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Kosovar prosecutor Aleksander Lumezi (file photo)

Hundreds of people have protested on the streets of Kosovo's capital, Pristina, to demand the resignation of the chief prosecutor over claims he was hindering the fight against corruption.

Despite the protests, prosecutor Aleksander Lumezi vowed on August 22 to stay in his job and said that he would "never accept pressure from political entities and civil society that interfere in the work of the prosecution."

"If Kosovo institutions and the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council assess that I have violated the law, I will accept any decision they take," Lumezi added.

The rally, supported by the opposition Vetevendosje party, comes after the August 15 resignation of special prosecutor Elez Blakaj, who said he "had been under pressure" from Lumezi after he had summonsed senior political figures in Kosovo to testify in the so-called "war veterans list" case.

Kosovo Protesters Rally For Chief Prosecutor's Resignation
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Blakaj said that, after an investigation that began in 2016, his team discovered that 19,000 people illegally obtained the status of a veteran of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in order to receive monthly benefits.

Critics, including veterans groups, allege the list has been heavily inflated through the use of false testimonies and fictitious documents.

Under Kosovo law, persons verified to have been KLA veterans who fought in the 1998-99 war with Serbian forces are entitled to a monthly payment.

Lumezi said that after Blakaj's resignation another prosecutor had been assigned to handle the war veterans case, although he did not disclose the name of that person.

During the protest in Pristina, demonstrators assailed Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who called Blakaj a "thief” and denied that he had faced threats during his work.

Haradinaj said on August 22 that, while he opposed including anyone on the veterans list who did not qualify, "I am also against a thief…because he is a thief…and you know why he is a thief -- because we have given him all the conditions to do his job. It is not true he was threatened.”

Kosovo, which has applied to become a member of the European Union, must demonstrate a track record of convictions in high-level organized crime and corruption cases to obtain membership as well as visa-free travel in the bloc, EU officials have said.

Last year, Kosovo was ranked 85th out of 180 countries in the corruption perceptions index of Transparency International.

With reporting by Balkan Insight
Crimean Tatar poet Aliye Kenzhalieva

Aliye Kenzhalieva is convinced Victory Day in Russia to mark the end of World War II has become more a celebration of the military than a solemn remembrance of those who perished in the conflict.

So the Crimean Tatar poet put pen to paper, scrawling down her thoughts in verse, which were published by the Tatar-language newspaper Qirim on May 9.

But authorities in Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed from Ukraine in March 2014, suspected something more sinister in her rhymes.

Officials accused Kenzhalieva of "rehabilitating Nazism," an offense carrying a possible prison sentence if convicted.

Kenzhalieva, who has not been officially charged, is flabbergasted by the charge, and has dismissed the whole thing as a farce.

"My verses were hatched from the absurdity of the situation: go, rejoice, celebrate. It seems to me that many others feel the same way, but just not everyone expresses it. Poets have that ability," Kenzhalieva told the Crimea Desk of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law in May 2014 making the denial of Nazi crimes and distortion of the Soviet Union's role in World War II a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

The law, slammed by critics as an attempt to limit free speech, also criminalizes the public desecration of war memorials.

Risky Business

Commentators say the Kremlin has exploited the events of War World II to unite a Russian society that Putin has said lost its moral bearings following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is risky business in Russia -- and Crimea as well -- to dispute the official line that glorifies the wartime achievements of the Soviet leadership and plays down its mistakes.

Kenzhalieva has been questioned twice already by investigators in the Crimean capital, Simferopol.

On June 27, Kenzhalieva, who teaches Russian language and literature, was notified by Russia-installed local authorities that she was under investigation and that she would need to come in for police questioning in Simferopol the next day.

"Immediately they grilled me: 'Why don't I like Victory Day? Why am I so negative about the holiday in my writings?'"

According to Kenzhalieva, the investigator argued that her verses expressed "disrespect for memorable events and war heroes."

"For me, Victory Day is not a holiday but a tragedy. I respect the dead and don't want their deaths to be a reason for celebration."

The poem that has landed Aliye Kenzhalieva in hot water.
The poem that has landed Aliye Kenzhalieva in hot water.

She was called in for questioning again on July 2 when she was told Roskomnadzor, Russia's mass-media regulator, had "ensnarled" her, sending her case on to the Investigative Committee to examine for possible criminal prosecution.

Authorities told her the Investigative Committee had not found her guilty of "inciting hatred" but of "rehabilitating Nazism."

The investigators, together with the police, also tried to turn up at the editorial offices of the Qirim newspaper but found it closed.Since the Russian annexation, it has only been published once a week and the offices are only open on three weekdays.

Her lawyer, Aleksei Ladin, calls the investigation a "witch hunt" and accuses investigators of concocting as many bogus cases as possible "to justify their existence."

"The material over the creation and circulation of poems demonstrates the absurdity of criminal prosecutions initiated under the guise of fighting extremism, justification of fascism, and other things," Ladin adds.

In her poem, which was published by Qirim on May 9, Kenzhalieva laments what she views as the rising "militarization of Victory Day" and pays homage to her homeland, Crimea, according to a translation by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group KHRG.

They teach [people] to love war
To not remember tragedy
To not pray for the souls of the unfortunates
To not preserve this fragile peace.

They teach [people] to love war
To be happy that it took place
To wear a military uniform
To be proud in song and dance
To organize a holiday...


Here my great-grandfather lived, his gardens were here,

Now there are the parades of an alien country

Children's Army

As the KHRG's Halya Coynash notes, children in Crimea are being increasingly targeted by the Russia-installed authorities with a steady diet of "militarization," parading on Victory Day in military garb, and taking part in Putin's controversial "youth army."

The YunArmia was created by Putin himself in May 2016 and had nearly 190,000 members as of February 2018.

Critics see it as a further sign of the militarization of Russia under Putin. Some see echoes of the Young Pioneers, the official Soviet-era youth movement of the Communist Party.

Children as young as 10 are recruited and taught how to use weapons, political ideology, and Russian history. Supporters claim the practices revive traditions and instill pride in history and homeland in the next generation of Russians.

Bekir Mamutov (file photo)
Bekir Mamutov (file photo)

In Crimea, Bekir Mamutov, editor in chief of Qirim, is shocked that Kenzhalieva's poem could violate any law.

"These are her thoughts, her poetic vision of important historical events. A person writes about her fears and the words used to express this feeling suddenly fall under a certain article of the law. In the 21st century this is simply incredible. We didn't expect this, of course," says Mamutov.

But Crimean Tatars, a Muslim ethnic minority that is indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula, have grown to expect persecution by the Russia-installed authorities.

"Russian authorities in Crimea have relentlessly persecuted Crimean Tatars for their vocal opposition to Russia's occupation since it began in 2014," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "They have portrayed politically active Crimean Tatars as extremists and terrorists, forced many into exile, and ensured that those who choose to stay never feel safe to speak their mind."

More than 10 people have been convicted under the same statute with which Kenzhalieva is now being investigated.

In one of the more high-profile cases, Vladimir Luzgin was convicted for a social-media post stating that the Soviet Union collaborated with Nazi Germany and jointly unleashed World War II by attacking Poland.

Luzgin fled Russia following his June 2016 conviction and traveled to the Czech Republic where his application for asylum was denied.

Written by Tony Wesolowsky based on reporting by Ilya Tarasov and Oleh Trokhimovich

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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