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(Un)Civil Societies Report: September 13, 2001

13 September 2001, Volume 2, Number 36
OSCE CONFERENCE ON ROMA DISCRIMINATION OPENS IN BUCHAREST. An international conference held under OSCE auspices on combating discrimination against Roma opened in Bucharest on 10 September, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The four-day conference is being attended by some 300 participants, including non-governmental organizations working with Roma and representatives of the community. Speaking in his capacity as OSCE rotating chairman, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 9 September said the OSCE intends to "take a series of concrete measures" to improve the Roma's situation and added that solutions "necessitate an overall European approach, beyond national efforts." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

DESTRUCTION OF 1.6 MILLION MINES. Albanian authorities have begun to destroy and recycle 1.6 million land mines in a program sponsored by Canada under the auspices of NATO's Partnership for Peace Program, AP reported from Tirana on 10 September. The work is taking place in an explosives factory at Mjekes near Elbasan. Many mines were stockpiled by the regime of communist dictator Enver Hoxha, but mines and other ordnance dating as far back as World War I have been found in various parts of the country. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

PACE HEAD BEGINS VISIT. Addressing the Armenian parliament on the first day of a two-day visit to Yerevan, Lord Russell Johnston on 10 September urged the removal of the death penalty from Armenia's penal code in line with commitments the country made in January 2001 at the time of its acceptance into full membership of the Council of Europe, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He acknowledged that many in Armenia believe that the perpetrators of the October 1999 parliament shootings should be executed, but said the abolition of the death penalty "is a measure that needs to be taken for the benefit of society as a whole." He also called for a reform of the Armenian penal system. Johnston gave an overall positive assessment of the "steady progress" he said Armenia is making toward full compliance with its commitments to the Council of Europe. He also told Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian that PACE was mistaken in its pronouncement last week that elections to local government bodies in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic could undermine attempts to resolve the Karabakh conflict, according to an Armenian Foreign Ministry statement. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

KGB CHARGES ITALIAN CITIZEN WITH SPYING. The Belarusian KGB on 5 September said it has charged Italian citizen Antonio Angelo Piu with spying and Belarusian citizen Iryna Ushak with treason, Reuters reported. "Piu and Ushak were...caught red-handed during an exchange of documents which contained material of a military nature," the KGB said in a statement. Piu and Ushak have been held in custody since their arrests in April. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison. Piu heads a foreign company in Belarus. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SLAMS LUKASHENKA'S ELECTION VICTORY AS 'MEANINGLESS.' U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker on 10 September said no part of Belarus's presidential election process was transparent or fair. "[Alyaksandr] Lukashenka has merely used a facade of elections to engineer a meaningless victory for himself," Reeker noted. "The United States concurs with the OSCE's findings that the electoral process was not democratic. Elections that are neither free nor fair cannot be internationally recognized," Reeker stressed. And he added: "Belarusian authorities have demonstrated a clear disregard for both democracy and human rights during this election by avoiding transparency in all stages and engaging in a campaign of intimidation." Reeker also said the U.S. will consult with other nations in the OSCE on what steps to take to help restore democracy in Belarus. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

CIS ELECTION MONITORS SAY ELECTION WAS FAIR... A CIS monitoring mission of Belarus's presidential ballot said in a statement on 10 September that the election was "free and open, and in compliance with all universal democratic institutions," Belapan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

HAGUE TRIBUNAL HEARS OF VICTIMS BURNED ALIVE. Prosecutors at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal opened the trials of five Bosnian Serbs and two Croats on 10 September, Reuters reported. The judges heard how Bosnian Serb Mitar Vasiljevic, a waiter who belonged to the paramilitary White Eagles, systematically murdered Muslims in Visegrad in 1992. In one incident, Vasiljevic and his friends burned alive 65 women, children, and old men by sealing them in a room in a house and setting it alight. "There was a small baby among them. She had yet to see her third day on this earth," said prosecutor Dermot Groome. Vasiljevic shone a light on those trying to escape so that his colleagues could kill them. The prosecutor noted that Vasiljevic is no leader of war criminals, but "is one who by his own hands committed an act that is perhaps one of the single most horrific and egregious affronts to humanity in the war -- to the most innocent of victims." The Croats are Mladen Naletilic "Tuta" and Vinko Martinovic "Stela," who committed crimes in ethnic-cleansing campaigns against Muslims in 1993. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

...AND ELECTION COMMISSION SAYS LUKASHENKA WON LANDSLIDE VICTORY. Central Election Commission head Lidziya Yarmoshyna on 10 September said Alyaksandr Lukashenka was overwhelmingly re-elected for a second term in the 9 September presidential ballot, Belapan reported. According to preliminary results that do not include data from polling stations abroad, Lukashenka won 75.62 percent of the vote. Unified opposition candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk received 15.39 percent of the vote and Liberal Democratic Party leader Syarhey Haydukevich 2.48 percent. Some 6.15 million Belarusians took part in the ballot (83.85 percent of eligible voters). Yarmoshyna said the ballot was conducted "irreproachably." "This was a brilliant, elegant, persuasive victory," Lukashenka commented just one hour after the closure of polling stations, when no official election results had yet been released. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

ARE WAR CRIMINALS 'PROTECTED'? Beriz Belkic, the Muslim representative on the Bosnian joint presidency, told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service from Sarajevo on 5 September that The Hague's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, told him that Radovan Karadzic enjoys official protection from the top Bosnian Serb leadership. She told Belkic that Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic and Interior Minister Dragomir Jovicic are "directly responsible" for this state of affairs. Also in the Bosnian capital, Del Ponte said that the Bosnian Serb and Herzegovinian Croat authorities are "not cooperating" with the tribunal, Reuters reported. She noted that 38 suspects are still at large in the former Yugoslavia, 27 of whom have been publicly indicted and 11 secretly. Del Ponte added, "I am sure that if I can put in place my own tracking team, I will locate fugitives in the Republika Srpska, if the government is not cooperating." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

