higher education in Ukraine
The Russian invasion in 2022 has drastically impacted the Ukrainian education system; particularly higher education in Ukraine. Ukrainian universities attracted students from all over the world. There were students from Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Latin American countries. These universities were popular among foreign students as they offered quality education at lower costs than Western universities. Ukrainian universities offered a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Ukrainian and English fields.

In Ukraine, 83% of young adults between 18 and 24 were enrolled in higher education at the time of the Russian incursion in 2022. Many Ukrainian educational institutions closed down and educational resources and supplies went to support the war effort or the Russian military confiscated them. As a result, higher education in Ukraine faced high disruption.

The number of available learning opportunities and opportunities for students to access high-quality education decreased because of the Russian invasion. Many higher education institutions in Ukraine are closed or destroyed and need more resources and infrastructure. In addition, this further disrupts students’ coursework because of the cancelation and relocation of the courses.

Allies Offer Stop-Gap Measures

Ukraine’s allies who have provided a wide range of assistance in response to the Russian invasion include the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Australia and Japan. The European Union has also assisted Ukraine, including humanitarian aid and economic support. The United States has also provided military aid to Ukraine. Additionally, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has set up a loan program and distributed $2.8 billion to help Ukraine recover from the economic damage of the crisis.

Plans for Rebuilding Higher Education in Ukraine

Ukraine continues to prioritize its higher academic institutions as it plans to rebuild investment efforts for when the Russian military incursion is over. Higher education in Ukraine collaborated with European higher education institutions to continue to fund and support student programs, according to the European University Association (EUA) briefing.

International cooperation from universities such as V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University and Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, along with initiatives such as the Twinning project Unity Initiative with 79 universities of the United Kingdom, has helped to foster international exchanges and support foreign students and teachers, according to European Associaton for International Education (EAIE). Through remote admission, flexible educational programs and the increasing range of educational programs taught in English, Ukraine’s institutions continue to strive for excellence despite the adversity. Ukraine is working in partnership with these institutions to ensure academic freedom and free speech and promote a safe and secure environment for learning.

Several universities and companies are supporting the Ukrainian government in its efforts to ensure academic freedom and free speech and promote a safe and secure learning environment. The EUA’s partnership with Ukrainian universities set in motion the following measures:

  • “Waiving EUA membership fees for all existing and new members during 2022,”
  • “Encouraging and expediting new membership applications from eligible Ukrainian institutions and organizations,”
  • “Providing access to services and events to non-member Ukrainian universities where appropriate,”
  • “Considering providing financial support for Ukrainian participation in EUA activities.”

More International Support

USAID, HP Inc., Microsoft and the Global Business Coalition for Education have partnered to provide 74,000 laptop devices to internally displaced Ukrainians and Ukrainian refugees in neighboring countries. HP Inc. has donated 5,000 laptops to support education for internally displaced Ukrainians, while Microsoft has donated software for the devices. The donation comes from USAID’s active engagement with the private sector to support Ukraine. Up to 2.8 million children have experienced displacement due to the war and a nationwide shortage of 175,000 laptops and 202,000 tablets. USAID’s Ukraine National Identity will distribute the laptops through Youth (UNITY) program in partnership with SpivDiia, a leading Ukrainian youth organization. While these laptops went to youth scholars, they provide remote learning and employment opportunities for the entire family.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) works with Ukraine and NGOs to implement recovery initiatives. The main focus of ICG’s work with Ukraine in 2022 has been to speed recovery efforts by providing a strategic framework for managing internally displaced persons (IDPs). This includes protecting the rights of Ukrainian citizens. Citizens of Ukraine and therefore, IDPs,  have a right to “pensions, medical care, social security and education, among other things.” They can also receive help finding jobs, locating free or subsidized housing, re-acquiring lost identity documents, reunifying their families and returning home.

Labster and AWS

The Ministry of Education & Science of Ukraine and Labster have partnered to provide free access to Labster’s award-winning virtual science simulations for an entire year to Ukrainian students and educators. This allows educators to integrate Labster into existing science courses and filter the more than 300 virtual lab simulations available by level of education, courses and topics for an efficient learning experience.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is helping millions of displaced students in Ukraine continue their education amid war and displacement through free cloud computing resources, training and other educational initiatives. With more than 3 million refugees fleeing their homes due to conflict, many educational institutions have turned to AWS to re-establish learning opportunities. AWS is offering cloud computing credits to 22 universities to enable them to quickly migrate critical educational resources to the cloud, helping to ensure remote learning can continue uninterrupted.

