Accessibility links

(Un)Civil Societies Report: May 18, 2005

18 May 2005, Volume 6, Number 8
SPY AGENCIES FOCUS ON NGOS. The head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), Nikolai Patrushev, accused Western nongovernmental organizations last week of plotting a government overthrow in Belarus during the 2006 presidential election. The Belarusian KGB swiftly and eagerly echoed these charges, claiming additionally that it has already thwarted specific steps taken by ill-wishers of the Belarusian government in this direction. The allegations of the Russian and Belarusian Chekists seem to have inaugurated an international publicity and propaganda campaign focused on Belarus's 2006 vote.

Speaking in the Russian State Duma on 12 May, Patrushev said the U.S.-based International Republican Institute held a meeting in Bratislava in April with the directors of its offices in CIS countries to discuss "the possibility of the continuation of velvet revolutions in the post-Soviet territory." In this context, Patrushev added: "$5 million has been allocated in 2005 for the implementation of programs by this nongovernmental organization to finance opposition movements in Belarus. [The organization] is currently considering involving the leaders of the Ukrainian 'orange' [activists] for training opposition members in Belarus and creating a network of opposition youth organizations."

The following day, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher rejected Patrushev's charges that U.S. nongovernmental groups are part of a Western conspiracy to unseat Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as "completely false, most of them ridiculous." "The work that nongovernmental organizations do in terms of promoting democracy, educating people in democracy, helping the growth of civil society is open, is transparent," Boucher said. "Our election aid in Belarus and elsewhere is for civic participation in the election process, balanced media coverage, nonpartisan political party training, election monitoring, and election administration. These programs are nonpartisan, they are transparent, they are peaceful in nature and we'll conduct them in Belarus in order to support efforts to build civil society and democracy."

Steven B. Nix, the International Republican Institute's Regional Program Director for Eurasia, told RFE/RL on 13 May that his organization's program for Belarus averages about $500,000 a year. "We don't have $5 million, so I'm not sure what connection [Patrushev's allegation may have to] the IRI," Nix said. "We provide technical assistance and training to political parties and nongovernmental organizations in various countries.... We provide training how to build organizational structures; perhaps, communications; perhaps, public relations -- all the things political parties try to do from a functionality standpoint."

Whatever foreign NGOs may say about what they do in Belarus, they are surely unable to convince the Belarusian KGB that their activities are not tantamount to political subversion. It is simply because the mere ideas of "democracy" and "civil society" are highly subversive for the Lukashenka regime. "Apart from [what Patrushev said], the KGB possesses other data that confirm the intention of foreign organizations, funds, and private individuals to spend significant sums to export the revolution [to Belarus]," Belarusian KGB Deputy Chairman Viktor Vyahera said on Belarusian Television on 12 May. "These activities are under our control, and we have already thwarted concrete steps."

And Vyahera's chief, KGB Chairman Stsyapan Sukharenka, said the following day on Belarusian Television that international conferences and seminars for Belarusian pro-democracy activists serve for training "the so-called colored revolutionaries from the radical Belarusian opposition." "Moreover, we have information that on the territory of adjoining countries bases are being created to train militants who will subsequently be used in violent actions of disobedience toward law-enforcement agencies and for destabilizing the situation in society," Sukharenka emphasized. He claimed that the West has already provided $5 million "for a coup in Belarus" and is going to spend as much as $50 million to oust Lukashenka.

Belarusian Television, the main mouthpiece of the Lukashenka regime, noted on 13 May that "the strengthening of an anti-Belarusian campaign abroad and the holding of street protests by the Belarusian opposition" are being accompanied by more and more frequent shipments of narcotics, weapons, and money into Belarus. "This year alone more than 700 small arms pieces were confiscated in Belarus, including those manufactured in the West," a Belarusian Television commentator said over footage showing a stockpile of small arms and explosives.

"It is noteworthy that [law-enforcement bodies] have begun to detect caches with weapons in late April, when the opposition was calling for street protests," the Belarusian Television commentator went on. "On the eve of the so-called Chornobyl Way protest [on 26 April], in which foreign militants [editorial note: presumably, Russian and Ukrainian youth movement activists] took part, stores of small arms and explosives were seized near Minsk and in Brest. According to Interfax, the Interior Ministry is taking into account the possible preparation of terrorist acts and the organization of illegal shipments of arms into the country by opposition activists." In other words, the state propaganda machine has already begun portraying Belarusian oppositionists as dangerous maniacs who are getting ready to kill Belarusians or, as a minimum, to narcotize them during the 2006 presidential election.

Does such propaganda work in Belarus? United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka, a potential challenger of President Lukashenka in the 2006 election, shrugs off such pre-election propagandistic excesses by the regime. "Only pensioners believe this [propaganda]," he told RFE/RL on 16 May. "After what they were shown [on Belarusian Television] over this past weekend, they went to the pharmacy to buy tranquilizers. These people have been intimidated for the past 11 years to such an extent that I'm really sorry for them." That said, one should not forget that pensioners in Belarus account for one-third of the active electorate, and they usually vote overwhelmingly for Lukashenka. (Jan Maksymiuk)

WHAT HAS FUELED THE ANTI-U.S. DEMONSTRATIONS? The trigger that launched the deadly and destructive student-led demonstrations that began peacefully on 10 May in the eastern Nangarhar Province and spread to at least eight other provinces around Nangarhar and in the southern and northern parts of the country as well as Kabul are well known. What is less understood is who has been fueling these rallies and to what end.

In its 9 May issue, the U.S.-based magazine "Newsweek" alleged that interrogators at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet." This news sparked an angry reaction from students at the medical college at Nangarhar University, located on the outskirts of Jalalabad, the provincial capital.

