1 May 2002, Volume
ANTINUCLEAR PROTESTERS MARK 16TH ANNIVERSARY OF CHORNOBYL DISASTER.
Antinuclear demonstrations in Russia this week on the 16th anniversary of the Chornobyl reactor disaster focused on a new environmental and health threat, Russia's processing of spent nuclear fuel purchased from foreign countries eager to dispose of their waste. Dozens of activists wearing white protective jumpsuits with the emblem "Radioactive Nuclear Waste" converged on Red Square from four directions and threw themselves to the pavement, reported russia.indymedia.org. Organizers from Ekozashchita (Eco Defense) and the Youth Human Rights Movement described how careful coordination and planning in meetings and through websites such as ecodefense.ru, coupled with media work by the International Ecological Sociological Union, assured that action attained high visibility in the heart of Moscow where demonstrations are prohibited.
Taken unawares, police and Federal Security Service agents eventually rounded up 16 protesters from Moscow, Voronezh, Yekaterinburg, Ryazan, Ozyorsk, Vladimir, and Kaliningrad, and also snatched film from TV crews nearby. Protesters managed to retrieve digital photos they later uploaded and disseminated over their local indymedia.org, an international alternative media site for radical activists known for its innovative accessibility to grassroots activists as much as its fervent anticapitalist and anti-Israel screeds.
In Novosibirk, at a mock funeral procession numbering some 400-500 demonstrators organized by the political party Yabloko, marchers wearing gasmasks and white protective garb carried a coffin draped with red bunting and marked "Nuclear Waste" and banners with international slogans such as "Better to Be Active than Radioactive" along with one conceived by local wits protesting MinAtom, the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry which has agreed to import the waste, roughly translatable as "MinAtom scares, Russia swears" ("vsya Rossiya kroyet matom to shto v nei tvorit MinAtom").
Sergei Pashchenko, a local ecologist, leader of Siberian Scientists for Global Responsibility, and march organizer, fended off criticism from the press and various environmental NGOs that did not participate in the action, believing that Yabloko was merely exploiting the "green" issue and gaining publicity for itself. Pashchenko countered that NGOs had become insular, obsessed with getting grants and going to conferences, and had not learned how to capture the interests of parties to press their own issues. "While the parties are learning to 'go to the people,' we NGOs are learning how to go to seminars," quipped Pashchenko. By harnessing the party's power and resources -- Yabloko admitted to paying for demonstrators' signs, paint, travel, and meals, likened unabashedly by Pashchenko to stipends for seminar-goers -- marchers gained the satisfaction of getting visibility for their issues and more public outreach. "It was very nice and meaningful to see waves from construction workers and smiles from bank workers with their noses pressed to their office windows," as the antinuclear parade passed by, said Pashchenko.
In Sochi in Krasnodar Krai, protesters hoisted signs saying, "We don't need a new Chornobyl, we need a clean country." Last year, the krai's legislature expressed opposition to MinAtom to use Novorossiisk as a transit port for nuclear waste from Bulgaria. And in Vladivostok, about 100 people gathered in the city's main square, despite not having received permission for the demonstration from the mayoral administration. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April).
Activists attempting to use the courts rather than the streets have not fared well. Responding to a complaint filed by Greenpeace and city residents, the federal Supreme Court ruled that the government has the right to dispose of radioactive waste at the Siberian Chemical Complex located near the city of Tomsk, ntvru.com reported.. Greenpeace representatives told Interfax that research indicates that the underground disposal of waste will lead to nonpotable water in a decade. Meanwhile, a MinAtom official told reporters in Tomsk on 25 April that a new nuclear power plant will be constructed there within the next 10 years in the "closed" town of Seversk, thus making it possible to shut down the two operating reactors whose service life will be over in the next decade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002).
In Belarus, which received the brunt of the radioactive cloud on its territory, some 4,000 people turned up for an opposition-organized march sactioned by city authorities to proceed from the Academy of Science to Bangalore Park, reported Belapan. Leaders carried an icon known as the Chornobyl Mother of God and rang a bell in memory of the victims. Commenting on what was perceived as a poor turnout by Belarusian standards, where the annual "Charnobylski shlyakh" or procession can attract 20,000-40,000, the independent newspaper "Den" decried the "helplessness" of the opposition but conceded that the action was "a little victory over one's own fear for those who decided to take part despite the brutal suppression of two previous marches" whose participants are still in jail, reported charter97.org.
At the march, the youth group Zubr (Bison) announced its refusal to march to Bangalore, crying "bison are free beasts, we won't go to a swamp!" Another youth group, Mlady Front, tried to turn the column of marchers to Yakub Kolas Square, a central location where rallies are banned. Adult leaders of the Belarusian Popular Front succeeded in redirecting the crowd along an authorized route, and the marchers, carrying banners defending political prisoners and signs like "Occupation, Lukashenko, Chornobyl -- Our Common Sorrow" proceeded without police harassment, finally coming to a halt at an intersection where a priest of the Belarusian Autocephalous Church read a prayer for the thousands of people affected by the nuclear tragedy.
Although the site of the Chornobyl disaster is in Ukraine, and more than 4,000 of the "liquidators," as the hastily organized Soviet-era clean-up crew was known, have died, no visible street actions appear to have been reported now that the reactor has been closed. "Green" leadership has been diffused among various parties, the most popular of which was coopted by oligarchs themselves responsible for pollution, says RFE/RL commentator Taras Kuzio (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 February 2002).
