Eastbook.eu http://www.eastbook.eu/en Portal o Europie Wschodniej Fri, 17 Aug 2018 08:04:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 Conflict in Ukraine and Foreign Fighters – Interview with a volunteer from Belarus http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2017/04/19/conflict-in-ukraine-and-foreign-fighters-interview-with-a-volunteer-from-belarus/ http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2017/04/19/conflict-in-ukraine-and-foreign-fighters-interview-with-a-volunteer-from-belarus/#respond Wed, 19 Apr 2017 06:46:59 +0000 http://www.eastbook.eu/en/?p=207947 One of them is Yan Mielnikau (23 years old), member of the Tactical Group Belarus – unit fighting on the Ukrainian side. He has been active in Ukraine since January 2014 when he arrived at Maidan. In our conversation, he talks about himself, his formation and other foreign fighters.

Arkadiusz Legieć: Why did you decide to go to Ukraine?

Yan Melnikau: Ukraine is very close to my country, and Ukrainians are like our brothers. Our nations are similar and we both underst and what Russia is – an aggressor who seeks to renew the imperial model of the USSR.

Have you tried to go back to Belarus?

No, I haven’t, unfortunately, I cannot. For Lukashenka, I’m a terrorist.

Is Lukashenka afraid of you?

Of course, but there are two sides to this. There are Belarusians fighting on the Kiev’s side, but there are also Belarusians who are fighting on the side of separatists. They don`t have any problems, they can go back to Belarus any time.

People like me don’t get that chance – immediately after crossing the border we would be arrested. Our families are constantly harassed by the KGB.

Do you receive any compensation for your activities fighting in Ukraine?

I`m a volunteer and I don`t receive any money. I get by thanks to the support of Ukrainians and other Belarussians. This support enable us only to continue our engagement on the front.
Some of Belarussians are on a contract in the ranks of regular units of the Ukrainian army – they receive money.

Also, some of the fighters on the separatists’ side boasted that they were receiving money. However, in the interviews they said they are not mercenaries, because the money is not their main motivations to fight on the side of separatists.

Why do you give interviews, travel to other countries, advertise your group’s activities? Isn’t it safer for you to act more quietly?

We need to gain attention. Many Belarussians who came to Ukraine wouldn`t do so if they didn`t hear about us. Furthermore, we are volunteers, and at the same time there are large centers of Belarusians abroad ready to support us financially. These are people who share our views and understand that if we do not stop Russia in Ukraine, then Belarus might share the same fate.

mielnikau-4

Without this attention, we would be more susceptible to be blackmailed and threatened by the actions of Belarusian authorities. Now we are fighters that many people have heard about. We have numerous contacts with politicians in Ukraine and other countries. If anything happens to us, it will gain media attention immediately.

I`m dealing with media on behalf of the group because I don’t have much to lose. Only my father stayed in Belarus and he is supporting what I`m doing in Ukraine.

Fighting in Ukraine, Belarussians have something, that they can`t have in their own country – standing up against Russia?

Fight against Russia isn’t our main objective – the goal is to defend Ukraine. Russia’s presence in Ukraine was never as significant as now, because of propaganda of “Russki Mir” conducted in the media. It denies Belarusians the right to their own identity. It is said that there is no Belarusian nation and it is questioned whether Belarus as an independent state is needed. This is the same propaganda that the Russian media used during Maidan and the annexation of the Crimea.

How many Belarusians are fighting in Ukraine?

Unfortunately, more Belarussians are fighting on the side of separatists. Throughout the duration of the conflict about 1,000 Belarussians could have participated in the fighting on their side. According to my knowledge, on the Ukrainian side, this number oscillates around 300. In total, in my opinion, Belarussians are the third largest group in terms of numbers – after Chechens and Georgians.

In our group – Tactical Group Belarus – there are about 30 people. It changes over time – someone comes, someone leaves. In total, over 50 people have passed through our group.

The Tactical Group Belarus was created as a part of the Right Sector, but since 2015 we have been functioning as an autonomous structure. We are the only one Belarussian formation in Ukraine, but there are also Belarusians scattered across various units – such as the Battalion Donbas, where there was a group of 40 Belarussians, some in the Azov Regiment, Aidar Battalion, some in the regular army on a contract.

What about other nationalities?

Chechens are the biggest group. I heard a lot about their two battalions – Sheikh Mansur`s and Jodi Dudayev`s.

There are a lot of Georgians. We have good relations with them. The Georgians hold more together, especially in the Georgian Legion, so they are not split up in different units. Many of them are former soldiers with experience in the fight against Russia.

I also know about the Americans on the Ukrainian side, among whom some say they were militaries with experience from Iraq. There are several people from Lithuania in the Voluntary Ukrainian Corps. One person from Latvia. Several Estonians in the Donbass Battalion. French people are on both sides – among them there are many former militaries, experienced in the wars in Africa.

There are also numerous Russian groups on the Ukrainian side. There was one Czech, Pole, Norwegian and Ukrainian with German origins and 4 Azers.

On the side of separatists there are many Russians, many Buriats from Russia who even have their own battalion. I heard about the presence of Armenians, as well as Czechs and Slovaks.

Russia says that those who fight on the Ukrainian side are fascists …

There is such propaganda. Of course, there are representatives of radical views on the Ukrainian side, but these are individuals. I am, for instance, an antifascist.

In the Azov Regiment, which is much talked about in this context, from the very beginning there was a group of people with radical views – the so-called “Black Corps”. They were young people with extreme right-wing views, but it was also a minority. Nowadays, for fascist symbols and welcomes Azov is punishing by „jama” (sitting in the hole in the ground).

What do you need to do to become a member of Tactical Group of Belarus?

First, you have to be a Belarusian. In the beginning we had one Ukrainian, but it was an exception, because it was our old friend from Maidan. Today group is made up only of Belarusians.
You also cannot be associated with the Belarusian government, intelligence. We have the ability to check people – if someone comes to us, we want to see his passport and check it.

How?

We have our ways. It is not 100% sure, but there are people who help us.

We had many candidates that we rejected. There were cases when they were normal boys, which we verified positively, but for that moment we did not have a demand, so we did not accept them.
This was the case in 2015 – we had some organizational problems with the funeral of one of our colleagues then.

We also rejected many people who rose our suspicions. There were also those who wrote on Facebook under the influence of evening, alcoholic raptures, and the next morning they regretted what they had written the previous night and retreated.

How do you rate your skills? Are you more amateur or professional?

