28 March 2001, Volume
NEW RELIGIOUS RIGHTS ORGANIZATION FORMED.
Speaking at a Baku press conference on 23 March, Elchin Gambarov announced he would head a new non-denominational group to defend the rights of religious believers. Gambarov claimed that such constitutional rights are routinely violated. He also referred to the recent detention of Azerbaijani Muslim pilgrims by the Saudi authorities on their way to Mecca, pointing out that some "400 pilgrims made the hajj, bypassing the official Muslim Caucasus Directorate," because it is twice as expensive to go through that organization. The director of the new organization said it was willing to work with local as well as international rights groups and would soon apply for official registration. ("Ezhednevnie novosti," 23 March)
U.S. OFFICIALS URGE BELARUS TO RESPECT CIVIC RIGHTS.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jon Purnell and Greg Perett, head of the State Department office for Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus, wrapped up their three-day trip to Minsk on 20 March. "The government of Belarus must take a number of concrete steps to bring it back into compliance with commitments each of the members of the Euro-Atlantic community has made concerning the civic and political rights of its citizens," AP quoted Purnell as saying. Purnell said he warned Belarusian authorities against taking any steps that would restrict the opposition's participation in this year's presidential elections. Purnell criticized President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent decree providing for state control over foreign donations to the nongovernmental sector. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March)FREEDOM DAY MARKED BY ANTIGOVERNMENT RALLIES.
Some 5,000 people participated in a march and a rally in Minsk on 25 March to mark Freedom Day, which is observed by the Belarusian opposition on the anniversary of the creation of the non-Bolshevik Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Demonstrators protested against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime and demanded free and fair presidential elections this year. The unauthorized demonstration took place with the heavy attendance of riot police troops, which were commanded personally by Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau. Minsk police said 13 demonstrators were arrested after the rally. In Hrodna, some 2,000 people demonstrated to mark Freedom Day, and smaller rallies took place in other Belarusian cities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)KGB TO CRACK DOWN ON FOREIGNERS.
KGB chief Leanid Yeryn pledged on Belarusian Television on 24 March to intensify the surveillance of foreigners in Belarus in order to prevent them from interfering in the country's domestic matters. According to Yeryn, foreign organizations and citizens, under the cover of providing humanitarian assistance or monitoring human rights, have recently stepped up their activities "to stir up the population's distrust in the current state system, the government, and the political, economic, and socioeconomic course" in Belarus. "Neither the president nor the KGB nor law enforcement bodies have any fear. It is others who fear: the CIA leadership and some State Department newcomers...who want to prove that the money spent on so-called humanitarian assistance -- and we call it humanitarian intervention in our republic -- was not wasted," Yeryn said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)
PRESIDENT REBUFFS 'EUROSKEPTICS.'
Vaclav Havel, in an article in "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 24 March, said the Czechs will never lose their identity by joining the EU, but may do so through their own fault, CTK reported. Joining the union, Havel wrote, is not tantamount to renouncing one's national identity, only "parts of the [national] sovereignty." Identity preservation, he said, depends on "how we handle our landscape, our towns, on how we continue the rich traditions of our culture, and on how we cultivate our mother tongue." Havel said there is no need for Czechs to "long ponder" taking over European legislation, which has withstood the test of time. "If in the 1990s our legislation had been at [the] European level, we would not have lost billions of crowns through fraud," Havel wrote in an apparent hint at illicit deals made under the government of former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)COURT REJECTS LAWSUIT OVER ANTIDISSIDENT CAMPAIGN.
A Prague court of justice is refusing to consider lawsuits against five high officials during the communist era, among them Interior Minister Jaromir Obzina, CTK reported on 26 March, citing "Ceske Slovo." The daily cited Judge Katerina Kohoutkova as saying the evidence submitted against the five by the Office for the Investigation of Communist Crimes (UDV) was "insufficient." A UDV spokesman said in reaction that it was "strange" that the judge has been able to go through the 8,000-page file "in only one week after it had been forwarded by the prosecution in early March." The UDV has already twice filed complaints against those engaged in the so-called "Asanace" (Decontamination) campaign, aimed at isolating and forcing into emigration opponents of the communist regime. On both of those occasions, the Prosecutor-General's Office sent the files back, asking for more evidence. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CRITICIZES POLICE.
Amnesty International on 21 March accused Czech police of wrongly detaining and physically abusing many protesters during last year's annual meeting of the IMF and the World Bank in Prague, AP reported. It said its investigations since the September 2000 incidents reveal that some 850 people, mostly foreigners, were detained during the protests, and charges were pressed against only 19 of them. Police "detained not only those whom they suspected of violent offenses, but also many people engaged in peaceful demonstrations," the organization said. Amnesty also cited reports of ill-treatment of the detained and violation of their rights, including the right to choose a lawyer of their choice; to inform relatives or a third party of their whereabouts; to be informed of their rights in their own language; and to receive adequate medical treatment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)
PARLIAMENT ADOPTS SECURITY CONCEPT.
The parliament approved on 6 March a document setting out Estonia's official security concept by a vote of 64 to four (all against from the opposition United People's Party), thus putting an end to discussions begun at the end of January, BNS reported. Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves said that amendments proposed by the National Defense Committee -- placing greater emphasis on social topics such as patriotic education, freedom of the media, and achieving positive population growth -- had been included... ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 23 March)PART OF ALIENS ACT DECLARED UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
The court declared on 5 March that the article of the Aliens Act that limits granting of residence permits to former KGB officials is unconstitutional, BNS reported. The Supreme Court pointed out that the convention on protection of human rights bans collective forced expulsion of foreigners. Refusal to issue a residence permit, which results in an obligation to leave the country, may infringe on some of those constitutional rights. The amendments to the Aliens Act, which went into force on 1 October 1999, denied the executive branch the right to consider individual cases. The court noted the 13 September 2000 Council of Europe's Ministers Committee's recommendations that decisions on expelling an immigrant should consider their danger to the state, the length of residence, and the expulsion's effects on their families. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 23 March)
PRIVATIZATION MINISTER FIRED, ANTICORRUPTION DRIVE LAUNCHED.
At a 22 March cabinet session, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze fired Privatization Minister Mikhail Ukleba for his failure to curb corruption within his ministry, Caucasus Press reported. Minister of State Gia Arsenishvili has postponed a visit to the U.S. for 3-12 April because of the imminent launch of Shevardnadze's new anticorruption program, which he is to spearhead, Caucasus Press reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)COURT CASE AGAINST REBEL PRIEST.
A criminal case has been launched against Basil Mkalavishvili, an excommunicated Georgian Orthodox priest who has been waging a vicious campaign against religious minorities, Keston News Service was told by the Prosecutor-General's Office in Tbilisi on 23 March. A single investigation will encompass eight separate charges of violence. Georgian authorities have been under increasing pressure to bring the violence to an end, but Mkalavishvili and his supporters have hitherto attacked with impunity. (Keston News Service, 23 March)
STATE SECRETARY SAYS NO PERSECUTION OF MINORITIES.
Justice Ministry Political State Secretary Csaba Hende told a press conference on 23 March that neither the Roma nor any other minority in Hungary is exposed to persecution. Hende said the case of the Roma group from Zamoly currently in France, began in October 1997 during the previous Socialist-Free Democrat government. He said the group left Hungary despite being provided with special support and police protection. Florian Farkas, chairman of the National Gypsy Authority, said that the emigration of the Zamoly group to France was "a bad example." but stressed that the French decision to grant asylum to some Roma was "a message that could not be ignored." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)CABINET APPROVES DRAFT BILL ON ETHNIC HUNGARIANS.
The government approved a draft bill on granting special status to ethnic Hungarians abroad, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth told reporters on 20 March. Nemeth said he estimates that some 800,000 ethnic Hungarians will claim certificates entitling them to social benefits and allowances in education, transport, and health. One of the preconditions for such benefits is that the claimant should have no intention to settle in Hungary and should not represent any national security risk, Nemeth explained. According to the bill, ethnic Hungarian families with at least two children will receive a minimum annual benefit of 20,000 forints ($70), if they send their children to Hungarian-language kindergartens or schools. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March)
DRAFT RELIGION LAW TO BE REVISED?
A bill with major amendments to Kazakhstan's 1992 religion law was returned to the Ministry of Justice for revision after lobbying by the country's Protestants, who condemned the "conditions of secrecy" of the bill's preparation. The consultant to the Committee for Relations with Religious Organizations told Keston News Service on 21 March that the draft was sent to the ministry for "reworking" last week. (Keston News Service, 23 March)U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS CRITICISM REJECTED.
Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 17 March taking issue with the findings of the U.S. State Department's annual survey of human rights worldwide, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 20 March. The Foreign Ministry statement said that the section of the report devoted to Kazakhstan "distorts and gives an arbitrary interpretation to" developments in Kazakhstan over the past year, and "ignores any positive developments in democratization and human rights," while emphasizing negative aspects. Interfax on 20 March quoted U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones as characterizing the report as "tough, but honest and accurate." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March)
WOMEN STAGE PROTEST ON BEHALF OF ARRESTED ISLAMISTS.
Some 30 women on 21 March staged a picket at the local police office in Kara-Suu in Osh Oblast to protest the arrest of seven men on charges of distributing materials for the unregistered Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic party, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported the following day. Police refused to release the men, arguing that only a court can rule on whether they are innocent or guilty. At least five presumed Hizb ut-Tahrir activists were reported to have been arrested in Osh Oblast in December and four more in January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)ISLAMISTS AGAIN CALL FOR CALIPHATE.
On the eve of the Nooruz spring holiday, members of the unregistered Islamic Hizb ut-Tahrir party pasted hundreds of leaflets on walls in the southern town of Djalalabad, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 21 March. The leaflets called for the overthrow of the Kyrgyz authorities and establishing a caliphate in Central Asia. The leaflets were in the Kyrgyz language, but a note said they were printed in Jordan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)PARLIAMENT APPROVES BILL ON OMBUDSMAN IN FIRST READING.
The Legislative Assembly, the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament, on 23 March passed in the first reading a draft bill presented by President Askar Akaev's administration on creating the post of national ombudsman, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Some 30 representatives of NGOs picketed the parliament during the session, protesting that the bill allows for the appointment to that post of a person fully under the influence of the Kyrgyz authorities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)
NURSES RALLY FOR HIGHER PAY.
Some 1,000 nurses gathered outside the federal building in Riga on 8 March demanding higher pay, BNS reported. Prime Minister Andris Berzins appeared and spoke briefly with protest representatives. He later told reporters that he believes that nurses' wages are too low, but since their pay is set by individual hospitals it is not correct to speak about a unified remuneration system and average salaries...The nurses are also considering a strike. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 23 March)
NUMBER OF REFUGEES ON THE RISE.
UNHCR spokesman Chris Janowski told RFE/RL in Geneva on 21 March that "we have now close to 15,000 people [in or from Macedonia] who have moved in various directions, a lot of them within Macedonia itself, but also some people who have gone to Albania. Some people have gone to Turkey, some people have gone to southern Serbia. Some are headed via these countries to other countries -- Western Europe some of them, some of them to Bosnia and Croatia. So it's sort of a mixed picture. It is not really a very dramatic flight. It's basically people going to safer places to take themselves and their families out of harm's way to basically wait and see what happens." Janowski added that many of the up to 3,000 people who entered Albania have transited the Kukes region in order to get to Kosova. The Macedonian border with Kosova is closed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)CIVILIANS FLEE VIOLENCE.
Some 6,000 ethnic Albanians and Turks have arrived in Turkey over the past two weeks, AP reported from Ankara on 21 March. "Vesti" reported that Skopje airport is "full" of mainly ethnic Albanian civilians, including young men of prime military age, waiting for flights to Western Europe. News agency reports in recent days indicate that hundreds of Macedonian citizens have fled to Greece or Albania. Exact, total figures are not available. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March)
NATIONAL REMEMBRANCE INSTITUTE TO INVESTIGATE ANOTHER POGROM.
Leon Kieres, head of the National Remembrance Institute, said on 21 March that he will soon order an investigation into a 1941 pogrom of Jews in Radzilowo, northeastern Poland, Polish Television reported. Several hundred Jews were murdered in Radzilowo on 7 June 1941, allegedly in a similar manner as 1,600 Jews in the nearby town of Jedwabne three days later. The inscription on a monument in Radzilowo says 800 Jews died there in 1941 at the hands of the fascists. The National Remembrance Institute is currently investigating the much-publicized case of the Jedwabne massacre. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)
LAW ON FOREIGNERS' STATUS VETOED.
Iliescu on 22 March asked the parliament to "re-examine" a law on the status of foreigners in Romania that has recently been approved by the parliament's two chambers, Mediafax reported. The president is objecting to a stipulation in the law that allows refugees to be expelled after a court of justice has turned down their asylum application, even if those affected have appealed against the court's decision. In line with constitutional procedure, the Senate must debate the presidential objections within 30 days. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)INTELLIGENCE CHIEF ASKS THAT KGB CHARGES BE DROPPED.
Radu Timofte, who was appointed Foreign Intelligence Service (SRI) director in January, has asked the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) to clear him of media allegations that he had worked for the KGB, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. CNSAS on 22 March distanced itself from media reports, according to which Patriarch Teoctist had been a Securitate agent, Mediafax reported. CNSAS said it has not completed the examination of files of the heads of recognized churches and that information delivered to the media by one of its employees "dates prior to the setting up of the CNSAS." It also said the employee has "infringed on his civil servant status." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)GREATER ROMANIA PARTY CHALLENGES LAW IN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT.
Seventy-three deputies representing the Greater Romania Party (PRM) in parliament were joined on 21 March by a deputy from the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania in challenging the recently adopted Law on Local Public Administration before the Constitutional Court. The appeal says the law contravenes the constitution because it allegedly grants the Hungarian language "the status of a second official language" in Romania. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March)
STATE SEES BENEFIT IN PRIVATE CHARITIES?
Estimated at over 100,000, Russia's private charities are beginning to bridge the chasm "left by 70 years of bogus state-monopoly altruism," reports "The Economist." In a major shift from earlier hostile attitudes, local government is starting to turn to the private sector for partners in meeting social needs "of Russia's 89 regions, [that] number has risen from 12 in 1998 to 40 now." Even on the federal level there is more interest in such arrangements. "Last week the Kremlin held a conference organized by the United Nations' children's agency, Unicef [with] around 1,000 delegates from children's charities." ("The Economist," 24-30 March)BUT TAXMAN WANTS HIS CUT...
Yet the Russian tax code forbids most revenue-raising activities by private charities as being "commercial activity," according to "The Economist." The paper also reports that "this week George Soros, an American philanthropist, announced a temporary halt in his $1.5 million program of individual grants, because the authorities are trying to levy a 35.9 percent tax on them, arguing that they are 'wages.'" ("The Economist," 24-30 March)...AND NGOS IN ARBITRARY CLIMATE...
In official Russia's increasingly suspicious atmosphere, reports "The Economist," "charities now say that receiving foreign grants, or employing foreigners, is increasingly risky." Although most NGOs still find it easier to raise money from the West, Russian oligarchs are sometimes digging into their deep pockets -- sometimes with no strings attached. In addition, reports the paper, NGOs work in a legal climate with few checks on local bosses' whims. And, reports the paper, "last year people close to the Kremlin floated the idea of combining all Russian welfare charities into one big one -- to be headed by none other than Mrs. Putin." ("The Economist," 24-30 March)...OR IN FIVE-YEAR (DE)REGISTRATION PLAN?
