14 January 2002, Volume
37 JOURNALISTS KILLED FOR THEIR WORK IN 2001...
A total of 37 journalists were killed worldwide as a direct result of their work in 2001, a sharp increase from 2000 when 24 were killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). At least 25 were murdered, almost all with impunity. The dramatic rise is mainly due to the war in Afghanistan, where eight journalists were killed in the line of duty covering the U.S.-led military campaign and a ninth journalist died of wounds sustained there two years ago. This was the highest death toll recorded for a single country since 1999, when 10 journalists were killed in Sierra Leone. Most of the journalists who were killed last year, however, were not covering combat. They were murdered in reprisal for their reporting on official corruption and crime. The number of countries where journalists were murdered more than doubled in the last two years, rising from 10 countries in 1999 to 16 countries in 2000 and up to 22 countries this year. (Committee to Protect Journalists Press Release, 3 January)...WITH A TOTAL OF SIX IN GEORGIA, LATVIA, RUSSIA, UKRAINE AND SERBIA.
In Georgia, TV reporter Giorgiy Sanaya was killed on 26 July in Tbilisi -- Sanaya's colleagues believe that the murder resulted from his professional work. Rustavi-2, the TV station, where Sanaya worked, is known for its in-depth reports on official corruption. In Latvia, crime reporter Gundars Matiss was killed on 28 November in Liepaja; Matiss, who worked for the Liepaja-based daily "Kurzeme Vards," was severely beaten and later died from a brain hemorrhage. Police cited robbery, but Matiss had not been robbed. Police investigation continues. In Russia, Eduard Markevich, editor and publisher of the independent paper "Novy Reft," was killed on 18 September in Reftinsky, Sverdlovsk Oblast. The journalist's colleagues said that he had received phone threats before the killing; Markevich was also attacked in 1998. In Ukraine, the director of independent TV company Tor, Igor Aleksandrov, was attacked on 3 July and later died in Slavyansk. Aleksandrov's colleagues believe the murder was connected to his TV program, which featured investigative coverage of corruption and organized crime. In Serbia, AP TV producer Kerem Lawton died on 29 March in Kosovo. Lawton, 30, a British national, died from shrapnel wounds sustained when an artillery shell struck his car. Macedonian military officials and ethnic Albanian insurgents denied responsibility for his death. Reporter Milan Pantic was killed on 11 June in Jagodina. The 47-year-old journalist worked as the "Vecernje Novosti" correspondent for the Pomoravlje region of central Serbia. He specialized on criminal matters, including corruption in local companies and had often received telephone threats. For more, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.cpj.org/ (Committee to Protect Journalists Press Release, 3 January)ATTACKS ON THE WORLD MEDIA: IN STATISTICS...
According to the Paris-based mediawatch group Reporters without Borders (RSF), journalism was under increased threat around the world in 2001. The RSF presented the following grim statistics for 2001: 31 journalists killed, 489 arrested, 716 attacked or threatened, and 378 press media censored. (Reporters without Borders Press Release, 2 January)...'NEARLY A THIRD OF THE WORLD'S PEOPLE HAS NO PRESS FREEDOM'...
Except for the number of journalists killed, which remained stable, all other indicators deteriorated in 2001. The number of journalists arrested increased by almost 50 percent, and there was a 40 percent increase in attacks and threats on reporters. There are currently 110 journalists behind bars around the world. Every day some publication is censored somewhere in the world. Nearly a third of the world's population lives in countries where there is no press freedom. (Reporters without Borders Press Release, 2 January)...IMPUNITY STILL REIGNS...
Almost no murders and assassinations of journalists have ever been solved. The people behind the murders are still free and have never been touched by the judicial system in their countries. In Ukraine, for example, the government has been obstructive in the search for the truth behind the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in September 2000. The Prosecutor-General's Office and the Ministry of the Interior are against any serious investigation. In September 2001, the Council of Europe approved a recommendation calling for "the Ukrainian authorities to undertake a new investigation into the disappearance and death of Heorhiy Gongadze and, to this end, set up an independent investigative commission," comprised of international experts. (Reporters without Borders Press Release, 2 January)...AS DOES THE HUMAN COST...
