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Around the Bloc - 4 July

The important, interesting, or just downright quirky news from TOL’s coverage region. Today: Vucic the Robin Hood; sex ed for Bulgarian girls; fewer and fewer Russians; Warsaw and Berlin; and Uzbekistan goes nuclear. 4 July 2019

Serbian Leader Plays Outlaw to Bypass Kosovo Trade Ban

 

Rocked by Kosovo’s imposition of 100 percent tariffs on Serbian and Bosnian goods in November, Serbia is opening alternative routes, some used by smugglers, to supply Serb-dominated northern Kosovo. “We will do whatever we can to bring food, water and medicines to our people … even if I become a notorious European Robin Hood … that crazy Vucic who sends food and water from the forest,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (pictured) said yesterday, according to Reuters. This Monday and Tuesday, shops, coffee houses, and bakeries were closed in four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo in a protest against the tariffs. Kosovo’s Ministry of Trade and Industry dispatched personnel to sell food in the north of Kosovo, Prishtina Insight reports.

 

 

Russia Faces ‘Catastrophic’ Population Loss

 

New official data underscores the depth of Russia’s demographic crisis. The population fell by 149,000 in the first four months of the year and now stands at 146.7 million. “That means our birth rates are falling,” Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova told state-run TASS news agency, as cited by The Moscow Times. Death rates are not falling “as fast as we’d like,” she added, warning, “We’re catastrophically losing the population.” Some Russian regions cooked the books “in pursuit of good indicators” until the federal government started checking their figures, Golikova said, giving the example of the Voronezh region, where the claimed increase in cancer rates of 1 percent for 2018  skyrocketed to 20 percent in 2019.

 

 

Do Uzbeks Want Nuclear Power?

 

Uzbeks are ready to welcome a nuclear plant with open arms, Uzbek Agency for Nuclear Energy (Uzatom) head Jorabek Mirzamahmudov said, citing preliminary data from a still-unpublished poll, according to the BBC. Mirzamahmudov told reporters the respondents "had not been aware of plans to build the plant but, when they had the basic principles explained to them, 70 percent spoke in favor of it." Either way, the authorities plan to build a nuclear power station on the edge of the Kyzylkum desert. The joint project in collaboration with Russia's Rosatom nuclear energy agency has a number of arguments against it, including seismic risk. The construction agreement included a clause about generating positive public opinion about the plant. “This suggests that the general population will not be asked for its approval, but will instead be told that the plant is an indisputable good and will perhaps even be strongly encouraged not to disagree,” Eurasianet writes.

 

 

Seeking Common Ground on Polish-German War Memorial

 

Poland is pushing for a memorial in Berlin to Poles who died in World War II, and Germany, while backing the plan, is also wary of a "nationalization" of remembrance, Deutsche Welle writes. Markus Meckel, a German Social Democrat who has been working on German-Polish dialogue, argued that “commemorating Nazi victims by separate nations is problematic,” according to DW. Lawmakers from five parliamentary groups published an appeal to gain traction for the plan, which the Polish side hopes can win support in the Bundestag by 1 September, the 80th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland. In October, Polish President Andrzej Duda said Germany never fully compensated Poland for the devastation it caused during the war. Poland received some reparations from Germany but renounced further claims in 1953.

 

 

Empowering Bulgarian Girls Through Sex Ed

 

Two Bulgarian activists are trying to fill in the sex education gap in the country, where the subject is taught in just 10 percent of schools, through an illustrated book called Vagina Matters: A Sex Ed Book For Girls. The guide, according to Mashable, “covers menstruation, sex, and the female anatomy.” The crowdfunded project reflects the wish of its authors, human rights activists Svetla Baeva and Raya Raeva, to “pass on all the knowledge that we’ve learned through research and trial and error in an engaging way," Baeva said. "We, ourselves, have suffered as a result of the lack of policies and sex ed programs," she added. Bulgaria and Romania have the largest percentage of live births to mothers under 20 years in the European Union, according to WHO.

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu
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