GENOCIDE ANNIVERSARY MARKED.
Hundreds of thousands of Armenians marched on 24 April to the monument in Yerevan to an estimated 1.5 million Armenians killed in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In a written address to the Armenian people, President Robert Kocharian characterized the genocide as "the most tragic page" in Armenian history, adding that "the Armenian people, both in their homeland and abroad, are still waiting for acknowledgement and denunciation" of the killings, according to Reuters. But he stressed that the campaign for recognition of the genocide "is not pursuit of revenge, but...an attempt to rule out a repeat of similar crimes." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)OPPOSITION CONVENES FOURTH WEEKLY PROTEST DEMO.
For the fourth consecutive Friday, 13 Armenian opposition parties convened a march through Yerevan on 26 April to protest the closure, which they claim was ordered by President Kocharian, of the independent television station A1+, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The number of participants was estimated at approximately 5,000, fewer than attended the first such demonstration on 5 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)
ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS SENTENCED TO JAIL.
A Baku court sentenced six members of the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir Islamic group to jail sentences of between six and seven years for plotting to overthrow Azerbaijan's secular government, PRIMA news agency and the Society for Humanitarian Research reported 23 April. The convicted group included five Azerbaijani citizens and one Crimean Tatar citizen of Ukraine, and was reportedly led by a citizen of Uzbekistan who was previously charged with propagating religious extremism in his homeland, and is still at large and wanted by police. Lawyers for the accused said their clients were not guilty of planning terrorism but merely promoting their ideology, while prosecutors claimed to have found instructions for building explosive devices in their apartments. The group was arrested before the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S., and was said to be plotting attacks on the U.S. Embassy and various international organizations. CAFPOLICE THWART UNSANCTIONED DEMONSTRATION IN BAKU.
After the police chief vowed to prevent any opposition assemblies on 26 April, riot police in Baku forcibly dispersed several hundred persons who attempted on 27 April to congregate on Azadlyg Square to participate in an unsanctioned demonstration, Russian and Azerbaijani agencies reported. Earlier, Azerbaijan's United Opposition Movement had rejected all three venues offered by Baku municipal authorities for the rally and proceeded with plans to convene on Azadlyg Square, scene of mass protests in the 1980s, Turan reported. Several dozen people were wounded and 18 opposition activists arrested and charged with resisting the police. Some 80 people were detained by police during demonstrations the same day in Qazakh, Aghdash, Barda, Evlakh, Sabirabad, Beylagan, and Shamkir raions, Turan reported on 29 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 29 April)
FORMER EXECUTIONER SEEKS ANTI-LUKASHENKA TRIAL.
Aleh Alkayeu, a former executioner, told Reuters on 22 April that he is ready to testify in an international court against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April). Last year, Alkayeu fled from Minsk to the West and divulged that he was ordered by his superiors in the Interior Ministry to make the pistol used for executions in Minsk's death-row prison available for alleged political killings perpetrated by a government-organized death squad. Alkayeu is in possession of the executioner's logbook, which shows that in 1999 Interior Ministry officials twice borrowed the pistol, and the dates matched the days when opposition leaders disappeared (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 28 August 2001). Since Belarus is not party to the International Criminal Court, and is not ineligible as a nonmember for suits at the European Court of Human Rights, no immediate international venue exists to test Alkayeu's allegations. The UN has only gone as far as calling for a national commission of inquiry to be formed on the disappearances. Still, human rights activists hope that parliamentarians renewing discussion about restoring Belarus's guest status in the Council of Europe will consider the lack of progress on the investigation into disappearances. And there are always countries like the U.S. and Belgium where foreign torture lawsuits may be attempted. CAFPRESIDENT SLAMS OSCE MISSION, OPPOSITION.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka made his annual address to the National Assembly on 23 April, Belarusian media reported. He stressed that Belarus wants to have the mandate of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk reviewed. According to the Belarusian president, the group's mandate expired following the presidential election last year. "The OSCE group has pursued only one aim, which is not envisaged in any mandate -- to topple the current authorities. We clenched our teeth and tolerated these activities," Reuters quoted Lukashenka as saying. Lukashenka also praised the police intervention during an opposition rally last week, adding that opposition parties are funded by the West and stage rallies against him merely for publicity. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April)
BOSNIAN SERBS SENTENCED OVER MOSQUE INCIDENT.
A court in Banja Luka sentenced seven individuals on 26 April in conjunction with attacks on a ceremony there in May 2001 to lay the cornerstone for the reconstruction of the Ferhadija mosque. Those sentenced received jail terms ranging up to four months or fines ranging up to $900. During the incident, the Muslim visitors were stoned and beaten, prayer rugs and an Islamic flag destroyed, and some 30 people injured. Bosnian Serb police took six hours to restore order. Ferhadija is one of 16 mosques in Banja Luka and 618 throughout Bosnia that Serbian nationalists destroyed during the 1992-95 war. Ferhadija and another Banja Luka mosque were both listed as UNESCO-protected cultural sites prior to the conflict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)U.S. JUDGE HOLDS BOSNIAN SERB LIABLE FOR TORTURE.
