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(Un)Civil Societies Report: April 16, 2003

16 April 2003, Volume 4, Number 9
WILL WEST'S MIXED SIGNALS DETER LUKASHENKA? While the world's eyes are riveted to the war in Iraq, even with the most high-profile international human rights body in session at the UN, dictators in other places are getting away with murder -- or at least imprisonment that puts a decided chill on their oppositions. No one is likely to remember the 1,000 people found in a mass grave in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cuba's Fidel Castro rounded up some 75 of his dissident intellectuals and the country that usually complains about him most was busy fending off attacks of its own on the world's stage. A few commentators who wrote about these happenings "off stage" during the Iraq war remembered Belarus -- where about 75 people have suffered short-term detention from three to 15 days and other harassment in recent weeks as they have mounted demonstrations against Europe's last dictator.

In fact, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, an ardent supporter of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, didn't begin his crackdown just now, under cover of the war in Iraq. Belarus had already disappeared down the world's memory hole shortly after highly flawed and unfair presidential elections on 9 September 2001 -- for obvious reasons. Democratic parties blamed each other when a unified opposition candidate who had only lukewarm support failed miserably against the Lukashenka machine. They were in shock for a year but this spring, traditionally a time of protest marches in Belarus, they have begun to appear on the streets once again and risk jail to press their platforms of sovereignty, freedom, and economic prosperity -- only not together. While various opposition groups have shared the same fate of prison gruel and cold cells, they separately staged different events in keeping with their varying political agendas and constituencies.

The first march of the season under the banner "For a Better Life" was held on 12 March jointly by the human rights group Charter-97, the youth movement Zubr (Bison), and the market vendors, a growing movement of small businessmen and stall owners vexed with the antibusiness climate of Belarus and burdensome taxes. The nationalist youth group Mlady Front blasted these organizers for stealing their thunder for another annual march, scheduled near the date of 25 March, the 85th anniversary of the Belarusian Democratic Republic, a traditional national holiday marking Belarus's short-lived independence in the Soviet era. They berated the other marchers for using Russian leaflets and signs instead of sticking only to Belarusian. Shrugging off the criticism, the "Better Life" coalition said traditional goals of sovereignty and national identity, while vital, appeared to be insufficient to attract popular support, especially from ordinary people worried about increased apartment rents and electricity rates. They wanted to try something different.

Whatever their hopes for reaching "the people," they turned out less than 5,000, although they claimed that as many as 100,000 vendors around the country walked off their jobs that day, a number difficult to check. In Belarus, as in other post-Soviet states, a "vendor" can be an out-of-work teacher standing in the metro selling cucumbers or a shuttle-trader with a load of sneakers from Poland or Turkey at the bazaar. Four march organizers, including Charter-97 activists Andrey Sannikau, Lyudmila Hraznova, and Dzmitry Bandarenka as well as Leanid Malakhau, leader of the vendors' movement, and later Yury Khadyka of the Popular Front, Anatol Askerka of Zubr, and Mikalay Vitorsky, a vendor from Borisov, were also arrested and jailed in connection with the 12 March demonstration.

Not to be outdone, the Popular Front geared up for the Independence Day march on 23 March, without a permit. Before they could get started, police rounded up 54 participants near Independent Square and side streets as about 100 assembled. According to the Viasna human rights center, among those detained and sentenced from 10-15 days were such prominent figures as Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka, Aleksei Korol, Vyacheslau Siuchyk, Pavel Sevyarynets, Pavel Znavets, Syarhey Popkov, Yuras Belenki, and Syarhey Vysotsky. Popular Front activist Uladzimir Kishkurna, Yauhen Afnahel, a Zubr coordinator, and Zubr activists Tatsyana Yalavaya, Zmitser Barodka, and Ihar Vinnikau received five days each. Anton Kishkurno's arm was broken while in police custody and Roman Kazakevich was expelled from university. Fifteen more Zubr activists were arrested on 3 April and sentenced to terms up to 10 days after carrying signs in front of the U.S. Embassy saying, "Down with Tyrants!" and expressing solidarity for the coalition effort to topple Saddam Hussein.

