22 April 2005, Volume 6, Number 7
IN FOCUSFLEDGLING YOUTH GROUPS WORRY POST-SOVIET AUTHORITIES
By Julie A. Corwin
During Soviet times, one measure of an artist's success was how strenuously the authorities would try to suppress their works; in this historical period, youth movements are experiencing a similar kind of success in the political arena judging by the attempts of political authorities to undermine them.
In Kyrgyzstan, before the recent Tulip Revolution, local authorities were so disturbed about the creation of a new youth group, KelKel, which had only 300 members at the beginning of 2005, that they resorted to dirty tricks to undermine them. They created their own KelKel, with an identical name and identical symbol and a similar website address. University students report being paid to attend the false KelKel's meetings.
While some authorities find their own youth groups worrisome, they seem even more disturbed by those from other countries. During the lead-up to the first round of the presidential election in Ukraine in 2004, authorities refused to allow Aleksandr Maric, a former activist with Serbia's Otpor and consultant for the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House, back into Ukraine, forcing him to fly back to Serbia.
In Azerbaijan, members of Ukraine's Pora group were not allowed to leave the Baku airport's arrival hall during a recent trip, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 March. Ukraine's embassy in Baku was officially warned that if Pora activists appeared in Baku again, their activities would be considered an attempt to foment revolution with all the attendant consequences. Ukraine's ambassador to Azerbaijan, Anatoliy Yurchenko, even felt compelled to hold a special press conference at which he tried to convince those assembled that the cooperation agreement between Pora and the Azerbaijani opposition does not reflect the official position of the Ukrainian government or represent a threat to the leadership of Azerbaijan.
Why are governments in the former Soviet space so concerned about fledgling student groups? After all, Serbia's Otpor and Georgia's Kmara are hardly significant political forces in their own countries today. In December 2003, Otpor obtained less than 2 percent in national parliamentary elections, while Kmara has all but vanished from Georgia's political scene.
The danger that these groups pose is twofold. One, they act as spark plugs for politically passive and/or frightened populations. Two, they have a kind of know-how that is exportable.
The chronicle of Serbia's revolution is replete with examples of young members of Otpor politicizing not just their fellow students, but also their family members and community. According to French journalist Christophe Chiclet, Otpor members formed alliances with Nezavisnost (Independence), Serbia's only free trade union, as well as with the defense workers' union and the pensioners' organization not because of some grand political strategy but because their parents were in these organizations. In Ukraine, even the people who chose not to camp out on Independence Square in central Kyiv participated in their own way by bringing in food and supplies. And, Pora's financial support came mostly from domestic businessmen.
The activists themselves openly acknowledge learning from the experiences of their youthful colleagues in neighboring countries. In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 2 December 2003, Kmara activist Giorgi Kandelaki said that he and his fellow activists read books about Otpor as well as receiving instructions directly from Otpor veterans. And more than a year later, Kandelaki, writing about the Orange Revolution in Ukraine on eurasia.net on 19 January 2005, described how Pora members borrowed Serbian and Georgian tactics when they blockaded the Prosecutor-General's Office, took charge of the opposition tent city in downtown Kyiv, and convinced the police to refrain from violence.
And there are other parallels. Otpor's philosophy of nonviolent resistance, its ubiquitous slogans, its attempt to include rather than oppose local law-enforcement officials, and, last but not least, its sense of humor are all mirrored in Pora's tactics. When the Milosevic regime started making claims that Otpor members were terrorists and drug dealers, many young people started wearing T-shirts that read "Otpor, Drug Addict." Otpor activists spray-painted their symbol on the door of police headquarters and their slogan, "He's done," referring to Milosevic, on walls, staircases, and in restrooms all over Serbia after the 24 September 2000 elections.
In Ukraine, Pora members also pasted stickers everywhere, such as "They Lie!" Activists used an incident in which presidential candidate and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was felled by an egg to ridicule him mercilessly. For example, they brought a giant egg to the cabinet of ministers building, asking them to protect the dignity of birds and to honor the yolk that died in defense of democracy by knocking down the "sportsman, activist, and prime minister, 120-kilogram Viktor Yanukovych." Despite being constantly arrested, Pora activists also tried to elicit sympathy from policemen by giving flowers in one instance and asking them to prosecute criminals rather than Pora members.
And as Pora members learned from the experiences of students in Serbia and Georgia, they have tried to pass on their own experiences to others. During the occupation of Kyiv's Independence Square, representatives of youth groups from Belarus and Russia were there to watch firsthand. On the return trip from Kyiv, four leaders from Belarus's Zubr were pulled off a train by the Belarusian secret police, savagely beaten, and tossed into a local jail, according to "The Washington Post" on 10 January. Undaunted, Zubr activists met in February in Slovakia with members of Pora and other movements such as Otpor and Kmara in order to compare notes on democracy movements in the region (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 15 March 2005).
For some CIS leaders wanting to protect their populations from infection, keeping a close watch on former activists is one solution. Former Otpor organizers are on blacklists of the secret services of several authoritarian regimes, according to historian Richard Wolin writing in "The Chronicle of Higher Education" on 11 February. But such a solution has to be combined with controls on other means of communication such as the Internet, since Pora's website provides a daily chronicle of that organizations' activities.
Perhaps even more critical is to somehow eradicate all vestiges of previous indigenous political movements. In an interview with the Kyiv-based newspaper "2000" on 21 January, Vladyslav Kaskiv, a coordinator for Pora, acknowledged that his group "made a careful study of the experience of various movements," but he downplayed the importance of Otpor's model. He said that they started their study with Ukraine's own Rukh, adding that it was Poland's Solidarity movement rather than Otpor that actually provided the model most relevant for Ukraine. According to Kaskiv, Pora was headed by veterans of the student movement that conducted the first protests in 1991 and who drew upon their experience then. And, Otpor, the grandfather of the subsequent movements in the CIS, itself began with the student veterans from the 1996-7 protest marches.