On 30 April, a U.S. federal judge in Atlanta ordered former Bosnian Serb soldier Nikola Vuckovic to pay $140 million in damages to four Bosnians whom the court found he had tortured during the Bosnian Serb campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in the early 1990s, reported the Center for Justice and Accountability, an American lawyers' NGO based in San Francisco which represents victims of serious human rights abuse. The case is the first legal action against a Bosnian living in the U.S. for human rights abuses during the Balkans conflict. The four plaintiffs are Bosnian citizens of Muslim Slavic ancestry who were detained by Serb forces and subjected to repeated beatings and other abuses by Vuckovic. The four were held for some six months in converted schools and warehouses before transfer to detention and labor camps in Bosnia. Bosnian Serbs seized the plaintiffs' homes and businesses, and their families were forced to flee. The judge found Vuckovic liable for severe acts of physical and mental torture under two U.S. laws, the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789 and the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, that allow victims of torture and other serious human rights abuses to bring lawsuits against perpetrators who reside in or visit the United States, even if the abuses were committed in a foreign country. CAF
NGOS SOUND ALARM ON HEALTH PROBLEMS OF BULGARIAN ROMA.
A group of 15 nongovernmental organizations have filed a declaration regarding the health problems experienced by Bulgaria's Romany minority, BTA reported on 25 April. They handed over their declaration to the parliament, the National Health Insurance Fund, the Health Ministry, and to the governmental National Center for Ethnic and Demographic Affairs. An independent study conducted in 2001 found that only 1 percent of Roma is older than 70 years. Many Roma suffer from tuberculosis and high blood pressure. "Poor health awareness, poverty, and sometimes the language barrier explain why the Roma do not receive adequate medical treatment," said Lilia Makaveeva of the Integro Association. The NGOs believe that one way of improving the situation is to appoint Romany medical workers in the doctors' offices in Romany neighborhoods, who could act as mediators between the Roma and their doctors. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)
PLZEN INAUGURATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL.
A memorial for the 2,604 Plzen Jews who perished in the Holocaust was inaugurated on 19 April near the town's old synagogue, CTK and AP reported. Each stone in the memorial carries the name of one of the victims. Only 204 out of Plzen's 3,000-member Jewish community survived the Holocaust. In related news, on 21 April in Brno some 50 skinheads attacked a group of punks who oppose racism, CTK reported. Two people were slightly injured in the skirmish. In related news, the Constitutional Court decided on 22 April that "Mein Kampf" publisher Michal Zitko for the time being does not have to pay the 2.5 million crown ($73,681) penalty imposed on him by a lower court until the Constitutional Court rules on Zitko's complaint that the lower court's sentence infringed on the constitutional rights to freedom of speech and access to information. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April)
ELECTORAL RESULTS CHALLENGED BY STUDENT'S APPEAL.
The official announcement of final election results has been further delayed by a legal challenge from a third-year law student at Pecs University, Sandor Vecsernyes, Hungarian media reported on 26 April. Vecsernyes has formally asked the National Election Commission to rule on whether a party can receive fragmentary votes from those candidates who stepped aside in the second round of the election. According to Hungary's election rules, votes cast for candidates who did not win seats in the parliament are added to the votes cast for their parties, and additional seats are given to that party. Vecsernyes argues that the rule should not be applied to those Free Democrat candidates who withdrew in the second round in favor of Socialist candidates. If Vecsernyes's appeal is supported, the Socialist-Free Democrat majority would have a majority of just one seat. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)SOCIALIST GOVERNMENT TO KEEP STATUS LAW...
Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs, in separate interviews with Slovak and Romanian media on 23 April, said Hungary's new government does not intend to abolish the controversial Status Law, CTK and Romanian radio reported. Kovacs told the Slovak Hungarian-language daily "Uj Szo" that the new government will seek an agreement with Bratislava on the implementation of the law "in line with its original aim, which serves the interests of both Hungary and ethnic Hungarians in other countries." In an interview with Romanian radio, Kovacs said that the "Status Law is a good law," but the Socialists disagree with the memorandum on its implementation signed last December by Hungarian Premier Victor Orban and Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase, and will seek to renegotiate it. In both interviews Kovacs pledged that, unlike its predecessor, the new government will not interfere in the internal matters of parties representing ethnic Hungarians and will not take sides for or against factions in those formations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April)...AND WILL RESPECT EU DECISION ON BENES DECREES.
Kovacs also told "Uj Szo" that it is "up to the EU to decide whether the Benes Decrees are or are not an obstacle" to the accession of the Czech Republic and Slovakia into that organization. He said Hungary will "accept any decision by Brussels." But he added that "the idea of collective guilt," as expressed in the Benes Decrees, "is unacceptable." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April)
OPPOSITION WARNS THAT TENSIONS RISING IN NORTHERN KAZAKHSTAN.
Meeting on 21 April in Pavlodar, members of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, the "Pokolenie" movement, and other opposition groups warned that tensions in the oblast between opposition formations and recently appointed Governor Daniyal Akhmetov are rising, forum.kz reported. Meeting participants accused Akhmetov and his staff of resorting to illegal actions to repress the opposition, and requested a meeting with him to discuss the situation in Pavlodar. They also expressed concern at the lack of information about former oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, one of the founders of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, who is being held under investigation in Pavlodar. ("RFE/Rl Newsline," 23 April)
THREE OFFICIALS FACE ARREST FOR AKSY CLASHES.
