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Media Matters: May 21, 2001

21 May 2001, Volume 1, Number 15
'PARTLY FREE' MEDIA. The U.S.-based NGO Freedom House recently published its annual survey on the media in 187 countries in 2000. The general situation of the media in Armenia was rated as "partly free," although Freedom House noted that Armenia, along with Azerbaijan and Georgia, saw a decline in press freedom in 2000. The survey said that the new Civil Code increased penalties for libel to prison terms of up to three years. Freedom of speech can be restricted in the interests of state and public security, order, health, morality, and the rights and reputation of others. Journalists often exercise self-censorship when covering security agencies. The report noted that although direct threats and intimidation by officials are uncommon, authorities sometimes resort to economic pressure. The survey stresses that Armenia broadcast media are freer than the print media because most print media are unprofitable and financially dependent on sponsors, who often promote their own interests. Due to their larger audiences, broadcast media are more viable. Of a total of 900 registered media outlets in 1998, only about 200 are regularly active. The Freedom House report referred to the beating of a journalist by Interior Ministry officials, allegedly for a report on the investigation of the 1999 parliament attack. ("Yerevan Press Club Newsletter," 5-11 May)

YEREVAN-BAKU TV BRIDGE. Some five million viewers in Armenia and Azerbaijan took part in weekly interactive video dialogues from November 2000 to April 2001. "Front Line" was a series of 24 thematic, 30-minute space bridges produced by Internews Armenia and Internews Azerbaijan with "MIR" Interstate TV/Radio. The participants discussed a wide spectrum of bilateral problems, including resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. A mid-April opinion poll on the space bridge was conducted of 1,007 people in 11 Armenian cities by Internews Armenia and another poll by Internews Azerbaijan. The poll revealed that 88.5 percent of those polled had seen the TV bridge at least once and 31.2 percent of them were regular viewers. ("Yerevan Press Club Newsletter," 5-11 May)

OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER DEPUTY EDITOR SENTENCED, AMNESTIED. After a four-week trial, a Baku court sentenced Shayin Djafarli, deputy editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," to one year of corrective labor on 11 May on charges of hooliganism, Turan reported. But Djafarli was freed immediately under the terms of an amnesty. Djafarli was taken into custody in November 2000 after a scuffle in the paper's editorial office with residents of the village of Mashtaga, who were protesting the coverage in "Yeni Musavat" of political developments in Azerbaijan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)

MINSK: BRIEF RUSSIAN TV BLACKOUT. Television viewers throughout Belarus could not watch Russia's major channels -- ORT, RTR, and NTV -- from 9 p.m. local time on 8 May to nearly 10 a.m. the next day. During that time, the Russian channels' programs were replaced by Belarusian Television's Panarama newscast, an address by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to a Victory Day gathering of World War II veterans in Minsk, and a post-speech concert. The next morning Belarusians were offered Belarusian TV cartoons instead of a live broadcasts from ORT, RTR and NTV of a Moscow Victory Day military parade... Lukashenka told journalists on 9 May that the Belarusians were not able to watch the Moscow parade for "technical reasons." But Presidential Administration First Deputy Chief Uladzimir Zamyatalin explained that "It was implementation of the sovereignty of the Republic of Belarus..." according to Moscow's "Novye Izvestiya" newspaper when [the official] believed he was not on the air. Many Russian newspapers speculated that Lukashenka, by cutting off the Russian TV channels...was demonstrating to Moscow that he might do the same in the future should those channels become involved in promoting his opponents in this year's presidential elections. ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 May)

AUTHORITIES BLAME ABDUCTION OF CAMERAMAN ON GANG. Belarusian Deputy Prosecutor-General Mikhail Snyahir told journalists on 11 May that Dzmitry Zavadski, the missing cameraman of Russia's ORT television channel, was kidnapped on 7 July 2000 by a criminal gang led by Valery Ihnatovich, a former servicemen of a Belarusian Interior Ministry task force, Belarusian media reported. Belarusian investigators believe Zavadski was kidnapped by Ihnatovich and his group out of revenge. Zavadski filmed Ihnatovich's arrest by Russian federal forces in Chechnya and the video was subsequently shown on Russian television. "We have absolutely proven beyond all doubt who kidnapped Dzmitry [Zavadski].... We do not know Dzmitry's fate: whether he is dead or being hidden," investigator Ivan Branchel said, noting that Ihnatovich's case has already been sent to court. ORT correspondent Pavel Sheremet believes Zavadski's kidnapping was for political reasons, similar to the disappearances of Belarusian opposition politicians Viktar Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)

FREE MEDIA PROMOTE RECONCILIATION. The independent media in Bosnia are key to reducing the power and influence of nationalist groups and promoting national reconciliation, democracy, and integration into broader Euro-Atlantic institutions. Natasha Tesanovic, the director of Alternativa Televizija (ATV), and Senad Pecanin, editor-in-chief of the investigative magazine "Dani," told an RFE/RL briefing on 10 May that the independent media is virtually the only institution promoting these goals. Tesanovic said that independent media outlets in Bosnia face three serious challenges: the absence of other institutions of civil society, an economic collapse, and government pressures, including discouragement of advertisers. Both reporters stressed that balanced and objective coverage not only has helped to calm ethnic passions but also to improve government behavior; officials fear exposure, while ordinary people view the independent media as their ombudsmen. Because of their difficulties, both said that free media outlets would still need some outside funding, stressing that this is "the best possible investment" in stability and democracy in Bosnia. Asked about a possible American withdrawal from the Balkans, the speakers said that nationalist and extremist groups would likely reenter politics, undoing much of the progress the society has achieved over the last five years. (RFE/RL Press Release, 15 May)

TURKISH MINORITY ONLINE. "In Search of a Homogenous Nation: The Assimilation of Bulgaria's Turkish Minority, 1984-1985," London School of Economics, (MINELRES, 15 May)

CONCERN OVER RULING PARTY PRESSURE ON MEDIA. In a letter to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters without Borders (RSF) protested against the pressure which officials from the ruling Federation of Young Democrats (FIDESZ) alliance have brought to bear against the daily newspaper "Magyar Hirlap" and the RTL-Klub television station since the beginning of May. According to RSF, journalists from "Magyar Hirlap," one of the oldest and most influential newspapers in the country, were barred from entering the FIDESZ's congress on 5-6 May. The FIDESZ is the ruling party of Prime Minister Orban. The party spokesperson confirmed that "no 'Magyar Hirlap' reporters will henceforth be permitted to attend any event or gathering" of the FIDESZ. When a journalist protested the measure, the head of the party's press service responded that "'Magyar Hirlap' journalists can consult the official Hungarian press agency (MTI) in order to prepare their articles." The FIDESZ's reaction followed the publication of an article, "No one seeks the 'liquidation' of Viktor Orban and Laslo Koever [FIDESZ's president until 6 May] from political life." The article referred to a recent interview by one of the station's journalists with a Russian assassin. During the interview, the station's journalist asked "For what price would you assassinate the Hungarian prime minister?" The hired assassin answered the question without hesitation. The prime minister was not satisfied with the station's apology. Two RTL-Klub executives were forced to resign under government pressure. "Magyar Hirlap"'s editor-in-chief also apologized in an editorial for using the word "liquidation." The FIDESZ party spokesperson did not accept his apology, and said that the boycott "would remain in effect as long as the daily did not follow RTL-Klub's example," by dismissing the article's authors. (Reporters sans Frontieres, 10 May)

RESTRICTIVE MEDIA LAW RATIFIED ON WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY. On 3 May, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed into law restrictive amendments to the media law. As a result, retransmission of foreign TV and radio programs shall not exceed of the total volume of broadcasts by 50 percent as of 1 January 2002, and 20 percent as of 2003. Cable and on-air-cable broadcasts are exempt from these restrictions. Foreign broadcasts deemed in violation of Kazakhstan's Constitution will be banned. Furthermore, journalists must now receive consent for use of audio and video recording during interviews. An official government media oversight body will be set up. (Internews Kazakhstan, 16 May)

'MOST REPRESSIVE' MEDIA SYSTEM? In its recently-issued annual report on media freedom in 187 countries, Freedom House rated Kazakhstan along with Azerbaijan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan as having the "most repressive" media situation. (Internews Kazakhstan, 16 May)

FREEDOM OF SPEECH, PRESS RATED... In 2000, the Freedom of Speech Foundation "Adil soz" registered 612 legal violations and media conflicts in Kazakhstan. More than 85 percent of the 612 violations were infringements of freedoms, rights, and legal interests of mass media, journalists, and authors. Criminal threats against journalists and editors are particularly serious. (Internews Kazakhstan, 16 May)

...VIOLENT ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS NOTED. During 2000, "Adil soz" protested the killing of one journalist -- Dulat Tulegenov of the newspaper "Diapozon" in Aktobe -- and one attack on the editorial staff of the newspaper "Edil Zhayik" in Uralsk. Seven journalists were attacked and suffered injuries in Kazakhstan last year. (Internews Kazakhstan, 16 May)

