Accessibility links

(Un)Civil Societies Report: May 2, 2001


2 May 2001, Volume 2, Number 18
ARMENIA
86TH ANNIVERSARY OF 'GENOCIDE' MARKED. Thousand of Armenians marched in Yerevan on 24 April to mark the 86th anniversary of the deaths of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In a written address to the nation, President Robert Kocharian said that the mass killing and deportation of Armenians then was "the greatest tragedy" in the nation's history and said that "the pursuit of an international recognition of the Armenian genocide continues to be on the foreign policy agenda of the Republic of Armenia." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

CHRISTIANITY COMMEMORATIVE BILL TO BE ISSUED. Armenian officials have announced that they will issue a special 50,000-dram banknote to commemorate the 1,700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as the religion of Armenia, Snark news agency reported on 24 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

AZERBAIJAN
U.S. CRITICAL OF HANDLING OF RECENT DEMONSTRATION. U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said that "the government of Azerbaijan should respect its citizens' rights to freedom of assembly," Turan reported on 26 April, Reeker referred to police dispersal of a 21 April demonstration in which both demonstrators and officers were hurt. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani officials closed down a new website that condemned Baku officials and opposition leaders as being criminals, according to a statement released by the Milli Istiglal Party on 26 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

POLITICAL PRISONER LIST TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE. Azerbaijan's Peace and Democracy Institute has submitted a list of 262 prisoners of state and conscience in Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe, "Azadliq" reported on 28 April. Meanwhile, Suleyman Mamadli, the editor of "Hurriyat," has sued the deputy chief of Baku's police department for allegedly beating him up during a 21 April rally, "Hurriyat" reported on 28 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

DESTRUCTION OF BAKU MOSQUE SPARKS PROTEST. Residents of a Baku region on 24 April staged a protest about the destruction of the Mirtagi Aga mosque by order of Baku Mayor Gadzhibaly Abutalybov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The paper noted that the mosque's destruction had led to complications in Baku's relationship with Turkey, but before he left for the Turkic summit there, President Heidar Aliyev expressed full confidence in the mayor, Turan reported on 25 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

MORE THAN 850 UNREGISTERED MOSQUES. ANS TV station on 23 April reported that over 850 of the country's 1,250 mosques have not registered with authorities and that many propagate Wahhabism. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

FOREIGNERS OUTEARN AZERBAIJANIS 58 TO ONE. Even though average Azerbaijani monthly salaries have increased by 22 percent over the last year, foreigners working in that country earn 58 times as much as Azerbaijanis do, "Bizim Asr" reported on 24 April. Azerbaijani workers earn about $54 a month, while foreigners earn $3,172. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

BELARUS
OPPOSITION HOLDS CHORNOBYL MARCH IN MINSK. An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people participated in an opposition-organized march and rally in Minsk on 26 April to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Chornobyl nuclear power plant explosion, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Belarusian academic Ivan Nikitchanka told the rally that 1.84 million people are living in areas of Belarus hit by radioactive downfall caused by the disaster and noted that budgetary spending on Chornobyl-related programs in 2000 was lower by 13 percent than the "Chornobyl tax" collected in Belarus to deal with the aftermath of the disaster. Demonstrators demanded democratic changes in Belarus and pledged to defend the country's independence. The demonstration, though unauthorized, was not attended by police forces and took place without incident. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

WEAVERS BLOCK TRAFFIC OVER UNPAID WAGES. Several hundred women from the weaving workshop of the Kamvol plant in Minsk blocked traffic on a street near the plant for about two hours on 27 April to protest delay in the payment of their March wages, Belapan reported. Plant management began to hand out sums of 39,000 Belarusian rubles ($29) toward payment of March wages. The average monthly wage at Kamvol, which employs some 3,000 people, is $53. Meanwhile, the Statistics Ministry reported last week that Belarus' average monthly wage in the budget sector rose from $73.1 in February to $81.46 in March. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

BULGARIA
PRESIDENT SAYS COUNTRY MUST IMPROVE CONDITIONS FOR ROMA. Petar Stoyanov said on 27 April in Sofia that in order for Bulgaria to meet EU standards the country must do more to integrate its Romany citizens into society, BTA reported. Stoyanov, speaking at a conference on the desegregation of Roma in Bulgarian schools, said that while there is no official discrimination in Bulgaria, there is too much "hidden discrimination." He added that the Romany community has had the hardest time of all Bulgarian citizens in adapting to changes in the transition from communism. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

CROATIA
BILINGUALISM ON ICE. The Justice Ministry has decided to temporarily suspend the Istrian county assembly's decision to reintroduce Italian along with Croatian as official languages in the region, AP reported on 23 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2001). "We are not trying to reduce minority rights, but we must establish whether this decision [to reintroduce Italian] contradicts the constitution," Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic said. Prime Minister Ivica Racan stressed that a "rash decision could open up a dangerous Pandora's box on the issue in other districts across the country." He added that Istria cannot enjoy a legal status different from the rest of the country, "Novi List" reported. Critics have charged that the Istrian assembly's decision is aimed at winning votes in upcoming elections. The constitution states that the official language of Croatia is Croatian. At the end of World War II, many Italian civilians fled Istria and Dalmatia or were expelled. Today the Italian minorities in Slovenia and Croatia are small, but many Slovenes and Croats suspect some Italian politicians of harboring claims on Istria and Dalmatia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April)