Initially the students held a peaceful rally and tried to block the main road connecting Jalalabad to Kabul. They also read a statement that called on Islamic countries to show their anger over the alleged desecration of the Koran by holding demonstrations; demanded that the United States release all of the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay; and condemned Afghan President Hamid Karzai's decision to request that the U.S. build military bases in Afghanistan.

Sentiment against the U.S. and Afghan governments beyond the "Newsweek" story were apparent from the outset of the rallies. For the first time since communists ruled the country in the 1980s or when the Taliban were in charge in the late 1990s, U.S. flags were burned on Afghan soil. Chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Karzai" were coming from protesters. The timing of the demonstrations and the demands associated with them seem to be well coordinated to coincide with President Karzai's visit to Europe and the United States.

On 11 May, some demonstrators became violent, entering the city of Jalalabad and destroying government properties and buildings housing the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and a nongovernmental organization. The protesters also damaged the Pakistani consulate and the counsel's residence. Four protesters were killed and scores injured before Afghan security and military forces regained control.

Violence continued on 12 May in the Khogiani District of Nangarhar, in the Chak District of Wardak Province west of Nangarhar, claiming three more lives.

Afghan authorities have blamed the "enemies of peace and stability" for turning an otherwise peaceful demonstration, which President Karzai has called a "manifestation of democracy" in his country, into a violent confrontation. The authorities have not identified these elements, nor have any of the dozen or so people arrested in connection to the Jalalabad events been linked to any particular group.

On 12 May, demonstrators in Kabul and other cities made more specific demands -- including an apology from the United States, a trial by an Islamic court of those who allegedly carried out the act of desecration, a promise from the United States that such an act will not be repeated; and that U.S.-led coalition forces do not enter the houses of people during search operations.

A day later, on 13 May, the demonstrations spread to northeastern Badakhshan and southeastern Paktiya provinces, where four more people were reported to have been killed, bringing the death toll to 11.

Underlying Factors

One of the protesters in Kabul on 12 May held a sign in Pashto that read: "The Holy Koran is Our Soul!" For Muslims, their holy book has an importance that can get lost if compared to the meaning of the Bible to Christians, for example. According to the "Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World," for Muslims the Koran is "alive and has quasi-human personality." It is perhaps similar to what Jesus Christ is to devout Christians or the Torah is for Jews. As such, any act of disrespect of the Koran is viewed as an affront to God and his laws. Therefore, the anger expressed by the students at Nangarhar University is understandable when considered in this context. However, the fact that the protests of the demonstrators went from the alleged case of disrespect for the Koran to the issue of the United States establishing military bases in Afghanistan, searches of private home by U.S. troops, and Karzai government's alliance with Washington, might be an indication of the existence of other agendas behind the rallies.

Moreover, the demonstrators in Jalalabad were targeting specific buildings to attack. It was not a wanton act of violence. As such, targeting Pakistani diplomatic establishments in the city may not be without significance. Despite Islamabad's claim that its consulate was not targeted on purpose, questions are raised as to why this particular foreign diplomatic mission was singled out.

The issue of U.S. bases in Afghanistan has been on the front page of most Afghan publications for some time. Particularly since Karzai formally proposed a "strategic partnership" on 8 May before an assembly of some 1,000 well-known Afghans. The most common reaction to the military-base issue is that final the decision should be left to the Afghan national parliament, which is scheduled to be elected in September. Many Afghan politicians, especially those who have lost power recently, have equated the presence of the U.S. military in the country with a continuation of Karzai's administration. While not openly critical of the U.S. and other foreign military presences in the country, these politicians have expressed uneasiness about the issue. The demonstrations loudly echoed those hushed sentiments.

The issue of searching homes is more isolated and localized to Nangarhar. In late April, a demonstration by representatives of the Khogiani, Sherzad, Hesarak, and Pachir wa Agam districts was held in Jalalabad to protest such searches. Nangarhar Governor Haji Din Mohammad, after meeting with representatives of the demonstrators, promised to solve the problem (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 May 2005). As such, the inclusion of this issue in the demands of demonstrators coming from Nangarhar is not surprising, but the fact that this issue made its way to the Kabul University campus illustrates a more organized planning for what ought to have been spontaneous rallies if they were triggered only by the "Newsweek" story and not fueled by other factors.

The attack on the Pakistani Consulate also is worth pondering. Why would students ostensibly angered by an alleged act by U.S. interrogators burn the diplomatic mission of a country that has officially contacted Washington on the issue and its parliament has condemned the alleged act with the Koran? If the allegation about abuse of the Koran was central to the demonstrations, Pakistan's consulate should have received praise, not firebombs.

Is Someone Behind the Demonstrations?

Thus far both the Afghan government and the demonstrators have refused to identify the "enemies of peace and stability" who are allegedly behind the violence, including the attack on the Pakistani Consulate.

No one has pointed a finger at the neo-Taliban and the militia's spokesman, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, told Kabul-based Tolu Television on 11 May that they had not provoked the demonstrations. Also, Jalalabad is not considered a neo-Taliban stronghold, and Badakhshan is one of only two provinces in Afghanistan that the former Taliban regime could not conquer.

On 11 May -- a night letter reminiscent of the days when Afghans were struggling against Soviet troops in their country -- was circulated in parts of Kabul. Without making any reference to the events in Jalalabad, the letter announced that the "principle duty of the Mujahedin has just started." The unsigned letter condemns the possibility of the establishment of U.S. military bases in Afghanistan and alleges that Karzai and the former Taliban members are in an alliance with the purpose of turning Afghanistan into a U.S. satellite state.

