7 August 2002, Volume
MACEDONIAN VISIT PROTESTED BY ALBANIAN PRESIDENT.
President Alfred Moisiu protested Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski's visit to the Albanian town of Liqenas on 4 August, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Moisiu asked the Macedonian government to explain how Boskovski managed to enter Albania accompanied by his armed bodyguards. After diplomatic consultations, the Macedonian Foreign Ministry declared on 5 August that Boskovski's visit was officially announced, the daily "Dnevnik" reported. During his stay in Albania, Boskovski met with representatives of the ethnic Macedonian minority. He promised them Macedonian passports and encouraged them to demand more rights in Albania. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)
PRESIDENT SIGNS LAW REVERSING EARLIER ELECTORAL REFORMS.
Armenian President Robert Kocharian on 1 August formally signed into law a recently adopted bill overturning the electoral reforms enacted in December 2000, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan Bureau. The new law increases the number of parliamentary seats based on single-mandate constituencies from 37 to 56, and decreases from 94 to 75 the number of seats elected on a proportional party-list basis. The law was harshly criticized by the opposition and even the usually pro-government Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) condemned it as a violation of a standing multiparty agreement establishing a ratio of seats in the parliament. The law also altered the composition of the Central Election Commission, reducing its members from 13 to nine, with three members to be appointed by the president and the remainder by the six political parties represented in parliament. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August)
SENIOR OFFICIALS MEET VILLAGE PROTESTORS.
Four village elders from Nardaran met on 5 August with senior Azerbaijani officials to discuss their grievances, zerkalo.az reported the following day. The villagers had earlier demanded that the authorities release by 5 August eight residents arrested during or after the clashes between police and villagers in Nardaran on 3 June. Some of those detained are suffering from serious health problems. The two sides agreed not to divulge either details of the talks, which lasted five hours, or the identity of the Azerbaijani officials participating. But Gadji-aga Nuriev, a leading member of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan who took part in the talks, told "Zerkalo" that the villagers still insist that the detainees be released. Only after that are they prepared to discuss other issues, he said. Turan on 6 August identified the Azerbaijani officials as Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov, and said a further round of talks will take place on 7 August. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)POLITICAL PARTIES VOW TO BOYCOTT REFERENDUM...
Meeting in Baku on 30 July, representatives of 27 Azerbaijani opposition parties adopted a three-point document affirming their intention to boycott the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments and calling on the electorate to do as well, zerkalo.az reported on 31 July. They also pledged to monitor the conduct of the voting and not to attend a series of roundtables on the referendum organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) office in Baku. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)...WHILE RELIGIOUS LEADER CALLS ON VOTERS TO ENDORSE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS.
Addressing a seminar in Baku on 1 August devoted to the planned 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments, Muslim Religious Board Chairman Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade urged believers to endorse those amendments and local village mullahs to persuade the rural population to do so, Turan reported. But Social Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Zardusht Alizade criticized that appeal as going against Allah, according to "Ekho" on 3 August, as cited by Turan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)
AUTHORITIES DESTROY CHURCH.
Authorities of the town of Paharanichny (Hrodna Oblast) on 1 August began destroying the house and chapel built without official permission by Yan Spasyuk, a priest who represents the officially unrecognized Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Belarusian and international news agencies reported on 2 August. Spasyuk claims the real motive behind the destruction order is the "threat" his church poses to the official Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus. "It is possible to ruin the walls, but it is impossible to ruin the souls of the people who saw these walls," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service quoted Spasyuk as saying in Hrodna on 2 August. Spasyuk is reportedly hiding from the authorities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)VENDORS HOLD ONE-DAY STRIKE.
More than 150,000 outdoor-market vendors went on strike on 31 July in all major Belarusian cities, protesting what they claim is too large a tax burden, Belapan reported, quoting a source on the strike committee. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)
PROTESTING FARMERS OCCUPY MILITARY COMPOUND IN ZMEJOVO.
President Georgi Parvanov said on 31 July that the "dialogue" with the residents of the Stara Zagora region, who oppose the destruction of the country's Soviet-made missile systems because they fear ecological damage, "must be more active and open," BTA reported. The same day, more than 200 farmers occupied a bunker in the Zmejovo military compound to protest the planned destruction of the missiles, dpa reported. Some 11,000 residents of Zmejovo have signed a petition against the missile destruction. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)
BEDTIME FOR BABO.
On 31 July, the Croatian district court in Karlovac sentenced Fikret Abdic -- also known as "Babo" (Daddy) -- to 20 years in prison for war crimes committed while he ruled the Bihac pocket in northwest Bosnia between 1993 and 1995, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Now a Croatian citizen, he was tried in Croatia on the basis of evidence from Bosnia. He may still appeal to the Supreme Court. Abdic was a powerful kingpin in the Bihac area for many years and served time in prison under communist rule for a variety of economic crimes associated with his Agrokomerc conglomerate. He was widely regarded locally as a folk hero and planned to run for the presidency in the 5 October Bosnian general elections. Hilmo Pasic of the Bosnian election commission said in Sarajevo that Abdic will remain on the ballot until he is actually sentenced, presumably after his appeal is processed, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 1 August. Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said he wants Abdic off the ballot as soon as possible. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)COURT ORDERS REARREST OF WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS.
