Across Europe, demonstration events remained high in the week leading up to Christmas. The two weeks thereafter, surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Day, were traditionally calm, leading to a sharp overall decline in event numbers reported. Montenegro is the exception to this, as a new law affecting the Serbian Orthodox Church caused an unprecedented spike in demonstration events in the country.
In Republika Srpska, the Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, opposition protests and ruling-party counter-protests were organized in Banja Luka; this was after a disagreement between politicians on future relations with NATO turned violent inside the Parliament building (Balkan Insight, 26 December 2019).
Montenegro passed a controversial Religious Freedom Law that sparked dozens of protests, riots, and road blockades by Serbian Orthodox Christians across the country. It caused the largest spike in demonstrations in the country in the past two years. Protests also spread to Serbia and Bosnia. Under the law, religious communities have to prove ownership of property before 1918 in order to retain them. The Serbian Orthodox Church claims the law is specifically targeted to seize its property (Balkan Insight, 27 December 2019).
In Greece, tensions between anarchist actors and police forces rose throughout December, as the conservative government pursued its crackdown on ‘lawlessness’ and police raided a large number of squatted buildings. Claims of police misconduct surfaced amid the increased use of force (Ekathimerini, 18 December 2019; Greek Reporter, 20 December 2019). The situation in the migrant camps on the Greek islands continued to be precarious. Riots broke out in Samos (Ekathimerini, 19 December 2019) while protests in Moria were mostly peaceful.
In Belarus, protesters continued to rally against the rumored plans on the integration of Belarus and Russia. The protests were not dispersed by the police, but several opposition leaders were later arrested and sentenced to short prison terms for organizing the rallies. As the negotiations between Minsk and Moscow ended with no clear roadmap for integration, the Belarusians’ concerns diminished and the protests calmed down (RFE/RL, 29 December 2019)
In Romania, court clerks protested in dozens of Romanian cities across the country against the possible cancellation of their judicial pensions, causing unease with the new National Liberal Party of Romania (PNL)-led government in Bucharest (Agerpres, 18 December 2019).
In Russia, the last three weeks were relatively quiet. Demonstrations over ongoing issues, such as those in support of Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) officials or over waste management reforms, were held at lower rates than in weeks prior. In addition, two armed clashes were recorded, resulting in five reported fatalities. A single gunman attacked the Federal Security Service headquarters in Moscow (Meduza, December 22) and two Islamic State militants attacked a police post in Magas, in the North Caucasus (RFE/RL, 2 January 2020).
In Ukraine, demonstration events dropped after the last spike in mid-December against the liberalization of the land market. On 29 December, the Ukrainian government and rebel groups exchanged 200 prisoners, sparking controversy over the release of former members of the riot police involved in suppressing the 2013-2014 pro-European ‘Maidan’ demonstrations (RFE/RL, 30 December 2019). Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and separatist rebels calmed down, as also happened in previous holiday periods. Four fatalities were reported over the past three weeks. Armed clashes and shelling incidents dropped from around 260 per week to 160 per week.
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