Russia this week completed a high-tech security fence along annexed Crimea's border with mainland Ukraine. The fence, more than 60 kilometers long, is topped with barbed wire and equipped with hundreds of sensors. Russia's FSB security agency in a statement called the fence a "boundary of engineering structures," and said it is necessary to prevent "infiltration attempts by saboteurs," also citing traffic in drugs, arms and other contraband. The statement boasted of "the most complicated system of alarm sensors in the Isthmus of Perekop," the stretch of land where annexed Crimea borders the Ukrainian mainland.
In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orban''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. He dismissed the opposition to the law as "hysterical shouting" by people "whose lies have no limits." In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment.
The Parliament of Kosovo approved a package of bills on Dec. 14 that will allow Kosovo to form a military and defense ministry. All three bills—one establishing a Defense Ministry, one that converts the limited Kosovo Security Forces (KSF) into a professional army, and another that regulates service in the forces—garnered convincing majority votes in Kosovo’s 120-seat legislature, with 101, 98 and 96 yes-votes respectively. Notably absent for the vote, however, were the Parliament's ethnic Serb MPs.
The Yellow Vest movement in France scored a victory, as the government of President Emmanuel Macron agreed to suspend a controversial fuel tax after weeks of increasingly violent protests. This may be concretely a win for the working class, but the fact that Macron imposed the tax in the name of reducing carbon emissions has provided fodder for anti-environmental content to the protest movement. Exploiting this moment, Donald Trump blamed the uprising on the Paris climate accord, tweeting: "The Paris Agreement isn't working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting 'We Want Trump!' Love France."
In Episode 17 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses growing repression against the Tatar people of the Crimea, and the abrogation of their autonomous government by the Russian authorities since Moscow's illegal annexation of the peninsula. This is a clear parallel to violation of the territorial rights of the Lakota people in the United States through construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the legal persecution of indigenous leaders who stood against it. The parallel is even clearer in the cases of the Evenks and Telengit, indigenous peoples of Siberia, resisting Russian construction of pipelines through their traditional lands. Yet the US State Department's Radio Free Europe aggressively covers the Tatar struggle, while Kremlin propaganda organ Russia Today (RT) aggressively covered the Dakota Access protests. Indigenous struggles are exploited in the propaganda game played by the rival superpowers. With the struggles of the Tsleil-Waututh people of British Columbia against the Trans Mountain Pipeline and the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota against the Line 3 Pipeline now heating up, it is imperative that indigenous peoples and their allies overcome the divide-and-rule game and build solidarity across borders and influence spheres. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Four years after Russia's annexation of Crimea, repression is mounting against the peninsula's Tatar people—whose autonomous powers, officially recognized under Ukrainian rule, have been unilaterally revoked. The group Human Rights in Ukraine is demanding that Russian authorities provide details on the death at the hands of Russian agents of Vedzhie Kashka, an 83-year-old veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, last November. On Nov. 23, 2017, a team of Russian National Guard troops with OMON and FSB secret police officers carried out raids in which five Tatar leaders were briefly detained while their homes were searched. Kashka was among those targeted, and died during the operation. An initial report said Kashka had died of coronary artery disease, but an investigation carried out months later after her family had contracted a lawyer revealed that she had suffered several broken ribs. Authorities are still not providing an explanation.
A leading LGBT rights group projected messages for Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in giant letters on the wall of the Presidential Palace in Helsinki hours before the summit between the two leaders was set to open. "Trump and Putin: Stop the Crimes Against Humanity in Chechnya," read one message displayed by the Human Rights Campaign. Other projections read: "The whole world is watching" and "Silence is deadly." The group said in a tweet ahead of the action: "Last year, reports surfaced of Chechen authorities rounding up and detaining more than 100 men who were suspected of being gay or bisexual and 20 have been murdered. Today HRC confronted Trump and Putin in Helsinki over these crimes against humanity." The statement continued: "For more than 15 months, @realDonaldTrump has refused to publicly condemn the systematic torture, abuse and murder of LGBTQ people occurring in Chechnya as Vladimir Putin has licensed the violence to continue." (Mediaite)
The European Parliament on June 14 overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on Russian authorities to release Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, and all the other "illegally detained Ukrainian citizens" in Russia and Russia-annexed Crimea "immediately and unconditionally." Sentsov has been on hunger strike in a Russian prison in the far-northern Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region since May 14. He is demanding that Russia release 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners. Sentsov was arrested in Crimea in 2014, after Russia seized the Ukrainian region. A Russian court in 2015 convicted him of planning to commit terrorist acts and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. He denies the accusations.