These initiatives’ future impact on Ukraine’s poverty will likely be significant. By equipping students and educators with the technology, resources and training they need to access quality education, these initiatives will help to bridge the gap between the affluent and the less privileged. This, in turn, could help reduce poverty levels and inequality. In addition, the initiatives could also help to cultivate a highly-skilled workforce that can help to drive economic growth and development. Finally, increased access to quality education can also help improve Ukrainian citizens’ health, and social and economic well-being.

– Jeannine Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Period poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina
When it comes to feminine hygiene, many people bow out of the conversation. It tends to be a forgotten issue because of the taboo nature of the problem. Period poverty refers to the struggle that many women go through when they cannot afford to buy feminine hygiene products. According to MedicalNewsToday, period poverty is affecting more than 500 million people globally as of 2021. Period poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina is very much affecting thousands of women and girls throughout the country.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a small country located in the Balkan region with a population of around 3.2 million people. Along with its seemingly shrinking population, it is also a very rural country, with 60% of the population living in rural areas. These rural people are also twice as likely to be poor compared to a citizen who lives in a city. Poverty in this country is nothing out of the ordinary. According to Brookings, in 2015, 15% of people in the country could not afford “basic life essentials.” According to the World Bank, 50.8% of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s population is female as of 2021. This leaves thousands of women and girls in the country at a disadvantage when it comes to being able to regularly afford sanitary products.

Period Products and Salaries

Period products are expensive. According to Bosnia’s Statistic Agency, the average salary of an average citizen in Bosnia and Herzegovina was just about €575 a month. A tax on tampons exists in many countries in the Balkan Region that many people have called on government agencies to address, as it has become difficult for many women to afford these products. In Croatia, for example, there is a 25-cent tax on tampons. On average, women in this country spend about €25 on period-related items such as sanitary items and painkillers each time they get their period.

The United Nations

The lack of access to these products makes it difficult for girls to attend school. Access to period-related products allows more girls to go to school and feel comfortable in their environments without the distraction of menstruation.

In the coming school year, the U.N. has teamed up with schools in Bosnia’s Sarajevo Canton to provide access to sanitary pads and menstrual health to students in order to shrink the effects of period poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The name of the campaign is “Za naše dane u mjesecu/For our days every month.” This initiative’s goal is to provide wider access to sanitary products and create awareness of this taboo issue that many people feel uncomfortable talking about. The U.N. wants to make sure that no one has to miss school days due to their period. With the launch of this new initiative, the country hopes to see fewer social inequalities because of menstruation.

How Always is Using Its Platform

Always also launched an initiative called #EndPeriodPoverty to combat the challenges that many girls face. The brand found that since the outbreak of COVID-19, “one in three girls feel less confident because they have missed school activities because of period-related issues.” The brand has teamed up with retailers to donate its products to countries in need with purchases of its products at participating retailers. It also launched the hashtag to bring awareness to this issue so people can post under the hashtag to their followers to make others aware. Though Always does not have a specific campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the brand’s initiative is fighting period poverty on a global scale.

Moving Foward

Period poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina seems to be shrinking with the help of these different initiatives. The U.N. campaign started in September 2022 and will continue through the school year until May 2023. Through this campaign, countless school-aged girls will gain access to the necessary products and education to ensure a hopeful school year and end the stigma and shame surrounding menstruation.

– Olivia MacGregor
Photo: Unsplash

Human Rights Violations in Ukraine
The international laws of war dictate what nations can and cannot do in accordance with human rights during times of conflict or war. All parties involved in a conflict have to abide by international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949, The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions and Customary International Law. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 resulted in the creation of four treaties and three additional protocols that establish international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in war. The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions aims to help strengthen the protection of victims of armed conflicts and place limits on the way of fighting wars. Finally, Customary International Law holds nations accountable to the international obligations that establish international practices such as those laid out in the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

Social and Economic Costs

Laws of war prohibit willful killing, acts of sexual violence, torture, the inhumane treatment of captured combatants and civilians and pillaging and looting. Armed forces that have effective control over an area have to follow the international law of occupation and international human rights laws. If a nation violates the laws of war, then they are responsible for committing war crimes. With this, the commanders of the occupying forces who know or suspect such crimes are taking place, but fail to act are criminally liable as a matter of command responsibility.

Conflicts such as the one going on in Ukraine cause immeasurable social and economic costs. These include loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, human capital, political instability and uncertain economic growth and investments.

Ukrainians will feel these effects for years to come, especially with a future of economic uncertainty in the country. This conflict however does not just impact those living in Ukraine economically, but worldwide as well with soaring rates of inflation. Within the first three months of the invasion, an estimated 51.6 million people fell into poverty living on or below $1.90 per day. Along with this, 20 million people fell to the poverty line of living on $3.20 per day. The continuous effects of Russia’s invasion are not Ukraine’s burden alone, but trickling into other nations as well.