OPPOSITION CALLS FOR NEW PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION... Some 2,000 opposition activists held a rally in Minsk on 10 September, denouncing the 9 September vote as rigged and calling for a fresh presidential election, Belapan reported. Opposition presidential candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk told the rally that he has filed a complaint about electoral fraud with the Central Election Commission. Meanwhile, President Lukashenka said the same day that the opposition is "worthless." According to Lukashenka, his opponents should have been flexible and somehow maneuvered when they saw that he was winning the election by "a constitutional majority." Instead, Lukashenka argued, the opposition tried to pursue a "Yugoslav scenario" devised by "certain organizations" in order to prompt a second round of balloting. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

WORKERS LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE. Some 600 workers at the Polihem chemical plant in Tuzla began a hunger strike after power was shut off to Polihem because of unpaid bills, AP reported on 11 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH SUPPORTS EFFORTS TO MEND ORTHODOX CHURCH CONFLICT. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew II on 8 September joined Patriarch Maxim in delivering mass in Sofia's Sveta Nedelya (St. Dominique) cathedral and said afterward that he strongly supports the Bulgarian patriarch's efforts to mend the rift in the country's Orthodox Church, AP reported. The dispute began a decade ago, when dissenting clergymen demanded that Maxim step down, accusing him of having cooperated with the communist regime. Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski attended the mass and consulted with both patriarchs after the service. AP said Saxecoburggotski's presence signals a turnaround in the government's policy toward Maxim. Former Premier Ivan Kostov was at odds with Maxim, silently supported his opponents, and refused to attend masses delivered by him or by prelates under his jurisdiction. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

MUSLIM LEADER PRAISES COUNTRY'S TOLERANCE. Chief Mufti Selim Mehmed, the spiritual leader of Bulgaria's Muslim community, on 8 September praised that Balkan country for its ethnic and religious tolerance in a conflict-ridden region, AP reported. Mehmed told journalists that "against the background of everything happening in the Balkans, we, in Bulgaria, have succeeded in building a model for ethnic and religious tolerance and peace." He also said that "in contrast to other countries, Muslims in Bulgaria are widely open to the Eastern Orthodox community." At the same time, Mehmed urged the government to speed up restitution of Muslim community property. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

VISAS FOR RUSSIANS, UKRAINIANS, GEORGIANS. The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said it will introduce a visa regime for all visitors from Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia beginning on 1 October, Reuters reported on 11 September. The ministry said in a statement that the visas are in line with an agreement Sofia made with the EU. The union lifted visa requirements for Bulgarians in April on the condition that the Balkan country tighten its borders to the East and curb illegal immigration. The statement added that discussions with the three affected countries will take place to find ways of easing visa restrictions for businessmen and tourists. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

WARRANT FOR WAR CRIMES SUSPECT. At Croatia's request, Interpol has issued an international arrest warrant for Croatian General Ante Gotovina, who is wanted by The Hague for war crimes, dpa reported on 6 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

ODS REJECTS HAVEL'S STATEMENT ON BENES DECREES. ODS shadow Foreign Minister Jan Zahradil on 7 September said it is "impossible" for the Czech parliament to "ever apologize" for the deportation of the Sudeten Germans under the 1945 Benes decrees, CTK reported. He was responding to a statement reportedly made by President Vaclav Havel in Vienna last week. Zahradil said that to do so would be tantamount to acknowledgement of the "collective responsibility of the Czech nation" for the deportations, and the nation as a whole must not "shoulder the responsibility for individual excesses committed during the deportations." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

ROMANY ASYLUM SEEKERS AT POLAR CIRCLE... Seventeen Czech Roma, including a number of children, are awaiting the outcome of their asylum request in the northern Norwegian town of Vadso, CTK reported on 8 September, citing daily "Mlada fronta Dnes." They arrived in Norway in August. Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Gry Haaheim said the number of Czech Roma seeking asylum in her country has increased since the beginning of August, when British officials introduced checks on flights bound for the U.K. at Prague's Ruzyne Airport. She said most asylum applicants are likely to be sent back. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

...AS ERRC PREPARES TO SUE CZECH REPUBLIC, U.K. The London-based Europa Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is considering suing the Czech Republic and the U.K. at the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg in connection with the checks introduced at Ruzyne, CTK reported on 7 September. ERRC Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova said the checks may violate the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Protection. Petrova said the checks at the airport amount to "actual discrimination," even if they do not infringe on the prohibition of "intended discrimination." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

INSURANCE COMPANY RESUSCITATES JEWISH CEMETERY DISPUTE. The Ceska pojistovna insurance company is demanding 127 million crowns ($3.3 million) in compensation for losses incurred in the dispute over the former Jewish cemetery discovered at the company's building site in central Prague, CTK reported on 7 September, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." The government agreed to compensate Ceska pojistovna with 45 million crowns, but the company now says losses were higher by 82 million due to delays in construction. The 13th-century cemetery, abandoned after 1478, was dug up in 1998 during construction of an underground garage beneath the company's building. The insurer had originally planned to move the remains and build over them, but following protests by Orthodox Jews from the Czech Republic and abroad who said moving the graves would violate Jewish tradition, the company decided to encase the skeletal remains to preserve them within the construction site. In September 2000, the remains were, nonetheless, reburied in another Prague Jewish cemetery. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

CALL FOR DIRECT ELECTION OF PRESIDENT. President Lennart Meri at the first fall session of the Estonian parliament declared on 10 September his firm support for the direct election of the president by the people, but did not use his right as president to propose an amendment to the constitution, ETA reported. He said that he hopes that the president will be elected in this manner in 2006, as it would "give the people more immediate mechanisms for ruling the country." Meri added, however, that "direct elections of the president should be accompanied by a legal mechanism to balance the competence of the president and other constitutional institutions." Such mechanisms would provide an opportunity to create a new system of legal supervision that could solve the ongoing competence debate between the government, parliament, and president. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