Which countries in Afghanistan's neighborhood oppose the development of a long-term U.S.-Afghan partnership -- if such a thing is indeed accepted by both states' leaders and by the Afghan parliament? Or, who has lost power since Karzai's victory in October's presidential election? If a clear answer can be found to these questions, then perhaps the true identity of those fueling the demonstrations in Afghanistan would also be known. (Amin Tarzi)

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED ON BLOODY FRIDAY? The horrific bloodshed in Uzbekistan on 13 May breaks down, on closer examination, into two interconnected events that raise two separate issues. The first was an attack by armed men on a military garrison and prison, with the subsequent liberation of prisoners and seizure of the regional-administrative building in Andijon. The second was the use of deadly force against demonstrators who gathered on the city's central square near the occupied regional-administration building. President Islam Karimov and his government have presented official explanations for both events. But independent reports paint a somewhat different picture of the first event, and a radically different picture of the second.

1. The Assault

At a news conference in Tashkent on 14 May, President Karimov provided a detailed account of the assault by armed men on the night of 12 May and morning of 13 May first on a police unit, then on a military garrison, and finally on a prison. After this, they seized the regional administration building and made unsuccessful attempts to storm the regional offices of the National Security Service and Interior Ministry. Karimov focused on losses among security personnel and stressed that the attackers were Islamic extremists from an offshoot of the banned extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. He also stated that phone intercepts showed that the militants consulted with "masters" in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Independent accounts of this first event differed from the version presented by Karimov less in the factual details of the nighttime assaults than in the motivation imputed to the armed attackers. In a clear reference to Hizb ut-Tahrir, Karimov described the attackers' goal as "setting up a caliphate in Uzbekistan...which will allegedly include Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and all other countries," Uzbek Television reported. While independent reports did not dispute the attackers' decision to resort to violence, they did not uncover any specific statements indicating sympathy with Hizb ut-Tahrir's aim of establishing a caliphate ruled by Islamic law, nor did they suggest a more general Islamist context for the violent action.

Sharipjon Shakirov, who had served a four-year prison term for involvement in what the government describes as the Akramiya Islamist group (see below), was one of the men who occupied the regional-administrative building in Andijon. In telephone communications from the building, he told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 13 May that "repression and slander" drove him and others to violent action. He added, "We do not have any connection with those groups [banned Islamic groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir]." He continued: "We have only one demand. [The authorities] should release those people who were imprisoned based on slander, including Akram Yuldoshev." On his own time in prison, Shakirov commented: "We want all those imprisoned on false charges to be released because there are many political prisoners in Uzbekistan. I know this because I served a prison term myself." RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported that Shakirov was among those killed later on 13 May.

Akram Yuldoshev, whose name serves to denote the "Akramiya" group, is currently serving a 17-year prison sentence on terrorism charges. In February, 23 businessmen from Andijon went on trial on charges of involvement in Akramiya. The armed men who began the violence in Andijon on the night of 12 May were apparently their supporters. At issue in the cases of Yuldoshev, the above-mentioned Shakirov, the 23 businessmen, and their supporters is the credibility of the Uzbek government's claims, as represented in criminal convictions and charges, that they were religious extremists with links to the banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which espouses the creation of a caliphate throughout Central Asia and the implementation of Islamic law, although it eschews violence (and has specifically denied any involvement in the events in Andijon). For if these official claims are to be believed, the role of religious extremists in starting the violence would seem indisputable.

The problem is that the Uzbek government's record on this score is anything but encouraging. The U.S. State Department's 2004 report on human rights in Uzbekistan, published on the agency's website ( on 28 February, details numerous instances of rights violations, many of them involving individuals accused of Hizb ut-Tahrir involvement. The report states that "authorities treated individuals suspected of extreme Islamist sympathies, particularly alleged members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, more harshly than ordinary criminals, and there were credible reports that investigators subjected persons suspected of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir to particularly severe interrogation in pretrial detention, in many cases resorting to torture."

The report also notes, "Local human rights activists reported that police and security-service officers, acting under pressure to break up Hizb ut-Tahrir cells, frequently detained family members and close associates of suspected members, even if there was no direct evidence of their involvement. Authorities made little distinction between actual members and those with marginal affiliation with the group, often persons who had attended Koranic study sessions with the group." Addressing the issue of fair trials, the report states: "Defendants often claimed that the confessions on which the prosecution based its cases were extracted by torture. In many cases, particularly involving suspected members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the prosecution failed to produce confessions and relied solely on witness testimony, which was reportedly often coerced. Typical sentences for male members of Hizb ut-Tahrir ranged from seven to 12 years' imprisonment."

Against this backdrop, Shakirov's statement about "those imprisoned on false charges" gains weight, as does the bitter complaint by Yuldoshev's wife, quoted by Forum 18 on 14 February: "They're not content that my innocent husband is locked up in prison, but are trying to make out of him some kind of bin Laden." The same holds for Forum 18's report that "local people Forum 18 has spoken to reject Uzbek government and foreign press allegations that Akramiya was set up by former Hizb ut-Tahrir members, dissatisfied by the organization's professed rejection of violence, as a means to achieve the aim of an Islamic caliphate."

The preceding does not mean that the participants in the initial violence -- the attack on the military garrison and prison; the seizure of the regional-administration building -- were or were not extremists. What it means is that there are ample grounds to doubt Uzbek official claims of extremist involvement in the absence of hard evidence to back up those claims. Thus far, none of the independent reports of events in Andijon on 12-13 May indicates that the armed men on the antigovernment side employed extremist rhetoric or symbolism. An individual identified as a Western journalist who was in Andijon on 13 May told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR): "This rebellion has nothing to do with religion. I did not hear cries of Allahu Akbar, and none of the rebels inside the regional-administration building mentioned anything about an Islamic state."