As of 1 January 2002, 110 of the world's journalists are still in prison due to their opinions or their professional activities. One year ago, there were "only" 74 in jail. In all, 489 press professionals have been denied their freedom in 2001, often with no explanations. Over 700 journalists were attacked or threatened. Whether committed by the authorities, political party activists, armed bands, or criminals, these attacks are almost never investigated in serious, sustained ways. It is no surprise that impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators increases. In many countries, political leaders are often the instigators of these violent acts, since they would prefer revenge on critical journalists rather than take them to court. In Ukraine, Russia, and the former Soviet-bloc republics of Central Asia, violence is always present, and there have been many recorded attacks. (Reporters without Borders Press Release, 2 January)...AT HIGHER POST-11 SEPTEMBER RISK.
In addition to the deaths of reporters on the scene, the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington and the military operation undertaken in Afghanistan had major consequences on world press freedom. Several laws adopted for fighting terrorism are worrisome and weaken the principle of free dissemination of information. In Kazakhstan, for example, in November Ministry of the Interior troops occupied the building of independent TV station KTK, temporarily disrupting its broadcasts. The authorities explained that due to the Afghanistan conflict, "all the republic's strategic installations had to be monitored by the Ministry of the Interior." For more, see http://www.rsf.fr (Reporters without Borders Press Release, 2 January)MEDIA SUSTAINABILITY INDEX ONLINE.
IREX announced on 16 December that its recently published 2001 Media Sustainability Index (MSI) is available online at http://www.irex.org/msi. USAID and IREX designed the MSI to assess the state of the independent media sectors in any country of the world. This first iteration examines Europe and Eurasia in 2001. IREX has made the MSI's online version more accessible with downloadable PDF versions of individual chapters, as well as a zip archive of the complete publication. To learn more about the history, methodology, and results of this extensive project visit the IREX website at http://www.irex.org/msi, or e-mail email@example.com. The MSI was funded by USAID. (Center for Civil Society, 16 December)
PRESIDENT DECREES MEASURES TO SUPPORT INDEPENDENT MEDIA.
President Heidar Aliyev issued a decree on 27 December outlining measures the government must adopt to alleviate the financial and administrative constraints on independent and opposition media outlets, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Those measures include the abolition of customs duties for newsprint, National Bank soft loans for media outlets, reducing tariffs for the allocation of private TV and radio broadcasting licenses, guaranteeing that the state publishing house will print opposition newspapers, and removing obstacles to newspaper distribution. The same day, parliament deputies voted unanimously to adopt the amendments they had discussed the previous day to the law on the media. Those amendments remove the constraints on receiving funding from abroad and on registration of new media outlets. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January)RURAL TV STATIONS AWARDED LICENSES -- AT LAST.
In a victory for the country's independent media, five regional TV stations in Azerbaijan were awarded broadcast licenses on 4 January. The licenses were awarded on 21 December by the Frequencies Committee in the Azerbaijan Cabinet of Ministers. The stations which received broadcast licenses include Aygun TV in Zakatala, MTV in Mingechevir, Dunya TV in Sumgayit, and Guba stations Khayal TV and Gutb TV. These stations, whose total potential broadcast audience is over 1 million viewers, have for years sought the licenses from the government. In early January, President Aliyev gave the order to issue the licenses. In recent months, the issue of repeated denials of licenses to rural TV stations has been raised by diplomatic missions, international media watchdog groups, and human rights organizations. The timing of the decision is probably linked to increasing calls to suspend Azerbaijan from the Council of Europe on the eve of its first anniversary. For more, see http://www.internews.org/news/20020104_az/20020104_az.htm (Internews Azerbaijan, 4 January)Aliyev IS NAMED 'FRIEND OF MEDIA.'
Presumably as a result of his 27 December decree on alleviating the conditions under which the media operate, President Aliyev was named as Friend of the Media in 2001 by 14 of 56 participants in the annual poll organized by the Committee for Journalists' Rights, Turan reported on 5 January. Democratic Party of Azerbaijan General Secretary Sardar Djalaloglu deplored that choice as ignoring official reprisals against the independent media over the past eight years, while Aydin Guliev, editor of the newspaper "Hurriyet," said he believes the outcome of the poll was falsified. Aliev's brother Djalal, who has brought numerous libel cases against journalists, was named enemy No. 1 of the media, followed by Siyavush Novruzov, deputy executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, and presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January)JOURNALIST TO FACE LIBEL CHARGE.