'NO VISA BAN FOR RUSSIAN PRIESTS,' SAYS MOSCOW EMBASSY. The Estonian consulate in Moscow has refused to grant a visa to a Moscow-based Russian Orthodox priest, but an official of Estonia's Moscow embassy has denied to Keston News Service claims by some Orthodox that there is a policy of refusing visas to Russian Orthodox clergy. The official declined to say why the priest had been refused a visa to attend the consecration of a new Orthodox church in Estonia. A Moscow Patriarchate spokesman pointed out that Estonian visas are difficult to obtain for Russian citizens in general. (Keston News Service, 6 September)

MINISTER REQUESTS INVESTIGATION INTO CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS AGAINST HIM... Georgian Economy, Industry, and Trade Minister Vano Chkhartishvili has appealed to the prosecutor-general and the Anticorruption Council to launch a formal investigation into repeated allegations that he is engaged in corruption, Caucasus Press reported on 10 September, citing the daily "Akhali taoba." Chkhartishvili is rumored to be the richest minister in Georgia. Local residents recently threatened to burn down a five-story mansion he is having built in the village of Ureki. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

...AS POLL SHOWS GEORGIANS DO NOT BELIEVE PRESIDENT'S ANTICORRUPTION RHETORIC. A poll of 600 people conducted by Nea Intermedia and summarized by "Akhali versia" on 11 September revealed that 88.8 percent do not believe that President Eduard Shevardnadze is serious in repeatedly pledging to crack down on corruption. Just over half (50.8 percent) believe that the reason for Shevardnadze's imputed reluctance to take serious measures against corruption is that he himself is guilty of such practices, while 31.5 percent believe members of Shevardnadze's family are guilty of corruption. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

AUDIT CHAMBER SHOWS DEFENSE MINISTRY WAGE ARREARS. Following an audit of the Georgian Defense Ministry's financial transactions during the first six months of this year, the press service of Georgia's Audit Chamber said on 7 September that the ministry currently owes some 42.7 million laris ($20.6 million), including 17.3 million laris in wage arrears, Caucasus Press reported. Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze told a parliament committee on 6 September that the armed forces need a minimum of 71 million laris ($34.3 million) in funding for 2002. Parliament Deputy Koba Amirkhanishvili said the same day he will resign his mandate if the Finance Ministry does not accede to that demand, "Akhali taoba" reported on 7 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

OSCE QUERIES LEGALITY OF SENTENCE ON FORMER PREMIER. The OSCE office in Kazakhstan issued a statement in Almaty on 7 September expressing doubt that the jail sentence handed down the previous day to former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin conforms to international standards of justice, Russian agencies reported. Kazhegeldin was sentenced in absentia to 10 years imprisonment on charges of abuse of office, tax evasion, taking bribes, and illegal possession of weapons. The OSCE noted that trying a defendant in absentia may violate the principle of equality before the law, and that "there are certain doubts" that the presumption of innocence was fully observed during the trial. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

IMPRISONED FORMER OFFICIAL TAKES LEGAL ACTION AGAINST PRESIDENT. Former Kyrgyz Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys Party leader Feliks Kulov has brought a lawsuit against President Askar Akaev and is demanding that the president publish an apology for branding him a person who "disappointed him" and "who loved power too much," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 8 September. That characterization appears in Akaev's book "The Memorable Decade," which was formally launched on 24 August. Kulov was sentenced in January to seven years imprisonment on charges of abuse of power while serving as national security minister in 1997-1998. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

NEW HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT FOUNDED. Representatives of the Asaba, Ata-Meken, Erkindik, Kairan-El and Communist parties, together with several NGOs, attended a meeting in Bishkek on 8 September to mark the foundation of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Recently released Erkindik party leader Topchubek TurgunAliyev was elected chairman of the commission. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

EU PROGRESS REPORT RELEASED. The European Parliament released a progress report on Latvia on 4 September, LETA reported the next day. The report stated that Latvia has made an enormous effort to reduce the gap between it and first-round EU candidate countries, and has realistic opportunities to overtake them if it continues making progress in reforming its administrative and judicial system, as well as fighting corruption. The report asserted that Latvia meets the political criteria for EU membership, but mentions areas where further improvements are needed. Deficiencies in procedural law and unacceptably long pre-trial detention periods, especially for minors, were named as the main problems in the human rights sector. The European Parliament also pointed out the need to improve the efficiency, accountability, and transparency of Latvia's public administration system, and to combat corruption. The report praised Latvia's successful economic development with a low rate of inflation and lower budget deficit. It noted an improvement in the integration of non-citizens, but recommended greater government support for that program as well as the need for free language courses for such adults. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

RED CROSS TALLIES DISPLACED PERSONS. Officials of the Macedonian Red Cross said in Skopje on 5 September that the number of internally displaced persons now stands at 75,878, dpa reported. Some 47,148 are from the Tetovo region, 16,266 from Kumanovo, 8,278 from Skopje and Aracinovo, and 4,186 from Skopska Crna Gora. Elsewhere, displaced persons ended their nine-day blockade of the border crossing to Serbia at Tabanovce after talks with government officials. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

FOREIGN MINISTER TOPS POLL. A recent poll conducted by a Macedonian NGO of "citizens" suggests that Social Democratic Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva is the most popular politician, with a rating of 66.4 percent, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 5 September. President Boris Trajkovski follows with 58.5 percent. Social Democratic leader Branko Crvenkovski is in third place with a 54.8 percent favorable rating. At the other end of the scale, ethnic Albanian leader Arben Xhaferi received a negative rating from 79.7 percent of the respondents. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski is disliked by 63.6 percent. The least popular foreign politicians are Javier Solana with a 71.2 percent negative rating, followed by NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson with 60.4 percent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

SMIRNOV ACCUSES VORONIN OF DICTATORIAL POLICIES... In an interview with TVC TV, Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov on 10 September accused Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin of "promoting a dictatorial and pressure policy against the Transdniester region," Flux reported. He reiterated his earlier protest against the change of Moldovan customs seals, saying Voronin had thus breached "all documents" signed by Chisinau and Tiraspol leaders. Smirnov also said that after releasing Ilie Ilascu, a gesture made, in his words, "in order to remove all obstacles to the negotiation process," Voronin did not apologize for the "prejudices caused" during the 1992 conflict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