Fifty-fifty. Our actions are coordinated with the regular Ukrainian army. With time, we improve our skills. None of us had any previous wartime experience, but on the other hand most of us have already gained 3 years of experience in the ongoing conflict. 3 years is more than standard service in the military of many countries. Our experience is a battlefield, not a marching exercise.

What about your opponents?

There is no rule – sometimes we encounter amateurs. However, you can find people with experience of the Chechen campaign. They have experience, their own tactics, habits, know your position strategy…

What are your further plans?

We are aware that Russia needs an obedient Belarusian leader who will not question the instructions from Moscow. It is always possible that the current president may be changed to somebody worse than Lukashenka himself.

That is why we are developing a training program for Belarussians, which we have been running since 2015. We want them to have a basic knowledge of armed conflict and be prepared for a situation in which Russia will start aggression in Belarus just as it did in Ukraine. Belarussians must be able to defend themselves their country.

Tactical medicine training - april 2017, Poland; Author: Arkadiusz Legieć

Tactical medicine training – april 2017, Poland; Author: Arkadiusz Legieć

These trainings take place both in Ukraine and in other European countries, where there are Belarusian congregations. That is why I am traveling to the Belarusian diasporas in Europe – I was in Lithuania, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Italy and the Czech Republic. We are building contact networks. We do not do anything wrong, we do not violate the laws of those countries where we are staying, we do not threaten their safety.

What is your training?

We are building contacts with people. It is well known that in 2-3 days it is hard to give people combat experience, but at least they can relate and learn some habits. Those more interested can take a longer, deepening course. As a result of such training, we create our network of people.
In the event of possible Russian aggression on Belarus, such people can be raised ready to fight Russian troops. Those who have undergone our training would be able to resist. They would organize grassroots civic units, like volunteer battalions in Ukraine.

The Belarusian army would not fight Russia. The situation in the Crimea would seem to be a real struggle against the resistance in the comparison with the Belarusian army.

At the beginning of the war in Donbas, I did not see a regular army on the front for the first half of the year, but only volunteers like me. Not an army, but the Ukrainian people were able to organize themselves and stop the front. We also want Belarusians to be able to do so.

And your personal plans – you have been fighting in Ukraine for more than 3 years now – isn’t it enough for you?

You can already be tired of war. The front has been stabilized for a long time and no major changes have taken place, but the situation is still dynamic.

In the future, I would theoretically be able to get The Polish Card because I meet the initial conditions. I could also apply for the status of political refugee from Belarus, in some other country. I can also stay in Ukraine and live here. There are our people in Kiev, but also in Poland, in Warsaw there are two Belarusians who have applied for the status of political refugees. There are various possibilities…

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“The oligarchs are not a problem in Ukraine anymore”. Interview with Anders Åslund – Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/12/02/the-oligarchs-are-not-a-problem-in-ukraine-anymore-interview-with-anders-aslund-senior-fellow-at-the-atlantic-council/ http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/12/02/the-oligarchs-are-not-a-problem-in-ukraine-anymore-interview-with-anders-aslund-senior-fellow-at-the-atlantic-council/#respond Fri, 02 Dec 2016 04:49:33 +0000 http://www.eastbook.eu/en/?p=206356 Tomasz Filipiak: In your recent book “Ukraine. What went wrong and how to fix it” you express an opinion that the crisis Ukraine is facing now should be seen an opportunity to reform the country’s economy provided, that the war in Donbas does not escalate. Do you really find it possible to introduce deep economic reforms given the circumstances?

Anders Åslund: Yes, of course. It is happening. The Ukrainian economy hit the bottom, stabilised and is now recovering. According to the first available statistics the growth started and equalled 1,8% in the 3rd quarter of this year. It remains a question whether the Ukrainian economy is going to grow by 2-3% a year or 6-7%, as it had before, between 2000 and 2007. It is also an opportunity for the Polish entrepreneurs. Since the salaries in Poland are now 6 times higher than in Ukraine, it should be natural to move some of the production, especially the kind that does not require extensive investment, to Ukraine.

Polish entrepreneurs still hesitate to invest in Ukraine and the assessment of the recent events remains uncertain. What would you see as the main achievements of the post-revolutionary Ukrainian authorities in reforming the country?

First of all, presidential elections were held only 3 months after the “Revolution of Dignity”. Soon afterwards parliamentary elections were organised and a new reformist government was appointed in December 2014. It instantly launched a reform programme.

Economically speaking, the successes include the energy and financial reforms. Energy prices have been unified, just like in Poland in 1992, allowing to save approximately 8% of GDP. The gas prices for consumers were increased 11 times. At the same time, Ukraine managed to lower its gas consumption by approximately 20% in 2015 and by estimated another 10% in 2016. These are enormous achievements, essentially meaning that Ukraine is becoming more and more independent from Russia in terms of gas supplies. Ukraine is buying increasingly more gas in the European markets and although this might be as well the Russian gas, it is purchased without political conditions. At the same time, the big source of corruption, that is gas imports and gas trade inside the country, have been eliminated. Once again, these are enormous achievements.

The macro-economic indicators seem to be improving…

The public deficit as a share of GDP fell from 10% of GDP to 2% in the last year. The public debt has levelled down to 80% of GDP, contrary to the estimates of the IMF that were indicating 94% of GDP. This is a massive fiscal adjustment that Ukraine has gone through.

Furthermore, the payroll tax that used to amount to 45%, starting from this year equals 22%. While this might not have led to reduction of the shadow economy in the short term, it will inevitably have this effect in the long term.

What are the failures in the reforms then? Kiev is still behind with certain reforms.

What has not been done is the reform of the judiciary system. The judiciary reform has been legislated but it has not been moving forward.

On the other hand, although the reform of judiciary is stuck, the improvement of transparency in the Ukrainian system has been quite extraordinary. Officials have been forced to declare their incomes and assets in very considerable detail. The owners of the banks have been revealed and a lot of various property registries have been established in electronic form. New anti-corruption bodies were introduced. But as I said, the corruption in the judiciary system is now what one should focus on.

What remains to be solved is the pension system reform – this is a key IMF demand, the reform legalising private sells of agricultural land and, finally, privatisation of state enterprises. These three issues are now crucial for the Ukrainian economy.

You mentioned the need to tackle the corruption in judiciary. Speaking more generally, do you see corruption as a persistent problem of the Ukrainian political system?

Ukraine’s corruption exists on all levels, there is no doubt about that. What I would like to emphasise, however, is that it is not the oligarchs who are the problem here. Everybody is used to say that the oligarchs are responsible for the pathologies of Ukrainian politics and economy, but the real problem is the state officials who sit on state enterprises and are involved in corruptive schemes. They, obviously, have their say in the parliament, which in turn, controls the judiciary system.