In Russia, where analysts and government figures have watched with increasing alarm as the revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan unfold, political authorities appear to be preparing for even the most unlikely possibilities. In a recent interview with "Vedomosti" on 5 April, political scientist Vladimir Golyshev reckoned that only 2-5 percent of Russian youth are politically active. Nonetheless, university authorities are watchful. According to "Kommersant-Vlast" on 7 March, Moscow State University Rector Viktor Sadovnichii conducted an unusual session of the university administration at the end of February. He warned that students are "defenseless" and could wind up in a zone of "suspicious political forces." These forces could try to "sway" Russian youth, and "there are many examples around our motherland such as the Georgian Kmara and Ukrainian Pora."
The weekly noted that the university's administration has a rich history of political repression of students to draw on should the need arise. In 1848, when Europe was hit by a wave of revolution, the university gave increased powers to the inspector in charge of monitoring the students' attitudes. During Soviet times, these inspectors were given even more power to develop students' moral and ideological progress by organizing trips to farms to pick potatoes among other things.
The weekly commented that "now it's difficult to imagine someone who can seriously threaten a student revolt, but the authorities, possibly, know more than simple mortals and are getting prepared early." According to the weekly, at the end of 2004, the head of the department for youth policies at the Ministry for Education and Science, Sergei Apatenko, asked why his department had become so active -- flocks of people were attending the department's seminars on youth policy -- answered, "No one wants an Orange Revolution in Russia."
IRANIAN YOUTH MOVEMENT HAS UNTAPPED POTENTIAL
By Bill Samii
After a July 1999 raid by police, plainclothes security personnel, and vigilantes on the Tehran University campus led to a week of violent unrest in Tehran, Tabriz, and other Iranian cities, some observers speculated that the end is nigh for the theocratic regime. Almost every occurrence of student unrest since then has been greeted eagerly by foreigners with political agendas and by Iranian exiles who anticipate the arrival of democracy in their country. At first glance, such anticipation is not misplaced. Students in many Third World or developing countries have a reputation for political activism, and with some 1.2 million Iranians studying in universities and approximately two-thirds of the population under the age of 30, young people are a sizable and potentially potent force. However, the Iranian student movement is not a unified entity determined to replace the regime with a democratic and secular government, and furthermore, its current level of activism is low.
Early Days Of Student Activism
The student movement in postrevolutionary Iran has gone through several phases, according to professor Ali Akbar Mahdi ("The Student Movement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Journal of Iranian Research and Analysis, Vol. 15, No. 2 [November 1999]) and professor Mehrdad Mashayekhi ("The Revival of the Student Movement in Post-Revolutionary Iran," The International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, Vol. 15, No. 2 [Winter 2001]).
In 1979, students were extensions of revolutionary groups and Iran's campuses were hotbeds of political activity. The most remarkable student action at that time was the takeover of the U.S. Embassy by the Muslim Students Following the Imam's Line and the subsequent 444-day hostage crisis.
The universities were shut down in June 1980 after regime efforts to purge and Islamicize them were met with resistance from secular and leftist students and teachers.
The universities reopened in 1982; prospective faculty had to pass an ideological exam, and prospective students had to show commitment to Islamic values and have a recommendation from their local mosque or a local religious leader. Quotas were created for members of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the paramilitary Basij, and the government, as well as veterans and their family members, and they faced lower academic standards.
Simultaneously, new Islamic associations, such as the University Jihad and the Student Basij, were created to monitor on-campus political tendencies. The segregation of men and women and the snooping of students on each other contributed to on-campus tensions.
The universities serve as good places for political organization and mobilization. People can meet there in relative safety, and the campus environment provides means of communication and informal social networks. There are almost 90 state universities and approximately 120 Islamic Azad Universities, Mashayekhi notes.
What is currently the best known student organization, the Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat, DTV), emerged after a September 1979 meeting of Islamic Student Associations. As of late 1999, Mahdi writes, the DTV had 50 voting member associations from state universities and 30 nonvoting ones from the Islamic Azad University system. The associations in this latter group are closely controlled by the state.
Encouraged by top state officials worried about the increasing radicalism of the DTV, a student named Heshmatollah Tabarzadi joined the organization. His actions within the DTV council led to the creation of two factions -- a leftist one and Tabarzadi's more conservative faction, which became active in 1983. In 1987 Tabarzadi broke with the DTV completely and created the Islamic Union of Associations of University Students and Higher Education Centers (aka the Tabarzadi Group).
Iran's new supreme leader and president -- Ayatollahs Ali Khamenei and Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, respectively -- tried to reduce the number of radical individuals in the state apparatus and to stabilize the political system in the early 1990s. The Tabarzadi Group reacted in 1994, Mahdi writes, by making unspecified accusations against Hashemi-Rafsanjani's family and the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation, a powerful parastatal economic entity. This was unwise, as the foundation owned the Tabarzadi Group's office and evicted the group. The Office of the supreme leader terminated its connection with Tabarzadi, and he was banned from editing his organization's publication for five years.
Wind In The Sails
The number of students who returned to the universities after they reopened in 1982 was only 117,148 -- fewer than before the revolution. But the numbers began to climb, Mahdi writes, and by May 1997 there were approximately 1.15 million people in universities and institutions of higher education. Many students were alienated and disillusioned because they faced high inflation and poor job prospects. The exodus of educated Iranians to other countries -- the brain drain -- is a direct consequence of unemployment and hopelessness, according to Mashayekhi.