By law, Russian NGOs are required to register with the government every five years so as to eliminate 'paper' organizations and mafia-front groups. Starting in 1999, however, there "appears to have been a systematic campaign in 1999-2000 to reduce the number of NGOs operating in Russia," according to John Squier of the National Endowment for Democracy. NGOs working on environmental, human rights, and labor issues seemed to have been targeted for particular government pressure. Sometimes officials simply refused to re-register an organization or the NGO was forced to amend its own charter so as to limit its activities; human rights NGOs were frequently forced to change their organizations' goals from "defense of human rights" to "support for state defense of human rights." The writer concludes that "the uniformity of the reasons offered throughout the country for refusal to re-register organizations seems to indicate a coordinated, centrally directed campaign against NGOs working in particular fields." ("Johnson's List," 23 March)PUTIN ACKNOWLEDGES LITTLE PROGRESS IN CHECHNYA.
In an interview with four Moscow newspapers which have been loyal to him -- "Trud," "Izvestiya," "Komsomolskaya pravda," and "Moskovskiy Komsomolets" -- President Vladimir Putin said that even though Russian troops control the territory of Chechnya, the end of that war is not in sight. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 26 March)MORE SHOOTING VICTIMS IN GROZNY.
The number of bodies discovered in Grozny's Lenin Raion with bullet wounds to the head has risen to 12, the head of the Russian Interior Ministry's Chechen office, Colonel Akhmed Dakaev, told Interfax on 21 March. Dakaev said the victims may all have been killed by a criminal gang that specializes in robbery of the most vulnerable members of the population. The first victims discovered included elderly Russian women. Also on 21 March, Russian Human Rights Commissioner for Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov predicted that more mass burial sites are likely to be discovered in Grozny, Interfax reported. He called upon the media to exercise restraint in reporting such discoveries. Reports of the mass grave unearthed in Grozny last month gave widely diverging figures of the number of bodies it contained. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)RUSSIA RULES OUT PACE ROLE IN INVESTIGATING CHECHEN VIOLATIONS.
Speaking on the second day of a joint meeting in Moscow of a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe delegation and the State Duma's Commission on Chechnya, Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov on 22 March ruled out a role for the PACE in investigating allegations of crimes against civilians and other human rights abuses in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. "If we need assistance we shall not be ashamed to ask for it, but we do not need it now," the agency quoted him as saying. Ustinov said his office has opened investigations into 200 separate cases of those who disappeared after being detained by Russian troops, stressing that "no offense or human rights violation" will escape notice. He added that he has taken under his personal control the investigation into the murder of several dozen whose bodies were found in a mass grave on the outskirts of Grozny in late February. Russia's Chief Military Prosecutor Mikhail Kislitsyn told the same session that his staff are investigating 62 crimes committed by Russian servicemen against Chechen civilians, according to Interfax. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)WOMEN IN CHECHNYA STAGE PROTEST AGAINST CIVILIAN DEATHS.
Several hundred women blocked the main north-south highway through Chechnya to Daghestan near Gudermes on 20 March to demand an end to the killings by the Russian military of Chechen civilians and the "mopping-up operations" in which Chechen civilians are detained at random and then held indefinitely in filtration camps, AFP and Interfax reported. The women appealed to the Chechen leadership and mufti to condemn such practices, and demanded that those responsible for them be punished. The protest was triggered by the 16 March killings of eight local residents. In an appeal to the protesters, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said the Chechen Prosecutor-General's Office is investigating those deaths. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March)RUSSIANS LOOK TO EUROPE, NOT THE U.S.
An experts' roundtable on "The European Reorientation of Russia" on 22 March in advance of President Putin's departure for the 23 March European Union summit in Stockholm reached a consensus that Russians are increasingly looking to Europe, rather than the United States, as a model and partner, Interfax reported. Public Opinion Foundation Director Aleksandr Oslon said that a recent poll by his organization found that 51 percent of Russians questioned want to develop closer ties with Europe, while only 11 percent favor doing so with the U.S. At the same time, he said, 59 percent of Russians would like to see their country in the European Union, with only 19 percent opposed to such a step. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)DUMA POSTPONES NUCLEAR WASTE BILL.
Prior to the break in its sessions until the beginning of April, the Duma on 22 March decided not to take up on second reading a bill that would permit the import of nuclear waste into Russia. (Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruled against activists seeking a referendum on the matter, but a Duma committee found that Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov has violated a variety of laws.) ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)TULEEV SAYS NATIONAL IDEA MUST GIVE PRIORITY TO INDIVIDUALS.
Federation Council member and former Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev said in a long essay published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 March that a new Russian national idea must be based on the priority of the individual rather than the state. He said Russia's misfortunes in the past arose from the fact that "traditionally our population has served as an instrument for the solution of the tasks of the state and not the other way around." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)PUTIN CALLS FOR REVIVING MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX.
Noting that Russian military production has fallen more than two-thirds since 1992, President Vladimir Putin on 22 March told a meeting of the State Council Presidium that Moscow must devote its efforts to reviving that sector of the economy, Russian agencies reported. He said Moscow must define the priorities and that it must not be swayed by any lobbying by regions or branches to try to affect the central government's plans. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)KREMLIN SEEKS COMPLIANCE WITH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT DECISIONS.
Since 1995, only 10 of the 156 decisions of the Constitutional Court have remained without implementation, "Vremya MN" reported on 23 March. But Dmitrii Medvedev, the first deputy head of the presidential administration, said that the Kremlin believes that there needs to be a more "severe mechanism" to ensure compliance. He said that such a compliance mechanism would include a body with representatives of the president, the procuracy, other courts, and the Justice Ministry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)LEGAL SHORTCOMINGS IN PRIVATIZATION SHOULDN'T BE PUNISHED.
