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2018 was yet another year with ups and downs for Eastern Europe & Central Asia, a region that continues to throw off the yoke of authoritarianism, which dominated the region from the 1920s until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Although on the surface autocrats and kleptocrats seemed to take even more control of democratic institutions this year, the first cracks in these “illiberal democracies” also started appearing – from Moscow to Budapest, Warsaw to Bucharest. The main highlights of 2018, month by month, appear below.

January

Bulgaria takes up the EU presidency and vows to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention. A public backlash, however, forces the ruling coalition to withdraw its request that parliament approve the treaty. Similar resistance against the supposed “gender ideology” of the Istanbul Convention leads to public outcry in Croatia and Latvia.
In Bucharest, Romania, tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets to demand the resignation of the corrupt PSD-ALDE government.

February

Local elections are held in Belarus, but according to observers independent media is harassed before and after the elections.

March

Vladimir Putin is re-elected for a fourth term as president of the Russian Federation, the result of the Kremlin’s near-monopoly on media, Putin’s unparalleled visibility, and the detention of potentially popular candidates, like Alexei Navalny. Yet for the first time since Boris Yeltsin’s tenure in the 1990s, serious opposition candidates compete against the incumbent.

On March 15, the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan meet in the Kazakh capital of Astana for a first-ever consultative meeting to discuss regional economic cooperation and the sharing of transboundary water resources.

April

Ukrainian legislators are considering adopting a so-called Magnitsky law, following Estonia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Lithuania, and Latvia which have adopted Magnitsky legislation that imposes sanctions on Russian officials believed to be implicated in serious human rights violations and endemic corruption.

May

After weeks of mass protests, opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan is named Armenia’s new prime minister. In neighboring Georgia, conservative forces face opposition when youth organize massive protests against police anti-drug raids.

June

Once a symbol of Albania’s Communist regime, surrounded by monumental Stalinist buildings and chaotic traffic, Skanderbeg Square –the main plaza in the Albanian capital of Tirana– has been transformed into a human-scale pedestrian oasis surrounded by trees and fountains.

On June 17, the prime ministers of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) sign an agreement aimed at resolving a twenty-seven-year-old dispute over the name Macedonia.

July

The punk protest group Pussy Riot spoils Putin’s party by invading the pitch during the final game of the 2018 World Cup soccer in Russia while the world watches on.

The Bulgarian Constitutional Court rejects the Istanbul Convention, as unconstitutional.

August

An unprecedented violent crackdown by riot police against anti-government protesters in Romania’s capital Bucharest leaves many wounded and further escalates the ongoing standoff between the ruling PSD party and the liberal opposition, including President Klaus Iohannis.

On August 12, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation resolve a twenty-seven-year-old dispute over how to divide up the oil and gas reserves contained in the Caspian Sea.

September

Serbia’s parliament bolsters a law that makes Cyrillic mandatory in all official government communication and imposes fines on those who do not respect the “mother script.”

October

In socially conservative Poland, a new museum opens: the Polish LGBTQIA Museum.

November

On November 2, mosques throughout the northern Caucasus commemorate the 75th anniversary of the mass deportation of the Karachays to Central Asia by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Between November 2 and 5, 1943, some 70,000 Karachays, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group in the North Caucasus, were deported in cattle train cars to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan for allegedly collaborating with Nazi Germany. About a quarter of those deported perished, among them 22,000 children.

Poland reverses law reducing the retirement age for judges following a ruling by the European Court of Justice.

December

For the first time since Viktor Orbán came to power, people from across the political spectrum take to the streets of Budapest against the authoritarian leader. “All I want for Christmas is democracy,” say protesters in Hungary.

According to a new report, at the current pace it will take Eastern Europe and Central Asia 153 years to close the gender gap.

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