These sentiments, which were shared by males and females, coincided with the political activism of reformist and centrist political organizations -- including the DTV -- that were unhappy with current state policies. The DTV originally backed former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Musavi in the 1997 presidential election, but he refused to run and instead they supported Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, the eventual victor. Tabarzadi, meanwhile, encouraged the creation of three new student organizations, and by 1999 he was a Khatami supporter.
Conservative legislators reacted to the students' support for Khatami by passing a bill in October 1998 to establish a Basij unit in every university.
The Regime Cracks Down
Students expected President Khatami to support them after regime elements cracked down on demonstrators and their supporters in July 1999 by making mass arrests, holding secret trials, and later televising the "confessions" of alleged ringleaders. To the students' chagrin Khatami did not come to their defense, although his support for the official position might have averted more bloodshed.
The students demanded the dismissal of the national police chief and an accounting of the high-level officials they believed were behind the bloodshed. What they received instead was a show trial in which a handful of police officers were found guilty of misconduct. Contributing to the students' disillusionment with Khatami and the mainstream reformist organizations was admonitions of patience and promotion of a policy called "active calm" or "dynamic tranquility" in the run-up to February 2000 parliamentary elections. Youthful frustration with the "active calm" policy was clear during the summer of 2000 and especially after August violence at a student gathering in Khoramabad.
In early 2002, the DTV underwent a serious rupture. The majority wing wanted to withdraw from mainstream politics, whereas the minority wing preferred to continue its support for Khatami. In early 2003, furthermore, majority wing member Said Razavi Faqih said the organization should change its name to the Office for Fostering Democracy. This situation persisted until May 2004, when members of the two factions held lengthy discussions that were followed by voting for members of a new central council. The individuals elected to leadership positions, "Sharq" daily reported on 6 June, were veterans of the student movement "who are well past their student years and student characteristics."
The students have given Khatami a rough reception since they perceived that he let them down in 1999. Participants in Student Day events every December have gotten increasingly unruly, and when President Khatami spoke at a Student Day event in 2004, he was heckled the entire time. Moreover, their participation in elections has dropped, and the DTV is urging people not to vote in the 17 June presidential election in the hope that this will be interpreted as a vote against the system.
DTV central council member Ali Afshari said on 7 March that participating in the election would only legitimize the authoritarian system, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. He explained that elections should advance democracy, and merely participating in them will not achieve this. Afshari went on to say that the eight years of the Khatami presidency have demonstrated that "the country's political structure has been designed in such a way that, as long as the appointed segments do not wish it, the elected segments cannot impose their view." "This is why I believe," Afshari continued, "before taking part in any elections, the current structure has to be reformed." DTV's Afshari dismissed the "election carnival" and opined that the only reason so many people are being mentioned as prospective presidential candidates is to ensure a high turnout, ILNA reported.
Disappointment in the political leadership and recognition of the system's flaws are not the only reasons for student apathy. The university entrance exams are highly competitive, and those who earn a place are reluctant to risk it for abstract political principles. It is safer to conform and keep quiet. Repression is another disincentive. Student leaders are occasionally detained by security elements and held in unknown locations and, although most are released, some are held for lengthy periods. Indeed, some of the participants in the 1999 unrest are still in jail. This leaves the students without leaders, and it intimidates them.
Too Important To Ignore
Iranian leaders will not write off the student movement yet due to their efforts to emphasize unity, because students are traditionally and potentially politically active and represent a large number in a country with a voting age of 15. In short, young Iranians are not ignored because they represent the country's future.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed the Islamic Society of University Students in Tehran on 14 March. He told his audience that students are the country's hope for a better future, state radio reported. He described an ideal society in which the youth play an effective role, and he said the students could achieve more if they worked harder, planned better, and relied on God. Khamenei encouraged them to be active in the elections, warned of plots by the "world arrogance" (his term for the United States), and urged young people to avoid party political competition.
Khamenei also expressed concern about young Iranians' morals. "Some perverted entertainment is imported purposefully into our society with the aim of luring our youth.... And very often those who smuggle such material are the evil Zionists. They are the source of corruption of the young people, particularly in Islamic countries. And now, they are specifically targeting the Iranian youth because they are afraid of Iran's future."
Khamenei made a similar speech to high school students on 14 March, IRNA reported. He concluded by encouraging those who will be eligible to vote for the first time on 17 June to do so.
RIGHTS GROUP SAYS POLICE TORTURE CONTINUES IN GEORGIA
By Jean-Christophe Peuch
In the wake of the November 2003 street protests that toppled the sitting government, Georgia's new president, Mikheil Saakashvili, made a solemn pledge to restore rule of law and boost the country's democratic credentials. But Georgian rights groups say Saakashvili has not delivered on many of his promises. The nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch is among the critics, and accuses Georgian authorities of failing to curb police torture.
The New York-headquartered group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 12 April issued a 27-page report that examines steps taken by Georgia's new leaders to address the long-standing problem of torture and ill treatment of people being held in pretrial custody.
Citing Saakashvili's promises to bring the country's legal, economic, and social standards in line with that of Europe, the HRW report concludes that the Georgian leader has failed on at least one account. Police abuse remains widespread in Georgia.
Speaking to RFE/RL from Tbilisi, HRW's South Caucasus researcher Matilda Bogner said a December fact-finding mission showed the Georgian government is obviously not doing enough to address the issue of torture.
"The government has taken some steps to reform, and it has many plans for further reforms. However, unfortunately, we've found that the steps that they have taken so far have had fairly little impact on the situation in terms of torture," Bogner said. "There remain many complaints [and] allegations of torture which have not been adequately investigated and prosecuted. There have not been many people punished for committing torture. So we've found that, unfortunately, the environment of impunity that has existed for a long time in Georgia continues at the moment -- which helps to facilitate the continuation of torture in Georgia."
HRW said Saakashvili's policies during his first 10 months in office seemed, in the words of the report, "to fuel rather than reduce abuses."
Central to Saakashvili's program when he was elected president in January 2004 was the eradication of corruption and organized crime. Since then, Georgian authorities have launched a nationwide campaign against businessmen linked to the previous administration and former state officials suspected of embezzlement, misuse of public funds, tax evasion, and other economic crimes.
But the methods used by the authorities in their fight against corruption have raised eyebrows among human rights groups, both in Georgia and abroad.
Of particular concern is the so-called plea-bargaining system. This practice, legalized in February 2004, allows suspects to be released without trial after agreeing to pay lump sums of money equal or higher to those they allegedly embezzled.
The most striking example of plea-bargaining involves businessman Gia Jokhtaberidze, the son-in-law of ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze.
Jokhtaberidze was detained on charges of cheating the state out of $350,000. But he paid a staggering $15 million to secure his release.
Officially, the money gathered through plea-bargaining is added to the state budget. But some observers have alleged that at least part of the money goes to extra-budgetary funds aimed at supplementing the salaries of state officials or funding army reforms.
Authorities have not responded to the claims.
The Council of Europe has criticized Georgia's plea-bargain system as incompatible with its standards. Georgia has been a council member since 1999.
In Georgia itself, many equate the system with state racketeering.
In some instances, defendants sometimes find it difficult to reach a plea-bargain agreement. The case of Sulkhan Molashvili is one such example. Evidence suggests that plea-bargaining is widely used in cases of lesser criminal offenses, with defendants being released without trial in return for paying a fee and dropping any complaints of torture.
A former chairman of Georgia's Accounting Chamber, Molashvili was arrested in April 2004 on suspicion of corruption. A year later, he remains in pretrial custody, and says he has endured electric shocks and cigarette burns during his detention.
"My understanding is that Molashvili's family did pay a sum of money to the government," Bogner said. "However, he has not been released. Government officials told me that the sum of money, in the end, was not enough, so a plea-bargain could not be agreed upon, even though he did pay money to the state. But I don't believe that was related to [his] torture allegations as such."
HRW believes plea-bargaining is also being used to cover up allegations of police violence.
Bogner said evidence suggests the system is widely used in cases of lesser criminal offenses, with defendants being released without trial in return for paying a fee and dropping any complaints of torture.
"We've documented cases when people had been charged under the "hooliganism" section [of the Penal Code], which could have attracted a five-year penalty in prison," Bogner said. "[These people] ended up paying money to the state and agreeing to the prosecution's version of events, which did not include allegations of torture, and then they declined from pursuing their public statements about torture. It seems that the reason for their declining to sue their torturers was this offer of a plea bargain."
Rights groups say another problem stems from the growing control the Georgian executive is exerting on the judiciary. Legal reforms adopted last year have put judges under the effective authority of the Prosecutor-General's Office, thus making it impossible for them to investigate allegations of police torture.
Authorities, however, claim the situation has improved since last October, after Saakashvili pledged to launch a nationwide campaign to fight torture.
Prosecutor-General Zurab Adeishvili was among the officials attending a conference on torture prevention sponsored this week in Tbilisi by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Adeishvili told RFE/RL's Georgian Service on 12 April that authorities are now determined to tackle police violence.
"The assessment made by international organizations for the years 2003 and 2004 was severe," Adeishvili said. "We agree with them that there were serious problems. But since [October] 2004 we've made progress and we continue to make progress this year. Everyone recognizes that."
Georgia's ombudsman Sozar Subari added that although police violence remains widespread during arrests, recent steps by the government have succeeded in reducing pretrial torture cases to "almost a minimum."
But Bogner of HRW remains circumspect. She said her organization has noted Saakashvili's promise to address police torture, but is now expecting permanent results.
"We do hear promises from the government that, within the next few months, sometime this year, we will see a clear, concrete improvement in terms of the situation of torture," Bogner said. "We're still waiting for that and I believe that until the environment of impunity is ended, until the perpetrators of torture are prosecuted, are punished, seriously punished for these very serious offenses, we're not going to see a big change in the situation."
In its report, HRW noted that only a few of the hundreds of allegations of police torture documented last year have been addressed.
Citing government statistics, the group says less than 40 cases of inhuman and degrading treatment were investigated in 2004. Of these, a half were suspended or terminated, and only five ended in court, with light sentences handed down each time. Those include the case of a police officer sentenced for beating one of his colleagues, something Bogner said cannot be considered a case of torture.
NEW LAWS BAN EVERYTHING FROM MOTORCYCLES TO MOVIES
By Gulnoza Saidazimova
People in Uzbekistan are finding their lives governed by increasingly bizarre new laws. Residents of the capital Tashkent are now banned from riding motorcycles. Moviegoers throughout the country will not be able to see "The Turkish Gambit," a new historical thriller from Russia. And one of the government's latest moves has been to impose a uniform for schoolteachers.
The Uzbek Education Ministry justified the introduction of uniforms as a way to prevent the nation's schoolteachers from wearing what it called "unsuitable" clothes. From 1 April, teachers have worn the mandatory outfit selected by their school management. Some schools have introduced simple single-color dresses. Others have chosen white tops and black skirts, or trousers for the men.
"As teachers, we never stopped wearing a kind of uniform," said one teacher from the southern town of Gulistan. "We always met certain standards. People could easily tell if you were a teacher. Maybe there were three or four teachers in some village who were seen in dresses with a bright pattern. But that doesn’t mean all the teachers in the country have to wear a uniform. In fact, teachers usually dress more modestly than anyone else. And now we're being forced to wear a uniform."
The Education Ministry's decree says that in addition to looking modest, teachers must refrain from wearing makeup and jewelry.
Such luxuries are already uncommon for most teachers, whose average monthly salary is just $30, and often goes unpaid for months. In fact, many teachers say they can't even afford the new uniforms -- which they have to pay for themselves.