Eynulla Fatullaev, a journalist with the recently closed independent newspaper "Milletin sesi," was taken by police from his home to a Baku district court on 3 January and informed that the criminal case for libel brought against him by Ramiz Mekhtiev, the head of the Azerbaijani presidential administration, will begin on 8 January, Turan reported. Meeting in Baku on 3 January, the Council of Editors of leading media outlets issued a statement condemning Mekhtiev's decision to proceed with the libel charge in the wake of President Aliev's decree outlining measures to liberalize the conditions under which the media operate. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January)INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS BARRED FROM NAKHICHEVAN PARLIAMENT SESSION.
Only journalists from state-owned media were permitted to attend the 5 January session of the parliament of Azerbaijan's Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, Turan reported the same day. The parliament session approved the region's budget for 2002, but contrary to predictions by some independent newspapers it apparently did not call for the dismissal of numerous ministers. Meanwhile a member of the editorial board of the independent newspaper "Azadlyg" said all issues of that day's edition were confiscated at Nakhichevan airport on 5 January because the issue contained an article highlighting irregularities in the privatization process in Nakhichevan. Police at the airport denied, however, that the paper was confiscated. On 4 January, Turan reported that residents of the village of Bananiyar were told by Nakhichevan's Economic Development Minister Famil Seyidov that they would not be allowed to participate in the auction for a winery and motor and tractor plant in nearby Djulfa, as only relatives of those enterprises' directors would be permitted to bid. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January)
SERBIAN CHURCH SERVICE ON TELEVISION.
For the first time since independence in1991, Croatian state-run television broadcast a Serbian Orthodox Christmas service from Zagreb on 7 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Metropolitan Jovan Pavlovic officiated and later extended thanks to those who sent greetings, especially President Stipe Mesic, "Jutarnji list" reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2002)
CABINET UNWILLING TO PAY TO TAKE PAPER TO COURT IN SLANDER CASE.
According to the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 9 January, to date none of the ministers of Premier Milos Zeman's cabinet have followed through on threats to file civil suits against the weekly "Respekt" for libel. The daily adds that the court fee of 400,000 crowns ($11,000) has put them off. The government did file a criminal complaint against "Respekt" on 22 November, and "Respekt" Editor in Chief Petr Holub has filed a countersuit against Zeman. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January)
GOVERNMENT PRESENTS A DRAFT MEDIA LAW.
On 9 January, Bekbolot JanAliyev of the Justice Ministry told RFE/RL in Bishkek that the ministry has prepared a draft media law and presented it to parliament. The Committee for Public Organizations and Information Policy of the Legislative Assembly (lower chamber) of parliament plans to consider the draft on 18 January. According to local experts, the new draft is stricter than the current 1992 law. Under the draft law, no publishing house will be allowed to print any publication which is not registered with the Justice Ministry. ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 9 January)PEOPLE'S CONGRESS NAMES 2001's BEST JOURNALISTS.
The People's Congress of Kyrgyzstan, formed last year by four opposition parties, on 9 January named the five best journalists for the year 2001. They are Rina Prishivoit, reporter for the paper "Moya Stolitsa-Novosty;" Aleksandr Kulinsky, correspondent for the Pyramid TV channel; Alym Toktomushev of the "Agym" paper; Bermet Bukasheva, founder of the paper "Litsa"; and Vadim Novechkin, correspondent for the weekly "Delo Nomer." ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 9 January)POLL INDICATES KYRGYZ PREFERENCE FOR RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE MEDIA.
