16 February 2004, Volume 5, Number 5
IN FOCUSMOSCOW SUBWAY BLAST SPARKS DEBATE ON SECURITY AND RIGHTS... A bomb blast in the Moscow subway on 6 February left at least 40 dead and 134 wounded. Families held funerals throughout last week. The Moscow city government immediately promised compensation to relatives of those killed of 100,000 rubles ($3,513) per family, and 50,000 rubles to those injured, prompting cynical remarks in the press and on the street about the price the government has seemingly put on human life. The explosion is attributed to Chechen terrorists, although no arrests have yet been made. Because of nuts and bolts found in the bodies of some victims, and the apparent placement of the bomb, the authorities believe a suicide bomber is responsible for the attack. The authorities have hypothesized that Chechens, who have been found responsible for a wave of attacks in the last year killing more than 300 people, are behind this latest incident. Within hours of the attack, police released a composite sketch of a man in a wool cap with the features of "a person of Caucasian ethnicity" or "LKN," as the acronym is now used to designate the Russian words "litsa Kavkaskoy nationalnosti." Police said they used eyewitness reports and the metro's video surveillance cameras to make the sketch, although they did not release copies of the videotape.
Akhmed Zakayev, envoy for former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who has received asylum in the United Kingdom, issued several statements denying that the movement under Maskhadov's command bore any responsibility for the attack. Speaking with RFE/RL by phone on 6 February, he said, "There can be no justification for terror against civilian populations. I declare with all my authority that the government of the Chechen Republic has always condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations." He accused Russian security services of being behind the attack, directly or indirectly. But President Vladimir Putin immediately pinned the bombing on Maskhadov. "We don't negotiate with terrorists; we destroy them," the president said on national evening news, a clear signal that no talks with the Chechen armed resistance would be in the offing. Putin added that it was not the first time calls for talks were "synchronized" with terrorist acts, which he believed was an additional confirmation of Maskhadov's responsibility.
The attack has thrown Muscovites into a state of fear and anger, as many are now apprehensive about taking their everyday subway ride to work. Press accounts are filled with speculation that more were killed in the blast, but have not yet been identified, and that the government is covering up the real figures. Pavel Ivanov, laboratory chief at the Russian Forensic Medical Center, said identification using DNA from the scattered body parts could take a month or more, polit.ru and other news services reported on 9 February. Other experts said it could take far longer. Two years after the terrorist attack on 11 September 2001, New York authorities are still holding the remains of some 5,000 body parts in a temporary morgue. While some families are still waiting to be able to bury their loved ones, others have become sickened at having to hold repeated burial services for the same relative as morgue workers keep identifying new remains. Cash-strapped Russian facilities are not likely to have the luxury of such painstaking work.
Terrorists do not only destroy the integrity of human beings and even their corpses in death, they destroy the trust of the general public in the ability of government to keep them safe, and divide societies with debates about who is to blame and what is to be done. They engender a particularly fierce and anguished debate among survivors and relatives of those killed as well as the society at large about how much human rights for all should be sacrificed to enhance the capacity of security agencies to capture the few who use terrorism as their method.
Russian authorities were quick to look to the model of the United States in dealing with post-11 September security issues. Federal Security Service (FSB) Deputy Director Vyacheslav Ushakov said preventative measures against terrorism must be taken, including giving special services extra powers. He pointed to the U.S. Patriot Act, which "gave special services extra powers to fight terrorism," Russian wire services reported on 10 February. (See "Security Services Looking for Broader Powers in Wake of Subway Bombing," rferl.org, 11 February 2004). Human rights groups in the U.S. have complained that these powers violate hard-won civil liberties, and have not been effective in making Americans more secure.
Without waiting for any new laws to be passed, Russian authorities immediately began checking identification on the roads to Moscow, slowing traffic. They have reinforced regular passport checks at railroad stations and metro stations. They are spot-checking people at random, demanding that they present their IDs, and if no stamp indicating a residence permit for Moscow is available, they are hustling them out of town.
The Chechen and other Caucasian communities of Moscow, frequently the special target of such police sweeps, are undergoing another upheaval, sewing their pockets closed to prevent police from planting drugs on them when they are detained, a practice they say is widespread. With such human losses, emotions run high, and a conservative parliamentarian, Dmitriy Rogozin, has made the most definitive statement of collective responsibility by Chechens in some years. He said the attack was deliberately timed to disrupt the March presidential elections and the government should declare a state of emergency. "The enemy is here, within," Interfax and other wire services quoted Rogozin as saying on 6 February. "This is an ethnic crime, supporting terrorists arriving in Moscow, who own property in Moscow.... These ethnic criminals are behaving insolently and should get the harshest response," he said in reference to Moscow's large Chechen diaspora. Vladimir Zhirinovskii, leader of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, called for all migrants from the Caucasus to be deported from Moscow.
This month's metro explosion was reminiscent of the January 1977 bomb attack on the subway, in which several people were killed and many injured. TASS, the official Soviet news agency, waited two days to announce the attack, and Victor Louis, whose articles were often used to express the Kremlin's position and who was later accused of ties to the KGB, implied that the bomb was the work of Soviet dissidents. At the time, physicist and human rights campaign Andrei Sakharov attacked the smear campaign against dissidents and, in a strong statement issued publicly, said he believed the bomb "was a new provocation of the agencies of repression," although he did not accuse the KGB directly. (Ultimately, an extremist Armenian unrelated to dissident groups was charged with the 1977 incident.)
