21 March 2001, Volume
ONE WORLD FILM FESTIVAL.
Third Annual International Human Rights Film Festival, created by the People in Need Foundation, will be held under the auspices of Czech President Vaclav Havel and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson from 2 to 10 April in Prague. In its third year, the One World festival will screen 89 films from 35 countries. It is also an international competition of documentary films and videos, informational screenings of non-competition films and videos, debates, workshops, concerts, and photo exhibitions. To attend, contact Helena Zajicova at firstname.lastname@example.org; the website also includes a D-base of all documentaries submitted. The general sponsor is Contactel; other major partners are Czech Television, Open Society Fund, NRG Energy Inc., the City of Prague, Czech Ministry of Culture and Open Society Institute - Network Media Program, the British Council, the French, Canadian, and U.S. Embassies.
RIGHTS GROUP SLAMS POLICE VIOLENCE.
The independent Albanian Human Rights Group said in a statement in Tirana on 15 March that police deliberately hid evidence in the case of Gjon Gjonaj, whom a recent police report described as having committed suicide on 11 March in his prison cell. Local media and the political opposition say he was beaten to death while in custody for the murder of a policeman last October, AP reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)GOVERNMENT SLAMS VIOLENCE.
On 14 March, Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski telephoned his Albanian counterpart, Ilir Meta, to ask for his support, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. Meta stressed that Albania opposes violence and calls on the ethnic Albanian population of Macedonia -- comprising about 23 percent of the total -- to seek a peaceful resolution of their grievances. Speaking at a press conference with Kosova Protection Force commander Agim Ceku, Meta said: "The Albanians should demand their rights only through political and democratic means and peaceful protests, not through violent protests as happened in Tetovo today. The Albanians in Macedonia should pursue the road of dialogue and peace, not that of violence, to achieve their rights," dpa reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)
INTERIOR MINISTER CLAIMS OPPOSITION ORGANIZED VETERANS PROTEST.
The Azerbaijani minister of internal affairs on 10 March accused the Musavat Party of organizing the Karabakh veterans' protests earlier this year. The Musavat Party rejected this claim, although it did say that protesters included Musavat members. Lawyers and human rights activists are pressing for the release from detention of six war invalids detained during protests in February. Their case is currently on appeal. ("Azerbaijan Bulletin," 10 March)
OSCE DENIES TRAINING MONITORS FOR PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT.
The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk on 13 March denied a Belarusian Television report saying the group has unlawfully begun to train observers for the country's upcoming presidential elections before an official announcement of the ballot. According to the OSCE mission, its 9-12 March training course for this week's repeat parliamentary elections was wrongly associated by Belarusian Television with the presidential elections. A representative of the OSCE group in Minsk told Belapan that the mission is doing its best to keep its observer training programs going despite pressure from the Belarusian government. According to the representative, Belarus's Foreign Ministry has made the OSCE group give up on the idea of paying some expenses for observers of the repeat parliamentary elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)OPPOSITION STILL UNDECIDED ON SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE.
The Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces has once again failed to agree on a single candidate to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in this year's presidential ballot, Belapan reported on 13 March. The council said it will decide on a single candidate "as soon as possible" but no later than 27 June, which is the last legal date for the authorities to announce the presidential elections. Regional opposition activists are urging the council to appoint Syamyon Domash, former governor of the Hrodna Oblast, as a single democratic candidate. Andrey Sannikau, who chaired the council's meeting on 13 March, told journalists that by postponing its decision the council wants to preserve the current harmonious cooperation between Domash and three others aspiring to run against Lukashenka: Mikhail Chyhir, Uladzimir Hancharyk, and Pavel Kazlouski. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)INTELLECTUALS PROTEST 'ANTIHUMAN' FILM ON CATHOLICISM.
A group of Belarusian intellectuals and scholars have protested the showing of the film "Soul Snatchers" on Belarusian TV last month, Belapan reported on 7 March. The group said the film "debases" the Catholic Church, "disgraces" the Belarusian people, and "stirs up interdenominational enmity" in Belarus. "The author tackles the subject without being familiar with either the history of the Catholic Church, or its soul-edifying activity," the group said in statement. President Lukashenka, who once defined his religious belief as that of an "Orthodox atheist," openly favors the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus and strives to make Orthodoxy a "state religion" in exchange for moral support to his regime from the church hierarchy. According to some estimates, there may be some 1 million Roman Catholics in Belarus. (RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report, 13 March)PRESIDENT CLAIMS VETO ON FOREIGN AID BY THIRD SECTOR.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a decree regulating the use of "foreign gratuitous aid" in the country, Belarusian TV reported on 14 March. The station said the decree bans the use of foreign aid for activities oriented toward changing the constitutional system or overthrowing state authorities. In particular, the decree prohibits the use of foreign aid for the preparation of elections, rallies, strikes, seminars, "propagandistic materials," and "other forms of propagandistic work among the population." Mechyslau Hryb, former chairman of the Supreme Soviet, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that Lukashenka's decree actually intends to prevent the opposition and international community from preparing monitors for this year's presidential elections. The preparation of election monitors in Belarus has thus far been sponsored by foreign grants. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)OPPOSITION SLAMS DECREE ON FOREIGN AID.
Anatol Lyabedzka, head of the United Civic Party, has said President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decree on foreign aid to Belarus intends "to nationalize the activity of political parties and public associations," Belapan reported on 15 March. Lyabedzka added that Lukashenka's decree contradicts Belarus's domestic legislation and international agreements. Mikalay Statkevich, leader of the Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly), said the decree is connected with the upcoming presidential elections and aims at preventing election monitoring by NGOs. Under the decree, all foreign aid to Belarus should be registered and approved by the Presidential Department for Humanitarian Aid. The decree threatens the closure of domestic and international organizations in Belarus in the event they have violated its provisions. "This decree was drafted by some barbarian who wants to put everything under his control," former Labor Minister Alyaksandr Sasnou commented to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)TRADE UNION FEDERATION PRESSURIZED TO BREAK UP?
Uladzimir Hancharyk, head of the Trade Union Federation of Belarus (FTUB), told journalists on 16 March that authorities intend to break up the federation before this year's presidential elections, Belapan reported. He said the authorities are carrying out a "vigorous trade union reform" that boils down to persuading workers to defect from industrial unions, which form the FTUB, and join new trade union organizations controlled by factory management and the government. Hancharyk added that workers of Integral and the Belarusian Steel Works, two major plants in Minsk, have already quit the federation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO CLEAN HOUSE.
Social Democratic Prime Minister Alija Behmen told the federal parliament in Sarajevo that his government aims to promote Bosnia's integration into Europe, Reuters reported. In addition to promoting human rights, refugee return, and the development of state institutions, he intends to uproot corruption and encourage foreign investment. Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 14 March that one of the reasons nationalists in the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) refuse to have anything to do with the new government is that they fear it will expose some HDZ leaders' own corrupt practices, including their involvement in the smuggling of cars and cigarettes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)
EU LIFTS VISA REGIME.
The justice and interior ministers of the EU agreed on 15 March in Brussels to lift visa requirements for Bulgaria, Reuters reported. The decision will allow Bulgarians to travel to any EU member state without a visa beginning at a still-to-be-determined date in April. The EU's Council of Ministers first made the decision to abolish the visa requirements for Bulgaria in December, but needed the approval of the parliament and the justice and interior ministers. In Sofia, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said: "I think that Bulgarian citizens who travel will be considerate and avoid creating tensions by heading [en masse] toward Europe." Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova called the decision "a victory for Bulgaria. It took us many years of effort." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)
CZECH AUTHORITIES BLAME RADICAL LEFT FOR SPREAD OF VIOLENCE.
Interior Ministry spokesman Samuel Truska, in a written statement to dpa on 16 March, said a "hard nucleus" of radical anarchists is responsible for a recent increase in violent street fighting with radical right-wing groups. The spokesman said that in contrast with the past, when the anarchists contented themselves with shouting antiracist slogans, they now start fights with both their ideological opponents and police. Truska said that the "bloody battle" between anarchists and skinheads during the anti-IMF demonstrations in September 2000 "shows that such clashes must not be underestimated" and that anarchist groups may be "a threat not only to the public, but also to police." In what it labels the "anarcho-autonomous scene," the ministry includes the Czechoslovak Anarchist Federation, the Federation of Social Anarchists, and the Anti-Fascist Action, whose declared goals are combating racism, xenophobia, globalization, and corporate polluters. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)SOCIAL DEMOCRATS CALL FOR END TO EX-COMMUNIST SCREENING LAW.
A group of 44 Social Democrat (CSSD) deputies has asked the Czech Constitutional Court to abolish the law preventing former high-ranking communists from holding top posts in government, CTK reported 13 March. "We believe these laws no longer have a place," said CSSD Deputy Chairwoman Jitka Kupcova. "International organizations and the Council of Europe continuously point out that these laws are discriminatory," she added. ODS deputy Marek Benda called the complaint "absurd" and "stupid," adding that the court has already made a decision on the screening laws -- that they were not at variance with the Czech Constitution -- so he sees no reason why it should rule differently now. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)CZECH NGO RESUMES HUMANITARIAN AID IN CHECHNYA.
The People in Need Foundation (PINF) after a month-long suspension, has resumed aid activities in Chechnya where it has been operating since January 2000. During the first half of 2000 it delivered more than 700 tons of food to Chechnya, including Grozny; its $550,000 operation was funded by Czech and international donors. During the second half of 2000, PINF implemented several projects inside Chechnya on contract with UN aid agencies, such as regular monthly delivery, distribution, and monitoring of food and non-food assistance to approximately 50,000 vulnerable inhabitants of Grozny as well as distributing roofing materials for more than 1,100 houses. In total, almost 5,500 tons of humanitarian aid was safely delivered and directly distributed by PINF in Chechnya during 2000. For more information: email@example.com or see http://www.oneworld.cz (People in Need Foundation, 12 March)
PROPOSAL TO PRESERVE RUSSIAN SCHOOLS REJECTED.
The Estonian parliament on 13 March defeated by a vote of 32 to 46 a bill proposed by the Center Party that would have allowed Russian-language secondary schools to continue operating after 2007, BNS reported. Current laws require that the language of instruction in all basic and secondary schools be Estonian by the 2007/2008 school year at the latest. The Center Party proposal would have amended the laws to allow non-Estonian-language secondary schools to function side-by-side with Estonian-language schools. However, the law would have required Estonian to be a compulsory subject beginning in the first grade in all schools where the language of instruction is not Estonian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)
RENEGADE PRIEST AGAIN TARGETS JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES.
Defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest Vasili Mkalavishvili and several dozen of his followers on 16 March broke into the Margalita publishing house and set fire to 500 copies of a volume printed for the local community of Jehovah's Witnesses, AP reported quoting Interfax. An adviser to that community said the following day that police observed the incident but declined to intervene, and that the fire brigade was called only when almost all of the books had already been destroyed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)DRUNKEN MOB ATTACKS BIBLE SOCIETY WORKERS.
A lorry transporting books and blankets to the Georgian Bible Society in Tbilisi was ambushed on 10 March by a drunken mob led by defrocked Orthodox priest Vasili Mkalavishvili, Keston News Service has learned. They beat up the driver and three Bible Society workers and destroyed many of the books. The attack has been condemned by a Georgian official as comparable to the activities of the Ku Klux Klan or the Inquisition. (Keston News Service, 14 March)ATTACK ON CENTRAL BAPTIST CHURCH.
On 14 March, armed men broke into the central Baptist church in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, tied up the night-watchmen and removed all the money from the church safe, cutting it open using a blowtorch, Keston News Service has learned. This is the latest in a series of attacks on minority religious groups in Georgia. "The fact that no-one has been punished for any of these attacks encourages extremists," Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Georgian Baptist Church told Keston. (Keston News Service, 13 March)ORTHODOX PARISH DENIED BUILDING PERMISSION.
Keston News Service has learned that an application for permission to build an Orthodox church outside the Georgian Patriarchate's jurisdiction has been blocked for a year. Officials claim either that all church building needs permission from the Patriarchate or insisted that the parish's site is not suitable. Fears have been expressed that under the concordat between Georgian President Shevardnadze and the Patriarchate, due for parliamentary ratification on 15 March, the Patriarchate will veto all other Orthodox church building. (Keston News Service, 14 March)
GOVERNMENT CONDEMNS REFUGEE STATUS FOR ROMA.
The Hungarian Government regards the French Refugee Office's recent granting of refugee status to several Roma from the Hungarian village of Zamoly as "unfounded, inequitable and unjust," cabinet spokesman Gabor Borokai said on 13 March. Borokai said the decision is "potentially dangerous" because it may intensify anti-Roma feeling in Hungary and prompt emigration. He added, however, that since the Roma were not granted political refugee rights, and the ruling was not passed by a governmental body, there is no need for a diplomatic response. "The government will implement its Roma education and employment project by all means," Borokai concluded. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)PRIME MINISTER SAYS FRENCH REFUGEE DECISION 'NO SHAME.'
Speaking on a weekly radio program, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that the French Refugee Office's decision to grant refugee status to some Hungarian Roma was "no reason to feel shame," Reuters reported. "Hungary today, in terms of human rights, can compare with any Western European country," he said. On the other hand, Jozsef Krasznai, a Roma activist and spokesman for the group of Roma from the village of Zamoly that was recently granted amnesty in France, told the daily "Nepszabadsag" that the Hungarian government had done nothing to investigate the situation of the group. He also described the comments by Hungarian government spokesman Gabor Borokai protesting the French decision as "wrong, to say the least." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)
HOMES OF PROMINENT OPPOSITION PARTY OFFICIALS VANDALIZED.
Unknown vandals targeted the homes in Almaty of Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan acting Chairman Amirzhan Qosanov and of the party's press secretary, Almira Kusainova, during the night of 16-17 March, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The perpetrators threw stones at Kusainova's apartment, breaking three windows, and daubed insulting and vulgar slogans on Qosanov' s door. Both Qosanov and Kusainova have received numerous anonymous telephone threats over the past week, warning that their lives will be at risk unless they abandon their political activities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)PARLIAMENT DEBATES CUTS IN RETRANSMISSION.
A parliament working group on 16 March discussed amendments to a media law that would reduce the volume of international broadcasting retransmitted by Kazakh electronic media, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Arguing that almost 90 percent of airtime is taken up by rebroadcasting of Russian programming, and that the predominance of the Russian programming undermines Kazakhstan's sovereignty, deputies decided after heated debate that the volume of international programming retransmitted should be cut by 50 percent by 2002 and by 80 percent by 2003. Discussion of the amendments will continue this week. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)POLLUTION HURTS HEALTH OF 54 PERCENT OF WOMEN.
A survey conducted by the U.S.-supported Women in Kazakhstan project found that 54.4 percent of all women in Kazakhstan suffer from various illnesses caused by environmental factors, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)
RUGOVA URGES INTERNATIONAL MEDIATION IN MACEDONIA.
Kosovar moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova said in Stuttgart on 17 March that the Macedonian authorities should pay more attention to the legitimate grievances of their fellow citizens of Albanian origin. He said that the way out of "the war" in Macedonia is through an "international organization," namely one with "more weight" than a "purely political one, like the OSCE," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Rugova also called for sending international peacekeepers to Macedonia. He warned that the conflict in Macedonia and crisis in Presevo could have a destabilizing effect on Kosova. An independent Kosova would have a calming effect on the political atmosphere in the Balkans, he added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)
OPPOSITION PARTIES SET PRIORITIES.
Meeting in Bishkek on 15 March, representatives of the parties of Ar-Namys, El, Erkindik, Kairan-El, Republican, and Communist parties identified as their most pressing priorities campaigning for the release of imprisoned opposition politicians and the defense of the freedom of the press, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The chairman of the Party of Communists, Absamat Masaliev, told RFE/RL by phone that his party and the Ata-Meken Party will join that campaign. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)ROUNDTABLE ON DRAFT RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS LAW.
The governmental Commission on Religious Affairs held in Bishkek a roundtable discussion on 14 March on the draft Law on Religious Organizations. OSCE experts, who participated in the roundtable, said that some articles of the bill contradict the current constitution. ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 15 March)EMIGRATION HURTS ECONOMY.
During the last three years, 220,000 people have left Kyrgyzstan, an outflow that is worrying Kyrgyz officials, Moscow's "Vremya MN" reported on 14 March. The outflow is generally among the most educated portions of the population, and sociologists have called it a "brain-drain" that is certain to hurt Kyrgyzstan's economic prospects. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)
MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADER CALLS FOR URGENT DIALOGUE.
Arben Xhaferi, whose Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) is represented in the government, told "Fakti" of 17 March that the rebels are resorting to violence as a shortcut to taking power, Reuters reported. "I do not think that you start a war in order to create a political party," he added. The veteran Albanian leader, who is clearly in declining health, stressed that "the situation calls for the opening of a dialogue between the two peoples on the mode of co-existence. I hope that both the Macedonian government and the foreign powers will try to launch this dialogue that will benefit all. Nobody will lose." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)ALBANIANS MARCH FOR PEACE.
Some 10,000 people took part in a demonstration organized by the governing Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) in Skopje on 13 March, the "Daily Telegraph" reported. The motto of the protest was "we are not terrorists." Menduh Thaci, who is deputy chairman of the PDSH, said that "most Albanians support us." He added that the purpose of the march was to "show that the Albanians want stability" and impress upon the government the need to make more progress in guaranteeing rights to the Albanian minority, Reuters reported. There appears to be some confusion over the exact number of participants. Belgrade's "Danas" put the figure at 30,000, while the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote that only 5,000 people turned out. Militant nationalists held a march in Tetovo on 14 March under the motto "against Macedonian terrorism." The turnout was about 3,000, dpa reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)
INTERNATIONAL HELSINKI FEDERATION: TIME TO DECIDE ON MONTENEGRO.
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) said in a statement from Vienna on 15 March that the wrangling over the political future of Montenegro has gone on for too long, and is "absorbing political energy and attention in Montenegro that is needed to solve other problems. The same, but to a lesser extent, is valid for Serbia. Taking territorial issues (about Montenegro and Kosovo) off Serbia's political agenda will only help and not complicate the democratization process." The IHF appealed to anti-independence Montenegrins to take part in the eventual referendum. The IHF also called on the international community to maintain strict neutrality. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)
PLACE OF WOMEN IN POLITICS DISCUSSED.
"Why are there so few women in Moldovan politics, and how does it happen that bright high school and college women students end up playing an insignificant role in the country's social life," these were some of the questions discussed at a recent meeting of Chisinau Press Club. In comparison with other countries, there are very few women in Moldovan politics. There were nine women in the previous Moldovan legislature, and there will be just eleven in the new parliament. According to the meeting's moderator, all participants agreed that more sessions on this topic were necessary. ("Moldova Media News," 9 March)
PRESIDENT URGES KUCHMA NOT TO USE FORCE AGAINST PROTESTERS.
Aleksander Kwasniewski told his visiting Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma in Kazimerz Dolny on 15 March that he should use not force, but dialogue, for resolving the current political unrest at home, PAP reported. Kuchma responded that he is ready for dialogue with the opposition, but only within the framework of the law and the constitution. Kuchma added: "When the so-called opposition wants to dictate the resignation of a president...protesting with sharp metal objects and Molotov cocktails in their hands -- how can we talk to such groups?" Polish Television reported that the Ukrainian president said he will not talk to "fascists" who provoke social disorder in Ukraine. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)HISTORIAN SAYS BOOK ON 1941 POGROM OMITS GERMAN PARTICIPATION.
Professor Tomasz Strzembosz said there is enough evidence to conclude that the German military was actively and directly involved in the killing of Jews in Jedwabne in 1941, PAP reported on 14 March. Professor Jan Tomasz Gross from New York alleged in his recently published book "Neighbors" that some 1,600 Jews from Jedwabne were herded in a barn and burned by their Polish neighbors without any encouragement from Germans. Strzembosz said he is shocked by the fact that Gross -- who read the accounts of witnesses and defendants testifying in a 1949 trial of pogrom participants -- "did not take notice of the fact that Germans participated in [the pogrom], but shows the murder of the Jews in Jedwabne as a spontaneous and voluntary action by the Polish community." According to Strzembosz, the Germans forced Jedwabne inhabitants to participate in the pogrom. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)TOWN REMOVES CONTROVERSIAL MONUMENT TO MASSACRED JEWS.
The authorities of the town of Jedwabne on 15 March removed a controversial monument with an inscription that blamed only Nazi Germans for the massacre of some 1,600 Jews from the town in 1941. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)
EU MAINTAINS VISA REQUIREMENTS.
The EU Council of Interior Ministers on 15 March decided to remove Romania, together with Bulgaria, from the "blacklist" of countries with entry visa requirements, but Romanian nationals still need visas for entry into the EU, Mediafax reported. The ministers decided to maintain visa requirements until Romanian authorities fulfill all conditions for abolishing the visas. These conditions include tightened border controls, more secure travel documents, and prevention of illegal immigration from Romania to EU countries. If an EU report on the fulfillment of these conditions to be presented on 30 June has positive conclusions, Romanians could travel freely to the EU from this summer on. As Bulgarian citizens will already be allowed to do so beginning next month, Romania will be the only candidate country whose citizens will be required to obtain a visa for travel to EU member countries. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)
GROZNY SURVIVED WINTER 'WELL ENOUGH.'
Grozny Mayor Bislan Gantamirov told ITAR-TASS on 14 March that the 200,000 residents of Grozny had survived the winter well enough, given the lack of basic services. "There were only a few cases of frostbitten people, but this is a staggering result given that the city was virtually fully destroyed," he said. He expressed thanks to Danish and Czech humanitarian groups for providing the city with food. Meanwhile, a humanitarian convoy of the International Red Cross arrived in Ingushetia on 14 March with 170 tons of food, ITAR-TASS said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)CHECHEN WAR HEATS UP ON INTERNET.
"Vremya MN" reported on 16 March that hackers tried to deny service to the Chechen website Kavkaz-Tsentr earlier last week but that they were not able to "completely" destroy it. According to Chechen officials, the hackers involved were employees of Russia's security services. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rushailo announced that security has been increased at Russian nuclear power stations in anticipation of possible Chechen attacks, "Tribuna" reported on 16 March. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)DEPUTY LAMENTS LACK OF POLICY FOR THE NORTH.
In an interview with "Krasnaya zvezda" on 15 March, State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) and member of the Committee on Problems of the North and Far East Valerii Markov complains that there is an absence of systematic and consistent policy with regard to northern and far eastern regions. He said that attention to the North is "seasonal," focusing on the "Northern Delivery" and the heating season. According to Markov, 64 percent of Russian territory is in the north and it contributes about one-fourth of the nation's tax and around 60 percent of its hard currency revenues. But only 8 percent of its population resides there. Markov noted that in Canada there is an entire ministry devoted to the affairs of northern territories, while in Russia the problems of ethnic communities of the North are taken care of by the Ministry for Nationality Affairs and its economic problems by the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade. He declared that in Canada "they understand that the North must be a constant preoccupation." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)MOSCOW MAY INTRODUCE IMMIGRATION QUOTAS.
Arguing that in "all civilized countries" governments regulate immigration by quotas, Russia's Minister for Federation, Nationality and Migration Affairs Aleksandr Blokhin said on 13 March that Russia should introduce them as well, Interfax reported. Blokhin also said that the process of naturalizing those who seek permanent residence in the Russian Federation should be a gradual one, with citizenship being the "final stage" of inclusion. Blokhin also announced plans to create an immigration inspection service to increase control over illegal migrants not only at entry points but throughout the country. Meanwhile, Mikhail Dmitriev, the first deputy minister of economic development and trade, said the same day that Moscow should actively promote immigration to help meet imminent labor shortages, the Russian news service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)UP TO 1.5 MILLION IMMIGRANTS IN RUSSIA FROM BEYOND FSU.
Oleg Mironov, Russia's human rights ombudsman, told representatives of immigrant communities that estimates of the number of immigrants in Russia from beyond the territory of the former Soviet republics varied from 700,000 to 1.5 million, Interfax reported on 14 March. But he noted that only a very small fraction of them were properly registered and had sought refugee status. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)AZERBAIJANIS IN RUSSIA CALL FOR DUAL CITIZENSHIP.
At a meeting this week, Azerbaijani activists representing the 2.5 million ethnic Azerbaijanis in Russia called for Baku to reach dual citizenship arrangements with Russia and other CIS countries, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 March. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)KAZANTSEV WANTS NORTH CAUCASUS RUSSIANS TO ORGANIZE ETHNIC PARTY.
Viktor Kazantsev, presidential envoy to the North Caucasus, told ethnic Russians there that they should organize themselves into a single ethnically-based party as non-Russians do in the republics there rather than divide their numbers in various groups, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 March. Some of the participants urged that President Putin end the election of republic heads and appoint them directly, the paper said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)RUSSIAN JEWISH CONGRESS TO BE APOLITICAL.
Leonid Nevzlin, the acting president of the Russian Jewish Congress, said on 14 March that his organization does not intend to take part in political activities, Interfax reported. In other comments, he suggested that anti-Semitism would be a problem in Russia only if the government were to support it, something he said it was not now doing. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)INTERIOR MINISTRY, ORTHODOX CHURCH EXPAND TIES.
Patriarch Aleksii II met with Interior Minister Rushailo on 16 March to discuss ties between their two institutions, both in general and in order to promote the restoration of a peaceful life in Chechnya, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Georgii Poltavchenko, the presidential envoy for the Central federal district, met with Orthodox hierarchy and others to discuss and approve a concept for the spiritual education of young people, the news agency reported the same day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)ORTHODOX CHURCH URGED TO ALLOW PROTESTANT ETHIC TO EMERGE.
An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Religii," No. 5, suggested that the Russian Orthodox Church is currently acting as a brake on economic development because of its public attitudes. The paper said the church should change its relationship to the state to allow for the emergence of the kind of Protestant ethic that Max Weber celebrated as one of the foundations of West European capitalist development. Meanwhile, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad said in an interview published in the 15 March "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that he thanked God that those who oppose him do not include "the government and some of the serious people." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)MUSLIMS SEEK TO CREATE NEW POLITICAL PARTY.
Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, the leader of the Refakh movement, is working to form a "Prosperity" party to promote the interests of Russia's more than 20 million Muslims, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 16 March. Because Russian law prohibits purely religious parties, Niyazov noted that the group will also welcome members of other faiths. The group plans to hold its first congress on 22 May, the paper said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)DUMA INVESTIGATES MEASURES TO 'PREVENT THE SPREAD OF CATHOLICISM.'
The State Duma of the Russian Federation has instructed its Committee for International Affairs to ask the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for information about measures taken to "prevent the spread of Catholicism" on the territory of Russia and other Orthodox states, Keston News Service learned from an employee of the Committee on 12 March. A Duma expert believes there is no need to take the inquiry seriously, but it has aroused astonishment and disquiet among Russian Catholics. (Keston News Service, 19 March)ATTEMPT TO TOUGHEN 1997 LAW ON RELIGION.
A draft law proposed by the parliament of Voronezh region would introduce additional grounds for liquidating religious organizations into Article 14 of Russia�s 1997 law on religion, Keston News Service has learned. Those questioned by Keston about the bill were doubtful that it would be adopted, but the very attempt to amend the law reveals dissatisfaction with it. Some feel that pressure from the West means the law is not enforced strictly enough.NOSTALGIA FOR SOVIET PERIOD GROWING...
A poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 15 March found that 79 percent of Russians now regret the disintegration of the Soviet Union, up from the 69 percent who regretted it in 1992. The poll, released for the 10th anniversary of the Gorbachev-era vote on 17 March on whether Soviet citizens wanted the USSR to survive, also shows that 63 percent of Russians now think it would have been possible to save it but that only 30 percent continue to hope for its restoration. Also in connection with that anniversary, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said people in the post-Soviet states are now reassessing "democratic values" and increasingly showing their interest in the re-establishment of the USSR, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)...AS IS INTEREST IN ROMANOVS.
In advance of the 84th anniversary of the abdication of Nicholas II in 1917, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Figurii I Litsa" on 15 March carried a laudatory article about the current Romanov pretender to the throne, Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich. And "Nezavisimaya gazeta" published on the same day an article praising the work of Paul I, a Tsar not usually associated with progressive change. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)HERALDRY HEAD SEES NO PROBLEM IN COMBINING SOVIET, RUSSIAN SYMBOLS.
Georgii Vilinbakhov, chairman of the State Heraldic Council in the Office of the Russian President, said in an interview published in "Vremya MN" on 16 March that he sees no problem in the continuing display of Soviet-era symbols alongside Russian ones. Vilinbakhov said there is no reason to take down Soviet symbols unless they replaced Tsarist ones, in which case they should then be restored. "In a normal state," Vilinbakhov said, "monuments are not torn down. History loves to combine things that are not by nature combinable." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)MORE HOMELESS CHILDREN, LESS JUVENILE CRIME.
Russian police officials told AP on 15 March that the number of homeless children in Russia rose from 113,000 in 1993 to about 180,000 today. (Human rights groups estimate the real number to be far higher.) The officials said that after a decade of growth, juvenile crime fell slightly in the past year, although violent crimes by young people continued to increase. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)NEW FALLOUT FROM THE TOBIN CASE.
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 March suggested that the drug case against U.S. student John Edward Tobin in Voronezh has already produced what it called "casualties" elsewhere. The paper said that Russian counterintelligence officers now want to investigate the activities of the Fulbright exchange program as a whole. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)
YUGOSLAVIA HAS 'ABOUT 15' WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS.
Federal Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 13 March that "about 15" of the persons listed in the public indictments of The Hague-based war crimes tribunal are currently living in Yugoslavia. This is the first such revelation by a top Belgrade official, AP reported. It is not clear whether the former Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, is included on Zivkovic's list. Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac said a draft law on cooperating with the tribunal could be ready by the end of March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)YUGOSLAV AMBASSADOR FIRM ON ARREST OF MILOSEVIC.
Yugoslav Ambassador to the U.S. Milan Protic said in Washington on 15 March that he stands by his earlier statement that former President Slobodan Milosevic will be arrested by the end of the month. Protic played down the importance of President Vojislav Kostunica's criticism of his remarks, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 March 2001). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)HAGUE COURT EXPECTS ACTION BY SERBIA.
Florence Hartmann, who is spokeswoman for The Hague's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said in Belgrade on 17 March that "the prosecutor expects a concrete and clear move by the Yugoslav authorities before the end of the month. The concrete move should be the beginning of the process of arresting and transferring fugitives who are on Yugoslav territory," Reuters reported. The previous day, she said that the Belgrade authorities are not cooperating with the tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Elsewhere, Kostunica argued that he has no authority to order anyone's extradition. In recent months, some other Belgrade officials have suggested that he does not have the authority to prevent an extradition, either. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)KOSOVAR SERB LEADER SUGGESTS TWO TRIALS FOR MILOSEVIC.
Archbishop Artemije, who is president of the Serbian National Council in Kosova, told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 18 March that Milosevic should be tried for war crimes in The Hague and on various criminal charges in Belgrade. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)PRO-BELGRADE MONTENEGRIN RALLY.