CZECH REPUBLIC
DEAN STOPS LECTURES BY EXTREMISTS AT PRAGUE UNIVERSITY. Charles University Dean Petr Kolar has forbade participation of representatives of extremist formations in seminars conducted at the university and canceled the seminars on "Types of Political Extremism" conducted by Professor Zdenek Zboril, the dailies "Lidove noviny" and "Pravo" reported on 26 April. Kolar also threatened Zboril with "tough disciplinary measures," saying the seminars breached "unwritten natural ethical principles of academic teaching and practice" as well as "common sense." Zboril said he "respects the decision" despite disagreeing with the reasons for which the seminars were stopped. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

SKINHEADS CLASH WITH ROMA. A clash between some 20 German and Czech skinheads and local Roma during the night of 20-21 April in Novy Bor, northern Bohemia, resulted in eight injuries, a Ceska Lipa police spokeswoman was cited as saying by CTK on 23 April. She said participants in the brawl "will be charged with hooliganism" and that the fight was started by the Roma. Romany Civic Initiative Novy Bor Director Pavel Turko said in reaction that "if police did their job, there would have been no clash at all." He said the skinheads had arrived in the town to celebrate the 112th anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birth. They started to attack the Roma immediately after entering a restaurant by throwing chairs at them. The skinheads also used chains and sticks to demolish two automobiles parked outside, Turko said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April)

GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT LAW ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. The cabinet on 25 April approved a draft law on freedom of religion, CTK reported, citing Culture Minister Pavel Dostal. The bill stipulates that in order to officially register a religious denomination, 300 signatures will be needed instead of the current 10,000. However, in order to gain what Dostal calls "second-stage registration," a new religious group must wait for 10 years. The second stage grants religious groups the right to receive subsidies from the state, to run school facilities, and provide services for its members serving in the army. Religions with a "long historical presence" in the country would be granted second-stage registration automatically. No first-stage registration is to be granted to groups that pose a threat to the democratic order, contravene public morals and health, or use physical or psychological pressure to make people "dependent" on them. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

HUNGARY
INTERIOR MINISTER ADMITS SECRET SERVICEMEN POSED AS CENSUS-TAKERS. Sandor Pinter said on 29 April that secret service officers claiming to be census-takers had entered hundreds of homes recently, AP reported. Pinter said the members of Hungary's Republican Guard were posing as census-takers in order to protect senior state officials who were being polled by actual census-takers. He added that the secret service officers also entered the homes of hundreds of neighbors of the government officials. Pinter, who did not say what it was the Republican Guard was protecting the officials from, added that "there is nothing in the census law that prevents members of the Republican Guard from acting as census-takers." Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky, a former dissident, said on RTL Klub TV that "citizens have the right to know if they are being visited by a census-taker or a secret policeman." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

KAZAKHSTAN
OVER 2,000 RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES REGISTERED. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Religii," No. 8, 2,299 religious communities are registered in Kazakhstan; 1,150 Muslim and 220 Russian Orthodox. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

ALMATY TO COMMEMORATE EASTERN TURKISTANI HEROES. The Almaty-based Mustafa Shoqay Foundation along with Uighur organizations of Kazakhstan have announced plans to hold a special seminar on 29 April in commemoration of two leaders of the Eastern Turkistan national movement who were killed by the Chinese communists, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 24 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

MAY DAY STRIKES. Thirty drivers of the Kokshetau City Transportation Department launched a strike on the eve of 1 May, RFE/RL reported, demanding overdue wages and improved working conditions. Meanwhile, RFE/RL reports that the number of hunger strikers at the Sokolov-Sarbay iron ore facility in Qostanay Oblast has increased from nine to 25. The strikers also demand overdue wages. ("RFE/RL Kazakh News," 1 May)

KYRGYZSTAN
OSCE SECRETARY-GENERAL MEETS OPPOSITION LEADERS. The secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Jan Kubis, met on 25 April with the leaders of the Ar-Namys, Ata-Meken, Kairan-El and People opposition parties. They discussed the country's current political and economical situation. ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 26 April)

BISHKEK BANS DEMO. The Bishkek city administration did not allow a public demonstration in Bishkek on 1 May. The opposition plans to hold 1 May forum of the Popular-Patriotic Movement.. ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 26 April)

COURT POSTPONES CONSIDERING CASE AGAINST CITY. On 26 April, a Bishkek court again postponed a suit against the city administration. The coordinator of the Coalition of Non-Governmental Organizations brought suit against an order which limits public meetings in Bishkek to one place as anti-constitutional. ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 26 April)

LATVIA
NURSES TO GO ON STRIKE. The council of the Latvian Health and Social Care Employees Union voted on 24 April to organize a nurses' strike, LETA reported. The union's head, Ruta Viksna, told reporters that the nurses demanded 4 million lats ($6.3 million) from the government for salary raises, but have been granted only 2 million litas. Prime Minister Andris Berzins has said that the government lacks the money. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

LITHUANIA
LUTHERANS PROTEST VILNIUS PROPERTY CONFISCATION. The leadership of Lithuania's Evangelical Lutheran Church has expressed its bewilderment about a court decision earlier this month in Vilnius to confiscate property handed back to the church in the early 1990s. A spokeswoman for the city council was unable to explain the action, which the Lutherans see as "a step against unprotected religious minorities." (Keston News Service, 27 April)

ROMA DATA. "Cigonu Lauzas," the Association of Gipsies of Lithuania, represents 5,000 Roma on which the Project Roma Data Base Center Lithuania will compile data. Contact President Josif Tychina jtychina@yahoo.com (MINELRES, 28 April)

MOLDOVA
PRESIDENT DENIES ALLEGED 'ROMANOPHOBIA.' In an interview with Romanian Radio, Vladimir Voronin denied accusations that his Party of Moldovan Communists is guided by anti-Romanian sentiments, Flux reported on 27 April. Voronin also said that the introduction of Russian as the official language is actually his obligation as president, as a Soviet-era language law set Russian as an "interethnic cooperation language." Since 35 percent of Moldovan citizens are Russian-speakers, he must ensure "interethnic stability," he concluded. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

POLAND
OPPOSITION SAYS UNEMPLOYMENT IS TOP PROBLEM. Leszek Miller, leader of the Democratic Left Alliance, said in Radom on 29 April that unemployment is Poland's No. 1 problem, PAP reported. Miller said the number of unemployed people has increased by 1 million to some 3 million since the current right-wing government took power in 1997. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

FATHERS MAY SHARE MATERNITY LEAVE. The parliament on 25 April voted to allow mothers to cut their maternity leave from 26 weeks to 16 weeks and let the father use the rest, PAP reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

ROMANIA
PROTESTERS DENIED PERMISSION TO DEMONSTRATE IN BUCHAREST. The Bucharest mayoralty on 24 April denied permission to protesters from the Resita CSR steel-production plant to demonstrate in the capital from 25 to 27 April, saying the planned demonstration would produce traffic jams. The Resita workers resumed their protests last week. The U.S.-based Noble Ventures company, which owns the plant, on 23 April said it would be able to resume production and pay wage arrears after solving differences with companies that owe it money. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April)

RUSSIA
RUSSIA STILL SUFFERS FROM CHORNOBYL DISASTER. Two days before the 15th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear power disaster, Russian health officials said on 24 April that 2.65 million Russians live in the zone contaminated by that nuclear accident, Interfax reported. The officials noted that 184,175 Russians had been exposed to radiation during the cleanup operations in 1986. Russian surveys show, the officials said, that there are still some regions, including 300 population centers in Bryansk Oblast, where radiation remains high. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

GREENPEACE ACTIVISTS DETAINED. St. Petersburg police on 25 April briefly detained some 15 Greenpeace activists after they climbed an incinerator smokestack there, Russian and Western agencies reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

PUTIN BACKS UNIONS AND WORKER RIGHTS... During a visit to Vologda on 28 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that trade unions are "the most important element of civil society" and that restrictions on them "should be minimal," ITAR-TASS reported. He added that labor legislation should protect both workers and owners and make relations between the two transparent. In addition, Putin said he opposes lifting limits on working hours but favors the development of a strong independent insurance system. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

... LABOR PROTEST MUTED... The "Russia Journal" observed that "Russian workers, it would seem, have more than enough reasons to take to the streets...[w]hat with exploitative oligarchs, unemployment, and a harsh win-or-lose brand of capitalism..." Vladimir Rimsky, an analyst at the Indem Foundation, said, according to the paper, "In general, [workers, miners, even businessmen] are more apolitical today than during Soviet times... [h]aving now seen the uselessness of protests and demonstrations." ("The Russia Journal," 26 April - 3 May)

...TRADE UNIONS SEE MAY DAY AS 'HOLIDAY'... Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR) Vyacheslav Goncharov said that May Day is "a holiday," reports the "Russia Journal." This year, the FNPR will stress festivities. Goncharov said that "We�re not out at street meetings, rather, we�re working with the legislative and executive authorities." He continued, "[The FNPR] strategy today for defending labor is to build a social partnership in society." ("The Russia Journal," 26 April - 3 May)

...OR ARE THEY FOOLED? Critics of the mainstream labor movement, such as the radical group Labor Russia�s Victor Anpilov, said that "Russian trade unions have become too close to the authorities and have lost sight of their primary aim -- to defend the interests of the working class." He said, according to the "Russia Journal," that "These trade unions represent fat bosses, who have grabbed trade-union property, hotels, health resorts, and so on, live well off it all and don�t want to change anything.... April Fools� Day would be more appropriate for them," Anpilov opined. ("The Russia Journal," 26 April - 3 May)

AIRPORT WORKERS DECLARE STRIKE IN SAKHA. Workers at the Olekminsk airport in Sakha Republic have declared a hunger strike for an indefinite period of time, bringing operations at the airport to a halt, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 April. Workers are demanding payment of back wages totaling some 2.35 million rubles ($81,000). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

VODKA: CONSOLER AND KILLER. Despite decades of propaganda posters decrying "demon vodka," "The Independent" notes that since 1925 -- when the Soviet state assumed a monopoly on vodka production -- it has garnered huge revenues for the state budget. A recent book, "The History of Vodka," observes, according to the paper, that the "combination of propaganda and draconian laws on work-discipline had their effect" and that after Stalin died in 1953 "mass drunkenness spread once more among the Soviet working class as wages rose and penalties for drinking were curtailed." Towards the end of the Soviet period, "people had come to perceive the abuse of alcohol not as a social but as a personal matter." In a nationwide drinking binge, life expectancy among men has fallen dramatically. Today, the Russian state has given up its anti-alcohol exhortations and vodka continues to take a heavy toll on the nation's health. ("The Independent," 28 April)

MORE ECHOES FROM THE SOVIET PAST... Ever more developments in Russia now recall the Soviet past. Kremlin officials assured the readers of "Argumenty i fakty," No. 17, that President Putin "of course" reads letters from ordinary Russian citizens. The new editor in chief of NTV, Tatiana Mitkov, told "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 April that Russian television should have Putin on more often. Officials in Kirillov gave their town a facelift in advance of Putin's visit there, AP reported on 28 April. In addition, Unity announced the restoration of Pioneer-style organizations for young people, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. And on 27 April, Interfax noted the celebrations of the 80th anniversary of the FSB Academy and the 40th anniversary of the Soviet Fund for Peace. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR COMMUNISTS GROWS. The All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion reported that the share of Russians saying that they would vote for Communist candidates in parliamentary elections rose from 35 percent in February to 39 percent now, Interfax reported. Today, the Unity-Fatherland bloc, is in second place. It would receive 22 percent of the votes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

SOVIET 'LITE'... Putin's overtly non-ideological politics are "organized tightly around the president, his powerful Kremlin administration, his custom-tailored Unity party" and a new elite drawn largely from the old KGB and the military, reports "Newsweek International." Putin�s advocates say he is merely responding to the "vast majority of Russians [who] miss the USSR and express enduring respect for leaders like Leonid Brezhnev and V. I. Lenin. (In one recent poll, 79 percent of those surveyed said they regretted the collapse of the USSR; only 15 percent didn�t.) ("Newsweek International," 7 May)

...OR SOVIET (T)MAKE-OVER? "If our new boss had parted with the spirit of the [Soviet] days," argues human rights campaigner Sergei Kovalyov of Putin, "he wouldn�t have unveiled a plaque to [former KGB chief and Soviet leader] Andropov, and he wouldn�t have drunk a toast on Stalin�s birthday," reports "Newsweek International." ("Newsweek International," 7 May)

MOSCOW SAID PLANNING TO DECLARE CHECHEN WAR OVER... According to an article in the 27 April "Moskovskii Komsomolets," the Russian government intends to announce the end of its "counterterrorism operation" in Chechnya on 15 May. Lending credence to that report was a statement by Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev on the same day that the situation in Chechnya is "stable" and that the security services can "neutralize key rebel leaders without [significant] losses." Also pointing in that direction was a statement on ORT on 27 April by Stanislav Ilyasov, the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen government that his cabinet is in "full command of the entire territory of the republic including its mountainous regions," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on that date that there are no possibilities for "a second Khasavurt," a negotiated settlement between Moscow and the pro-independence Chechens. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

...BUT FIGHTING CONTINUES UNABATED. Russian military sources told AP on 27-29 April that 24 Russian soldiers had been killed by pro-independence Chechen fighters during those three days, even though Interfax said on 28 April that only 10 Russian soldiers had been killed during the entire week. Meanwhile, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov issued an ultimatum for Russian troops to withdraw from the republic, the "Chechen Press" website reported on 27 April. And an article in Moscow's "Ekspert," No. 16, said that "the situation in Chechnya remains critical," with the Kremlin having proved unable to show Chechens why they should shift their loyalties to Moscow. The paper said that Russian officers, "just like Chechen field commanders, love money and respect force rather than the law." London's "Independent" on 28 April gave an example: Some Russian soldiers are now selling Chechen corpses to relatives of the dead for as much as $3,000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

MOSCOW DENIES ITS FORCES ASSAULTED DANISH MISSION. A spokesman for Yastrzhembskii on 28 April denied Western media reports that Russian forces had assaulted members of the Danish Refugee Council mission in Chechnya on 24 April, Interfax reported. The spokesman acknowledged that the mission's convoy had been stopped and searched but only because it had failed to file a route plan with Russian military authorities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

CIVILIAN CASUALTIES HAVE NOT DECLINED IN CHECHNYA. Human Rights Watch Moscow office Director Diederik Lohman told AP on 24 April that the winding down of fighting in Chechnya has not led to a decline in the number of civilian casualties. The conflict, Lohman said, now features "much more the kind of classical dirty-war-type violations. It's detaining people, and they don't come back, or a month later their dead bodies are found in a forest." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

