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(Un)Civil Societies Report: August 21, 2002

21 August 2002, Volume 3, Number 34
CZECH FLOODS AND PEOPLE IN NEED. Floods across Europe this week left nearly 100 people dead, hundreds of thousands displaced, billions of dollars of damage, and political debates about whether global warming or lack of preparedness were to blame. The Czech Republic suffered far fewer deaths than its neighbors --13 have so far been confirmed as of 20 August -- but the extent of the flooding and damage to its infrastructure was greater here than anywhere else in Central Europe, reported and Czech media this week. The need for state aid, international assistance, and local volunteer help will grow in the coming weeks as some 220,000 displaced persons -- the largest Czech evacuation since World War II -- return to their sodden homes or rebuild new ones.

The People in Need foundation (Clovek v tisni, CVT), a Czech humanitarian and human rights nongovernmental organization known worldwide for their work in Chechnya, the Balkans, and other conflict areas, found itself in need this week, forced to focus on its own homeland while still maintaining foreign operations. Its past experience in the 1997 floods in the Czech Republic is now in demand again. In an "SOS" message e-mailed to colleagues on 15 August, Jan Plesinger, CVT's international liaison officer, wrote: "In the north of the country inundation has not yet culminated but in the other parts of my home country damage is already visible. Twelve people died so far (evacuation was fortunately large-scaled, quick and effective, and so many lives were saved soon enough). The house my parents live in [in] Prague is flooded. They live on the upper floor but apartments of my neighbors and friends are inundated. It is very hard to see all the places where I spent my childhood underwater."

Founded in 1992 by journalists at Czech Television concerned about the horrific scenes they were reporting in conflict zones, CVT has expended more than $17 million in relief, rehabilitation, and other assistance to 25 countries and regions. Similar to Doctors Without Borders, CVT combines humanitarian relief work with vocal human rights advocacy, recognizing the risks and difficulties which come with such integration, and therefore placing a premium on extensive news, photo, and documentary film dissemination in performing its mission. Czech News Agency photos on the website eloquently tell the story of the flood's devastation, with scenes of people rowing a boat past a Star of David at Terezin, site of the Theresienstadt Nazi ghetto camp; volunteers hustling to place sand bags at Kampa; and an aerial shot of Plzen half underwater.

CVT supports its work through private and corporate donors via fundraising campaigns in the Czech Republic, as well as via the Czech government's foreign aid program and a variety of U.S. and European institutions. Czech Television, the city of Prague, the Open Society Fund, Foundation for Civil Society (PHARE), the Charles S. Mott Foundation, and the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy are among major funders.

CVT is recognized worldwide for its rapid and low-overhead regional operations which can often adapt better than large international programs to handle "complex emergencies" (i.e. events such as wars caused by human action) as well as natural disasters. CVT prides itself on devising low-cost, logical, discrete projects in the midst of overwhelmingly large crises to try to "humanize" what can often turn into multimillion-dollar, faceless, and wasteful relief operations.

First, CVT sees its role in the Czech Republic as following in the wake of state-provided fire-fighters, emergency crews, and disaster specialists, not working in competition with them, and arrives "when the floodwaters recede." This week, CVT is already sending out its experienced coordinators to towns and villages to meet with mayors and other local officials and identify appropriate projects. These will include pumping water out of buildings, tearing down and removing damaged structures, vermin extermination, and relocation of residents. In the next stage, CVT will work on resourcing potable water and reconstructing housing, schools, health, and cultural facilities, often obtaining labor and construction materials at below-market prices or as tax-deductible gifts. With the flood effort, CVT is hoping to match larger donors with specific Czech villages or public institutions so that they can identify more closely with their contribution and see the effect of their patronage.

Characteristic of the new humanitarians elsewhere around the globe, CVT has also had some frank comments to make about classic public and private relief responses that are illogical and even harmful. While it may seem counterintuitive, in a statement published on 19 August on, CVT counsels first-responders "not to spend money on items for immediate consumption."

As New Yorkers discovered after the tremendous outpouring of donations made in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 11 September, many such donations simply go to waste because they are not really needed in the first place. In CVT's experience, immediate shortages of items like bottled water and blankets in fact are usually addressed quickly right at the disaster scene before the need for a wider collection is even announced. If such donations pour in from outside later, they merely divert transportation and labor and pile up in warehouses and spoil.

Instead, CVT urges donors to focus on "specific projects implemented on site by experienced coordinators working in tandem with local government, state administration, and other humanitarian organizations. This is the only way to prevent squandering of funds, duplication, and efforts that later prove wholly useless."

Officials and NGOs are speculating that some $2-3 billion of damage has been done, and that reconstruction will take at least two years, based on their experience of the similar, though less damaging floods of 1997. In addition to CVT, many other groups are pitching in to assess damage and help the victims. Bohemia Corps, another NGO working on humanitarian assistance as well as building ethnic tolerance, is focusing on helping families with children and daycare centers as well as seniors citizens. Its volunteers are now trying to come to the rescue of those whose homes may have survived the disaster, but who have no other types of assistance. They find the biggest problems begin for people after the first wave of domestic and international solidarity subsides -- about two months after the water ebbs -- and the bleak tidal flats of need become visible, including the shortfall of help for their counterparts in Moravia, still coping with the aftereffects of the 1997 floods.

