From 2 August to 5 September, demonstration activity increased across Eastern Europe. Key developments include: a surge in demonstrations against the government of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus following fraudulent elections; large demonstrations in Bulgaria against government corruption; and continued demonstrations in Russia against repressive actions by the government.
In Belarus, demonstrations over dissatisfaction with electoral fraud in the presidential elections were dispersed with excessive force by special purpose police in almost all major cities (RFE/RL, 10 August 2020). Major demonstrations, with tens of thousands of participants, continued daily across the country, particularly in Minsk (RFE/RL, 1 September 2020). The government has hardened its stance against demonstrators and has accused numerous European states of orchestrating the demonstrations (TASS, 10 August, 2020). Demonstrations in solidarity with Belarus took place across the region — including in Russia, Ukraine, and Cyprus — and beyond. The leading opposition candidate, and likely winner of the presidential election, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was forcefully expelled to Lithuania. However, the opposition and civil society formed a “Coordination Council” that is meant to facilitate an eventual peaceful transfer of power (RFE/RL, 25 August 2020).
In Russia, the Khabarovsk demonstrations in support of governor Sergei Furgal, who has faced what his supporters call political persecution by the Russian state, continued to attract large crowds in Khabarovsk and elsewhere (DW, 29 August 2020). Environmental demonstrators in Bashkortostan over the right to set up soda mining operations erupted into a series of clashes involving thousands of demonstrators and hundreds of police and private security guards on 16 August (MediaZone, 17 August 2020). The demonstrators seemingly prevailed after local authorities announced that they would designate Kushtau a protected zone, prohibiting mining. Separately, a series of demonstrations began with the poisoning of prominent opposition activist Alexey Navalny on 20 August, attracting hundreds of people across several cities (RFE/RL, 21 August 2020). Navalny has been the leading opposition figure in Russia for years and has repeatedly criticized the Russian government for corruption and inefficiency. The Russian government has faced accusations that it kills prominent members of the opposition, including Boris Nemtsov in 2015 (DW, 27 February, 2020).
In Bulgaria, major demonstrations against government corruption continued. Citizens engaged in various forms of civil unrest, such as road blockades, car processions, throwing eggs and tomatoes at government buildings, and performing artistic, and symbolic acts. Justice Minister Kirilov resigned on 27 August, on the country’s fiftieth consecutive day of unrest, amidst criticism that he failed to address corruption (EuroNews, 28 August). Prime Minister Borisov has attempted to appease demonstrators by calling for a “restart” of democracy through the rewriting of the Bulgarian Constitution. Demonstration organizers rejected this suggestion and said that rewriting the constitution “will allow the mafia to create its own basic law” in a “failed and distrusted parliament with a majority dictated by its oligarchic government” (RFE/RL, 20 August).
In Montenegro, general elections were held on 31 August. Three oppositional coalitions claimed victory over the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which governed Montenegro for 30 years. The DPS regime was weakened after it adopted the Religious Freedom Law, which the Serbian Orthodox Church felt targeted it unfairly. This sparked demonstrations that began with the Law’s adoption in December 2019, and continued until the elections (RFE/RL, 31 August 2020).
Regional negotiations resulted in some progress in Ukraine and between Serbia and Kosovo. In Ukraine, fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-led separatists continued, though at markedly lower levels than prior to the 22 July ceasefire agreement (Euromaidan Press, 28 July, 2020). Previous such ceasefire agreements have eroded over the course of several months. Serbia and Kosovo signed an agreement on economic and energy issues in the United States on 4 September. This is the first treaty signed since Serbia and Kosovo resumed dialogue, which had been halted in late December 2018 (Balkan Insight, 4 September 2020).
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