MOSCOW BLAMES CHECHENS FOR MASS GRAVE. Officials in the Russian security agencies told Interfax on 26 April that pro-independence Chechens rather than Russian forces are responsible for the mass grave recently found in Chechnya's Utum-Kalin district. Meanwhile, prosecutors announced that they have filed charges against nine individuals for their involvement in the explosions in Mineralnie Vody and Yessentuki on 24 March and that they have completed their investigation of the 9 January 1996 Chechen attack on Kizliar and Pervomaiskoe, the news agency said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

CONTRACT SERVICEMEN LEAVING CHECHNYA 'EN MASSE.' Colonel General Vladislav Putilin, the deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, has acknowledged that "contract servicemen are leaving Chechnya en masse," "Trud-7" reported on 27 April. Because such soldiers form 40 percent of all service people on the Russian side, this represents a threat to the Russian campaign in Chechnya, and that is why President Putin has taken a personal interest in raising the servicemen's pay and ensuring that they are paid on a timely basis, the paper said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

CHECHEN 'NATIONAL CHARACTER' FORCES POSTPONEMENT OF DRAFT THERE. In an interview published in "Novaya gazeta" on 26 April, Anatolii Khryachkov, the new military commissar of Chechnya, said that conditions do not now exist there to allow the Russian authorities to conduct a military draft. Among the most serious, he said, are the low educational level of young Chechen men and "problems of national character." Khryachkov said that he favors gradual introduction of the draft and allowing Chechens to serve near their homes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

SOME CHECHEN REFUGEES RETURN FROM INGUSHETIA... The first official group of Chechen refugees returned to their republic on 24 April, ITAR-TASS reported. The group had been living in Ingushetia since at least 1999. The Russian State Statistics Committee the same day said that 603,400 people now live in Chechnya, up from 350,000 in late June 1999, the Russian news agency said... ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

...BUT HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS SAY CHECHEN REFUGEES FORCED TO RETURN. A group of Russian human rights groups, including Memorial, the Committee for Civil Rights, the Movement Against Force, the Institute of Human Rights, and the Moscow Helsinki Group, issued an open letter to President Putin on 25 April asserting that the Russian authorities were forcing refugees from Chechnya to return against their will, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

MIGRANTS CREATE HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS IN 52 RUSSIAN REGIONS. Officials told a Congress of the Forum of Migrant Organizations of Russia on 27 February that there are now 275 human rights organizations representing migrants in 52 of Russia's regions, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

KABARDINO-BALKARIA PASSES LAW ON 'REPATRIATES.' The Parliament of The Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria passed a law "on repatriates" allowing a return to the republic for all those forced to leave their homeland during its history. The repatriates are guaranteed social and economic rights and other state-budget benefits, and the law lifts previous legal restrictions on repatriates, reported Agency Caucasus on 24 April. (MINELRES, 1 May)

FOREIGN SPIES FOCUS ON DEFENSE, IRANIAN TIES. Foreign Intelligence Service (FSB) spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said on 26 April that Western intelligence services are stepping up their efforts to gain access to Russian defense secrets and also to track Moscow's ties with Iran, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, other FSB officials said that the Russian navy may sue former U.S. businessman Edmond Pope and his Russian accomplice for the 700 million rubles ($2.5 million) in damages the American agent allegedly inflicted on the navy, Russian and Western agencies reported. Zdanovich concluded that Russia "will continue fiercely to protect our secrets." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

INGUSHETIA'S AUSHEV WARNS OF RUSSIAN CHAUVINISM. Ingushetia's president, Ruslan Aushev, told Interfax on 26 April that "the openly chauvinistic slogans and appeals" of Russian politicians pose "an enormous danger" to ethnic peace. Aushev's comments came at the Congress of Repressed Peoples held in Magas the same day. Participants included representatives of Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Germans, Crimean Tatars, Meskhetian Turks, and others deported by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the 1940s to Central Asia. The Chechen leader noted that some Russian leaders now insist that Stalin did the right thing while others deny that any deportations ever took place in the Soviet Union. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

SOVIET REPRESSION TOUCHED SOME 60 NATIONS. In its report on the Congress of Repressed Peoples, which took place despite Moscow's opposition in Ingushetia, "Vremya MN" reported that many deported nationalities still have not seen their homelands restored and that Stalinist repression had touched about 60 nations, involving 2,463,940 people. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

DUMA FAILS TO PASS RESOLUTION CONDEMNING ANTI-SEMITISM... Only 129 deputies voted for a resolution appealing to President Vladimir Putin to work against all manifestations of anti-Semitism, Russian and Western agencies reported on 26 April. Seventeen deputies voted against the measure, and 303 did not vote at all, Interfax reported. Approval required 226 votes. Unity deputy Aleksandr Fedulov told Interfax that he plans to reintroduce the measure. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

COSSACKS SEEK EXPANDED LAW-ENFORCEMENT ROLE. Leaders of the Don, Kuban, and Terek Cossack hosts have agreed to ask the Russian government to give them an expanded role in law enforcement and to regularize such activities by a special law, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

RUSSIAN POLICE SEEN ILL-PREPARED FOR NEO-NAZI OUTBURSTS. An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 April said that the Russian militia did not appear to be prepared to deal with the neo-Nazi skinhead violence against people from the Caucasus last weekend in Moscow. The paper said that militia spokespersons indicated that the police were even unaware of the date of Adolf Hitler's birthday and the likelihood that neo-Nazis would do something to mark it. The paper said that "it is possible that the neo-Nazis counted on this." Meanwhile, an article in "Vremya Novostei" on 23 April said that the police had released most of those they had detained during the pogrom. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

SKINHEADS PROTEST ARRESTS. Several dozen skinheads and other ultranationalists demonstrated in Moscow on 29 April against the arrest of some of their number during a 21 April attack in the Russian capital on representatives of ethnic groups from the Caucasus, AP reported. Meanwhile, Anatolii Antonov, the head of the family sociology section at Moscow State University, told AP on the same day that Russia's continuing population decline, if not reversed soon, could lead to the creation of "a fascist state" there. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

CZECHS RETURN EXTREMIST TO RUSSIA. Prague extradited Sergei Maksimenko to Russia on 26 April, ITAR-TASS reported. In 1997, Maksimenko created the Revolutionary Armed Military Council of the Russian Federation and participated in a series of terrorist acts, including efforts to blow up monuments in Russia to Peter the Great and Nicholas II. Maksimenko is now being held in Moscow's Lefortovo prison in advance of his trial. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

LIMONOVITES WANT FREEDOM TO AGITATE FOR STALIN, GULAG. A group of supporters of Limonov on 25 April demanded at a press conference the release of their boss, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The paper said that one journalist in attendance remarked that "You shout at all your meetings: 'Stalin! Beria! Gulag!' Now a Gulag is being organized in the country. Why are you upset?" The Limonovites responded that they in no way support a Gulag, but rather for the freedom to be able to call for "Stalin! Beria! Gulag!'" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

KARACHAEVO-CHERKESS COURT OVERTURNS BAN ON MEETINGS. The Supreme Court of Karachaevo-Cherkesia on 25 April overturned a decree by the republic's president, Vladimir Semenov, that banned mass meetings, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

RUSSIANS LOOK TO COURTS TO DEFEND THEIR RIGHTS. A poll conducted by monitoring.ru and reported by Interfax on 24 April showed that almost one-third of Russians now look to the courts to defend their rights and only 13 percent think the best way to do so is to participate in meetings and demonstrations. Four percent of the sample indicated that they would be willing to engage in armed actions to defend their rights. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

STREET PEOPLE SUE POLICE OVER MISTREATMENT. A group of 20 Moscow street people ("bomzhi") has sued the police for forcibly transporting them out of the city to a rural area against their will, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

DETENTION CENTER CONDITIONS 'EQUAL TO TORTURE.' Deputy Justice Minister Yuri Kalinin said on 26 April that conditions in Russian detention centers are "equal to torture," ITAR-TASS reported. He also agreed with Council of Europe experts that these conditions must be changed and changed quickly. One measure of just how bad things have become in Russian incarceration wards, he said, is that the number of detainees infected with HIV has increased more than 20 times over the past five years, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

TURKISH-LANGUAGE TEACHERS SAID TO BE SPREADING WAHHABISM. Turkish-language teachers coming to Russia often carry with them the ideas of Wahhabism and attempt to inculcate their students with this brand of Islam, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

BUS WITH RADIO STATION, ISLAMIST LITERATURE STOPPED AT DAGHESTAN BORDER. The Russian Federal Border Service on 25 April found a shortwave radio station, mobile telephones, and Wahhabi literature on a regular bus route bus into Daghestan, ITAR-TASS reported. The bus driver and 12 passengers were arrested. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS EFFORTS TO SET RUSSIA AGAINST ISLAM WILL FAIL. Speaking to a Moscow conference on "Religion and Diplomacy" on 27 April, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that efforts to set Russia against Islam or Christians against Muslims inside Russia will be "fruitless," Interfax reported. Ivanov added that Moscow has always been very clear that it opposes extremism and terrorism, not "the values of Islam," in its actions in Chechnya. In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on the same day, Chief Mufti of European Russia Talgat Tadzhuddin said that Muslims now form 10 percent of Russia's population, that relations between them and most Russians are good, but that he is concerned by the increasing number of young Muslims who are listening to extremist spokesmen. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

KARELIAN AUTHORITIES ALARMED BY GROWTH OF ISLAM. Karelia is "no exception" to a growing trend which sees young people in Russia's regions willing to take up arms to defend Islamic precepts instilled in them by organizations founded and led by Arab immigrants, according to the republic's interior minister, Igor Yunash. Keston News Service has obtained a copy of a letter in which Yunash expresses alarm at the growing public profile of the ethnically mixed Muslim community estimated at 6,000 in the republic's capital, Petrozavodsk (575 miles north of Moscow). Last year the Muslim community affiliated with a centralized religious organization (Ravil Gainutdin's Moscow-based Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of European Russia) and was registered on 26 May 2000. (Keston News Service, 1 May)

