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The important, interesting, or just downright quirky news from TOL’s coverage region. Today: remembering Srebrenica; the woes of Lake Sevan; Transylvanian media; reforms in Central Asia; and talk of talks between Russia and Ukraine.9 July 2019
March for Srebrenica Victims
Thousands set off yesterday on a 100-kilometer march through eastern Bosnia along the route taken by Bosnian Muslims fleeing the town of Srebrenica after its capture by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995, according to the Associated Press. The annual march precedes commemoration events scheduled for next week, when the remains of 33 more victims will be put to rest along those of the 6,600 people buried at a memorial near Srebrenica. The government of Republika Srpska, the mostly Serb region established by the Dayton peace accords, said in February it would re-examine the number of victims of the Srebrenica massacre and of the siege of Sarajevo. Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) were the chief victims of the Bosnian wars in which an estimated 100,000 people died. A former Bosnian Serb police commander who was acquitted of taking part in the Srebrenica massacre, Goran Saric, said, “No one has the right to say that this crime did not happen,” Balkan Insight reports today, although he questioned whether the mass executions were planned in advance.
We Need to Talk, Kyiv Tells Moscow
Ukraine’s new president is showing signs of willingness for dialogue with Russia. However, a now-abandoned initiative for a joint online conference with Russian state television might have legal repercussions for Ukraine’s NewsOne channel, The Moscow Times reports. NewsOne’s owner and the host who announced the event have been summoned for questioning, Ukrainian Chief Prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko wrote on Facebook yesterday. Prosecutors may also request the court’s permission to seize the channel’s assets. On the political front, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he is willing to meet his Russian counterpart in Minsk, alongside Germany, Britain, the United States, and France. “And now I want to turn to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Need to talk? It is necessary. Let’s discuss to whom Crimea belongs and who is not there in the Donbas,” Zelenskiy said, according to Reuters.
Fidesz Reaches Out to Transylvanian Media
The Hungarian ruling party Fidesz is the major patron of Hungarian-language media outlets located across the border in Transylvania, home to a sizable Hungarian minority, according to PressOne, a Romanian investigative news site. “In practical terms, the Hungarian-language press in Transylvania is now dependent on money sent by [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban for its survival,” says the PressOne report, as cited by Emerging Europe. The report explains that a Transylvanian media NGO linked to Fidesz is using 1.9 billion forints ($6.5 million) in fresh funding it received in March to buy stakes in Hungarian-language media. The report also notes that Fidesz’s growing influence in Transylvania comes at the expense of UDMR, a Romanian opposition party representing ethnic Hungarians, which has been losing its electoral base because of its tacit support for the ruling Social Democrats. “The way that Budapest has set out to support the Hungarian media in Romania and elsewhere in the region, by silencing diverse opinion, is destructive and pernicious,” Robert Adam, a political scientist specializing in Central and Eastern Europe, told PressOne.
Central Asian Growing Pains
Following a day of meetings with the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian countries in Bishkek, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told RFE/RL that democratic change in Central Asia can be “a painful process.” "They might not like everything that comes from us, especially the focus on human rights. Rule of law sometimes might be heavy for countries in transition," Mogherini said. She did praise positive changes such as the easing of conditions in Uzbekistan. "I have definitely seen a shift when it comes to the leadership of Uzbekistan in terms of willingness to, on one side, play a positive regional role and also in reforming the country quite deeply," she said.
The Wrong Kind of Bloom
The bloom of algae in Lake Sevan, coupled with falling water levels, risks turning Armenia’s largest lake into a swamp, the BBC quotes local environmentalists as saying. Public concern was roused by the government’s publication of satellite photos showing that almost half of the lake had turned green, indicating the presence of an algae bloom. Environment Minister Erik Grigoryan said several factors are driving the phenomenon, which is also happening in Russia’s Lake Baikal and the Black Sea. “All waste and sewer waters of Gegharkunik region [flow] into Lake Sevan, as well as all pollutants from [lakeside] hotels and restaurants," he said, according to the ARKA news agency. In June, Grigoryan slapped a moratorium on drawing water from the lake for irrigation to eliminate another cause of falling water levels. The lake, covering a sixth of Armenia’s territory, is one of the largest high-altitude freshwater lakes in Eurasia and is fed by 28 rivers.