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Around the Bloc – 12 June

The important, interesting, or just downright quirky news from TOL’s coverage region. Today: Chechen activist released early; a new online dictionary for Kosovo; Eurasia more at peace; less-known tourist gems; and in bed with Stalin. 12 June 2019

Chechen Human Rights Activist Out of Jail


The head of the Chechen office of the human rights group Memorial, Oyub Titiyev, was granted early release from prison on Monday. Amnesty International welcomed the court’s decision and rebuked the Russian justice system for convicting “an innocent man.” In jail since January 2018 when he was charged with drug possession, Titiyev received a sentence of four years this past March from a court in Chechnya. The human rights activist, who in recent years has focused on collecting evidence of abuses committed by Chechen authorities, has maintained his innocence, calling the verdict retaliation for his work, The Moscow Times reports. According to The Economist, following the 2009 murder of the previous Memorial head in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova, Titiyev received death threats on repeated occasions and had warned his friends and colleagues that he could be arrested at any time. The trial called into question once again the rule of law in Chechnya, which Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has now governed for 12 years.



Overcoming the Language Barrier in Kosovo


The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Kosovo launched a project earlier this week to produce an Albanian-Serbian online dictionary, Balkan Insight reports. The 20,000-word dictionary is expected to be completed by September and aims to help the two biggest ethnic communities in Kosovo to communicate better. Kosovo’s legislation states that Albanian and Serbian are the official languages of Kosovo and that all institutions are obliged to ensure their equal use. According to Balkan Transitional Justice, the poor implementation of this law is causing divisions between the two ethnic groups. The dictionary project is not the first IOM project related to overcoming the language barrier. Free language courses in Albanian and Serbian are currently offered in five Kosovo municipalities, and an interactive digital platform, Vocup, provides basic lessons in both languages.



“Peacefulness” Gains in Eurasia


TOL's region has enjoyed a relatively more peaceful year, according to the Institute for Economics & Peace's Global Peace Index, measuring “Societal Safety and Security,” “Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict,” and degree of militarization in 163 countries. The greatest increase in peacefulness occurred in the Russia and Eurasia region, said IEP. Globally, Slovenia (8th) and the Czech Republic (10th) occupied the “very high” category, while most of Central Europe and parts of the Balkans and Central Asia were scored “high.” North Macedonia rose 23 places into the “high” category, sharing 65th place with its peace-process partner, Greece. Near the bottom of the table, with “very low” levels of peace, Ukraine and Russia nevertheless rose slightly, and Ukraine experienced a big reduction in “internal conflict deaths.” However, the IEP warned that “intensity of internal conflict” and “relations with neighboring countries” remained at high levels. Russia, in 154th place, was not in the state of warfare which its ranking might imply. “Russia recorded the third largest improvement in the region, improving in nine indicators, and deteriorated in only one: deaths from external conflict, due [to] its engagement in Syria,” the IEP wrote.



Off the Beaten Track in Croatia and the Czech Republic


Avoiding throngs of tourists can be difficult this time of year in some of Central and Eastern Europe’s hotspots, as natives of Prague or Game-of-Thrones famous Dubrovnik can surely attest. Today, the influential travel section of The New York Times came up with a list of “6 Places Offering Shelter From the Crowds,” and two of the “quieter alternatives” can be found in TOL’s coverage region. Instead of Dubrovnik, The Times recommended heading out to Kotor, Montenegro to see a less-packed, walled city on the Adriatic, “still fighting for attention.” The city features an ancient fortress, steep mountain hikes with stunning views, and an obsession with cats. Also on the list is Olomouc, in the Czech Republic – a welcome respite from the almost 8 million yearly tourists that visit Prague. Its 15th-century astronomical clock, shot up by retreating German troops late in World War II, stands reconstructed, part of an architectural past worthy of the city’s place on the UNESCO World Heritage list. On top of such sites, there’s “plenty of college-town fun and great places to eat and drink,” the Times writes.



“Perverted” Video Game Riles Russia’s Communists


As though the growing popularity of Stalin’s legacy in some quarters of Russia was not enough, individuals will now be able to engage in their own fantasies regarding the former Soviet leader, The Calvert Journal reports. A new video game from U.S. developer Valve called “Sex With Stalin” offers the chance to time travel and meet the leader of your dreams in various intimate situations, a proposition that has expectedly drawn the ire of a non-parliamentary Communist party. Calling for a ban, Communists of Russia party head Maxim Suraikin labeled the game’s creators “insane” and said “The title itself already sounds outrageous and perverted," The Hollywood Reporter writes. “Playing on the game's Russian theme, the developers use an accented voiceover in broken English as part of their pitch, inviting players to ‘show that mustache guy what real love is!’ ” Sex With Stalin is due to be released in October.

Compiled by TOL
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#PragueMediaPoint Conference for journalists, media professionals, and scholars

​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





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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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