Alarmed and what they saw as European indifference to the arrests, Charter-97 activists took an appeal to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), explaining that "special-guest status for the unlawful National Assembly of Belarus would be taken by the existing regime as a blessing for destroying civil society completely, making the possibility of the changes more distant." Unlike the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, PACE did not award any status to Belarus's nominal parliament and continued to deplore its human rights record. Meanwhile, at the UN, a resolution about Belarus, focusing in particular on the cases of the disappeared, sponsored by the U.S. with support of "new Europeans" like Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, seemed to have a chance of success although Russia and its allies would be sure to vote against it.

There was good reason to avoid giving legitimacy to the National Assembly. Predictably, all the protest throughout Belarus in recent weeks provoked the presidentially controlled legislature to pass in the first reading a new measure to exert even more control over rallies and demonstrations, Belapan reported on 7 April. Although the bill had failed twice before when the necessary 50 percent plus one vote could not be obtained, this time 73 deputies voted in favor of the president's proposed law and against the liberal alternative, with only five opposed. The law will further restrict requirements to stage mass events and will increase organizers' responsibility for maintaining public order. Political parties may be closed by the government for even a first-time serious violation of the law, such as failure to ensure public order during street rallies or if there are any injuries or deaths.

The measure is being forced through the pliant parliament just in time to dampen efforts to campaign for the 2004 parliamentary elections. Even without a law in place that could effectively close political parties, in recent weeks, unidentified persons broke into the press office of Zubr, as well as the home of a Popular Front leader in Novopolotsk, and also the office of the Association for the Belarusian Language, taking computers or destroying property.

Undaunted, opposition figures applied on 10 April to hold the annual "Chernobylski Shlyakh" (Chernobyl Procession) to commemorate on 26 April the 17th anniversary since the nuclear disaster. On the same day, "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" ran an article about the formation of a new opposition group calling itself "For a Better Life," next to a photo from the 12 March demonstration under a banner with the same words. The new group's members were in fact nomenklatura figures from the "loyal opposition," and had nothing to do with the previous opposition marches. It included parliamentarians Valery Fralou and Uladzimir Parfyanovich, former Ambassador to Latvia and Estonia Mikhail Marynich, former Agriculture Minister Vasily Lyavonau, and others, who made no apologies for swiping the slogan of those more radical, who had spent the previous weeks in jail.

Belarusian democrats are likely to get some boost from a bill before the U.S. Congress, the Belarus Democracy Act. Although preoccupied with the war in Iraq and bills to support other oppositions, such as in Iran, it is likely that the legislation aimed to support opponents of Lukashenka -- who has been located near the "axis of evil" if not actually on it -- will succeed. It is unlikely to provide much more than about $35 million-$40 million for democracy and human rights programming (which would still have to be appropriated by Congress, and certainly no earlier than 2004), and a significant percentage of the funding will go to U.S. advisers and democracy-building programs rather than directly to the opposition groups.

The mixed signal sent by the lifting of visa bans and the largely symbolic UN resolution are expected to be seized by the Belarusian government as evidence that they continue business as usual, with Russia's tacit support. "Cancellation of the travel ban, previously imposed on Lukashenka and his subordinates, is yet another attempt to persuade the Belarusian authorities into behaving themselves. But it will be futile anyway, for Belarus's problem is in the very nature of Lukashenka's regime," commented Andrey Sannikau in a statement published on 15 April on "Persuasions don't help change totalitarian regimes. On the contrary, there's a danger by doing so of encouraging even harsher repressions against Lukashenka's opponents, just as it happens every time after the international community starts treating him mildly," he said.