NEW CULTURE MINISTER NAMED. A new minister of culture, information and public consent, Mukhtar Kul-Mukhamed, 41, was appointed in a 4 May presidential decree. He has a doctorate from Kazakh State University and is the former president of the publishing corporation "Atamura," and a former senator. Since June 2000, Kul-Mukhamed was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Social and Cultural Development. (Internews Kazakhstan, 16 May)

TWO JOURNALISM PRIZES. During World Press Freedom Day, the Soros-Kazakhstan Foundation presented two awards totaling $1,000 to Dulat Tulegenov (posthumously) and to the editor of the first Kazakh-language independent newspaper "At" for major contributions to the country's independent journalism. "At" was closed down by the Kazakhstan authorities in 1999. (Internews Kazakhstan, 16 May)

NEWSPAPER EDITOR FINED. A district court in Bishkek on 10 May fined Melis Eshimkanov, editor of the now defunct opposition newspaper "Asaba," 1,000 soms (about $20) for his participation in a 13 April protest against the paper's forced closure, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Communist Party Chairwoman Klara Ajybekova and Socialist Party leader Omurbek Tekebaev, who is deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament, face similar charges. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May)

NATO E-MAIL SAFETY CODES DEVELOPED. Specialists from the State Protection Office (UOP) have developed an e-mail safety code scheme for use in NATO countries' national security systems, PAP reported on 10 May. "This is in line with the best Polish traditions. After all, it was the Poles who broke [Nazi Germany's] Enigma [code]," Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek said during a meeting with UOP head Zbigniew Nowek. Nowek refused to elaborate on the new e-mail encryption system, saying only that it is better than those used in the U.S. and Germany. "We have been commissioned to train nine NATO candidates in security. This is a big distinction," Buzek said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May)

ANOTHER MOSCOW JOURNALIST ATTACKED. Interfax-Moscow reported on 12 May that unknown young people had attacked and robbed television journalist Aleksandr Livanskii in the southwestern section of the city. Meanwhile, Aleksei Venediktov, the chief editor of the radio station Ekho Moskvy, assessed the chances for successful talks with Gazprom-Media at "50-50," Interfax reported the same day. He said that searches at the station's offices by prosecutors were part of a campaign of "psychological pressure" against its broadcasters. On 11 May, the Media Ministry issued two warnings to the newspaper "Russkie vedomosti" for articles allegedly inciting "interethnic hostility," Interfax reported. And in another media-related event, a Moscow court has postponed until September 2001 hearings against the Gazprom-Media takeover of NTV, AFP reported on 10 May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)

LESIN SAYS NTV CASE HAD POSITIVE EFFECT ON MEDIA. Media Minister Mikhail Lesin said that the transfer of ownership in NTV has had a positive impact on the country's media scene, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 May. Lesin said that the shift has succeeded in "reducing the politicking of the mass media and making them reassess their own positions on many questions, above all, those regarding their economic and financial independence." As a result, he said, they will be able to avoid problems like those at NTV in the future. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May)

LESIN SAYS NTV TO BE INDEPENDENT OF STATE... In an interview published in "Izvestiya-Media" on 14 May, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin said that the state will not try to influence the new owners of NTV. He also said that there are threats to press freedom in Russia, that the government needs its own media outlets, and that many papers may have to consolidate or close later this year, giving rise to a crisis in the print media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)

...NTV PROMISES TO BE MORE PROFESSIONAL... The NTV press service on 14 May said that the station will be more professional and plans to put on a series of new shows this fall, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Boris Jordan, the news general director of the station, said that he will work to make the station more profitable and attractive for investors and pledged that he will resign if he is given any orders from the state, "The Washington Post" reported on 14 May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)

...AND KISELEV TAKES CHARGE AT TV-6. Yevgenii Kiselev was confirmed as the general director of TV-6 on 14 May by a stockholders meeting, Russian agencies reported. Several managers of the station resigned, and several shareholders, including LUKoil-Garant announced that they plan to sue the station over the shift in management, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)

MEDIA MINISTRY WARNS TNT ON STAGED KIDNAPPING. Media Ministry officials criticized TNT TV on 10 May for staging the disappearance of one of its journalists, Gennadii Grigoriev, in Nizhnii Novgorod last March and then blaming it on the government, ITAR-TASS reported. The ministry warned TNT not to violate the laws governing the media in the future. Officials at the station said they do not know exactly what the Media Ministry plans to do to TNT as a result. Backing up the ministry was presidential adviser Sergei Yastrzhembskii, who said that the ministry's warning is "absolutely warranted." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May)