Contrasting evidence may come to light, but for now, the most that can be said is that the armed men committed violent acts. Independent reports, such as the BBC's account of the initial violence, support that much of the official version; they do not, however, provide any corroborating evidence for the official claim that the attackers were religious extremists.

2. The Massacre

The second issue is -- and this is an important point -- not directly related to the first: It involves the use of deadly force against unarmed civilians. On this point, the official version put forward by President Karimov directly contradicts the reports of independent journalists on the scene as well as virtually all recorded eyewitness accounts.

At his news conference on 14 May, Karimov stressed that after talks with the rebels broke down, "they broke into three groups, left the [regional-administration] building and began running away in three directions. A chase began." On the death toll, he said: "A total of more than 10 people, including the military, police, and innocent people, were killed. There are far more killed on their side" -- the rebel side, presumably -- "than the other." Karimov denied that he or anyone else had given an order to shoot. He told journalists, "I know that you want to know who gave the order to shoot," Reuters reported. "No one gave such an order." The implication is that rebels shot first and were responsible for civilian deaths.

Independent accounts paint an entirely different picture. After the rebels seized the regional-administration building, a large demonstration ensued in the central square of Andijon. (A photograph of the crowd, showing many women and children, can be found here:,562,8.) Correspondents for Reuters and IWPR were on the scene. Reuters reported, "Troops then opened fire on a square in [Andijon] where protesters had massed and stormed the [occupied regional-administration] building." IWPR reported: "The eight-wheeled armored personnel carriers, APCs, appeared out of nowhere, moving through the streets at speed, past the people on the outer fringes of the rally. The first column of vehicles thundered past without taking any aggressive action. But a second column arriving five minutes later suddenly opened up on the crowds, firing off round after round without even slowing down to take aim."

Eyewitness accounts recorded by IWPR, Reuters, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, "Kommersant-Daily,", "The New York Times," and other news organizations also indicated the troops fired indiscriminately at unarmed demonstrators. Moreover, some accounts indicated that when troops directed their fire, they targeted the wounded. A woman identified as Muqaddas told IWPR: "[Military servicemen] got drunk, and in this condition they shot and killed the wounded. In my presence, they shot down a woman with two small children." A man identified as a 31-year-old cobbler told Reuters, "I saw soldiers killing several wounded with single shots to the head after asking 'are there any wounded around?'"

The death toll from the events of 13 May remains unclear. Several eyewitness accounts stated that 500 were killed in Andijon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005). The unregistered Uzbek opposition party Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) has sent representatives door-to-door in Andijon and Pakhtaobod, a nearby town where unconfirmed reports speak of a brutally suppressed uprising after the violence in Andijon, to collect the names of the dead, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 May. At present, the list contains 745 names, 542 from Andijon and 203 from Pakhtaobod. (Daniel Kimmage)

ENCOURAGING THE OPPOSITIONS. U.S. President George W. Bush's swing through the former Soviet states of Latvia, Russia, and Georgia in early May was filled with lofty rhetoric on the universal human striving for freedom, as well as with praise for the so-called colored revolutions that have swept through the region.

"Your most important contribution is your example," Bush told a crowd of tens of thousands in Tbilisi's Freedom Square on 10 May. "In recent months, the world has marveled at the hopeful changes taking place from Baghdad to Beirut to Bishkek. But before there was a Purple Revolution in Iraq, or an Orange Revolution in Ukraine, or a Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, there was the Rose Revolution in Georgia."

In an interview with Georgia's Rustavi-2 television on 8 May, Bush said: "I want to go to your country and thank the Georgian people for setting such a good example for other nations to follow." He added that the wave of revolutions in the post-Soviet space "was not planned by anybody or any nation. It was just an inevitable force of human nature because everybody wants to be free."

Dangerous Business?

However, encouraging opposition movements in the former Soviet Union is a potentially dangerous business. In recent weeks, Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and other administration officials have spoken openly of their desire to see Belarus follow Georgia's "example." In a 4 May commentary in "The Washington Times," a conservative newspaper, Jeffrey Kuhner, communications director of the Ripon Society, a Republican policy institute, wrote: "With strong American support, [the Belarusian opposition] may well unleash a 'White Revolution' similar to the Rose and Orange revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine." Kuhner lauded the Bush administration's policy of "helping to bolster the country's growing opposition movement.""I want to go to your country and thank the Georgian people for setting such a good example for other nations to follow."

Belarusian opposition figure Anatol Lyabedzka flew to Georgia in the days before Bush's visit for high-level meetings with Georgian officials, including parliamentarians and Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli. "This is a very high level," Lyabedzka told "It indicates that Belarus is not a matter of indifference for Georgia. It is very important. People who think alike always understand one another." Lyabedzka also hinted that he would be seeking a meeting with Bush himself.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told the crowd in Freedom Square on 10 May that the Georgian government is committed to helping the United States spread democracy worldwide, including in Belarus.

But the U.S. administration's rhetoric is being heard beyond the confines of Belarus. Oppositionists within Russia are also listening. A group of Chechens living in Georgia demonstrated in Tbilisi on 10 May, calling on the United States to support Chechen independence, Caucasus Press reported. "We hope that George Bush will use his influence with Russia and will promote a political solution of the Chechen people's problems," a demonstrator told the news agency. Likewise, opposition figures in Russia's Republic of Bashkortostan have taken inspiration from the so-called colored revolutions, even taking to wearing orange clothing in emulation of the successful Ukrainian opposition. According to RFE/RL, an opposition group called the Tatar Public Center from another ethnic republic in Russia, Tatarstan, hoped to send protesters to Bush's speech in Tbilisi, although it eventually changed its plans. reported on 6 May that an unnamed Bush administration source had cautioned oppositionists in Armenia and Azerbaijan -- where governments have carried out elections at least as compromised as those that sparked the revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan -- not to interpret Bush's support for Georgia as a call for revolution in those countries. "We welcome reforms in both power structures and beyond them," the source was quoted as saying. "Opposition forces should be engaged in peaceful democratic processes in Armenia and Azerbaijan." RFE/RL reported that Azerbaijani oppositionists were prevented by Georgian police from unfurling a banner during Bush's 10 May speech in Tbilisi.