A survey conducted in November 2001 by the Bishkek-based M-Vector agency of some 1,200 people aged between 15-50 indicated that the two most popular TV stations in Kyrgyzstan are Russia's ORT with an average daily audience of 250,000 and RTR (125,000), followed by the independent Kyrgyz TV station Pyramid (85,000), whose programs are primarily in Russian. Radio listenership follows a similar pattern: Evropa Plus and Radio Rossii have an average audience of 110,000 and 70,000 listeners respectively, followed by Hit-FM with 25,000 listeners. The most popular newspapers are the Russian-language daily "Vechernii Bishkek," the independent "Delo Nomer," and Russia's "Komsomolskaya pravda." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January)
ATTACKS ON RFE/RL CORRESPONDENT.
Unknown persons "demolished" the automobile of Sead Sadikovic on 7 January and attempted to break into his flat the following day, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Sadikovic has reported from the Berane area in recent days about attacks by pro-Belgrade extremists on Orthodox Christmas celebrations by members of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. Berane Mayor Sveto Mitrovic blames the Montenegrin government and police for the tensions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January)NEW DAILY APPEARS.
On 23 December, "Publika," Montenegro's fifth daily newspaper, went on sale, pledging to adopt an independent stance. ("ANEM Weekly Update," 29 December-4 January)
FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER AGREES TO DISCUSS PASKO CASE PUBLICLY.
In his interview with NTV broadcast on 28 December, Sergei Mironov said he is ready to meet "very soon" with members of human rights and environmental organizations to discuss the case of Grigorii Pasko. The military journalist was found guilty of "high treason in the form of espionage" by the military court of the Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok on 25 December and sentenced to four years in prison. Mironov said that problems related to Russia's ecological security are very acute and should discussed "loudly and openly." He added that in the context of ecological security he is ready to discuss "concrete steps to help Pasko." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January)PUBLIC COMMITTEE FOR PASKO'S DEFENSE CREATED.
A group of human rights activists including Elena Bonner, the widow of Andrei Sakharov, the leader of the Soviet Union's democratic movement; Aleksei Simonov, the chairman of Sakharov Fund; and Sergei Grigoryants, the president of the civil rights foundation "Glasnost," have announced the creation of a public committee in defense of military journalist Grigorii Pasko, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 4 January. The committee, which includes journalists and scientists, said it will demand the release of Pasko, who was recently sentenced to four years imprisonment for "divulging state secrets."("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January)PASKO DEFENDERS DEMONSTRATE ON LUBYANKA SQUARE...
A group of human rights activists demonstrated on Lubyanka Square in Moscow on 7 January near the headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in defense of military journalist Grigorii Pasko, who was sentenced in December to four years imprisonment for publicizing materials on the dumping of nuclear waste by the Pacific Fleet, Western news services reported. Sergei Kovalev, a veteran of Russia's democratic movement, told the crowd of some 20 demonstrators that in backing the persecution of Pasko the FSB "is undermining the prestige of the country and conception of the strengthening of the state institutions." Kovalev called on the authorities to overturn the espionage charges against the journalist. "The case of Pasko will be won if not in Russia, then in the European Court in Strasbourg," he said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January)...RESULTING IN ARRESTS.
In an interview with RFE/RL on 8 January, journalist Aleksandr Misailov said that during the demonstration Moscow police arrested four demonstrators and detained them for a few hours. The detained activists received court summons for 9 January, Interfax reported on 8 January. According to Interfax, the 30-minute unauthorized rally featured protestors holding barbed wire, scribbling "ecology" in the snow, and carrying a sign that read "Pasko Named a Spy. Who's Next?" The International Social-Environmental Union, the Eco-Protection Center for Developing Democracy and Human Rights, Greenpeace Rossii, and the Yabloko Party supported the protest, Interfax reported, quoting rally organizer Viktoria Kolesnikova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January)TV-6 RUNS OUT OF EFFECTIVE LEGAL OPTIONS...
The presidium of the Supreme Arbitration Court ruled on 11 January that TV-6 must be liquidated and rejected a 29 December decision that had ordered the process to be halted. TV-6 chief shareholder Boris Berezovsky told Ekho Moskvy radio that he intends to take the case to Russia's Constitutional Court and if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights. But neither court is expected to provide the necessary legal remedy to halt the formation of a Liquidation Commission. According to AP, TV-6's lawyers said the station's broadcast license will be annulled only after liquidation, which by law must take place within six months of the 27 November 2001 ruling. Meanwhile, LUKoil-Garant, the minority shareholder that initiated the process of liquidation against TV-6's parent company, Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corporation (MNVK), said on 12 January that it will seek to bid in a tender for MNVK's TV and radio broadcasting rights. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January)...AS LOOMING LIQUIDATION PROMPTS OUTCRY, CALM.