Current State of Ukraine

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, several bodies such as the United Nations and Human Rights Watch have been carefully monitoring the conflict for human rights violations in Ukraine and war crimes. The Human Rights Watch has documented several cases of Russian military forces committing war crime violations against civilians in occupied areas such as Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv. Russian soldiers were a part of repeated acts of sexual violence, unlawful executions and looting of civilian property. With this, Human Rights Watch has documented multiple reports on the deliberate cruelty towards Ukrainian civilians.

In September 2022, an U.N.-appointed independent committee of human rights investigators confirmed that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. Most of the committee’s work has centered around investigations in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy. These are the regions where the most serious allegations of war crime violations against Russia have occurred.

Those Working to Help

There are currently multiple different bodies working diligently to prevent human rights violations in Ukraine and make sure that people have access to life necessities. Ukrainian officials suspect that more than 15,000 war crimes have taken place since Russia invaded. That makes humanitarian aid even more crucial for those who are still in the nation and refugees.

In May 2022, the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom announced the establishment of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA). The ACA aims to reinforce accountability for war crimes and it seeks to advance the commitments made by the European Union, the United States and the U.K. They are also making it their mission to support the war crimes units of the Office of Prosecutor General of Ukraine (OPG) in its investigation and prosecution of conflict-related crimes.

Along with this, they are working to bring together multinational experts to provide strategic advice and operational assistance to OPG specialists and other stakeholders in areas such as collection, preservation of evidence, operational analysis, investigation of conflict-related sexual violence, crime scenes and forensic investigations. Accountability is key when human rights are at stake. If there is no accountability then nations in conflict can commit disastrous war crimes as they please. This group aims to demonstrate international support and solidarity for Ukraine, along with holding those taking part in the conflict accountable for their actions against civilians.

USAID Helping Ukraine

Along with the efforts of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, in July 2022, USAID announced it would provide $74 million in aid to Ukraine. This brings the total amount of USAID spending to help Ukraine to $1 billion. With the continued support of the U.S. and other nations, humanitarian organizations have been able to assist around 11 million people. Their continued efforts are crucial in ensuring the protection of human rights in Ukraine and that Ukrainians are safe from war crimes. The additional funding from USAID will provide emergency hygiene items, health care, mental health care, shelter and cash assistance to Ukrainians. It is also important to recognize that vulnerable populations disproportionately bear the burdens of war. As an acknowledgment of this, the funding will also aim to support those who are within these populations to help meet their life-saving needs.

The continuous commitment of wealthy nations to support humanitarian aid is detrimental to preventing human rights violations in Ukraine and ensuring that nations are held accountable for war crimes. The actions now set a precedent for conflicts in the future. Therefore, nations like the U.S. should continue to set an example of what humanitarian aid should look like, thus creating a model for others to follow.

– Emma Cook
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in SerbiaAccording to the U.S. Department of State’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, Serbia ranks as a Tier 2 country, which means “the Government of Serbia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking [in relation to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000] but is making significant efforts to do so.” The U.S. Department of Justice defines human trafficking as “a crime that involves the exploitation of a person for labor, commercial services or sex.” According to the NGO Atina, “Serbia is [a] source, transit and destination country for children, women and men trafficked for the purpose of sexual and labor exploitation, coercion to commit crimes, forced begging and forced marriage.”

Poverty and Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is more common in countries with higher poverty rates as lack of money/resources is one of its driving factors. Economic deprivation makes individuals more vulnerable to human trafficking as many impoverished people are desperate to find a way out of poverty. Low-income families sometimes resort to sending their children away with seemingly trustworthy people promising to provide the education and resources needed. Serbia is one of those developing countries where the poor state of the economy contributes to the prevalence of human trafficking. The country had a poverty rate of 21.7% in 2019, according to the World Bank, and an unemployment rate of 10.1% in 2021.

Types of Human Trafficking in Serbia

Human trafficking in Serbia involves men, women and children. However, women and children are the most vulnerable, representing the majority of victims. The targets are both domestic and foreign, with Roma children in Serbia being more likely to fall prey to human traffickers. This is a consequence of the discrimination and marginalization of the Roma community. Unfortunately, the majority of the Roma population also faces difficulties accessing social protection, decent housing and other essential resources.

Usually, Serbian women are trafficked in sex work all over Europe, particularly in Turkey, Austria, Germany and Italy. Men, on the other hand, are mainly forced to work in labor-intensive sectors, whereas children are pushed into “sex trafficking, forced labor, forced begging and petty crime.” According to the 2021 TIP Report, “thousands of migrants and refugees from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia transiting through or left stranded in Serbia are vulnerable to trafficking within Serbia.”