Environmentalists were alarmed at the flooding of the Spolana plant in the town of Neratovice, where toxic chemicals are in danger of leaching into the swollen river. The first results of tests of specimens taken from the floods around the chemical works have not shown any major threat to the lives and health of residents, Vaclav Berousek from the Czech Environmental Inspection announced, CTK reported on 20 August. Greenpeace and other environmental NGOs remain concerned about dioxins and are continuing testing.

Some changes since the 1990s may have mitigated damage; numerous Czech citizens now carry cell phones which can be helpful in emergencies, and metal barriers, although costly, may have helped save Prague's Old Town, commented "Transitions Online" ( this week. "Transitions Online" also took a look at the long-simmering public debate about capitalism and socialism and "acts of God," scoring the appeal of conservative former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus to preserve human rights and prevent government overreach during the floods as "off-key" and "shameful." Ultimately, "Transitions" praised both the Czech government's response and public television's helpful round-the-clock coverage as well as the work of Czech NGOs and editorialized that "the solidarity shown by ordinary people -- verbal, financial, and physical -- should be noted by those who like to assume that postcommunist populations are fundamentally passive in nature, or that capitalism has made them indifferent (or both). These are people who have recognized that the state cannot provide everything and the individual cannot survive alone."

CVT is illustrative of the kind of nonreligious, innovative NGOs which have emerged in post-communist societies to weld traditionally "collectivist" values of voluntary labor and aid for social needs together with "individualist" initiative, freedom of the media, and human rights advocacy, thereby making a real difference in people's lives. More information about the organization and how to donate to the flood-relief effort can be found at CAF

OPPOSITION PARTY ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF PLANNING TO RIG ELECTIONS. The opposition People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) accused the Armenian government on 15 August of planning to ensure the re-election of President Robert Kocharian through voting manipulation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and A1+ television reported. The opposition claimed that Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's pro-government Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has prevented HZhK party members from being appointed to the new electoral commissions empowered to supervise the upcoming presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. According to the amended election laws adopted last month, the electoral commissions are to comprise members appointed by the president and parties represented in the parliament. The HZhK also urged all opposition parties to unify in a common effort seeking "the establishment of a democratic government through free and fair elections." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

REFUGEES STILL WITHOUT HOMES. At least 12,600 families of Armenian refugees, who left Azerbaijan in the period 1988-92, still need housing, reported Arminfo on 15 August. Department for Refugees Affairs and Migration head Gagik Yeganian said in Yerevan on 15 August that 67 percent of refugees are still living in hostels, hotels, and resorts. Cottages and apartments have been built in 28 Armenian villages since the end of 1994 with the help of financial support from the UNHCR representative office, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and the German government. According to Yeganian, accommodation has been allocated to more than 3,000 families over these years and they will be able to privatize their homes for no charge in a year's time. CAF

FORMER PRESIDENT CALLS FOR PRESSURE ON AUTHORITIES. In a statement summarized by Turan on 16 August, Ayaz Mutalibov condemned what he termed "blatant human rights violations" by the present Azerbaijani leadership and called on the people of Azerbaijan to "force the regime to comply with the country's basic law, which guarantees human rights and freedoms." Mutalibov attributed the charges of planning a coup d'etat brought against five of his supporters last month to current President Heidar Aliev's irritation over Mutalibov's election as head of the Community of Azerbaijanis in Russia. He said Aliev's objective is to intimidate Mutalibov's supporters in Azerbaijan, including the Civic Solidarity Party. Mutalibov also said that French President Jacques Chirac intervened with then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in April 1996 to help prevent his extradition to Azerbaijan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

NGOS SOUND OFF TO OSCE. A group of NGOs condemned insulting remarks made by officials attending a contentious roundtable between the government and the opposition on 8 August in Baku sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the U.S. International Foundation for Election Systems, reported Turan news agency on 15 August. In their statement to the press, the activists expressed regret that Peter Burkhard, chairman of the meeting and head of the OSCE Baku mission, failed to prevent or condemn the "unethical" and "outrageous" conduct by Azerbaijani government officials at the meeting, who branded a prominent NGO leader an "Armenian spy," according to participants. Even before it was convened, the public dialogue had drawn criticism for a format that included so many people that a genuine give-and-take seemed impossible, and also for serving as a distraction from authorities' refusal to postpone the controversial and overburdened 24 August constitutional referendum in the first place, despite domestic and international criticism, or to allow NGOs to observe the poll directly. One activist who declined to participate in the televised event quipped to "(Un)Civil Societies" that he did not want to serve as a "condom for those who would like to rape freedom of expression." The nationwide broadcast of the meeting on government television tended to enable officials to claim they had tolerated "wide public participation" of NGOS in a discussion facilitated by an international body but had ultimately "obtained the support of the people" for the referendum. International observers seemed mollified by a few concessions among the amendments related to alternative service and individual appeals to the Constitutional Court, but the opposition pledged to continue their boycott of the flawed plebiscite, describing the attempt to address 39 complex issues in 24 constitutional articles as deliberately confusing and a bid to increase President Heidar Aliev's authoritarian rule. CAF