THE JIHAD THAT WASN'T... Supreme Mufti Telget Tajetdin of the Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Russia (TsDUM) announced that his organization had declared a "jihad" against the United States in connection with the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Interfax and other Russian news services reported on 3 April. "Russia's Muslims have effective levers of influence in the United States. We will set up a fund to raise donations that will be used to buy weapons to fight against the United States and to purchase food for the people of Iraq," he was quoted as saying at a rally organized by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in Ufa, where he appeared waving an antique saber, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 April. Tajetdin said heads of 29 regional muftiates of TsDUM had voted to declare the jihad, the second in Russia's contemporary history since one declared in 1941 on Nazi Germany. The call for jihad against an international partner of Russia in the war on terrorism surprised the rally's organizers, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Russian press reported on 4 April, and sparked other Muslim leaders to denounce the call.

Within days, Tajetdin was backtracking from the "jihad" call, saying, "All speculations and insinuations over TsDUM's peaceful and humanitarian initiatives are a provocation, a smear campaign, blasphemy, and an attempt to achieve certain ambitious, selfish goals." The TsDUM leaders explained they supported Russian President Vladimir Putin's policy of peaceful settlement of the Iraq crisis through international law and the UN charter. By 9 April, at a roundtable convened by the "Tribuna" newspaper, Mufti Gali Khuzin, Tajetdin's deputy, elaborated that the "jihad" in question was a "spiritual jihad," that is, involving not military, but humanitarian aid to Iraq. "We have declared a jihad on the United States for their expansion onto the territory of a sovereign state, but this is a spiritual jihad. We will collect donations, and with this money we will buy medicines, food, and basic necessities for the people of Iraq. If they had attacked our country, we would declare a real jihad and go as one man to defend our motherland with weapon in hand. But, thank God, no one has attacked us or is planning to do so," Khuzin said, immediately correcting himself, however, and adding: "The U.S. troops firing at our diplomats is also a case of actions against Russia," "Kommersant-Daily" quoted him as saying on 9 April.

It was not the first time that non-Muslims were advised by Muslim leaders to learn the differences between "greater" and "lesser" jihad in their faith. In his best-selling book, "Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia," Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid explains, "The greater jihad as explained by The Prophet Muhammad is first inward-seeking: it involves the effort of each Muslim to become a better human being, to struggle to improve him- or herself.... As Barbara Metcalf described it, 'Jihad is the inner struggle of moral discipline and commitment to Islam and political action.' It is also true that Islam sanctions rebellion against an unjust ruler, whether Muslim or not, and jihad can become the means to mobilize that political and social struggle. This is the lesser jihad...Muslims revere the life of The Prophet Muhammad because it exemplified both the greater and the lesser jihad -- The Prophet struggled lifelong to improve Himself as a Muslim...but He also fought against the corrupt Arab society."

In October 2001, Uzbek poet Yusuf Djumaev, poet and member of the banned Uzbek opposition movement Birlik (Unity) was arrested for publishing poems on a Muslim website. Abdumannob Polat, an Uzbek living in exile in the United States, hastened to explain that the poem referred to the "greater" jihad of internal spiritual struggle rather than the "lesser" jihad of struggle against an external leader -- in this case Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who was implied in the poem. Polat wrote that "jihad does not stand exclusively for an armed, violent struggle." Amnesty International, International PEN Center, and other groups took up this interpretation of Djumaev's poem and lobbied for his release as a "prisoner of conscience." He was handed a suspended three-year sentence in December 2001 but kept under house arrest and harassed, and his son was beaten by security agents.