The Russian Union of Journalists and National Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters blasted the presidium's ruling. The Journalists' Union issued a statement calling the ordered liquidation "not merely an insulting mockery of common sense, but of any idea of justice and law." In addition, it said that the case is one of "pure politics." Yabloko deputy Sergei Mitrokhin linked the decision with two other rulings, the one against NTV and the recent prison sentence of former military journalist Grigorii Pasko. He noted that "the haste with which the Supreme Arbitration Court's Presidium passed the ruling on the dissolution of TV-6 reinforces concerns that Russia's legal system is becoming a means of political retribution." However, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin appeared less concerned. In anticipation of the Day of the Russian Press on 13 January, he sent a congratulatory message, noting that "the freedom of the press in our country, the possibility to express one's point of view, have long stopped being a declaration and turned into an everyday reality of our life." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January)TV AND RADIO BLACKOUTS IN REGIONS TO BE THING OF THE PAST...
As of 1 January, the federal government assumed financial responsibility for the distribution of national television and radio channels to cities with fewer than 200,000 people, Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting System General Director Gennadii Sklyar told ITAR-TASS on 8 January. According to Sklyar, such a move was necessary because local authorities have often been unable to pay for the services of transmission centers, which belong to various regional structures and private telecommunication entities. Some regions in the Far East, such as Kamchatka and Khabarovsk, have been plagued by the stopping of radio and television broadcasts as a result of increased debt arrears. In addition, fees for signal distribution are among the largest expenses for Russian broadcasters. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January)...AS FEDERAL AUTHORITIES TO RETAKE CONTROL OF TV AND RADIO TOWERS.
Sklyar also said that his company has other long-term plans regarding the reconsolidation of regional TV and radio transmission centers, "which during past years were illegally handed over to authorities and private communications businesses." Sklyar's company was set up by presidential decree last August. Under that decree, all the property of transmission facilities of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) must be transferred to Sklyar's company, including property that is now rented to private companies. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January)RUSSIAN TV GOING DOWN THE TUBE?
Writing in strana.ru on 8 January, mass communications expert Aleksandr Kustarev said that Russian TV is showing a clear trend of disrespect for its audience and is degrading itself. One example he cites is the habit of inviting celebrities into the studio as "experts" on various issues, even when they are completely incompetent in the subject matter they are asked to discuss. Another sign, Kustarev said, is the obsession of television directors with the idea that the level of expertise and intellectual skill of television personalities should not exceed that of the general audience. In doing, he said, those directors are showing that they feel the general public is not worthy of hearing what it doesn't already know. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January)KREMLIN THINKING ABOUT 'STREAMLINING' NATIONAL TELEVISION?
Kremlin experts on mass media policy believe that Russian television channels have become too similar, with all of them broadcasting the same news about the achievements of Russia under the stewardship of President Vladimir Putin, "Moskovskii komsomolets" quipped on 24 December. To correct the situation, each national channel will be assigned a thematic specialization, the publication added. ORT should thus became a solely political news and features channel; RTR will be responsible for regional news, NTV will be an entertainment channel, and TV-6 will broadcast sporting events, it concluded. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 3 January)SECOND PRINTING PRESS BEGINS OPERATION IN CHECHNYA.
A printing house with a capacity of 35,000 pages of print per hour began operation on 7 January in the town of Znamenskoe in northern Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Beginning next month, it will publish the combined 110,000 print run of newspapers published in Chechnya. It will also produce school textbooks. A mobile printing press began operation last summer in Grozny. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January)NEW LITERARY PRIZE NAMED FOR 'PROTOCOLS' PUBLISHER.
An organization called "Russian Orthodox St. Petersburg" has instituted an annual "Sergei Nilus Prize" for authors who produce works that are dedicated "to the spiritual life of the Russian people," reported the NTV website on 8 January. Sergei Nilus --an anti-Semitic ideologue active before the 1917 Russian Revolution -- published the notorious anti-Semitic forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." The first Nilus Prize will be awarded in St. Petersburg on 13 January. (Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry, 8 January)RUSSIAN COMMUNICATIONS-TECH SECTOR GROWTH.