THREE KILLED BY LANDMINE AT BORDER. Two Azerbaijani Army officers and one civilian were killed on 16 August when their automobile hit a landmine near the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Reuters reported. The United States last month sent a team of specialists to Baku as part of the $1.35 million program to help assist and train Azerbaijani servicemen in mine clearance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). Azerbaijan did not sign the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, citing concerns about the Nagorno-Karabakh situation, reports the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which noted that clearance was suspended for a time after 2000 when foreign funding was not available. In 2000, 10 mine incidents occurred in the border area of Azerbaijan in which four people died and six were injured. Two soldiers were among the dead but the remainder were civilians, including a 13-year-old child, reported the Azerbaijani Campaign to Ban Landmines that year. Karabakh war invalids have claimed that large sums of foreign aid donated for mine awareness and victims' assistance have disappeared due to official corruption. The ICBL 2001 report on Azerbaijan is available at

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP THREATENED. The Minsk NGO that convened a difficult conference on 6-7 August titled "Religion and Democracy" to discuss a much-criticized new draft law on religion found itself under attack this week for its troubles. The Human Rights Center, directed by attorney Vera Stremkovskaya, had brought together a group of 70 human rights advocates, representatives of various religious confessions, Belarusian government authorities, and Russian Duma representatives who heatedly argued whether the law's restrictions on religious groups were excessive and whether judicial review should be required for closing them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2002). While the conference-goers managed to agree to study the proposal to establish an Inter-Confessional Council in order to continue dialogue with the government, leaders from the Orthodox as well as Roman Catholic and Islamic clergy, along with Belarusian government religious officials, declined to endorse an appeal to the National Assembly, ultimately signed by NGOs, Protestant, Jewish and several other religious groups, urging the postponement of the law's passage until a conciliation commission could be established to address concerns. Debate in the nominal parliament, some of whose members have acknowledged pressure to pass the bill from the government, was postponed this summer until October 2002. The official Committee on Religious and Nationalities Affairs, initially a participant in the conference, subsequently threatened to investigate the Human Rights Center and the conference-goers and their sources of funding. After the conference, organizers came to work on 16 August and discovered their main computer and database were broken and information lost. Because the group rents an office with an alarm system in a building patrolled by police, it was unclear how an intruder could have gained entry, or even if the computer had been deliberately wrecked. Like other NGOs in Belarus, however, the Human Rights Center has experienced break-ins and destruction of property in the past evidently linked to their public criticism on human rights matters. Information on the conference and the group's other projects and legal cases can be found at CAF

OPPOSITION ACTIVIST RELEASED FROM JAIL... Svyatlana Nekh, a 22-year-old activist of the opposition group Young Hramada, was released from jail in Hrodna on 16 August after completing a 10-day sentence for participating in an unauthorized picket, Belapan reported. Nekh was on hunger strike during her incarceration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

...WHILE EIGHT OTHERS RECEIVE COURT WARNINGS. A judge in Vitsebsk on 16 August issued warnings to eight activists of the opposition United Civic Party (AHP) for staging an unauthorized demonstration in the city on 27 July to mark the 11th anniversary of Belarus's declaration of state sovereignty. The demonstrators displayed a white-red-white flag and a poster saying, "We do not want to be a Russian province!" Yelena Zaleskaya, the leader of the AHP branch in Vitsebsk, said the "unexpectedly light punishments" were apparently a result of recent negative reactions by top Belarusian officials to Russian President Vladimir Putin's "ultimate unification" proposal last week. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

OPPOSITION BLAMES BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT FOR RUSSIA'S 'PLANS' TO ABSORB BELARUS. The Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces has urged President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to step down, blaming him for what it calls Russia's "plans" to end Belarus's independence, Belapan reported on 15 August. The council was responding to Russian President Putin's proposal on 14 August that referendums be held in Belarus and Russia next year on the unification of the two countries into a single state on the basis of the Russian Constitution. "The existence of such explicitly aggressive plans to incorporate the Republic of Belarus into the Russian Federation has become possible only thanks to Alyaksandr Lukashenka's antinational and adventurous policy," the council said in a statement. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

IF A COUNTRY CLOSES MCDONALD'S, IS IT AT WAR WITH ITSELF? McDonald's remains locked in a dispute with Belarus's state university after one of its Minsk restaurants was temporarily closed during construction of a university building next door, despite the fast-food chain's possession of a lease signed in 1997 valid until 2036. Belarusian officials say it is a simple economic dispute between two distinct parties, but observers, including the U.S. ambassador, say it's typical of how authorities in Belarus treat foreign investors by arbitrarily reneging on deals (see "Belarus: McDonald's A Cautionary Tale For Foreign Investors,", 8 August 2002). In 1996, "The New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman espoused his famous "Golden Arches" view of international relations in his book "The Olive Tree and the Lexus": "No two countries that both have a McDonald's have ever fought a war against each other...when [a country] has a middle class big enough to support a McDonald's, it becomes a McDonald's country, and people in McDonald's countries don't like to fight wars." McDonald's in Minsk has not only been a popular haven for the aspiring middle class and a special treat for the working poor, it served as a location where others with potential difficulties in obtaining leases could find a home. The offices of RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, which leases from McDonald's, were in the same building, and its staff has been suddenly forced to move. RFE/RL was warned simultaneously by the Foreign Ministry that its accreditation in Minsk as foreign media will be pulled if it continues to broadcast reports from nonaccredited journalists. The Belarusian Service has been broadcasting features from editors of four literary magazines recently fired by autocratic President Lukashenka as well as other "undesirables" unable to practice journalism under the government's current press crackdown. The displacement of two highly visible American institutions in Minsk come as the U.S. has once again publicly condemned Belarus's poor human rights record and complained of arms sales to Iraq. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer told Belarusian journalists in a video linkup from Washington on 12 August that, in the five months that have elapsed since his visit to Belarus, the country has failed to take any steps toward democracy, AP and Belapan reported. CAF