In the U.S., Harvard University student Zayed M. Yasin delivered a controversial commencement speech, originally titled "My American Jihad," reported on 7 June. After a public outcry, including an anonymous e-mail death threat, he changed the title to "Of Faith and Citizenship" and added one sentence condemning the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Yasin also sought to retain a nonviolent meaning of "greater jihad" in his speech about his own struggle as a Muslim student in America. "It is a word that has been corrupted and misinterpreted, both by those who do and do not claim to be Muslims, and we saw last fall, to our great national and personal loss, the results of this corruption. 'Jihad,' in its truest and purest form, the form to which all Muslims aspire, is the determination to do right, to do justice even against your own interests. It is an individual struggle for personal moral behavior," Yasin said in his speech. "On a global scale, it is a struggle involving people of all ages, colors, and creeds, for control of the big decisions: not only who controls what piece of land, but more importantly who gets medicine, who can eat."

During a heated debate of various scholars and Muslim spokesmen on ABC-TV's "Newsline" on 4 June 2002, Daniel Pipes, an American scholar of Islam frequently under attack by some Muslim groups for his criticism of fundamentalism, said that calling a graduation speech "My American Jihad" after 11 September 2001 was akin to titling a speech "My American Kampf" in 1943, referring to Hitler's "Mein Kampf." "Jihad has historically meant, almost always one thing -- which is expanding the territories ruled by Muslims through armed warfare.... Now I'm happy to see a development occur whereby it means something more spiritual. But we have to start by acknowledging that that's the real meaning of the word, the historic meaning of the word, the traditional meaning of the word, and we can't ignore it," Pipes said.

Responding to the clarifications of the student, which he characterized as "deceitful," Pipes said, "He's pretending that...a jihad is not what it is. He's pretending that the attacks on Americans, notably in September, but many, many other times, are not jihad. Osama bin Laden understands what jihad is. Ayatollah Khomeini understands what jihad is. It's attacking infidels to spread the territory of Islam." ABC's moderator noted that even in claiming the meaning of "greater jihad," the Muslim speakers were not renouncing the violent meaning of the "lesser jihad." Yasin responded that he was merely "trying to reclaim the word for its true meaning, which is inner struggle, both for an individual to do right within oneself and externally for social justice." In the Russian case, even before such a clarification came, the Prosecutor's Office of Bashkortostan issued an official warning against Tajetdin that he could be held liable under the new law on prevention of extremist activity for his call for a jihad against the United States, and his organization could be disbanded. Tajetdin claims influence over a third of Russia's 20 million Muslims, reported on 4 April, although this is disputed by the Russian media and his rivals.

...OR WAS, BUT ISN'T SERIOUS? Ravil Gainutdin, who is head of the Council of Muftis of Russia, another authoritative Muslim group in Russia, was quick to condemn Tajetdin's call for a jihad, saying it wasn't serious, reported. His statement carried "neither clerical nor legal nor moral force, and must not be obeyed by Muslims," Gainutdin said. Rather than discuss the fine points of "greater" and "lesser" jihad, he said Tajetdin's specific call for a jihad was a "great sin that could bring misfortune to millions of people," AP quoted him as saying on 15 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2003). Meanwhile, Duma Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Vladimir Bokov disagreed, saying: "It is a serious statement. Not just individuals but hundreds of thousands and even millions of people stand behind it, who have 'had enough' of the U.S.'s strong-armed policy," quoted him as saying.

Sergei Nikulin, head of the Justice Ministry's department for state security and law enforcement, approached the controversy cautiously, saying: "If it is a question of giving moral and material support to one's fellow believers, there is nothing reprehensible in that. But if attempts are made to recruit mercenaries, to buy arms and to send them to Iraq, these actions fall within the scope of criminal law." "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 April.

Geydar Jemal, chairman of Russia's Islamic Committee, was even more harsh in his reaction, calling Tajetdin "a clown in a dressing gown, mentally sick, a provocateur who hopes to cause a retaliatory reaction," "Kommersant-Daily" quoted him as saying on 4 April.