On 3 May, about 100 opposition demonstrators rallied outside the U.S. Embassy in the Uzbek capital Tashkent calling for Uzbek President Islam Karimov's ouster. According to "India Daily," the goal of the protest was to "attract U.S. State Department and international attention."

Reaction To Washington's Words

At the same time, the U.S. statements have irked politicians in Russia and China, as well as the entrenched regimes in countries like Belarus. Russian analysts in recent days have been speaking more frequently about a "coordinated campaign" against Russia. Aleksei Zudin, director of the Political Science Department of the Center for Political Strategy, added that the recent comments "are undoubtedly an integral part of the pressure on Russia that began with the so-called colored revolutions," reported on 6 May.

The Beijing magazine "Shijie Zhishi" in April published an analysis entitled "The Background Behind The Color 'Revolutions' In The CIS" that described purported U.S.-led efforts to "fill the political vacuum in this region." The magazine charges that over the last decade, the United States has spent "more than $21 billion" through the Freedom Support Act to "exert influence on the political- and economic-development process in these states." The West "is continually exerting political pressure and creating a 'relaxed' political environment for opposition political forces in these states," the article charges.

With opposition groups encouraged by the successes of anti-establishment revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan and closely following statements from Washington that seem to be urging them to follow these examples, the danger of crackdowns -- especially in countries like Belarus and Uzbekistan -- has also been heightened. The United States could find itself in a position similar to the one that followed the first Gulf War in 1991, when Kurdish oppositionists felt encouraged to rise up against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein only to have their uprising savagely put down without substantial assistance from the West. (Robert Coalson)

COSSACK REVIVAL GATHERS MOMENTUM They once formed the elite guard of a succession of Russian tsars and had a reputation as the fiercest soldiers in the imperial armed forces. Now, after decades of repression under communism, the Cossacks are making a comeback. Not only has Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on parliament to pass a bill formalizing the practice of recruiting Cossacks for service in the army, police and border guards, but his own presidential guard now includes two squadrons of Cossack cavalry.

Twenty-five new recruits of the Russian president's newly created elite equestrian guard have just taken up residence in their Kremlin quarters -- all of them drawn from the Kuban region of southern Russia, one of the traditional strongholds of the Cossack borderlands.

The creation of cavalry units coincides with legislation passing through the Duma that would institutionalize the practice, now well established, of recruiting Cossacks to serve in the army and police units -- often in an informal capacity. Cossack vigilante groups have become an established feature of life in southern Russia.

The legislation, though, would take things a stage further by granting registered Cossack organizations the right to select members for service in designated Cossack military units."Russia is a country which is still groping painfully for a national project and self-identification as a nation."

Aleksandr Golts, a military expert and deputy editor of "Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal," is among those who give the plans a cautious welcome.

"If our authorities have decided to form special Cossack detachments, it's a brilliant idea and we can only applaud," Golts said. "Look at the British tradition of forming regiments from one place. But we have a lot of examples of inadequate approach of Cossacks, their self-understanding as supermen, and we have a lot of examples of them organizing something like lynch-courts. What we badly need is to put this Cossack movement in some civilized limits."

The sight of Cossack cavalry guards dressed in full military splendor and mounted on horseback can be guaranteed to stir national pride and draw in crowds of admiring tourists. But the question arises: Why is Russia still looking for symbols from its distant past?

"Russia is a country which is still groping painfully for a national project and self-identification as a nation," said Masha Lipman, an analsyt at the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow. "If we compare Russia with other postcommunist countries, they opt for Europe as their future. Not Russia; Russia is very uncertain about what its future is about. Having gone astray on its way to find its own identity, it has naturally turned to the past rather than to the future, because the future is so uncertain and the present is so discouraging."

But it is not just the anachronistic nature of the Cossack movement that disturbs critics.

In southern Russia, Cossack paramilitary units have figured prominently in violent campaigns to persecute and expel ethnic minorities and illegal immigrants -- often with tacit official approval.

Edgar Saroyan, a correspondent with the RIA-Novosti news agency in the Northern Caucasus, which includes some of the Cossack territories, said he fears the worst.

"Unfortunately, today's Russian authorities fail to understand one simple thing: What they call the Cossack movement does not really exist because the Cossacks were effectively destroyed by Soviet power in the twenties and thirties," Saroyan said. "Those people who today call themselves Cossacks are mostly people who can't make good use for their lives, among them many with criminal records and ex-Communist Youth league and Communist Party members -- in short, people who are trying by one means or another to into power."

If new legislation were to arm the Cossacks, he said, the North Caucasus, which includes war-torn Chechnya, could be torn by violence.

"As for legislation, according to which they want to arm the Cossacks, the consequences for the North Caucasus would be irreversible," Saroyan said. "Even now, when the Cossacks have no such rights, they are still trying to persecute the indigenous population with their document checks, whips and so on. That's why I think it would be wrong under any circumstances to arm these people. It would lead to real confrontation."

