Serbian demonstrators in Belgrade on 24 November 2021 protesting new laws for the government expropriation of property. The activists say the new laws will benefit foreign companies and mining projects. Photo by Marko Djurica via Globe Media/Reuters.

Plus, a new lockdown in Slovakia, Yazidi activist on trial in Armenia, and more. 

The Big Story: Foreign Companies in Serbia in the Spotlight After Protests

What happened: More than 2,000 people rallied in Belgrade yesterday to protest new laws that they say will wreak havoc on the environment and favor the interests of foreign companies over those of the Serbian citizens, AP reports. One of the protest organizers, Sava Manojlovic, said the new laws have been “drawn for Rio Tinto,” a reference to the Anglo-Australian mining corporation that wants to open a lithium mine in western Serbia.

More context: The protest focused on laws for the expropriation of private property for projects that serve the public interest. At a press conference yesterday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the new laws were needed for infrastructure projects such as roads and railways, and denied the laws would enable Rio Tinto to take control of land for its mining project.

Worth noting: Belgrade has been accused in the past of giving free rein to Chinese companies operating in Serbia, AFP reports. Last week, hundreds of Vietnamese workers at a Chinese-run factory project in the Balkan country went on strike to protest dire working conditions. The strikers were working on a factory for the Chinese tire company Linglong, seen as a centerpiece of Beijing-backed investment in Serbia, in the northern city of Zrenjanin.

News from the Regions

Central Europe and the Baltics

  • Slovakia became the second country in Europe to reintroduce a coronavirus lockdown yesterday amid a surge in coronavirus cases, Euronews reports. Slovakia declared a 90-day state of emergency and the two-week lockdown after its seven-day average of new coronavirus cases rose above 10,000. President Zuzana Caputova announced the decision in an address to the nation on Tuesday, saying “Slovakia is losing the battle against COVID” and that the lockdown is necessary due to the strain on hospitals and healthcare staff. Public activity is severely restricted in the lockdown, and the unvaccinated need a negative COVID test or proof of recovery from the disease in order to go to work. Last month, Latvia became the first country in Europe to reintroduce a lockdown. 
  • Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said yesterday that EU countries should not hesitate to sanction Belarusian national airline Belavia over the migrant crisis at EU borders, Reuters reports. “We have heard that there are doubts for some countries regarding Belavia,” Kallas told Reuters in an interview after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron. Germany and Italy were reportedly among the EU countries that consider Belavia’s promise to stop flying migrants from Syria and Iraq to be a sufficient solution to the problem. Kallas called it “a weak signal” to not sanction Belavia “because it’s a state-managed company directly involved in bringing these people and opening new routes for smugglers and definitely should be sanctioned.”

Southeastern Europe

  • The Romanian parliament endorsed the coalition government of Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca by an overwhelming majority today, ending a two-month stalemate, RFE/RL reports. The coalition government, made up of the ruling center-right National Liberal Party (PNL), the Social Democrats, and the ethnic Hungarian UDMR, received 318 votes in favor and 126 against. Though Ciuca’s PNL is the ruling party, critics say that the Social Democrats, the largest party in the parliament, are likely to be the kingmakers in the new government. Ciuca previously gave up his initial mandate to form a government earlier this month after discussions with other PNL members.
  • A proposal for a memorial graveyard in Zagreb for soldiers who fought for the Nazi-backed Independent State of Croatia in World War II is receiving criticism from anti-fascists, BIRN reports. On Tuesday, the Croatian parliamentary committee for veterans affairs endorsed a proposal for the burial ground, where the soldiers would be described as members of “the Croatian army,” saying “every man is entitled to a civilized and dignified burial and a marked grave.” Katarina Peovic of the Workers’ Front party, who is also a member of the parliamentary committee for veterans affairs, said it was “completely unacceptable” to set up a graveyard for the fascist Ustasa and Home Guard.

Eastern Europe and Russia 

  • The Kremlin announced today that President Vladimir Putin sacked the head of the Russian prison system after a series of graphic videos were made public last month, The Moscow Times reports. Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Gostev will replace Alexander Kalashnikov as the head of Russia’s Federal Prison Service, a change effective immediately. The move comes amid the ongoing controversy over prison videos released by the Gulagu.net rights group, part of a large number of recordings smuggled out by former inmate Sergei Savelyev, a Belarusian national who is currently seeking asylum in France. Filmed between July 2015 and September 2020 at the prison hospital in the Volga city of Saratov, the graphic videos show rape and torture by prison officers. 
  • More than 1,000 people rallied in Kyiv yesterday to protest new restrictions designed to increase the vaccination rate in Ukraine, AP reports. Since yesterday, the validity of a certificate required to take public transport, which is given after the first coronavirus vaccine shot, was reduced from 120 to 30 days in order to incentivize people to get the second shot. The government is also requiring certain groups of workers, such as teachers, doctors, and government employees, to be fully vaccinated by 1 December. Only around only 23% of Ukraine’s population is fully immunized and the Ministry of Health says the unvaccinated account for 96% of patients with severe cases of COVID-19.

The Caucasus

  • The international community condemned Armenia’s prosecution of a human rights activist from the Yezidi minority, RFE/RL reports. Hearings have begun in the trial of Sashik Sultanian, the head of the Yazidi Center for Human Rights, who is accused of “inciting ethnic enmity between Armenians and Yazidis.” Launched in 2020, the case against Sultanian stems from his June 2020 interview with the website Yezidinews.am where he said the mostly Kurdish-speaking religious group faced discrimination in Armenia and are unable to practice their religion. According to prosecutors, Sultanian’s statements are not related to human rights advocacy and protected speech “since all allegations mentioned in the interview do not correspond to reality.”

Central Asia

  • A poet described as the longest-serving prisoner in Kazakhstan died less than two months after his release from a prison hospital, Eurasianet reports. Aron Atabek died of heart failure after being admitted to a hospital with COVID-19 and pneumonia shortly after his release in October. The dissident writer served 15 years of an 18-year prison sentence for organizing unrest during the 2006 riots over home demolitions in a suburb of Almaty which led to the death of a police officer. Atabek had refused to apply for parole in the case, which would have required him to admit guilt to the crimes. He was 68.