Winter in Russia

Ruslana shakes her glass and gazes at the band playing just a few yards from us. She finishes her drink before saying: ‘I cannot go to jail. I have two children.’ We talk about the state of play in Russia and the options for citizens who want change, such as her. She is an attractive woman, and several men seek to grab her attention by clumsily placing their drinks nearby or interrupting us on some vague pretext. Ruslana works for an NGO in Saint Petersburg and is drawn by Europe, but she says the EU seems very bureaucratic. She asks me if it has a future.

The nightspots in these parts are ideal for talking about politics. Ruslana’s hopes are invested in the media-savvy opposition leader and blogger Alexei Navalny, whose popularity was boosted by his revelations of corruption against the prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev. But systematic restrictions and foul play deployed against opposition groups, together with the extent of state control within the media, neutralizes any real political competition. To some, however, Navalny is the first real politician Russia has had since Yeltsin, even though he is obliged to play the populist card.

Interpreting the Catalan elections

The challenge of assessing the outcome of yesterday’s regional elections in Catalonia is that several actors in this crisis can claim different forms of victory – and are doing so – from different frames (majority in terms of seats neglecting share of votes, etc.). This, uncertainty and a strong component of post-truth politics in the secessionist camp, have been the defining features of a full-fledged crisis that has seen competing narratives about democracy, rule of law and basic constitutional covenants, first and foremost among the clashing camps in Catalonia. Such diametrically opposed framing and narrative building have also shaped the political framing elsewhere in Spain and at the international level.

Given the complexity of the results, their myriad implications and the renewed uncertainty about what comes next, it is important to perhaps distinguish between big read takeaways and deeper changes in the political and social landscape in Catalonia, which are sure to condition the region and Spain as a whole.

Curtain comes down on Balkan Hague tribunals

 have only seen Ratko Mladić on television and on my computer screen, but I am well aware of his legacy in eastern Bosnia. Earlier this decade, I spent two years in Foča, a mountainous district in the Upper Drina Valley near the borders with Montenegro and Serbia.

Apart from its rugged nature, the Drina Valley is known because of what happened there during the Bosnian War (1992-95). Despite the overwhelming media attention on the besieged Sarajevo, much of the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims was carried out in isolated rural areas, in places such as Goražde, Višegrad, Srebrenica and Foča itself.

Mladić was born there, in Kalinovik, a scruffy and isolated village on the high planes of Treskavica. And while he may be despised internationally, the “General” enjoys a hero’s standing among many Serbs in the region, as evidenced by the graffiti supporting him that I used to see when I arrived in the valley in 2010 as a human rights officer for the OSCE.

Reading the recent sentence by The Hague Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, two memories from that time come to mind: the local response to his arrest, and our work in the mass graves he and others created.

De Mladic, Praljak y La Haya

Solo he visto a Ratko Mladic en la televisión y el ordenador, pero conozco bien su legado en Bosnia oriental. Viví un par de años a principios de esta década en la municipalidad de Foca, en el Alto Valle del río Drina, fronterizo entre Bosnia, Montenegro y Serbia. Mladic nació por allí, en Kalinovik, un pueblucho apartado en las altiplanicies de Treskavica. Es una región de montes, cañones y nieblas, muy aislada, sobre todo en invierno. Más allá de su magnífica naturaleza salvaje, el Valle del Drina es conocido porque durante la guerra de Bosnia (1992-95), cuando casi todas las cámaras miraban al sitiado Sarajevo, en poblaciones como Gorazde, Visegrad, Srebrenica o la propia Foca se llevó a cabo gran parte de la limpieza étnica de bosnios musulmanes y otros crímenes dantescos.

Yo llegué al Valle algo más de una década después para trabajar en derechos humanos con la OSCE, con un mandato que buscaba contribuir a enmendar ese legado de Mladic y otros. Más allá de los grafitis en su apoyo que solía ver en callejuelas y ruinas, el General serbo-bosnio juega un papel importante como héroe en el imaginario local y ciertos sectores políticos y sociales en Serbia. Leyendo la reciente sentencia del Tribunal de La Haya para la antigua Yugoslavia, dos momentos concretos me vienen a la cabeza: cuando le arrestaron y nuestro trabajo en fosas comunes (sus fosas, esto es).