According to the 2021 TIP Report, courts and judges are often lenient toward defendants accused of human trafficking and forced labor, with some judges displaying victim-blaming attitudes and prejudices, especially toward vulnerable groups and Roma people.

Serbia Takes Action

Over the last few years, the Serbian government has increased national spending on anti-human trafficking efforts. For instance, the government gave $240,080 to the Center for Protection of Trafficking Victims (CPTV) and the Urgent Reception Center (URC), a sharp rise in comparison to the $31,320 contribution in 2019.

The government has also implemented awareness campaigns and stepped up law enforcement efforts. In 2020, Serbian authorities prosecuted 42 defendants for sex trafficking and forced labor under article 388, a reduction from 47 prosecutions in 2019. Serbia has set penalties of up to 12 years for such criminals and convicted 18 traffickers.

In order to investigate forced labor, the Ministry of Interior founded a new investigation unit in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic had, however, delayed trials and negatively impacted police investigations, which are crucial in the battle against human trafficking.

Atina Fights Human Trafficking in Serbia

Founded in 2004, NGO Atina is committed to fighting human trafficking in Serbia. The organization employs a strategy comprised of five components: victim protection, prevention, social enterprise, capacity strengthening and policymaking/advocacy.

Atina founded the social enterprise Bagel Bejgl as a means of providing girl refugees, migrants and trafficking victims with an opportunity to achieve economic independence. Atina director Marijana Savic said on the NGO’s website that the girls also learned valuable skills while working in the bagel shop to take forward into future employment.

Looking Forward

The Serbian government’s efforts to address human trafficking are a step in the right direction in order to secure a better future for the country’s most vulnerable people. Furthermore, Serbia has seen an improvement in the state of the economy with a GDP growth rate of 7.4% in 2021 in comparison to -0.9% in 2020. A stronger economy may allow the country to provide vulnerable citizens with stronger social safety nets and raise living standards in Serbia. With less poverty, citizens will be less vulnerable to the conditions of modern slavery and forced labor.

– Caterina Rossi
Photo: Flickr

Fuel Crisis in Europe
After years of economic downfall, increased rates of poverty and supply chain disruptions, Europe finds itself launched into a desolate fuel crisis due to the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian crisis. The cost of fuel and electricity is likely to increase, further impacting families as they try and survive Europe’s cold winters.

Although the fuel crisis in Europe is often accredited to the Russo-Ukranian War, the problem has its roots in years of crises and decisions that have left Europe with an acute shortage of fuel. Aside from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the backlash from the 2020 pandemic is the most immediate culprit. The pandemic saw a lower production of natural gas and inadequate maintenance, leading to problems in production now. It also has led to a sharp increase in fuel demand after the lifting of restrictions, causing a shortage in fuel.

In addition to the pandemic and sanctions on Russian exports, much of the fuel crisis in Europe has stemmed from a decrease in energy production. Many countries have been trying to phase out natural gas and coal, shifting towards more sustainable alternatives. In fact, in the past decade, natural gas production halved, with imports making up 83% of gas consumption today.

Impact of Fuel Shortages

Because many homes in Eastern and Central Europe already rely on burning coal and wood to heat their homes, the fuel crisis has exacerbated the ongoing coal shortage. Many countries in the EU have pledged to eliminate the use of coal due to its carbon footprint. In addition, Europe placed sanctions on the coal exports of Russia – one of Europe’s biggest coal producers.

The shortage of coal and other fuel sources has led to many European leaders rolling back on measures designed to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. Several coal-producing countries, such as Poland and Bulgaria have increased their coal usage and reopened old cold-fire plants. Poland has also lifted bans on burning lignite and household coal, though the country fears that the lifted ban still will not meet Polish energy needs.

Wood burning is also expected to increase throughout Europe as governments encourage their citizens to burn wood to keep warm. Countries like Bosnia Herzegovina and Bulgaria have even banned wood exports, fearing that there will not be enough wood for domestic purposes.

An Increase in Pollution

With an increase in the use of dirty fossil fuels and wood burning comes concerns for the impact on people’s health and well-being. It is well-known that countries with high usage of coal and other fossil fuels have a significantly higher rate of air pollution which causes thousands of deaths. One report estimated that 18 coal plants alone were enough to cause around 19,000 deaths in nearby regions. Wood burning is just as deadly as coal, if not more. One study earlier this year found that wood-burning accounted for the most pollution-related health issues and was responsible for €17 billion in health costs across Europe.

The tremendous impact that coal or wood burning has on people’s health means that a sharp increase in usage of it will also increase health issues. This is especially concerning for impoverished groups across Europe as they are the most likely to be affected by this issue. As prices have surged, research has found that poorer households that cannot afford energy are more likely to resort to burning coal, wood or other harmful materials.