Nearly 90 percent of Russian privatizations included some violation of existing legislation, Audit Chamber chief Sergei Stepashin said on Ekho Moskvy on 21 March, but in almost all cases, he said, no legal action should be taken lest that ruin the entire Russian economy. He said that the privatization effort was a political rather than an economic one, because it intended to create a new middle class. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 26 March)CORRUPTION COSTING RUSSIA $15 BILLION A YEAR.
Prosecutor- General Vladimir Ustinov told a law enforcement conference on 23 March that "every year the damage sustained by Russia as a result of corruption amounts to $15 billion," ITAR-TASS reported. In addition to these losses, Ustinov said, Russia also loses $20-25 billion a year from illegal capital flight. And he said that about 40,000 Russian enterprises, including more than one-third of the country's banks, are controlled by criminal groups. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)PROSECUTOR SAYS POLICE NOT REPORTING CRIME ACCURATELY.
Vladimir Kolmogorov, the deputy prosecutor-general of the Russian Federation, said in an interview published in "Rossiiskie vesti" on 22 March that Russian police are failing to provide an accurate picture of the number of crimes in the country or of the successes authorities have in resolving them. The crime rate is declining, he said, but not as much as some officials report, and the rate of solving crimes "is improving only according to official statistics." In other comments, Kolmogorov said that corruption "is increasing in all strata of society and in all branches of the state." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)CONTRACT MURDERS DOWN, ORDINARY MURDERS UP.
Aleksandr Kiroshev, an investigator at the Interior Ministry, said on 20 March that the number of suspected contract murders fell from 591 in 1999 to 386 last year, AP reported. But he added that there were 7.4 percent more ordinary murders in the first two months of 2001 than in the same period a year ago. Kiroshev also said that he believes there is a 60 percent chance that the murder in November 1998 of Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova will be solved, but he held out less hope for solving the 1995 murder of ORT General Director Vladislav Listev. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March)MIGRATION SERVICE READY TO DEPORT ILLEGALS.
Aleksandr Blokhin, the minister for federation affairs and national and migration policy, said on 21 March that the government has allocated 15 million rubles ($500,000) to deport people who are in Russia illegally, Russian agencies reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)FOREIGN STUDENTS TARGETED.
Foreign students in the city of Tver protested on 23 March the killing of a 20-year-old Tunisian medical student, labeling the act "racist," Reuters reported. Ashish Dadwal, a medical student from India, told Reuters by telephone that hundreds of foreigners studying there had blocked a street in the town's center to protest the killing. A Tver police spokesman confirmed the killing and that dozens of students had gathered to protest the death. RFE/RL's Voronezh correspondent reported earlier in the month that foreign students at the state university there have been the victims of a series of attacks and have also threatened to block a street in the city as a protest. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)DAGHESTAN'S MAFIA SAID TO MONOPOLIZE MOSCOW GUN TRADE.
An article in "Segodnya" on 23 March said that a criminal group from Daghestan now dominates illegal gun trade in the Russian capital, largely because -- unlike other criminal groups -- it does not bring guns into the city until after a deal is made. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)BRYANSK POLICE ACCUSED OF UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS.
State Duma deputy (Communist) Vasilii Shandybin has accused law enforcement officers in Bryansk Oblast of beating up two of his assistants, Interfax reported on 21 March. Shandybin said that he and his assistants have been targeted because of criticisms he has made of the conduct of the police force and the prosecutor-general and that he is constantly receiving threats orally and in written form. Shandybin explained that he has always defended "simple citizens" from arbitrary actions of the police. For example, he has helped a local woman in a law suit against the police; she is seeking "moral damages" in connection with the death of her husband, which she claims they caused. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)ADYGEYA'S SLAV MAJORITY PROTESTS DISCRIMINATION.
The 4 March elections of a new State Assembly in the Republic of Adygeya have served to underscore once again the depths of the animosity between the republic's titular nationality, who account for just 22 percent of the total 449,000 population, and the Russians and other Slavs who account for some 70 percent. The primary cause of those tensions is the perception of the Slav majority that they are discriminated against by the titular minority, and that for years this discrimination was effectively formalized by the republic's legislation and constitution (which has since been amended). ("RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 23 March)KREMLIN CHANGES RABBIS.
Chief Rabbi Adolf Shaevich told Interfax on 21 March that he considers the Kremlin's decision to drop him from the presidential Council on Relations with Religious Organizations to be a form of "interference" in Jewish affairs. But he said he had expected it because "once the Kremlin had established for itself a Jewish structure, then it was naturally necessary to have a new chief rabbi." Shaevich said he would never accept a foreign rabbi like Berl Lazar, who heads the Kremlin-backed Federation of Jewish Communities, as entirely legitimate, even though Lazar became a Russian citizen "less than a year ago." Shaevich noted that 23 of the 25 rabbis associated with Lazar "do not have Russian citizenship." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)MOSCOW CITY'S ANTI-NAZI LAW SAID CONSTITUTIONAL.