Russian Communications Minister Leonid Reiman predicted on 28 December that telephone and information technology firms' sales grew 60 percent in 2001, after a rough calculation. Reiman said he based his growth estimate on sales increases of about 40 percent for the first nine months of the year across the sectors he governs, which include telecommunications, information technology, and mail. Sales at state-controlled local telephone monopolies, which the government is consolidating and plans to float on Western markets, grew about 46 percent, while information technology firms sales rose about 38 percent, Reuters reported. Reiman said Russian mobile operators had more than doubled their subscriber base to over 6 million, or 4 percent of the population, and analysts expect the trend to continue. He said stiff competition among mobile operators had led to a 30 percent decrease in cellular tariffs across the country. Reiman is expected to license a third GSM-standard cellular operator to work in St. Petersburg. He hinted in September that Moscow-based Vimpelcom, Russia's second-largest mobile firm, had "good chances" of winning the license. ("RFE/RL Business Watch," 8 January)
RADIO 202 JOURNALIST ATTACKED.
On 26 December, Radio Belgrade 202 anchor Vojin Vojinovic was attacked in front of his house at around 8 p.m. by two unidentified people. He suffered severe injuries. Belgrade 202 Editor in Chief Nebojsa Spaic described the incident, saying, "This case is proof of the fact that the political tensions in this country, in this society, are far too strong, because the assailants, while attacking Vojinovic, accused him of being a member of a party in the former regime. What makes the matter even worse is that he does not work in the current affairs department but on entertainment programs." ("ANEM Weekly Update," 29 December-4 January)INCREASED THREATS AND ATTACKS AGAINST JOURNALISTS.
On 28 December, Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac appealed to journalists to always report cases of intimidation or attacks on their colleagues. "There are strong interest groups, both mafia and economic, fighting for privileges, and they work best in the dark," Korac told a press conference by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists. The committee, comprising journalists, Federal Information Secretary Slobodan Orlic, Korac, and members of the Serbian Interior Ministry, promised to continue with measures aimed at providing protection for journalists. ("ANEM Weekly Update," 29 December-4 January)NOVI SAD PRINTING HOUSE ABLAZE.
A fire broke out on 22 December in the Novi Sad publishing offices of the Forum holding company. The investigating judge said the second printing office had burnt down, including nine machines and the offset print department and four tables. The publication of leading daily "Danas" continues since it is currently being printed in a second printing office. ("ANEM Weekly Update," 29 December-4 January)
PRESIDENT VETOES BILLS ON COMPULSORY TV DEBATES, LOCAL ELECTIONS.
Leonid Kuchma has vetoed a bill obliging all candidates in presidential and parliamentary elections to take part in televised debates and requiring that television companies, independently of their form of ownership, broadcast such debates, Interfax reported on 8 January. Kuchma also vetoed a bill on local elections that stipulated a mixed system in elections to oblast-level councils and a majority system in elections to lower-level councils. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January)
PARDONED POET RELEASED FROM PRISON.
International PEN reported that Uzbek poet Yusuf Dzhumaev, detained since October 2001, was released on 29 December. According to International PEN's sources in Uzbekistan, Dzhumaev was brought before the Bukhara Regional Court on 29 December. At the open trial, attended by the local media, humanitarian groups, relatives, and neighbors, he heard charges under Article 159 of the Penal Code that he had planned to overthrow the government. At present, PEN does not have access to exact details of the trial, but it is believed that he was freed the same day after receiving a presidential pardon. It is clear that the international pressure around Dzuhmaev's arrest played a significant role in his release. For more, contact Sara Whyatt firstname.lastname@example.org (Writers in Prison Committee, 8 January)
ARE MOST SLOVENES 'DOCUMENT (IL)LITERATE?'
By Donald F. Reindl
Many Slovenes were dismayed when the latest report from the International Adult Literacy Survey, sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), appeared in mid-November. The report compares 20 countries and indicates that 70 percent of Slovenian adults have only an elementary level of "document literacy," the daily "Delo" reported on 15 November. Document literacy is the ability to access and use information contained in forms, schedules, and so on.