This is especially problematic considering that poorer people are more likely to have exposure to air pollution as it is. They are more likely to live in areas with worse air quality and do not often have access to health care to treat possible health issues.

Mitigation Strategies

Despite the tremendous effects the energy crisis has had on Europe, governments are working to fight it. In October, the EU introduced a new package that is intended to lower energy costs and secure energy supplies. The package intends to impose a variety of measures that would lower costs, such as negotiating prices, establishing a dynamic price limit and working to lower demand for gas.

Many other countries have introduced similar packages, spending almost €500 billion across the continent to curb prices, lower energy taxes and provide subsidies to citizens struggling with energy costs. Both packages intend to lower the burden of energy costs on families and citizens, especially low-income citizens who tend to be affected the hardest by high prices.

The Road Ahead

The impact of the fuel crisis in Europe has been tremendous on its citizens. It has led to an increase in coal, wood burning and pollution, which has particularly affected poor citizens. It is also predicted that low-income countries and citizens will continue to see an increase in air pollution and a decrease in health. However, the proposed packages to lower energy costs could not only decrease the financial burden on citizens but decrease the need to burn wood, coal and other harmful fuels.

– Padma Balaji
Photo: Flickr

Bulgarian Protesters
In mid-November 2022, Bulgarian protesters took to the streets outside the Balkan country’s Parliament building to fight for a livable minimum wage. Increasing inflation sparked the movement, and fears of minimum wage freezes prompted Bulgaria’s two largest employee unions to begin protests calling for raises in the minimum wage. The protests started right before winter because many are experiencing energy poverty and cannot afford to heat homes. Without an increase in the minimum wage, Bulgaria could have thousands, if not millions of its citizens, drop into energy poverty and lose its stance in the “eurozone.”

Bulgarian Minimum Wage

Bulgarian protesters are tackling the issue of minimum wage outside the Parliament building because the minimum wage is crushing the lower classes. Bulgaria has one of the lowest minimum wages in Europe. Bulgaria’s minimum wage is not keeping pace with the continuously-rising inflation, as inflation has effectively outpaced the national wage increases. The minimum wage stands at BGN710 or €362 per month. However, despite the pay increases, due to the amount of taxes taken out of most minimum wage earners’ pay, they only take home about €281.

By 2020, the poverty rate in Bulgaria reached 22.1%. The updated figures show the actual number of Bulgarians in poverty is likely much higher. About 35% of Bulgarians are considered the “working poor,” according to Radio Bulgaria. To be “working poor” one must have a job, work 27+ weeks a year, in the labor force, but still fall below the poverty line. The term “working poor in Bulgaria refers to those supporting themselves on minimum wage.

Bulgaria’s working poor have no way out of their poor status as long as the minimum wage remains as low as it is. With the inadequate pay, many Bulgarians fear the costs of living, specifically energy costs, might increase and force them into “energy poverty.”

Bulgaria’s Energy Poverty

Energy poverty is the lack of access to modern energy sources and services. It is one of the main causes of Bulgarian protesters taking to the capital. Energy poverty is one of the dominant challenges the Bulgarian government has faced since the Parliamentary and presidential election of 2021, as it is one of the poorest energy nations in Europe. In 2020, 27.5% of Bulgarian homes did not have adequate heating and 22.2% of Bulgarian homeowners and property renters were late or in debt due to overwhelming energy bills.

Bulgaria depends on Russia for 75% of its gas, making it one of the nations most reliant on Russian gas. The European Union held off on implementing the same bans on Russian oil that the U.S. did, but Russia slashed its gas exports and EU members scramble to seek alternate natural gas providers. The oil pipeline transporting Russian gas and oil to Eastern European nations, including Bulgaria, will remain open but with limited quantities. The minimal gas imports are likely to cause gas prices to soar again. Prices have been fluctuating wildly. The EU is in talks to set a cap on Russian gas prices, which the EU will decide on by December 5, 2022.

Until the EU sets that cap, though, Bulgarians dependent on Russian gas while only earning minimum wage will continue to struggle. Fears of living in energy poverty are motivating Bulgarian protesters as they head into the region’s coldest months of the year.

Protests and Their Implications

Bulgarian protesters are led by the nation’s top two labor unions. Bulgaria’s labor unions are a force to be reckoned with and are responsible for a significant number of Bulgaria’s workforce. Around 15% to 17% of Bulgaria’s workforce is involved with labor unions. Nationwide, there are two dominant labor unions, with countless smaller unions covering various employees and their protective needs.