"The uniform costs 15-20,000 thousand soms ($15-$20)," said one teacher. "We spend half of our salary on this. It would be better to give us money for the uniforms."
But the ministry is not offering to reimburse teachers for the price of the new uniforms. Many Uzbek teachers have protested the decree, with some even choosing to leave their jobs.
Many other Uzbeks -- like independent journalist Sharof Ubaydullaev -- are angry as well.
"Putting uniforms on all the teachers is absolutely incomprehensible," Ubaydullaev said. "I can’t understand who initiated this and why. This change is absolutely groundless nowadays. What is important is not to introduce uniforms for teachers, but to provide for them financially."
Sergei Yezhkov, a Tashkent-based independent journalist, has written articles about the uniform issue for a number of Internet publications. He claimed the new decree is just another way for unscrupulous school managers to make a profit.
"This is a new trend these days. School directors make an agreement with an atelier to make the new uniforms," Yezhkov said. "They tell the teachers the uniform will cost 80,000 soms -- the equivalent of $80. I think the real prices is closer to 20,000 [soms]. So some people will be making a new profit of 60,000 [soms per uniform]."
Uzbekistan has long prohibited people from entering airports unless they are actual passengers. And more recently, the government has placed a ban on riding motorcycles in the capital.
Police and security officials have reasoned such bans will help improve security. But Yezhkov said that many of the decisions are simply the result of caprice and laziness on the part of some government officials.
"I wouldn’t say it's the government’s general policy. It is rather the whims of some officials and, secondly, it is an unwillingness to work," Yezhkov said. "It is merely police officers who are too lazy to check every person entering the [airport] building. It is much more simple just to ban them. They banned motorcycles, saying terrorists had planned an attack involving the use of motorcycles. They should look for the people [who were planning these attacks] instead of banning an entire form of transportation."
Such bans are also problematic because they can lead to bribery and corruption.
One case in point is the recent rise in video piracy. Uzbeks had eagerly awaited the arrival of "The Turkish Gambit," a new Russian film that has proved a popular hit in many post-Soviet republics and has been heavily advertised on television and radio.
Uzbek interest in the film was especially high because its director, Janik Fayziev, is a native of Tashkent and the son of a popular Uzbek actress, Oydin Norbaeva.
But "The Turkish Gambit" is the second Russian production to be banned in Uzbekistan in the past several months. Last autumn, Uzbek authorities blocked the broadcast of the Russian soap opera "Twins."
Local media reported that government officials had forced the head of Uzbekistan's state-controlled television to reject the program, saying it was untruthful. Authorities may have been upset by two Uzbek characters who appeared on the show -- a corrupt police official and a woman who is unfaithful to her husband.
Yezhkov said that officials are desperate to hide any form of entertainment that suggests life in Uzbekistan is less than perfect.
"Ever since we acquired independence, Uzbekistan’s [authorities] have tried to pretend that we are holier than the pope of Rome," Yezhkov said. "They want to think there is nothing vicious in Uzbekistan, as was shown on "Twins." There are no corrupt police or government officials. Everyone is honest, good, sinless, and innocent. The ban was the most primitive way to hide the truth."
Unlike "Twins," however, "The Turkish Gambit" is a historical portrayal of the 19th-century Russo-Turkish war, and has nothing to do with Uzbekistan.
In this case, the ban may have more to do with money. Uzbek media have reported that a limited number of Uzbek theaters have been given exclusive rights to show the movie, which has earned millions of dollars in ticket sales in Russia.
Adding fuel to the speculation is the fact that one of the theaters, Premier Hall Basha, is the property of a company that is allegedly controlled by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
(RFE/RL correspondents in Uzbekistan contributed to this report.)
ALBANIATIRANA SIGNS PACT ON ILLEGAL MIGRANTS. Officials of Albania and the EU signed an agreement in Luxembourg on 14 April obliging Albania to take back illegal migrants who enter EU countries via its territory, Reuters reported. Several EU officials stressed, however, that Tirana still has much to do to meet Brussels' demands regarding stopping human trafficking and other forms of organized crime. Albanian Minister for European Integration Ermelinda Meksi said that her country has already achieved "tangible results" in stopping the flow of illegal migrants. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April)
BELARUSSUPREME COURT ORDERS CLOSURE OF INDEPENDENT POLLSTER... The Belarusian Supreme Court ordered on 15 April the closure of the Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Research (NISEPI) for alleged repeated violations of laws, such as failing to provide its questionnaire forms to the authorities and using an office different from its legal address, Belapan and Interfax-Belarus reported. After the hearing, NISEPI Director Aleh Manayeu told reporters in Minsk that the court's decision is "politically motivated" and is part of the authorities' preparations for the 2006 presidential elections. Last year, NISEPI cooperated with Gallup/Baltic Surveys on an exit poll that suggested authorities rigged the referendum to lift the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency and allow President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to remain in office (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 26 October, 5 November, and 29 December 2004). Institute directors said in a statement that as long as they are "at large," they will continue their mission to "contribute to the development of democracy, market economy, and civil society in Belarus by conducting sociological surveys." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April)
...AS OSCE HEAD REGRETS CLOSING OF INDEPENDENT POLLING INSTITUTE. The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office in Minsk, Ambassador Eberhard Heyken, has expressed regret over the 15 April decision by the Belarusian Supreme Court to close the Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI), Belapan news agency reported on 18 April. "It is extremely regrettable that the NISEPI has been forced into liquidation.... The founders of the institute have always attached great importance to scientific independence and, until the liquidation, a certain freedom from censorship has guaranteed the professional objectivity of the surveys," Heyken said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April)