Some 1,000 Montenegrins living in Serbia held a rally in support of continued ties between Montenegro and Serbia in Belgrade on 17 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Speakers charged that President Milo Djukanovic is trying to "create" a fictitious Montenegrin identity separate from that of Serbia. The previous day, Djukanovic told the Paris-based daily "Le Figaro" that "Serbian nationalism and the dream of a greater Serbia" hold sway among Belgrade's new leaders. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT DECLARES ANTI-NATO HOLIDAY.
The Yugoslav government on 15 March approved a request by Kostunica to make 24 March a legal Day of Remembrance. The date marks the anniversary of NATO's 1999 intervention to stop the Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaign in Kosova. Kostunica said in a letter that "our cooperation with NATO would be based on flimsy foundations if we try to act as if nothing ever happened in the spring of 1999," AP reported. He called the intervention "evil," adding that "we are obliged to recognize and remember the evil that was inflicted on us, as well as the evil that we inflicted on others." Kostunica frequently expresses the view that Serbs have been victims throughout history, but rarely, if ever, speaks of "evil" done by Serbs to others. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)DRASKOVIC SAYS SERBIA'S RULERS PRESERVING OLD ORDER.
Vuk Draskovic, who heads the Serbian Renewal Movement, said Belgrade's new leaders are using "legalistic" arguments as an excuse to keep the Milosevic-era power structure largely intact, "Vesti" reported on 16 March. "Jane's Intelligence Review" wrote on 2 March that the new leaders have cut deals with the old establishment, particularly with the police and the military. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)
INTERIOR MINISTER SEES DANGER OF RENEWED ROMA EXODUS.
Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner on 17 March said that last week's EU decision to abolish visa requirements for Slovak citizens could prompt a new wave of emigration by Slovak Roma to Western Europe. On his return from Brussels, Pittner told journalists that Slovakia needs more help from the EU to cope with the problems of its Romany minority. and called on the EU to expand aid for programs destined for this purpose. Pittner said that during the meeting in Brussels of interior ministers from EU and candidate countries, he had proposed the involvement of intelligence services in the struggle against illegal immigration. "Secret services must be involved in this internationally organized people-smuggling," he said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)TWO OPPOSING GROUPS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF STATE UNDER NAZI GERMANY.
The People Against Racism group held a "Tolerance March" in Bratislava on 14 March to mark the anniversary of the foundation of the Slovak State (1939-1944) under Nazi Germany, TASR reported. Participants in the march -- who included parliamentary speaker Jozef Migas, Agriculture Minister Pavel Koncos, and Education Minister Milan Ftacnik -- condemned that state as a fascist puppet. Meanwhile, the group called Slovenska Narodna Jednota (Slovak National Unity), which included skinheads, celebrated the anniversary with nostalgia. The Nazi Slovak State experienced an economic boom during World War II and a period of peace until 1944, they claimed, although historical evidence shows otherwise. The two opposing groups met twice during the celebrations but only an ashtray flew among the public, the agency noted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)
PENTECOSTAL CHURCH TO BE CONFISCATED?
On 14 March, the Kopetdag district court of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad ruled once again that the house used as the city's Pentecostal church should be confiscated without compensation, Pastor Viktor Makrousov -- who owns the house -- told Keston News Service by telephone from Ashgabad. The hearing had been postponed from 1 March. A number of diplomats from different countries attended the hearing. Pastor Makrousov will appeal against the decision, which he said was based on unfounded allegations, in the city court. (Keston News Service, 14 March)ATAKOV TO SPEND BIRTHDAY IN PRISON HOSPITAL?
Exactly one week before Baptist prisoner of conscience Shageldy Atakov's 39th birthday and exactly one month after the OSCE asked in vain for permission to visit him in prison hospital, Keston News Service has learned that there has apparently been no progress towards his release. The EU has recently lodged a demarche with the Turkmen Foreign Ministry, demanding his release. (Keston News Service, 12 March)PROTESTANTS BEATEN, FLATS CONFISCATED.
At least six Protestant Christians have been summoned and beaten by Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (former KGB), in several towns and villages in the north of the country in the past six months, while two Protestant families have had their homes confiscated, Keston News Service has learned from sources who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of further repressive measures against them. (Keston News Service, 19 March)
COMMUNISTS WANT SOVIET COMEBACK, OUSTER OF PRESIDENT, PREMIER...
Some 3,000 Communists and hard-liners demonstrated at the Ukrainian parliamentary building on 15 March, demanding the ouster of President Leonid Kuchma, Premier Viktor Yushchenko, and a return to the old Soviet ways, AP reported. Yushchenko earned particular ire from the protesters, who stood patiently under pouring rain, chanted "Kuchma and Yushchenko to jail!" and lamented their lost Soviet-era savings, miserable pensions, low wages, and other social woes, the agency noted. Many Communists arrived from outlying regions such as Donetsk, Luhansk, Odesa, and Kharkiv. They were backed by hard-line groups including the Ukrainian Workers' Union and the All-Ukrainian Union of Soviet Officers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)...AND STAGE ANTI-GOVERNMENT MARCH IN DONETSK.
Some 3,000 mostly elderly people took part in a march organized by the Communist Party in Donetsk on 17 March, Reuters reported. Protesters demanded the resignation of President Kuchma and Prime Minister Yushchenko, as well as forging closer ties between Ukraine and Russia. Some 350 people participated in a similar rally in Dnipropetrovsk the same day, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko told a 17 March conference of lawmakers from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia that only a union of those three countries will help Ukraine "overcome the misery which we find ourselves in and avoid new threats." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)'UKRAINE WITHOUT KUCHMA' MOVEMENT IN KYIV FOCUSES ON PRESIDENT...
