Accessibility links

(Un)Civil Societies Report: April 17, 2004

17 April 2004, Volume 5, Number 11
ANTIWAR SENTIMENT MUTED, BUT STILL PRESENT, IN EASTERN EUROPE AND EURASIA With casualties and kidnappings mounting in Iraq among nationals from coalition and noncoalition states, some early supporters of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq in Eastern Europe appear to have wavered in the face of parliamentary or public opposition to the war.

Since the terrorist attacks against Spain on 11 March, these leaders have faced a quandary over appearing to capitulate to terrorist demands or responding to long-term public unease about intervention in Iraq without UN approval. They ultimately decided to stay the course in Iraq (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2004). But not without some protest, and certainly with political costs that could come back to haunt them -- and might intensify if casualties increase in Iraq. In recent weeks, the diverse nature of the U.S.-led coalition and the presence in Iraq of nationals from countries that are among the severest critics of the intervention in Iraq have been vividly highlighted by casualties in firefights with Iraqi rebels and abductions of foreigners -- the coalition of the willing has fed the list of unwilling hostages. The small number of soldiers or civilians from among new NATO members and acceding EU states killed or abducted in Iraq has nevertheless been large relative to the size of their deployments and their concerned populations back home.

Last month, thousands of demonstrators marched in many of the world's Western and Asian capitals to protest the war in Iraq and mark the first anniversary of the invasion; in New York, at least 60,000 paraded in midtown; and Rome's rally proved among the largest in the world, with 300,000 people in attendance. Yet in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, only scattered demonstrations with a few dozen, or a few hundred people at most, were reported. Those who marched tended to be either old-line socialists and communists from the Soviet-era, state-controlled "peace" networks, on the one hand, or younger antiwar marchers who have turned out in the past to demonstrate against globalization, on the other. Whatever their political leanings, they were few in number.

But these days, the largest demonstrations in the region -- including in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia -- tend to allege stolen elections or protest for democracy and are aimed at domestic leaders viewed as corrupt and unaccountable, rather than target issues like the war in Iraq.

An EOS Gallup Europe poll conducted last month in 30 European countries found most citizens opposed the U.S. intervention in Iraq and their own countries' participation in related actions without UN approval, ABC News reported on 20 March. While 82 percent of EU nationals believed a military intervention in Iraq without UN approval was unjustified, the figure among 13 EU accession and candidate countries -- including "coalition of the willing" members such as Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- was lower at 74 percent. The poll figures do not translate into large street demonstrations or significant political action, however.

"If there's apathy in the West, there's even more apathy in Eastern Europe," Mary Kaldor, a veteran of the European Nuclear Disarmament movement and director of the Global Civil Society Program at the London School of Economics, was quoted as saying by ABC News on 20 March. "Many [Eastern European] citizens have the feeling that democracy is not what they had hoped for. And while the U.S. was seen as an ideal, I'm being told that public opinion is changing quite quickly," said Kaldor.

A method activists are using to organize opinion about the war in Iraq are straw polls on the Internet about the U.S. elections for non-U.S. citizens, which often double as discussion pages about Iraq and other contentious issues. Some websites -- like, which contains a voter-registration procedure -- already show more than 5,000 voters from Europe. The website's virtual-election page uses a box with security numbers to prevent ballot-box stuffing and is already accepting votes for the three U.S. presidential candidates. Although organizers clearly appear to be seeking to promote the anti-Bush vote with their action, Internet users from countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Ukraine were logging on and voting for incumbent George W. Bush in greater numbers than they are for either Democratic candidate John Kerry or the independent Ralph Nader.

BALTICS One of the 50 Estonian troops sent to Iraq, Andres Nuiamae, was killed in battle in Iraq in February. Ten Estonian soldiers have been wounded in Iraq since stabilization efforts began.

Estonia's parliament is considering a bill to extend the tour of duty of Estonian peacekeepers in Iraq. The National Defense Committee has approved the bill -- as has Estonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts -- and recommended it for endorsement by parliament, BNS reported this week. A National Defense Committee representative said the wording has been amended so the mission may be extended not by one year, but by up to one year starting from 20 June. The bill could come under discussion as soon as this week. "The government's analysis does not provide serious grounds for recalling our mission," Parts told the "Postimees" daily. "The reconstruction of a free Iraq is not an easy task, it was clear from the outset," he said.

The original motion to deploy Estonian troops to the Persian Gulf in May 2003 was backed by 69 of 101 deputies, a proportion similar to parliaments elsewhere in the region. But according to, the final wording of the Estonian bill is likely to include language -- at the behest of Estonia's Social Democrats -- linking the extension to a UN mandate.