If, as you say, the oligarchs and their interests are not an obstacle to the reforms in Ukraine, you would rather advocate involving them in the political process, or trying to marginalise their influence?

The power of the oligarchs has declined. They lived off monopolies. Now we can see that for example Dmytro Firtash and his group are essentially gone, because they lived on gas trade – unification of prices and declining gas imports from Russia caused that. Rinat Akhmetov has seen his wealth declining by 85% in the last 3 years. In general, in the last 2 years the oligarchs as a group have lost 2/3 of their wealth, and several of them, such as Oleg Bakhmatyuk or Vadim Novinsky are completely out. The oligarchs are not a problem anymore, because they suffered heavy losses. One should ignore them rather than engage them in politics, because it is politics that would make them benefit again.

You share an opinion that Vladimir Putin’s aim is to discredit Ukraine and to hamper the transformation of the Ukrainian political and economic system. Do you see a risk of further escalation of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine?

I think Putin sees the annexation of Crimea as a major success, and the war in Donbass as a major failure. What he wants is small victorious wars to boost his domestic popularity and he did not accomplish that by destabilising Donbass. Still, I don’t think Putin is likely to expand the war. It is simply too expensive and Donbass is not attractive enough.

In what terms is the annexation of Crimea Putin’s success?

Not in economic terms, it is all political. If you look upon Putin’s economic policy, it is mostly about macroeconomic stability at all cost. Real incomes in Russia fell by 10% last year and 5-6% this year. In the meantime, Putin is using small wars to rally the population.

What is the probable Russian policy towards Ukraine now?

For Putin the best way to operate in Ukraine is now by non-conventional means, that is the FSB, GRU actions, diversion, bombings, provocations, information war and policies introduced by Russian infiltrators at all levels. We need to realise that Ukraine is still completely infiltrated by Russian agents. We should even expect the most radical Ukrainian nationalists to be Russian agents.

What Russia cannot do is to get in a massive trade war over gas against Ukraine any longer. Also, although the war is led using all these available means, the military component is playing a progressively smaller role.
It is for the West to realise that Putin’s foreign policy is about creating instability around Russia. This is what can be observed in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno Karabakh, Transnistria, Crimea and Donbass. The more instability, the better from Putin’s perspective. Poles understand it better than others.

Russia must be seen to constitute a negative factor in the process of Ukrainian transition. However, one of the pillars of your argument is that the international support should be activated in order to secure the Ukrainian transition. You see the EU as the anchor for modernisation of Ukraine. Do you think that contemporary EU, facing the immigrant crisis and the Brexit, is capable to handle the Ukrainian crisis?

No. Ukraine’s public debt in the end of 2013 equalled 73 bln dollars, at the end of 2015 it was 65,5 bln dollars. It means that Ukraine has been paying back approximately 8 bln dollars to the international community, while the international community has pretended to help. It was particularly the EU that did not contribute. In addition to that, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement signed between the EU and Ukraine contains no less than 36 import quotas, essentially concerning the big Ukrainian export products: agricultural and steel articles constituting around 37% of the Ukrainian export. These quotas are often very small.

To give you an example – the EU quota for chicken meant is 1% of total Ukrainian production. Thus, the Ukrainian chicken producers do not attempt to sell their products in the EU, because the market is simply too small to be financially viable. The EU officials, in turn, use it as an argument against increasing the quota – why should it be increased if the Ukrainians don’t even use what is available? It is a vicious circle. There have been some increases in quotas, mainly because of the shortage of certain products in European markets. All things considered the EU is doing far too little to help Ukraine.

So, what should be done?

Firstly, it is necessary to increase the import quotas. Secondly, the financial support delivered by the EU is now very limited. The European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development could deliver more than the macro-financial assistance, which is limited anyway. So far, the EU contributed only 1,2 bln euro to Ukrainian transition. This is very little.

In your latest book you advocate for what you called a “Marshall Plan” for Ukraine. Is the argument still viable after the elections in the U.S.?

It is necessary to understand that Ukraine has lost 6 to 8 bln dollars of Foreign Direct Investments because of the war and this should be treated as a market failure. Foreign companies simply do not invest in a country, where war breaks out. This is precisely the moment when the West should come in. Take for example the EU, the U.S., the EBRD, the EIB, the World Bank, the IFC, and if they all contributed, you would gather 5 bln dollars a year for investment in Ukraine. It is within the range of these institutions.

However, the big danger to any such plan is Donald Trump, who clearly wants to make a grand bargain with Putin. This man is mad, egotistic and completely irresponsible. We can expect absolutely anything from him.

It is a common concept in Poland that the Polish transformation can serve as a model for Ukraine. Do you think this is true, considering the fact, that the starting point in the Polish case seems to be different and Poland had the incentive in perspective of joining the EU? Are Polish and Ukrainian cases comparable?

I think Ukraine is not very different from Poland, it is just 25 years behind it. If you take into consideration the economic structure of the two countries, they are surprisingly similar: coal and steel industry, machine building and large agricultural sector. In some of the sectors Ukraine is even better off than Poland, f. ex. the Ukrainian hi-tech industry owes 3% of the GDP.

The major thing that helped Poland in 1989 was that millions of Poles received their education and work experience abroad. Ukraine is in the same situation now. This is a big difference between the events of 2004 and now in Ukraine. These West-educated people were not there 12 years ago, but now they are taking over senior positions at the administration. The quality of the human capital improved a lot over these years in Ukraine. And it is often forgotten how important a role it played in the case of Poland.

The economic environment also bears some resemblance. The markets opened for Poland almost immediately. And even though I complain that EU market is too closed for Ukraine, 39% of the Ukrainian exports went to the EU in the first half of this year. In reality, never before has it been more accessible for Ukraine.

The major macroeconomic changes in Ukraine are comparable to what Leszek Balcerowicz did in Poland, so the situation is more similar than one could think.

Poles take many successes for granted now, but it was Norman Davies in his “God’s Playground” who expressed an idea that Poland was played by its neighbours and could not develop on its own. Precisely the same narrative we face now with regards to Ukraine. It is not true.