Kyrgyzstan's Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 25 April that he has signed arrest warrants for three local officials who, he said, are responsible for the deaths of five demonstrators during clashes with police in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion on 17-18 March. He did not name the persons in question. Also on 25 April, President Askar Akaev met in Bishkek behind closed doors with the government commission established to investigate the circumstances of the clashes. No details of the meeting were released. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April).JAILED OPPOSITION LEADER FACES TRIAL ON NEW CHARGES.
Jailed Kyrgyz opposition leader Feliks Kulov faced trial on new charges of embezzlement this week, AP reported 30 April. Prosecutors asked the court to sentence Kulov to 11 years in a high-security prison for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars while he was a regional governor and later mayor of Bishkek in the 1990s. Kulov, a former prime minister who was considered the strongest political challenger to President Askar Akaev, was arrested in March 1999 just as he was close to winning an election, prompting Western governments and international human rights groups to question the government's timing. He was convicted of abuse of office (wire-tapping), and is currently serving a seven-year prison term handed down by a military court on charges related to his term as minister of national security in 1997-98. Although the court had originally acquitted him, under government pressure they resumed the case, and last year prosecutors announced new charges not previously mentioned, reported the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights. Supporters applauded Kulov as he entered the courtroom on 30 April, and he gave a two-hour speech in his own defense, dismissing the charges as politically motivated. He also urged opposition demonstrators to stay away from the court on the day of the sentencing, expressing fear of extremism. CAF
DEPUTIES SHOW SOLIDARITY WITH DISBANDED BELARUSIAN COUNTERPART.
A group of 18 parliament deputies from various parties established a contact group with the 13th Belarusian Supreme Soviet, which President Alyaksandr Lukashenka disbanded, and other opposition democratic forces on 16 April, BNS reported. The deputies' decision was in part prompted by hearings in the Lithuanian parliament the previous week on human rights violations in Belarus. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 28 April 2002)
PACE ADOPTS RESOLUTION, RECOMMENDATIONS ON CRISIS...
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 24 April approved a resolution expressing "concern" over the "continuous deterioration" of the political situation in Moldova, Infotag and Flux reported. The assembly recommended that the Moldovan authorities register the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church by 31 July and that they submit for examination by Council of Europe experts the new Criminal Code and the Administrative Code. It also recommended that by 31 July Teleradio Moldova be granted the status of a public organization. The assembly called on the authorities to ensure the independence of the judiciary and said a moratorium should be imposed on actions pertaining to studying history and compulsory foreign-language education in schools. The assembly also called on protesters in Chisinau to end their demonstrations and on the authorities to stop persecuting and intimidating Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) deputies. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)...WHICH ARE PRAISED BY THE CONFRONTING SIDES.
The leaders of the three Moldovan parliamentary groups, who attended the PACE session, all praised the resolution and its recommendations, although emphasizing different aspects, Infotag and Flux reported. Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuc said, "The government and the opposition alike have received a good lesson," and called the resolutions "moderate and constructive." He said the authorities will implement the recommendations provided the demonstrations cease. Addressing demonstrators by telephone from Strasbourg, PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca called the resolution "an extraordinary political victory" for his formation, and emphasized that the resolution also expresses concern for the fate of PPCD deputy Vlad Cubreacov. Rosca called on the authorities to "take energetic and concrete steps" to determine Cubreacov's fate. Braghis Alliance Chairman Dumitru Braghis called the resolution "reasonable," and said its recommendations "must be implemented within the stipulated time frame." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)
SOLIDARITY TAKES TO THE STREETS OVER LABOR CHANGES.
On 26 April in Warsaw, Solidarity organized an impressive protest march against the government-proposed changes to the Labor Code. According to police, the crowd numbered some 26,000, while trade unionists put the figure at 40,000. Either way, it was the biggest antigovernment demonstration in Poland in recent years. The march took place without major incidents, though some protesters threw firecrackers in front of the parliamentary building and set off smoke bombs in front of the government's headquarters. There were some minor scuffles between demonstrators and riot police, but in general, police did not intervene. The demonstration highlighted the complete role reversal in Polish politics after a decade of postcommunist transformation. Solidarity, once a champion of liberal reforms in Poland's communist economy, is now opposing liberal reforms proposed by the political heirs to the country's former communist rulers. ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 30 April 2002)PARLIAMENT PASSES BILL ON STATE OF EMERGENCY.
The Sejm on 28 April passed a bill on declaring a state of emergency, PAP reported. The act, submitted to the parliament by the president, provides for the possibility of declaring a state of emergency for up to 90 days. The decision would be made by the president following a motion from the cabinet. The state of emergency can be introduced if there is a "danger to the constitutional order of the state [and/or] to the security of citizens or public order, including terrorist acts." Under the bill, the government may restrict human rights and civil liberties in the area covered by the state of emergency, while the prime minister has the power to introduce media censorship and food rationing. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)CHECHENS IN POLAND SEEK REFUGEE STATUS.
Poland's Chechen community on 26 April requested that the government grant refugee status to Chechens permanently residing in Poland, PAP reported. In a petition to the prime minister and the minister of internal affairs, Chechen representatives appealed for the "prompt and positive" processing of Chechen asylum applications. According to Chechen presidential envoy in Poland Ali Ramzan Ampukajev, only 70 adult Chechens have been granted political asylum in Poland since 1999, with more than 100 applications rejected and some 350 still awaiting review. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)
ROMANIA REJECTS RENEGOTIATING MEMORANDUM WITH HUNGARY ON STATUS LAW.