Other figures seemed eager to play down the call for jihad, while not denouncing the concept of violence per se. Sibagatullah Hajji, chief mufti for Sverdlovsk Oblast, stated that while Islam does give Muslims the right to declare a jihad, what Tajetdin meant was spiritual resistance rather than launching a military operation against the United States, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 April. President Mintimer Shaimiev of Tatarstan was even more cautious, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which quoted him as saying, "While I am aware of concern and alarm among Muslims in Tatarstan and nearby regions in connection with the situation in Iraq, I can say with certainty that among them there have not been and there are no calls for a jihad or other such excesses."

Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov said Tajetdin's statement "does not reflect the position of 20 million Muslims living in the Russian Federation.... There can be no talk about funding, weapons deliveries, or sending any people from the territory of Russia," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying on 4 April. The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, which maintains cooperative relations with Russia's officially recognized Muslims, described Tajetdin's call for jihad as "an emotional outburst" but denied that he truly meant to incite any illegal action. "We treat Tajetdin's concern for civilians and the protection of holy Islamic sites with understanding, but I don't think one should give significance to emotional statements," Archimandrite Mark was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS. He also explained that the notion "jihad" does not necessarily imply armed fighting, but also such peaceful means such as prayer and humanitarian aid. A joint Orthodox-Muslim delegation visited Iraq shortly before the war in search of a peaceful solution, he added. Yevgenii Satanovskii, president of Russia's Jewish Congress, who has praised Putin's stance against xenophobia and anti-Semitism, discounted the threat, saying, "Aggressive Islam, in its extreme forms, is not native to Russia," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying and would "violate Russian legislation and contradict national traditions," he said.

President Putin, responding to the controversy, told reporters on 3 April, "I will do everything in my power to ensure that Russia is not drawn into the Iraq crisis in any form." But he also said: "As for these emotional statements, I understand those people who cannot remain quiet. I understand, and, to some extent share their feelings, especially after watching television reports from the scene of the battle zones." The feelings he shared "to some extent" must have been their opposition to the war in Iraq and anger at U.S. unilateralism, not their threats to punish the U.S. with a jihad.

Paul Goble, an expert on nationalities in Eurasia, said that Putin's agenda may have been to keep all of Russia's three major Muslim organizations off-balance to make sure that no one group gained control over Russia's influential Muslim population (see "Russia: Most Muslim Clergy Rebuff Call For Jihad Against U.S.,", 10 April 2003).

Experts seems to give differing assessments of the Muslim population in Russia. The authoritative "CIA Fact Book," which usually provides percentages of religious believers in most countries, does not note them for Russia. Both Russian Orthodox and Muslim leaders advocated keeping questions about religious belief out of the 2002 census, possibly fearing that the numbers might either be too small or too great. The Russian media has begun to consistently give a figure of "20 million," or 14 percent of the population. A VTsIOM poll in September 2002 found that only 5 percent of those polled described themselves as Muslim religious believers (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 4 September 2002)

Whether Muslim religious believers constitute 5 or 14 or 20 percent of the population of 145 million, ethnic groups traditionally identified as Muslim make up the majority of the population in seven Russian republics, and they are an important voice in Russian politics, with transnational connections and sympathies regarding issues like the war in Iraq and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Possibly Putin, like French President Jacques Chirac and other European leaders, was keen to demonstrate to the world that he, too, faced pressure from a large Muslim population, some of whose sympathies he shared, and whose anger he affected to barely control through his own skilful efforts.

Although one mufti's call for jihad against the U.S. was condemned by other religious and political leaders, antiwar protests with an anti-American and extremist flavor is a reality in Russia. Eurasia Party leader Aleksandr Dugin, a controversial politician known for his staunchly anti-Western views, said a majority of Russians hold anti-American sentiments and that is why "anti-Americanism could be a reliable platform for the consolidation of the entire Russian society." Dugin published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 25 March an essay titled "Why We Dislike the States," a clear reference to the well-known anti-Semitic pamphlet "Why We Dislike Them," which was published in the 1920s by Russian monarchist Vasilii Shulgin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2003)