On 31 July, the Supreme Court ordered the rearrest and return to prison of seven former policemen formerly held in detention in conjunction with the torture of hundreds of Serbs and Yugoslav Army men at Split's Lora military prison during the 1991-95 war, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. A lower court recently released the men for lack of evidence pending the resumption of their trial. The Supreme Court agreed with the prosecutor that it is too early in the trial to consider releasing the men. Critics charged that the release was evidence of the political bias of much of the Croatian judiciary in favor of suspects who allegedly committed crimes against Serbs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)
NUMBER OF ASYLUM SEEKERS IN BRITAIN SOARING AGAIN.
The daily "Hospodarske noviny" reported on 31 July that nearly 10 times as many Czech-passport holders have requested asylum in the United Kingdom in July as in January, CTK reported. While in January there were 21 such applications, there were 280 in June and 186 in the first half of July. Most of the applicants are Roma. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)ROMANY REPRESENTATIVES AT ODDS OVER GOVERNMENT RECOMMENDATIONS.
The Board of Romany Regional Representatives on 4 August rejected the recent recommendations of the Government Council for Romany Community Affairs, CTK reported. The board said that suspending the payment of social benefits to Roma over the time they spend abroad while seeking asylum would be discriminatory. The board also said the council's proposal to set up a special police unit to combat usury among Roma is unconstitutional. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)
BORDER GUARDS APPREHEND MORE CHECHENS...
Georgian border guards apprehended late on 4 August a second group of seven Chechen militants who had just crossed into Georgian territory from the Kerigo Gorge in southern Chechnya, Russian agencies and Caucasus Press reported the following day. The first such group of seven Chechens, who were detained on 3 August, have been charged with entering Georgia illegally and illegal possession of arms and explosives, Caucasus Press reported. Several of them are being treated for wounds in a Tbilisi hospital. They have formally requested that they not be sent back to Russia. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 5 August that they will be handed over to Moscow only if the Russian authorities furnish evidence that they are "criminals and terrorists," Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)...BUT REFUSE TO EXTRADITE THEM TO RUSSIA.
Georgian Prosecutor-General Nugzar Gabrichidze told journalists after his 6 August meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Ustinov that the latter had failed to furnish documentary evidence that the 14 Chechens had engaged in terrorist activities in Russia, and for that reason they would not be extradited, unlike Adam Dekkushev who was handed over to the Russian authorities last month. Also on 5 August, the Russian Foreign Ministry sent a formal proposal to Georgia to establish a joint commission to investigate how the first group of detained Chechens managed to cross the Russian-Georgian frontier undetected, Caucasus Press reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)
LABOR MINISTRY TO SET UP EQUAL-OPPORTUNITY DIRECTORATE.
The Labor Ministry plans to launch an equal-opportunity directorate to help integrate disadvantaged segments of the population into the work force, Labor Minister Peter Kiss told "Magyar Hirlap" on 31 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)MINORITIES INCREASINGLY WILLING TO IDENTIFY THEMSELVES.
More than 300,000 Hungarian citizens identified themselves as members of one of the country's 13 officially recognized ethnic minorities, Hungarian dailies reported on 1 August, citing data from the February 2001 census. The figure is a considerable increase since 1990, according to Tamas Mellar, president of the Central Statistics Office. During the census, nearly 95 percent of Hungary's 10 million people volunteered to declare its ethnic affiliation. The number of Roma rose from 142,000 to 190,000, while that of ethnic Germans doubled to 62,000. The number of ethnic Romanians declined. Meanwhile, 90 percent of people said they are a member of one of nearly 260 faiths. More than 5.5 million people said they are Catholics, while 1.6 million are Calvinists, 300,000 are Lutherans, and nearly 13,000 are Jewish. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)EXPERT SAYS JEWISH POPULATION CONSIDERABLY HIGHER THAN CENSUS SHOWS.
The number of Jews living in Hungary is "drastically higher" than the 13,000 reported in last year's census, the daily "Nepszava" reported, citing Peter Tordai of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Religious Communities. The daily also reported that Andras Kovacs, a sociologist with the Lorand Eotvos University, has estimated that the number of Jews currently living in Hungary is between 100,000 and 120,000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)
OPPOSITION LEADER SENTENCED.
A court in Pavlodar on 2 August sentenced Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, who was fired as governor of Pavlodar Oblast last November after cofounding the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, to seven years' imprisonment on charges of abuse of his official position, Interfax and dpa reported. The prosecutor had demanded an eight-year sentence. Fellow opposition leader Petr Svojk told AP that the prosecution failed to produce any evidence to substantiate the charges. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)OPPOSITION ENDORSES FORMER PREMIER'S PROPOSED TACTICS.
In an open letter posted on forumkz.org on 2 August, Gulzhan Ergalieva, a leading member of the United Democratic Party (ODP) and the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK), hails the proposals outlined last month by self-exiled former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin in response to the passage of Kazakhstan's new law on political parties. Ergalieva said that leaders of most opposition parties support Kazhegeldin's call not to comply with the mandatory reregistration stipulated in that law. She added, however, that she does not doubt that the ODP would succeed in collecting the required minimum 50,000 signatures required for reregistration. She expressed support for Kazhegeldin's call for the opposition to close ranks and coordinate its actions. Finally, Ergalieva appealed to Kazhegeldin to help establish an international committee for the defense of political prisoners in Kazakhstan that would lobby for the annulment of the criminal charges brought against leading DVK members Mukhtar Abliyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)PRESIDENT PROPOSES LIQUIDATING UNVIABLE VILLAGES.
