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Media Matters: May 23, 2003

23 May 2003, Volume 3, Number 20
U.S. GOVERNMENT DONATES TV TRANSMITTER. A new $1 million television transmitter in Afghanistan, donated by the U.S. government, will increase the broadcast signal from the capital to five times its present strength, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). The new 500-watt transmitter, currently being installed in Kabul, will broadcast TV Kabul throughout a 100-kilometer radius, reaching areas such as Wardak Province for the first time. While the broadcasting equipment significantly improves the broadcasting capacity of Afghanistan in the post-Taliban era, nationwide coverage remains elusive. Abdul Hameed Mubarez, an official with the Information and Culture Ministry, said the problem would not be easy to fix. "We can't broadcast easily across the nation because it's so mountainous," he told IWPR. "We can do so only with the aid of foreign nations, who can help us install satellite communications." IWPR reported that Afghanistan's current domestic television programming is considered so boring that many viewers are turning to foreign cable and satellite stations that show movies and popular-music shows. There have been some calls for more entertainment programs, a greater female presence on television, and an end to censorship. CC

CABLE TV RESUMES IN KABUL DESPITE BAN. Cable television programs have resumed in Kabul, the Hindukosh news agency reported on 19 May. In January, Supreme Court Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari issued an order banning cable broadcasts. Deputy Justice Minister Mohammad Ashraf Rasuli said his ministry has yet to form an "appropriate framework" for cable-television programs. However, Abdul Jaber Abed, a senior researcher at Afghanistan's Academy of Sciences, said programs aired by such networks as the BBC, CNN, and Al-Jazeera "are beneficial" to Afghans, "especially those who need education." The Supreme Court has apparently not formally approved the resumption of cable-television broadcasts and a final legal ruling might be delayed until Afghanistan adopts its new constitution in October. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)

EDITORS APPEAL TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE. The Council of Editors has written to Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) President Peter Schieder complaining about criticism of and reprisals against opposition newspapers in recent weeks allegedly in retaliation for their coverage of President Heidar Aliev's undisclosed medical problems, Turan reported on 19 May. They specifically complained that President Aliev's son, Ilham, who heads Azerbaijan's PACE delegation, has refused to answer questions from some opposition newspapers, accusing them of immoral and insensitive coverage of his father's illness. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)

PRO-GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION MEDIA LAUNCH DIALOGUE. The recently created Press Council convened a discussion in Baku on 14 May among editors of 10 pro-regime and 10 opposition newspapers, Turan reported. After a heated exchange of mutual accusations, the two camps agreed on the need to respect one another and to avoid using insulting epithets. Unidentified participants advocated a meeting with representatives of the presidential administration to address the problems of access to official information and the recent restrictions on the sale of some opposition newspapers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

EDITOR FINED FOR DEFAMING PRESIDENT. A district court in Minsk fined Pavel Kanavalchyk 1.4 million Belarusian rubles ($700) on 20 May for defaming Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. Kanavalchyk is editor in chief of the independent, satirical periodical "Navinki." The charge stems from a "Navinki" article illustrated with two 2001 campaign posters of Lukashenka with mocking captions, one suggesting that his suit was too expensive for his declared salary, and the other saying Lukashenka was wearing the suit of his opponent, ousted parliamentary speaker Syamyon Sharetski. Kanavalchyk said he will appeal the verdict. According to official data, the average monthly wage in Belarus is slightly more than $100. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May)

PRESIDENT ORDERS PRODUCTION OF FILM TO MARK 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF WWII VICTORY. On 14 May, President Lukashenka also decided that the government will sponsor a war movie to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, Belarusian Television reported. The script of the movie will be based on the successful play "Radavyya" (Privates) by Belarusian playwright Alyaksey Dudarau, which debuted in Minsk in 1984 and was subsequently staged by more than 100 theaters throughout the Soviet Union. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

TOP BRASS CRITICIZES LAW ON CLASSIFIED INFORMATION. Speaking in Sofia on 16 May after a meeting with the ambassadors of the NATO member states, Chief of the General Staff General Nikola Kolev repeated his criticism of the law on classified information, reported. Kolev said the law lacks clear definitions of what is classified information as well of the institutions dealing with such information. The general also deplored the fact that while the law mentions persons controlling access to classified information, the authors of the law seem to have forgotten those who are keeping and creating the secrets -- that is, the army and the armed forces. Kolev said last week that the law is impeding the army's work, as it stipulates complicated security checks for officers before they are allowed access to classified information. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May)