Experts told members of the Moscow city Duma's law and security committee that the city's legislation against Nazi symbols corresponds to the "spirit and letter" of Russian legislation, "Vremya MN" reported on 20 March. The law appears likely to be tested. On 15 March, Yevgenii Proshechkin, the head of Moscow's Anti-Fascist Center, said "fascism up to now is manifested in the activity of extremist organizations including those in Moscow," Interfax reported. Israel's Ambassador to Russia Natan Meron bemoaned the fact that "when Saddam began to threaten Israel, not a single Russian politician found in himself the courage and principles to speak out in defense of Israel," the Russian news agency reported on 19 March. "Izvestiya" on 17 March reported the conclusion of a study of the U.S.-based National Council for Soviet Jews that "the growing power of the special service under President Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian instincts are assisting the development of anti-Semitism in Russia." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March)ORTHODOX CHURCH SEEKS GOVERNMENT SUPPORT...
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad told Interfax on 21 March that the church would like to see part of the taxes of Russian citizens transferred to the church to support its social services. He said that the Russian Orthodox Church is the only Orthodox church in the world that does not receive state support. He also noted that foreign missionaries are now spending $150 million a year in Russia, five times as much as the Russian Orthodox Church's total budget. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)...BUT ENVOY WARNS AGAINST POLITICAL USE OF CHURCH...
Georgii Poltavchenko, the presidential envoy to the Central federal district, said on 21 March that it is impermissible for gubernatorial candidates to try to exploit the authority of the church or use church hierarchs for their own political goals, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)..AND TAX MINISTER OBJECTS TO SUPPORTING CHURCHES.
Tax Minister Gennadii Bukaev said on 22 March that the constitutionally established separation of church and state means that it would be inappropriate for the government to share tax revenues with religious organizations, ITAR-TASS reported. His comments came in reaction to a proposal this week by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)RADICAL OVERHAUL OF PRESIDENTIAL RELIGION COMMITTEE.
An as-yet-unpublished 17 March decree signed by President Putin -- which Keston News Service is the first to report -- makes significant changes to both the composition and functions of the Council for Cooperation with Religious Organizations Attached to the President of the Russian Federation. This is the first indication of President Putin's religious policy. In addition to reshuffling the members of the Council for Cooperation with Religious Organizations attached to the President of the Russian Federation, President Putin's as yet unpublished 17 March decree makes some significant amendments to the 2 August 1995 presidential decree which created it. (Keston News Service, 23 March)PERM MAYOR SOLVES MOSQUE DISPUTE.
Perm Mayor Arkadii Kamenev has settled the competing claims by two Muslim groups to the cathedral mosque in that city by turning over control of the facility to the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims for one year, "Izvestiya" reported. The paper said the two groups, the Perm muftiate and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the European Part of Russia in Perm (DUMER) have been fighting over occupancy for some time. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March)A MIXED DEMOGRAPHIC PICTURE.
An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 March described Russia's demographic situation as one of "collapse," noting the growth rate of the population fell from 1999 to 2000 while infant mortality, diseases like tuberculosis, and deaths from alcoholism and murders rose over the same period. But the State Statistics Committee on the same day suggested that by some measures, the situation may be slightly better. It noted that 13.5 percent more children were born in January 2001 than during the same month one year ago, although deaths increased 6.8 percent year on year. In January 2001, the number of deaths exceeded the number of births by 2.0 times, down from the 2.1 times in January 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)SELEZNEV SAYS HEALTH A NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE.
Speaking to officials at the Health Ministry on 20 March, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev was among those who insisted that the health of the population is "one of the main factors of the security of the state," Interfax reported. Seleznev called for providing free medical education, the creation of an obligatory medical insurance system, and well-funded struggles against drugs, AIDS, alcoholism, and tuberculosis. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March)DISEASE RAMPANT IN RUSSIAN PRISONS.
Justice Minister Chaika on 21 March said that there are approximately 15,000 HIV-infected people in Russian prisons, twice the number of a year ago, Interfax reported. Chaika said approximately 100,000 prisoners -- more than 10 percent of the total prison population -- suffer from tuberculosis, despite the success of international organizations like Doctors Without Frontiers in treating prisoners last year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)FOSTER HOME SYSTEM APPROVED.
Prime Minister Kasyanov on 21 March approved a new system that will allow the creation of "children's homes of a family type," a new system that will allow individual families to take in five to 10 orphans or abandoned children, Russian agencies reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)
ARMY PLANS TO INTRODUCE CHAPLAINCY.
Following recent meetings between the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Chief of Staff of the Yugoslav Army, the Army has announced plans to introduce religious services for its troops, Keston News Service has learned. The initiative has been welcomed in some sections of society, but representatives of minority religious groups and NGOs are concerned about possible violation of religious freedom. (Keston News Service, 20 March)
FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS ANTI-HUNGARIAN VANDALISM...
The Foreign Ministry on 23 March condemned acts of vandalism at the Hungarian Consulate in Kosice on 22 March and said "every effort will be made to find and punish the perpetrators," TASR reported. The ministry said it was "confident" that such acts cannot "affect the current good level of relations between Slovakia and Hungary." On the same day, opposition Slovak National Party Chairwoman Anna Malikova said the Slovak Coalition Party (SMK) may have been behind the acts. "It suits them to set up such a smoke screen," she said, because the SMK "does not want Slovaks to talk about those demands that are very dangerous" to "Hungarian expansionism" and which "threaten the interests of the Slovak state." SMK politicians rejected the allegations as "absurd," CTK reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)...AS BLAST DISRUPTS HOLOCAUST COMMEMORATION.
