Regional headlines: remembering the Roma Holocaust; “constructive” talks between Iran and Ukraine; coronavirus vaccine in Russia; Japanese bail out Lithuanian museum; and state secrets in North Macedonia.

European Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma Marked at Auschwitz 

European leaders, state officials, and survivors commemorated European Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, Al Jazeera writes. Yesterday’s event fell on the same date as the massacre on the night of 2 August 1944, when German guards murdered thousands of men, women, and children in gas chambers as part of an operation to liquidate what was then called the “Gypsy family camp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The commemoration was attended by representatives of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and Germany’s Central Council of Jews, making this their first shared remembrance of the Sinti and Roma killed at the camp. In a statement released ahead of yesterday’s day of rememberance, high officials of the European Commission spoke about Europe’s duty “to protect its minorities from racism and discrimination,” and said: “We must replace anti-gypsyism with openness and acceptance, hate speech and hate crime with tolerance and respect for human dignity, and bullying with education about the Holocaust.“ As Deutsche Welle notes, Nazi Germany launched an extermination campaign against Romani peoples, killing an estimated 500,000 of them, out of which around 20,000 were killed at Auschwitz alone.

Kyiv Holds “Constructive Talks” with Tehran Over Downed Airplane 

“We saw Iran was disposed to have a serious and substantive conversation,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said following the first round of talks with the country’s representatives last Friday, Reuters writes. Last month, the Civil Aviation Organisation of Iran (CAOI) blamed “human error” and poor military communication for the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January. The Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737 plane crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran; all passengers – including 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, three Germans, and three Britons – died. A month later, Iran announced that it would no longer cooperate with Ukraine on the crash investigation, after Ukrainian media obtained an audio recording allegedly of an Iranian pilot about to land at Tehran’s international airport, who reported a suspicious sight. If talks with Iran falter, Kuleba said Ukraine will “go to international courts and I have absolutely no doubt that we will bring Iran to justice. But this is plan B,” Reuters reports. “And plan A is negotiations with Iran and the solution of all these issues and the payment of compensation.”

Contradictory Accounts Surround Coronavirus Vaccine Release in Russia 

A vaccine developer dispelled claims that Russians might be vaccinated against the coronavirus as early as October. But the director-general of the Vektor State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology, Rinat Maksyutov, did confirm yesterday that his institution would start manufacturing a vaccine this fall, Radio Free Europe writes. “We expect to start production already in November this year,” Maksyutov told Rossiya-1 TV’s Vesti program, as cited by RFE. “So closer to the end of this year and the start of next year we can talk about switching to vaccination at least for [people] from risk groups with a further switch to massive vaccination.” Maksyutov’s statements are at odds with those of Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, who said that doctors and teachers would be the first to receive the vaccine in October, according to the BBC. Last month, Russian Ambassador to UK Andrei Kelin denied claims that Russian intelligence services attempted to steal research into the development of a vaccine against the coronavirus. The rebuttal came after Britain, the U.S., and Canada said that a group of hackers linked to Russian intelligence, known as the Dukes or Cozy Bear, have targeted research bodies around the world, including in the UK. 

Japan Extends Economic Lifeline to Lithuanian Museum Dedicated to Holocaust Figure

A cash-strapped museum in the south-central city of Kaunas has been rescued by a Japanese fundraiser, AP writes. Dedicated to Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who served as vice-consul at the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas during 1939-1940, the memorial is located in the villa that served as the consulate. During his time in Kaunas, Sugihara issued transit visas to Japan to nearly 6,000 Jewish refugees, most of them from neighboring Poland, thus helping them survive the Holocaust. Since the vast majority of its visitors have come from Japan, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and ensuing travel restrictions meant that the museum risked closing its gates for good. “Tickets sales are our main income resource. Japanese used to make up 85 percent of the visitors. Now, the visitors from Japan are gone, so is our income” museum director Ramunas Janulaitis said. However, the threat has been averted thanks to donations coming from Sugihara’s birth country, which total 30,000 euros (about $35,600), with Japanese Ambassador Shiro Yamasaki saying that another round of donations are expected for the fall. Prague’s Jewish Quarter faced a similar financial conundrum at the start of the pandemic, which paralyzed tourism in the popular Central European destination.

North Macedonian Media Concerned After Editor Accused of Revealing State Secrets

Journalists and media unions in North Macedonia announced they would look into the case against the owner and editor in chief of the Ekonomski Lider news portal, Ljupcho Zlatev, who faces five years in jail after being accused of revealing classified, illegally obtained information, Balkan Insight writes. Zlatev published two articles last month about a former employee of the Directorate for Security and Counterintelligence, UBK, which was recently transformed into the Agency for National Security (ANB) after a huge wire-tapping scandal. The man did not pass the security checks needed to transfer into the ANB, allegedly as a result of his father taking part in protests against changing the name of the country. Zlatev, however, is “often perceived as a propagandist rather than a journalist,” according to Balkan Insight, which also notes that editor has repeatedly faced complaints of unethical and unprofessional conduct related to his work, filed at the Journalistic Council of Ethics, a self-regulation body. “I published [the texts] because after one father attended the protests against the change of name [to the country], his son lost his security certificate and the chance to work in the ANB,” he wrote on social media.

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu