27 November 2002, Volume
ANTI-NATO PROTESTS MUTED, NONVIOLENT.
Despite the deploying of 12,000 Czech police to guard 2,000 NATO summit participants and 3,000 journalists who were braced for potential violence, anti-NATO protestors proved to be small in number and largely nonviolent (see "End Note," "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 20 November 2002). On the first day of the summit on 21 November, the main demonstration in the Czech capital attracted between 600 and 1,000 people -- most of them anarchists, according to CTK -- and ended without incident after protesters marched on several streets and chanted anti-NATO slogans, the news agency reported. Many protesters never reached Prague, as border control in Czech Republic and neighboring countries denied them entry . Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said on 21 November he would be satisfied "if the only criticism [about the summit] is that security measures were too high and too expensive," according to CTK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002).
One incident that marred the celebration was staged not by local anarchists or Western antiglobalization protestors, but by East European self-styled Bolsheviks. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson was interrupted at a press conference on 22 November by two men shouting in Russian "NATO is worse than Gestapo" and throwing tomatoes, CTK and international news agencies reported. The two hecklers had posed as Russian journalists to gain access to the area, then one said he was a member of the extremist National Bolshevik Party of Russian, showing off an armband with the hammer and sickle. Security guards hustled the pair out, and a Prague police spokesman said they will be charged with disturbing the peace, but not detained. Czech President Vaclav Havel, who earlier said security measures during the summit might have been unnecessarily high, apologized to Robertson for the incident. CTK said the two were from Belarus and from Ukraine. (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2002).
On the second day of the summit on 22 November, several hundred drum-beating anarchists wearing masks protested in Prague, chanting, "It is not worth dying for NATO" and "Enough of NATO violence," CTK reported. The demonstration ended without incident. A spokesman for the protesters said they were satisfied with the protests staged during the summit and added that people had expected a "mega-event that would block the meeting" because they "listened to [Czech Interior Minister] Gross and not to us." Between 150 and 1,000 people took part in several anti-summit demonstrations organized by anarchists and other leftist groups. Also on 22 November, a group of members of the ultranationalist National Party demonstrated against the summit in Prague's Old Town Square, but CTK said they attracted little attention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2002).
A new poll taken on 18-20 November by the government polling agency Politbarometer in Slovenia, where anti-NATO sentiment has been strong, revealed a roughly even split, with 40.1 percent in favor of Slovenia's membership in NATO and 37.9 percent opposed, illustrating that the pre-summit bump in favor of NATO in October was anomalous. An independent organization, CATI, also surveyed the Slovenian public on attitudes toward NATO but only released results after the invitation to Slovenia to join was issued at the summit. They found 38 percent in favor and 39 opposed to NATO, with the rest undecided. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was greeted by some anti-NATO demonstrators during his 23 November post-summit stopover in Ljubljana. The sentiment against joining the alliance ranges across the political spectrum from anarchists and Communists to the mainstream and correlates with education level, as a clear majority of college graduates are opposed to the membership. A referendum on the issue is planned in Slovenia next year.
Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek said during Rumsfeld's visit: "The security that we [enjoy] today is also a result of NATO's and the U.S.'s intervention in the Balkans. We expect now that the invitation has been issued [for Slovenia to join NATO], support [for membership] will only increase" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002).
People took to the streets not to protest but to celebrate offered membership in NATO in Bulgaria and Romania. Hundreds of citizens staged a party outside the National Culture Palace in downtown Sofia on 21 November, while in Kardzhali, in southeast Bulgaria, a large video screen was erected to broadcast NATO's decision to invite Bulgaria to join the alliance, Bulgarian media reported. One Bulgarian citizen following the events of the NATO Prague summit was quoted by the bnn news agency as saying: "Today Bulgaria is leaving its bleak past and is joining the family of free and prospering nations.... NATO will neither raise our salaries nor reduce unemployment, but it will give us security and credibility that will help Bulgaria solve these problems itself." While members of the ruling coalition of the National Movement Simeon II and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms as well as those of the conservative opposition United Democratic Forces enthusiastically celebrated the invitation with champagne toasts, members of the Socialist Party reportedly greeted the NATO decision with restraint (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002).
SUPPORT GROWS FOR PRESIDENT'S RE-ELECTION BID.
So many Armenian politicians, government officials, and prominent intellectuals are eager to endorse President Robert Kocharian's candidacy in the presidential elections scheduled for February 2003 that the planned membership of an initiative group currently being formed to nominate Kocharian has been increased from 200 to 300, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 23 November. Sources close to Kocharian said he wants the group to be as broad-based and nonpartisan as possible. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian is likely to be named to manage Kocharian's re-election campaign, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau predicted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)OLIGARCHS ALIGN TO SUPPORT INCUMBENT PRESIDENT.
The founding congress took place in Yerevan on 20 November of Haghtanak (Victory), a public organization that pledged to support President Kocharian's bid for re-election in the 2003 presidential ballot, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The organization's members include a number of wealthy businessmen, Culture Minister Roland Sharoyan, and Vartan Ghukasian, mayor of Gyumri, which is Armenia's second-largest city. It is headed by Deputy Minister of Culture, Sport, and Youth Affairs Ishkhan Zakarian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November)OPPOSITION WEIGHS DANGER OF ELECTION ALLIANCE COLLAPSE.
Representatives of the 16 Armenian opposition parties that aligned in late September with the intention of fielding a single candidate in the February 2003 presidential ballot differed on 22 November in their assessments of the decision by three of those parties to nominate their own candidate, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002). Vagharshak Harutiunian of the Hanrapetutiun party downplayed its significance, saying that all 16 parties continue to pursue the same agenda. But Shavarsh Kocharian of the National Democratic Party admitted that the decision by the three left-wing parties will make it more difficult to reach consensus on a single opposition candidate. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)
OPPOSITION CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO RESIGN.
Four influential Azerbaijani opposition groups -- the Musavat, National Independence, and Democratic parties and the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party -- organized a march and demonstration in Baku on 24 November, during which participants demanded President Heidar Aliev's resignation, the creation of conditions that will ensure next year's elections are free and fair, and an end to reprisals against inhabitants of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku, Interfax and Turan reported. Attendance at the rally, which was approved by the municipal authorities, was estimated by the police at between 1,000-2,000 and by the organizers at 30,000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)NARDARAN PRISONERS TO BE RELEASED?
The 17 persons imprisoned in connection with unrest in Nardaran could be released in the next two weeks, Turan reported on 19 November, citing a village resident. Earlier this year government troops clashed with demonstrators as they protested poor living conditions and obstruction of political autonomy. The prisoners are said to be in poor health, in particular Alikram Aliev, chairman of the Islamic Party, and Djabrail Alizade, chairman of the Association of Baku Villages, who is said to be almost blind in one eye. CAF
LOCAL ELECTIONS TO BE HELD IN EARLY MARCH.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has decreed that local elections be held on 2 March 2003, Belarusian media reported on 22 November. Belarusians are expected to elect more than 24,000 representatives on the village, raion, and oblast levels on that day. "Women and young people in the local soviets should constitute no less than 40 percent of their membership," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. "The woman is a stabilizing factor that is able to secure the efficient operation of any organ of the authority," the Belarusian leader added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)LABOR GROUP ACCUSES BELARUS OF VIOLATING WORKERS' RIGHTS.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has accused the Belarusian government of seriously infringing workers' rights, Reuters reported on 21 November, quoting a report by the ILO's Governing Body. The report says new elections might be needed at the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB) after Belarusian President Lukashenka's longtime aide, Leanid Kozik, took charge of the FPB in July by "virtual appointment". The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the world's largest union grouping, in a complaint filed with the ILO accused Lukashenka of making a number of veiled or open threats against the independence and autonomy of trade unions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November)
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES RESOLUTION ON EU EXPANSION, BENES DECREES.
The European Parliament on 20 November approved by an overwhelming majority a resolution on the enlargement of the EU as of 1 May 2004, CTK and TASR reported. In the resolution's section on the Czech Republic, it is stipulates that the postwar Benes Decrees cannot be regarded as infringing on current EU legislation and thus present no obstacle to the country's accession. But the resolution said "a political gesture" on the part of the Czech Republic deploring the suffering caused by the decrees would be "desirable." The resolution also said the "amnesty law" in the Benes Decrees that granted immunity from prosecution for crimes against the expellees, is incompatible with contemporary perceptions of law and justice. The resolution also stipulates that, once the Czech Republic becomes a member of the EU, all EU citizens will enjoy the same rights in the Czech Republic and all verdicts passed on the basis of the Benes Decrees in the absence of expelled former Czech citizens will become invalid. The resolution also calls on Prague to continue the struggle against corruption, improve public administration, and protect the environment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November)
OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ACCUSES AUTHORITIES.
Addressing the Georgian parliament on 22 November, former Communist Party First Secretary Djumber Patiashvili, who currently heads the Unity Party, accused the authorities of seeking to infiltrate opposition parties under the guise of combating terrorism, according to Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 Television as cited by Groong. Patiashvili produced a 24-page classified document he claimed was drafted by the National Security Ministry and which called for infiltrating Unity, Mikhail Saakashvili's National Movement, supporters of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the Georgian Orthodox Church, and Georgia's Armenian and Azerbaijani minorities. Those measures, Patiashvili said, violate the Georgian Constitution. National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania told deputies the document was drafted by one of his subordinates who was subsequently dismissed and that he had refused to endorse it. A similar document naming Patiashvili was leaked to parliament two months ago. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)
CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION THREATENS STREET PROTESTS OVER PRIVATIZATION.
The opposition FIDESZ is setting up a "privatization monitoring" body and will organize demonstrations, if necessary, to protest the sale of particular companies, the party's deputy parliamentary group leader, Antal Rogan, told journalists on 22 November. FIDESZ has submitted 35 amendments to the 2003 budget in an effort to prevent what Rogan called "the almost-total privatization" of 400 billion forints ($1.6 billion) in state assets, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. It appears the cabinet wants to finance the budget deficit with privatization revenues, Rogan continued, claiming that the government "urges, supports, and even finds desirable a Russian presence in Hungary." The Russians left Hungary only 11 years ago and are now once again back, "not with weapons but with money," he said. Rogan noted Economy Minister Istvan Csillag's recent announcement that Hungary expects Russian participation in privatizations within the oil and gas industries, including plans to sell state shares in Hungarian oil company MOL to Russia's LUKoil. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)
OPPOSITION CANDIDATE REFUSED REGISTRATION FOR BY-ELECTION.
The local election commission in Kurmangazy (Atyrau Oblast) has refused to register Zhumabay Dospanov, who heads the oblast branch of the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, as a candidate in an upcoming by-election on the grounds that it has not yet received permission from Astana to do so, forumkz.org reported on 25 November. Two candidates have been registered for the ballot -- one a district administrator and the second a former deputy district administrator. The day after Dospanov submitted his registration application, officials from the local tax office and prosecutor's office visited him to offer him a senior post, which he refused, in the oblast administration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November)
DEPUTY PARLIAMENT SPEAKER MEETS WITH FORMER DEPUTY PREMIER'S SUPPORTERS.