MINSK SLAMS UN RESOLUTION... Following the adoption on 14 April of a resolution by the UN Human Rights Commission alleging human rights abuses by Belarusian officials, Syarhey Aleynik, Belarus's permanent representative to the UN, criticized the document as "another attempt to create a distorted picture of the country's situation in order to justify the intention of its co-sponsors to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state," Belapan and Interfax-Belarus reported. Aleynik said that the resolution has passed under "unprecedented pressure from the United States," which has no moral right to "act as a champion of human rights in the world." Twenty-three out of the 53 members of the Commission voted for the document, with more than half the members either opposing or abstaining. The Russian permanent representative at the UN's Geneva office, Leonid Skotnikov, told ITAR-TASS that he was surprised that Ukraine supported the resolution. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April)
...AS EU LAMENTS 'SLIDE INTO DICTATORSHIP.' On 16 April, a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg adopted a statement condemning Belarus's "slide into dictatorship." The EU ministers took special note of the jailing of former ambassador and opposition politician Mikhail Marynich and the dispersal of a 25 March protest at which some 31 protesters out of 1,500 were arrested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2005). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April)
GEORGIAEUROPEAN COURT FINDS GEORGIA GUILTY OF VIOLATING HUMAN RIGHTS OF EXTRADITED CHECHENS. The European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling on 12 April finding Georgia guilty of violating the human rights of a group of 13 armed Chechens arrested near the Georgian-Russian border in August 2002, the Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. The ruling held that the Georgian authorities denied five of the Chechens the right to appeal the Georgian decision to extradite them to Russia and imposed a fine of 80,500 euros ($103,630) against the Georgian government. The Strasbourg-based court also found the Russian authorities guilty of human rights violations and imposed a lesser fine for their treatment of the Chechens. Georgia extradited five of the Chechens to Russia despite a protest by the European Court of Human Rights at the time. The Georgian authorities subsequently freed the other Chechens, although two were later arrested by Russian security forces. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
SEMINAR EXAMINES PLANS TO COMBAT TORTURE. Meeting in Tbilisi, a group of Georgian government officials and foreign experts participated in a seminar on 12 April to review the implementation of Georgia's "national action plan against torture," Civil Georgia reported. The seminar, organized by the OSCE Mission to Georgia, is part of a broader OSCE initiative to strengthen Georgian capabilities in preventing torture. The Georgian plan to combat torture was originally developed by the country's national security council, with significant assistance from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the OSCE Mission to Georgia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
IRANHUNDREDS ARRESTED FOR RIOTING, ARAB TV BANNED... Iranian authorities have arrested more than 360 people in southwestern Khuzestan Province, bordering Iraq, after riots on 15 April by ethnic Arabs killed between three and 20 people, news agencies reported on 18 and 19 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2005). Unconfirmed reports cited on 19 April by Radio Farda have cited 20 dead and hundreds injured in riots the Iranian government has blamed on unnamed opponents. It has temporarily banned broadcasts by the Arabic-language satellite-television station Al-Jazeera, which is popular among local Arabs, accusing it of fanning the unrest, AP reported on 18 April. Al-Jazeera was the first to report the violence, AP reported. The riots were apparently triggered by a letter, allegedly signed by a former vice president, urging provincial relocations potentially detrimental to the local Arab population, though the official concerned has denied he signed the letter. A local observer, Yusif Azizi Beni Teif, told Radio Farda on 19 April that locals were already resentful of "national and class injustice, and poverty around Abadan and Ahvaz, which are mainly Arab." The situation is now calm, AP quoted Jahanbakhsh Khanjani of the Interior Ministry as saying on 18 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April)
...AS INTELLIGENCE MINISTER WARNS OF PLOTS. Iranian Intelligence and Security Minister Ali Yunesi said at a gathering of district governors in Tehran on 18 April that unspecified enemies and domestic opponents are using many methods, in vain, to undermine the Iranian state, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 April. He accused "some people" of turning ethnic dissatisfaction into "political demands, as has happened in Khuzestan." Unnamed opponents are making false allegations about the government, and "presenting political problems as intractable." Certain "people try and get arrested in order to become famous. The Intelligence Ministry...is aware of [their] motives...and will not be trapped. False revelations, spreading rumors, and encouraging people" not to vote in the June presidential elections are "other ways of toppling a system, though this does not work" in Iran, he said. "We have separatist and suspect moves under observation, and can confidently say, do not worry. The enemy has no power to provoke a crisis in collaboration with domestic opponents." Presidential elections, he vowed, will be held amid "maximum security," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. In Ilam Province, near Khuzestan, prospective reformist presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi warned supporters on 18 April that "hidden hands," are threatening Iranian unity and territorial integrity, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April)
STUDENTS COMPLAIN OF RENEWED CRACKDOWN. Sa'id Habibi, a member of the Office for Strengthening Unity (DTV), an umbrella student group, was recently arrested, and reportedly charged with making statements hostile to Iranian government officials, Radio Farda reported on 19 April. The DTV's public relations chief, Reza Delbari, told Radio Farda this is intended to put pressure on potentially disaffected students before the June presidential election. The government, he said, wants "elections with maximum turnout" and intends "to respond to those it feels may cause problems in that respect." Akbar Atri, another DTV member, said more arrests might follow, Radio Farda reported on 19 April. The DTV issued a statement in Tehran on 19 April calling the June polls a mere "display" and "undemocratic," Radio Farda reported. Voting, it stated, would merely "legitimize" the "exclusive" conduct of Iranian "power centers." Iranian politicians have urged Iranians to vote and unite in the face of international pressures. But the student group said that elections that "do not lead to democracy" will "not only not prevent foreign interference" but destroy domestic hopes for change, and make people look "outward." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April)