Warsaw, 17th November 2016

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Register now for EUROCLIO Annual Conference 2017: Intersections – San Sebastian, Spain http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/11/21/register-now-for-euroclio-annual-conference-2017-intersections-san-sebastian-spain/ http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/11/21/register-now-for-euroclio-annual-conference-2017-intersections-san-sebastian-spain/#respond Mon, 21 Nov 2016 19:04:53 +0000 http://www.eastbook.eu/en/?p=206112 EUROCLIO – European Association of History Educators, AEPHG – History Teachers Association of Spain and Basque School Network – Ikastolen Elkartea are proud to announce exciting new features and welcome you to register to our Annual Conference & professional development and training course in Donostia-San Sebastian!

The conference will address the key question “How can history change today” in the context of our dynamic and challenging world. Looking trough the theme Local vs. Global it wishes to go beyond the most evident communities of all, the nation, and explore the role of history in the shaping of local and global communities and identities.

Another theme, Past vs. Present will be discussed in the relation to history education and current affairs. With the ongoing series of crises, embedded in global developments, what is the role and responsibility of history, heritage and citizenship educators in bridging all these complex current affairs with history?

Specific topics feeding into workshops and dialogues will include European cooperation in historical context and independence in an interdependent world. The conference will entail a key note speech by a prominent historian, panel discussions, dialogue tables, workshops, on-site visits, visit to schools and many more.

To learn more and to see the preliminary programme, download the conference brochure and visit the event page below:

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In Europe they only beat us, burn with cigarettes and release dogs on us. Europe is better http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/10/03/in-europe-they-only-beat-us-burn-with-cigarettes-and-release-dogs-on-us-europe-is-better/ http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/10/03/in-europe-they-only-beat-us-burn-with-cigarettes-and-release-dogs-on-us-europe-is-better/#respond Mon, 03 Oct 2016 10:08:21 +0000 http://www.eastbook.eu/en/?p=203239 Balkan route

 
Hussein, a thirty-year-old Syrian, arrived to Kelebija refugee camp three days ago broken spirits. Naturally, he asks me about the chances for opening the border. I answer honestly but also cautiously in order not to encourage him to cross illegally.

The border will remain closed, but thanks to his nationality, Hussein will get a priority to cross it. On the other hand, he is a single man, and this means the whole process will delay.

The route that Hussein chose is the most common one among refugees and migrants trying to enter the European Union. It leads through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia to Serbia. From this place, everybody tries to enter Hungary or Croatia.

Hussein hasn’t seen his family for more than five years. He had escaped Syria before the fights started for good. – Three months after graduating from college I was walking on a street. A military car stopped next to me, and the soldiers told me to get in. They took me to one of the military buildings where they announced that from now on I am a soldier. This is how they do it in Syria. They just kidnap people from a street. You don’t even get a chance to inform your mother – he tells me evidently upset.

Hussein didn’t want to fight in Assad’s army, so he escaped after few months. He was hiding in Syria for almost a year trying to earn some money for crossing to Turkey. There he spent another year trying to make it to Greece. This journey brings traumatic memories.

– There were many children in our boat. We were drowning. Almost all of us were already in the water when the coast guard found us. This was the very last moment.

Hussein experience is shared by almost everybody in the camp. Stories about overcrowded, and sinking boats and smugglers leaving people in the middle of the sea are common. However, everybody here claims that it was a necessity. Escaping war, persecution, and poverty is very dangerous, but the faith in better and safer future in Europe is stronger.

Entrance to Kelebija transit zone camp, author: Sonia Nandzik ⓒ

Entrance to Kelebija transit zone camp, author: Sonia Nandzik ⓒ

European borders

 
The road from Turkey to the Hungarian border with Serbia or Croatia, so called Balkan route, usually takes few months. Now, with European borders closed, refugees have to add several months in camps. Many try to cross the border without waiting for their turn. The first obstacle comes when they attempt to overcome the border to Macedonia, which has been secured with a 2,5 meters high barbed wire donated by the Hungarian government.

In addition Macedonia protected itself from the ones that somehow manage to cross the fortifications by amending the asylum law. According to these new regulations, no legal consequences will follow if a foreigner that entered Macedonia illegally, leaves this country within three days.

The small surface of Macedonia doesn’t make it hard to cover the distance from the border with Greece to the one with Serbia within three days. Most of the refugees don’t want to stay in Macedonia in any manner and plan to leave this country as soon as possible.

An alternative to the Macedonian route is the one through Bulgaria. It’s a troublesome, and dangerous road and the border in Dimitrovgrad has a reputation of being one of the most depressing places in Europe. My friends who worked there last winter distributing most needed items, shared stories about refugees forced to wait in lines in temperatures as low as minus twenty degrees for several hours just to register.

No exceptions for women and children were made until humanitarian organizations demanded it. People came to this place with light backpacks and the clothes they had on. Very rarely was it a winter jacket, more often a jumper or a raincoat.

– This is how I imagine lines in concentration camps during the II World War – states a young German who distributed first aid needs in Dimitrovgrad last winter. – People reached that place exhausted, freezing and wounded. I will never forget the night a seventy-five-year-old women came to our distribution point. Her face was so severely beaten by the Bulgarian border police that it was impossible to imagine how she might have looked before – he adds.

Refugees showing wounds after encounter with Hungarian police, author: Info Park ⓒ

Refugees showing wounds after encounter with Hungarian police, author: Info Park ⓒ

The ones that managed to reach north of Serbia face a closed border. Each of the two crossings allows only 15 people to pass to the Hungarian side every day. Hungarians not only strengthened the border but also created new police forces.

Local press claims that the demand is so urgent that even people previously rejected will get the possibility to serve now. Those new units will also have a specific name: “határvadászok” – border hunters. Naming them this way is significant. It’s supposed to indicate the type of active approach towards the ones that get closer to the border.

The road from the Turkish coast to the Serbian-Hungarian border

Alternative ways

 

Surprisingly Hungarian actions discourage only a few to cross the border illegally. A young Pakistani who left his home eight months ago sadly tells me that he considers this option. For him, there is no alternative to the journey towards Western Europe. His father was murdered by the Taliban. Aged only fifteen, he became the head of the family. He wants to start working as soon as possible to support his mother and give his sister a chance to get married. He awaits his turn to cross the border for several months now.

I ask him whether he doesn’t fear the illegal crossing. I saw wounds from the police beating, and marks from dogs’ teeth on the bodies of those that failed. His answer comes as a surprise: – We escape one persecution to face another, but European borders are not that bad. In Iran they don’t ask, they shoot to kill. In Europe they only beat us, burn with cigarettes and release dogs on us. Europe is better.