In a proposal reminiscent of arbitrary Soviet-style planning, President Nursultan Nazarbaev has proposed liquidating small villages and settlements and resettling their inhabitants in larger rural communities, Interfax reported on 5 August. Nazarbaev argued that it is not cost-effective to provide education and medical services and water and electricity to all the country's small settlements. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)
STEINER RULES OUT PARTITION OF KOSOVA OR RETURN TO SERBIAN RULE...
Speaking at a UN Security Council session dealing with Kosova, Michael Steiner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in the province, ruled out any return to Serbian rule or ethnic conflict, AP reported. He said that "while we cannot say now what...[Kosova's] future status will be, we can say what it will not be. There will be no partition, no cantonization, and no return to the status quo" before 1999. He added that "the outcome cannot be mono-ethnic but must be multiethnic. It must be a democratic, safe, and respectable Kosovo on the way to Europe." Steiner argued that it is too early to discuss the final status, stressing that stable institutions, rule of law, and personal security must be established first. "When that will be depends also on the Kosovars themselves," he added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)...WHILE BILDT STRESSES THE NEED TO FINALIZE KOSOVA'S STATUS.
UN Balkans envoy Carl Bildt told the BBC on 30 July that Kosova cannot wait until stable institutions are in place before its future can be discussed. He stressed that a clear roadmap for the province's political future is part and parcel of the stabilization process aimed at "moving the region toward Europe." Bildt said he believes in "integration over disintegration" but does not rule out any solution for the province's future. In response, Steiner told the BBC that "my friend Carl Bildt [is]...dead wrong" in wanting to tackle the status question now. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)CUP HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY FOR KOSOVA'S SERBS?
Addressing the Security Council on 30 July, Steiner noted that Serbs are now taking part in Kosova's institutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. But Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for southern Serbia and Kosova, called attention to the fact that few Serbs have been able to return to Kosova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)
AMNESTY LAW RETURNED TO PARLIAMENT FOR REEXAMINATION.
On 31 July, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev refused to sign a bill adopted earlier this month by both houses of parliament that would grant amnesties to all involved in the 17-18 March clashes in southern Djalalabad Oblast and in subsequent antigovernment protests along the Bishkek-Osh highway on 7-8 June, RFE/RL and Kabar news agency reported. The bill has generated controversy because it would apply equally to demonstrators and the police who fired into the crowds. After it was strongly criticized again at a recent roundtable discussion in Bishkek, Akaev sent it back to parliament for "elaboration." The deputies can approve the amnesty over the president's veto by a two-thirds vote. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)SUPPORTERS PROTEST LEGAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST PARLIAMENT DEPUTY.
Some 100 people attended a meeting in Naryn on 5 August in support of their parliament deputy Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, who heads the independent "Kyrgyzstan" parliament faction, akipress.org reported. Kadyrbekov went on trial in a Bishkek district court the same day on charges of slander: 76 residents of a city hostel claim he insulted them by referring to them during a parliament session as having no fixed abode. The protesters have drafted an appeal to President Akaev and Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev calling for the case against Kadyrbekov to be dropped and for a halt to pressure on the independent media, including RFE/RL. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)
INTERIOR MINISTRY HANDS OUT PASSPORTS TO MACEDONIANS ABROAD.
The Interior Ministry is conducting a campaign of issuing passports to ethnic Macedonians living abroad, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 5 August. Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski of the nationalist Interior Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) said: "This is only the beginning. As of today, we have handed out some 10,000 passports. We expect to issue about 3 or 4 million passports to people of Macedonian origin living abroad. For [ethnic Macedonians] living in Albania, we will issue some 1,600 passports. The process is to be continued in Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and in Vojvodina." Critics from the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) accuse Boskovski of trying to artificially raise the number of voters for the VMRO-DPMNE during the parliamentary elections slated for 15 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)
AUTHORITIES REGISTER BESSARABIAN METROPOLITAN CHURCH.
The Bessarabian Metropolitan Church was registered by the authorities on 30 July, ending a 10-year struggle, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Popular Party Christian Democratic Party (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov, who is also the chief legal adviser for the Metropolitan Church, said credit for the registration can mainly be given to the decision made on the issue in December 2001 by the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)CHISINAU MAYORALTY DENIES PPCD PERMISSION TO ORGANIZE RALLY.
The Chisinau mayoralty on 30 July announced it has rejected an application from the PPCD to hold a rally on 31 August on the city's main square, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The mayoralty said it intends to organize several events on 27 and 31 August, when Moldova will mark its Independence Day and the "Day of Our Language," respectively, and that no political formation can be involved in those events, which are to have an apolitical character. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)CONSTITUTIONAL COURT NIXES COMMUNIST-SPONSORED AMENDMENT.
The Constitutional Court ruled on 30 July that an amendment to the constitution proposed by 52 deputies representing the Party of Moldovan Communists is unconstitutional, Infotag reported. The amendment would have struck from Article 112 the word "elected" in reference to mayors and local councils. It would thereby open the gate to the communist-envisaged return to the Soviet-era local-government structure, by which mayors and local councils were elected by local councils instead of by popular vote. Earlier this year the Constitutional Court ruled that a law reintroducing the Soviet-type system was unconstitutional on the grounds that it infringed on the provisions of Article 112, which stipulates that mayors and local councils be elected by popular vote. The amendment rejected by the court on 30 July sought to circumvent that ruling. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)
ELIE WIESEL CONCERNED OVER PRM SUPPORT.