A blast, apparently caused by a percussion bomb, disrupted a ceremony in Poprad on 25 March commemorating the victims of the first mass deportation of Jewish girls and women to Nazi extermination camps, TASR and CTK reported. The blast interrupted a speech by Poprad Mayor Stefan Kubik, but did not injure any of the participants. Kubik called the incident "a provocation" and said he regretted that it happened in a town that prides itself on mutual tolerance among inhabitants of different nationalities and faiths. This was the first time that the annual commemoration has been marred by an incident since its inception 10 years ago. Less than 20 women and girls out of the 1,000 taken from Poprad to Nazi concentration camps on 25 March 1942 returned home, and only three of them are still living. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)ROMA CALL FOR GOVERNMENT COMMISSIONER'S DISMISSAL.
Eight Slovak Romany organizations, attending a 24 March meeting of the Assembly of the Romany Nation in Slovakia, called on the government to dismiss Vincent Danihel, government commissioner for Romany affairs, saying he has failed in his work, CTK reported. The organizations said Assembly Chairman Ladislav Fizik should replace Danihel. The two-day meeting of the traditionally fragmented Romany organizations was not attended by Romany Civic Initiative Chairman Gejza Adam, who is involved in a dispute with the organizers. Fizik said the Roma must follow the example of the Slovak Hungarian minority, which managed to gain parliamentary representation in 1998 after merging into a unified political party. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)ANTI-HUNGARIAN VANDALISM SPREADS.
Several buildings housing Hungarian and Hungarian-minority institutions were again vandalized on 21 March in Kosice, the Hungarian MTI agency reported on 22 March. Among the buildings marred when unknown perpetrators painted anti-Hungarian inscriptions on them was the Hungarian Consulate, which was inaugurated in 2000 by the two countries' premiers. Hungarian Consul Gyorgy Varga told the agency that he can only "regret" that Slovak Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner's reaction to the incidents one day earlier was merely to deplore the acts and warn that many similar incidents can be expected "until the elections." Stressing that he is speaking "as a private person," Varga said Pittner's reaction, without pledging that the ministry would seek to discover the perpetrators, "is not acceptable." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March)
PRESIDENT APPEALS TO POPULATION TO REJECT RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM.
In a 20 March address to the Tajik people to mark the Novruz spring holiday, President Imomali Rakhmonov characterized Tajikistan as a country in transition to a democratic, law-governed, secular society, Russian agencies reported. Rakhmonov expressed concern at the publication in Tajikistan of materials of "dubious moral value," and at what he termed "subjective" reporting by foreign journalists that harms the country's international reputation. In a clear allusion to the presence in Tajikistan of numerous members of the clandestine Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, he appealed to the population to reject "religious extremism and fanaticism which has nothing in common with true Islam." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March)
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT PROTESTS RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION.
On 15 March the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning the "discrimination and often persecution" faced by non-Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox communities in Turkmenistan. The resolution in particular condemned the "unjust treatment of Shageldy Atakov" and called on the Turkmen authorities to release him immediately. (Keston News Service, 26 March)ATAKOV TRANSFERRED TO ENCLOSED PRISON...
Ailing Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov has again been transferred to a new prison. The German-based Friedensstimme mission told Keston News Service that on 23 March Atakov was transferred from the labor camp in Seydy in northeastern Turkmenistan across the country to an "enclosed" prison at the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), where prisoners have no contact with the outside world. There is no news on his current state of health. (Keston News Service, 27 March)...WHILE HIS FAMILY PRESSURED TO CONVERT.
The wife and children of Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov have been told, by the local mullah, administration officials, and officers of Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (former KGB), that they may not believe in Jesus Christ and must convert to Islam, Keston News Service has learned. According to local Baptists, the family also risk that their home in Kaakha, a town near the Iranian border where the family lives, will be confiscated if Christians continue to meet there. (Keston News Service, 26 March)DETENTION OF KRISHNA DEVOTEES.
Seven Hare Krishna devotees arrested at a wedding in Mary have been freed after a week in the hands of Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (former KGB). They had been warned not to meet in public, even at weddings of friends or relatives. Hare Krishna sources have confirmed to Keston News Service that the seven were released on 17 March. Meanwhile, in Ashgabat, an altar at the house formerly used as the Hare Krishna temple is to be destroyed by the local authorities. (Keston News Service, 19 March)
ANTIPRESIDENTIAL OPPOSITION HOLDS 'MOURNING RALLY'...
Some 5,000 people took part in a "mourning rally" in Kyiv on 24 March to commemorate those they call the victims of President Leonid Kuchma's regime, Interfax reported. Demonstrators carried portraits of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (murdered last year), Vadym Hetman (assassinated in an apparent contract killing in 1998), and former Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil (who died in a car accident in 1999). Lesya Gongadze, mother of Heorhiy Gongadze, addressed the rally, blaming "the Kuchma regime" for the deaths. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)...WHILE KUCHMA ORDERS PROBE INTO CHORNOVIL'S DEATH...
President Kuchma instructed Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko to launch an investigation into the death of former Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil, Interfax reported on 24 March. An investigation group will include lawmakers from the Popular Rukh of Ukraine parliamentary caucus. Some lawmakers alleged last year that Chornovil's fatal car crash had been organized by a special unit subordinate to Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)...AND PRO-KUCHMA PARTY HIRES INTERNATIONAL SLEUTHS TO INVESTIGATE GONGADZE CASE.