NEW RADIO PROGRAM FOR EMIGRE COMMUNITY LAUNCHED. State-run Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) has launched a new radio program for the country's large diaspora community, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 16 May. Glas Hrvatske (Voice of Croatia) is modeled on similar programs by the BBC, VOA, and Radio France International. Apart from Croatian, the program will also be broadcast in English and Spanish. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May)

MEDIA MOGUL UNSEATED AMID GROWING POLITICAL PRESSURE. Senator Vladimir Zelezny, the longtime director of the country's dominant television station, was dismissed by the broadcaster's owners on 14 May as public and political pressure on TV Nova intensified, local media reported. The station's own nightly news program, for years accused by critics of baseness and favoritism toward loyal politicians, announced the ouster the same day, reading from a press release by owners from the PPF and MEF investment groups. Local media on 15 May speculated that two events might have forced those investors' hands: an expected ruling by a Swedish court on 15 May over whether the Czech state must comply with a Stockholm arbitration court's decision to grant former investors at TV Nova some $353 million in damages; and the naming in recent weeks of a majority of new members of the Czech Radio and Television Broadcasting Council, which polices the sector. No new director was named, spawning speculation that Zelezny might be reinstated once the political storm blows over. Zelezny, who was elected to the Czech Senate in 2002, faces fraud and tax-evasion charges in connection with his nearly 10-year tenure at TV Nova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

STATE BROADCASTING REJECTS LEGISLATIVE INVESTIGATION. On 13 May, 172 members of parliament demanded an investigation into alleged multimillion-dollar financial offenses by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), IRNA reported. A 228-page report on IRIB was read out during the 7 May session of parliament, and senior officials of the organization were blamed for major infractions, such as concealing revenues, insufficient documentation and accounting, and failure to pay customs and duties, "Hambastegi" and "Resalat" reported on 8 May. The report also noted a lack of cooperation from IRIB. The head of IRIB dismissed this report as being cursory, denied all charges of financial misconduct, and said he will turn to the judiciary, IRNA reported on 12 May. ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 May)

GLOOMY PRESS SITUATION. The total circulation of Iranian dailies dropped from 2.5 million in the 1990s to 1.6 million in early 2000, according to Taha Hashemi, the managing director of the centrist Persian daily "Entekhab," "Iran Daily" reported on 14 May. Hashemi attributed the decline to "the people's wrath and the deepening gulf between the print media and the masses." A 14 May editorial in the reformist daily "Mardom Salari" described this year's annual "press festival" as the "gloomiest" in the event's 10-year history. Describing Iran's remaining newspapers as working in a "mine-infested battlefield," the paper said Iran's press has always been "the accessible scapegoat." That is why, "Mardom Salari" explained, some 90 newspapers have been banned in the past three years. (RFE/RL Iran Report, 19 May)

SPECIAL JUDICIARY BRANCH TO DEAL WITH INTERNET OFFENSES. The Iranian judiciary has set up a special branch to deal with "Internet offenses," the Tehran reformist daily "Yas-i No" reported on 15 May. "Its judges have been learning about computers for some time now," the paper revealed. A 10 May "Yas-i No" commentary criticizing the Internet restrictions, which recently increased in Iran, pointed out that no legislation has been passed that would provide a legal framework for limiting the use of the Internet. Government restrictions only "lead to clandestine activity," it said. Iran is one of the world's most prolific sources of cyber attacks, because "Iran's bored youth" are wasting their enormous potential by hacking Internet sites, according to "Yas-i No." ("RFE/RL Newsline, 16 May)

OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER REPORTED BANNED IN NORTHERN KAZAKHSTAN. The Kazakh-language independent newspaper "Respublika-Assandi Times" reported on 16 May that it has apparently been banned in the Pavlodar Oblast of northern Kazakhstan. According to the report, a distributor taking copies of the publication to the town of Ekibastuz on 11 May was told by local police that the newspaper has been banned. They did not explain the reason for the ban. The distributor was reported to have said that the police pointed to photographs of leaders of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) coalition that appeared on the last page of the newspaper and stated that "these people are criminals, not politicians." The article did not say whether the photographs included former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, a DVK co-founder who is presently serving a prison term for abuse of office -- a charge the Kazakh opposition insists was invented to stop Zhaqiyanov's political activity. "Respublika-Assandi Times" says it has demanded an explanation from Pavlodar Oblast officials and the Interior Ministry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)