Speaking at the NATO House in Bucharest on 30 July, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel said he is concerned over the 28 percent support received in the 2000 elections by a "racist candidate" for Romania's presidency, Mediafax reported. He said the popularity of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) led by Corneliu Vadim Tudor is so great that Romanian politicians must "assume the risk of popularity loss" and clearly state that "intolerance and racial hatred are unacceptable." Earlier on 30 July Wiesel was decorated by President Ion Iliescu. Addressing Iliescu, he said the president has made a "noble effort" to raise awareness about the Holocaust in Romania but that it was "not stated clearly enough." Wiesel said many Romanians still regard Marshal Ion Antonescu as a national hero. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)THINK TANK WARNS AGAINST GROWING PERCEPTIONS OF PRM AS 'ALTERNATIVE.'
An analysis released last weekend by the Bucharest-based Romanian Academic Society (SAR) warned that the PRM is increasingly perceived as a viable alternative to the governing Social Democratic Party (PSD). In a press release, SAR said that although only 24 percent of respondents to a survey conducted in July by the Center for Urban and Rural Sociology (CURS) said they can envisage another party as a viable alternative to the ruling PSD, a large plurality among respondents who did so (36.9 percent) singled out the PRM as being that alternative. The extremist party is followed at distance by the Democratic Party with 17.4 percent. The SAR said that general support for the PRM is also growing -- from 15 percent in March to 17 percent in June and 19 percent in July (in the 2000 parliamentary elections the PRM took 20.2 percent of the vote). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)POLICE INVESTIGATE XENOPHOBIC MAYOR.
Gheorghe Funar, the xenophobic mayor of Cluj, is being investigated by the police regarding the public display of a statue honoring wartime leader and Hitler ally Marshal Ion Antonescu, Romanian media reported. Government Ordinance 31 adopted earlier this year forbids the public display of statues and the promotion of persons sentenced for "crimes against humanity and peace." Funar, the secretary-general of the PRM, has previously said that Antonescu is "a martyr" and a hero. He risks a jail sentence of six months to five years. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)
PUTIN'S HIGH APPROVAL RATING HOLDS STEADY.
According to the latest poll by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 73 percent of Russians approve of President Vladimir Putin's performance, a figure that has held remarkably steady over the two years of his presidency, RosBalt reported on 2 August. Twenty percent said that they disapprove. Asked whom they trust most, 50 percent of respondents named Putin, while 18 percent named Emergency Situations Minister and Unity party head Sergei Shoigu. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov came in third with 14 percent support. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they trust no one. VTsIOM surveyed 1,600 people in 33 Russian regions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August)PALACE FOR PUTIN IN PREPARATION.
Vladimir Kozhin, head of the property department of the presidential administration, has arrived in St. Petersburg to personally oversee restoration work on the Konstantinovskii Palace, "Izvestiya" reported on 4 August. According to the daily, the palace will function as the official residence of the head of the Russian government in time for St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary in May 2003. Kozhin told the daily that not one kopek of federal budgetary funds is being used for the $200 million restoration, and all funds have been raised from private individuals and public organizations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)PUTIN SUGGESTS MAKING LOCAL ADMINISTRATIONS MORE TRANSPARENT.
At a government meeting on 5 August, President Putin called for making public the details of regional budgets and regional-level backlogs of unpaid wages to state-sector workers, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin suggested that such a measure is necessary so that the public can know the real state of affairs, Interfax reported. Trade union leaders have been suggesting for some time that greater transparency of regional government finances might help eliminate situations in which regional governments use money earmarked for the wages of teachers and doctors for other purposes. They have argued that if information about budget transfers from Moscow was reported in local newspapers, then it might be possible to track how the money is spent. Also at the meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko reported that 16 regions are currently behind in paying wages. However, she added, these backlogs will be completely paid off by 1 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)ST. PETERSBURGERS RALLY FOR KALININGRADERS...
An unspecified number of protesters gathered near the Lithuanian Consulate in St. Petersburg on 4 August to demand that residents of Kaliningrad Oblast be given visa-free access to the rest of Russia after the Baltic country joins the European Union, rosbalt.ru reported. According to the agency, the demonstration was organized by writer Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)...AND PROTEST CORRUPTION IN PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE.
Around 1,000 people gathered in front of the city prosecutor's office in St. Petersburg on 2 August to protest corruption in the prosecutor's office and the use of torture, RFE/RL's St. Petersburg correspondent reported. According to the organizers of the action -- representatives of the Democratic Russia Party -- the prosecutor's office is guilty not only of failing to observe human rights but also of regularly violating them. According to the correspondent, members of the city's Legislative Assembly, along with activists from public and human rights organizations and local residents, participated in the protest. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)DEPUTY: LEGAL REFORMS OFF TO GOOD START.
Recent amendments to the Criminal Procedural Code have begun to show positive results, Duma Deputy and member of the Duma's Legislation Committee Yelena Mizulina (Union of Rightist Forces) said on 31 July, RosBalt reported. Mizulina said that although the changes come into effect gradually over the entire course of 2002, already "the number of people arrested in Moscow each day has decreased considerably and the number of requests for arrest warrants has fallen by 20 percent." Mizulina said, however, that the "most fearsome and biggest opposition to the president comes from law enforcement agencies." She added that her committee is also closely monitoring the impact of recent judicial reforms. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August)IDEOLOGUE OF GLASNOST HOLDS OUT LITTLE HOPE FOR THE ELECTORAL PROCESS.