Sooronbai Djeenbekov, who is deputy speaker of the People's Assembly (the upper chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament), met on 22 November with some 500 supporters of former Deputy Premier Usen Sydykov who are demanding that Sydykov be allowed to contest a runoff ballot in the southern constituency of Kara-Kuldja, where he polled 46 percent of the vote in a 20 October by-election, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The following day, Djeenbekov held a similar meeting in the Osh Oblast town of Uzgen with some 600 Sydykov supporters who warned they might demand autonomous status within Kyrgyzstan for Djalalabad, Osh, and Batken oblasts if Sydykov is not allowed to participate in the runoff, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. They also vowed to boycott the planned 22 December referendum on constitutional amendments. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)DETAINED PROTESTERS RELEASED.
Thirty-three people detained in Bishkek to several days' administrative arrest for attempting to participate in an unsanctioned opposition rally on 18 November were released on 24 November, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The detainees, most of them from the southern district of Aksy, appealed on 24 November to the Kyrgyz people to condemn reprisals against the opposition and to the government to bring to trial those people -- including former Interior Minister Temirbek AkmatAliyev and former presidential administration head Amanbek Karypkulov -- suspected of having ordered police to open fire on demonstrators in Aksy during a protest on 17-18 March. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)OPINION POLL IDENTIFIES FUTURE POLITICAL HEAVYWEIGHTS.
The Sotsinform sociological research center on 22 November unveiled the findings of an anonymous poll conducted in October among government employees, NGOs, and journalists, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Respondents were asked to rank Kyrgyz politicians in terms of their current political influence, the quality of their political activities, and their anticipated future importance on the political scene. While incumbent President Askar Akaev ranked first in the first category, Deputy Prime Minister for foreign investment Djoomart Otorbaev and former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev topped the third category. Bakiev recently announced his intention to run for president in 2005 as an independent candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002). Other influential political figures included imprisoned former Vice President Feliks Kulov moderate opposition parliament deputy Adaham Madumarov, and Social Democratic Party leader and businessman Almaz Atambaev. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)
COURT RULES AGAINST CUTTING BENEFITS TO WORKING PENSIONERS.
The Constitutional Court ruled on 25 November that the amendments to the state social-insurance pension law that slashed benefits to working pensioners violated the constitution, ELTA reported. The court concluded the amendments violated the principles of ownership immunity, the freedom to choose one's work and business, the state-guaranteed right to a pension, and the rule of law. Parliament passed the amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2000), which went into effect on 1 January 2001, under the provision that working pensioners receive only the basic monthly pension of 138 litas ($34.50 at the time). Social Security and Labor Ministry Secretary Audrone Morkuniene said the court ruling will be enforced, even though the State Social Insurance Fund stands to lose 70 million litas ($20 million) in revenues. There were 637,000 pensioners in 2001, of whom some 67,500 were still working. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November)LANDSBERGIS REMOVED FROM PACE DELEGATION.
Deputies from the governing leftist coalition voted to remove Conservatives Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis from the Lithuanian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported 20 November, and speculated that his criticism of Russia was at issue. Landsbergis, elected first president of post-Soviet independent Lithuania and frequently outspoken about the Chechen conflict, was replaced on the PACE delegation by a representative of the New Democracy faction. "Landsbergis is not desired in the delegation because his statements about human rights violations in Russia, about the situation in Chechnya have been offending the gentle ears of social democrats and social liberals," former Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, representative for Landsbergis, was quoted as saying by "Gazeta Wyborcza." CAF
ETHNIC MACEDONIANS JOIN ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTY.
In an apparent first for Macedonian politics, a group of 21 ethnic Macedonians has joined the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), which is led by former guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti, AP reported on 21 November. The new BDI members then set up a chapter of the party in Kocani, an ethnic Macedonian community 110 kilometers east of Skopje. BDI member Venco Arsov said: "I have read the party's political platform and found all their ideas acceptable. I know that for most people it is still difficult to accept that a legitimate political party can emerge from the former insurgents. Many [ethnic Macedonians] are still convinced Mr. Ahmeti will [work to aggravate] Macedonia's divisions. But we know this is not so [and believe that] there will be more [ethnic Macedonians] like us" who will join the BDI. In Tetovo, BDI spokesman Agron Buxhaku said the Kocani group is "very welcome." He added that there are more "intellectuals from eastern Macedonia willing to join [the BDI]." Buxhaku stressed: "We are not a party only for ethnic Albanians. We favor ethnic integration, [ethnic] coexistence, and making Macedonia a truly multiethnic state." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November)
MINERS PROTEST GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING PLAN.
Some 10,000 mining trade unionists with burning torches staged a march and a rally in front of the provincial administration building in Katowice, southern Poland, on 19 November, Polish media reported. The demonstration was aimed at a government-backed restructuring program stipulating the closure of seven coal mines and the elimination of 35,000 of Poland's 140,000 coal-industry jobs by 2006 "We are here to shout out two simple things: work and bread," Solidarity union head Janusz Sniadek told the crowd. Protesters refused to talk with Silesian Governor Lechoslaw Jarzebski, who met them outside the office. "Twelve months of your [tenure] has shown you're here only for the salary," PAP quoted one trade unionist as saying to Jarzebski, who suggested further negotiations in his office. Some 50 miners from the August 80 trade union went on hunger strike at nine mines to protest the restructuring plan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November)POLICE DEMAND HIGHER WAGES.