Romania has "no intention to renegotiate or to suspend the implementation" of the memorandum signed last December on the implementation of the Hungarian Status Law, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau quoted Foreign Ministry State Secretary Cristian Diaconescu as saying on 24 April. Diaconescu spoke after meeting in Bucharest with his Slovak counterpart Jaroslav Chlebo. Diaconescu said that the memorandum stipulates that the Status Law be amended by 26 June to bring it into line with the Venice Commission recommendations, and do away with any discrimination based on ethnic criteria. He expressed "satisfaction" in view of "signals from Budapest" that the prospective new government intends to "renew dialogue with Hungary's neighbors." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)RULING PARTY, UDMR SET TO IMPLEMENT AGREEMENT ON TARGU-MURES HUNGARIAN SCHOOL.
Representatives of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) agreed on 22 April that their earlier decision to return the Bolyai Farkas Lyceum in Targu Mures to ethnic Hungarian pupils must go ahead despite tensions triggered by ethnic Romanian pupils' protests, Romanian radio reported the next day. President Ion Iliescu said the protesting pupils are "exercising a democratic right," and that he does not believe in "arbitrary measures" that would transfer from the school ethnic Romanians who successfully met admission requirements. Speaking in the Senate on 22 April, Education Minster Ecaterina Andronescu said she believes the transfer of ethnic Romanian pupils to other schools "is neither a European nor a normal solution" Prime Minister Adrian Nastase pledged in a radio interview that the government "will find the right solution," but added that this would be possible only if "some people stop attempting to build personal political capital" by exploiting the situation. Nastase said he "can understand" both the parents of ethnic Hungarian children who consider the lyceum to be "a place of learning with a long Hungarian tradition," as well as the protesting ethnic Romanian pupils. The latter group on 23 April said it feels "sold out by the government" after the ruling PSD and the UDMR the day earlier agreed to go ahead with implementing the agreement to restore teaching in Hungarian alone at the lyceum. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 April)
LEGAL REFORMS PASS DUMA.
Deputies gave their final approval to two more bills that are part of the presidential administration's reform of Russia's legal system. The law on lawyers' activities and lawyers passed in its third and final reading, and a bill amending the Criminal Procedural Code passed in its second and third readings. The law on lawyers received 336 votes in favor, with 50 against and two abstentions, according to ITAR-TASS. The latter bill gives courts rather than prosecutors the right to approve arrests. If the bill passes the Federation Council and is signed into law by the president, arrests will require a court warrant beginning 1 July, according to deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)NO MORE PERKS FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM EMPLOYEES.
Another element of the presidential administration's judicial reforms was approved 24 April. The bill, adopted in its first reading, amends the law on prosecutors and on additional guarantees of the social defense of judges and workers in the court apparatus, so that court workers and prosecutors are no longer eligible for a series of exemptions and special privileges, such as discounts on rent, but will instead receive a higher wage, ITAR-TASS reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)SETBACK FOR GAY RIGHTS?
A group of conservative parliamentarians submitted a draft law in the State Duma criminalizing consensual gay sex, characterized as "the unnatural satisfaction of sexual desire," punishable from 1-5 years in prison, reported gay.ru, the Russian National Gay and Lesbian Site on 22 April. The legislators, led by Gennadii Raikov and Dmitrii Rogozin of the People's Deputy group, claimed their intent was to protect public morality, health, and the institution of marriage, and said prosecution would curb the spread of venereal diseases and AIDS, and protect minors from being forced into prostitution or pornography. Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia exactly nine years ago under pressure from the Council of Europe, included among legal preconditions for Russian accession. One antidiscrimination activist believed the conservatives' move was a publicity stunt that would likely fail, yet gay activists lobbied the Council of Europe, pointing to another troubling campaign by the same Duma group calling for pulling the licenses of any media caught promoting gay and lesbian "propaganda," Interfax reported 30 April. Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Union of Rightist Forces, condemned the antigay initiative, saying, "the government shouldn't get into people's beds," reported rosbalt.ru 29 April. Presidential Ombudsman for Human Rights Oleg Mironov also spoke out against the effort in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio, noting gay rights were protected around the world (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2002). CAFSKINHEADS VISIT TATAR SCHOOL IN MOSCOW.
A group of 10-15 stick-wielding skinheads showed up at Moscow's Tatar Ethnic Cultural School No. 1,186 on 11 April, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 April. School director Lemma Gilfanova told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that the teenagers, who were students from a neighboring school, chanted: "Moscow is for Russians," and said Tatars should not be living there, the service reported on 22 April. Gilfanova said, "I tried to explain to them that Tatars and Russians have always lived together, but they didn't listen to me." When she said that Tatars lived here even before Grand Duke Yurii Dolgorukii (Long Arms) founded Moscow in 1147, they responded by saying they "will shorten the arms of your Dolgorukii." Gilfanova called the police, who came and spent a long time persuading the skinheads to leave, and she later met with city education authorities along with other directors of ethnically based schools to discuss the threat from skinheads. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)JEWISH ORGANIZATION DEMONSTRATES AGAINST TERROR AND ANTI-SEMITISM IN RUSSIA.
