Plus, Nazi symbols in the Russian circus, good news for bison, and more.

The Big Story:  Lithuania Marks 30 Years Since Vilnius Bloodshed, With Nod to Belarus

What happened: As Lithuania marked a key episode in its modern history yesterday, President Gitanas Nauseda drew a comparison on Twitter between events that happened 30 years ago and the current Belarusian struggle “for democratic rights,” Deutsche Welle writes. On 13 January 1991, 14 people died and hundreds were wounded in Vilnius while trying to prevent Soviet troops from gaining access to the Lithuanian national broadcaster. “It was the beginning of the fall” of the USSR, Nauseda tweeted.

Worth noting: Russia and Lithuania do not see eye to eye regarding the events of 1991, RFE/RL writes. Last month, Lithuanian Justice Minister Evelina Dobrovolska asked for the European Commission’s protection of Lithuanian judges Russian authorities charged in absentia after they delivered “a deliberately wrongful” sentence against more than 60 Russian citizens in connection with the crackdown on Lithuanian civilians in 1991.

The view from Belarus: The Lithuanian parliament presented its annual 13 January Freedom prize to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has been living in the Baltic country since last August, DW notes. “Nowadays, many Belarusians recognize in the events of 13 January their tragic present,” she said.

News from the regions:

Central Europe and the Baltics

  • Three human rights activists in Poland face up to two years in jail if convicted of offending religious sentiment and desecration, Associated Press writes. The three defendants went on trial yesterday on charges of desecrating one of Poland’s most revered icons by adding rainbow LGBT symbols to posters and stickers of the Mother of God of Czestochowa, known as the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, and publicly displaying the images last year.
  • Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid asked Kaja Kallas, chairwoman of the opposition center-right Reform Party, to form a new government, AP reports. Kaljulaid urged Kallas to do so quickly so as to tackle the worsening coronavirus outbreak. Prime Minister Juri Ratas handed in his resignation yesterday after an investigation linked the ruling party to a property company that got lucrative deals allegedly in return for its donations to the party.

Southeastern Europe

  • The EU has warned Ljubljana against putting “pressure” on local media after reports about the suspension of funding for the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), Euronews writes. Prime Minister Janez Jansa has previously criticized the work of STA. The Slovenian government told Euronews that no official decision on funding the agency has been made so far.
  • The European bison has been taken off the list of vulnerable species, WWF Central and Eastern Europe writes. “The European bison population has increased from about 1,800 in 2003 to over 6,200; meaning that the species has moved up the IUCN red list classification to ‘almost threatened,’ ” the press release said. The largest populations of bison live in Russia, Poland, and Belarus, and it has recently been reintroduced to three locations in Romania.
Bison in a park in Germany. Image by Michael Gaebler/Wikimedia Commons.

Eastern Europe and Russia

  • The European Court of Human Rights said today that Ukraine’s complaint filed against Russia over human rights violations in Crimea in 2014 is “partly admissible,” AFP writes. The court will deliver a judgment at a later date. While the statement was welcomed in Kyiv, Russia’s Justice Ministry said it showed the charges “were not proven” and called Ukraine’s claims “groundless.”
  • Russian prosecutors have opened a probe into a performance at a Russian circus involving a monkey dressed in a Nazi uniform, the BBC writes. The show took place last week in the city of Izhevsk, and was commissioned by the Russian Orthodox Church to symbolize the “spurning” of Nazism. The performance also featured goats wrapped in Nazi flags with swastikas. Russia bans public displays of Nazi symbols.

Caucasus

  • Amnesty International is asking Azerbaijan and Armenia to investigate the use of “inaccurate and indiscriminate weapons” in populated areas during their war last fall. A new Amnesty report said both countries denied targeting civilians “despite incontrovertible evidence that they have both done so,” using internationally banned cluster munitions and other explosive weapons. “Civilians were killed, families were torn apart, and countless homes were destroyed,” Marie Struthers, the group’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement.   

Central Asia

  • Authorities in Turkmenistan’s eastern Lebap region are asking employees of state organizations, schools, medical institutions, and schoolchildren to carry personal medicine boxes to prevent “lung disease,” RFE writes. The boxes must contain five face masks, a pair of rubber gloves, sanitizer, a special ointment, and a bottle of licorice-root syrup. Turkmenistan continues to deny the presence coronavirus, despite reports of hospitals struggling to care for the high number of patients coming in with COVID-19 symptoms.