TEN FORMER, CURRENT MINISTERS LINKED TO COMMUNIST SECRET SERVICES. Imre Mecs, who heads the parliamentary commission investigating the links of post-1989 cabinet members with the communist-era secret services, said on 13 August that the commission found that 10 ministers had such links, Hungarian media reported. Mecs revealed that five of them served in the 1990-94 cabinet headed by Jozsef Antall and then -- after Antall's death -- by Peter Boross. Two served in the government headed by Gyula Horn between 1994-98, and four were members of the 1998-2002 government headed by Viktor Orban. One current government member -- presumably Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy himself -- had links with the communist services. He added that two of these ministers have served in more than one post-1989 cabinet. Mecs said he consulted with a number of experts and concluded that the commission is justified in its decision to release the names of those involved, since the information is "in the public's interest." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

IMBROGLIO OVER CITIZENSHIP FOR KOSOVAR ALBANIANS. Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski announced on the weekend of 3-4 August that he plans to review the claims to Macedonian citizenship of some 150,000 ethnic Albanians, mainly from neighboring Kosova, "Dnevnik" reported on 7 August. Many Albanians living in Macedonia received citizenship in the mid-1990s under the government of Social Democratic Union (SDSM) leader Branko Crvenkovski. Ethnic Albanian party leaders and unnamed SDSM sources denounced Boskovski's statement as electioneering. They noted that his figures are incorrect and said there is no legal basis for a review of citizenship once it has been granted. The citizenship question has also been discussed in connection with the census slated for April 2003. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August)

ROMANY REFUGEES PROTEST TO LEAVE MACEDONIA. Some 250-300 Romany refugees who fled from Kosova and now live in the Katlanovo and Shuto Orizari camps in Macedonia have been demonstrating in front of UNHCR offices in Skopje every day since 29 July, reports the Center for Refugees and Forced Migration Studies in Skopje. The Roma are asking to be transferred to camps in Western Europe or the U.S. due to what they characterize as poor conditions in their camps, and insufficient protection and care from local parties and international NGOs in both Macedonia and Kosova. They fear returning to Kosova where they are vulnerable to attacks from Albanian extremists. Past persecution of Roma in Kosova has been documented by UNMIK and Human Rights Watch. After the return of Kosovar refugees following the NATO bombing in 1999, Roma were victimized by Albanians who viewed them as collaborators with the Serbs. The refugees say UNHCR is advising them to ask for asylum in Macedonia, but they do not wish to remain nor do they believe security can be achieved for them in Kosova. A local observer commented that the desire to leave the Balkans appeared to have been prompted by news that a group of families in the same camps had won the U.S. green-card lottery, although this could not be confirmed. In a 12 August broadcast, Voice of America cited an interview with a teacher working for a U.S. humanitarian group who said with internationals leaving the region, and the Roma chronically underserved as a minority population, living conditions for them in camps in Kosova are uninhabitable and qualified medical care absent, and even skilled laborers are being denied employment despite the need for construction. CAF

CROWD TORCHES MUSLIM MONASTERY. A Muslim monastery in the heavily Albanian-populated town of Tetovo was torched on the night of 15 August, according to police sources, reported Radio B92 in Belgrade. A crowd of 50 armed attackers were said to have set the building alight, reports Beta news agency. Police said they were yet to identify those involved. The monastery reportedly served as a headquarters of the disbanded National Liberation Army. Tetovo was the scene of some of heaviest clashes with Macedonian security forces. The incident comes just a month ahead of 15 September elections to the legislature. (Radio B92, 16 August)

PREMIER CONCERNED ABOUT PROGRESS OF ABDUCTION INVESTIGATION. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev told Interior Minister Gheorghe Papuc and Deputy Interior Minister Constantin Clipa on 16 August that he is concerned about the lack of progress in the investigation into the 2 August abduction of government official Piotr Dimitrov, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Tarlev stressed that the abduction was the second such occurrence since March, when Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov was kidnapped in Chisinau and held prisoner until his abductors, who remain unidentified, freed him. Tarlev said that the authorities in charge of "safeguarding public order are not up to their task." Papuc and Clipa told Tarlev that two suspects in Dimitrov's abduction have been detained. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

OPPOSITION PARTIES SAY COMMUNISTS IGNORE PACE RESOLUTION. Eleven opposition parliamentary and extraparliamentary parties on 14 August said the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) is not fully implementing the 24 April resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The opposition parties approved a joint declaration saying the PCM has only implemented one of the resolution's recommendations -- the registration of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church. They said the PCM is ignoring the PACE recommendations concerning the transformation of Teleradio Moldova into a public company, on ensuring the independence of the judiciary, and on imposing a moratorium on the obligatory teaching of the Russian language and the teaching of the history of Moldova in schools. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

