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Around the Bloc – 10 June

The important, interesting, or just downright quirky news from TOL’s coverage region. Today: Moldova on the brink; Austro-Hungarian memories; mandatory religion classes in Azerbaijan; protests greet Kazakh election; and Chernobyl, part 2.

10 June 2019


Glitches Hit Handover of Power in Kazakhstan


More than 500 people were arrested yesterday in Nur-Sultan and Almaty as protests broke out against the election of longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbaev’s hand-picked successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, to the presidency. Tokayev’s relatively modest performance in this weekend’s vote provided the only real surprise about the election itself, Al Jazeera writes. Where Nazarbaev typically won nearly 100 percent of the vote, officially, Tokayev, a former prime minister and foreign minister, won about 71 percent of the vote, not even matching the result of Ukraine’s newly elected Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Nazarbaev, the only leader Kazakhs had known since the late Soviet era, unexpectedly stepped down in March but retains major influence in the ruling party.



Who’s In Charge in Chisinau?


Moldova is “stuck between two presidents and two governments,” the liberal, U.S.-based Moldova Foundation writes, with the courts battling politicians who in turn are locked in a civil war of words. The impoverished Eastern European country has lurched from crisis to crisis for most of the past decade, with wealthy oligarchs suspected of calling the shots behind the ruling elite’s pro-Western façade. Russian sympathies also run deep, so yesterday’s decision by the Constitutional Court to temporarily suspend President Igor Dodon of the pro-Russian Socialist Party further ramped up the tension in Chisinau. The court appointed former Prime Minister Pavel Filip of the Democratic Party as interim head of state. But parliament refused to accept Filip’s decree to hold snap elections in September, Euronews reports, saying the country’s institutions had been seized. Controversial oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc exercises huge influence in the Democratic Party and also “controls” the high court, the Moldova Foundation writes. On Saturday, the court declared parliament’s approval of liberal party leader Maia Sandu as prime minister to be unconstitutional.



Romanian Cemetery Fray Reopens Old War Wounds


Bucharest and Budapest have tangled over an incident at a war cemetery in Transylvania. Scuffles broke out on Friday as about 1,000 ethnic Hungarians blocked Romanians from entering the cemetery in Valea Uzului, central Romania, AFP reports, leading Budapest to summon Romania’s ambassador and to call for an investigation. Euronews cites the Romanian National Heroes office as saying that 149 Romanian soldiers were buried there after World War II, in addition to the remains of about 750 Austro-Hungarian soldiers who died during World War I, when the region belonged to Hungary. The Romanians were trying to lay wreaths at unauthorized monuments to fallen Romanian servicemen, Euronews says. A Romanian parliamentarian of Hungarian origin, Attila Korodi, said the Hungarians formed a human chain to stop Romanians from approaching Orthodox crosses they had erected illegally.



Mandatory Religion Courses in Azerbaijan


University students in Azerbaijan will be required to take a religious studies course starting next year. The course will cover Islam and other religions, and students will be tested on their knowledge, according to Mubariz Gurbanli, the chairman of the State Committee for Work With Religious Organizations. The overwhelming majority of Azeris are Muslims, although few are devout, Eurasianet writes, and the government maintains a stoutly secular outlook. After some commentators expressed skepticism about the purpose of the course, the committee gave details of what it called the new “multiculturalism” course, saying its main thrust will be to present information on radical religious movements and their propaganda methods, as well as “national and moral values [and] the need to protect them.”



Coming Soon in Russia: Chernobyl – The Sequel


The news that Russian TV network NTV is coming out with its own Chernobyl series hardly qualifies as a nuclear bombshell. Shooting was done last year in Belarus, well before HBO’s big-budget series about the world’s worst nuclear accident hit the screens, according to Hollywood Reporter, which says HBO’s version has been generally well-received in Russia. NTV says its show will follow a group of Soviet KGB officers on the trail of a CIA agent embedded at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Commenting for Russian state-owned Russia Beyond, Daniel Chalyan praises the HBO series for its “truthfulness, the sheer scale of the undertaking – the actors, the genuine landscapes, clothes, mannerisms, the distinct lack of over-the-top caricatures, to say nothing of all that 1980s equipment.” Too bad it also falls back on hoary old tropes of incompetent, brutal Soviet officialdom with its casual, and historically untrue, disregard of human life, he adds.

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​The 2019 edition of Prague Media Point will highlight these types of inspiring examples and more. We will offer a mix of scholarly presentations, including keynote addresses; sessions with innovators explaining their solutions; and networking opportunities to promote the exchange of know-how. As in years past, the conference will have a special regional focus on Central and Eastern Europe, though we look forward to covering cases and trends from other parts of the world. – WHAT’S WORKING





Moldovan diaries

The Moldovan Diaries is a multimedia, interactive examination of the country's ethnic, religious, social and political identities by Paolo Paterlini and Cesare De Giglio.

This innovative approach to story telling gives voice to ordinary people and takes the reader on the virtual trip across Moldovan rural and urban landscapes. 

It is a unique and intimate map of the nation.


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