PROSECUTORS VISIT EKHO MOSKVY OFFICES. Investigators arrived at the offices of the Ekho Moskvy radio station on 10 May, ostensibly as part of their investigation into the activities of former First Deputy General Director of Aeroflot Nikolai Glushkov, Interfax reported. But station officials said that it appears that the prosecutors were primarily interested in the market value of the station. On the same day, a journalist from the station was summoned to the Prosecutor- General's Office for questioning, Interfax said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May)

MOSCOW AWAITS U.S., ISRAELI ANSWERS ON GUSINSKY EXTRADITION REQUESTS. Officials of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office said on 10 May that Russia has submitted all the necessary paperwork to the U.S. and Israel for the extradition of embattled media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky and is awaiting a response, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Gusinsky's lawyers appeared at the Moscow Prosecutor's Office in response to a summons for him to appear, the news agency reported the same day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May)

LISTEV CASE TURNS UP FOUR CONTRACT MURDERS. The ongoing investigation into the March 1995 murder of Vladislav Listev, the first general director of ORT, has not identified his murderer yet but has led to the identification of four other contract murders, prosecutors told Interfax on 10 May. But prosecutors said that they have established "the circle of persons interested at that time in the murder of Listev." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May)

A NEW WAVE OF 'KOMPROMAT' HITS MOSCOW'S ESTABLISHMENT. The investigative Internet magazine "Stringer" on 8 May published transcripts on its website ( of what it described as a dozen intercepted telephone conversations of leading Russian political and public figures, including the chief of the presidential administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, oligarchs Rem Vyakhirev and Roman Abramovich, and top spinmasters Gleb Pavlovsky and Aleksandr Kulistikov. These transcripts are the first major leak of compromising materials in Putin's time in office, and they show, in the words of London's "Daily Telegraph" on 10 May "the sycophancy and cynicism of Russia's establishment under President Putin." ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 14 May)

PR PAYMENTS TO THE MEDIA. "The Moscow Times" noted that the 8 May transcripts included an article called "The Main PR Campaigns in the Central Press for the Month of March," which presented the research of a group called Lobbynet. This group kept track of money earned from paid political announcements -- paid ads presented as news -- based on a sample of "nine state, oligarch-controlled, and independent newspapers," the paper reports. Lobbynet reported that the Russian press in March earned just under "$2 million," according to the paper, with articles on "topics ranging from the gubernatorial elections in Tula, the proposed law to allow the import and reprocessing of nuclear waste, and the conflict between Sidanko and the Alliance oil group." Lobbynet reported that the biggest money-earner was "Komsomolskaya Pravda," ($560,000) which was far ahead of other media outlets, with "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" bringing up the rear at $80,000, the paper reported. ("The Moscow Times," 15 May)

STRANA.RU: BRITISH JOURNALIST 'COLD WAR WARRIOR.' "The Electronic Telegraph" reported that Aleksandr Rubtsov, the "observer," recently accused a "Telegraph" journalist of being a disgrace to "British meticulousness." After "a stream of non-sequiturs, non-arguments, and obtuse inanity," Rubtsov labeled the British journalist a Cold War warrior, "trying to use innocent and harmless things to portray Russian people as monsters." ("The Electronic Telegraph," 15 May)

RUSHAILO TO ANSWER CHECHEN QUESTIONS ONLINE. From 10 to 20 May, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo will take questions on Chechnya at the Security Council website, Interfax reported on 10 May. The site will carry his answers after 25 May, his spokesman said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May)

RUSSIANS, READING LESS, DEPEND MORE ON TV. Thirty percent of Russians do not read books, newspapers, or magazines, and more than 10 million Russians are now illiterate, the Russian Book Union told "Rossiya," No. 17. But Oleg Dobrodeev, the head of the All-Russia State Teleradio Company VGTRK, said that television is perfectly suited to provide them with all their needs, "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 14 May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)

HATE SPEECH IN BELGRADE DAILY? The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) has voiced its strongest protest against "giving ink" to hate speech under the pretext of openness towards readers. The Belgrade daily "Glas javnosti," in its 13 May Sunday edition, published a letter by one Borislav Bogdanov. As part of his arguments against a program on the RTV documentary film series on truth, responsibility, and reconciliation, Bogdanov tried to discredit people on religious and national grounds. He declared that the Serbs would be "naive once again" if they permitted someone of "Romany descent and Muslim religious background in the very capital of the Serb people" to dispute "the primacy of the Serbs in Kosovo." (ANEM Press Release, 14 May)