POPE WARNS OF WORLD'S EVILS AT MASS ATTENDED BY 2.5 MILLION IN KRAKOW... Pope John Paul II on 18 August conducted Mass in the presence of 2.5 million people gathered on the Blonie meadowland near Krakow, Polish and international media reported. In his sermon, the pope appealed for more mercy and love in today's world. He also warned of "hitherto unheard of dangers" in the new millennium, mentioning "false freedom concepts," "noisy liberalist propaganda," and "freedom without truth and responsibility." "Humanity stands before new development prospects but also new dangers. Very often people live as if there were no God. Such people usurp the creator's right to interfere with the secret of human life and try to decide about life's existence by genetically manipulating its forms," John Paul II said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

...AND BIDS EMOTIONAL FAREWELL TO HOMELAND. Later the same day, the ailing and frail 82-year-old pontiff bid an emotional farewell to thousands of people gathered for a nighttime vigil outside the archbishop's residence in Krakow. The crowd intoned, "Welcome, Alleluia" and "stay with us," when the pope showed his face from a window. "Unfortunately, it's a farewell meeting," the pope responded. Earlier the same day, while visiting the St. Florian Parish Church where he was a priest from 1948-50, John Paul II made rare mention of his mortality by saying, "I ask for prayers for all the current parishioners at St. Florian, a prayer for the living and the dead, and a prayer for the pope during his lifetime and after his death." Many commentators voiced their apprehension that the pontiff's age and illness may prevent him from visiting his homeland again. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

POLL SCRUTINIZES ATTITUDES TOWARD CATHOLIC CHURCH. According to the latest public opinion poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center (OBOP), a majority of Poles are loyal Catholics, but by no means all happy about the role of the Catholic Church in politics and society. The survey, carried out by the OBOP survey agency, gives the following results on attitudes to religion: believing and practicing regularly -- 56 percent, believing and practicing irregularly -- 30 percent, believing but not practicing -- 12 percent, non-believing -- 2 percent. Responses to the question, "How much do you trust the Catholic Church?" produced the answers: very much -- 37 percent, fairly much -- 32 percent, while 15 percent "rather did not" trust it, and 11 percent definitely did not. The church's involvement in politics was according to respondents: too great -- 56 percent, "as it should be" -- 32 percent, too little -- 4 percent, with 8 percent not giving a definite answer. As to whether the government ought to act always according to the social teaching of the Catholic Church, the answers were almost equally divided: yes -- 46 percent, no -- 45 percent, with 9 percent giving no definite response. Summing up, OBOP found that "a positive attitude to the Catholic Church and its presence in the public life of the country" characterizes a quarter of the population (25 percent). On the other hand, 19 percent exhibit "a negative attitude" -- distrust of the church, reluctance to have the principles of its teaching in political activities, and a conviction that its influence is too great. ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 August 2002)

SUSPECTED JEWISH MASS GRAVE DISCOVERED. Excavations began on 12 August at a suspected mass-grave site in the village of Popricani, near Iasi, where bodies of Jews massacred during the July 1941 pogrom in Iasi may be buried, Reuters reported. As many as 12,000 are estimated to have perished in the massacre, although the communist-era authorities and nationalist Romanian historians claim that only a few hundred were killed, allegedly in revenge for the behavior of Jews in Bessarabia during the enforced withdrawal of Romanian troops in 1940 from the province under a Soviet ultimatum. Romanian nationalist historians, among them Senate Deputy Chairman Gheorghe Buzatu from the Greater Romania Party, also claim the Jews in Iasi were signaling to Soviet planes soon after Romania became a Nazi ally. Eyewitnesses cited by Reuters say Jews were forced to dig their own graves and were then machine-gunned down. Other Jews were loaded onto overcrowded cattle trucks and were driven aimlessly around Romania for days, causing many to die from starvation and thirst. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August)

ELEVEN YEARS ON, RUSSIANS PONDER THE COUP. More than half of respondents to a recent survey were unable or unwilling to say with which side of the 1991 attempted coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev they sympathized at the time, reported on 19 August. This week marks the 11th anniversary of the ill-fated coup attempt. According to the national survey conducted by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 41 percent of respondents said that they were unable "to make sense of the situation" at the time and another 25 percent declined to answer the question. Sixteen percent said that they sympathized with the coup plotters, and 18 percent said that they supported Gorbachev and those who opposed the coup. In Moscow on 19 August, about 500 people gathered near the White House to mark the anniversary. On 20 August, a memorial for the three people killed during the anti-coup protests will be held. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

A DICTIONARY OF THEIR OWN. At a ceremony at Moscow's Historical Museum on Red Square on 14 August, representatives of dozens of women's organizations presented the newly published "Dictionary of Gender Terms," "Izvestiya" reported the next day. "The publication of this dictionary is really something of a revolutionary event for our country," said Nadezhda Azhgikhina, co-chairwoman of the Association of Women Journalists. "Earlier, discussions were constantly arising over what 'gender' means and many people confused it with the word 'tender' [another English cognate in the sense of 'a competitive bidding process']." The new dictionary includes lengthy definitions of terms such as "workplace discrimination," "gender quotas," and "men's-rights movement." According to Azhgikhina, more than 30 million Russians currently receive assistance from nongovernmental organizations and "the majority of those who work in such organizations are women." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