President Putin, however, does not appear to be listening. The rehabilitation of the Cossacks as the armed support of the state continues apace. (Robert Parsons)

KABUL WEEKLY SAYS PEOPLE GROWING IMPATIENT. The pro-mujahedin "Payam-e Mojahed" on 12 May commented that the recent violent demonstrations in several Afghan cities show that the people's patience is running out after the government's implementation of "anti-Islam and anti-jihad policies," referring to the fight waged by the mujahedin groups against Soviet forces in the 1980s and against one another in the 1990s. According to "Payam-e Mojahed," while people have expressed their discontent about the news of the alleged desecration of the Koran, "the root cause of the protests is deemed to be the [Karzai] government's actions over the past three-and-a-half years." The U.S.-based "Newsweek" had reported that interrogators at the U.S. detention facility in Cuba had dishonored the Koran, though the magazine has since retracted its story. "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005

ARMENIAN POLICE SEEK TO THWART OPPOSITION RALLY. Police dispersed residents of the village of Gochtn, near Yerevan, who gathered on 16 May in the village's main square in advance of a rally called by the opposition People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Only a handful of residents finally showed up to meet with HZhK Chairman Stepan Demirchian, who construed the police intimidation as "the great fear felt by a regime in its death throes." "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ASSESSES POLITICAL SITUATION... Representatives of the Yeni Siyaset (New Politics) and Ugur (Success) opposition election blocs, together with the leaders of the Vakhdat and National Democratic ("Boz Gurd") parties and the conservative wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, attended a roundtable discussion behind closed doors in Baku on 16 May convened by the 16 October movement, and reported on 17 May. In a subsequent statement, participants enumerated the conditions they consider necessary to ensure that the parliamentary elections due in November are free and fair. They include creating equal conditions for all parties and blocs wishing to field candidates; permitting political exiles, including former President Ayaz Mutalibov and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Rasul Guliev, to return to Azerbaijan to participate in the ballot; annulling the convictions handed down to the members of the 16 October organization to permit them to participate in the ballot; and the adoption of the opposition's proposed amendments to the Electoral Code, including changes in the composition of election commissions.

...AND VOW TO GO AHEAD WITH BAKU DEMONSTRATION. Participants in the roundtable convened by the 16 October movement in Baku on 16 May also reaffirmed their shared determination to stage a mass meeting in Baku on 21 May even if municipal authorities do not grant permission to do so. They gave a negative assessment to the dialogue launched earlier this month between some opposition representatives and the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 May 2005), and to the decree President Aliyev issued last week stressing the need to ensure that the parliamentary elections are free and fair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2005). "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005

AZERBAIJANI YOUTH GROUP APPEALS TO U.S. PRESIDENT. An unspecified number of members of the Azerbaijani opposition youth group Myagam (It's time!) unfurled orange banners during President Bush's speech on Freedom Square in Tbilisi on 10 May, and Turan reported the following day. The banners called on Bush to "save democracy in Azerbaijan" and affirmed the group's commitment to free and fair elections. The Myagam activists also met in Tbilisi with representatives of Georgian youth organizations. "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2005

FORMER BELARUSIAN DISSIDENT LAWMAKER ARRESTED. Syarhey Skrabets, a member of the dissident Respublika group in Belarus's Chamber of Representatives from 2000-2004, was arrested in Minsk on 15 May by men who introduced themselves as officers of a department for combating organized crime, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported, quoting Skrabets's wife. Skrabets is reportedly suspected of giving a $30,000 bribe to an official in Brest, southwestern Belarus. Skrabets was transferred from Minsk to Brest on the same day, and searches were conducted in both his and his parents' apartment. Belarusian Television reported on 17 April that Belarus's law-enforcement agencies have detained a Lithuanian citizen who reportedly delivered $200,000 to finance Skrabets's political activities. Skrabets later commented to Belapan that the report was stage-managed by the KGB to embroil him into a trumped-up criminal case. In October 2004, Skrabets asked Moscow for asylum, arguing that he was threatened with imprisonment for opposing Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime. The Russian presidential administration has reportedly denied political asylum to him, saying that Russia does not offer asylum to citizens of countries with which it has no border or visa controls. "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005

BELARUSIAN ORGANIZATION SLAMS TRIAL OF MINORITY ACTIVISTS IN POLAND. The Minsk-based World Association of Belarusians (ZBS) has condemned criminal proceedings against 11 publishers and journalists of the Belarusian-language weekly "Niva" in Bialystok, northeastern Poland, as "discriminatory actions of the Polish authorities against the Belarusian minority in Poland," Belapan reported on 11 May. "It is disturbing that the Polish authorities replicate the practice that exists today in Belarus under the authoritarian regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka and is oriented toward the Russification of Belarusian society and discrimination against Belarusian culture and education," the ZBS said in a statement. Last year Polish prosecutors charged the "Niva" publishers and journalists with the misuse of state-budget money and inaccurate bookkeeping (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 15 December 2004). Belarusian activists in Poland believe the charges are part of an official clampdown on the Belarusian minority in that country. In a preliminary hearing in a regional court in Bialystok on 11 May, seven of the accused publishers and journalists refused to plead guilty; two others did the same earlier this year. The other two defendants were singled out for a separate trial. "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2005

BELARUSIAN POLICE DISPERSE RALLY PROTESTING NEW STREET NAMES. Some 40 young opposition activists staged an unsanctioned demonstration on 10 May in downtown Minsk to protest the recent renaming of streets in the Belarusian capital by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005), Belapan reported. Police dispersed the rally and detained eight demonstrators for a short time for identification. Lukashenka decreed before the 60th anniversary of the 9 May victory over Nazi Germany that Frantsishak Skaryna Avenue, Minsk's main thoroughfare, be renamed Independence Avenue, and that Pyotr Masherau Avenue, another major street in the capital, take the name of Victors' Avenue. The Belarusian president at the same time ordered that the names of Frantsishak Skaryna Avenue and Pyotr Masherau Avenue be ascribed to other streets in Minsk. "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2005