PRESIDENT APPEALS TO TRANSDNIESTRIANS... Upon returning from Moscow on 5 September, President Voronin appealed to the residents of the breakaway region of Transdniester, speaking in Russian on Moldovan radio, Romanian Radio reported the next day. In the unprecedented direct appeal, he reiterated the readiness of Chisinau to grant a special autonomous status to Transdniester and called on the region's population to support those proposals. While denying that Chisinau has instituted an economic blockade, Voronin said that under its present leadership the Transdniester has been turned into "a CIS and a European black hole" that allows "international mafia clans" to indulge in illegal transactions with oil, alcohol, drugs, and armaments and make "enormous profits." He said the present leadership in Tiraspol is under the influence of these traffickers, who are interested in maintaining tension between the two sides. Voronin called on the Transdniestrians to ignore "the smear campaign" launched by the Tiraspol authorities against Moldova and to "display wisdom and do everything for Moldova's reunification into a single state where national minorities will not be discriminated against in any form." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

...BUT TRANSDNIESTER SUSPENDS NEGOTIATIONS WITH CHISINAU. The Transdniester Supreme Soviet on 5 September decide to "suspend" negotiations with Chisinau in response to what it called the "Moldovan customs blockade," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The separatists' "foreign minister" was cited by ITAR-TASS as saying, "We will agree to resume the dialogue only after the problem has been solved with the help of the guarantors -- Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE." In an interview with ITAR-TASS on 5 September, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said the separatist leadership is "seeking any pretext to dodge the Moldovan leadership's proposal to grant the Transdniester special status." Voronin said this status would satisfy residents on both sides of Dniester River and preserve everybody's rights. He said that "there is no economic blockade of the Transdniester region," and explained that new custom seals were introduced as a result of Moldova's accession to the World Trade Organization. This "caused a painful reaction" in Tiraspol because its leaders "will no longer be able to carry out illegal operations which earned them up to $1 billion," Voronin said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

OPPOSITION LEADER ACQUITTED OF CHARGES. The Chisinau Tribunal on 10 September acquitted opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca of all charges, Flux reported. The court thus overruled a Chisinau district court decision that found Rosca guilty of hitting a woman in the print shop that publishes his party's newspaper. That court stopped Rosca's prosecution for procedural reasons. In July the parliament, controlled by the Party of Moldovan Communists, lifted Rosca's parliamentary immunity to allow prosecution. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

GOVERNMENT BACK TO OLD POSITIONS ON BESSARABIAN CHURCH CONFLICT. The government on 5 September wrote to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that the hearing set for 2 October at the court will have a "negative impact" on attempts to solve the conflict on the Bessarabian Church through negotiations conducted within the Orthodox Church itself, Infotag reported. The government said that four rounds of talks have been conducted since 1997 and the next round, to be held with the participation of Russian Patriarch Aleksii II and Romanian Patriarch Teoctist, is scheduled for "the near future." Successive Moldovan governments have refused to register the Bessarabian Church, which is subordinate to the Bucharest Patriarchate, and the cabinet was supposed to let the court know by 1 September what measures it envisages for settling the conflict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST RICH-POOR DIVISION IN EUROPE. Aleksander Kwasniewski on 6 September said that although the division into spheres of influence on the European continent has disappeared, Europe is still facing the threat of a division into a rich section and a poor section, PAP reported. Kwasniewski was addressing a Poland-East economic forum in Krynica (southern Poland), which is being attended by the presidents of Moldova, Lithuania, and Slovakia, as well as representatives from Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Estonia. "[The threat] particularly applies to countries which after a period of transformations are strenuously trying to close the distance between them and the Western world. To prevent this, we need greater mobilization, greater solidarity, and greater collaboration," Kwasniewski said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

NASTASE POINTS OUT ROMANIA AS MODEL FOR INTERETHNIC RELATIONS. Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase on 10 September said his country is a model for interethnic relations, Mediafax reported. He said his government tries to solve ethnic issues by taking into account the specific realities of Romanian society. Nastase spoke at the opening of an OSCE conference being held in Bucharest on the struggle against discrimination toward Roma. Nastase said problems related to Roma need to be solved with "coherent social, civic, economic, and political inclusion policies." Referring to the strategy recently adopted by the government for improving the situation of Roma, the premier said the strategy's success also depends on the civil society and Roma community leaders and members. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

RESITA WORKERS CONTINUE PROTESTS. Workers at the Resita steel-producer CSR blocked a major intersection within the city on 10 September, demanding the resumption of the plant's activities and the payment of wage arrears, Romanian media reported. According to the "Adevarul" daily, police were ready to intervene, but Caras-Severin County Prefect Pavel Balan canceled the intervention at the last moment. The protesters asked to meet Premier Nastase to present their requests. They also announced that as of 11 September, 50 workers would begin a hunger strike. Nastase said in Bucharest that the protesters should understand that by blocking the streets they will isolate the city and scare away potential investors. He added that his counselor Eugen Dijmarescu has gone to the U.S. to discuss CSR's situation with the majority stakeholder, Noble Ventures. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

SENATE APPROVES ENDING CRIMINALIZATION OF SAME-SEX RELATIONS. The Senate on 6 September voted 83 to 32 in favor of approving a government ordinance that abolished Article 200 from the Penal Code, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Senate thus heeded repeated criticism by the Council of Europe for its failure to decriminalize same-sex relations. The Greater Romania Party (PRM) voted against the amendment and PRM Senator Aron Belascu called it "a fatal error" and "a brutal [European] interference in Romanian legislation," which also attested to "the government's kowtowing to the Occident." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

PUTIN SAYS ERA OF 'MEETING DEMOCRACY' OVER. Speaking in Kislovodsk on 7 September, President Vladimir Putin said that "the time of meeting democracy of the beginning of the 1990s is over. On its basis," he added, "much good was done, but now it is necessary to move toward the constructive development of the state," Russian agencies reported. Putin also said that he believes that the government should work to support the survival of languages spoken by relatively small groups of people. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