CONCERN OVER PUBLIC-BROADCASTING BILL. The Administrative Council of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has reason "to fear the worst for the future of public broadcasting" in Kosova, particularly Radio Television Kosova (RTK), according to a 16 May EBU press release. The EBU played a key role in setting up RTK which, various sources today see as fulfilling "the traditional role of a European-type public service broadcasting organization, to the best of its ability" under present economic circumstances. The EBU has recently signed a cooperation agreement with the RTK. Such positive trends in Kosova public broadcasting, according to the EBU, appear to be "under serious threat, owing to a draft law which, if adopted, would remove [RTK's] economic basis. In addition, the EBU is concerned that a decision seems to have been made to adopt the law "in the shortest possible time," without giving any real chance to organizations such as the Council of Europe or the EBU to express a reasoned opinion on the latest draft. CC

TELERADIO MOLDOVA STRIKE COMMITTEE TURNS ITSELF INTO 'ANTICENSORSHIP COMMITTEE'... The committee that organized the strike at Teleradio Moldova last year announced on 19 May that it is transforming itself into a body calling itself the Anticensorship Committee for Electronic Media (CAPE), Flux reported. The committee said that not only has censorship not decreased under new Teleradio Moldova President Ion Gonta, but he has introduced new forms of "disguised censorship" and "psychological terror" against the outlet's journalists. The committee's members say journalists fear speaking to each other in their offices because Gonta has warned them that he "knows everything that we speak and think" and is constantly threatening them with dismissal. "Ion Gonta creates an atmosphere of mutual suspicion among the staff. He encourages Soviet-style journalism of a totalitarian type," the committee said in a statement. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)

...UNION OF JOURNALISTS EXPELS TELERADIO MOLDOVA DIRECTOR. The Union of Moldovan Journalists announced on 20 May that it has expelled Teleradio Moldova Director Ion Gonta, Flux reported. The union said the sanction was prompted by Gonta having anchored a program aired on Moldovan television in which female journalists working for the opposition "Accente" publication were shown naked while visiting a sauna in Chisinau. The union said the broadcast violated the journalists' right to privacy, since they were filmed in secret and without their consent. It also said that while showing the footage, Gonta made "indecent and disgusting comments." In related news, Gonta on 20 May refused to comment on the accusations against him aired the previous day by the newly established Anticensorship Committee. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May)

JOURNALISTS INTERROGATED BY PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE... Igor Burciu, editor in chief of the "Flux" daily, and his deputy Vitalie Calugareanu were interrogated on 14 May by prosecutors, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The publication's editorial offices were searched on 13 May. The prosecutors demanded that they reveal the sources used for reports the daily published that alleged that arms were delivered from Moldova to Arab terrorists and which named former Lebanese Honorary Consul Hammud Mahmud as a member of Lebanese Hizballah and alleged his involvement in the affair. Burciu and Calugareanu were warned that their failure to comply will lead to a further search of the newspaper's offices. On 15 May, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported that officers from the Security and Information Services raided the "Flux" editorial offices. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

...AND CLAIM MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT IS TRYING TO PRESSURE THEM. Following the 15 May raid of the offices of the daily "Flux," its journalists issued a statement saying the raid by Service of Security and Information (SIS) personnel constituted an attempt by President Voronin to intimidate them, "Flux" reported They said that the officer in charge of the raid sought the real identity of a journalist published in "Flux " on 20 April under the pseudonym Ion Manole. The article the journalist wrote alleged the involvement of former Lebanese Honorary Consul to Moldova Mahmud Hamud in arms smuggling from Moldova on behalf of the terrorist Hizballah organization. The journalists said the real reason for the raid was intimidation, and that it was an attempt to uncover the daily's information sources. They said if the SIS wants to learn more about Hamud's alleged dealings, all it has to do is question former SIS Director Valeriu Pasat, whose October 2001 report to parliament stated that Hamud had links to Hizballah. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)

SUPREME COURT THROWS OUT ORDER THAT JOURNALISTS APOLOGIZE TO PRESIDENT. The Supreme Court on 14 May rejected a lower-court ruling obliging journalists Jacek Lecki and Rafal Kasparow of the now-defunct "Zycie" daily to apologize to President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Polish media reported. In 1997, Lecki and Kasprow wrote in "Zycie" that Kwasniewski spent holidays in 1994 in the same hotel and at the same time as a Russian intelligence officer. Kwasniewski subsequently won a slander suit against the journalists. The Supreme Court reasoned that a journalist need not be liable for the verity of printed material, provided that he or she has exercised care in seeking the truth while preparing it. The case is to be reexamined by the Court of Appeals. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

TELEVISION JOURNALIST STABBED IN YEKATERINBURG. Aleksandr Stetsun, a journalist with Urals Television Agency (TAU), an independent station in Yekaterinburg was stabbed on 19 May, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported. The attack occurred as Stetsun was standing outside his home waiting for colleagues to pick him up for work, according to local media reports. Stetsun later told colleagues that he thought that the assailant had hit him accidentally as he ran by him. However, when his friends arrived several minutes later, they noticed a screwdriver-like object stuck in Stetsun's upper back. They rushed him to the hospital, and he is currently recovering at home. Police questioned Stetsun and his colleagues after the attack and have opened a criminal investigation into the incident. Stetsun's colleagues suspect that the attack might be connected to his work, which has been critical of local politicians. CC

PROSECUTOR OPENS CRIMINAL CASES AGAINST NATIONALIST PUBLICATIONS. Investigators have opened criminal cases against three nationalist newspapers in connection with alleged incitement of ethnic hatred, reported on 16 May. Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Savchenko opened a case against the magazine "Russkaya pravda," and officials in the Moscow and Samara branches of the Prosecutor-General's Office have opened cases against the magazine "Rusich" and the newspaper "Aleks-inform," respectively. In February, State Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko) sent a written appeal to the Prosecutor-General's Office on behalf of a public committee formed last year to battle fascism, extremism, xenophobia, and nationalism. Mitrokhin's letter called attention to the "unlawful actions" of those who distribute publications that call for exiling or exterminating Jews or insult Christians and peoples from Asia and the Caucasus. Inciting ethnic hatred is prohibited by Russia's Criminal Code and can lead to the closure of a media outlet under Russia's law on the mass media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May)

PARLIAMENT PRESSURES STATE BROADCASTER ON COVERAGE? On 15 May, the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) expressed its support for Serbian Radio and Television's (RTS) position that the Serbian parliament's Culture and Information Committee has no right to demand that RTS resume live broadcasts of parliamentary sessions. ANEM believes that the political arena does not have the right to influence the state media's editorial policies and that RTS should decide how best to inform viewers about parliamentary activities. CC

SLOVAK TELEVISION REQUESTS STATE BAILOUT... Slovak Television has asked the Finance Ministry to defray the public broadcaster's 2002 and 2003 losses and cover the costs of a severance-pay package for hundreds of employees who will be laid off at the end May, TASR reported. Under new management, the debt-ridden station is asking for nearly 1 billion crowns ($24 million), promising that the package will settle all its financial problems and that it will mark the last such request. In a press release, Slovak Television's management vows that the institution will seek no budget subsidies in the future and will be financed solely through license rights and advertising fees. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)

...AND SLOVAK TELEVISION TRADE UNIONS WANT DIRECTOR DISMISSED OVER LAYOFFS. Unions representing journalists and other staff employed by Slovak Television on 20 May demanded the dismissal of Slovak Television Director Richard Rybicek, CTK reported. The unions object to Rybicek's plan for massive layoffs in an attempt to bring the station's lingering debts and budget under control. Rybicek announced on 19 May that 1,015 of Slovak Television's 2,000 employees are to be made redundant. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May)

PARLIAMENT SEEKS TO UNCOVER PRESIDENT'S PUBLICITY 'SPONSORS.' Following an initiative by lawmaker Mykola Tomenko from Our Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada on 20 May requested that Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun investigate who finances some of President Leonid Kuchma's activities, UNIAN reported. Tomenko told journalists that, under Ukrainian law, the activities of the president should be financed exclusively from the state budget. Tomenko added that it is unclear who paid for mailings from the president to Ukrainian citizens on holidays or billboards encouraging support for Kuchma's political-reform proposals. Ukrainian media have reported that "millions of Ukrainians" received postcards early this year from Kuchma with New Year's wishes. Yuriy Dahayev of the presidential administration said unidentified sponsors contributed 1.44 million hryvnyas ($270,000) for that mailing campaign. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May)