Bulgaria is a member of the EU and is on its way to being a member of the “eurozone.” To be a member of the zone, one must meet four critical criteria: price stability, sustainable public finances, an inflation rate that is not more than 1.5 percentage points higher than the rate of the three best-performing member states, and exchange-rate stability. Bulgaria met the criteria required to join the eurozone, which should go into effect on January 1, 2024. However, with inflation continuing to rise and a lackluster minimum wage impacting the economy, Bulgaria could lose its spot in the eurozone.

Bulgarian protesters are calling for Parliament to raise the minimum wage before an economic freeze takes hold, Al Jazeera reports. Should a freeze happen, the minimum wage will remain low in the current inflation crisis, and the government will lose its spot in the eurozone. Without an increased minimum wage, Bulgaria’s economy will not have the proper structure to lift its poor citizens out of their financial danger.

Ending poverty for Bulgarians is possible, especially if the government raises the minimum wage, and the efforts to reach this goal earned the attention of the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA). Bulgaria joined in November 2021, a recent but significant change. The IDA has granted $458 billion to 114 countries through grants with 0% interest. The funds go to programs that decrease poverty and improve the economic status of a nation. Joining the IDA is symbolic of Bulgaria’s progress away from the title of “developing.” Bulgaria’s economy is improving, but inflation and a lower minimum wage could halt any potential improvements. With the IDA’s assistance and a raised minimum wage, Bulgaria has a phenomenal chance of securing those better futures.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Energy Poverty in Europe
On October 4, 2022, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) issued a report entitled “Tackling energy poverty and the EU’s resilience: challenges from an economic and social perspective.” Indeed, within the European Union, there is a need to tackle the issue of energy poverty as winter approaches. With energy inflation reaching 40% due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, many EU households may not be able to heat their residences this winter due to increasing rates of energy poverty in Europe. The European Commission estimated in September 2022 that roughly 34 million individuals in the EU are enduring “energy poverty to varying degrees.”

EU Measures to Tackle Energy Poverty

The European Union has already adopted a few policies to fight energy poverty in Europe in the last few years. With the 2019 “clean energy for all Europeans package,” the EU is establishing key measures to counter energy poverty in Europe. The package aims to increase energy security by protecting vulnerable consumers from steep energy prices and a lack of energy resources. To achieve this, the EU aims to rely less on external energy supplies by diversifying its sources of energy supplies and increasing its investment in renewable energy sources within the EU.

When it comes to monitoring energy poverty, the EU receives reports from EU Member States on the number of people suffering from energy poverty. These reports are mandatory since the implementation of the “directive on common rules for the internal market for electricity” in 2019 and enable the EU to allocate more or less support according to the numbers.

The Energy Efficiency Directive (implemented in 2012 but amended in 2018) directs Member States to implement “a share of energy efficiency measures… as a priority in households affected by energy poverty or in social housing.” With such measures, those households would consume less energy and would pay lower energy bills.

The Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union stresses the obligation of EU Member States to each establish their own “national indicative objective” to reduce the number of households suffering from energy poverty. Then, each country must update the EU regarding progress toward this goal. In addition, Member States have to provide information on the measures and policies already implemented and future measures to address energy poverty.

Other Actions

Other than the directives and policies, the EU has other tools to help Member States fight energy poverty. The Energy Poverty Advisory Hub (EPAH) is the main EU initiative addressing energy poverty through a “collaborative network of stakeholders,” the EU website says. The EPAH builds on the energy poverty reduction work conducted by the Energy Poverty Observatory. The EPAH distributes resources to stakeholders to guide them in taking action to reduce energy poverty. This includes online courses, reports, guidebooks and technical assistance. The EPAH will run from 2021 to 2024.

Energy inflation due to the Russia-Ukraine war has increased the number of households living in energy poverty across Europe. Considering this situation, it is essential for the EU to prioritize fighting energy poverty, with a special focus on disadvantaged households. The EU is committed to energy sustainability and is taking action to achieve this.

– Evan Da Costa Marques
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in Latvia
The COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 have presented challenges to poverty reduction in Latvia. Due to these factors, Latvia suffered from a high unemployment rate in 2020 and an increasing inflation rate in 2022. Because of this, growth in the Latvian economy has slowed, prompting the government and organizations to take action to ensure Latvia is still on track to meet the 2030 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Impacts of the Pandemic

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate in Latvia had significantly lowered, standing at 6.3% in 2019, the lowest percentage visible over a decade. After the onset of the pandemic, the unemployment rate increased to 8.1% in 2020. Women faced the disproportionate impacts of unemployment at the onset of the pandemic. In 2020, Latvia’s GDP saw contracted by 3.9% but expanded by 4.5% in 2021, according to the World Bank. The World Bank reports that the number of people in Latvia living under the national poverty line stood at 21.6% in 2019 but increased rapidly to 23.4% by 2020.