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Uzbekistan without Islam Karimov – the consequences of the leader`s death http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/10/01/uzbekistan-without-islam-karimov-the-consequences-of-the-leaders-death/ http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/10/01/uzbekistan-without-islam-karimov-the-consequences-of-the-leaders-death/#respond Sat, 01 Oct 2016 12:13:08 +0000 http://www.eastbook.eu/en/?p=203185 Times of Karimov

 
Ruling Uzbekistan since 1989 Karimov created political system based on the person of the leader and one of the most closed and authoritarian regimes in the region. Notwithstanding the provisions of the constitution he was elected four times as president (the Constitution provides for a maximum of one re-election). He treated the state as his own property while maintaining anachronistic model of social relations.

As a result of political repression substitute of the opposition only works on emigration.

Uzbekistan under his rule became corrupted state, in which no elections were free, and whose citizens have access only to the pro-government media and are constantly subjected to surveillance and control of the security services. As a result of political repression (long-term prisons, beatings, kidnappings, tortures, rapes and killings on behalf of) substitute of the opposition only works on emigration. The parliament formed a government coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (Karimov supporter in the presidential election for years) and the Uzbekistan National Revival Democratic Party, which is headed by Mirziyoyew.

Karimov brutally suppressed all social rebellions (for example – in Andijan in 2005). Such policy determined the ethnic tensions in the country and border conflicts with its neighbors in the Fergana Valley. Stabilizing factor was fear of Karimov and formed division of influences between major clans. The most influential Samarkand Clan, which originated for Karimov himself, had influence in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the second largest Tashkent clan was controlling the state security services. Smaller clans, such as Jizak Clan, Bokhara Clan, Fergana Clan and Khorezm Clan used to come into alliances with larger clans, thus creating a system of stabilizing the situation in the whole territory of Uzbekistan.

Changing the state policy is unlikely, and the succession will take place in controlled manner by the security apparatus.

Succession

 
Scenarios of succession are limited to the closest associates of Karimov. Changing the state policy is unlikely, and the succession will take place in controlled manner by the security apparatus. Power probably will be taken by Shavkat Mirziyoyew, Prime Minister of Uzbekistan, closely associated with the family of Karimov and having the support of the ministries of power, which increases the possibility of implementing formed the center of power. The stability of his rule, however, will depend on the support of Rustam Inoyatow.

Inojatow is the head of the National Security Service, is considered as the “gray eminence” of Uzbekistan. It is unlikely that he wanted to run for president`s office, but this can not be excluded out in the future. This will depend on the course of its cooperation with Mirziyoyev.

Other potential candidates do not have sufficient political base, such as deputy prime minister Rustan Azimov and chairman of the Senate Nigmatil Judaszew, which waived its constitutional obligation to exercise temporarily the function of head of state after the death of Karimov for Mirziyoyev. It is unlikely also to apply for the office by one of Karimov`s daughters – elder Gulnora, which two years ago fell into conflict with his father and was barred from the highest policy or younger Lola, who has never been in it fully involved.

The threat of Jihadism

 
Uzbekistan is struggling with Islamic terrorism since the 90s, when a group of Islamic radicals began fighting with the regime of Karimov (the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan tried to call Sunni uprising). Inside the country has developed Muslim brotherhood based on a radical interpretation of the Koran, often wahabi, whose activities gained anti-government profile (eg. events in Namangan in 1991). Possible conflict in power, reflected in the destabilization of the state, can cause activisation of regional terrorist groups such as the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Impact on recruitment Uzbeks to terrorist groups has a very large number of young people who are the main group of people recruited into the ranks of terrorist organizations such as Islamic State or regional Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as well as emigration to Russia, where terrorist organizations (mainly gangs of Caucasian) recruit citizens Central Asian states.

It is estimated that currently more than 500 Uzbeks fight in the so-called ISIS.

Uzbeks are an important group fighting for the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). It is estimated that currently more than 500 Uzbeks fight in its ranks. They have their own armed groups in Syria, using contacts with other terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda or Al Nusra Front. More than 40 fighters with combat experience gained so far returned to the country.

ISIS influence in the region is limited, however, opportunity to create substitutes for its province could result in an increased radicalization among Uzbeks, directed against ruling elites. Contribute to this may be active terrorist groups in other countries of Central Asia, and also constant threat of destabilization and Jihadism from Afghanistan, in which the active cell Islamic State, operates IRU, which in 2015 unilaterally declared membership in ISIS, and also the Taliban fights (in the ranks of which are also Uzbeks).

The foreign policy

 
Karimov criticized Russian integration projects of post-Soviet space, fearing the political dominance of the largest neighbor. The country did not join the Eurasian Economic Union (EUG) and in 2012 suspended its membership in the Organization of Collective Security Treaty (CSTO). Russia, however, will work to restore the participation of Uzbekistan in the CSTO and its rapprochement with EUG, as is apparent from its geopolitical ambitions in Central Asia.

Karimov criticized Russian integration projects of post-Soviet space, fearing the political dominance of the largest neighbor.

Another factor that works in favor of Russia is the unstable situation in the region (Uzbek-Kyrgyz conflict about the course of the border and the status of the Uzbek minority in Kyrgyzstan, but also Tajik minority in Uzbekistan, disputes over water resources in the region and unstable Uzbek-Afghan borderland), thanks to which Russia is a the most important guarantee for the maintenance of security, as in the case of Russian support for the control and management of Uzbek-Afghan border in 2015.

The new president may also face the challenge of pro-Russian separatist movements, an example of which is the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Uzbek Karakalpakstan. Other means of pressure from Russia include, among others, policy of granting Russian citizenship to people born in the USSR or their descendants, or also Russian investments in the energy sector (Russian Lukoil is a partner of the Uzbek state holding Uzbekneftegaz projects exploration of gas deposits on the seabed of the Aral Sea and has a 90% stake in the consortium operating the strategic project for the exploration of the Uzbek gas fields Kandym-Khausak-Chady-Kungrad).

Factor weakening Russian influence is the economic involvement of China, which is the main economic partner, investor and lender for poorer Uzbekistan. The project of the New Silk Road China intensifies cooperation with this country in the field of infrastructure investments. The confirmation of the growing role of China is also concluded in June agreement on a comprehensive and strategic partnership.

Another chance to balance Russian influence is cooperation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Last year a joint summit of the SCO and BRICS countries in Ufa created the institutional instruments to deepen economic cooperation of Uzbekistan with India, Pakistan, Brazil and South Africa.

Matters relating to regional security Uzbekistan, together with other Central Asian states, consults with the US format calls “S5 + 1”. It strengthens the role of the US in the context of operating in the Afghanistan mission of US and NATO mission “Resolute Support”. But there is no real possibility to return to the intensity of mutual contacts from the years 2001-2005, when in Uzbekistan functioned US military base at Karshi-Khanabad, although NATO countries continue to use in order to supply its troops in Afghanistan from Termez airbase.

