28 January 2014
by Crisis Group
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Central Asia: A Dangerous Thirst

A boy from the Adilet settlement carries a canister to get water from Ak-Bata settlement.

By Alina Dalbaeva

Photos by Max De Haldevang

On the grand scale, Central Asia’s water problems have been well documented since the fall of the Soviet Union. Journalists wrote of the apparently inexorable shrinking of the Aral Sea, once one of the four largest lakes in the world; by 2007, at a tenth of its normal size, it had split up into several smaller bodies of water. An excellent view of these broad shifts can be found at Aqueduct’s Water Risk Atlas.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has warned of war if upstream countries Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan pursue power generation projects that might alter, or make open to political manipulation, the supply of water needed to irrigate Uzbekistan’s cotton crops. Public anger over a decline in basic services fuelled the unrest that led to the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010. (See our report Decay and Decline.) Bakiyev sold water to Kazakhstan during a period of electricity shortages in his own country. Across the region corruption and neglect undermine confidence in government and contribute to political discontent.

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8 October 2013
by Deirdre Tynan
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In the End Is the Beginning: Kazakhstan after Nazarbayev

The Khan Shatyr, the tent-shaped entertainment center in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana. PHOTO: Ben Dalton/Crisis Group/International Reporting Project

The Khan Shatyr, the tent-shaped entertainment center in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana. PHOTO: Ben Dalton/Crisis Group/International Reporting Project

By Deirdre Tynan (@DeirdreTynan)

Kazakhstan has everything going for it: enormous natural resources from oil and gas to gold, uranium and rare earth metals; a young, multi-lingual population; and thousands of young foreign trained graduates, who return home every year under President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Bolashak scholarship program.

But behind Nazarbayev’s strong leadership are weak institutions, a puppet parliament, fettered media and security services prone to excessive force, as demonstrated by the events in the oil town of Zhanaozen in 2011, when 16 striking oil workers were shot dead during protests on the nation’s Independence Day.

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26 August 2013
by Ekaterina Sokirianskaia
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Sowing Rebellion in Dagestan?

A new leader’s hard-line tactics may backfire.

The blown-up house of the local imam. He is the brother of a notorious insurgent leader, Ibragim Gadzhidadaev. CRISIS GROUP/Varvara Pakhomenko

The blown-up house of the local imam in Gimry, Dagestan. He is the brother of a notorious insurgent leader, Ibragim Gadzhidadaev. CRISIS GROUP/Varvara Pakhomenko

by Ekaterina Sokirianskaia

The Dagestan Republic’s acting president, Ramazan Abdulatipov*, has made significant progress in improving governance but his hard line on security may be creating more problems than it solves.

Under his predecessor, Magomedsalam Magomedov, a “Dagestan model” was emerging, based on the assumptions that fundamentalist Islam is a fact of life in the North Caucasus region of Russia and that Salafis, rather than be prosecuted for attending “the wrong mosques”, should be integrated, and insurgents should be given ways to abandon armed rebellion. This Dagestan model competed with the Chechen model, which involves a heavy-handed approach to militants and their supporters with the goal of eradicating fundamentalism altogether (see our report The North Caucasus: The Challenges of Integration (II), Islam, the Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency, 19 Oct 2012).

Elements of the security forces have always opposed soft approaches in Dagestan. One faction of the republic’s senior officials promoted dialogue and the peace process, another fiercely opposed it. The same positions were replicated in federal institutions in the capital, Makhachkala, and in Moscow. The Kremlin’s influence is key. The federal centre provides some 70 percent of Dagestan’s government budget.  It was Vladimir Putin, as president of the Russian Federation, of which Dagestan is a member, who appointed Abdulatipov in January after Magomedov resigned. Putin gave Abdulatipov a number of directives at the time, including on security, and Abdulatipov acknowledges that these directives and Putin’s May 2012 executive orders – based on Putin’s own election platform from that year – have structured his approach to the Dagestani presidency.

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7 June 2013
by Marko Prelec
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I.D. Politics: Sarajevo Protest Shows a Weakened State

A man being protected by police from protesters outside Bosnia's parliament. PHOTO: Crisis Group

By Marko Prelec, Director, Balkans Project (@mprelec)

Sarajevo saw its biggest demonstration in years on the evening of Thursday, 6 June, and into the Friday morning  as thousands of citizens surrounded the Bosnian capital’s parliament building and refused to allow those trapped inside to leave. They were angered by the government’s failure to amend the laws needed to keep issuing ID numbers after the Constitutional Court struck down an ID law. In a legal limbo, newborns have been deprived of numbers, passports and other services. Police finally evacuated the building at 4 am today.