Extremist antiwar sentiment crops up in scattered, but numerous incidents throughout Russia. Five members of the Rostov Russian National Unity organization threw eggs and paper bags containing green paint (evidently for the color of Islam) at the McDonald's restaurant in Rostov-na-Donu, "Gazeta" reported on 21 March. The attack consciously imitated attacks on five McDonald's restaurants in Moscow with buckets of red paint. The newspaper also reported on small groups of volunteers forming to go to Iraq and join the fight against the U.S. A "Gazeta" reporter who traveled to a cafe in Krasnodar to cover an antiwar meeting described showing his passport to organizers and being asked if he had any Jewish roots. He described one man, with a "Palestinian scarf" around his neck, who shook his first and cursed U.S. President George W. Bush, denouncing "American imperialism" and "international Zionism" and called for "strengthening of inter-Arab unity in the Krasnodar community." When he interviewed the man later, he learned he owned two stalls at the local market, that he was married to a Cossack woman, and had no intention of leaving his family and business to go and fight in Iraq, especially when he could "combat Zionism in Krasnodar." Besides, Saddam Hussein is a "scoundrel and a fool, and even Allah himself is unlikely to help him," the vendor told the reporter.

At a rally in Izhevsk, Udmurtia, demonstrators condemned the war in Iraq for the killing of civilians, including women and children, and the destruction of cultural monuments and the divvying up of Iraq's oil resources, reported on 14 April. "One of the chief purposes of this war is to obtain security and expand the borders of Israel, the state of Zionists, the chief ally of the U.S. in this region," said a speaker at the meeting, who also invoked the 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, since discredited and revoked by the UN. "The Muslims of Udmurtia announce their decisive protest against the actions of the American administration and the Zionists.... Save the world from American terror!" speakers were quoted as saying by

Dugin, and activists from Krasnodar to Udmurtia, are illustrative of a broader anti-Western and anti-Semitic movement gathering steam in Russia now. This amalgam of chauvinistic and Islamist Russians who are either promoting or rationalizing "lesser" jihad as part of a pre-election strategy clearly pose a challenge, but their capacity for actual massive, violent struggle appears remote.

INTERNATIONAL. A site in French and English includes an article on Afghanistan's religious leaders learning how to promote and maintain their country's stability and an article on Kalmykia, where there are few complaints about state support for Buddhism.

IRAQ. A prominent exile Iraqi opposition leader said on 10 April that the only legitimate leadership for his long-suffering country is one that is won through ballot boxes. Bakhtiar Amin, executive director of the Paris-based International Alliance for Justice, called for the establishment of a "new legacy" by any future Iraqi government that would include de-Ba'athification (deconstruction of the Ba'ath Party system) and a political system that reflects the interests of all of the country's minority groups. See also "Activist Discusses Democratic Future of His Country,"

IRAQ. "How Will Iraqi Atrocities Be Prosecuted?" The U.S. has made it clear it does not intend to turn over to an international tribunal Iraqis -- including deposed President Saddam Hussein -- suspected of committing atrocities, and intends to organize a tribunal within Iraq. Human Rights Watch advocates instead a UN-organized international tribunal, saying Iraq's ethnic and religious composition would complicate the work of local tribunals. Indict, a London-based organization working to collect evidence to help Iraqi prosecutors, disagrees, saying Human Rights Watch is being "unrealistic" in pushing for an international tribunal.

RUSSIA. The Sova Center for Information and Analysis, founded in October 1992 by researcher Aleksandr Verkhovskii, analyzes the problems of nationalism and xenophobia and the relationship between religion and society, political radicalism, and the absence or presence of liberal values and human rights in Russia. As part of its study, the site maintains a register of radical Russian groups of the left and right as well as a list of Western hate sites (Russian-language only).

SLOVAKIA. On 8 April, International Roma Day, the U.S. Helsinki Commission released a report on renewed allegations that Romany women in Slovakia have been subjected to sterilization without informed consent.