TERRORIST ORGANIZATION THREATENS JOURNALISTS. A Serbian terrorist organization made a phone threat on 5 May to the Bujanovac Press Center against the president of the Coordinating Team for Southern Serbia, the center's spokesman, and journalists who cover the surrounding area of Bujanovac. Beli orlovi ("White Eagles" in Serbian) threatened Serbian Deputy Premier Nebojsa Covic with death. Journalists who are not protected by the police and by the army will be punished whenever they behave irresponsibly, Beli orlovi threatened. Beli orlovi set Covic a deadline of 15 May for him to make it possible for Serbs to travel safely to Kosovo. Threats such as the one made Beli orlovi against Covic and journalists covering southern Serbia should not be considered significant, Federal Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 5-11 May)

DEUTSCHE WELLE TO START TV BROADCASTS IN SERBIAN. German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle presented their Serbian language programs on 7 May in Belgrade and outlined plans for future cooperation with regions where Serbian is spoken. A Serbian TV program will begin broadcasting in June, Deutsche Welle's editor-in-chief of foreign-language programs, Dietrich Schlegel, told the press. Rebroadcasting will be free, and Deutsche Welle will provide digital receivers to the outlets that need them, Schlegel added. Deutsche Welle also offered intermediary services in providing Serbian radio stations with suitable technical equipment, as well as with educational programs for young journalists, technicians, and managers. Deutsche Welle has 22 local partner radio stations that rebroadcast its news programs into Serbia, Montenegro, and the Republika Srpska. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 5-11 May)

'BALKAN BRAIN TRUST' CREATED. The Association of Balkan News Agencies (ABNE) plans to create a "Balkan Brain Trust" for intellectuals, scientists, and social activists from all Balkan countries, the Greek news agency MPA reported. The main task of the Trust will be to assist in developing cooperation among the Balkan states through the exchange of ideas. The decision was reached at a meeting of general directors of Balkan news agencies which belong to ABNE. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 5-11 May)

MORE SUPPORT FOR INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS. The Committee to Protect Journalists appealed on 9 May to senior Yugoslav and Serbian officials to provide better support for independent journalists and media which investigate war crimes and corruption. A statement from the U.S.-based committee noticed that such support had not been present when TV B92 came under threat after broadcasting a BBC documentary on war crimes in Srebrenica. (ANEM Weekly Media Update, 5-11 May)

UKRAINIAN INVESTIGATORS KNOW WHO KILLED GONGADZE? "As far as I am informed, [investigators] have practically traced the assassins [of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze]," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website quoted President Leonid Kuchma as saying on Russia's ORT television channel on 14 May. Kuchma did not elaborate. The same day the Left Center parliamentary group addressed the Prosecutor-General's Office with a long list of unanswered questions regarding the Gongadze case and the eavesdropping on Kuchma's office by former bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko. Left Center noted that eight months after Gongadze's death the public still does not know who killed Gongadze and for what reasons. Meanwhile, Myroslava Gongadze has said the body of her husband can finally be buried, since there are no reasons to distrust the recent findings of U.S. experts who confirmed that the beheaded corpse found near Kyiv last year is that of Heorhiy Gongadze. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)

MINISTER SAYS GONGADZE'S KILLING HAD NO POLITICAL MOTIVES... Interior Minister Yuriy Smyrnov told journalists on 15 May that investigators have solved the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, noting that the crime had no political grounds. "As a minister, I consider the crime to be solved.... Two perpetrators [of Gongadze's murder] are dead, and there were no organizers because the situation [the murder] was spontaneous, impulsive," Interfax quoted Smyrnov as saying. Smyrnov added that law-enforcement officers found on the bodies of Gongadze's murderers a map showing where the journalist's corpse was buried. Smyrnov also said police have arrested the murderers of Gongadze's murderers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)

