percent of minors ages 10 to 18 consumed energy drinks. But companies argue that they don’t market to children and that their products contain only half the caffeine of a typical Starbucks coffee, according to The Journal.


Energy drinks have faced scrutiny internationally, with stricter regulation coming in the UK and specific labeling requirements in the United States and elsewhere.


The energy drink industry is one of the fastest-growing trades globally, having grown fourfold in the past decade to hit almost $28 billion in sales in 2013, The Journal reports, citing Euromonitor.


4. Court ruling on whole life sentences angers Hungarian conservatives


Hungary’s ruling party has blasted a European Court of Human Rights ruling that the use of life imprisonment without possibility of parole should be reviewed.


The court ruled 20 May in favor of convicted murderer and robber Laszlo Magyar, The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog writes. The court ruling, which is not final, said his whole-life sentence “violated the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment in the European Convention on Human Rights.”


The court also ruled that the eight-year proceedings violated Magyar’s right to a fair trial within a reasonable time and ordered Hungary to pay Magyar 2,000 euros ($2,750) for non-pecuniary damages and 4,150 euros for trial costs and expenses.


In a statement the court said “Hungary would be required to put in place a reform of the system of review of whole life sentences,” while adding that this would not necessarily lead to the release of prisoners serving such sentences, The Journal notes.


Prime Minister Viktor Orban called the ruling “outrageous” and the ruling Fidesz Party restated its support for whole life sentences, reports. The far-right Jobbik party also defended the practice, which it said valued the rights of victims and their families over those of convicts.


Orban said whole life sentencing had a strong deterrent effect.


Forty-six prisoners are serving whole life sentences in Hungary, writes, citing the Hungarian Prison Service.


5. Balkan armies open up to women


Male-dominated Balkan militaries are starting to appreciate the contributions women soldiers can make in peacekeeping missions, SETimes writes.


Soldiers and support personnel from western Balkan armed forces participate in several UN peacekeeping missions, the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan, and closer to home in the EU’s EUFOR mission in Bosnia.


“Operational commanders increasingly connect effectiveness to the number of women in the peace missions and the roles they play there. Given the traditional views about women in the Balkans, I would say this is serious progress,” Metodi Hadzi Janev of the Military Academy in Skopje tells the U.S.-military sponsored website.


Macedonia’s EUFOR contingent is about to get its first woman commander, a spokesman said.


Changing attitudes about female soldiers are in part an adaptation to Western norms, Enri Hide of the European University of Tirana said.


“This is an effort that has been ongoing for years, before NATO accession, but especially after accession, when Euro-Atlantic partners asked for a higher gender balance,” Hide said.


Women are lightly represented in western Balkan militaries, although that is slowly changing, a joint study by the UN Development Program, the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, and four regional armed forces found.


Women comprise just 4 percent to 5 percent of the armies in Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. “Given that military education has only recently become accessible to women, they are largely represented in the lowest hierarchical positions,” the study notes.


The proportion of women in command positions ranges from zero in Montenegro’s 1,000-strong army to 3 percent in Macedonia.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Rebecca Johnson is a TOL editorial intern.
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