The Labor Ukraine Party has concluded a contract with Kroll Associates, a New York-based agency specializing in white-collar crime investigation and security, to probe the case of murdered journalist Gongadze, Interfax and AP reported on 23 March. Labor Ukraine leader Serhiy Tyhypko said Kuchma was told about the contract beforehand and approved it. Tyhypko, a former economic minister, said it was necessary to "seize the initiative" from the opposition and make the investigation of the Gongadze case constructive. He noted that the involvement of a respected investigative company could also help Ukraine boost its image abroad. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March)
CATHOLIC CONCERT FIRST VICTIM OF NEW DECREE?
A concert of Christian music scheduled for October in the Catholic church of the Sacred Heart in Tashkent seems to be the first victim of a new decree, apparently issued in February, which bans state educational institutions from contacts with religious organizations, whether registered or not. Catholic officials told Keston News Service in Tashkent that musicians and singers from the city's conservatory took part in such a concert in mid-February, but will not be able to do so again without special permission. (Keston News Service, 23 March)THREAT TO FOREIGN RELIGIOUS LEADERS?
Foreign citizens who lead religious organizations in Uzbekistan could face eventual expulsion when the government decides they should be replaced with local citizens. Shoazim Minovarov, first deputy chairman of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, told Keston News Service from Tashkent on 22 March that religious organizations "must prepare local leaders" within two to three years, despite the international agreement Uzbekistan has signed guaranteeing religious groups freedom to choose leaders of any nationality. (Keston News Service, 23 March)...AS FINNISH-LED 'GREATER GRACE' WAITS.
One year after its first application, the Greater Grace church in Samarkand appears no closer to gaining official registration. Church leaders complain that officials constantly demand further information or clarification of documentation. Finnish pastor Matti Sirvio, who leads the church, told Keston News Service in Tashkent on 16 March that the church is willing to comply with every new official request. A senior religious affairs official told Keston that the problem lies with the choice of a foreigner as pastor. (Keston News Service, 22 March)
NEW ENVIRONMENT FOUNDATION FORMED.
The United States-Central and Eastern European Environment Foundation (UCEF), was founded in January 2000 to improve the environment in Central and Eastern Europe through partnerships between regional groups and environmental specialists in the U.S. UCEF has recently launched a website: http://www.USEuroEnviroFoundation.org (Center for Civil Society International, 24 March)
By Paul Goble
A report last week that the percentage of Russians who favor the reimposition of some form of censorship has risen from 49 percent in November to 57 percent now has led some both in Moscow and elsewhere to draw apocalyptic conclusions about the future of Russian freedom.
But a broader study published in Moscow recently by Yuri Levada, one of Russia's leading pollsters, suggests that changes in popular support for one form of freedom may not lead to changes in the level of support for other kinds.
In that study, Levada compared changes in Russian attitudes toward particular freedoms in 1999 as against those in 1995.
He found that during that five-year interval, the values assigned to freedom of speech, multiparty elections, and Russia's rapprochement with the West have declined, while people's attitudes regarding freedom to leave the country have remained practically unchanged, and evaluations of free enterprise and especially the right to strike have improved.
According to Levada's data, 53 percent of Russians said in 1994 that Russia had gained freedom of speech and the press during the last decade while only 47 percent said so in 1999. The percentage saying that freedom to leave the country represented a gain stayed nearly constant at 45 and 43 percent in those two years. And the number identifying the right to strike as a gain rose from 23 percent to 32 percent.
Such a pattern challenges the assumptions about the nature of the spread of freedom made both by Russians and by those in the West who have sought to promote a free society in Russia. Both groups have tended to assume that progress in one area will more or less automatically translate into progress in another or that retrenchment in one area will lead to retrenchment in all.
But Levada's comparative data suggest that the situation is far more complex, that changes in support for one kind of freedom may in fact say little about changes in support for another kind of freedom, at least in the short term. And they point to three broader considerations that those who are concerned about promoting the extension of freedom appear likely to have to incorporate into their thinking.
First, both individuals and groups not only understand different things under the term "freedom" but value them differently. That is almost certainly true in all societies and may be situationally specific. Both the data Levada provides and the conclusions he offers reflect this linguistic problem. But that in turn suggests that those who would promote freedom must be concerned with expanding its definition as well as its practice.
Second, changes within the hierarchy of valued freedoms may nonetheless be added together in a way that shows a broader trend. The same surveys that Levada cites to make his conclusions also show that between 1995 and 1999, the percent of Russians who considered that they are free people living in a free society rose from 29 to 36 percent, with the share of the population believing that they are not in that situation, falling from 58 to 51 percent.
And third, evaluations of different forms of freedom may vary especially in response to short term changes, but over time ever more aspects of freedom are likely to be included within the popular understanding of what is free and what is not. That in turn means that welcoming progress in one area or bemoaning its lack elsewhere in each case need to be put in the context of the general trend -- and that trend appears to be moving in a positive direction.
In addition to these three considerations, Levada's work opens the door to some broader reflections about the precise relationship among support for different kinds of freedom in different kinds of societies. Those considerations in turn are likely to lead to greater understanding of the complexities of progress toward freedom more generally.
And such a deeper understanding of the nature of freedom almost certainly will lead to the elaboration of new ways to promote it, a development that only further underscores the value and importance of the initially unsettling information that these Russian surveys provide.