ALCOHOL POISONING ON THE RISE. The National Alcohol Association has published its statistics on fatal incidents of alcohol poisoning in Russia for the first five months of this year, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 August. According to the association, 18,224 Russians died of acute alcohol poisoning during that period, up from 16,858 in the same period of 2001. For comparison, the paper reported that the number of military and civilian casualties in the 1994-96 Chechnya campaign is estimated at 35,700. The daily reported that cases of alcohol poisoning fell noticeably during Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign, but that they rose by more than 230 percent in the period from 1991-94. "Unfortunately, we must admit that the massive death of people from overwhelming drunkenness has either not been recognized by the public or is considered a natural process," said Aleksandr Nemtsov, an expert with the Academy of Science's Center for Demography and Ecology. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

MOSCOW OFFICIALS TELL COAL MINERS THAT THEIR LOCAL COUNTERPARTS CALL THE SHOTS. Coal miners protesting in front of the Energy Ministry in Moscow moved their picket to Gorbatyi Bridge near the White House on 15 August, Russian news agencies reported. Analysts told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that they do not expect the miners' action to have much effect. Yurii Korgunyuk of the INDEM research group told the bureau that even the much larger protests of 1998 had little effect and "in today's conditions, it's pointless." After negotiations with Deputy Energy Minister Leonid Tropko on 12 August, Andrei Dudnikov, a member of the independent Chelyabinsk coal miners union, said they were told that "everything is decided on the local level" and "the government doesn't decide anything." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

FOREIGN MINISTRY DENIES VISA TO DALAI LAMA. Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov said that Moscow has decided "to refrain at this stage from hosting a visit of the Dalai Lama to Russia's Buddhist regions of Tuva, Buryatia, and Kalmykia" because of the political nature of the visit, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 16 August. reported on 16 August that the visit was cancelled at the initiative of the Defense Ministry and its head, Sergei Ivanov, who was reportedly warned by his Chinese counterparts that it could jeopardize Chinese arms contracts to Russia worth $3 billion. Meanwhile, a group of Russian Buddhists organized a demonstration near the Foreign Ministry. About 30 demonstrators participated and police detained a number of them. A spokesman for the demonstrators said that similar protests were held in Buryatia, Kalmykia, and Tuva, RosBalt reported. A spokesman for the Russian Buddhists, Jampa Timpley, said on NTV that the Foreign Ministry similarly refused to admit the Dalai Lama on 17 August 2001. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

PEACE CORPS NOT WELCOME? Thirty of the 64 Peace Corps volunteers currently working in Russia have still failed to get their visas extended by the country's Foreign Ministry, dealing a serious blow to the organization's Russian assistance program (see "Russia: Visa Decision Imperils Peace Corps Programs,", 14 August 2002). According to, the administration of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast complained to the Education Ministry that "volunteers do not know Russian and, in many cases, have little education" (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 13 August 2002). "Izvestiya" quoted a law enforcement officer as criticizing the Peace Corps for sending "former cooks, cyclists and Mormon priests," as well as "former officers of the American security services" to teach English in Russia, reported AP on 13 August. Izvestia also cited anonymous claims that the volunteers had violated laws, including a case of alleged public intoxication and an illegal border crossing to China. The reduction of Peace Corps visas follows a period in which the Russian government has cracked down on foreign missionaries as new restrictive religious legislation has been enforced and also launched a number of domestic and foreign espionage cases, including against an American student and a scientist. A Polish Catholic priest was forced to leave Russia this year; the Salvation Army went to court to defend its continued stay in the country; the Dalai Lama of Tibet has been denied entry to Russia, and Turkish Islamists have been deported (see below). U.S. officials refused to speculate whether the Peace Corp's visa difficulties are part of a trend to shut out foreign clergy and do-gooders or a temporary bureaucratic snafu. While AP reported 13 August that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared to make no progress on the issue in talks with his Russian counterpart, Peace Corps spokeswoman Barbara Daly told "(Un)Civil Societies" on 20 August, "Peace Corps is in discussions with Russia and it is our hope that we will continue to have a well-supported Peace Corps Russia program in the future." CAF

POPE TO BEATIFY FOUNDER OF RUSSIAN CATHOLICISM. Pope John Paul II will beatify the founder of Russian Catholicism on 18 August, AFP reported on 12 August, citing the Vatican's press service. According to the agency, Zygmunt Felinski served as an archbishop of Warsaw for 16 months, after which he was exiled during the 1863 Polish uprising against the tsar. The agency suggested that the pope's move could further strain relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church, which has accused the former of proselytizing in traditionally Orthodox territories. Felinski wrote a letter to Aleksandr II in March 1863 insisting on the rights of the Catholic Church and of Poles, for which he was exiled for 20 years, reported, citing the Catholic Information Service. After his release, Felinski was banned from entering Warsaw and spent his remaining years in poverty in a Galician village. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