The Russian Jewish Congress (REK) on 25 April held in Moscow and 14 other Russian cities demonstrations and actions of solidarity with Israel and against terrorism and anti-Semitism, ORT and RTR reported. Speaking at a meeting near a Moscow synagogue, the head of the Committee in Support of Israel, actor Gennadii Khasanov, said the events of 11 September in the United States showed that terror can come to any land. And in Yekaterinburg, the leader of the local Jewish community, Mikhail Oshtrakh, said Jews in Ural regions experience latent anti-Semitism from local authorities and intolerance from the local Russian Orthodox Church, regions.ru reported on 25 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)NEW ISLAMIC PARTY PLANS TO PARTICIPATE IN DUMA ELECTIONS...
The Islamic Party of Russia transformed itself from a political organization to an all-Russia party at its third party congress in Moscow on 27 April, RIA-Novosti reported. According to the agency, the party has 63 regional branches and a total membership of 1.5 million people. Party Chairman Magomed Radzhibov said the party plans to participate in the 2003 State Duma elections. He also revealed that the party is debating its name, but doesn't plan to remove the word Islamic. Under the previously passed law on political parties, parties are not supposed to be organized along religious lines (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 26 January 2001). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)...AS PAVLOVSKII CALLS FOR CLOSER MONITORING OF RUSSIAN MUSLIMS.
Meanwhile, unofficial presidential adviser and head of the Fund for Effective Politics Gleb Pavlovskii told "Vostochnaya politika" on 19 April that the Russian state has been unable to oversee the process of the politicization of Russian Muslims, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 26 April. According to Pavlovskii, no attention is being paid to Muslims except when one of them takes a hostage. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)MAGNITOGORSK, NOVYI URENGOI WANT TO REDUCE RANKS OF IMMIGRANTS.
Deputies in the legislature of the city of Magnitogorsk in Chelyabinsk Oblast adopted on 24 April a joint appeal to the oblast governor and oblast legislature to make the city "closed," regions.ru reported the next day. The deputies declared that they consider their territory to be a border zone, and local law-enforcement officials told them that their city is "full" of foreigners, mainly people from neighboring Kazakhstan and other countries in Central Asia. For example, in the first three months of 2002, 2,500 foreign citizens received a temporary right to live in the city and another 3,500 foreign citizens were living in the city illegally, according to information of the city's local department of the Interior Ministry. However, authorities believe that the number of illegal aliens is much higher. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)INTERIOR MINISTER CALLS FOR TOUGHER IMMIGRATION POLICY.
Speaking at a conference of the officers of the Interior Ministry's (MVD) Immigration Service on 24 April, MVD Minister Boris Gryzlov called for a radical change in Russia's immigration policy, RIA-Novosti reported. Gryzlov said some 1.5 million illegal immigrants currently live in Russia, many of whom are working without being registered and are not paying taxes, costing the state from $7 billion to $8 billion annually. Gryzlov said his agency will introduce in the near future a computerized system that will register every person's entry to, and exit from, Russia. He also proposed to increase drastically the penalty for Russian employers that illegally hire foreign laborers, and to work out mechanisms for implementing legislation that will make obtaining Russian citizenship more difficult. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)ANTI-CATHOLIC DEMONSTRATION IN MOSCOW.
About 1,500 people took in part a demonstration in Moscow on 28 April against the Roman Catholic Church that was organized by the small, pro-Kremlin groups People's Party of the Russian Federation and the Union of Orthodox Citizens (SPG), Western and Russian agencies reported. Demonstrators carried placards reading "For Faith, Truth, and Fatherland," and "No -- to plans for the international exploitation of Russian resources." Speaking to the demonstration, SPG leader Valentin Lebedev called for the introduction in schools of a new subject called "Foundations of Orthodox Culture" and for increasing the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the military. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)WITHOUT CHECHNYA TO DISCUSS, IS IT CAT'S RIGHTS IN BUCHAREST?
Dmitrii Rogozin, head of the Russian delegation at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) and chairman of the State Duma's Committee for Foreign Affairs, said Russia made a mistake when it joined PACE. "Instead of joining the Council of Europe, we should have adapted for Russian legislation those legal norms which are good for us...and fully in line with our traditions, mentality, and our readiness for them," Interfax quoted Rogozin as saying. He said that now "the impression is that we are in the first grade of a European school, and they are hitting us on the forehead with a ruler, saying that we have failed again to learn our lesson." Rogozin recalled that Russians "have always sacrificed millions of their people to protect freedom and independence, and simultaneously protected the Jews from...the Nazis." Rogozin said that if the Russian delegation did not attend the PACE session, its deputies would discuss "little things, like the rights of lesbians and violations of cats' rights in Bucharest." (Interfax, 22 April)PUTIN ADMINISTRATION SAYS OFFICER'S CHECHEN ALLEGATIONS FABRICATED.
"The New York Times" on 27 April quoted members of the Russian presidential administration as saying that claims by former Russian army Captain Andrei Samorodov about reprisals his unit, the 21st Airborne Brigade, allegedly committed against Chechen civilians in 1999 were fabricated. On 17 March, the paper quoted Samorodov as saying he was threatened when he tried to intervene to prevent summary executions of Chechen civilians, and finally fled Russia and sought political asylum in the U.S. "The New York Times" noted that, according to Russian military officials quoted by "Izvestiya" on 19 March, Samorodov was discharged from the military in 1993 and the 21st Airborne Brigade has since been disbanded. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)
PRESIDENT CRITICIZES SHORTCOMINGS IN POLICE, EDUCATION.
