Highlights from our coverage region: Hungary to end coronavirus decree; Russia plans parades; Montenegrin border closed for Serbians; Kazakhstan’s protest law; and Polish animal rights NGOs fall on hard times.
Orban’s Powers to Rule by Decree Could End in June
Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga announced yesterday that she would submit legislation to parliament putting an end to the country’s “state of danger” on 20 June, The Guardian writes. The legislation, passed in late March, has allowed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to rule by decree for an indefinite period of time. “We expect those who have attacked us with unjust political accusations to apologize for leading a slander campaign,” Varga wrote on Facebook, while also noting that coronavirus legislation ended earlier in Hungary than in many other European countries. The law was criticized by international organizations, including the European Union, with some arguing that it was transforming Hungary into a dictatorship. It also led to an increase in the number of Hungarians arrested and detained under the emergency law for allegedly publishing “false information” on social media. Still, it might be too soon to rejoice, warns Peter Kreko, who runs the Political Capital think tank in Budapest. The emergency laws “still have a month to go, and we also don’t know which measures will remain in place after the state of danger is ended,” Kreko told The Guardian.
Russia Past Viral Peak, Plans V-Day Parade in June
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced yesterday that, given the flattening curve of the coronavirus pandemic in Russia, the country should get ready to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in late June, according to The Moscow Times. “I order the start of preparations for the military parade … in Moscow and other cities. We’ll do it on 24 June,” Putin said. The date has been chosen to coincide with the 1945 victory parade in Moscow, Putin said in a televised meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The number of daily infections has been under 10,000 over the past few days – with 8,915 new coronavirus infections confirmed yesterday, bringing the total number of cases to 362,342 – and some parts of the country have started to open up. Additionally, restrictions on the tourism industry will begin to ease on 1 June with the restart of operations at health resorts with medical licenses, and, in a number of regions, hotels with cottage accommodations and apartment hotels.
Serbia Feels Left Out as Montenegro Plans to Reopen Borders
Belgrade is at odds with Podgorica, again – this time over the latter’s decision to open its borders to a select number of countries, which don’t include Serbia, AP reports. After declaring itself coronavirus-free, Montenegro is ready to welcome citizens from countries meeting a criteria set by the country’s health authorities: at most 25 COVID-19 patients per 100,000 inhabitants. According to Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, that includes Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Poland, Czechia, Hungary, Albania, and Greece. “We will open the borders to the countries that have a similar epidemiological status,” he said. “We will not ask for special tests; everyone will receive clear instructions on what awaits them in the country and what regulations they must respect.” The announcement has left Serbia, home to the largest number of Montenegro’s visitors in the past, fuming. However, AP notes that Belgrade did not say that it met Montenegro’s entry criteria. The two countries have found themselves at odds over a number of issues in recent years, such as a dispute over a church law adopted last year in Montenegro, which most has made Serbia wary of losing its Orthodox brethren to a rival church.
Kazakh Protest Law Still Short of International Standards, Critics Say
Kazakhstan adopted a controversial freedom of assembly law on 25 May, which eases some restrictions, while tightening others, AFP writes. The new law still includes the requirement to apply for permission ahead of holding a demonstration – which in the past meant an almost total ban on political rallies, which were seldom approved. Additionally, measures allow rallies to take place only in certain approved locations, most likely on the outskirts of cities, which would decrease their visibility, critics say. “There is nothing in international conventions on freedom of assembly about some sort of ‘designated places,'” Yevgeniy Zhovtis, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, told AFP. “There is either freedom to assemble or its lack.” After noting that four people had been arrested in a span of 10 days in April for holding unsanctioned rallies, Mihra Rittmann, a senior researcher for Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, wrote: “Kazakh authorities seem intent on punishing citizens for attempting to exercise their right to express their views publicly.”
Animal Rights Organizations in Poland Fear for Their Survival
The coronavirus epidemic and ensuing lockdown are threatening the survival of animal sanctuaries in Poland, which find themselves short of volunteers and donations, Reporting Democracy writes. Additionally, some people are returning animals they adopted in the past; for instance, the Warsaw-based Pegasus Foundation took back 11 horses previously sent into foster care. Compounding such difficulties, the severe drought in Poland has driven up the price of hay, which is the main food for many animals in shelters. “After a few difficult years, we were getting rid of the debt created by the previous economic crisis,” Agata Rybkowska, from the Pegasus Foundation, told Reporting Democracy. “Now, suddenly, the coronavirus is putting us back again.” A legislative proposal under consideration in Poland would make life even harder for such organizations, which could potentially have to declare any foreign sources of financing, Reuters writes. “For the sake of the good image of NGOs it would be good to find out where their money comes from. Those that have nothing to hide have no reasons to be afraid,” Ryszard Czarnecki, a member of the European Parliament, told Reuters.