More than 1,000 police officers demonstrated in front of the parliamentary building in Warsaw on 21 November, demanding more pay, Polish media reported. Protesters also demanded that the government allocate some $65 million to reintroduce bonuses for the best officers. The bonus program was introduced two years ago but quickly suspended as Poland's budget deficit widened. Demonstrators carried banners reading "Thieves" and "Don't turn us into beggars," blew whistles, and threw firecrackers onto surrounding sidewalks. Their colleagues, who were on duty cordoning off the parliament, did not intervene. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November)
MINERS END LABOR PROTEST.
The miners who barricaded themselves in a coal mine in Horasti ended their protest on 20 November after the government pledged to transfer them to other mines when the Horasti mine is shut down in 2003, AP reported. Approximately 600 people are employed at the state-owned mine. Romanian Television said that trade-union leaders and the company that operates the mine reached an agreement under which the mine will continue operating until the end of 2003, after which the miners will be transferred elsewhere. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November)
CONTROVERSY OVER NUMBER OF HOSTAGE-CRISIS VICTIMS CONTINUES.
One more former hostage from the 23-26 October hostage crisis in Moscow died on 24 November, bringing the official death toll to 129, Russian news agencies reported. Almost all of the victims died from the effects of the sleeping gas used by special-forces units during the storming of the theater where more than 700 people were being held hostage by Chechen fighters. Gennadii Raikov, head of the People's Deputy faction in the Duma, said on ORT that the actual number of victims is 190. However, ORT host Nikolai Svanidze commented that it remains unclear whether Raikov has additional information or whether the remark was just a slip of the tongue. Law enforcement agencies on 24 November released the names of three people who have been arrested as "accomplices" of the hostage takers. They were identified as Khampash SobrAliyev of Chechnya, Arman Menkeev of Kazakhstan, and Yurii Yankovskii of Moscow Oblast. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)PUBLIC COMMISSION BLAMES 'NEGLIGENT' OFFICIALS FOR DEATHS OF HOSTAGES...
A public commission organized by the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) to look into the 26 October storming of a Moscow theater in which Chechen fighters were holding more than 700 hostages released its findings on 19 November, lenta.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. The commission charges that the large number of civilian casualties in the operation -- more than 120 hostages died, mostly from the effects of the sleeping gas used by special forces -- was caused by the disorganization and "negligence" of responsible officials. The commission found evidence of poor coordination among the special forces, medical personnel, and rescue teams that contributed to the deaths of hostages following their release. Commission head and Duma Deputy Major General Eduard Vorobiev (SPS) said the commission found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of special-forces officers or doctors. SPS leader Boris Nemtsov told journalists President Vladimir Putin had authorized him to publicize the commission's findings. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November)...MOST OF WHOM DIED ON BUSES, SAYS EXPERT.
Vorobiev said among the main reasons so many freed hostages died was paramedics' careless handling of people suffering from the effects of the gas, the "inexcusably long wait for ambulances" as well as lack of adequate emergency treatment, including respirators. Still unconscious from the gas, many hostages were dragged along the street or dumped into bus seats or on the floor without medical personnel to attend them, as live videotapes of the crisis revealed. Most died on the buses, not in hospitals, said Boris Blokhin, a professor of the Russian State Medical University who served as an expert for the commission. Officials initially refused to reveal to physicians the type of gas used in the rescue operation, and did not supply sufficient antidotes. Police even neglected to stop traffic to ease the evacuation of the victims, said the commission, and experienced military physicians who could have provided expertise were not deployed. "Many people we interviewed told us the job wasn't to save people, the job was to destroy the terrorists," commented SPS leader Nemtsov. The commission proposed better training of emergency-response personnel and delivery of emergency care closer to the scene of such tragedies in the future, under supervision of military physicians. They also urged that officials responsible for coordinating the medical care during the crisis should be criminally prosecuted for negligence. The parliamentarians debated heatedly among themselves whether they should turn over materials to prosecutors, since some testimony was received anonymously. Ultimately, they voted not to send them, although the secretary of the Union of Writers vowed to publish the materials and encourage an official probe. Gazeta.ru quoted Nemtsov as saying Putin had not learned anything new from the commission's report, and that the investigation should be left to prosecutors. CAFFSB GOES AFTER ENVIRONMENTALISTS.
Federal Security Service (FSB) agents on 22 November searched the Irkutsk offices of an environmental group called Baikal Ecological Wave, seizing documents and computers, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The group, which works closely with Greenpeace, monitors radioactive contamination in and around Lake Baikal. According to initial FSB statements, at least five secret documents were found in the office and a criminal investigation was launched over the weekend, RosBalt reported. However, lenta.ru on 25 November reported that no charges will be filed against the activists, although the FSB will continue trying to identify those who gave the allegedly secret documents to the group. The allegedly secret information concerns maps of environmental contamination surrounding a chemical plant in Angarsk, lenta.ru reported. AP cited a Greenpeace spokesman in Moscow as saying that the likely reason for the search was Baikal Ecological Wave's opposition to plans by oil giant Yukos to build a pipeline through a national park along the shore of the lake. FSB agents in Irkutsk Oblast on 25 November searched the offices of a firm called Sosnovgeos, which allegedly provided classified topographical information to Baikal Ecological Wave, lenta.ru reported on 26 November. The agents are investigating whether Sosnovgeos provided information about the topography in the vicinity of a chemical plant in Angarsk to the group. The FSB refused to comment on the results of its search of Sosnovgeos. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 November)...AS MINISTER REACHES OUT TO THEM.
Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev on 23 November proposed creating supervisory boards that would include legislators and environmental activists to oversee the import and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, AP and Russian news agencies reported. "We want to find a point of contact with serious environmentalists," Rumyantsev was quoted by Interfax as telling journalists in Nizhnii Novgorod. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)FIVE SENTENCED FOR MOSCOW MARKET RAMPAGE.
The Moscow Municipal Court on 20 November sentenced five men to from four to nine years in prison in connection with a fall 2001 rampage in the Tsaritsyno market in which three people were killed, polit.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. Twenty-year-old Mikhail Volkov was convicted of organizing the rampage and sentenced to nine years in prison. Volkov's lawyers argued during the trial that his confession that he organized the riot was made under duress. At least 150 people took part in the rampage, but this was the only trial in connection with it to date. The victims of the riot were citizens of Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and India. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November)INTERIOR MINISTRY EXPELS FIRST ILLEGAL TAJIK IMMIGRANTS.
A group of 115 Tajiks found to be working illegally in the Russian Federation, mostly in the construction sector, were flown back to Dushanbe on a Russian military transport aircraft on 21 November, ITAR-TASS reported. A second contingent of 80-100 Tajiks was to be flown home the following day. On 20 November, the Tajik government approved a three-year program setting quotas for Tajiks wishing to work abroad. The question of Tajiks wishing to work in Russia will be resolved by a separate bilateral agreement to be signed within the next two months, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare Rafika Musaeva told ITAR-TASS on 20 November. Visiting Tajikistan on 15 November, Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said Russia will set a ceiling of 530,000 migrant workers from other former Soviet republics in 2003. At present an estimated 600,000 Tajiks travel to Russia annually in search of seasonal employment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November)KOREAN WORKERS ATTACKED IN KRASNOYARSK.
A group of about 15 teenaged skinheads in downtown Krasnoyarsk on 19 November attacked and beat seven laborers from North Korea, regnum.ru reported on 22 November, citing police sources. The teens reportedly attacked the workers with stones and metal pipes. One of the Koreans remains hospitalized in serious condition. Four of the teens were questioned by police and one of them has been formally detained. According to the report, the teens openly label themselves "skinheads" and claim to be sympathetic to the National Bolshevik Party and Russian National Unity. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November)RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS SLAM PUTIN'S REJECTION OF CHECHEN PEACE TALKS...
Members of the committee to organize an international conference on ending the war in Chechnya, including human rights activists Sergei Kovalev and Lev Ponamarev, have written to President Putin criticizing his 10 November statement that he will not hold peace talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and his proposal to hold a referendum on a new constitution in Chechnya early in 2003. The letter was posted on chechenpress.org. They point out that international law precludes holding a referendum on a territory at war, and that doing so would only exacerbate tensions. They also reason that peace talks should be held with those persons who have the authority to order a cease-fire and ensure it is observed, rather than those who are considered more pleasant negotiating partners. Putin's rejection of peace talks, they continued, risks prolonging the war in Chechnya indefinitely. They branded Putin's Chechen policy as unlawful and harmful to Russia's interests and appealed to him to agree to a televised debate on how to end the war in Chechnya. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November)...AND KREMLIN ADVISER SCORES HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT.
Writing in the 15 November issue of "Konservator," Gleb Pavlovskii, a dissident intellectual in the Soviet era turned Kremlin adviser, says the human rights movement, "invented" by Russian intellectuals in the 1960s and imitated around the world has now grown "insignificant" in the face of the war on terrorism. Pavlovskii claims groups like St. Petersburg's Memorial Society or liberal Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev were "insolent and one-sided" in characterizing the storming of the theater and gassing of the audience as well as the terrorists as "state terrorism," although these groups in fact protested the terrorists' actions and their reference to "state terror" was regarding behavior of Russian federal troops during sweeps of Chechen villages. Pavlovskii says the human rights movement is inconsiderate of Russian civilian life in insisting on the protection of Chechens' rights and due process for terrorist suspects such as Akhmed Zakaev, the Chechen representative still being held in detention in Denmark as the Danish government examines claims by the Russian government that he is responsible for terrorism. Pavlovskii claimed the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, a widely respected movement seeking reform of the army and an end to the brutal practice of hazing, are merely "mothers trying to ensure that the sons of other mothers, not their own, serve in the military." Pavlovskii's column drew vigorous debate and protest from human rights groups on one of the main portals for the movement, hro.ru. CAF.POLICE CHASE CHECHENS IN MOSCOW.
"There are 300,000 Chechens in Moscow. How many of them are terrorists?" says a sticker appearing in Moscow's metros, polit.ru reported on 23 November. Police have unleashed Operation Whirlwind and have swept through Chechen residences throughout Moscow, asking Chechens to provide documentation and explain their business in the capital and prove they have sufficient finances, often swearing and using force. Chechen men have been taken to police stations and fingerprinted and put under investigation as potential terrorists, says polit.ru. Although President Putin cautioned against anti-Chechen hysteria in the wake of the October tragedy, "the hatred of Chechens felt by the population at large and policemen in particular is a greater reality -- in almost every precinct there are people who have served in Chechnya," said polit.ru. Human rights groups cite cases of Chechen women dismissed from their jobs in the wake of the antiterrorism crackdown, and the tragedy has been exploited by some police to extract bribes from intimidated Chechens, polit.ru reported, citing the Center for Interethnic Cooperation. CAFCHECHEN OFFICIALS APPEAL TO PUTIN OVER DISAPPEARANCES.
Two senior members of the pro-Moscow Chechen government and three regional administrators have appealed to President Putin to put a halt to the abductions and killings of civilians in Chechnya by the Russian military, Interfax reported on 19 November. They claimed the military is using armored vehicles to abduct civilians "on a massive scale" at the dead of night. They said the political situation in Chechnya has deteriorated as a result of reprisals since the 23-26 October Moscow theater hostage taking and warned that if the killings continue, "a social upheaval might occur and every positive achievement of recent years might be lost." Speaking in Grozny on 15 November, administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said 48 people had disappeared within a few days, and nine in his native village of Tsentoroi over the previous week, as a result of which he is ashamed to look fellow villagers in the eyes, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November)CHECHEN RELIGIOUS LEADER MURDERED.
Islamic cleric Said-Pasha Salikhov, a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, was gunned down together with his son in the yard of their home in the village of Stare Atagi early on 20 November, Russian agencies reported. The killers escaped. Chechen administration head Kadyrov expressed outrage at the killings, describing Salikhov as a good person who was widely respected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2002). Local human rights monitors confirm that Salikhov was a revered figure but did not speculate about those responsible for his murder. Other religious leaders in the region have suffered attacks in the past. Earlier this year, Mullah Nasruddin Matuev, 76, was killed by unknown assailants in Novie Atagi in the Shali district, Agency Caucasus reported on 5 May. He was described as independent, antiwar, but neither pro-Moscow nor supportive of the Chechen fighters. CAFCHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD DENOUNCES 'DESTRUCTION OF AN ENTIRE NATION'...
At a 21 November session of the Chechen government attended by newly appointed Premier Mikhail Babich and his predecessor, Russian Minister for Chechnya Reconstruction Stanislav Ilyasov, and broadcast on Chechen television, administration head Kadyrov and district administrators voiced unprecedentedly harsh criticism of human rights violations by Russian troops, chechenpress.com reported on 22 November. The local officials accused Russian troops of abducting civilians, engaging in unsanctioned searches, looting, and blowing up homes. Kadyrov said the Russian forces are "engaged in a fratricidal war and to all intents and purposes are exterminating an entire nation." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November)...ARGUES PLANNED CONGRESS SHOULD BE HELD IN CHECHNYA, NOT MOSCOW.
Kadyrov told Interfax on 21 November that a planned congress of peoples of Chechnya should be held in Grozny, as many would-be participants are unable to travel to Moscow to attend. ITAR-TASS on 21 November quoted Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who represents Chechnya in the Duma, as saying the congress will take place in Moscow on 16 December and some 900 delegates from all over Russia, elected at their current place of residence, will attend. "Chechens from the other side," meaning supporters of President Aslan Maskhadov, may participate if they are not implicated in "crimes or murder," Aslakhanov added. Kadyrov also told Interfax the final changes have been to the new draft Chechen constitution and it will be put to a referendum in March 2003, after which presidential elections could take place in August or September 2003. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November)SUPPLIES RUNNING OUT FOR CHECHEN REFUGEES.
United Nations officials fear their supplies through the World Food Program (WFP) will run out before January 2003, AFP reported on 19 November. "The situation in the internally displaced-persons camps is deteriorating day by day," AFP quoted a WFP official as saying. The UN is appealing for $33.7 million from international donors to provide food and other assistance for civilians in Chechnya and neighboring Russian republics in 2003. The situation in refugee camps housing 20,000 to 25,000 Chechens in neighboring Ingushetia has worsened due to the increased presence of Russian forces since Chechen separatists seized a Moscow theater with hundreds inside last month, warned Jozsef Gyorke, representative for the UNHCR refugee program, AFP reported. CAF
MASS JAIL BREAK REPORTED IN TURKMENISTAN.
Some 700 prisoners managed to escape from a prison near the town of Tedjen on 8 November after crashing a truck through the main gate, according to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 November. Most of them have not yet been recaptured. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November)NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES PROTESTS PERSECUTION OF SCIENTISTS.
When the New York Academy of Sciences permitted Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to become a member of its organization last month, Turkmen exiles and human rights groups complained that the nominal affiliation was being pompously portrayed in the state-controlled media as a recognition of the authoritarian president's alleged achievements. In response, Joseph L. Birman, physics professor and chair of the Academy's Committee on the Rights of Scientists, issued a publicly circulated letter to President Niyazov about his actions "that are contrary to the accepted principles which guide members of this academy," citing Niyazov's disbanding of Turkmenistan's own Academy of Sciences and the persecution of Turkmen scientists. Academy officials have faced criticism of their membership procedures in the past, when various figures with dubious credentials, such as the wife of Romanian leader Nicolae Ceaucescu, joined the academy and used the nominal affiliation as a credential to gain credibility in the West. Some members have argued that no one, no matter how odious, should be expelled from a scientific society on political grounds, because to do so would be to adopt the pernicious practices of the Nazi or Soviet regimes, which routinely expelled scientists from the academy or stripped them of their academic honors as a form of political punishment. Others say that if a scientist can be shown to violate the rights of other scientists or commit mass human rights abuse, he should be expelled. Academy officials say they have no procedure for expulsion of members. CAF
PRESIDENT SAYS 1932-33 FAMINE WAS AN ACT OF GENOCIDE.