KYRGYZSTANORGANIZER OF SELF-DEFENSE GROUPS MURDERED. Usen Kudaibergenov, a well-known Kyrgyz stuntman, was murdered in Bishkek on the night of 10 April, akipress.org reported the next day. Kudaibergenov, who helped to organize citizens' defense groups to prevent looting on 24-25 March, was shot to death by gunmen in his apartment. Kudaibergenov had also made efforts in recent days to put an end to a spate of land seizures in Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2005), Russia's "Vremya novostei" reported. At a news conference in Bishkek on 11 April, the leadership of a recently formed civil-defense group called on acting President Bakiev and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to take control of the investigation of what they termed a political killing, Kabar reported. Lenta.ru noted that Kudaibergenov was considered a political ally of presumptive presidential candidate Feliks Kulov, head of the Ar-Namys party. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April)
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH URGES NEW FOCUS FOR GOVERNMENT. In an open letter dated 12 April, Human Rights Watch urged acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev to inaugurate a new era of respect for human rights in Kyrgyzstan. The letter, signed by Acting Executive Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division Rachel Denber and published on the organization's website (http://www.hrw.org), welcomed the decision to hold presidential elections on 10 July and advised holding new parliamentary elections shortly thereafter. It also proposed concrete measures to ensure free and fair elections, such as complete and up-to-date voter lists. Other topics covered by the letter included the personal security of political candidates, freedom of assembly, media freedom, the treatment of ethnic minorities, and judicial reform. The letter also urged the assignment of responsibility for events in Aksy in 2002, when police shot and killed six demonstrators, applauded the recent voiding of corruption convictions against Feliks Kulov, and proposed the establishment of "a commission to provide for the rehabilitation of other victims of politically motivated repression under the Akaev government." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
RUSSIAPRO-KREMLIN YOUTH MOVEMENT WANTS TO FORM NEW ELITE, STOP 'ORANGE REVOLUTION'... The pro-Kremlin youth organization Nashi (Ours) held its inaugural congress on 15 April, where it adopted a political program and elected Vasilii Yakemenko and four others as "commissars," or leaders, of the movement, RosBalt and other Russian media reported. Addressing the congress, Yakemenko, the former leader of the pro-Putin organization Walking Together, said that Nashi considers all those who oppose President Vladimir Putin's policies as "enemies." "Today, an unnatural alliance of liberals, fascists, Westernizers, ultranationalists, international funds, and terrorists is forming, united by a common hatred of Putin," he said. He labeled self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii a "traitor" and National Bolshevik Party (NBP) leader Eduard Limonov a "fascist," and said that Our Choice leader Irina Khakamada and Committee-2008 Chairman Garri Kasparov "are sympathetic to fascists." Another of the group's leaders, Aleksandr Gorodetskii, said that Nashi's goal is to be "next elite of Russia" and "to stop an Orange Revolution," RTR reported. Education Minister Aleksei Fursenko addressed the congress as a guest. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April)
...AS OPPOSITION LEADER ATTACKED. Former world chess No. 1 and Committee-2008 Chairman Garri Kasparov was attacked on 15 April at a meeting with youth organizations in Moscow by a young man who hit him over the head with a chess board, Ekho Moskvy reported. Kasparov, who was slightly injured, said that he believes that the Nashi movement, which has dubbed him an "enemy of the people," is responsible for the incident. In response, Nashi spokesman Ivan Mostovich told Ekho Moskvy that no member of his group was involved and that the NBP was responsible for the attack. But NBP leader Eduard Limonov said on 16 April that his people do not use violence during public protests. "I do not believe that Kasparov is an outstanding politician but I do think he or another politician should be attacked," Ekho Moskvy quoted Limonov as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April)
GRU HELPS CREATE NEW PRO-PUTIN YOUTH MOVEMENT. A group of young activists in St. Petersburg announced the creation of a youth organization operating under the Eurasian Movement, which is led by Aleksandr Dugin, RosBalt reported on 18 April. The new organization will be called the Eurasian Youth Union, or "oprichniki," in honor of the military detachments under the reign of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. The oprichniki were notorious for cruelly suppressing any opposition to the tsar. One of the founders of the new union, Valerii Korovin, said he and his friends were aided by Russian military intelligence (GRU) in creating the organization. He said GRU officers told him about the concept of a "network war," which was allegedly unleashed by the West against Russia. Such a war involves the creation of a network or informal organization that does not have a center but rather a horizontal structure of united youth groups and individuals. Korovin said Russia should have its own organization to confront the "network invasion," RosBalt reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 20 April)
SIBERIAN STUDENTS RALLY AGAINST REFORMS. About 7,000 students held a demonstration against educational reform in Krasnoyarsk on 20 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin told the demonstration that "no decision on education reform will be made without students' participation." Demonstrators carried placards calling for the restoration of free public transportation and for continued state funding of higher education. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 21 April)
STUDENTS RALLY IN MOSCOW, NIZHNII NOVGOROD. About 4,000 students demonstrated in Moscow on 12 April to protest education reform, low stipends, and rising tuitions, Russian media reported. About 2,500 students held a similar rally the same day in Nizhnii Novgorod. The demonstrations were organized by the Communist Party, the Motherland party, and various student trade unions, ITAR-TASS reported. Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko told the news agency that representatives of his ministry met on 12 April with a delegation of protestors to hear their demands. He said that "it is impossible...right now" to meet students' demands that stipends be increased above the official subsistence level. "Even in Soviet times student grants never exceeded the subsistence level and hardly ever reached that index," he said. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 13 April)