In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 August, Aleksandr Yakovlev, the ideologue of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of liberalizing the mass media and a former Politburo member, said that Russia has neither a pluralism of opinions nor a pluralism of interests but a pluralism of demagoguery, and that this situation is encouraged by existing election laws. Yakovlev decried the influence of money in election campaigns, saying that efforts to buy votes merely encourage apathy among the electorate. He admitted that he himself did not vote in last December's Moscow City Council election because he "understood that all the mandates had already been handed out." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)PRO-KREMLIN PARTY ALLEGEDLY HANDED HEFTY WAR CHEST.
Russia's executive branch has reportedly allocated $5 million to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia to spend over the summer months of 2002, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 July, citing unidentified sources in the upper levels of the party's competitor organizations. According to the daily, this is a "fantastic" sum since the annual budgets for a large party in the Duma tend to be just $1 million in a nonelection year. However, Unified Russia has been spending a lot of money lately, including running "an unprecedented publicity campaign with numerous billboards across the country" that lends credence to the story. The party also gets funding from business tycoons, who also provide financial support to some of Unified Russia's competitors so they "are not putting all of their eggs in one basket." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)KALMYKIAN OFFICIALS START PRE-ELECTION PRESSURE EARLY...
Natalya Manzhikova, head of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) branch in the Republic of Kalmykia, has already made it clear that she will participate in the 20 October republican presidential elections, regions.ru reported, citing the SPS press service. The republic's leadership is reportedly attempting to remove her from leadership of the local SPS branch, the website claimed, identifying many of the key figures involved only by their first initial and last name. The head of the presidential administration, Igor Shalkhakov; the head of the Elista's electricity network, V. Vembinov; the construction minister, O. Kichkov; the head of the local licensing chamber, I. Badmaev; and the mayor of Elista, Radii Burulov, allegedly put pressure on one or the other of two local SPS members, threatening their lives or their livelihoods if they did not support alternative leadership for SPS. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)...AS VARIOUS OFFICIALS ALLEGEDLY THREATEN RIVALS' LIVES AND LIVELIHOODS.
For example, L. Zaitsev claimed that he was told the electricity to his cafe would be shut off and he would lose his license to operate, while Elista's mayor allegedly threatened his life and the health of his son. According to Zaitsev, Mayor Burulov wanted Vembinov named head of SPS's political council and warned that "Moscow is far away, and we are [next to you]." Construction Minister O. Kichkov reportedly threatened another SPS member, V. Kurkudinov, allegedly saying that his company would never receive another state order unless either he, Kichkov, or his brother were elected head of SPS. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)MAYOR, CITY DUMA SQUARE OFF IN AZOV.
A court in the Rostov Oblast city of Azov is expected to issue its verdict on 14 August in an unprecedented lawsuit filed by Azov Mayor Yevgenii Lesnyak against the Azov City Duma, "Izvestiya" reported on 1 August. According to the report, the duma in March adopted a resolution expressing its dissatisfaction with the work of the city administration during 2001. Lesnyak vetoed the resolution, but the duma overrode his veto and Lesnyak filed suit, claiming that the poor report "harmed his honor and his business reputation," the daily quoted the head of Lesnyak's press service, Nikolai Novikov, as saying. "The mayor is challenging not only the content of the duma's resolution, but the right of the duma to evaluate the work of the executive branch as well." Deputies criticized the administration for energy shortages in the winter of 2000-01, for not cleaning city streets properly, and for not resolving public-transportation problems. "We have told the mayor many times not to appoint people to high posts just because they helped him get elected," said Deputy Nadezhda Negodaeva, according to the daily. The court is expected to issue its decision on 14 August. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August)FINAL AMENDMENTS MADE TO DRAFT CHECHEN CONSTITUTION.
At a session on 5 August, the Chechen government made final amendments to, and then approved, the republic's new draft constitution, Russian agencies reported. Participants agreed to remove from the draft the reference to Chechnya's sovereignty; administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov noted that the sovereignty granted to Chechnya and other federation subjects by former President Boris Yeltsin "turned into war, poverty, and destruction," according to "The Moscow Times" on 6 August. Added to the draft was a stipulation that presidential candidates must have lived in Chechnya for the past 10 years, a requirement that may have been directed specifically against former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, who claims to enjoy wide support among the Chechen population. The draft constitution will be published for public discussion and submitted to a referendum in late October, according to ITAR-TASS. Kadyrov said presidential elections could then be held in the spring or summer of 2003. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)RUSSIAN MINISTERS CALL FOR EXPEDITING RECONSTRUCTION IN CHECHNYA.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko and Vladimir Yelagin, minister for reconstruction in Chechnya, told a 30 July session of the government commission on reconstruction in Chechnya that measures to rebuild the republic's infrastructure are lagging because only a small proportion of the funds allocated for that purpose were actually made available during the first six months of this year, Russian agencies reported. Khristenko stressed that rebuilding schools prior to the beginning of the new academic year and providing housing for displaced persons returning from Ingushetia require priority attention. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)ANYONE CAN BE A COSSACK.