Growing Inflation Due to the Russia-Ukraine War

Another economic instability happened when the impacts of the Russia-Ukraine war touched international trade in Europe. In Latvia, inflation became an issue. As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “food, energy, and other raw material” costs have risen. Inflation in Latvia rose beyond 10%, the highest rate visible since 2008.

By March 2022, inflation in Latvia reached 11.5%. “Housing-related goods and services” rose by 14.5% on average while “transport-related goods and services increased by 22.9%, driven by a 43.3% increase in fuel prices,” according to the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.

The growing inflation rates are most harshly affecting impoverished families, but pensioners are most at risk of poverty amid the rising prices, with many unable to afford their heating bills.

Efforts Toward Poverty Reduction in Latvia

In May 2022 the Latvian government adopted the second Voluntary National Review (VNR), which “evaluates progress, challenges and presents new initiatives to accelerate the achievement” of the SDGs, according to the U.N. These SDGs include No Poverty (SDG 1) and Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8).

In a 2022 report assessing Latvia’s SDG progress, Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš said that “We are helping those most in need and promoting equal opportunities for all in Latvia.” He explained further that the government is prioritizing housing and mobility initiatives to expand economic growth and promote decent work out of Riga, Latvia’s capital city. Furthermore, Latvia is “improving access to health care, including significantly increasing salaries for the lowest paid medical practitioners.” The government is also raising the minimum income threshold for individuals most vulnerable to poverty. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Latvian government provided support to people and businesses impacted by economic stagnation and lockdowns.

The Latvian Platform for Development Cooperation (LAPAS) came about in 2004 to bring Latvian non-governmental organizations together in order to promote development in Latvia. LAPAS works toward the achievement of the U.N. SDGs through advocacy efforts, global education priorities, the promotion of local organizations and educating and updating the public on developmental issues via workshops, social media, lectures and more.

Through ongoing commitments toward achieving the U.N. SDGs, the Latvian government and organizations can reduce poverty in Latvia while igniting economic growth and improving the quality of life in Latvia overall.

– Olga Petrovska
Photo: Unsplash

Domestic Corruption in Moldova
Moldova, a nation with one of the highest poverty rates among European countries, has a long history of political corruption that has stood in the way of progress. Though the nation’s path toward realizing democracy and greater economic prosperity has been complicated, recent democratic reforms offer hope for successfully combating domestic corruption in Moldova.

Moldova’s History of Corruption and Recent Embrace of Democracy

Discordant efforts towards combating domestic corruption in Moldova have taken place since 2005, when former President Vladimir Voronin, the Moldovan Communist Party leader, embraced a pro-democracy platform. While Moldova passed subsequent acts of legislation to address corruption, its justice system remained corrupt in many respects, as prosecutors and judges frequently received bribes or pressure to deliver court rulings that favored kleptocrats. In 2015, officers arrested and charged Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat for his role in a massive corruption scandal the previous year in which someone stole around $1 billion from Moldova’s three main banks.

In 2020, Moldova elected its first female president, Maia Sandu, who ran on an anti-corruption platform. During her campaign, Sandu pledged to reform Moldova’s courts. While President Sandu’s pro-European Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) won a majority in parliament, the government is still fighting an uphill battle to root out corruption. Going forward, these anti-corruption efforts will require increased support from civil society organizations, grassroots movements and NGOs to increase pressure on Moldova’s political elite. The nation has already adopted proportional representation in parliament, and Sandu’s government is actively promoting democratic reforms by working to improve Moldova’s business environment and limit monopolistic competition, promoting a free and independent press and improving labor conditions.

US Policymakers’ Efforts to Help Moldova

In light of Moldova’s recent democratic reforms and anti-corruption agenda, U.S. lawmakers have expressed views that more can occur in Washington to further these efforts. On July 29, 2022, ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees sent a joint bipartisan letter to the Biden Administration, urging the President to resolutely support Moldova’s reform efforts by announcing new sanctions on corrupt Moldovan figures. These sanctions, in accordance with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016, are necessary to further the Moldovan government’s aims to stabilize the nation, continue on a pro-democracy trajectory and build resilience against hostile Russian influence.

These sanctions are the latest development in the broader context of the U.S. government’s efforts to foster a strong diplomatic relationship with Moldova and encourage democratic governance in recent years. Over the past three decades, the U.S. has given more than $1.7 billion in humanitarian and economic aid to Moldova, and the top priorities for ongoing assistance to the nation include strengthening Moldova’s economic resilience, bolstering democratic institutions, preventing encroachments on the nation’s sovereignty, and reforming Moldova’s justice system. In April 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine (which shares a border with Moldova), USAID administered an additional $50 million in aid, intended to reinforce the Moldovan economy’s ability to withstand the significant strain and the war’s projected consequences. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the nation the month prior.