TURKISH CITIZENS ACCUSED OF SPREADING RADICAL ISLAM IN BASHKORTOSTAN. Law enforcement officials in Bashkortostan issued a warrant on 9 August seeking the deportation of three Turkish citizens from the Russian Federation for taking "actions contrary to Russia's national interests," such as allegedly teaching a radical version of Islam, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 12 August, citing BashInform and "Izvestiya." The three Turks, Caliskan Seydi and two associates who were not named, are reportedly followers of the radical Suleymanji and Nurdjular Islamic sects, which are banned in Turkey. Seydi began his activities in Oktyabrskii, where he opened up a boarding school in September 2001. The branch of the Federal Security Service in Bashkortostan told "Izvestiya" that the children attending the school came mostly from Oktyabrskii's orphanages and from poor families, suffered from malnutrition, and that the only type of literature allowed at the school was of the extremist Islamic variety. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August)

TATAR LEADER SUGGESTS THAT BASHKIRS BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY. Referring to a long-standing drive by some officials that ethnic Tatars in Bashkortostan be officially registered as ethnic Bashkirs, Milli Mejlis head Marat Ramazanov said at the 10 August Congress of Tatar Public Organizations that instead of "Bashkirizing" Tatars, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov should legalize polygamy so that Bashkirs can "multiply," an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 12 August. The Milli Mejlis is an alternative public body that declares itself a "shadow government" of the Republic of Tatarstan. The controversy over the status of the ethnic Tatars in Bashkortostan has intensified during the run-up to the national census in October. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

AID GROUP SUSPENDS WORK IN NORTH CAUCASUS. Doctors Without Borders has suspended its work in Daghestan and Ingushetia following the 12 August kidnapping of one of its employees in Makhachkala. Russian news agencies reported on 14 August. The organization had already stopped work in Chechnya on 29 July after the head of a local nongovernmental organization was kidnapped there, reported. According to that report, the Interior Ministry is conducting an all-out search, including the use of helicopters, to locate Dutch citizen Argan Erkal, who is the head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in Daghestan. The report also stated that Erkal's driver has been detained and is being questioned as a suspect in the abduction. also reported that Erkal had received numerous threats in the past and had repeatedly refused protection from local law enforcement. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

HZDS LEAD SLIPPING IN ELECTORAL POLLS. Former Premier Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has lost further support ahead of the September parliamentary elections but continues to lead the field, TASR and CTK reported on 15 August, citing a poll conducted by Focus between 31 July and 8 August. The party is now backed by 19.8 percent, which is 4.2 percentage points less than in July. In second place is Smer (Direction), backed by 16.3 percent of those polled, followed by the Hungarian Coalition Party, or SMK (11.7 percent). The Alliance for New Citizens is next (10.1 percent), trailed by the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (9.4 percent) and the Christian Democratic Movement (6.0 percent). The Slovak Communist Party (4.8 percent), the Slovak National Party, or SNS (4.7 percent), the Real Slovak National Party (3.8 percent), and the Party of the Democratic Left (2.7 percent) are among those below the 5 percent parliamentary threshold. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

SUPREME COURT FREES EMBATTLED FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHIEF. The Supreme Court on 16 August ruled that former Slovak Information Service (SIS) chief Ivan Lexa must be released from detention, TASR and international news agencies reported. The court said the warrant under which Lexa was detained should have been issued by the district court that ordered his detention two years earlier, and not by the Bratislava regional court that issued the warrant after Lexa's July extradition from South Africa. Lexa's prosecution is to proceed. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda called the decision "shameful" and vowed that Lexa "will not escape justice," CTK reported. Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky told Reuters that the Supreme Court's decision contradicts the law and the government "will take every step to return him to jail." Interior Minister Ivan Simko called the decision "absurd," and Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Chairman Bela Bugar said the decision amounts to "a slap in the face of anyone who still believes in justice." Lexa refused to answer journalists' questions upon leaving prison in Bratislava. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

NATIONALISTS CRITICIZE PARTICIPATION IN OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM. Slovak National Party Deputy Chairman Peter Sulovsky told TASR on 18 August that the departure for Afghanistan of a Slovak engineering unit scheduled for 19 August is the result of U.S. pressure and has nothing to do with Slovak interests. Sulovsky said the military engineers who will take part in Operation Enduring Freedom "could find a more dignified and useful occupation at home, clearing out the consequences of the recent floods." He said the 100 million crown ($2.28 million) costs of Slovakia's participation in the operation equal the entire government budget reserves for covering flood damages. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

OPPOSITION STAGES PROTEST DEMONSTRATIONS, BUT WESTERN OBSERVERS DOUBTFUL. The National Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan organized six separate protests in various districts of Ashgabat on 11 August against the policies of President Saparmurat Niyazov, its website ( and RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported on 11 and 12 August. The movement's activists distributed leaflets in the capital early on 11 August appealing to the population to struggle against Niyazov's regime and affirming its readiness to bring about the "normalization" of the political situation in the country. Police tried but failed to prevent the gatherings; an exiled leader told RFE/RL later that only a few persons were detained and released. On 13 August, Niyazov told a session of the Cabinet of Ministers that the 8-9 August session of the People's Council attended by 2000 supporters demonstrated "the unity and cohesion of the Turkmen people" and their determination to implement his projects to transform their lives, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, skeptical observers interviewed by RFE/RL, including Western diplomats and an analyst from the International Crisis Group, said they had not seen the protests take place, even while in the area where leafleteers said they were active, and that it was not likely that the Turkmen people would rise up in protest, despite deteriorating economic conditions, nor would they likely follow former government officials in exile. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August; "Turkmenistan: Opposition Claims Wide Protests, But Independent Observers Remain Doubtful,", 15 August)