The notion of a universally high literacy rate represents a significant, almost mythic, element of the Slovenian national self-image -- and the report thus came as a rude awakening. Popular guidebooks often gush that literacy is engrained in Slovenian culture, citing ubiquitous monuments to poets and novelists. The web pages of the Government Public Relations and Media Office (available at http://www.uvi.si/eng/slovenia/facts/culture/) are awash with earnest literary statistics, and Slovenia used to claim to publish more book titles annually per person than any other European country -- a position now held by Iceland.
In an interview published in "Delo" on 10 December, Dr. Miha Kovac, chief editor at the Mladinska Knjiga publishing house, points out that Slovenes borrow, on average, 8.5 library books per person annually, far exceeding the English rate of 2 and the French rate of 2.5. However, despite the fact that Slovenian publishing of new titles per capita remains one of the highest in Europe, Kovac says that the number of copies published per capita is one of the lowest.
The factor behind both statistics may well be the prohibitively high cost of books. Kovac points out that in the U.K. a new paperback costs approximately the same as a movie ticket. In Slovenia, where hardbound editions are the norm, a new book costs seven times the price of a movie ticket.
One of the more morbid manifestations of the obsession with literacy is the literacy-GNP-suicide theory, advanced by Dr. Andrej Maruai, a Slovenian psychiatrist. Slovenia has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe -- a dubious distinction shared with the three Baltic countries and Hungary. According to Maruai, countries with high literacy rates and low GNPs have proportionally high suicide rates. Unfortunately, the latest low assessment of literacy in Slovenia has not meant a drop in the alarming rate of suicides.
Reaction to the OECD report ranged from skepticism to suggestions for remedies. Dr. Stane Pejovnik, a state secretary for post-secondary, vocational, and higher education, proposed that the study should be run again before concrete action is taken. The minister for education, science, and sport, Dr. Lucija Cok, faulted the university system for not developing new study programs quickly enough, and for being more concerned with its autonomy than with its responsibilities.
Suggestions to reduce the value-added-tax on books, or to use it to promote books, have not borne fruit. Olga Drofenik, deputy director of the Slovenian Adult Education Center, says that portion of the budget earmarked for adult education -- set at approximately $5.3 million for 2002 -- is only half of what is really needed.
It is difficult to define, let alone quantify a social construct such as literacy. The OECD report utilized a sophisticated method: literacy was measured on a scale of 0 to 500 in three domains: prose (newspapers, fiction), documents, and quantitative (arithmetic). The three domain scales were then broken into five levels of literacy, ranging from "very poor" to "higher order." In contrast, the United Nations Development Program simply defines literacy as the ability to "read and write a short, simple statement" on one's everyday life. Slovenia has a 99.6 percent literacy rate by this criterion, and correspondingly ranks 29th out of 162 countries on the UN Human Development Index (see http://www.undp.org/hdr2001).
Slovenes might take some small comfort from the fact that the OECD report notes that all of the countries in the survey have a large percentage of the population with low literacy. This includes top-ranked Sweden, where 28 percent of adults do not meet minimum skill levels in prose literacy. Germany similarly fared much worse than most Germans would have expected, which touched off a national discussion on education and the role of parents in promoting literacy.
Slovenia, which sometimes bills itself as the "Slavic Switzerland," might also note that it ranks only two places behind 15th-place Switzerland on this scale. The report also groups Slovenia with Canada and the U.S. in having a large discrepancy between people with high and low levels of literacy.
It is true that some media tend to sensationalize studies such as this year's OECD report. The "Delo" headline of 15 November read: "Catastrophic picture of Slovenian literacy." This is similar to the headline that appeared on the BBC website after a similar OECD report last year about "U.K.'s 'serious' adult literacy problems."
Nonetheless, such sobering reports can draw attention to real problems by debunking national myths, however cherished they may be. (Highlights from the OECD report can be found at the following website: http://www.nald.ca/nls/ials/infoage/infoage.PDF)
Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate in Ljubljana (email@example.com).