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Around the Bloc - 3 July

The important, interesting, or just downright quirky news from TOL’s coverage region. Today: floods batter Siberia; brutalist apartments; a Romanian mass grave; Bosnian schools; and human rights in Belarus.

3 July 2019

Russia Under Water



Southeastern Siberia is reeling from the worst floods in the last century, leaving 18 dead and at least 13 missing, with the death toll likely to rise, Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry said yesterday, according to RFE/RL. Nearly 200 people have been hospitalized and more than 2,500 evacuated from the areas affected by the floods in the Irkutsk region, where a state of emergency has been declared, and thousands of homes have been destroyed. Heavy rains also flooded roads around Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport Friday, causing traffic disruptions, The Moscow Times reports.



Human Rights in Belarus: No Change 


Although “stable and calm,” the human rights situation in Belarus is “fundamentally poor with no significant improvements,” UN special rapporteur Anais Marin charged in a report to the UN Human Rights Council. Problems Marin flagged include lack of political will to address the use of the death penalty in the last country in Europe not to have banned it, and amendments to a media law, further contributing to the deterioration of the media landscape. “These measures are clearly intended to intimidate critical voices into self-censorship and prevent them from contributing to public debate,” Marin said.



‘Many Human Remains’ at Romanian WWII Grave


Archaeological digs at a site in northeastern Romania where a mass grave was discovered in 2010 yielded “many human remains,” military prosecutors said yesterday, according to Reuters. Prosecutors have opened a criminal case on the basis of the work by archaeologists supported by the Elie Wiesel Institute. The mass grave is thought to contain the remains of about 100 men, women, and children shot in 1941 by troops of the pro-Nazi Romanian regime, the BBC reports. Anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise in Romania. In April, vandals badly damaged 73 Jewish gravestones, an incident the head of the Romanian Center for Monitoring and Combatting Anti-Semitism, Marco Katz, called a “a very disturbing event, nothing surprising," and a sign that “anti-Semitism is alive.”



Photos Celebrate Brutalist Beauty 


A book of photographs documenting giant apartment houses in Central and Eastern Europe finds “strange, stark beauty in these concrete giants,” the Guardian writes. The work of Polish-Spanish design and photography duo Martyna Sobecka and David Navarro, “Eastern Blocks is a photographic journey through the cityscapes of the former Eastern Bloc, inviting readers to explore the districts and peripheries that became a playground for mass housing development after World War II, including objects like houses ‘on chicken legs,’ Soviet ‘flying saucers’ or hammer-shaped tower blocks,” according to their website. The photos also offer a trip down memory lane: one of the pictured structures, the Novosmolenskaya housing complex in St. Petersburg, will be familiar to many foreign students of Russian who rented rooms from local families there in the 1990s.



Bosnian Students Fight Back Against School Segregation


A legacy of the Balkan wars, Croat and Bosniak children may live next to and make friends with each other in Bosnia, until they reach the school gates, where they enter separate classrooms and learn separate subjects. Some pupils are speaking out against school segregation, known as "two schools under one roof," the BBC reports. The policy was implemented in Bosnia’s predominantly Croat and Bosniak Federation entity as a way of reassuring displaced families returning home. As TOL correspondent Mirna Skrbic wrote in 2005, “segregation is more than just a legal issue: it is a tangible manifestation of the ethnic divisions that have persisted in Bosnia after the 1992-95 war.” Not everyone is content with the status quo. The BBC notes that a student-led campaign successfully ended segregation at a vocational high school in the central Bosnian city of Jajce. 

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu

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