PAVLOVSKII SAYS PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY TO END NEED FOR NGO HELP FROM ABROAD. Gleb Pavlovskii, the Kremlin media adviser who has assumed the leadership of the program to form a People's Assembly embracing the non-governmental organization sector in Russia, told RBK on 6 September that the creation of this body will eliminate any need for foreign assistance to NGOs such as that now being provided by George Soros and the Ford Foundation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

MOSCOW HAS REHABILITATED MORE THAN 630,000 REPRESSED UNDER SOVIETS. The Prosecutor-General's Office released information on 10 September showing that since October 1991 the Russian government has rehabilitated 631,017 individuals who were politically repressed during the Soviet era, Interfax reported. The prosecutors said they will continue to examine cases, but they indicated that they do not have any exact figures on the number of people repressed in the Soviet Union between 1920 and 1940. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

'VEK' PRAISES PUTIN FOR REAL REFORM BUT CALLS FOR MORE DEMOCRACY. According to an article in "Vek," No. 35, President Putin has carried out genuine reforms rather than engaging in the "planned catastrophe" style of the Bolsheviks or former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's neo-radicals. But up to now, the weekly said, Putin has pursued change on the basis of his own bureaucratic instinct rather than from any understanding of the needs of a democratic society. And in the future, it added, his call for an efficient state can be justified only if the president supplements it with a call for "efficient democracy." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

ONLY ONE IN SIX RUSSIANS REMEMBERS ANY SPECIFIC PUTIN STATEMENT. According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported in "Izvestiya" on 7 September, only 17 percent of Russians can say that any of President Putin's statements or actions "have stuck in their memories." Residents of Moscow are less likely to remember the president's moves than others -- only 10 percent said they can do so. The article was significantly titled "Careless citizens." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

POLL SHOWS RUSSIANS APPROVE OF COMMUNIST GUBERNATORIAL VICTORIES. A poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 6 September showed that 42 percent of Russians are positively inclined to the recent gubernatorial victories by communists in Nizhnii Novgorod and Tula, 32 percent have a neutral view of these events, and only 16 percent are negatively inclined. The survey found that Russians give the following reasons for these attitudes: nostalgia for the past, disappointment in democracy, proper behavior by communists during campaigns, and attractive candidates. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

RUSSIANS VIEW COMMUNISTS AS COMMUNISTS. Despite suggestions by President Putin and others that today's Russian communists are in fact social democrats, a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 8 September found that most Russians view the communists of today as being like the communists of the past, with 45 percent of the sample saying they support them and 35 percent saying they oppose them on this basis. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

KAZANTSEV DRAFTS FIVE-YEAR PLAN FOR NORTH CAUCASUS. Presidential envoy to the Southern Russia federal district Viktor Kazantsev has prepared a five-year economic development plan for the North Caucasus, "Vremya novostei" reported on 10 September. The plan is intended to improve living standards in the region by 250 percent and triple budget revenues, thereby expediting the integration of the region into the Russian Federation. The plan will cost an estimated 154 billion rubles ($5.1 billion), of which Kazantsev hopes the federal budget will provide 24.5 billion rubles and investors 60 billion. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

PUTIN MAKES UNEXPECTED TRIP TO NORTH CAUCASUS. President Putin on 6 September flew to Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria in the northern Caucasus, to deliver a speech on education and social policy and to meet with the local population, Russian agencies reported. Putin praised the republic's leaders for preserving interethnic and interconfessional peace, said that everyone in Russia should have the right to select his or her place of residence, and suggested that educational institutions should focus their activities on preparing people for the workplace. He laid flowers at a monument marking the 400th anniversary of the inclusion of Kabarda in the Russian Empire. And he said that he will make more such trips to Russia's regions, because "one cannot have a clear idea of what is going on in the regions without visiting them." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

PUTIN HAS NOT CHANGED HIS POSITION ON CHECHNYA, YASTRZHEMBSKII SAYS. Presidential adviser Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on ORT on 10 September that President Putin has not changed his position on Chechnya or on negotiations as a way to end the conflict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

PUTIN READY TO TALK WITH CHECHENS -- IF THEY SURRENDER WEAPONS AND GIVE UP DRIVE FOR INDEPENDENCE. Responding to repeated proposals by Boris Nemtsov, the leader of Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), which called for the launching of negotiations on ending the war in Chechnya, President Putin on 7 September said that he agrees that "talks are always better than the use of force," Russian and Western agencies reported. But, he added that Moscow will talk with "anyone" if they agree that the Russian Constitution applies in Chechnya just as it does elsewhere, and if the "rebel formations" unconditionally and immediately disarm themselves and surrender to the federal authorities those "especially notorious rebels whose arms are stained up to their elbows with the blood of Russian people." If Nemtsov or anyone else can "guarantee" those conditions, Putin said, then "let them do it" within a month. But if they cannot, the Russian president added, "Let them stop hustling and bustling on the country's political scene and give up their Duma deputy mandates." Nemtsov's proposals have drawn nearly universal criticism, and some in his own party have suggested that he has been misunderstood. Only Grigorii Yavlinsky's Yabloko party backed Nemtsov's call for negotiations. Putin's one-month time frame may be significant: On 8 September, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, the commander of the North Caucasus Military District, said in Moscow that the Russian government plans to reduce its forces in Chechnya in two months, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

NEPHEW OF PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN LEADER MURDERED. Lecha Kadyrov, a 28-year-old nephew of Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, and three of his friends were killed on 10 September when unknown assailants opened fire on his car with a grenade launcher and flame-thrower, Russian agencies reported. Several other close relatives of Kadyrov have been killed since his appointment in June 2000. Another nephew died earlier this summer fighting on the side of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

POLICE ROUND UP PRO-CHECHEN INDEPENDENCE DEMONSTRATORS IN MOSCOW. On 6 September, the 10th anniversary of what Chechens consider their independence day, Moscow police rounded up about 10 people who were demonstrating without official permission in Lubyanka Square, Interfax reported. The demonstrators carried signs demanding the recognition of Chechnya's independence by Russia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

FSB SAYS CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDERS PLAN TO MEET IN BAKU. Caucasus Press on 11 September quoted unnamed Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officials as claiming that Chechen President Maskhadov and prominent field commanders including Shamil Basaev and Ruslan Gelaev plan to convene in Baku in mid-September in order to discuss preparations for embarking on peace talks with Moscow. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