VETERAN TV EDITOR FIRED AFTER LIVE BROADCAST SHOWS PRESIDENT IN BAD LIGHT. Uzbek state television has fired its chief political editor, Ahmadjon Ibrahimov, after he broadcast live footage of people sleeping through a speech by President Islam Karimov at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) conference in Tashkent on 4 May, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) reported on 19 May. Ibrahimov was also criticized for showing Karimov with his head in his hands after EBRD chairwoman, British MP Clare Short, subjected him to harsh criticism. The incident at the EBRD conference "sent shockwaves across the country," according to IWPR, since the state-controlled media do not usually disseminate any criticism of the president. Millions of television viewers in Uzbekistan watched Short tell Karimov, "There are particular concerns in Uzbekistan about lack of respect for freedom of religion, the prevalence of torture, and the failure of the judicial system to protect the rights of citizens." Ibrahimov, who worked for Uzbek state television for 37 years, admitted that he was responsible. "It was very noisy and I didn't notice that the camera was directed at sleeping people during President Karimov's speech," he said. "The fact that I showed Karimov in such a [depressed] state wasn't welcomed either." After the broadcast, the 64-year-old editor and two cameramen were summoned to state television director Ahmad Azam's office where Ibrahimov was fired and the two camera operators were sternly reprimanded. The channel's deputy chairman, Farkhad Ruziev, was disciplined for letting Ibrahimov oversee coverage of the conference. CC

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS RUSSIAN MEDIA DISTORTION OF U.S. DIPLOMAT'S STATEMENT. In a statement released on 14 May, the Georgian Foreign Ministry accused the state-owned Russian news agency RIA-Novosti of engaging in deliberate disinformation in its coverage of comments by U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow at an international conference in Moscow, Caucasus Press reported. The agency quoted Vershbow as saying that the threat of international terrorism against Russia emanates from Georgia and that terrorist camps have been discovered in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. According to Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze, Vershbow actually said Georgia and the United States have been successfully cooperating in the fight against international terrorism and in liquidating members of Al-Qaeda who took refuge in Pankisi. "We have also dealt a heavy blow to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, another terrorist threat to Russia's south. And we have made great strides, working with Georgia, to root out terrorist forces and camps with links to Al-Qaeda in the Pankisi Gorge," Vershbow said, according to a U.S. State Department transcript. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)

IFLA INVITES LIBRARIANS FOR INFORMATION SOCIETY SUMMIT. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) will hold a conference on 3-4 November in Geneva, Switzerland for librarians in preparation for the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society. IFLA invites librarians to share their views on the importance of free access to information and public archives and how their libraries successfully use Internet technologies. IFLA plans to produce a brochure for distribution at the summit. For more information, see CC

UNESCO SEMINAR ON MEDIA ASSISTANCE IN CONFLICT ZONES. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) will host a seminar in Stockholm on 25-27 May for nongovernmental organizations, donors, and UN agencies to discuss media assistance in conflict zones. For more information, contact CC

EUROPEAN ONLINE JOURNALISM AWARDS. Any European journalist may enter the European Online Journalism Awards competition in 21 categories by 31 May. To see profiles of last year's winners and to obtain an entry form, see CC

COMPETITION TO ATTRACT YOUNG NEWSPAPER READERS. The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) invites submissions by 1 July for its annual World Young Reader Prize. The prize will be awarded to a newspaper that has devised the most innovative educational program or activity during the past year to help develop young readership. For more, see CC


By Charles Carlson

Some of the world's earliest and most splendid libraries arose between the 2nd century B.C. and the 16th century along the fabled Silk Road, which linked China with Europe via Central Asia. But many of the libraries that the now independent states of Central Asia inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union have -- over the past 12 years -- fallen victim to neglect, theft, and inadequate funding.

"Some rare books are disappearing from libraries and are sold off in books stalls at a very low price," Uzbek political scientist Rustam Djumayev told RFE/RL. He noted that there has been a decline in the professional qualifications of library staff over the past decade, especially in the provinces and said this might be one of the reasons why rare books are being stolen and offered for sale.

In some cases, desperate thieves are motivated by a desire to raise money to feed their families. But other thefts are part of more sophisticated criminal operations to steal rare books and offer them for sale to wealthy collectors. ITAR-TASS reported earlier this month that Kyrgyz and Russian intelligence officials cooperated to arrest a criminal group that had stolen some 40 rare volumes from libraries in Kyrgyzstan and taken them to Moscow for resale. Some of the volumes bore the autograph of Russian Tsar Nicholas II and were worth an estimated $1,000 each. Chinara Asenova, who heads the press office of the Kyrgyz National Security Service, says the books in question were published between 1802 and 1910 and bore stamps marking them as state property.

In an interview with RFE/RL, a member of the staff at the Kyrgyz National Library in Bishkek -- who wished to remain anonymous -- denied any books had been stolen. She acknowledged, however, that security needs to be tightened to prevent future thefts and admitted that the National Library does not have the funds to do so. "These books were not stolen from our library," she said. "There is not the signature [special code] of our library in the [stolen] books. Maybe it had happened in the 1930s or 1940s. We don't have a stolen [book] now. This is a time of book shortages. Our aim is to strengthen the guards, but we don't have enough money for that."