...WHILE LAWYER OF GONGADZE'S MOTHER HAS DOUBTS. Andriy Fedur, a lawyer for Lesya Gongadze, told Interfax on 15 May that Interior Minister Smyrnov's statement on the murder of the journalist was "incorrect." Fedur said senior investigator Oleh Vasylenko, who supervises the Gongadze case, told him and Lesya Gongadze the same day that the investigators have no data about who killed the journalist. "As regards the statement on versions and motives of the murder, it seems to me that it is premature to speak [about them] before the murderers have been identified, before the case has been passed to a court, and before the court has passed its sentence," Fedur added. And he asked Smyrnov through the agency: "When did the killed [murderers] tell him [Smyrnov] that they murdered Gongadze?" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES RUSSIAN PRESS. In an ORT television program on 14 May, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said that the Russian press covers developments in his country objectively, adding that there is no reason to say that the Western media could do better, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 May. Meanwhile, at a conference in Kyiv on Russian-language media, Mikhail Seslavinskii, Russia's first deputy media minister, said that Moscow is prepared to provide material support for the Ukrainian-language press in Russia, Interfax reported the same day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)

POLES, CZECHS DISCUSS MUTUAL STEREOTYPES. Last week the Czech Center in Warsaw organized a seminar to discuss how stereotypes negatively influence opinions of Czechs about Poles and vice versa, CTK reported on 11 May. The Prague correspondent for the Polish daily "Rzeczpospolita," commenting on the seminar, told the agency that a number of stereotypes have resurfaced in connection with the two countries' efforts to join the EU. One Czech stereotype regarding Poland is that Poles still live in poverty and are a backward nation. Another Czech stereotype is that Poles are nonsensically heroic, while Poles often see Czechs as cowards. The seminar also noted a mutual "irrational language allergy." ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 May)


By Paul Goble

A truce has been called in a 40-day cyberwar between Chinese and American computer hackers. This accord may not last, but both the willingness to call an end to that conflict and the conflict itself highlight the ways in which the Internet is becoming an increasingly important battleground in international affairs.

The latest hacker war started on 1 April after an American surveillance aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter and thus was forced to make an emergency landing on China's Hainan Island. Almost immediately, American hackers broke into thousands of Chinese sites, especially those with the extension .cn -- which designates a Chinese location. The electronic intruders then defaced these sites in various ways, often leaving messages such as "we will hate China forever, and we will hack its sites."

According to Beijing's "China Daily" last week, almost 14 percent of all hacker attacks during April were against Chinese mainland sites, with approximately 100 of these sites being defaced or otherwise damaged by foreign intruders. The paper said that hacker damage on these sites had been relatively high because few Chinese sites have the kind of security protections that many Western sites do.

In response to what they viewed as electronic aggression, even though much of the damage was little more than graffiti, a Chinese hacker group, the so-called Honker Union of China, launched a counterattack that they called off recently after claiming to have attacked 1,000 U.S. sites. The Chinese hackers destroyed files, defaced sites, and left messages. And having met what they said was their goal, the Honker Union said that "any attacks from this point on have no connection" with that organization.

That statement may reflect less the hubris of Chinese hackers than pressure from a Chinese government increasingly concerned about the damage these attacks and counterattacks was doing to its computers and its ability to pursue a government-controlled foreign policy.

This truce between Chinese and American hackers may hold for some time to come, unless and until some other event triggers popular anger in either or both of the two countries. But even if this announced truce proves to be a genuine armistice -- something that is far from clear -- this latest war in cyberspace points to the emergence of three serious challenges to the international system in the future.

First, hackers now constitute yet another participant in political crises, but a participant that is especially threatening because it is so obviously beyond the effective control of the governments involved. Over the last month, neither Beijing nor Washington has been able to prevent the hackers from making a difficult situation even worse both politically and in terms of the economic damage hackers can do.

Second, the hackers involved often reflect or at least present a more overtly nationalist position than diplomats and other political leaders find it expedient to express. But the messages the hackers convey may inflame passions on both sides and even lead some officials involved to conclude that they represent a kind of side channel of information, one being used by the other side to say what it really believes or to put pressure on the negotiating process.

And third, the new power of the hackers to create problems for governments and businesses appears likely to force all governments to push for more security on the websites maintained in their countries and to encourage at least some governments to consider using hackers as a weapon to promote their interests.

There is no evidence that either Beijing or Washington did so in the current crisis. Indeed, both governments seemed more troubled by the actions of the hackers than pleased by the messages they were conveying. And it appears likely that most governments will conclude that hackers are likely to prove a difficult if not impossible ally given the anarchic leanings of most people who engage in computer hacking.

But after this first truly international cyberwar, not only Washington and Beijing but other governments as well are likely to begin to factor in the impact of hackers on their ties with other countries -- even as political leaders try to devise some new defense against a force that up to now has remained beyond and outside of government control.