Addressing a 22 April session of both chambers of parliament, Imomali Rakhmonov complained that many police officers and teachers are not qualified to discharge their duties, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. As a result, many police personnel themselves engage in criminal activities. Of a total of 26,000 teachers in Tajik schools, only 8,000 have a university education. Rakhmonov also noted that funds earmarked for developing the social sector are being squandered on other purposes. He called on the parliament and government to take speedy action to improve the situation, noting that in order to build a civil society it is necessary for citizens to demonstrate "civic responsibility." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April).
MUSLIM CLERGY UNDER STATE CONTROL, MONITORS REPORT.
After meeting imams currently working in Tashkent and former imams forced to quit under pressure from the authorities, Keston News Service (KNS) has established that the Muslim clergy are almost completely under the control of the Uzbek government. The state dictates who may become an imam and what they can say in mosques, and subjects them to periodic reapproval from a joint panel of representatives from the muftiate, a government religion committee, and the National Security Committee (former KGB). "There are almost no imams left who do not carry out the instructions of the authorities," a human rights activist told Keston. The authorities are conducting a brutal campaign against members of the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir party, an international Islamic organization which advocates the unification of all Muslims into a single caliphate. Keston found that in most districts, while actual members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir had been arrested, many of those caught in the dragnet were not members, but simply devout Muslims. Police often plant Hizb-ut-Tahrir leaflets on law-abiding people in order to demand a bribe later from relatives for the prisoner's release. (KNS, 23 April)
GOVERNMENT REFUSES TO GIVE 'SECRET' FILES TO THE HAGUE...
Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic told B-92 radio in Belgrade that the authorities will not give the war crimes tribunal based in The Hague access to military files that it deems "secret." AP reported on 28 April. He said the authorities will give the tribunal "access to some state documents, but not all.... There is much we can provide the tribunal with, but there are also such things that are state secrets, documents that will remain sealed for 20 to 30 years." He added that, "The Interior Ministry shall review each demand by the UN court and decide on a case-by-case basis." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March)...DESPITE PRESSURE FROM ABROAD.
Zivkovic's remarks indicate that Belgrade faces further difficulties with The Hague and with Washington, AP reported from the Serbian capital on 28 April. Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has repeatedly stressed that "true cooperation between Belgrade and The Hague will start once Belgrade allows the tribunal access to its archives." U.S. officials have made similar points. In recent legislation, Belgrade has sought to define cooperation with the tribunal on its own terms, which The Hague and Washington have indicated is not enough. The EU has called on Yugoslavia to cooperate but has made it clear that it will not impose any penalties for noncompliance. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)MILOSEVIC'S GENERAL JOINS HIM IN THE HAGUE.
General Dragoljub Ojdanic arrived in The Hague on 25 April, the first Serbian indicted war criminal to turn himself in to the tribunal since Belgrade's recent approval of legislation on cooperating with that body, RFE/RL reported. Before leaving Belgrade, he told reporters that he wants the authorities to provide the tribunal with guarantees so he can await his trial in Serbia rather than in prison, saying: "I hope that the [Yugoslav] government will take seriously [its legal] commitment to provide guarantees. The new law also requires the [Serbian] government to stick to this commitment. Everything else depends on The Hague tribunal." Florence Hartmann, who is the spokeswoman for the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said she has nothing against the idea of Ojdanic awaiting his trial in Serbia, "Vesti" reported. Tribunal spokesman Jim Landale noted that each case is different and that each indicted war criminal is treated according to his or her specific situation. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 24 and 25 April)ETHNIC ALBANIAN POLICEMAN BEATEN AND ROBBED IN KOSOVA.
An angry crowd in Zvecan in a Serbian enclave in Kosova pulled an ethnic Albanian policeman out of his car, beat him, and stole the vehicle and the officer's pistol, AP reported from Prishtina on 27 April. The policeman later said that members of the crowd spoke Serbian, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Speaking at the UN recently, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic stressed the importance of establishing law and order in Kosova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April)
HIV/AIDS SPREADING RAPIDLY IN CENTRAL ASIA.
In a two-part series this week, RFE/RL charts the alarming spread of HIV/AIDS in Central Asia, a region hardly effected by the epidemic until recently. Experts warn that a rapid increase in the number of intravenous drug users in the region -- which has already reached 500,000 -- could cause the number of people infected with HIV/AIDS to rise to 1 million in just a few years. At the end of 2001, Kazakhstan had the largest number of officially reported cases in Central Asia, with 2,256, followed by Uzbekistan (779), Kyrgyzstan (208), Tajikistan (45), and Turkmenistan (4), where official information about AIDS infections remains secretive. A UN expert blames the epidemic on the high prevalence of drug use and needle sharing particularly among unemployed youth and the surge in rates of sexually transmitted infections. Strategies to combat the infection include public education, clean-needle exchanges, addiction treatment, and promotion of safe sex and condom use. ("Central Asia: Coming To Grips With HIV/AIDS With Proper Prevention, Treatment," rferl.org, 30 April)
WHY IS THERE NO HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT IN UKRAINE?