LIMONOV NOW CHARGED WITH TERRORISM. The Justice Ministry has lodged the additional charges of engaging in terrorism and participation in an illegal armed formation against National Bolshevik Party leader and writer Eduard Limonov, Ekho Moskvy reported on 6 September. Limonov was arrested by the FSB in April 2000 for illegal possession of weapons. "Kommersant-Daily" reported, also on 6 September, that there are now more members of Limonov's party in jail than those of any other political group. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

MOSCOW URGED TO CREATE FEDERAL AGENCY FOR RUSSIANS ABROAD. Participants in the Second Pacific Ocean Forum of Russian Compatriots, held in Vladivostok last week, on 10 September urged the Russian government to create a special federal agency for the affairs of Russians living abroad, Interfax-Eurasia reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

PUTIN APPROVES CABINET PLAN FOR TIES WITH CO-ETHNICS ABROAD. President Putin on 6 September gave his approval to a government plan for expanding ties with ethnic Russians abroad, Interfax reported. The plan calls for expanding efforts to protect ethnic Russians living outside Russia and organizing a variety of meetings and publications to link them to Russia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

TATAR ACTIVISTS CALL FOR RESISTING MOSCOW'S PRESSURE... In an interview published in "Vostochnii ekspress" on 31 August, analyst Talgat Bareev said that the ideal of independent statehood is a fundamental component of Tatar political thought. He called on Tatars in general and Tatar officials in particular to resist Russian pressure to subordinate themselves to Moscow's will. Meanwhile, the republic's Watan Party said in a proclamation published in "Shehre Qazan" on 5 September that the Kremlin is seeking to divide the Tatar intelligentsia to regain control of Tatarstan. The same day, the Tatar Public Center in Chally called on all the national movements in Tatarstan to unite in order to defend the republic against Russian power, Kazan media reported. The center also called on Russian media to report "objectively" about developments in non-Russian regions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

...AS BASHKIR SCHOLAR WANTS REFERENDUM ON BASHKORTOSTAN INDEPENDENCE. Marat Kulsharipov, a founder of the Bashkir nationalist movement and dean of the history faculty at Bashkir State University, told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 5 September that "the time has come to protect Bashkortostan's independence and legislation" by holding a referendum on declaring independence. He said he believes that a majority of the population would support such a proposition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

BERLIN TO HELP SUPPORT ETHNIC GERMANS IN RUSSIA. Johann Welt, the representative of the German government for settlers' affairs, said in Yekaterinburg on 7 September that Berlin will provide financial and other support for ethnic German communities in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

ST. PETERSBURG RESIDENTS VIEW BALTS AS 'ENEMIES.' A poll conducted by the Institute of Sociology and reported by "The St. Petersburg Times" on 4 September found that 20 percent of the residents of the northern capital view Estonia and Lithuania as enemies of Russia, and that 25 percent have that opinion of Latvia. Outside the city, in Leningrad Oblast, the poll found, those figures were even higher. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

ANTI-SEMITES MORE ACTIVE AS ANTI-SEMITISM RECEDES. According to an article in "Vremya MN" on 6 September, Russian anti-Semites have become more active over the last few months, desecrating Jewish cemeteries and burning synagogues, even though popular anti-Semitism is in decline. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

TUBERCULOSIS EPIDEMIC HITS ST. PETERSBURG JAILS. The percentage of people infected with tuberculosis in the jails of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast is now 60 times higher than within the population at large, Interfax Northwest reported on 6 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

BUTYRKA ESCAPEES STILL AT LARGE. The three men sentenced to life in prison who escaped from Moscow's Butyrka prison on 5 September remained at large as of 8 September, Russian agencies reported. This was despite the use of lie detectors, dogs, and the setting up of a reward for any information about their whereabouts. Meanwhile, their escape focused attention on the problems of Russian prisons. "Izvestiya" reported on 7 September that jailbreaks have become increasingly common and are likely to become more so. And the paper asked several people in its "theme of the day" feature whether they would turn in someone who had fled from prison. All responded with a variation of "it would depend." Meanwhile, Interfax reported the same day that it will devote more than 14 billion rubles ($340 million) over the next five years to improve the country's places of incarceration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

30,000 RUSSIAN SOLDIERS SAID BEATEN EACH YEAR. According to estimates by the Soldiers' Mothers' Committee, approximately 30,000 Russian soldiers are beaten by their officers or fellow soldiers every year, Interfax reported on 9 September. Officials of the committee said that in the past year alone, 15,000 soldiers and their parents have appealed to the committee for assistance. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

DRAFT RELIGIOUS POLICY REVISED AGAIN. The latest revisions to one of the two draft religious policies followed comments to its authors, the Institute for State-Confessional Relations and Law and Moscow justice department official Vladimir Zhbankov, from Muslim and Orthodox leaders, ISCRL director Igor Ponkin told Keston News Service. The latest draft narrows the definition of 'traditional' faiths to exclude newer forms of traditional faiths, especially in the Muslim and Buddhist communities. (Keston News Service, 10 September)

NO RELIGIOUS POLICY DOCUMENT AFTER ALL? Even as the two draft religious policies continue to circulate, presidential administration religious affairs official Aleksandr Kudryavtsev told Keston News Service that such policies have not been commissioned by the government and are not needed. He said they remain the personal initiative of their respective authors. (Keston News Service, 10 September)

KREMLIN DOES NOT TRUST ORTHODOX CHURCH LEADERSHIP. Maksim Meyer, the head of the presidential administration's internal policy department, has told the Keston News Service that the Kremlin does not trust the Orthodox Church hierarchy, believing it to be "dishonest" and involved in "intrigues," KNS reported on 7 September. Meyer said that religious issues rarely come to the attention of President Putin himself. But he said that the presidential administration does not see a suitable candidate to replace current Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II or to have reached a proper understanding of Islam. Meanwhile, on 10 September, the patriarch said in St. Petersburg that the church and state have a great deal of common work to do to achieve the spiritual and social renewal of the country, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