Kyrgyzstan's Deputy Education and Culture Minister Sultan Rayev said his ministry plans to take action to prevent further thefts. "There are some facts about lost rare books [in the country]. This is a huge loss for our spiritual culture. That is why we, in the [Education and Culture Ministry], are trying to protect and restore rare books," Rayev said. "This won't happen again in the future. We are strictly controlling the state libraries."

Baktygul Myrayeva, director of the Osh Oblast Library in southern Kyrgyzstan, blames thefts on lax lending policies, inadequate security, and a failure to catalog library holdings to identify the most valuable books. "I think that strict control of the rare books should be maintained," Myrayeva said. "This has been a mistake by our librarians, because these books have to be under special control. They should not be given out. If you give them out, the books will be given from one hand to another and, eventually, they will be lost. Rare books have to be kept in a special room with special conditions."

Some stolen volumes have been offered for sale abroad. A representative of Harrassowitz Verlag, a respected German firm that deals in books on Turkic peoples, confirmed to RFE/RL that his company has received inquiries from rare-book sellers in the former Soviet Union. The spokesman says such offers are automatically refused.

Rare books are lost not only through theft. Many libraries in Central Asia occupy buildings that are dilapidated and vulnerable to fire and flooding. The basement of the library of Tajikistan's Medical University was inundated during recent floods in Dushanbe. Local authorities were unable to provide pumps to remove the water, so students and library staff salvaged books one by one. Librarian Salomat Khayrulleoyeva told RFE/RL that it is still too early to say how many books were lost. She said the library is hoping an international sponsor will help replace any damaged volumes.

In addition, financial constraints prevent many smaller libraries are prevented from acquiring new books. Djumayev told RFE/RL that since its independence, Uzbekistan has acquired many volumes on subjects that during the Soviet era had been strictly controlled, including political science, management, and sociology. But most new acquisitions are confined to the Alisher Navoi State Library, the largest library in Tashkent. The Navoi Library houses almost 5 million volumes, including a collection of manuscripts and rare books, some of them dating to before the October 1917 Revolution. A new building is under construction.

Kazakhstan has adopted its own approach to libraries. Smaller libraries are being closed and their holdings transferred to larger libraries in the biggest city in each of the country's 14 oblasts. The surviving libraries are reportedly benefiting from increases in funding.

Tursyn Zhurtbay is director of the Otyrar Research Library at the Eurasian University in Astana. He says Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmaghambetov has pledged support for building a new library in the capital that would be modeled on the ancient library in Alexandria, Egypt. "The main idea of the creation of such a library is to collect all the ancient materials concerning the history of Kazakhs from all over the world in one place," he said. "I mean books, research papers, and other materials. Our task is scientifically to sort all the gathered materials, to research them. The second task is to gather also all the materials available within our country." Zhurtbay noted that among the 5,000 rare books and manuscripts housed in his library are valuable copies of 9th century documents written in the ancient Uighur script. He said the originals were preserved in Afghanistan but were reportedly destroyed during fighting.

Kazakhstan's National Library was founded in 1936 and contains some 5.5 million volumes, including some rare books and manuscripts dating to the 12th century and early recordings of Kazakh national music. The library hopes the government will recognize the need to preserve historic documentation as part of state policy.

In contrast to the National Library, the library at the Presidential Cultural Center in Astana has identified the most valuable items among its collection of 700,000 volumes. Access to them is strictly limited. "This library is the biggest part of the Presidential Cultural Center," said library Director Asia Suleymenova. "We have inherited all the books of the old Saken Seyfullin Library in Astana. Our library is based upon that old library. We have more than 700,000 books and documents. Among them there are rare and ancient books, as well. Those books are not available for all the readers. Only in special cases do we give them to some researchers, and it is prohibited to photocopy them." But it was an oblast library -- the Aleksandr Pushkin Library in East Kazakhstan Oblast -- that was the first in the country to create electronic databases and an electronic catalog.

Amateur historians in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan who live outside the countries' capitals or other large cities are finding it increasingly difficult to gain access to unique materials. But scholars wishing to study Islam are in an even worse situation, because the only books in national libraries devoted to that subject are the few that have been acquired in the past 12 years.

Charles Carlson is a Prague-based RFE/RL correspondent.