Conclusions

 
The change of power in Uzbekistan will take place in a controlled manner between the closest collaborators of the late president. There will be no change in government policy, political liberalization, and any raise of living standards of citizens. The biggest risk may create a conflict of elites, which could destabilize the country, negatively affecting created by Karimov status quo in clans system, arouse ethnic conflicts and create a wider field of action for Islamic radicals. The decisive test for the state will be the end of the transitional period by efficiently organizing elections within three months, which means conduct should be followed by the OSCE, CoE and the EU.

The new government will continue its strategy of un-engage in international politics, with a potential to benefit from bilateral cooperation with individual partners. Therefore, the EU should develop cooperation with Uzbekistan in the framework of the activities envisaged in the priorities of the Slovak Presidency, which assume the renewal of the EU Strategy for Central Asia, support for regional stability and the fight against terrorism and the phenomenon of foreign fighters. The key can be used to support the modernization of the Uzbek border service.

On economic issues, the EU can use planned by Uzbekistan diversification of export markets for their agricultural products by creating for them preferential trading conditions. Poland should support such activities and warrants them a dialogue on human rights and democracy, and extend the offer of scholarships for young people from Uzbekistan.

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“Creeping Revolution” – Is Armenia going to plunge into terror? http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/09/23/creeping-revolution-is-armenia-going-to-plunge-into-terror/ http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/09/23/creeping-revolution-is-armenia-going-to-plunge-into-terror/#respond Fri, 23 Sep 2016 10:29:40 +0000 http://www.eastbook.eu/en/?p=202976 The July crisis

 
17th July armed group took the police building in Yerevan, demanding the release of dissident Zirayr Selfiyan, as well as resignation of the government. During the assault on the building a policeman was killed and the attackers took several hostages, including Deputy Chief of Police of Armenia. The attackers called residents of Yerevan to go out to the streets. As a result of that in front of the occupied building began to gather demonstrators who wanted to pass a food to attackers. On the night from 20th to 21th of July, when the police did not agree to that, demonstrators clashed with police officers. Many people has been arrested in order to prevent an escalation of protests.

Parallel to the occupation of the building social moods deteriorated. There were more demonstrations, arrests and clashes between the protesters and police. The culmination of the events took place on 30th July, when in the result of the shot from a sniper rifle from the occupied police station, another policeman has been killed. After that taking the building by force by police became more probable, after two weeks of negotiations. However, on 31th July attackers surrendered. The international community, including the European Union, the United States and Russia have condemned the use of violence to induce political changes in Armenia. Similar appeals have issued other political parties in Armenia and the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II.

Direct motives of attackers

 
The attackers are veterans of fights in Nagorno-Karabakh, which increased sympathy of Yerevan`s residents for them, as people generally respected. Some of them are related to the so-called group “Daredevil of Sassun”, regarded as part of the armed wing of radical opposition (Sassun is a legendary medieval warrior for the freedom of Armenians).

The attackers demanded the release of Zirayr Selfiyana, a radical opponent of the current president. Selfiyan was born in Lebanon, where he participated in the civil war. Later he deserved as a veteran of the war in Nagorno Karabakh and based his political career on that fact. He criticized the government for insufficient support of Armenian separatists of Nagorno-Karabakh. After the aggravation of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh in the spring of this year, he began to publicly criticize the President for being too submissive in relation to Moscow.

In recent years, he was repeatedly arrested on charges of anti-governmental conspiracy. He was arrested again in June this year on charges of illegal possession of weapon. His imprisonment was part of neutralization radical circles in Armenia as a result of Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations with participation of Russia. His antagonistic attitude in relation to Moscow and demands to exclude Moscow from the format of the negotiations Yerevan-Baku was important excuse to do that.

Selfiyan and his supporters are gathered around political party “The Founding Parliament”, which had been seen as a marginal political force with a radical demands. However, the situation in the country favours radical moods, critical towards authorities. Althouth demonstrations have not of mass or nationwide character, they highlighted the resources of social discontent.

Several thousand of protesters, who came on the streets, partly expressed support for the demands of strikers, but in a much greater extent demonstrated their disapproval for the current ruling elites. Among the demonstrators appeared many veterans of War in Karabakh, what only strengthened their social acceptance. As a result of that the government hesitated about the use and scale of the use of coercive measures against the crowd for fear of escalating protests.

Indirect causes

 
The three most important factors that motivated indirectly both attackers attacking a police station and people manifesting support for attackers are: dissatisfaction with the government’s policy according to Nagorno-Karabakh, enhancing wave of antipathy towards Russia and the poor economic situation in the country.

Selfiyan`s demands about Nagorno-Karabakh, previously considered radical, hit the fertile ground of society. This happened as a result of the harshest years of Armenian-Azerbaijani clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh in the spring of this year. The crisis has proven that government policy does not improve the security of Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh itself. Also brought unfavorable from the perspective of Yerevan concept of the peace process, proposed by Russia. Moscow, during the peace negotiations in the framework of so-called “Minsk Group” of the OSCE since 2014 has been presenting the idea of ending the conflict as a result of the transfer part of Azerbaijan lands occupied by Armenian troops in 1994.

This idea is not acceptable for the Armenians, for whom the issue of Karabakh is the core of state policy. It opposed by both the Armenian society raised on unconditional respect for the veterans of Karabakh, as well as the political elite, centered around the so-called “Karabakh Clan”. However, the president did not express unequivocally negative attitude to this concept. It was conditioned by political dependence on Moscow and therefore attempt a diplomatic silence on this proposal was a reasonable tactic. However, it caused a commotion in the social fear of the adoption of this proposal, which also coincided with a growing aversion towards Russia.

The Russian factor

 
Russia is the main guarantor of Armenia`s security since obtaining its independence in 1991. This is confirmed by running 102. Russian Military Base in Gyumri and the Russian Air Base “Erebuni” in Yerevan, and also a common air defense system, longstanding arms contracts and the membership of Armenia in Eurasian Economic Union (set up in 2015) and the Organisation of the Collective Security Treaty. However, the Armenian-Russian alliance for the Armenians is increasingly unpleasant necessity in the context of the international situation of the country – the war with Azerbaijan and the lack of relations with Turkey.