ALEKSII WANTS EXPANDED ROLE FOR CHURCH ABROAD. Patriarch Aleksii II said on 27 April that he would like to see Orthodox priests attached to Russian missions abroad and also to have the Church play an expanded role in supporting ethnic Russians abroad, Russian news agencies reported. On the same day, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said that in 2000, Moscow will spend some 90.2 million rubles ($3.1 million) to support ethnic Russians outside of Russia, which amounts to approximately 15 cents each, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

PENTECOSTAL FREED BUT AWAITS NEW TRIAL. Aleksandr Volkov, a Pentecostal from the Volga republic of Chuvashia who was sentenced last month to six months' imprisonment for refusing to perform military service, had his conviction set aside on 17 April by the republic�s Supreme Court. The court did not find him not guilty, however, and simply referred the case back to the Novocheboksarsk city court to be reexamined. Volkov's lawyer told Keston News Service that he is sure this time the court will find his client not guilty. (Keston News Service, 27 April)

STUDENTS FACE DAUNTING EDUCATIONAL CHOICES. Russian students increasingly face difficulties in choosing a university and a major in order to secure high-paying jobs, according to a study reported in "Izvestiya" on 25 April. That has sparked a debate on the utility of spending money necessary to get an MBA. Meanwhile, the paper reported on a new phenomenon for younger pupils: the emergence of 640 private schools where some 45,000 Russian pupils now study. The paper noted that these schools represented one of the places where growing income differentials had been translated into social stratification. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

FIRMS LOSE $9.8 BILLION FROM LACK OF TRANSPARENCY. A study prepared by PriceWaterhouse Coopers said that Russian firms lost at least $9.8 billion in possible foreign direct investments because of the absence of financial transparency, ITAR-TASS and dpa reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

SERBIA
COVIC SAYS SERBIAN POLICE VANDALIZED ALBANIAN HOMES. Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is the Serbian government's point man for Presevo, said in Belgrade on 27 April that Serbian police occupying ethnic Albanian homes in Lucane "plundered and destroyed" a number of those homes recently. He stressed that "such behavior by the police will not be tolerated," AP reported. He added that "the homes of the Albanians are in an intolerable state. The police are meant to protect all citizens from vandalism, not engage in such acts themselves." Covic also noted that some of the police "stank of alcohol and were drunk." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

WIFE OF SERBIAN EX-PRESIDENT BLAMES MILOSEVIC FOR HIS DEATH. Katarina Stambolic, who is the wife of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, said that she has given up hope that he is still alive, Reuters reported from Belgrade on 26 April. She added that she believes that Milosevic and his wife Mira Markovic had her husband killed: "They feared him because he knew too much about them. Their disturbed mental structure, the true image of which surfaced on the night of Milosevic's arrest, prompted them to get rid of my husband as someone too dangerous for them." Stambolic was the former mentor of Milosevic. Stambolic has been missing for more than eight months. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

LENGTH OF ARMY SERVICE TO BE CUT. The Yugoslav Defense Ministry has prepared a plan to cut the length of mandatory military service from 12 to 10 months, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 24 April. Those who opt for civilian service instead of the army will serve for 20 rather than 24 months. Since the fall of President Slobodan Milosevic in October, popular pressure for a cut in the length of military service has been on the rise. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April)

SLOVAKIA
SKINHEADS KILL ONE, INJURE TWO. In Bratislava on 27 April, three skinheads attacked a 30-year-old Slovak, whose darker skin resembled that of a foreigner or a Roma, CTK reported, quoting the Markiza television station. The man died on the spot after being stabbed. In an attack that took place in the Slovak capital shortly before, two men aged 22 and 23 (who were neither foreigners nor Roma) were stabbed by skinheads and hospitalized with injuries. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

DEPUTY PREMIER SAYS NO ROMA WILL RECEIVE ASYLUM IN THE WEST. Deputy Premier Pal Csaky on 25 April said on Radio Twist that "no Slovak citizen has any chance of gaining asylum, not only in Belgium, but in any other EU country as well," CTK reported. He also said the government would do "anything in its power" to ensure that "the freedom of travel of Slovak citizens is not affected by the irresponsible behavior of some citizens." The media in Slovakia are voicing fears that Belgium might re-impose visa requirements in the face of a new Slovak Roma exodus and other EU countries would follow suit. Leaders of the Romany Initiative of Slovakia, the country's most influential Romany association, said in reaction that Csaky is "personally responsible" for the situation of the Roma. They accused him of being interested only in the "imaginary" problems of "his" Hungarian minority and of ignoring Romany issues. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

TAJIKISTAN
ISLAMISTS SUPPORT COMMUNISTS. According to "Vechernyi Dushanbe" on 16 and 20 April, Islamists in Tajikistan often back communists and work together with them. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April)

ISLAMIC LEADER DENIES COOPERATING WITH UZBEK ISLAMISTS. Sayed Abdullo Nuri, the chairman of Tajikistan's Islamic Rebirth Party, told visiting OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis that his organization does not cooperate with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 27 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April)

TURKMENISTAN
TWO-MONTH PRISON 'QUARANTINE' FOR BAPTIST. Ailing Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov, transferred to a prison in Turkmenbashi on 23 March, was placed in two-month "quarantine" within days, Keston News Service reports. He will be denied all mail and parcels for two months. (Keston News Service, 24 April)