By Taras Kuzio
Ukraine has a poor human rights record, which the attainment of sovereignty has not resolved. In fact, according to international organizations, Western NGOs and governments, democratization has regressed since the late 1990s in many different areas, such as the media, and oppositionists continue to die in suspicious car accidents. Why then is there no all-Ukrainian human rights movement to counter these abuses? Two factors seem to have influenced why post-Soviet Ukraine has been unable to create a unified and visible human rights movement.
First, in the Soviet era the human rights movement in Ukraine was always tied to the national question, as it was in other non-Russian republics such as the three Baltic states and the Transcaucasus. The combining of national and democratic demands within one movement in non-Russian republics such as Ukraine made it very different from human rights groups in the Russian SFSR that campaigned solely for democratic rights.
In the late Soviet era, this combination of national and democratic demands into one movement led to the creation of the Ukrainian Popular Movement (Rukh) that gradually brought together four groups -- former prisoners of conscience, the cultural intelligentsia, the democratic platform of the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) and by 1990-91 "sovereign communists" such as ideological secretary Leonid Kravchuk. Rukh's ideology rested on the belief that the pursuit of human rights and democratization was only possible after independent statehood was achieved, whereby the state would actively revive and promote Ukrainian language and culture to ensure majority status within Ukrainian society. Ukraine has been independent for over a decade and yet in some important respects, human rights are worsening, not improving.
The continued linking of human and national rights in one movement is still evident a decade after the disintegration of the USSR. The Ukrainian Association of Political Prisoners and Repressed, headed by former prisoner of conscience Yevhen Proniuk, which publishes the journal "Zona," has always been allied to national democratic groups such as Rukh. The same is true of the Ukrainian Memorial organization that sprung up in the late Soviet era dedicated to exposing Stalinist crimes, which was always more active in western Ukraine even though most of the crimes it investigated were committed in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian Legal Foundation (ULF) was founded in 1992 and is headed by former Rukh activist Serhiy Holovatiy who was elected to parliament in the March elections within the radical antipresidential (national democratic) Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc. The ULF published the annual yearbook "Human Rights in Ukraine."
Some NGOs are specifically targeted at single issues such as elections (e.g. Equal Opportunities and the Voter's Committee) or gender rather than all human rights as such. They operate independently of each other because they prefer to obtain access to Western funds for their own NGOs rather than through an umbrella human rights organization. Other human rights groups do exist but they are not homegrown and merely domestic offshoots of international organizations, such as Ukrainian branches of Amnesty International and the International Society for Human Rights. Even here, Ukraine's Amnesty International is headed by former prisoner of conscience Myroslav Marynowych, vice rector of the Lviv Theological Academy of the Ukrainian Catholic Uniate Church and director of its Institute of Religion and Society.
With the recognition of Ukraine's borders by Russia and the absence of any separatism since the mid-1990s, Ukrainian independent statehood as such in not in danger. Nevertheless, human rights activists see the country they propelled to independence as having been hijacked by "sovereign communists" turned centrist oligarchs who are supported and sustained by the executive branch of government. The executive and its allies, who abuse human rights and support a corporatist-authoritarian state, are also seen to neglect Ukrainian language and culture and prefer Ukraine to remain within Russia's sphere of influence. In the eyes of this large body of disparate human rights NGOs and opposition parties, the state has been hijacked and Ukraine needs to complete the national and democratic revolution it began a decade ago.
Centrist parties espouse support for the rule of law, human rights, and confirming to "European" standards but reality shows this is only at the level of rhetoric, because of their control by oligarchic groups who prefer a corporatist-authoritarian state. Oligarchic parties have constantly, for example, blocked attempts by parliament to investigate the large number of presidential wrongdoings found on the tapes illicitly made in President Leonid Kuchma's office. Oligarchic domination of the political center has meant that those interested in upholding human rights and opposing Ukraine's democratic decline have joined the antipresidential national democrats or Oleksandr Moroz's Socialists.
Second, there is no all-Ukrainian human rights movement because of low levels of national integration across Ukraine. This prevents the creation of sufficient levels of trust across different regions to allow for the creation of a pan-Ukrainian civil society. In the Soviet era, western and central Ukraine produced the majority of the republic's dissidents and Rukh was based in these same two regions. Opposition activists and demonstrators were drawn from the same two regions during Ukraine's largest demonstrations in early 2001 during the height of the "Kuchma-gate" scandal. This pattern was repeated in the March elections when these regions voted for the opposition socialists and national democrats.
On all three occasions, eastern and southern Ukraine has not become involved in civil disturbances or supported human rights movements. A far deeper Soviet legacy and ambivalent national identity has made these two regions more prone to manipulation into voting for the "sovereign communist" Kravchuk in December 1991, the "antinationalist" Kuchma in July 1994 and the pro-Kuchma For a United Ukraine election bloc or the communists in March 2002.
Thus, despite a poor record in human rights, Ukraine has surprisingly not produced a mass human rights movement. The main political group who promote democratic values and human rights are national democrats and therefore democratization, national revival, and "returning to Europe" continue to be intimately bound together. Eastern and southern Ukrainian-based centrist parties do not promote human rights because they are dominated by oligarchs and the executive, the very same body that infringes human rights.
Taras Kuzio is a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto and author of "Ukraine. Perestroika to Independence, Second Edition" (Macmillan, 2000).