For the first time since the tsarist era, Cossacks will be included in the national census in 2002 as a separate "nationality," "Vremya novostei" reported on 2 August. According to the daily, the motivation for the Cossacks in participating in the census in this fashion is financial. As General Ataman Viktor Vodolatskii explained, "If the census shows that a large number of Cossacks live compactly on the territory of the All-Great Forces of the Don, then we can compete for federal allocations." The All-Great Forces of the Don unites Cossacks living in Rostov, Voronezh, and Volgograd oblasts, and the forces' apparatus intends to launch a wide-scale campaign among residents of those oblasts to identify themselves as Cossacks, an identification "whose authenticity Ataman Vodolatskii will promise in advance not to check." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)CENSUS TAKERS START SMALL.
Early census taking continued on 1 August among one of the numerically smallest ethnic groups in Russia, the Tofa, who live in three remote villages in the Eastern Sayan Mountains in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The villages can only be accessed from the outside during the summer. Traditionally, the Tofa were hunters and reindeer herders. According to the last national census in 1989, there were only 600 ethnic Tofas left. Official census taking will begin in October. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August)TATAR GROUPS FORM COMMON FRONT AGAINST MOSCOW.
A number of Tatarstan government officials, including President Mintimer Shaimiev, held a closed-door meeting in Kazan on 30 July with leaders of Tatar civic and political organizations to discuss the current political situation in the republic, as well as recent trends in relations with Moscow, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 31 July. The leader of the Tatar Public Center, Rashit Yagafarov, told reporters following the meeting that those present had discussed possible cooperation between the Tatar government and Tatar political groups to preserve the republic's statehood. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 2 August, Shaimiev invited the representatives of the nationalist groups to "more actively defend the republic's sovereignty." Farit Khabibullin, head of the People's Front for the Defense of Human Rights and the Sovereignty of Tatarstan, said the president was told that all the national public organizations had already decided to form a people's front and currently there are already nine organizations in this movement. According to the daily, the nationalist groups also expressed their support for Shaimiev's statement that the republic does not intend to introduce any more changes into its constitution. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August)SON OF AFRICAN DIPLOMAT BEATEN BY YOUTHS...
Moscow police arrested six drunken youths on 5 August after they severely beat the son of the first secretary of Cameroon's Embassy in Moscow, ntvru.com and other news agencies reported on 6 August. Sixteen-year-old Defe Jon Nzale was hospitalized after the attack. Police said that none of the youths are skinheads and, for that reason, they are treating the incident as "hooliganism." A spokesman for the Cameroonian Embassy told NTV that the attack was racially motivated. According to dni.ru, the embassy intends to send a formal note of protest to the Foreign Ministry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)...AND MORE THAN A DOZEN ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENTS TALLIED THIS SUMMER...
A box bearing the phrase "Death to Yids and Caucasians" was discovered on the evening of 4 August in the elevator of an apartment building in Moscow, ntvru.com reported the next day, citing "MK-Novosti." The building was evacuated, and specialists who examined the box found no explosives. The website listed more than a dozen similar anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred across Russia since a woman was seriously injured by an explosion on 27 May. For example, a box bearing an anti-Semitic slogan was found near the entrance of a Moscow maternity hospital on 31 July, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported. Police sappers were called to the scene, but no explosives were found. On 30 July, an anti-Semitic sign with a fake bomb attached to it was found along a highway just outside of Moscow. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July and 6 August)...AS ANOTHER CEMETERY IN ST. PETERSBURG DAMAGED...
More than 40 graves were damaged at St. Petersburg's Serafimovskoe Cemetery during the night of 3-4 August, ntvru.com reported on 5 August. The cemetery contains the graves of numerous local heroes, including those of more than 30 crewmembers of the ill-fated "Kursk" nuclear submarine and soldiers killed in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. According to NTV, the police believe it was an act of hooliganism committed by drunken teenagers. Earlier in the month, at least 10 Jewish graves were destroyed at the city's Preobrazhenskoe Cemetery during construction of a railway line. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)...AND ANOTHER ETHNICALLY MOTIVATED FIGHT IN MOSCOW MARKET.
What TV-6 described as a "mass brawl" and other sources as a "pogrom" took place on 2 August in a market in Moscow's Zelenograd Raion. According to TV-6, more than 200 people were involved -- mostly former paratroopers -- who smashed market stalls and beat up ethnic Azeri traders. Later that day, RIA-Novosti reported that Zelenograd's police department had revised downward the number of people involved in the "pogrom" from 40 people to seven. Two people were hospitalized with knife wounds. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)MUSLIM WOMEN LOSE LEGAL FIGHT TO APPEAR WITH HEADS COVERED IN PASSPORT PHOTOS.
A raion-level court in Kazan ruled on 2 August against a lawsuit filed by three Muslim women from Nizhnekamsk who were seeking the right to be photographed for their passports wearing their headscarves, polit.ru reported. According to RFE/RL, the Interior Ministry originally allowed women to be photographed with headgear, but in February the rule was changed. The women plan to appeal to the republic's Supreme Court. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)TATAR MUFTI MULLS RELIGIOUS EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGE WITH BAGHDAD.
On a visit to Kazan on 30 July, the new Iraqi Ambassador to Russia Abbas Khalaf and Tatarstan Muslim Religious Board Chairman Gusman Iskhakov discussed possible cooperation in the field of religious education, islam.ru reported. Khalaf said that Iraq is ready to send two teachers to higher Islamic education institutions in Kazan and to invite Tatar students to come to Iraq for training at Saddam Hussein University. Khalaf also invited Iskhakov to visit Iraq to fully acquaint himself with the religious life of the population there. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)SENATORS, PATRIARCH SEE EYE TO EYE ON FORMER CHURCH LANDS...