Looking Ahead

The positive trajectory towards democracy and combating domestic corruption in Moldova, as well as the remarkable ways in which the nation has helped Ukrainian refugees in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have captured the attention of U.S. policymakers. While there are still great strides for Moldova to make, the recent indications of progress in Moldova are promising, and they have ignited a sense of global urgency to further aid the nation, on the cusp of realizing democracy and greater economic prosperity, in its ongoing efforts.

– Oliver De Jonghe
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

European Roma Persecution
Amid the genocide of 6 million Jewish people during the Holocaust in World War II, there existed a simultaneous, lesser-known genocide. The Roma minority in Europe, known derogatorily as “Gypsies,” also became targets of an extermination campaign between 1933 and 1945, with estimates indicating that the Germans and their partners murdered “between 250,000 and 500,000 European Roma during World War II,” according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia. However, the persecution of the Roma, now a population of about 12 million in Europe, did not begin or end in that period of history. Organizations are making efforts to address ongoing European Roma persecution and promote cultural unity.

History of European Roma Persecution

The plight of the European Roma, who originated as a nomadic group from Northern India, began with their enslavement “in the Romanian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia” from the 14th to 19th centuries. As slaves or serfs to “noblemen, landowners, monasteries and the state,” the Roma “were sold, bartered, flogged and dehumanized” for their artisanship and labor.

Racial discrimination continued during the World War II genocide and continues now with hate crimes. For instance, in June 2021, roughly a year after police killed George Floyd in the United States, a police officer in the Czech Republic suffocated a homeless Roma man to death.

European Roma Poverty

The Roma’s economic plight escalated during Europe’s socialist era in the 20th century. In former Czechoslovakia, in 1958, authorities outlawed nomadism and pushed the Roma into state-assigned housing, often breaking up extended families. Employment was also limited to unskilled labor. In Hungary in the 1980s, the government declared more than 40% of the Roma as “functionally illiterate” and created segregated schools for them to attend, resulting in crowded and substandard educational classes for the Roma.

A cycle of poverty, poor education and unemployment persisted to a point of systemic destitution. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, European governments used the Roma as scapegoats for inflation, unemployment, crime and “scarcity of goods,” further denying the Roma access to government welfare services.

A survey of 34,000 Roma individuals across nine European countries in 2016 indicates that about 80% of the Roma live in conditions of poverty.

Erasure of European Roma Identity

A major obstacle in the European Roma’s fight to improve their social and economic condition is the inability to achieve the legal status of a minority for many years.

In socialist countries in the mid-20th century, many rights for minorities had come from the official declaration of that group as a legal minority. These rights included receiving schooling and media broadcasts in a minority language.

Because of existing stereotypes, as well as unwillingness to bear responsibility for providing for an ethnic minority, countries such as Poland, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia decided to regard Roma as an inferior social group rather than a nationality.

Several nations even made concerted efforts to erase Roma’s identity. For example, in the 1960s in Bulgaria, the government banned the practice of Roma culture, including language, traditional music and dance and Muslim religious practices, perpetuating efforts to eradicate their culture and furthering European Roma persecution.

The Fight for a European Roma Nation

In 1948, the Roma in Yugoslavia began to establish themselves politically and culturally. In Macedonia, the Roma secured seats in the Skopje town council and formed a cultural association, Phralipe (translating to Brotherhood). These stand as the earliest steps to establish a sort of safe space for Romani individuals to ensure their representation and preservation within European society.

The first World Romani Congress took place in 1971 in London, setting a precedent for similar congresses to meet and discuss the establishment of a greater Roma identity. These congresses, which continue today, inspired Roma to embrace their identity, establish their status as a minority diaspora with legal protections and created education programs focused on preserving Roma culture and empowering the Roma community.

Looking Toward the Future

Unfortunately, Romani identity and statehood are not quite enough to lift the minority out of their impoverished and marginalized circumstances. Despite the achievements of the World Romani Congresses, poverty rates of the European Roma remain high and both violence and racism persist.

Unfortunately, empowerment or establishing statehood cannot solve these issues that continue to plague the lives of European Roma alone. Rather, the World Romani Congress must look toward substantive economic solutions to uplift the Roma and alleviate their poverty.

Organizations today continue to work to find solutions to the systemic issues forcing Roma into poverty. The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an organization that European activists and civil rights lawyers founded in the 1990s. The ERRC advocates for “the elimination of discriminatory structures that prevent Roma from enjoying full equality.” In 2016, the organization elected a Romani president, and in 2017, the ERRC had a majority Roma staff.

Organizations, such as the ERRC, are gradually reforming the institutions that perpetuate European Roma persecution and poverty.

– Alisa Gulyansky
Photo: Flickr