European Theater

Crimea: Hizb ut-Tahrir in crosshairs

Newly appointed head of the Crimean Security Service, Petr Zima, said March 3 that he plans to take measures against Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist organization with a following among the Crimean Tatars. "Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir is recognized as a terrorist organization," he announced in a televsied statement. "Today there are elements of this organization in Crimea. Corresponding functions are laid on the Crimean Security Service and we will struggle against them. Crimea's Prime Minister Sergey Aksenov added that officials will take measures, including using force, "against those who don't want to cooperate with official power." (InterFax, March 3) Zima's appointment comes just as Aksenov's government has welcomed Russian troops to Crimea, in defiance of authorities in Kiev.

Russia: hundreds arrested in anti-war protests

Moscow police on March 2 arrested hundreds protesting against military intervention in Ukraine, a rights group said, after President Vladimir Putin won approval from senators to send troops into the neighboring country. Ovdinfo, a rights group that tracks arrests at demonstrations, said 352 were detained at two anti-war protests in central Moscow. Police gave a much lower figure of 50 people detained for "attempts to violate public order," according to Interfax news agency. Anti-war protesters gathered near the defence ministry in central Moscow, and at Manezhnaya square near the Kremlin. Demonstrators held up peace signs and posters saying "No to war," while some also held Ukrainian flags and ribbons in the national colors of yellow and light blue.

Israeli-trained militia fights for Ukrainian fascists?

A startling report on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Feb. 28 tells of a "Jewish-led militia force" that participated in the Ukrainian revolution—called the "Blue Helmets of Maidan" even though their helmets are (tellingly) brown, and under the command of a Ukraine-born veteran of the Israel Defense Forces who goes by the nom de guerre "Delta." In an interview, Delta boasted how he used combat skills gained in the Shu'alei Shimshon reconnaissance battalion of the IDF's Givati infantry brigade to rise through the ranks of Kiev's street fighters. He now heads a force of 40 men and women—including several fellow IDF veterans—that clashed with government troops in the street-fighting that brought down Viktor Yanukovich. Most bizarrely, Delta said he takes orders from activists linked to Svoboda, the ultra-nationalist party that is widely accused of anti-Semitism. "I don’t belong [to Svoboda], but I take orders from their team," he said. "They know I'm Israeli, Jewish and an ex-IDF soldier. They call me 'brother.' What they're saying about Svoboda is exaggerated, I know this for a fact."

Crimean Tatars at issue in Ukraine crisis

A group of some 50 gunmen seized control of parliament and government buildings in Simferopol, capital of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, raising Russian flags above them Feb. 27—just as the US warned Russia that military exercises planned near the border of Ukraine could "lead to miscalculation." With the top floor of the building occupied by the gunmen, Crimea's parliament voted to hold a referendum on the region's future—whether to remain in Ukraine or join Russia. Earlier, in his first statement since being voted out of office by MPs last week, Ukraine's fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovich said he had been "compelled to ask the Russian Federation to ensure my personal security from the actions of extremists," and that he still considered himself the legitimate president of Ukraine. The Ukrainian parliament in Kiev meanwhile voted to send Yanukovich to The Hague to be tried over the violence that led to at least 82 deaths in Kiev last week. (AFP, The Guardian, BBC News, Globe & Mail, Feb. 27; The Guardian, Feb. 25)

Ukraine issues arrest warrant for ousted president

Ukraine's acting interior minister Arsen Avakhov on Feb. 24 said on his official Facebook page that an arrest warrant has been issued for the country's fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovich, for the mass killings of civilian anti-government protestors. In his statement, Avakhov said that an official case had been opened for the mass murder of peaceful citizens and that Yanukovich and other officials had been declared wanted, going on to say that Yanukovich was last seen in the Crimean peninsula before dismissing much of his security detail and going to an unknown location. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed doubts about the legitimacy of Ukraine's new leaders and accused them of coming to power as a result of armed mutiny. A vast majority of Ukraine's elected parliament voted for the new government, including members of Yanukovich's party, and acting President Oleksandr Turchinov has said that a new coalition government may be formed later this week.

'Fascism' and the Ukraine protests

At least 25 are reported dead and more than 240 injured in clashes that erupted when Ukrainian protesters mounted a march on parliament Feb. 18, apparently ending a "truce" that had been worked out to allow negotiations. The march took place before a scheduled debate on reinstatement of Ukraine's 2004 constitution, which would rein in President Viktor Yanukovich's powers. The situation on the streets escalated as the bill was blocked by parliamentary staff who refused to register it on procedural grounds. The 2004 constitution was repealed in 2010, shortly after Yanukovich came to power, replaced by a new one granting him sweeping powers, including to appoint regional governors—a critical issue in Ukraine, with its cultural divide between the more Russian-identified east and more European-identified west. (Jurist, WP, UN News Centre, Feb. 19; BBC News, EuroNews, Feb. 18)

Anti-austerity protests rock Bosnia

Protesters in Bosnia-Herzegovina set fire to government buildings Feb. 7, in the worst unrest the country has seen since the end of the 1992-95 war. Hundreds have been injured in three days of protests over unemployment and privatization of state industries. The presidency building in Sarajevo was set aflame, and riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas in both the capital and the northern industrial hub of Tuzla. Angry demonstrations are also reported from Mostar, Zenica and Bihac. Elderly residents supported the protests by banging cooking pots on their windows and balconies. Four former state-owned companies, including furniture and detergent factories, employed most of the population of Tuzla, but filed for bankruptcy shortly after being privatized, throwing thousands out of work. The leader of the Tuzla region, Sead Causevic, told Bosnian state TV that the "rip-off privatization" had already taken place when his government took office, and called the workers' demands legitimate. Bosnia has the highest unemployment rate in the Balkans at roughly 40%. Privatization that followed the end of communism produced a handful of oligarchs, but almost wiped out the middle class and sent many workers into poverty. (BBC News, DW, Feb. 7)

Burgos and Gezi Square: contradiction?

Spain's El Mundo and El Periodico on Jan. 17 reported the heartening news that after weeks of angry protests, Burgos Mayor Javier Lacalle announced a definitive end to his planned redevelopment of one of the city's main traffic arteries, citing the "impossibility" of moving ahead with the plan. Protesters had opposed the 8 million euro project both as a waste of money better spent on social programs and as a scheme to accelerate the city's gentrification. BBC News reports that the project to trasnform Calle Vitoria into a new boulevard called for a bike lane and green spaces to replace two of the thoroughfare's four traffic lanes. Free parking spaces were also to be replaced with a paid underground car lot.

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