OPPOSITION RALLY IN BASHKORTOSTAN CANCELLED AS PRESSURE MOUNTS... Opposition leaders in Bashkortostan cancelled a planned 16 April demonstration in Ufa after supporters of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov said they would hold a rally the same day, Interfax reported on 16 April. The news agency reported that opposition leaders Ramil Bignov and Anatolii Dubovskii were summoned to the local Federal Security Service (FSB) office on 16 April for questioning. "I think that we were isolated from our supporters deliberately because yesterday we expressed concern...regarding the planned alternative rally," Bignov said. He confirmed that the opposition cancelled its demonstration in order to avoid a possible provocation on the part of the authorities or Rakhimov's supporters. Nonetheless, Interfax reported that "several dozen" anti-Rakhimov demonstrators gathered in Ufa's main square. Bignov said that there was some violence during that protest that he alleged was started by Rakhimov supporters. He said the violence had been videotaped and the evidence has been submitted to the Prosecutor-General's Office. Bignov also alleged that someone had loosened the nuts securing his tires to his car. "Despite the unprecedented illegal pressure that has been applied, the opposition intends to continue to pursue its aims and to hold a sanctioned protest on 1 May," Bignov said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April)
...WHILE BASHKIR PRESIDENT DENOUNCES OPPOSITION 'LIES.' Bashkir President Rakhimov told Interfax on 16 April that opposition claims that people in the republic are ready to revolt are "lies." "Average people do not need any seizure of power," Rakhimov said. "They need prosperity and peace and this can only be achieved by many years of hard and honest work, both on the part of the authorities and the whole of society." He expressed sympathy for citizens who have been harmed by the government's reform to convert in-kind social benefits to cash payments, saying, "We have done everything possible to help people and this situation really has started to improve gradually." He said the opposition is led by "businessmen and failed leaders, and bureaucrats who have been sacked for various intrigues." Rakhimov said opposition leaders are motivated by "passionate greed" and that they are "working for those forces that have an interest in wrecking our Russia." "These forces have already carried out revolutions in a number of countries and don't even hide their desire to reshape Russia to their own liking," Rakhimov said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April)
TAJIKISTANFOREIGN MINISTRY SEEKS INFORMATION ON FOREIGN CONTACTS WITH CIVIL-SOCIETY GROUPS. In a briefing on 14 April, Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattorov asked foreign organizations to provide advance warning of meetings with various civil-society groups in the country, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. An official copy of Sattorov's comments made public by the BBC's Persian Service read, "The Ministry has asked all foreign diplomatic missions and offices of international organizations accredited in Tajikistan to inform in a timely fashion the Foreign Ministry of the date and subject matter of public meetings with representatives of Tajikistan's parties, public associations, and media." The Ministry said that the advance warning was necessary because some local organizations have used such meetings to "distort the strategy and tactics of Tajikistan's state policy." Muhiddin Kabiri, deputy head of the Islamic Renaissance Party, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that it if the Tajik government does not want meetings between foreign and local groups to become forums for criticizing government policy, officials would do better to take part in such meetings than to try to prevent them. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April)
OSCE HEAD MEETS WITH PRESIDENT. OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 19 April, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Rupel told journalists after the meeting that their talks focused on such issues as demining, drug trafficking, human rights, and recent events in Kyrgyzstan. On human rights, Rupel commented, "We are not in the business of teaching Tajikistan or its president discipline in the area of human rights. We are rather interested in working together and exchanging information." On Kyrgyzstan, Rupel said that the OSCE is cooperating with other countries in the region to further stabilization. Rupel also met with representatives of Tajikistan's opposition and NGOs, Avesta reported. "While talking to me, leaders of NGOs stressed the lack of democracy in the country," Rupel said. "The opposition also described the situation as extreme." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April)
UZBEKISTANWOMAN IMMOLATES SELF IN PROTEST. A woman in Tashkent suffered serious burns on 13 April when she set herself on fire to protest a campaign to destroy small garden plots, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Irina Alekseeva, an ethnic Russian pensioner, was hospitalized in serious condition after she doused herself with kerosene and set herself on fire, fergana.ru reported. Tashkent city officials confirmed to the BBC's Uzbek Service that small garden plots near residential dwellings are being removed in accordance with a cabinet decision, but said they knew nothing about Alekseeva's case. But Alisher Ilhomov -- formerly the director of the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation in Uzbekistan, which closed when the Uzbek government revoked its registration in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004) -- told the BBC, "This is the desperate act of a person who was unable to gain satisfaction by appealing to officials and the courts, someone whose grievances were ignored." Ilhomov noted that cases of self-immolation occurred in Uzbekistan in the Soviet period, primarily in response to abuse, while recent incidents are increasingly manifestations of social protest at economic hardship. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April)
RIGHTS GROUP SAYS EXECUTION TOOK PLACE IN MARCH... Tamara Chikunova, head of the Uzbek NGO Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture, announced on 13 April that Ahrorkhuja Tolibkhujaev was executed on 1 March for murder, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. If confirmed, the execution would be the 10th since the United Nations called on Uzbekistan in 2003 to stop carrying out executions, tribune.uz reported. Chikunova said that Tolibkhujaev confessed under torture to the murder of two children, even though he did not commit the crime, RFE/RL reported. Chikunova stressed that there is documentary proof that Tolibkhujaev was tortured. RFE/RL was unable to obtain any information on the alleged execution from the Interior Ministry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April)
...AS UN RIGHTS COMMITTEE BLASTS EXECUTION. The UN Human Rights Committee issued a press release on 14 April harshly criticizing the execution of Toliphuzhaev. Noting that the Committee had issued a request to the Uzbek government not to execute Tolibkhujaev, the press release said that the Committee received news of his execution on 7 April. Chairperson Christine Chanet "expressed dismay and utmost concern" to Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry and "requested prompt explanations from the government." Stressing that Uzbekistan has carried out several death sentences despite requests for interim measures of protection, the Committee emphasized that it "has consistently affirmed that non-respect by a state party of requests for interim measures of protection constitutes a grave breach of the state party's obligations." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April)