Demonstrations related to the pandemic and other issues increased last week, particularly in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Notable developments include the surge in anti-government demonstrations in Serbia and labor groups demonstrating over the economic effects of coronavirus measures in Ukraine.
In Serbia, nightly demonstrations against the government and anti-democratic policies surged, with citizens protesting from their balconies in over three dozen cities. This, in turn, triggered pro-government demonstrations from organized groups, facilitated by the government.
In Albania, labor protests took place in multiple different towns, with market vendors, manufacturers, and fishermen demanding government aid, requesting compensation for unpaid salaries, or denouncing high oil prices. The first trip of Prime Minister Edi Rama since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic was met with demonstrations by oil workers over the lack of promised government assistance (Albanian Daily News, 1 May 2020).
In North Macedonia, truck drivers organized a vehicle procession in the capital against increased fuel tax and called for the government to support the transport sector (Macedonian Information Agency, 28 April 2020).
In Bulgaria, a group of residents staged a protest calling for the president resign over “dividing the nation” amidst the coronavirus pandemic, as he has frequently contradicted government measures and policies (Sega, 2 May 2020).
In Greece, two days of violence erupted between African and Afghan migrants at the Vathy migrant camp on Samos, which was partially evacuated after several fires had broken out. Despite progress on moving migrants from the islands to mainland camps, tensions on the islands continue, particularly after decongestion plans were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic (Ekathimerini, 29 April 2020). Labor groups protested without incident ahead of Labor Day and May Day in Athens and across the country despite the coronavirus lockdown. In Athens, protesters lined up carefully in rows to maintain social distancing (AMNA, 1 May 2020; The National Herald, 1 May 2020).
In Cyprus, telecommunications antennas were sabotaged after disinformation was spread about links between 5G technology and coronavirus (Ekathimerini, 29 April 2020). A riot broke out at Limassol police headquarters with prisoners setting fire to their mattresses after an inmate was diagnosed with coronavirus.
In Romania, the police clashed with several rioting mobs that had gathered in violation of the coronavirus lockdown (News.ro, 2 May 2020; Digi24, 30 April 2020; Agerpres, 28 April 2020).
Protesters in Chisinau, Moldova, demanded lower lockdown violation fees and the resumption of regular economic activity (TV8, 29 April 2020).
Environmental protests continued in Brest, Belarus, with protesters demanding President Alexander Lukashenka’s resignation and the release of three protest leaders, but also warning about the similarities between the government response to the Chernobyl disaster and the coronavirus pandemic (Svaboda.org, 26 April 2020).
In Russia, due to lockdown measures, the typically numerous Labor Day rallies were not held. Disorder over the coronavirus crisis continues, with a smattering of small-scale protests over the government response, all dispersed by police on grounds of violating self-isolation and quarantine measures (Kommersant, 29 April 2020; OVD Info, 30 April 2020). Workers at a gas field in Yakutia staged a protest over the lack of coronavirus precautions and safety equipment (Novaya Gazeta, 30 April 2020). The crisis continues to strain healthcare workers and hospital supplies, with rumors circulating over shortages and infection cases being suppressed by hospital management and government officials, and healthcare workers threatened over speaking out (Meduza, 1 May 2020). In addition, the Federal Security Service reported that it eliminated three alleged Islamic State militants during a special operation in Yekaterinburg (Meduza, 30 April 2020).
In Ukraine, more than a dozen demonstrations were staged by small business owners and farmers suffering financial losses due to the coronavirus lockdown (Radio Svoboda, 28 April 2020). Health workers also protested in different cities demanding increased pay for the period of quarantine (ZIK, 30 April 2020).
Peace talks on the armed conflict in the Donbas region, held on 30 April, made little progress and were hampered by disagreements over the role of rebel groups in the negotiations (AFP, 1 May 2020; see also this recent ACLED report). Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and separatist rebels continued at similar levels compared to the week prior, with 135 armed clashes and 149 shelling incidents resulting in three reported fatalities.
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