NGO CONCERNED BY VIOLENCE AGAINST IRANIAN WORKERS. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has written to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to express concern over recent violations of workers' rights, Radio Farda and the ICFTU website ( stated on 12 May. The ICFTU in its letter expressed concern over the arrest and disappearance of a state car-factory worker, Parviz Salarvand (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005), his allegedly "brutal" interrogation in a factory basement, and the fact that he "has not been heard from for 25 days." The ICFTU has also asked Khatami to order an inquiry into an attack in Tehran on 9 May on a meeting of bus-company union activists. The assault was carried out by 300 members of a state-affiliated trade union, the House of the Worker, and others from the Vahed bus firm, ICFTU stated. They reportedly stormed the meeting place as state security agents watched and filmed their attack; one assailant attacked and nearly severed the tongue of of Mansur Ossanlu, one of the founding members of the bus firm's trade union, the ICFTU stated. "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2005

IRANIAN STUDENTS END SIT-IN, ECONOMISTS URGE CHANGE. Student members of the Office for Strengthening Unity (DTV) ended on 10 May a sit-in they began at Tehran's Amir Kabir University the day before to protest against increasing restrictions at universities and other threats to freedom in Iran, ISNA and Radio Farda reported the same day. Other students reportedly held simultaneous sit-ins at other Tehran colleges, ISNA stated. Political dissidents and moderate critics of the Iranian government joined students at Amir Kabir, and students concluded their protest with a statement denouncing rights violations in Iran, ISNA added. Separately, 180 economics students from a number of universities published an open letter urging "political and economic stability," moderation and greater contacts with the world to resolve Iran's economic problems, Radio Farda reported on 10 May. The statement, published in "Donya-ye Eqtesad," an economic journal, deplored Iran's dependence on oil revenues and state interventionism that has restricted the private sector and made economic production "very weak," Radio Farda added. "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2005

IRANIAN POLICE CHIEF REPORTEDLY ANGERED BY ABUSE ALLEGATIONS. Iran's police chief, Ali Abdullahi, has reportedly written to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud-Hashemi Shahrudi, asking him to find specific examples to back up his recent allegations of police maltreatment of detainees, Radio Farda reported on 9 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2005). Abdullahi's undated letter has reportedly received no reply. But an unnamed judge has told that "in 13 years as a judge in different parts of the country, I have seen numerous examples of such violations," Radio Farda reported. The judge cited one example "in recent years," of a 27-year-old man illegally arrested in southern Iran and beaten "on account of a minor charge." The judge saw the man in court after three days of "illegal detention," and said he had been "severely beaten," and that he had taken photographs of him to prove it, Radio Farda reported. Separately, members of the Office for Strengthening Unity (DTV), a student group, began a sit-in at Tehran's Amir Kabir University on 9 May to protest restrictions and severe security measures at universities, Radio Farda reported, citing Abdullah Mo'meni, a DTV activist. "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005

'JUST KAZAKHSTAN' MEMBERS HAND OVER MATERIALS ON 2 MAY ATTACK. Representatives of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan told "Kazakhstan Today" on 11 May that they have handed over to police video evidence of an attack on a conference the bloc held in Shymkent on 2 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2005). Bloc representatives said they have made the materials available in order to further an investigation of conduct by the police, who they allege failed to intervene as a group of aggressive young people shouting slogans in support of President Nursultan Nazarbaev assaulted members of For a Just Kazakhstan, including presumptive joint opposition presidential candidate Zharmakhan Tuyakbai. "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2005

RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY GROUPS URGE KAZAKH PARLIAMENT TO NIX NGO LAWS. In a 9 May press release, the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House made public a letter from a number of human rights and democracy-building organizations to the chairman of Kazakhstan's parliament about two draft laws on NGOs. Arguing that the draft laws "do not follow recognized international legal standards and best practices," the letter urged the chairman to dismiss them. The two draft laws -- identified as "On the Activities of Branches and Representative Offices of International or Foreign Non-Commercial Organizations" and "On the Introduction of Amendments and Additions into Certain Legislative Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Matters Related to Non-Commercial Organizations" -- would introduce additional registration requirements and other constraints on the activities of international and foreign NGOs in Kazakhstan. The letter concluded that "the draft laws in their entirety are so flawed that they cannot be fixed" and asserted that they "will cut off much-needed assistance to Kazakhstan." Signatories to the appeal included the heads of Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and the Open Society Institute. "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005

ROMANIANS IN MOLDOVA FORM 'DEMOCRATIC FORUM.' Several major public organizations in Moldova, including the Union of Writers, the Union of Journalists, the Union of Cinematographers, and the Union of Artists -- as well as a number of prominent academicians, writers, and journalists -- have founded a civil movement called the Democratic Forum of the Romanians of Moldova, Infotag reported on 6 May. The forum's stated goals are "to cultivate national dignity and self-respect among people, to combat falsification and Stalinism in the sciences, culture, and history, and to defend and promote the scientific truth with respect to the Romanian language and the history of the Romanians." The new organization believes that Moldova's current Communist leadership and "the Soviet authorities of Tiraspol" are jointly pursuing a policy aimed at undercutting the nation's Romanian roots, and it wants to stop this trend. "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005

NASHI STAGES SYMBOLIC PASSING OF THE TORCH. More than 50,000 people participated in a Moscow rally to honor World War II veterans on 15 May that was organized by the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, Russian media reported. "We will take the baton in the battle for the independence of our motherland," Nashi leader Vasilii Yakemenko told the approximately 1,000 veterans who attended the rally. "We will never hand our country over to anyone." Yakemenko added that "our generation will fight for Russia's independence in classrooms, factories, and offices, in business and the economy," RBK-TV reported. State-owned RTR reported that Nashi activists traveled from 30 regions of Russia to participate in the rally. Interfax reported on 14 May that Mikhail Obozov, the head of the anti-Putin youth group Walking Without Putin, was detained at a Nashi rally in St. Petersburg for setting fire to a Nashi T-shirt and shouting anti-Nashi slogans. He faces unspecified administrative sanctions, according to the news agency. "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005