Members of the Federation Council met on 30 July with Patriarch Aleksii II to discuss proposals to return Russian Orthodox Church lands that were nationalized following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, "Izvestiya" reported the next day. The meeting came in response to a recent initiative by Ivan Starikov, chairman of the council's Agricultural Policy Committee, to transfer to the church and other "traditional" religions in Russia lands from the state reserve fund. According to the report, the patriarch endorsed the senators' initiative. He repeated an earlier call for lands to be returned to monasteries for agricultural purposes, but both the patriarch and the senators were careful to avoid the word "restitution." Starikov told "Izvestiya" that his idea is supported by Federation Council Deputy Chairman Valerii Goreglyad. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)...BUT GOVERNMENT IS NOT SO SURE.
Meanwhile, RIA-Novosti reported the same day that Aleksei Volin, a government deputy chief of staff, told journalists that he is skeptical about Starikov's proposal. Volin said the constitution defines Russia as a secular state and forbids the government from extending economic or other privileges to the Russian Orthodox Church. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)ANALYST: RUSSIA IS DIVIDED BETWEEN 'DOLLAR ELITE' AND 'RUBLE MASSES.'
The main result of the last decade for Russia has been the economic division of the nation into a small, dollar-earning elite and the ruble-earning masses, respected foreign-affairs observer and former "Izvestiya" Washington correspondent Stanislav Kondrashov wrote in "Vremya MN" on 3 August. During this time, the income gap in Russia reached levels of disparity characteristic of many African countries, while life expectancy fell so precipitously that Russia now ranks 60th in the world, according to UN statistics. Kondrashov continued that the state has been beggared, as shown by the miserable levels of pensions and salaries to state-sector workers. He asserts that President Putin speaks to the masses using the language of the cheap ruble, while saving the language of dollars for the business elite. He noted that some economists warn that the budget might be broken by privileges and benefits that the state is creating for business interests, whose capital continues to go abroad rather than returning to the state treasury. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)THE CRISIS IS OVER...
The standard of living for the Russian population has finally reached the levels attained prior to the August 1998 economic crisis, RosBalt reported on 1 August, citing a briefing by Vladimir Sokolin, head of the State Statistics Committee. According to Sokolin, real incomes have increased 24 percent since September 1998 and real wages have increased by 55 percent. He added that pensions are 28 percent higher than in September 1998. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)...BUT UNEMPLOYMENT SOARS IN POCKETS OF SIBERIA AND FAR EAST.
Unemployment in the Siberian Federal District increased by 38.2 percent in the first half of 2002 compared with the same period last year, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 31 July. In Chita Oblast, the number of unemployed doubled over that period, and in the Republic of Tuva it grew by over 73 percent. Registered unemployment figures are generally assumed to understate actual unemployment. Of the regions in the district, Tuva has the highest percentage of registered unemployment with 10.7 percent, and Novosibirsk Oblast has the lowest with 1.2 percent. Seven workers dismissed from the Lenarchenergo enterprise in Ust-Kut in Irkutsk Oblast several days ago have launched a hunger strike until back wages worth over $412,000 are paid, ITAR-TASS reported. Aleksei Chernigovskii, who started his fast 10 days ago, is in critical condition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 6 August)LOOKS LIKE NO $100,000 CAR IS SAFE.
Carjackers stole a $100,000 BMW used by the wife of Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov in broad daylight in St. Petersburg on 31 July, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The thieves allegedly sprayed mace in the face of the driver as he waited near Gryzlov's apartment, pulled him from the car, and made off with the car, which was reportedly on loan from the pedagogical training institute where Gryzlov's wife works, dpa reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July)
KOSTUNICA'S ADVISER BLAMES 'ALBANIAN LOBBY' FOR BELGRADE'S POOR STANDING IN WASHINGTON.
Predrag Simic, one of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's advisers for foreign affairs, told the BBC's Serbian Service on 5 August that well-organized work by the "Albanian lobby" in Washington is responsible for the tough attitude of the U.S. government toward Belgrade's failure to cooperate with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Simic added that the "Serbian lobby" is unable to compete with its rival because the Serbian diaspora continues to be split into two rival camps, one linked to the monarchist and Orthodox tradition and the other associated with the former communist regime. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)
NEO-NAZI ATTACKS ON THE RISE.
More incidents involving Slovak neo-Nazis were registered in Slovakia last week, CTK reported on 3 August. Five neo-Nazis attacked with clubs two Roma at a gas station in Bratislava. One victim suffered broken ribs and was hospitalized but refused to report the incident to police out of fear. In another attack carried out by neo-Nazis, a 23-year-old man was pushed to the ground and kicked for five minutes at a bus station in Bratislava. The victim was not a Rom. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)ROMANY HOLOCAUST COMMEMORATED.
Slovakia on 2 August marked the 53rd anniversary of the Porraimose, the Romany Holocaust during World War II, CTK reported. In the night of 2 and 3 August 1944, nearly 3,000 Slovak Roma were gassed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. In a statement released in remembrance of the massacre, Deputy Premier Pal Csaky said that the cultivation of the victims' historical memory will strengthen the democratic system. He reiterated that later this month the government will debate ways to compensate Holocaust victims. In a separate statement, government commissioner for Romany affairs Klara Orgovanova said that not enough people are aware of the Romany Holocaust and that even in today's Slovakia there are people who call for the expulsion of the Roma. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)
ISLAMIC PARTY DENIES LINKS TO PRO-TALIBAN DETAINEES.