President Leonid Kuchma on 23 November addressed the nation on television with a speech devoted to the famine in Ukraine in 1932-33, which, according to various estimates, claimed 5 million-10 million lives, Ukrainian media reported. Kuchma said Ukraine should insist that the world recognize the 1932-33 famine as an act of Bolshevik genocide against the Ukrainian people. "The famine became a national catastrophe. In 1932-33 alone, one-fifth of Ukraine's rural population was killed," Kuchma said. "This [act of] terror through famine was a cynical response of the Bolshevik authorities to the resistance of the Ukrainian peasantry to total collectivization and to the policy of transforming free farmers into silent slaves." Kuchma said a "grand memorial to the victims of famine" should be built in Kyiv and smaller monuments in other parts of Ukraine. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)
CHANGES IN CRIMINAL-PROCEDURE CODE ASSESSED.
The staff of the Prosecutor-General's Office has reviewed the implementation of a law passed one year ago that introduced milder punishment for certain offenses, uza.uz reported on 22 November. Over that period, more than 4,800 criminal cases have been closed and the accused released from pre-trial detention. A further 1,400 cases under investigation were also closed. The percentage of people arrested who were remanded in pretrial detention has fallen from 52 to 29 percent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November)AMNESTY FEARS FOR LIVES OF PRISONERS.
The trial of Iskandar Khudoberganov, Bekzod Kasymbekov, Nosirkhon Khakimov, all in their 20s, and three others charged with religious extremism, "overthrow of the constitutional order" and "setting up an illegal group," suspended in September, resumed on 19 November, Amnesty International said on 20 November. In its statement, the organization expressed concern about possible torture and the use of the death penalty. A judge's verdict is expected soon. Amnesty believes Khudoberganov is at risk for execution and says at least three defendants were reportedly tortured to force them to confess or incriminate other defendants. Khudoberganov slipped a letter to his relatives in September detailing sleepless nights of brutal beatings and threats of rape of his female relatives before his eyes; he claimed in court that his appeals to authorities about torture allegations were seized and torn up by his guards. The trial was suspended not to investigate the torture allegations but to submit the defendants to psychiatric examination to verify their sanity. CAFUN OFFICIAL TO INVESTIGATE TORTURE ALLEGATIONS.
Finding a pattern of cases of detainees' denial of due process and torture while analyzing official and independent reports about conditions in detention in Uzbekistan, the UN Commission Against Torture last year urged Uzbekistan to permit access of lawyers to pre-trial detention and allow prisoners to see doctors upon request. In a gesture welcomed by Western governments and human rights activists who have long pressured the Uzbekistan government to open up its prisons to outside inspection, the UN's special rapporteur on torture was permitted to enter Uzbekistan this week to investigate the use of torture and to speak with officials about prevention. The special rapporteur, who has a mandate separate from the Committee Against Torture, will report on his findings to the UN Commission on Human Rights in March 2003. CAF
SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS NO CONSENSUS ON COOPERATING WITH THE HAGUE.
Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 21 November that the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition has not reached a consensus as to whether to arrest and extradite war criminals in Serbia, Reuters reported. "There is no consensus for cooperation within the ruling coalition. Some would like to gain politically at home by criticizing the tribunal, and [score points] abroad as leaders of a country that is cooperating with The Hague," he said. "If there were political will, we could sit and talk again about it, and about who's protecting whom and what's going on." He added that the tribunal never gave him a specific address where Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic could be found. RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported that Djindjic said the police will do all they can to arrest indicted Bosnian Serbs but that most indictees are not in Serbia. He added that he did not meet with Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at the tribunal, during her recent visit to Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2002). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November)
POLAND ADMITS 150 CHECHEN ASYLUM SEEKERS.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) applauded Poland's decision to admit a group of 150 Chechens seeking political asylum, PAP reported on 19 November, yet noted that Lithuanian border guards refused entry to 28 Chechens and sent them back to Belarus, which in turn sent them back to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2002). Reacting to a Polish decision on 30 October to bar further entry of Chechen refugees, Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov said it was "impermissible" to bar movement of people on ethnic grounds, especially when "70 percent of them are women and children," novayagazeta.ru reported. CAF
LEFT BEHIND: BELARUS AFTER THE NATO SUMMIT
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
A discordant note at the generally upbeat NATO summit in Prague was the Czech Republic's flat refusal to grant a visa to autocratic Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and the predictable response from Belarusian Ambassador to NATO Syarhey Martynau, who furiously threatened to flood Europe with illegal immigrants and drugs in retaliation (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report ," 26 November 2002).
The threat was reminiscent of Fidel Castro's unleashing of the "Marielitas" mass emigration to the United States in 1980. No doubt refugees from Lukashenka's own harsh control over politics, the media, and religion will be hard on the heels of any criminal fugitives he lets slip through his borders. In further sanctions, this week the European Union announced a blacklist barring top Belarusian officials from entry to their countries, supported by the U.S. -- a move similar to action taken at one time against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that some fear could lead to a reciprocity war, especially against East European and Western NGOs that seek entry to Belarus to maintain ties with their counterparts.
At a recent conference sponsored by the New Atlantic Initiative, a program of the American Enterprise Institute, in Washington, D.C., titled "Axis of Evil: Belarus -- the Missing Link," Belarusian opposition figures from across the political spectrum speculated about "life after Lukashenka," expressing a common vision of a Belarus oriented toward Europe. They all would like to see a sovereign and free Belarus, likely with a parliamentary democracy, a mixed economy, and friendly and productive relations with all their neighbors, especially in the particular neighborhood and the era in which Belarus finds itself, with Poland and Lithuania having joined NATO en route to the EU, and Russia and Ukraine remaining outside the gates for some time to come. The question is how to get there.