AIDS ACTIVISTS PROTEST IN MOSCOW. A few dozen protesters held an unsanctioned rally in downtown Moscow on 14 May to protest the government's inaction in coping with the AIDS crisis, REN-TV reported. Some demonstrators handcuffed themselves to the building of the Health and Social Development Ministry, and about 20 were detained by police. "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005

ANALYSTS PREDICT ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS WILL BECOME MORE OVERTLY POLITICAL. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 May that many political analysts expect the ecological movement in Russia -- which comprises a disproportionately high number of young people -- will become more politicized. "[The] most recent, noticeable environmental actions have taken on a clear political character," said Aleksei Makarkin, deputy general director of the Center for Political Technologies. "They have little relationship to purely environmental issues. Today young protesters are arranging pickets at nuclear power stations; tomorrow these same people will come out at a demonstration against government reforms." Aleksandr Tarasov of the Center for New Sociology told the daily that "environmentalists have made clear that it is senseless to seek the truth in our courts and have managed to understand that the environment is first of all a political issue." Sociologist Boris Kagarlitskii added: "Under the current system, there is zero chance of conducting any political lobbying. The new package of liberal economic laws are not only antisocial but also anti-environmental and practically guarantee an ecological catastrophe on a planetary scale. All attempts to stop this at the level of usual lobbying will lead -- at best -- to slowing down the process." "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2005

ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS ALLEGE POLICE INTERFERENCE. Activists from the environmental group Ekozashchita told Regnum on 10 May that police in the city of Svetlyi in Kaliningrad Oblast are interfering with their efforts to campaign among residents to participate in an upcoming referendum on the construction of two oil terminals on the edge of town. One policeman started to rip up a flag with the slogan "Our legal right is to win by referendum." The referendum is scheduled for 22 May, but early voting in the referendum began on 6 May, according to the Agency for Social Information ( on 5 May. Earlier, the Svetlyi City Court decided to postpone consideration of a lawsuit brought by Baltnaft against the city's legislative assembly for authorizing the referendum. Aleksandr Semionov, a member of the board of directors of Moskovskii proizvodstvennay baza (MPB), which filed a similar suit with an arbitration court in St. Petersburg, told SeverInform on 4 May that failure to construct the terminals could cost the city budget some 50 million rubles ($1.8 million), which would be a "catastrophe.". "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2005

OPPOSITION FORCES HOLD ANTI-PUTIN RALLY... An estimated 9,000 people took part in the rally in front of the Belorusskii train station in Moscow on 9 May, REN-TV reported. In addition to Communists, members of Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party also participated as well as the Red Youth Avant Garde, monarchists, and about 30 members of the ultranationalist group Pamyat, reported. According to Ekho Moskvy, Limonov accused Putin of trying to please "foreign louts" and chanted before the crowd "Putin, go away! Putin, resign!" At one point, a woman produced a portrait of Putin with the inscription saying "Enemy No. 1" to the cheers of the crowd.

...AND POLICE ENGAGE IN PREVENTIVE ARRESTS. At the rally, activists from the Red Youth Avant Garde tried to break through a police cordon set up around the square and began hurling smoke bombs at the policemen, but they could not cope with the large number of police, according to Ekho Moskvy. Around 2,000 police had surrounded the train station and all participants in the rally had to first go through a metal detector, reported. About 100 activists of various youth organizations were detained on 9 May, Ekho Moskvy reported. National Bolshevik Party spokesman Aleksandr Averin told the station that mass detentions began at 9 a.m. as their party members were detained at their homes, the party's headquarters and in the metro. Police picked up Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of Red Youth Avant Garde, at his home, Interfax reported. According to his wife, Anastasiya, they did this so that he would not be able to participate in the rally. "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005

BOSNIAN SERBS AGAIN BLOCK POLICE REFORM. The international community's high representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Paddy Ashdown, said in Sarajevo on 16 May that talks with political leaders from across Bosnia-Herzegovina broke down due to the continuing refusal of Bosnian Serb authorities to accept a depoliticized, nationwide police force with administrative units that cross interentity borders, as demanded by the EU, Reuters reported. "The talks failed because the [Republika Srpska] representatives were not able to conform to the...principles laid down by the European Union," he noted. Ashdown added that "a great opportunity has been lost, and the citizens of this country will pay a heavy price for that" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April and 11 May 2005). Police reform is one of the most important issues standing in Bosnia's path to further Euro-Atlantic integration. Current police structures are subordinated to the respective entity governments and closely tied to local political structures. The proposed reforms are designed to break those links. "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005

ROW SURFACES BETWEEN MONTENEGRIN LEADERS AND SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH. Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic told the Zagreb daily "Jutarnji List" of 11 May that Metropolitan Amfilohije, who is the highest-ranking clergyman in Montenegro of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), has been meddling in politics by not respecting the separation of church and state, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005). Vujanovic argued that Amfilohije and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica have no right to openly criticize the Montenegrin government's plans to declare independence. The SPC responded in a statement by accusing Vujanovic of engaging in "hate speech" against the church. The statement noted that Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic recently criticized the alleged political role of the SPC in an interview with Polish media, adding that "the entire matter is all the more serious because the prime minister and his president [made their charges] before the non-Orthodox, Roman Catholic publics of Poland and Croatia." The relations between the pro-independence Montenegrin government and the pro-Belgrade SPC, which has the most adherents of any church in Montenegro, have long been delicate. There is a small pro-independence Montenegrin Orthodox Church that is a bitter rival of the SPC, but the government leadership has avoided taking sides between the two. "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2005