Some 1,000 activists of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" movement on 14 March picketed the parliamentary building and subsequently the Prosecutor-General's Office, the Interior Ministry, and the presidential administration building, demanding the dismissal of President Kuchma, Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko, Interfax reported. Demonstrators collected a glassful of blood drawn from their fingers and deposited the glass outside the Interior Ministry, suggesting that Kuchma and Kravchenko have blood on their hands following the murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)... AS LVIV STUDENTS DEMAND KUCHMA'S IMPRISONMENT, RELEASE OF PROTESTERS.
Some 3,000 students marched in Lviv on 13 March, calling for the imprisonment of President Leonid Kuchma, the sacking of Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and the release of protesters arrested during the 9 March antipresidential rally in Kyiv, Interfax reported. The march took place without any reported violence. Last week, agencies reported that the Kyiv police arrested some 100 students, primarily from Lviv and other western Ukrainian cities, while they were gathering at a railway station to return home from the anti-Kuchma rally and the founding congress of the All- Ukrainian Public Resistance Committee "For the Truth!" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)
FERGHANA CENTER FOR DISABLED CHILDREN.
IQTIDOR ('capability' or 'strength' in Uzbek) is a self-administered NGO in the city of Kokand in the Ferghana Valley. The center was established in 1999 to help disabled children and their parents solve problems, increase knowledge, and improve the social life of disabled children. For more information, contact Ms. Uktamkhon Ahmadalieva at 998-37355-3-5401. (Center for Civil Society International, 19 March)RUSSIAN CULTURAL CENTER OPENS IN UZBEK CAPITAL.
A Russian Center for Scientific and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries opened in Tashkent on 14 March, Uzbek radio reported. The center is headed by the first female cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, and is intended to promote ties between Central Asia and Russia, center officials said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)
TRAINING COURSE FOR MINORITY ACTIVISTS.
A training course of ethnic minority NGOs leaders in South Caucasus, organized by the Public Movement Multinational Georgia and funded by CORDAID, will take place in Tbilisi during the first week of May. Fifteen representatives of Caucasus ethnic minority NGOs and individuals and NGOs engaged in the activities aimed at the protection of human rights and ethnic minorities in the region. Deadline for applications: 24 March 2001. Contact Arnold Stepanian Project manager at email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. (MINELRES, 20 February)
A TECTONIC SHIFT
By Paul Goble
Muslims have dramatically increased their percentage of the world's population over the last century, while Christians have only maintained their share. And that shift is already affect how each group views not only itself but the other as well.
According to statistics gathered in the newly-published "World Christian Encyclopedia," of the world's 1.6 billion people in 1900, 32.2 percent were Christians and 12.3 percent were Muslims. Now, a century later, the encyclopedia reports, Christians form 31.2 percent of the world's six billion people, but Muslims have increased their share to 19.6 percent.
Other groups changed their share of the total population far less significantly, with the exception of nonbelievers, who increased from less than one percent in 1900 to some 15.2 percent of the total now, and the followers of folk religions, whose percentage dropped from 30.2 percent in 1990 to 10.2 percent now.
The changed relationship between the number of Christians and the number of Muslims is likely to have the most immediate and serious consequences. A century ago, there were more than 550 million Christians but only 200 million Muslims, a ratio of almost three to one. Now, there are almost two billion Christians but 1.2 billion followers of Islam, a ratio of approximately three to two.
A large part of the total increases in both communities reflects demographic trends. Countries where Christianity traditionally has been practiced generally have had lower birthrates than those where Islam is the predominant faith. But an important part of the difference in the increases reflects the results of prosyletization, of missionary work to spread the faith.
Christianity has become the first nearly universal faith, the "World Christian Encyclopedia"'s editor David Barrett says, with adherents in virtually every country on earth. But over the last 100 years, Islam too has successfully conducted missionary work and expanded its reach across large portions of Africa and Asia where it had no presence or only a small one a century ago.
The growth of the number of Muslims relative to the number of Christians is already affecting both communities. Among some in the Christian community, this dramatic increase in the number of Muslims has sparked such theories as Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington's ideas on the coming clash of civilizations. And it has also led the leaders of some historically Christian countries to view Muslims as a threat.
At the same time, both the absolute increase in the number of Muslims and their increase relative to the number of Christians has given the leaders of some Muslim countries and communities a new self-confidence, a sense that history is on their side and that they should now demand a more favorable position for themselves than the one they have had up to now.
Such attitudes almost inevitably lead to confrontation, but as is often the case in public life, they reflect less the core values of either of the faiths than the shifting demographic realities of the two communities. Indeed, were the demographic situations reversed, it is entirely possible that the attitudes manifested now would be reversed as well.
Following such slow-moving, even tectonic shifts is not something either journalists or other analysts regularly do, and even demographers warn that demography is destiny only in the very long run. But these new statistics about the shifting balance between Christians and Muslims serve as a useful reminder of the importance of such changes.
And perhaps even more important, these shifts also suggest that the numbers of believers may play a bigger role on occasion in relations among religious groups than do their formal beliefs. To the extent members of both sides appreciate that fact, it may serve as the basis for not only greater understanding between them but also for some forms of cooperation as well.