Speaking to journalists on 1 August the leader of the Islamic Revival Party (IRP), Said Abdullo Nuri, repudiated any connection between his party and Tajik citizens who were captured fighting on the side of the Taliban and are currently being held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Interfax reported. Distancing the IRP from extremists in Afghanistan, Nuri stressed that "Islam has never encouraged violence and terrorism" and added that Osama bin Laden "humiliated Islam by his actions." There has been speculation that President Imomali Rakhmonov might be considering a ban on the IRP after he strongly criticized the activities of Islamic groups in the country's northern Sughd Oblast and specifically noted that three residents of Sughd are now interned at Guantanamo. The IRP has about 2,000 members and is represented in the Tajik parliament. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August)ISLAMIC CLERICS TO BE VETTED.
A commission comprising members of the governmental Council on Religious Affairs and the Council of Islamic Scholars has embarked on its annual assessment of the professional knowledge of Islamic clerics and teachers at Islamic schools and universities, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 6 August. This year for the first time clerics' familiarity with Tajikistan's laws relating to religious practice will also be tested. The commission is to focus this year on clerics in Sughd Oblast. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)
COMMUNISTS TO PARTICIPATE IN ANTIPRESIDENTIAL PROTESTS, BUT WITH CONDITIONS.
Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko has listed conditions for the participation of his comrades in the opposition protest actions planned for this fall, UNIAN reported on 6 August. According to Symonenko, the protests should focus on forcing early presidential elections and forming a "democratic and efficient political system" in Ukraine. Symonenko also warned opposition parties against attempts by "the ruling regime to use ideological differences between opposition groups [to pursue] its dirty and greedy interests." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)PRESIDENTIAL AIDE SHRUGS OFF THREAT OF OPPOSITION PROTEST.
Presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk told journalists on 2 August that some opposition leaders' recently announced plan to hold a protest action in September was motivated by their desire to achieve "political dividends," UNIAN reported. "It is likely that some political forces, taking into account their failure during recent political developments, have decided to compensate [this failure] and to call for a revolution," Medvedchuk said. He said that "there will be no revolution," adding that "our Ukrainian society is ready and able to give an adequate answer to those seeking to destabilize the situation in Ukraine." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)BLAST KILLS 20 MINERS.
A blast in the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk Oblast late on 31 July killed 20 miners, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. This latest disaster in Ukraine came three weeks after 35 miners died in a fire in another mine near Donetsk. The Zasyadko mine suffered two other tragic blasts -- 50 miners died in May 1999 and 55 in August 2001. Donetsk prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into the latest blast. Ukraine's Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners demanded that the manager of the Zasyadko mine, former Prime Minister Yukhym Zvyahilskyy, be punished. Trade unionists claim that disasters at the Zasyadko mine occur because Zvyahilskyy sends miners to work even if the concentration of methane gas in mine shafts exceeds safety limits. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August)
SECURITY OFFICIAL PUBLICIZES MILITANTS' CONFESSIONS.
One IMU fighter extradited from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan has confessed to having fought on the Chechen side in Daghestan in 1999, and on the side of the Taliban in Afghanistan the following year, while a second said he underwent training at a camp in Tajikistan, a spokesman for the Uzbek National Security Ministry told Interfax on 2 August. The two men were among seven who were extradited to Uzbekistan in May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)DRUG ADDICTION RISING.
According to figures released by the Health Ministry in Tashkent, there are more than 18,000 drug addicts in the country, half of whom take heroin, the newspaper "Halq so'zi" reported on 1 August. The number of addicts has grown by 4,000, or 30 percent, over last year's reported figures, the newspaper commented. But of the 18,000, a mere 79 are teenagers and about 15 percent are women, the ministry claimed. International organizations regularly suggest that Central Asian governments underreport the number of known addicts in their countries. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August)
IOM STARTS HELPING SURVIVORS OF ROMANY HOLOCAUST.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has begun to implement projects aimed at helping elderly people, particularly Roma in the Czech Republic and Ukraine who survived Nazi persecution during World War II and have not been compensated for their suffering, CTK reported on 3 August, citing AFP. The survivors are to receive via local humanitarian organizations social and legal assistance, health and home-care help, and in some cases financial assistance as well. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)KALININGRAD GOVERNOR SUPPORTS LITHUANIAN SUGGESTION ON TRANSIT ID CARDS.
Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Vladimir Yegorov said on 5 August that Russia and the EU should resolve potential problems in implementing Schengen visa requirements for travel between Russia and its western exclave by accepting Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus's suggestion of issuing ID cards, BNS reported. During a recent meeting with Yegorov in Palanga, Adamkus proposed issuing five-year visas or magnetic ID cards to Kaliningrad residents in order to ease border-crossing problems after Lithuania ends its visa-free policy next year. Yegorov said, "The most promising way of resolving the issues of cargo transit and movement of people is to get away from the word 'visa' in the negotiating process." He suggested that it should not be very difficult to issue ID cards to the 1 million Kaliningrad residents as well as other Russian citizens wishing to travel to the region. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August)