What is this all about? The Constitutional Court rejected the law on citizens’ identification numbers in May 2011 because it used names of municipalities in Republika Srpska (RS), the smaller of Bosnia’s two entities (the other being the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, or FBiH). The municipality names had been changed, in response to another court case, so the Constitutional Court maintained that a law based on inaccurate place names could not be upheld. (You can find the May 2011 ruling, in case number U-3/11, here in English.) In January 2013, when parliament missed deadlines to amend the law, the court erased it, leaving no legal basis on which to issue new numbers. The Council of Ministers submitted a draft law featuring registration areas aligned with the entity boundaries, as RS leaders preferred. However, delegates from FBiH, the larger entity, wanted to keep the old registration areas, which crossed entity lines, and to change only the now-outdated municipal names. On this dispute, all attempts to amend the law foundered. Children born in recent months are unregistered and unable to get passports and access other services. One such child, Belmina Ibrišević, needed surgery available only abroad; her plight galvanised public opinion.

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7 May 2013
by Marko Prelec
1 Comment

The Kosovo-Serbia Agreement: Why Less Is More

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (C) poses with Serbia's Prime Minister Ivica Dacic (L) and Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, at NATO headquarters in Brussels April 19, 2013.

By Marko Prelec, Balkans Project Director, @mprelec

The 19 April agreement between Kosovo and Serbia is an earthquake in Balkan politics: the ground lurched, familiar landmarks toppled, the aftershocks are still rumbling and the new contours are only slowly emerging.

The two prime ministers initialed a “First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalisation of Relations” in Brussels. The brief, fifteen-point text is the first bilateral agreement between Serbia and its former province; as the title suggests, it’s unlikely to be the last. Curiously neither government has published it, though a reportedly authentic version leaked quickly in the Pristina press.

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1 February 2013
by Marko Prelec
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Preševo’s grievances and the Kosovo-Serbia talks

Over the past few weeks, tensions have been growing in southern Serbia’s Albanian-majority Preševo Valley, spilling over the border into Serb majority communities in Kosovo and putting at risk the EU mediated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, which looks poised to make a historical breakthrough. Urgent action is needed.

In the aftermath of the Kosovo war of 1999, some Serbian forces relocated from Kosovo to southern Serbia, increasing repression against the local Albanian population. A new group, the “Liberation Army of Preševo, Medvedja and Bujanovac” (UÇPMB), formed and attacked Serbian forces in the Valley until a NATO-brokered ceasefire in May 2001. Life over the past two decades largely returned to normal, and the Valley became a rare conflict resolution success story in the former Yugoslavia, though dissatisfaction remained over security, jobs and services. More recently, Albanian leaders have been watching the high-level dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, worrying about how it might affect them.

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11 July 2012
by Marko Prelec
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The Duty to Remember Crimes in Srebrenica

Burial of 465 identified Bosniaks in 2007. Photo: Almir Dzanovic

Seventeen years ago Serbian forces took control of the United Nations safe area of Srebrenica and over the course of the following week killed about eight thousand men and boys while expelling its entire Bosniak population. Some of the victims died trying to escape (a column fought its way out through Serb lines). Most perished in mass executions of up to one thousand at a time. The corpses were then buried and months later, re-buried to hide the evidence, so that even today they are still being found in the hills and forests of eastern Bosnia. All this is being retold these days at the trial of Ratko Mladić, at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia.

So I was shocked yesterday to open my Facebook page to a nauseating photograph, posted by a northern Kosovo Serb group, of a man waving a huge flag with Mladić’s photo and announcing “Happy 11 July, day of liberation of Srebrenica”.

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13 February 2012
by Marko Prelec
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Update on Northern Kosovo Barricades

Kosovo

My Crisis Group colleagues and I drove up to Serb-held northern Kosovo on Thursday, and crossed into Serbia (briefly). In short, everything has changed, though no one has announced any change at all. The worst winter in living memory, which many hoped would drive the locals to use the official border posts, is in full sway and the border posts are open as are the roads leading to them, but not a single vehicle passes. However understandable Kosovo’s interest in controlling its borders, there are important lessons here about trying to use issues like freedom of movement to pressure a reluctant people to accept a sovereignty they view as foreign.

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30 November 2011
by Marko Prelec
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Balkans: No “Plan B”?

I recently made the mistake of questioning the Western Balkans’ European Perspective — well, not really.

I was at a conference on Bosnia and I made this comment: The EU’s main tool — its “Plan A” for the Balkans — is the transformative power of the accession process; yet countries like Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia, Albania are all temporarily or persistently blocked by “sovereignty issues” or domestic troubles; and not only is the EU’s appetite for enlargement shrivelling, the Eurozone crisis has us doubting the Union’s own future.

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24 November 2011
by Sabine Freizer
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Back on the Barricades in Kosovo

Last night, northern Kosovo saw public protests take another dark turn, with a potent mix of tear gas, rocks and batons, earth-moving equipment and armed soldiers, leaving scores injured, counting twenty-one NATO (KFOR) troops, now added to recent casualties that include two dead, one Serb and one Kosovo Albanian. Without concerted effort and political courage this situation is only set to get worse.

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