"We don't have to spend generations to grow or re-grow ethnic identity," said U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Michael Kozak, in response to a Belarusian diaspora leader who questioned the panelists' focus on politics at the expense of Belarusian cultural issues. "Belarus is ready for democracy now, and when Belarusians have democracy, then they will be able to chose the kind of nation they like," he added, prompting a response from conference convener Radek Sikorski, former deputy defense minister of Poland and director of the Trans-Atlantic Initiative, that a feeling of community is needed to fight for democracy. "Reforms have a better chance of success with a sense of identity and patriotism," he said.
This exchange was indicative of a more protracted debate between "nation-builders" and "universalists" in Minsk as well as Moscow and Washington. Some advocate a longer-term plan for Belarus, either stressing national identity, language, and resurrection of literature, culture, and religion, or strategically focusing on "under-the-radar" issues like youth leadership, women's education, or AIDS prevention in order to gradually attract the largely Sovietized and Russified public of Belarus, which is either turned off by politics, or is among the "aggressively obedient silent majority," as Russian historian Yurii Afanasiev once described Soviet society. Others believe a sharper short-term struggle for democracy with emphasis on human rights and civil society will help establish nationhood.
Another debate centered on the true intentions of Russia, whose recent actions vis-a-vis Belarus excited the hopes of those willing to see Vladimir Putin as an agent of positive change in the region. If the partially Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom has turned off the gas to heavily subsidized Belarus, so they reasoned, if Putin is seen to snub Lukashenka by calling his bluff about his vague plans for a union, if the Russian Foreign Ministry protests the expulsion of Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov from the Minsk airport on his way to meet the Belarusian opposition, and refrains from outrage over Lukashenka's visa denial to Prague, it must mean Russia is loosening its grip on Belarus -- or so the reasoning goes
The reality is more complicated, mainly because thanks to a decade of democratic transition, there is a more convoluted political process involving a variety of actors and interests that mitigate against direct Kremlin decision making about the "near abroad." The Czech denial of a visa for Lukashenka provoked bitter complaints from Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov and Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, along with a somewhat more mild protest from Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. While their interests are not accommodated in this round, they may hammer away at other opportunities, for example next year, when the issue is revisited of leaving the Belarusian seat empty in the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE. When Nemtsov recently convened a hearing in the Duma to discuss the four political disappearances in Belarus and hear testimony from the opposition and wives of the victims, Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovskii, and others unsympathetic to freedom in Belarus came to complain and debate with factions supporting democracy in Belarus, including the SPS and Unity. Yet even with a coup scenario as sketched out by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" last week, where Russian politicians together with Minsk nomenklatura and parliamentarians remove Lukashenka, the problem remains of "Lukashism" or kleptocratic autocratic rule -- "neocommunism" as former head of state Stanislau Shushkevich has dubbed it in his book by the same name.
The Belarusian opposition is often described as fractured and contentious. Some conference speakers made euphemistic references to "natural tensions" and others spoke privately in blunter terms about a "parting of the waters" over the Russian issue. Belarus is a microcosm of the larger strains not only within Europe, but between Europe and Russia, and within the trans-Atlantic alliance. Part of the reason the Belarusian opposition is split is because it is stretched on the loom of East-West interests and priorities, primarily over how to deal with Russia. Christopher Walker, writing about the NATO summit, described a Europe divided into a "patchwork of approaches on Iraq...and other critical areas, including policies toward Russia." Walker quoted a senior Baltic diplomat as saying: "The Germans, the French, the Swedes, and other EU member state have their own Russia policies.... If the EU is unable to forge a common approach to Russia, then we must rely entirely on the U.S. for our security needs...." (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2002).
Anatol Lyabedzka, head of the United Civic Party, explained how he differed from other opposition leaders in his desire to explore a common cause with Russian liberals, including Nemtsov, said to be close to Putin, whose transcripts of conversations with Lyabedzka were published by the main pro-government newspaper in Minsk. While not believing Russia can export democracy ("it needs to import that commodity itself," quipped Lyabedzka), Belarusian democrats should work together with Russian counterparts in the common interest of moving both countries closer to Europe and challenging authoritarian tendencies in both.
As a Russian journalist at the Washington conference explained, fighting the Lukashenka phenomenon in Belarus was part and parcel of fighting the resurgence of Soviet-like practices within Russia itself. Other opposition leaders were skeptical, fearing manipulation, and scoffed that Russian liberals had insufficient power to affect the Kremlin's policies in any event. Opposition leaders across the spectrum are feeling a new angst in connection with close U.S. and Russian cooperation in the joint war on terrorism, but they do not believe, despite Lukashenka's virulent anti-NATO propaganda on state-controlled airwaves, that most ordinary Belarusians will themselves become hostile to the West. Currently, a majority of Belarusians polled favor inclusion of Belarus in European institutions.
Another round of elections in Belarus in 2003-05 is likely to produce the same or worse results as the last round from 1999-2001, commented Andrei Sannikov, the international liaison for the civic group Charter 97. Whatever its previous disunity, the opposition had come up with the strategy of a more or less concerted boycott of the 2000 parliamentary elections, given that OSCE election conditions were flouted. The key obstacle for any elections will be the refusal of Lukashenka and his "vertikal" to permit the presence of opposition party or independent candidates in electoral commissions, where they could push for fair procedures and observe vote counting at the grassroots level. Such conditions are unlikely to be met, but following the advice of Western election trainers, most Belarusian opposition leaders feel they must participate in local elections, even to the powerless soviets, or lose an opportunity to gain public visibility. Says Sannikov, "the parliamentary elections offer the only real hope for change," since Lukashenka himself or a "Lukashist" replacement would likely manipulate a public referendum or a ballot to stay in power in a presidential election.