The decline of trust towards Russia is conditioned by its attitude towards the crisis of Nagorno-Karabakh, where Russia is trying to play the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict to their particular interests and presents a solution unfavorable for the Armenians. Negatively is also seen increasing trade in weapons of Russia with Azerbaijan, which is interpreted by Armenians as “fraternizing with the enemy” and “playing on two fronts” by their ally, namely Russia.

To these factors come experiences at the social level, such as the matter of a Russian soldier from a base in Gyumri, which in January 2015 murdered 7-seater Armenian family. They are becoming increasingly important also economic considerations – it is estimated that small entrepreneurs from Armenia lost financially on its accession to EEU, because they have been imposed unfavorable customs restrictions on the import of goods from abroad. For many Armenians engaged in retail trade, it was a cut off the main source of income in the face of consistently poor economic situation.

The new prime minister

 
13th September as a result of the resignation Howik Abraham, which was a consequence of the July events, President Serz Sargsyan appointed to this position of Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, his long-time collaborator in the Republican Party of Armenia and member of the “Karabakh Clan”, to which the President also belongs. His appointment to the office of the Prime Minister is trying to be approximation of the ruling elites with environments criticizing it for ineffective policy towards the Nagorno-Karabakh (mostly veterans of the war over Nagorno-Karabakh), because Karapetyan was born in Stapankert and could be seen as a person who understands the importance of this issue to the public. However Karapetyan is known from his previous engagement in the energy sector, where he was a longtime collaborator of companies controlled by the Russian Gazprom, such as ArmRosGazprom, Gazprombank and Gazprom Miezregiongaz.

He also held in the past functions in government and was the Mayor of Yerevan in 2010-2011. He is widely perceived as a politician subordinated to Sargsyan and pro-Russian. It is not highly valued by the Armenian public opinion mainly through its close contacts with Russia and unpopular decisions from the days when he ruled Yerevan (including ban of street trading or organizing courses of Russian for city administration, in cooperation with the Russian embassy). These facts do not allow to formulate the positive forecasts for the stability and reformist potential of his rule, as well as to calmness of the public mood.

Conclusions

 
The internal situation in Armenia will not improve as a result of the limited trade with neighbors (Turkey and Azerbaijan do not have it at all), not having significant mineral deposits and long-term war with prosperous Azerbaijan. But these are not the sole reasons for the low standard of living in the country, because the influence on it have also oligarchization of the state, which leads to growing social stratification, and pervasive corruption. This crisis is a natural cause of dissatisfaction with the policies of the current government, especially in the context of last year’s mass strikes and demonstrations in response to the increase in energy prices.

The July events in Yerevan were the result of radicalization of public sentiment caused by the escalation of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Russia again tried to play their goals in Armenian-Azeri conflict. Demonstrations in defense of the attackers who attacked the police station, met with greater social response than it was expected as a result of general social discontent.

This year’s unrest in Armenia should be seen as part of the ongoing process, which is based both on economic and political factors. Experience of previous years manifestations such as, “Apricot Revolution” in 2013 or last years riots do not allow to create a positive outlook for the stability in Armenia as long as it does not improve the living conditions of its citizens.
The unstable situation puts into question the peaceful parliamentary elections which are to take place in the spring of 2017 in Armenia. In recent years, the opposition protested against election law violations, and therefore institutions such as the OSCE, the EU and CoE should look carefully at democratic standards in this country. There are concerns in the context of the constitutional reform from December 2015, that the ruling Republican Party of Armenia will want to consolidate their power in the country once again, even using undemocratic methods.

However, even in conditions of full democracy opposition is too broken and deprived of constructive program. Worrying is the radicalization of extreme environments of the opposition, who are ready to use a violence to achieve political goals, as was in July. Operational tactic like this is closer to the methodology of terrorist groups activities.

Poland, which has historical ties with Armenia and the environment of “Polish Armenians” in the country should use soft measures of pressure, both on the authorities in Yerevan and on the opposition, in order to respect democratic standards in that country. Valuable may be the Polish experience of political transformation.

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Solidarity Academy Baltic Sea Youth Dialogue 2016 – Call for applications http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/09/13/solidarity-academy-baltic-sea-youth-dialogue-2016-call-for-applications/ http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/09/13/solidarity-academy-baltic-sea-youth-dialogue-2016-call-for-applications/#respond Tue, 13 Sep 2016 07:07:06 +0000 http://www.eastbook.eu/en/?p=202095 The Solidarity Academy is an international project aimed at inspiring and supporting the development of the young intellectual elites of Europe. The main values and rules of the project are: respect for others, openness to self-development, cooperation, tolerance, willingness to discuss even the most difficult topics, awareness of the cultural differentiation, and a readiness to receive feedback.

At the workshops and lectures held during the Solidarity Academy, 16 young journalists will have the opportunity to expand their knowledge and develop skills useful for the work of an ambitious journalist, commentator or analyst interested in such issues as geopolitics or liberation movements on both a local and global/ European scale.

Eligibility

The Solidarity Academy team is looking for 16 active, aspiring and young (20-30 years old) journalists from the Baltic Sea states who are willing to improve their editorial and journalism-related skills and engage themselves into the international networking process.

List of Baltic Sea states according to Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) can be found here. Candidates from CBSS Observer states are also encouraged to apply. List of Observers can be found here.

Costs

Organizers cover the costs of travel (up to 300 €) and the participants’ stay in Gdansk, trip to and from Kaliningrad and a stay in Kaliningrad.

Agenda of the project and Programme of the Academy

The agenda of the project:
25 August – 11 September: call for applications
18 September: deadline of the recruitment results
13 – 30 November: Solidarity Academy in Gdańsk (6 days) and in Kaliningrad (2 days)
30 November – 31 December: implementation of the final project
The Programme of this year’s Solidarity Academy is attached to the call for applications.

Application form

The application form is available here. Please note that all applications must be received by 23 September 2016.

Language

The working language of the Solidarity Academy is English.

Trip to Kaliningrad

Part of the programme of the Solidarity Academy will be held in Gdańsk (6 days) and part (2 days) in Kaliningrad. Organizers will provide participants visas to Kaliningrad and cover transportation costs to and from Kaliningrad as well as their stay there (accommodation and board).

Final projects

One of the tasks that participants will be obliged to complete as part of the programme is the creation and implementation of a final project. Firstly, participants will be able to decide on their preferred sphere of interest (society/politics/history/culture) and mark their choice on the application form.

Secondly, participants will have a special workshop dedicated to the process of creating and implementing the final project. They will work on 4 ideas in 4 working groups (according to their interests, resources, needs and ideas). Thirdly, participants will present their ideas during the final day of the Solidarity Academy.