ORTHODOX CHURCH IN NO HURRY TO CANONIZE FATHER MEN. Speaking on 10 September at an international conference in Moscow on the 11th anniversary of the murder, still unsolved, of Russian Orthodox priest Father Aleksandr Men, Metropolitan Yuvenalii of Krutitsk and Kolomna said the church recognizes Father Men's contribution to Russian Christianity's revival at the end of the Soviet period, but that it has not yet received any of the information it would need to declare him a saint, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

BUDDHISTS URGE PUTIN TO SUPPORT VISIT BY DALAI LAMA. The All-Russian Council of Buddhist Organizations has invited the Dalai Lama to visit Russia in 2002, and at the same time has asked President Putin to help facilitate the visit, Interfax reported on 10 September. The council itself was organized at a meeting held in Moscow on 7-9 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

PUTIN SAID TO PROMISE TO LOOK INTO DENIAL OF TRANSIT VISA TO DALAI LAMA. A spokesman for Kalmykian President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov said that President Putin has promised to look into the reasons why the Foreign Ministry denied a transit visa to the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, Ekho Moskvy reported on 8 September. Ilyumzhinov reportedly raised that issue with the Russian leader, and Putin said he will seek to "resolve the issue positively." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

RUSSIA'S MUSLIMS MORE DEVOUT THAN ITS ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS, POLL SUGGESTS. According to a poll conducted by the ROMIR agency and reported by "Izvestiya" on 8 September, 73.6 percent of the Russian population identifies itself as Orthodox Christian while 4 percent say they are Muslims, and less than 2 percent identify with other creeds. But if almost half of all the Christians do not go to church regularly or believe in the basic provisions of their faith, three quarters of Russian Muslims believe in Allah and other features of Islam, the poll suggested. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

SOCIOLOGIST SAYS RUSSIANS BECOMING HAPPIER, MORE CONFIDENT. Sociologist Boris Dubin said in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 8 September that Russians are becoming happier and more confident, not so much because of specific changes in their own lives but because they now feel that there is someone in charge in the government. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

AVERAGE AGE OF FIRST USE OF ILLEGAL DRUGS FALLING. Deputy Health Minister Yevgenii Detkov said that the average age of first experimentation with illegal drugs is falling, with more and more children taking drugs for the first time before the age of 13, "Megapolis-Kontinent" reported on 7 September. Detkov added that at present, Russia has only 5,000 doctors who specialize in treating drug addiction. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

A MEASURE OF DEMOGRAPHIC DECLINE. According to an article in "Vremya MN" on 8 September, one measure of Russia's demographic problems is that "a Russian boy born today according to the calculations of specialists will live just as long as would have lived an American boy born in 1931." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

90 TONS OF RADIOACTIVE WASTE BURIED IN MOSCOW EACH YEAR. According to a report in "Megapolis-Kontinent" on 7 September, up to 90 tons of radioactive waste are buried inside the city limits of the Russian capital each year. Officials noted that the city must clean up some 80 sites each year as excavation of new buildings uncovers old and previously unmarked nuclear waste sites. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

RATS ARRIVE IN KOMSOMOLSK-NA-AMURE IN DROVES. Officials in the Khabarovsk Krai city of Komsomolsk-na-Amure told Interfax on 6 September that the number of rats entering the city has reached unprecedented proportions. They noted that rats are so numerous that they are not afraid of people, routinely appear in the daytime, and even show up in postal boxes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

TRASH THREATENS RUSSIA'S WELL-BEING. Maria Karymova, the press secretary of the Russian Ecological Union, told Interfax on 8 September that trash thrown out by individual Russians and by Russian firms threatens the health and well-being of the country's population, especially because most Russian landfills are located so close to population centers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

FROM SUBS TO KEGS. The Miass engineering plant, which in the past manufactured submarine-launched missiles, now plans to produce equipment for the beer-brewing industry, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. The firm will have an annual production capacity of 100,000 beer kegs a year and will thus become Russia's largest producer of beer kegs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

AUTHORITIES FIND ANOTHER MASS GRAVE. Serbian police said in a statement on 9 September that they have found "26 unidentified bodies and body parts near Lake Perucac, not far from the town of Uzice," AP reported from Belgrade. The bodies are believed to be those of Kosova Albanians dumped in the lake from a freezer truck in 1999. An unidentified police official told the news agency that "after locals noticed floating corpses in April 1999, the bodies...were removed from the lake and transferred to a mass grave." This is but the latest in a series of grisly discoveries by the Serbian police since the ouster of former President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

GOVERNMENT APPROVES REGIONAL REFORM DRAFT LAW. The cabinet headed by Premier Mikulas Dzurinda on 5 September approved a draft bill transferring prerogatives over the management of health care and pensions from central authorities to local administrations, CTK and international agencies reported. The bill gives regional parliaments more control over their own finances. Dzurinda told journalists that the draft bill will reach the parliament by the end of this week, making it possible for the legislature to approve it by the end of September. The Hungarian Coalition Party has threatened to leave the cabinet unless the local administration reform is enlarged and approved by the parliament by the end of this month. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT 'REGRETS' DECENTRALIZATION NOT LARGE ENOUGH FOR SMK. A resolution of the European Parliament regarding Slovakia's progress in EU accession talks said the parliament "regrets" that the Local Public Administration Law approved by the Slovak legislature has failed to accommodate the demands of the Hungarian minority, CTK reported on 5 September. The resolution includes critical remarks on the situation of the Romany minority in Slovakia and on trafficking of women, but praised Slovakia for having fulfilled the EU's political criteria and for having scored successes in the economy. It said Slovakia has accelerated privatization and has caught up with the leading candidates for EU accession. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

'JEWISH CODE' COMMEMORATRED. A series of commemorative events began on 6 September in Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia, marking 60 years since the passing of the so-called "Jewish Code," which eventually led to the deportation and the extermination of most of Slovakia's 70,000 Jews, CTK reported. The code was made up of 270 anti-Jewish laws, decrees, and edicts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