RUSSIAN PROTESTANT FREED AFTER FOUR DAYS. A Russian Pentecostal Christian has been freed after four days in detention in Turkmenabad, Keston News Service reports. Yevgeny Samsonov was reportedly tortured and beaten by the political police, the KNB (former KGB). (Keston News Service, 23 April)

UKRAINE
CHORNOBYL ANNIVERSARY MARKED. The Duma stood for one minute of silence and then adopted a resolution in connection with the 15th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear power station accident, Interfax reported on 26 April. Ecologist Aleksei Yablokov said that the total number of victims of the accident should be put at 500 million, Interfax reported. And a group of people who worked on the Chornobyl cleanup complained that they have not received the special state support, the agency said. But Deputy Health Minister Gennadii Onishenko said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on the same day that "there is no evidence of a serious influence by radioactivity on people's health." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

PRESIDENT SAYS HE FEELS GOOD. Leonid Kuchma said in Vilnius on 24 April that he feels himself to be "strong physically, morally, and politically," Interfax reported. Kuchma also expressed his surprise at the West's stance on the latest developments in Ukraine: "I do not understand and cannot understand why all those past years the West thought that Ukraine was marching along a democratic path, and all of a sudden this appraisal has become the opposite." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)

NGO FOR ORPHANS FOUNDED. Based in Ternopil, a new organization for the benefit of orphans has been formed. For more information, e-mail brotherhood@orphans.utel.net.ua. (Center for Civil Society International, 26 April)

CARPATHIAN ROMA APPEAL. In the aftermath of disastrous floods, the organization "Romani Yag" has launched an appeal for the 50,000 Roma in 90 settlements in the Carpathian Mountains. Contact romyag@tn.uz.ua (MINELRES, 28 April)

UZBEKISTAN
POLICE DETAIN ISLAMIST GROUP MEMBERS. Uzbek Interior Ministry officials on 25 April arrested members of the banned Hezb-e Tahrir Islamist group, Uzbek television reported. The group was operating a printing press to prepare Islamist literature, the station said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April)

NEW PUBLICATIONS, WEBSITES
DATABASE ON WOMEN'S INFO SERVICES. Mapping the World of Women's Information Services, which contains over 350 women's information centers in over 100 countries in the world (more than 40 in 21 Eastern European and Central Asian countries). It is growing daily and is available at http://www.iiav.nl/mapping-the-world. (Center for Civil Society International, 26 April)

END NOTE
THE PRIVATIZATION OF A PUBLIC HOLIDAY

By Paul Goble

Ever fewer Russians view official May Day celebrations as the major feature of the spring holiday, telling pollsters instead that they see the day off as a chance to meet with families and friends.

In 1981, a poll found 59 percent of Russians viewed the government-organized 1 May demonstrations as the main event of May Day, but now only 11 percent do, with the largest fraction -- 37 percent -- saying that they look forward to private activities.

At one level, this shift reflects both changes in state support for the May Day parades and in the willingness of people to speak their minds to polltakers. But at another, it reflects three fundamental shifts in values that are sometimes masked by the reassertion of Soviet-era practices.

First, it reflects the withdrawal into private worlds that is now possible in Russia given declines in official pressures to take part in public activities. In Soviet times, people were under enormous pressure to take part, even when they preferred not to. Now, the pressure is largely gone, and with the possibility of choice, most Russians are showing that they are focusing first on themselves and only secondarily on larger public themes.

Second, this shift from public to private values is part and parcel of the more general move away from totalitarianism toward the creation of a society in which individuals can carve out a certain amount of space and time for themselves.

By itself, this act of reclaiming time for private matters may only reflect social isolation and alienation. But it does create one of the preconditions for the development of social ties not defined or regulated by the state. As such, it represents a kind of progress.

And third, this privatization of a public holiday is part of something much larger in Russia and other countries as well. Ever fewer people now give holidays, place names or other public things the content that their founders intended.

In the United States, for example, many people drive on streets named "democracy" or "constitution" without giving much thought to what those street names represent. And they view 4 July not as the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence but as a time for family outings.

That is not to say that these words have no meaning for those involved but rather that outside observers may sometimes ascribe meanings to them that those directly involved do not.

And that in turn provides a cautionary note for interpreting the return of Soviet-era symbols in Russia today. The restoration of a version of the Stalinist national anthem, the celebration of Soviet events, and so on may be intended by some in Russia to send a message, but their audience may not receive the intended message.

For some, keeping Lenin in the mausoleum may be of critical importance as an indication of their commitment to restoring communism or Soviet glory. But for others, it may reflect nothing more than their acceptance of the fact that that is where he has always been.

On this May Day, there will be parades and speeches across Russia as well as elsewhere, and many of these activities will undoubtedly have a resonance with the past for some Russians and for many outside observers.

But the poll showing that most Russians want nothing more than to take the day off with family and friends suggests that even if these nods to the past are a harbinger of the future, that is not what is behind the actions of most Russians or anyone else now.

XS
SM
MD
LG