Finally, participants, together with organizers and partners, will decide on the best final project and implement it by 31 December 2016. The cost of the final project implementation is covered by the project budget but responsibility for this implementation lies with the participants of the Solidarity Academy, supported by the partners and organizer of the project.

Participants’ commitments

Applying to the Solidarity Academy applicants are expected to be aware of:
• The project’s aim, main values and rules;
• The project’s agenda (especially the fixed dates of the Solidarity Academy);
• The costs of travel that participants will have to cover on their own before its reimbursement (up to 100 euros);
• The full commitment and engagement into the implementation of the final project and other project tasks according to the agenda.

Previous editions

We also invite you to watch the film about Solidarity Academy 2013, Solidarity Academy 2014, Solidarity Academy 2015 and Solidarity Academy 2016 (Visegrad edition).

More information and contact to the organizers

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the organizational team: academy@solidarity.org.pl. More information about the project → ecs.gda.pl, solidarityacademy.eu. Follow us also on Facebook. We are looking forward to meeting you in Gdansk!

The project is organized by the European Solidarity Centre (Poland) and Council of the Baltic Sea States (headquarters in Sweden).

Partners of the project:

• The Common Europe Foundation – editorial office of the Eastbook.eu (Poland)
• The Friedrich Ebert Foundation (Germany)
• The Jan Nowak-Jeziorański College of Eastern Europe in Wroclaw – editorial office of New Eastern Europe (Poland)
• The Schleswig-Holstein Youth Council (Germany)

The project is co-financed by the Federal Republic of Germany’s Federal Foreign Office.

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Notes from the camp: The big challenge of the generation http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/09/02/notes-from-the-camps-the-big-challenge-of-the-generation/ http://www.eastbook.eu/en/2016/09/02/notes-from-the-camps-the-big-challenge-of-the-generation/#respond Fri, 02 Sep 2016 06:15:54 +0000 http://www.eastbook.eu/en/?p=202156 Taking a decision about working in a refugee camp is not an easy one but once taken gives a sense of mission and pure satisfaction. Informing people about it, not that much. Incomprehension would be the standard reaction. In my country, Poland, I also faced hostile and racist arguments. An assumption that my goal at the Serbian-Hungarian border is to open it widely for migrants seemed to dominate. My explanations that the project is all about food distribution, brought only new adverse arguments. Shall we start with my motivation then?

The big challenge of the generation

So many complain about “the young generation with no ambitions and no great challenges” that our parents and grandparents had to face: fighting communism, First and Second World War. In my view, the refugee crisis is the big challenge of “the generation with no ambitions” living in the visual culture. The kind of Europe we and future generations will live in depends on how we are going to solve this matter at the political, humanitarian and cultural level. Simple and obvious? Of course but the crisis in Europe is on for several years, and the situation seems to deteriorate. We fail at the political level. Do we at the purely human one as well? That is what I wanted to find out in Serbia.

Following the news I couldn’t resist the feeling that there is not enough information and the ones presented are very selective, too selective. We face either extremely sad pictures of exhausted Syrian children or very hostile opinions. In Poland, the most common refugee context usually refers to Ukrainians. Not entering the political side of this dispute I want to notice an obvious fact, that ignoring the topic of southern refugees doesn’t mean it will vanish.

Refugees are coming to Europe whether we wish for it or not and will shape our societies. According to UNHCR 270, 547 people reached Europe by sea since the beginning of this year. A majority of them will settle in the EU countries. Our influence on who exactly is it going to be is insignificant. At this moment, Syrians and Iraqis have the best chances to be granted asylum.

Barbed wire at the Serbian-Hungarian border, photo: Sonia Nandzik ⓒ

Barbed wire at the Serbian-Hungarian border, photo: Sonia Nandzik ⓒ

It is certain that banning this process completely is impossible. We can, however, influence the future process of refugee integration in Europe by treating them with dignity at the borders, by providing humanitarian and psychological aid as well as education in the camps.

Believing in everything I have written above I felt that my criticism towards political and humanitarian solutions is less credible if I myself, a person with skills, knowledge, and compassion am unwilling to sacrifice some time and effort for the cause I care about. So I packed my bag and headed south.

Why northern Serbia?

I have chosen northern Serbia where the situation seemed to be the least certain and the least well organized. In Greece where the temporary camps turned into permanent ones, the big international organizations are very visible and in cooperation with the government and many volunteers have put in place a system that seems to work. Of course, it is still a crisis situation, but the system works. The situation in Serbia seemed to be less optimistic.

Official refugee camp in Subotica, photo: Sonia Nandzik ⓒ

Official refugee camp in Subotica, photo: Sonia Nandzik ⓒ

I find Serbia interesting also from the political point of view. It struggles with a high level of corruption and poverty and other problems typical for that region, however already in 2009 it officially applied for the EU membership. After pledging to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and sending the last war criminals to the Hague, in 2012 Serbia was granted a full candidate status. Serbian government understands that the refugee crisis can help the country with the EU negotiations. Therefore it presents itself as a state that copes with the situation better than many EU countries including its neighbor, Hungary.

The biggest irony of this situation lies in the fact that Serbia argues this at the moment when the European borders start to close and it may be forced to admit tens of thousands of refugees while not even being in the European Union. It is not a comfortable situation neither for Serbia nor for refugees, most of which consider this country only a transit one.

At the border

Since the construction of a fence at the Serbian-Hungarian border, passing to the EU is difficult but still possible. The system works in a simple way. After reaching the border region, refugees and migrants have to register and are assigned to either the official camp in Subotica or one of the two transit zone ones in Kelebija or Horgos.

A family in Kelebija refugee camp, photo: Sonia Nandzik ⓒ

A family in Kelebija refugee camp, photo: Sonia Nandzik ⓒ

Every day 30 people can cross the border: 28 family members and two single men after being detained for one month (I will describe details of this particular practice in one of the next blogs). The registration list changes frequently and nobody seems to know how does it exactly work, but some rules are in place. Priority has been given to refugees over migrants; Syrians and Iraqis are usually on the top of the list. After crossing, they will be questioned by the Hungarian authorities and assigned to one of the camps in Hungary.

Refugees know that Hungary is a country hostile to them.

Refugees know that Hungary is a country hostile to them. Many have witnessed brutal treatment at the border. However, they speak highly about other EU countries, which is why they take the risk and continue their journey. Hardly anyone goes to the allocated camp. Most board trains or buses and head west. Hungarian authorities do not even stand up for the crowds that did not make it to the camps. Neither they want refugees in their country, nor want refugees to stay there.

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