The Estonian contingent is deployed in Baghdad, in a fairly peaceful zone.

Latvia has about 100 soldiers and Lithuania 90 troops participating in stabilization efforts in Iraq, and those leaders seem to be unflinching supporters of the coalition effort. Lithuania's parliament recently approved the continued presence of its troops in Iraq. Russian news sources tend to report unspecified antiwar sentiment that they believe is growing due to casualties, but Baltic media do not report such sentiment as widespread, and antiwar demonstrations have not been reported in their respective capitals.

BULGARIA In some countries of Eastern Europe, antiwar demonstrations, while small, have received ample media coverage, which arguably amplified an air of protest. In Sofia, dozens gathered in front of the National Palace of Culture to take part in a peaceful procession to the Ivan Vazov National Theater, carrying banners saying "NATO Out" and "USA Killers," reported on 20 March. It was enough of a showing to enable international wire services to report Sofia among the capitals of the world displaying protest.

Five Bulgarian soldiers died and many others were wounded in a multiple car-bomb attack in Karbala in December. A national day of mourning was held as the five bodies -- the first casualties for Bulgaria -- were returned for burial. The losses prompted soldiers to demand that clauses be written into their contracts allowing them to leave at any time they wished. Some 30-40 Bulgarian soldiers pulled out of a 500-man battalion before it left for Iraq, AFP reported on 2 January. General Nikola Kolev, the chief of the General Staff, conceded the pullout but said the volunteers would have to reimburse the military for the cost of their training and medical examinations.

While rallies in London or New York dwarf the demonstration in Sofia, given the history of suppression of street protest in the region and the reluctance to this day of many people to take risks, the Bulgarian street is not necessarily the place to look for public opinion.

Bulgarians have ways of making their unhappiness known that do not always involve street demonstrations. One of them is the time-honored collective petitioning of the powers-that-be. On 12 April, a group of 20 relatives of Bulgarian soldiers deployed in Karbala traveled to Sofia from Kazanluk in central Bulgaria, demanding to meet with the president, and reported the same day. They had collected 514 signatures in support of their appeal to relocate the troops to a safer place, after the killing of the Bulgarian soldiers and amid numerous news stories about the killing or kidnapping of foreign troops and civilian workers. The petitioners said their relatives had expected a peacekeeping mission but "the situation had changed very rapidly," reported. Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov, who had reasserted the government's determination to keep maintain soldiers in Iraq, met personally with the relatives and assured them that measures were being taken to keep the troops safe. Later, General Kolev met with the relatives at the president's request. Such high-level assurance and attention seemed to mollify the soldiers' families for now, and one relative admitted to journalists that the soldiers had not asked to be recalled from Iraq but their families were making the request on their behalf. Yet two days later, on 14 April, 15 of the approximately 450 Bulgarian troops stationed in Karbala asked to be relieved of their duties, Bulgarian News Agency (BNA) reported. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi was quoted as saying by BNA that soldiers stationed in Iraq may not be forced to stay there, and Kolev reportedly conceded that the benefits of relieving them of their Iraq duties outweigh the costs of forcing them to stay.

Parliamentarians have regularly raised questions about risks facing the Bulgarian battalion in Iraq, and have also asked pragmatic questions about the participation of Bulgarian businesses in postwar reconstruction contracts, has reported.

While much concern has focused on their troops, Bulgarians have also expressed anxiety about possible terrorism. A little-reported sidebar to the Madrid tragedy of 11 March was the unusually large number of Eastern Europeans and Latin Americans among the victims -- presumably due to the number of students and migrant workers from poorer neighborhoods aboard the commuter trains that were struck, UPI reported on 11 March. Four Bulgarians were killed and eight others wounded in the Madrid blasts, prompting the Spanish ambassador in Sofia to make a public statement expressing the shared grief of the two countries. The victims included Tinka Paunova, 32, who had reportedly traveled to Spain in search of work, leaving her 6-year-old daughter behind with her parents, reported on 21 March.

CENTRAL ASIA In Kyrgyzstan, human rights activists like Natalya Ablova of the Bureau of Human Rights did not take part in antiwar rallies -- like so many did last year -- but many maintain their disapproval of U.S. actions in Iraq. They have been involved in issues closer to home, such as expressions of concern about training and arming of the Kyrgyz police through the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). AP reported on 10 April that Kazakhstan, which has deployed 27 military engineers, appeared to hedge its bets, saying it would not withdraw the contingent "for the time being" but leaving the door open to such a move in the future.

In Uzbekistan, where there is a U.S. base and where the United States and Europe have criticized the failure of President Islam Karimov's authoritarian regime to make human rights concessions, attention has focused on the terrorist dramas of recent weeks. Some commentators have surmised that the explosions of late March are aimed at police and other symbols of authority, and appear to concern domestic oppression rather than international issues like Iraq or Uzbek assistance to the international effort in Afghanistan. But the timing of the terrorist acts in Uzbekistan -- after the Madrid attacks and amid increasing insurgency in Iraq -- has sparked much speculation about possible international links.

CZECH REPUBLIC A protest march to the U.S. Embassy in Prague on 20 March attracted only a few hundred demonstrators, many of them foreigners. Representing members of such groups as the Communist Youth Union, the Communist Party of Iraq, the Palestinian Club, Socialist Solidarity, Christian Dialogue, and Movement for a Just Society, the protesters gathered at downtown Wenceslas Square. Among them were voices of authority from Czechoslovakia's 1970s civic movement Charter 77, including Petr Uhl, a journalist and human rights activist. Other speakers included Jan Keller, a professor of social science, on "war as globalization by other means." The demonstration was bolstered by members of the American and Iraqi expatriate communities in Prague, who are conveners of the Initiative for Social Forums. Ahmad al-Gari, a member of the Iraqi Forum of the Czech Republic, said his group supported the plan for handing power over to Iraqis and condemned the terrorist and criminal attacks in Iraq, as well as the bombing and killing of innocent people. "The people of Sumeria and Babylon want to govern themselves. They don't need a foreign ruler," he said in a speech on the square, according to on 22 March. Polls last year in the Czech Republic suggested that 70 percent of citizens opposed the war and did not back the deployment of the Czech antinuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit to Iraq. Anxiety increased as the country followed the fate of three Czech journalists taken hostage along with other foreigners this week in Iraq. All three were released unharmed on 16 April, but it represented new and sensitive territory for the Czech public and its politicians.

HUNGARY About 80 percent of Hungarians opposed military intervention in Iraq, AP reported on 25 March -- perhaps explaining why the country's Defense Ministry appeared to flip-flop on the issue, first talking about reducing its 300-troop deployment, then saying it has no intentions of doing so. The opposition Democratic Forum called on the government to bring the troops home immediately, "as only the blind do not see that the events in Iraq are leading to the eruption of a war like the one that occurred in Vietnam, in which the Republic of Hungary cannot take part, even with a transport contingent," reported on 13 April, citing local media. The strongest opposition party, FIDESZ, took the position that Hungarian troops should be ordered home before their mandate expires only if they are unable to accomplish their mission. In an attempt to allay public fears, Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz told the daily "Nepszabadsag" that no fighting is going on in the area where Hungarian soldiers are based, and they are not expected to be directly involved in any armed conflict.

POLAND Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski made headlines last month when he complained that his country was "taken for a ride" regarding the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, yet he vowed to keep Poland's 2,500 troops in Iraq. Members of the Polish parliament called for a withdrawal of the country's troops from Iraq but have not gathered a majority to back them. In polls before and since the war began in Iraq, 70 percent of the Polish public has opposed the invasion of Iraq, less than in some other new and prospective NATO and EU members, but still a high majority. Two Polish soldiers have been killed in Iraq. Poland did not produce any significant antiwar rallies in the past month, and various radical groups' websites have complained about apathy and a perceived lack of activism. Some have vowed that demonstrators will nevertheless show up on 1 May, the traditional communist workers' solidarity holiday.

RUSSIA Marches in Moscow to oppose the war in Iraq are more frequent than in Eastern Europe, and have tended to be staged by older communists who have preserved their distrust of U.S. policy from the Soviet era. There is also a new generation of pacifists, guided by veteran draft resisters. These younger human rights activists regularly picket to draw attention to the war in Chechnya.

Most Russians appear to believe the occupation of Iraq is a "crime against the Iraqi people," UPI reported on 18 March, citing RosBusinessConsulting and a February poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM). Some 62 percent of Russians characterized the war as a "crime," while 23 percent said it was necessary and 4 percent supported it. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee head Konstantin Kazachkov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issued statements in the past week stressing humanitarian concerns about the war, such as the suffering of women and children in Al-Fallujah during fighting between U.S. soldiers and presumed Shi'a rebels. They have indicated that Russia might be willing to send troops to Iraq only if authorization is first obtained from the United Nations, RTR reported on 10 April.

When eight Russian and Ukrainian civilians employed by Interenergoservis were kidnapped in early April, Russia did not talk about sending troops to help release them -- as did Japan -- and left it up to the enterprises that have 500-1,000 employees in Iraq to decide whether they want to remove them, "The Moscow Times" reported on 14 April, before the release of the captives. By the next day, however, the Kremlin had decided to help evacuate hundreds of Ukrainian, Russian, and other workers from CIS countries. The hostages were soon released, reportedly with the intervention of the Iraqi Communist Party, and one hostage commented to RTR on 13 April that it was because Iraqis believe that "Russia is our friend." "As far as I can tell, they were released after they said they were Russians," Interenergoservis Executive Director Aleksandr Rybinskii said on NTV on 13 April.

UKRAINE In Kyiv, the peace march synchronized with the worldwide antiwar protest of 20 March was also sparsely attended, with just a few hundred supporters of the Ukrainian Antiwar Movement, the Russian Movement in Ukraine, the Russian Bloc Party, the Aleksandr Nevskii Orthodox Brotherhood, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Brotherhood meeting in Independence Square. Placards reportedly read "Stop the War and Occupation in Iraq" and "Ukrainian Soldiers, Come Back from the Infamous War!."

Ukraine sent 1,634 troops to Iraq, in part to repair relations with the United States, which has been critical of Ukraine's deteriorating human rights situation and made allegations of past sales of arms to Iraq. Four Ukrainian troops have died in Iraq to date -- three in accidents, including one incident of mishandled weapons. The fourth, Ruslan Androshuk, was killed in his tank in Al-Kut on 9 April while his unit was evacuating during a fight for a bridge over the Tigris River. He was the first combat death for Ukraine and received wide coverage on local television. Five other Ukrainians in Androshuk's unit were wounded. Russia's RTR featured his hometown and friends, who said Androshuk had gone to Iraq because he could make money quickly, far more than in regular army service, which they said he needed to get married and have a proper wedding feast. "Politicians are getting rich from the war, and from young men dying," one of Androshuk's friends was reported to have commented by Russia's "Vesti" of 12 April.

Ukrainian military spokesmen repeatedly explained that their troops were unprepared for combat and had expected to serve as peacekeepers, not warriors. In discussions of the Ukrainian presence in Iraq, the word "peacekeeper" rather than "soldier" is always used, presumably to invoke associations with the United Nations even though the UN has not sanctioned a peacekeeping force from Ukraine or any other partner or ally of the U.S.-led coalition.

Parliamentarians who have opposed the war have been quick to pick up on the lack of UN authorization and the sense that the United States appears to be alone in making decisions about troop deployment. "We have not been invited by Iraqis themselves, but the Americans have invited foreigners into someone else's home, and that's wrong," a Ukrainian legislator was shown complaining on RTR on 12 April.

Communists in the Ukrainian parliament raised the issue of the continuing deployment of Ukrainian troops on 7 April. The opposition Our Ukraine requested that Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk report on the peacekeepers' situation and noted that -- before agreeing to the deployment in August -- the parliament had stipulated that they would not be engaged in fighting, the Ukrainian News Agency and other wire services reported on 7 April. The Ukraine Defense Ministry said the troops would be kept in Iraq but expressed concern about their mission. "Peacekeepers are not meant to get involved in battle," Interfax quoted Deputy Chief of Staff Oleg Sibeshenko as saying on 9 April.


ARMENIA "Panic and Mass Arrests as Opposition Protest Suppressed." Armenia�s opposition faced the worst-ever government crackdown in the early hours of 13 April after its peaceful demonstration in Yerevan was brutally dispersed by security forces using water cannon and stun grenades. Thousands of people fled in panic after being suddenly attacked by what appeared to be special baton-wielding police units. Scores were injured in the chaotic scenes. More precise information on the casualties was not immediately available.

"Government Forcibly Breaks Up Protest." Police in Armenia used stun grenades and water cannon to disperse an opposition protest during the early hours of April 13 in Yerevan. In addition, authorities closed the offices of two leading opposition political parties involved in organizing the demonstration, which President Robert Kocharian said threatened the country's "constitutional order."

BULGARIA "Iraq Events Trigger Knee-Jerk Squabbling In Bulgaria."

CENTRAL ASIA "Delegitimizing The Ideology Of Violent Jihad." A roundtable discussion in Washington.

LITHUANIA "A Nation With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." The extremely high suicide rates in the Baltics and Russia are, psychologists believe, the legacy of Stalin and his successors.

UZBEKISTAN "Terror in Uzbekistan: Preliminary Conclusions" A roundup of regional and international expert analysis of the recent attacks in Uzbekistan. Muhammad Solih, leader of the opposition Erk (Freedom) Party, condemned the terror attacks while noting that "the political regime of Uzbekistan, with its emphasis on repression against dissidents, has created good conditions for terror." Ahmed Rashid, the author of "Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia," says attackers may represent a "cross-pollination" of Islamic groups, possibly a "splinter group [of Hizb ut-Tahrir] that decided to go down the path of violence, or part of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan underground."