FIRE BREAKS OUT IN UKRAINE'S MOST DANGEROUS MINE. Four miners of the notorious Zasyadko coal mine have been hospitalized following a fire that broke out at a depth of some 530 meters in the morning of 19 August, UNIAN and Interfax reported. The fire was reportedly extinguished, while more than 1,200 miners who were in the mine when the accident occurred were safely evacuated. Last month, a methane-gas blast killed 20 miners in the Zasyadko mine. Two other tragic blasts in the same mine killed 50 miners in May 1999 and 55 in August 2001. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

GOVERNMENT DENIES THREE BELARUSIANS ASYLUM. Ukrainian authorities have turned down an asylum requests of three Belarusian citizens -- Uladzimir Bukhanau, Svyataslau Shapavalau, and Syarhey Korneu -- who claimed they were persecuted in Belarus for opposition views and activities, UNIAN reported on 15 August. The Kyiv City administration's Department for Nationalities and Migration Issues said the three missed the deadline for requesting political asylum and refused to accept their application. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

OUR UKRAINE YET TO DECIDE ON PARTICIPATION IN PROTESTS. Our Ukraine lawmaker Petro Poroshenko told UNIAN on 14 August that the Political Council of the Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus will gather next week to decide whether the bloc is to take part in protest actions planned by opposition parties for this fall. On 22 July, Our Ukraine lawmaker Roman Bezsmertnyy said Our Ukraine was pondering whether to use "extreme measures" against the existing power. Later the same month, Socialist Party lawmaker Yosyp Vinskyy said the opposition has agreed to hold a nationwide protest action on 16 September to demand early presidential elections. Vinskyy added that the protest will involve activists of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and Our Ukraine. Vinskyy's announcement has not been officially confirmed by Our Ukraine. Meanwhile, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko and four other legislators from Our Ukraine met on 13 August with President Leonid Kuchma, who is currently vacationing in Crimea. According to the Our Ukraine press service, the sides discussed "problematic issues" in Ukraine's development. The press service added that Kuchma's interlocutors "attracted the president's attention to a number of controversial administrative decisions and mistakes made by top authority bodies in governing the state." Kuchma reportedly agreed to consult with Our Ukraine on the adoption of "major state decisions." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

KOSOVAR GOVERNMENT SLAMS 'CRIMINALIZATION OF LIBERATION WAR.' The government of Kosova issued a strongly worded statement on 19 August in which it criticized the recent arrests of several prominent guerrillas of the former Kosova Liberation Army by the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), AP reported (see "(Un)Civil Societies," 14 August 2002). The declaration argued that the arrests undermine the political process and democratization in Kosova. Prime Minister Bajram Rexhep told reporters in Prishtina that "the charges against senior former fighters...are unacceptable to Kosova's government," but did not say what the government plans to do in response. Elsewhere, UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said that "we are the judicial authority here and we are mandated with prosecuting any crimes of past or present of which we have evidence, as we have done with Serbs accused of crimes committed during the war." UNMIK also "regrets" the government's statement. Finally, KFOR commander General Marcel Valentin and Agim Ceku of the Kosova Protection Force (TMK) discussed the current situation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

KOSOVAR PARTY ACCUSES UNMIK OF 'CRIMINALIZING LIBERATION STRUGGLE'... Hina reported from Prishtina on 18 August that one of Kosova's main ethnic Albanian political parties has again criticized the recent arrests by UNMIK of several Kosovars. The Democratic Party, which is led by former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) leader Hashim Thaci, said in a statement to the daily "Koha Ditore" that the arrests constitute an attempt at "criminalizing" Kosova's 1998-99 liberation struggle against Serbia rule and at undermining Kosovar hopes of obtaining independence. The statement added that UNMIK's behavior is "intolerable." UNMIK recently denied charges by some Kosovars that it carried out the arrests as part of an unspecified deal with Belgrade, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 16 August. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

...AS MASS PROTESTS BEGIN IN KOSOVA. Demonstrations against the recent arrests of Kosovars by UNMIK are slated for 19 August in Podujeva, Gllogovc, Peja, Decan, and Prizren, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Kosovar government is scheduled to meet in Prishtina to consider its response to the latest developments. Some press commentaries have criticized the authorities for not doing so sooner. Thaci has appealed to the parliament to hold a special session to discuss the overall situation in Kosova following the arrests. Elsewhere, UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said that everyone is entitled to express a viewpoint provided they do so peacefully. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August)

KOSOVARS BELITTLE WESTERN MOVES AGAINST SERBIAN EXTREMIST. Officials of Kosova's three largest ethnic Albanian parties told Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service on 11 August that recent efforts by UN police and KFOR to arrest Mitrovica Serb politician and vigilante leader Milan Ivanic resembled a theatrical performance more than a sincere effort to catch him. Faruk Spahija of President Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) argued that UNMIK has not done enough to uproot the Serbian parallel government structures based in Mitrovica and supported by Belgrade. Spahija added that UNMIK risks losing the trust of the ethnic Albanian majority and radicalizing Albanian public opinion. Halit Berani of the Council for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms (KMDLNJ) charged that Ivanic was in his office at the hospital he heads and giving telephone interviews to Albanian journalists on the day that UNMIK tried to arrest him at home. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August)