PRESIDENT PAYS HOMAGE TO HOLOCAUST VICTIMS. President Rudolf Schuster, speaking at a ceremony in Kremnicka, central Slovakia, on 9 September, said that "the genocide of the Jewish people during World War II must be constantly remembered, because many people have started to underestimate" its extent and its lessons, CTK reported. Schuster called for work among young people to explain the Holocaust and said punishment for Holocaust denial and for racial or religion offenses must be stiffened. He said Slovak legislation on those offenses is "weak." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)

NEW WAVE OF ASYLUM SEEKERS HITS SWEDEN. Over 100 asylum seekers from Slovakia have arrived in Sweden in the last three weeks, CTK reported on 7 September, citing Swedish Immigration Office official Inge Lagerstroem. Lagerstroem said a large number of the applicants, but not all of them, were Roma, and that none of them have been granted refugee status. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

MINISTER'S ASSASSINATION, BOMB BLAST CAST PALL OVER INDEPENDENCE CELEBRATIONS. Tajikistan's Minister of Culture Abdurahim Rahimov was shot dead outside his home in Dushanbe early on 8 September by a lone gunman who then escaped. It was the third such killing of a senior government official so far this year. Law-enforcement officials described the shooting as "a terrorist act," while President Imomali Rakhmonov condemned the unknown perpetrators as "enemies of the Tajik people." On 9 September a young man was killed when a homemade bomb he was carrying exploded some 500-1,000 meters away from a stadium in Dushanbe where Rakhmonov and other senior officials were attending festivities to mark the 10th anniversary of Tajikistan's independence. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September)

FURTHER RAID ON GREATER GRACE MEETING. Keston has learned that the police, the district administration, and the secret police have again raided a prayer meeting held by the Greater Grace Protestant church in Ashgabad, detaining and interrogating all those present. The Protestants were told that they are not allowed to meet for prayer as their church is not registered. (Keston News Service, 4 September)

TWO NATIONALISTS STAGE BLOODY PROTEST OVER ARREST OF COLLEAGUES. Two men from Ukraine's radical nationalist Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO) on 6 September slashed their stomachs and attempted to stick posters to Kyiv's independence monument with their blood, Reuters reported. The men were protesting against the continued detention of their 16 brothers-in-arms, including UNA-UNSO leader Andriy Shkil. Police arrested them on 9 April during a violent anti-presidential protest. The two 6 September protesters were detained and transported to a hospital. Police said their wounds are not life-threatening. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)

SPECIAL REPORT ON ABUSE OF LAW ON RELIGION. Although Uzbekistan's 1998 law regulating the activities of religious organizations nominally protects the right to freedom of conscience and religion, in practice it is being used not only to control but also to persecute members of religious minorities. A decree passed by the Uzbek Cabinet shortly after the law came into force gives local and district authorities almost unlimited power to refuse registration to religious communities. Keston has discovered that unregistered organizations such as the Baptist Bethany congregation are typically regarded as illegal by local Uzbek authorities and face increasing harassment as a result. (Keston News Service, 7 September)


By Paul Goble

The closure of Russian-language schools in Ukraine over the last decade has prompted ethnic Russian groups there to protest what they see as a policy designed to promote the assimilation of ethnic Russians into the Ukrainian nation.

Three ethnic Russian groups in Ukraine -- the Russian Movement of Ukraine, the Russian-Ukrainian Union, and For A Single Rus -- have announced plans to picket the Ukrainian education ministry this week because of what they say is Kyiv's policy of "liquidating Russian-language education in Ukraine and [promoting] the assimilation of Russians and Russian-language citizens."

According to a press release issued by the Russian Movement of Ukraine last week, the Ukrainian government over the last decade has changed the language of instruction in 1,300 schools from Russian to Ukrainian. As a result, the press release said, only 10 percent of the schools in the country are now conducted in Russian even though "not less than half of the population considers Russian to be its native language."

The Russian Movement said that this shift is taking place despite the wishes of parents and that written appeals to the education authorities have not produced any results. The group said that it will now engage in picketing government offices and other forms of protest in order to attract attention to this issue.

In most of the post-Soviet communist countries, questions concerning the language of instruction are among the most sensitive and contentious of all public issues. On the one hand, anything that touches the lives of children and their futures is something adults are likely to take seriously. And on the other hand, the debates taking place now reflect the continuing shadow of Soviet-era policies. But nowhere are these discussions more difficult than in Ukraine.

During the Soviet period, Moscow allowed union republics to have schools in their own national languages but promoted the use of Russian as the language of instruction both where there were sizeable numbers of ethnic Russians and where parents could be persuaded that learning the language of what was called "interethnic communication" would give their children a better chance in their future professional lives.

In Ukraine, both these groups were numerous. By 1989, the date of the last Soviet census, ethnic Russians constituted more than 20 percent of the population of Ukraine. And many Ukrainians whose language is closely related to Russian accepted happily or not that having their children go to Russian-language schools was career-enhancing.

But with the end of the Soviet Union, many Ukrainians, like their counterparts in other post-Soviet republics, decided that they could and should promote their national language as part of their general effort at nation and state-building. Indeed, many of them felt that changing over to Ukrainian was almost a patriotic duty.

Such attitudes became even more widespread as Ukrainians recognized that the Russian Federation where millions of Ukrainians live -- the exact number is a matter of dispute -- did not in the past and has not now provided any Ukrainian-language schools for its citizens. And many Ukrainians were upset that international bodies that regularly urged Ukraine to keep Russian-language schools never demanded that Russia open Ukrainian-language ones.

Kyiv's gradual shift in the language of instruction from Russian to Ukrainian in many schools is widely popular among Ukrainians. But not surprisingly, it is generating a backlash among ethnic Russians and among those Ukrainians who grew up speaking Russian. As a result, Ukraine now finds itself caught between Ukrainians who want their children to speak Ukrainian and ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians who want their children to speak Russian.

The picketing due to take place this week is unlikely to change anyone's mind. But it will certainly call attention to a political issue that is far from resolved, one that may ultimately be more important than economics or geopolitics in determining Ukraine's future.