Regional headlines: Kuciak-related arrests in Slovakia; Kosovo president resigns; fighting and boycotts in the Caucasus; a colorful photography competition; and a pro-corruption court ruling in Ukraine?

Former Top Slovak Police Figures Held Over Kuciak Case

Former Slovak police chief Tibor Gaspar and other former police officials were detained yesterday in connection with the case of murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée, Deutsche Welle writes. A police spokesperson said the operation, codenamed “Purgatory,” was triggered following an indictment for several crimes, including criminal conspiracy, corruption, and abuse of power, a spokeswoman said. No details on the charges were provided. Gaspar was among a number of top government officials forced to step down in the face of large-scale protests following the murders, which happened in February 2018. After his resignation, Gaspar unleashed a smear campaign targeting Aktuality.sk, the news website where the slain Kuciak worked. Millionaire Marian Kocner was accused of having commissioned Kuciak’s murder, with allegations he bribed and blackmailed judges and prosecutors in efforts to buy acquittals in his numerous fraud scandals, Radio Free Europe writes. However, Kocner was acquitted in September of the charge of having ordered Kuciak’s murder. At the time, the International Press Institute (IPI) said the verdict was “a major setback for justice and the fight against impunity.”

“Unassailable” Karabakh Fortress in the Frontline of Azeri-Armenian Conflict  

Azerbaijani forces are nearing the mountainous citadel of Shushi/Susa, whose fall could prove a pivotal moment in the conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Radio Free Europe reports. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev tweeted on 4 November that his troops are below the cliffs of Shushi, and claimed that Armenian forces “have already admitted defeat.” Azeri control of the nearby road would mean that Nagorno-Karabakh’s southern supply route, dubbed the Road of Life, would be cut off from Armenia, writes RFE. Highlighting Shushi’s importance, Arayik Harutyunyan, Nagorno-Karabakh de facto leader, announced in September that the seat of the National Assembly will be moved from Stepanakert, Karabakh’s capital, to Shushi in May 2022, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the disputed territory’s liberation from Azeri forces, Public Radio of Armenia writes. In other news from Azerbaijan, the Caucasus country has been boycotting companies that have expressed opinions on the Karabakh conflict that Baku deemed unpalatable, JAMnews reports. The companies include fast food joints McDonald’s, Burger King, and Papa John’s, and hygiene products manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, whose products were taken off the shelves of major stores until the company deleted a controversial post. 

Thaci Resigns to Face War Crimes Trial in The Hague  

Kosovo’s head of state announced yesterday that he was stepping down before facing an indictment at the Kosovo Specialist Chamber in The Hague, Deutsche Welle writes. “In order to protect the integrity of the office of the president and the country, as well as the dignity of the citizens, I resign from the position of president of the Republic of Kosovo,” Thaci told journalists. The former senior leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrilla group said that the head of Kosovo’s parliament will serve as acting president until a new one is elected. This summer, prosecutors indicted Thaci, senior Kosovo politician Kadri Veseli, and other former KLA fighters for murder and other crimes during the war. The indictment was welcomed by human rights watchdog Amnesty International, which said it gave hope to thousands of victims of the war “who have waited for more than two decades to find out the truth about the horrific crimes,” Reuters writes. However, many Kosovars were of a different mind. “I think a big injustice is being committed here by putting on trial our liberators (KLA),” economist Fejzullah Ibrahimi told Reuters. Earlier this week, Kosovo politician Jakup Krasniqi and another former KLA commander, Rexhep Selimi were arrested and sent to the Kosovo war crimes tribunal.

Ukrainian Constitutional Court Upends Anti-Corruption Measures  

A court ruling at the end of October could represent a major change of direction in Ukraine’s anti-corruption fight, Andrii Borovyk, the executive director of Transparency International Ukraine, writes. On 28 October, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine (CCU) published a decision that removed the powers of the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) to verify officials’ property declarations, decriminalized related violations, and closed the asset registry to the public, according to Transparency International. “The Constitutional Court’s decision demolishes anti-corruption reforms in the country,“ Borovyk said. “Despite total opposition from oligarchs and some politicians, the anti-corruption system worked. Its efficiency is proven by the number of pro-Russian MPs who file appeals to the CCU questioning the constitutionality of the anti-corruption bodies. This latest decision is a clear attempt to destroy the anti-corruption system in Ukraine fully.” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a supporter of the anti-corruption drive, said on 2 November in an audio address to members of the ruling Servant of the People parliamentary faction, cited by RFE, that Ukrainians would not tolerate backsliding on reforms to fight corruption, and that the Eastern European country could slide into chaos if the reforms are not reinstated. 

“New East” Competition Puts Spotlight on Regional Photography 

A biannual competition hosted by The Calvert Journal, and the Calvert 22 Foundation has announced its 11 finalists, The Guardian writes. The shortlist for the third edition of the competition, which celebrates photography from The Calvert Journal’s coverage region of Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Eurasia, includes entries from Poland, Russia, Hungary, Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Albania. The winners will be announced to the public on 10 November. One of the finalists, Andras Ladocsi, was inspired by his background in competitive swimming: “There can be a lot of people around the pool, family and friends who have come to support you. Yet when you’re in the water, the pool acts as a camera frame – it helps you tune out the world and all its stimuli, and focus on what’s in front of you,” Ladocsi said, according to a Calvert Journal Instagram post. “The prize recognizes practitioners offering representations of the social, cultural, and physical landscape of the New East and other perspectives on that region,” The Calvert Journal writes, noting that the two previous editions received a total of over 1,700 entries from 25 countries. In addition to a cash prize of £1,000 (1,105 euros, or $1,310), the winner will have their work featured in The Calvert Journal, while the runners-up can receive a voucher for photography equipment, or a full-tuition scholarship for a Visual Storytelling training course. 

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu