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Ukraine Slides Back Into Violence, Six Convicted in Skopje Mass Murder

Plus, Croatia and Macedonia take opposite tacks on same-sex marriage and a controversial art show opens in St. Petersburg to mixed reviews.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Mane Grigoryan, and Madeleine Stern 1 July 2014

1. Civilian deaths reported as Ukraine lifts cease fire

 

Poroshenko Mug 100 Petro Poroshenko

 

Hours after Ukraine ended a 10-day pause in fighting against separatists in the east, gun battles were reported in the center of Donetsk, and four civilians were reported to have been killed when a bus was attacked in Kramatorsk, the Kyiv Post reports.

 

 

 

President Petro Poroshenko said he would not extend the unilateral cease fire in a late-night televised address. Ukrainian officials claim separatists killed 27 Ukrainian troops in more than 100 violations of the cease fire, according to the Kyiv Post.

 

On 30 July, as the midnight deadline to extend the cease fire neared, Poroshenko spoke with the Russian, German, and French leaders, as well as with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, CNN reports.

 

A cameraman for Russia’s Channel One station, Anatoly Klyan, was fatally shot in Donetsk 30 June, becoming the fifth journalist to die while covering the conflict, the Kyiv Post reports.

 

In a statement, Channel One said Klyan and other journalists were aboard a bus carrying a group of soldiers’ mothers who planned  “to meet their sons and take them home,” when shots were fired at the bus, hitting Klyan and the driver, who was injured. 

 

Saying Ukrainian forces launched air and artillery strikes on rebel bases in the east, Reuters writes that Poroshenko “is also facing rising anger at home and from the new political establishment over military losses. He is under pressure to switch to more forceful action against the rebels after a cease fire which many say was used by the rebels to regroup and rearm.”

 

2. Life terms for convicted Macedonian ‘terror’ killers

 

Six men convicted of a mass killing at a lake near the Macedonian capital, Skopje, in 2012 were sentenced to life in prison 30 June in what the Skopje court called an act of terror, Balkan Insight reports. All the suspects are members of Macedonia’s Albanian minority. They received the heaviest sentence permitted under Macedonian law.

 

Judge Ivica Stefanovski said the six men shot dead five men in a “vicious manner” with the goals of “inciting fear” and “endangering security,” AFP reports.

 

 

Skopje Murder 350 The scene in the courtroom as the judge read out the verdicts. Image from a video by Aeden ONmkd / YouTube

 

The execution-style killings sparked violent protests in a country where tensions between the majority and the 25 percent Albanian community frequently boil over.

 

The judge said the verdict should not worsen communal relations, “despite the different ethnicity of the defendants and the victims,” according to Balkan Insight.

 

One of the defendants’ lawyers, Mitko Solakov, said prosecutors presented “no concrete evidence” and that the defendants would appeal, according to AFP.

 

Prosecutors said two of the men carried out the shootings with automatic rifles while five others helped arrange the crimes, Balkan Insight writes. A seventh defendant, Rami Sejdi, was acquitted.

 

The two alleged trigger men, Alil Demiri and Afrim Ismailovic, were tried in absentia because they are both serving prison time in Kosovo for illegal possession of weapons. 

 

3. Croatian lawmakers defy popular vote, call for registered partnerships

 

Croatia is moving closer to registering same-sex partnerships, while Macedonia is moving in the opposite direction with a proposed constitutional change ruling out gay marriage and adoptions.

 

Balkan Insight reports that Croatian legislators may vote on a draft law on same-sex partnerships this month. The bill extends the rights of same-sex couples in areas such as inheritance, pensions, taxes, and medical care. Although the legislation would not allow adoptions for same-sex couples, it offers additional provisions for those living with children. 

 

The law, which “is not offensive to anyone, a humane law, inclusive and not exclusive,” according to Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, runs counter to the spirit of a December 2013 referendum in which two-thirds of voters demanded a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a “union between a man and a woman.”

 

In Macedonia, lawmakers may take an opposing stand on gay marriage, according to government spokesman Aleksandar Gjorgjiev, who told Balkan Insight parliament could soon vote on a new law on “constitutional protection and the clear defining of marriage.” The legislation introduced by the conservative government is aimed at protecting children and ensuring “a family atmosphere in which the main pillars are the parents, the father and mother,” he said.

 

Although the country has had an anti-discrimination law since 2010, it does not protect sexual minorities, and Macedonia’s Law on the Family recognizes only heterosexual marriage. 

 

In Slovakia, like Croatia a predominantly Catholic country, parliament voted a month ago for a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

 

4. Baltics, Belarus, Russia on alert as deadly pig virus spreads

 

Latvian Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs has called for a state of emergency to be declared in parts of the country affected by an outbreak of African swine fever, the Baltic Times reports.

 

The presence of the fatal pig disease in Latvia was confirmed in late June after tests on the bodies of several wild boars came back positive for the virus, Agri.eu reports. All pig farms in Latvia are being subjected to increased monitoring from the Latvian Food and Veterinary Service, the Baltic Times reports.

 

Neighboring countries are taking no chances in preventing the spread of the virus. Russia imposed restrictions on Latvian pork imports on 28 June, and Belarus has temporarily banned the import of pork products and some other agricultural products, the Baltic Course reports.

 

The virus is spread through wild boars, and although lethal to pigs, it is considered harmless to humans, according to Agri.eu.

 

Similar measures were taken in January when two infected wild boars were found near Lithuania’s border with Belarus.

 

5. Contemporary art show opens in Russia’s fusty Hermitage

 

The prestigious Manifesta contemporary art biennial opened in St. Petersburg 28 June, unfazed by threats to pull out by some artists and a clash of styles between the curator and the management of the conservative State Hermitage Museum, where the show forms part of its 250th anniversary celebrations.

 

Some artists demanded the biennial’s cancellation over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, as well as controversial laws against publicizing homosexuality, Guardian art critic Adrian Searle writes. The Russian art collective Chto Delat said it would boycott the show, only to change its mind, according to Deutsche Welle.

 

The Tranny Tease Russia Art 350As part of the ongoing Manifesta 10 show, the artists’ collective Slavs and Tatars will give a lecture/performance, “The Tranny Tease,” 1 July at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Photo: Manifesta Facebook page

 

Manifesta, now in its 10th edition, has never before been held at such a traditional venue, DW wrote earlier. In an interview with DW, the show’s chief curator, Kaspar Koenig, admitted dealing with the renowned Hermitage brought its own hassles: “In addition to everything else, there have also been problems with cash flow. Due to various conflicts, the Russian colleagues don’t get paid regularly. The organization Manifesta sees itself as idealistic and I find it difficult to mediate between two very different systems.”

 

The 50 participating artists include giants of contemporary art such as Joseph Beuys, Bruce Nauman, and Ilja Kabakov, along with younger figures, including a number from Russia, Ukraine, and other Eastern European countries. Some works are on display in the Hermitage’s Winter Palace main building, with most of the show in a newly renovated complex of former Soviet-era government buildings that Searle called “a mediocre succession of atria and galleries.”

 

Koenig told DW social conditions in Russia deteriorated after he agreed to curate the show. “The ink on my contract was still wet when that appalling anti-gay law was passed. It became clear to me that I was working in a country where there is no civil society.” Nevertheless, he and State Hermitage Museum director Mikhail Piotrovsky told a press conference in April they would not let politics interfere with the show, Artnet reported.

 

“We operate in the territory of art, which has its own rules,” Piotrovsky said. “We have to show that there are things that are more important than politics.”

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Mane Grigoryan and Madeleine Stern are TOL editorial interns. 

 

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