Today, the debate is more complex, because resistance movements like the Chechens have chosen to use violence. Increasingly, theories that seemed to belong only on obscure Internet publications are being discussed seriously by reputable Russian scholars. More and more, there is a public demand for accountability from the Russian security services about their role in failing to stop terror, and possibly being complicit in it through the use of informants among the Chechen fighters. Back in 1977, Gleb Pavlovsky, then a dissident and now a Kremlin insider, wrote an article about the subway blast of that era, titled "For the Lack of a Reichstag," in which he said, "We do not know who organized these explosions, but we do know absolutely certainly, who is making use of them."
Aleksander Cherkasov of the Memorial Society Human Rights Center, who has spent many years monitoring human rights in Chechnya, recalled Pavlovsky's words in a essay for polit.ru 6 February, looking at the explosions over time. "Today, these new explosions are not at all needed by the authorities, unlike in previous elections, parliamentary in 1999 and presidential in 2000. Then, the chief instruments of the propaganda campaign, securing the success of the 'party of power,' were in fact the raid on Daghestan [by Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev and his men] and the explosions of buildings [in Moscow and other cities], and the 'second Chechen war' that began after them," Cherkasov wrote.
"I do not want to ascribe these explosions to the security services," Cherkasov wrote, "although no investigation has been conducted, and the last trial [of those accused of the apartment building explosions] least of all facilitated the establishment of the truth." He added, "I simply am repeating Pavlovsky's words."
With his experiences in Chechnya, Cherkasov believes that terrorism in Russia will be very hard to stop, "not because of Chechen reality, but because of our common Russian reality." He cites corruption, abuse, and lawlessness as being the reasons why authorities even with the best intentions have trouble stopping such attacks. Chechens are able to clear all kind of security checkpoints in their republic, merely by filling out "Form No. 50," as a 50-ruble bribe is jokingly called, writes Cherkasov. The same kind of "Form No. 50" is being "filled out" in subway and train stations in Moscow even now.
Then there are the terrible abuses suffered at the hands of Russian troops, says Cherkasov. So many relatives have disappeared after being taken into custody by the Russian military -- 3,000 by an official count -- that families do not hold funeral services. They can only hope that their loved ones' remains will be found. This creates a "mobilized reserve" of people bent on revenge, says Cherkasov. The FSB knows this, he writes, because relatives of the disappeared have now been placed under increased surveillance since the waves of terrorist attacks in Russia in the last year.
Cherkasov next mentions rape of Chechen women, usually a taboo topic in Chechen society, and not covered in the official Russian media. "While it may not be planned," says Cherkasov, "it is massive in scale. We do not know how many women have suffered during the 'clean-ups.' Relatives petition prosecutors about the disappeared; they practically never report rapes. The FSB simply cannot make a report about rape victims. Meanwhile, they are candidates for revenge, and are even more determined," he wrote.
...AS HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS FEND OFF ACCUSATIONS OF SUPPORTING TERRORISTS. Human rights activists make the case that human rights abuses for which the state is responsible engender terrorism. Thus they explain the terrible acts, but do not justify them. The fine points in their statements are not always understood and the debate about human rights versus the exigencies of security is growing sharper. In January in Madrid, victims of terrorists held what was described as their first international congress. David Trimble, Nobel Peace laureate and Ulster Unionist leader, blasted human rights organizations, accusing them of complicity in terrorist killings because of their heightened concern for civil rights, "The Guardian" reported on 29 January. "One of the great curses of this world is the human rights industry," he told AP. "They justify terrorist acts and end up being complicit in the murder of innocent victims," he said.
The claim was vigorously denied by Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), the two largest human rights groups in the world. Amnesty has around 1 million members worldwide, and HRW, while not a membership organization, has gained prestige and media coverage with its authoritative reports and its fact-finding missions worldwide. Steve Crawshaw, an HRW representative in London, called Trimble's statement "extraordinarily regrettable and disappointing" given his stature as a Nobel Prize laureate. "His own emphasis, together with other politicians in Northern Ireland, on the fact that violence against civilians on all sides of any conflict cannot be justified, has been so important in recent years," Crawshaw was quoted as saying in "The Guardian." AI's U.K. director, Kate Allen, was quoted by "The Guardian" as saying, "David Trimble should remember that human rights organisations have condemned killings and other abuses by terrorist groups all over the world, while at the same time criticising governments who use the 'war on terror' as a pretext to abuse their citizens."
HRW did not carry any statement on the Moscow subway blast on 9 February on its main English-language website (http://www.hrw.org). In the last week, the human rights watchdog criticized the U.S. and Uzbekistan for arresting and torturing "independent Muslims" in Uzbekistan. Authorities have accused some of the prisoners of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group characterized by HRW as "a non-violent Muslim group that advocates the peaceful establishment of an Islamic state in Uzbekistan and elsewhere." Both the Uzbek and Western governments disagree, saying Hizb ut-Tahrir has some violent cells and an agenda for taking power that would violate both women's rights and those of non-believers if they were to succeed in their aims.
The label of "terrorist" may be legitimately debated, but a difficulty international human rights groups say hinders them from making the designation of "terrorist" is the lack of any definition in international law of what a "terrorist" is, as well as the lack of any covenant defining what can be construed as "terrorism." One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Yet the lack of an explicit definition in international law for "prisoner of conscience" never stopped groups like AI from struggling for their rights under existing international law, and other groups like HRW say terrorists, even as non-state actors, violate international humanitarian law.
The lack of a definition for "terrorism" also did not stop Human Rights Watch, at least on its Russian-language site, from resolutely condemning the Moscow subway blast. Although it did not describe the attackers as "terrorists" it used the Russian abbreviated term "terakt" (terrorist act) to describe the rise in the number of assaults on civilian targets in recent years. "A deliberate attack against the civilian population in a crowded metro is an act of heinous brutality, which cannot be justified. A thorough investigation must be conducted and those found guilty must be brought to account," Rachel Denber, acting director for the Europe and Central Asian Division of Human Rights Watch, said on the Russian-language version of HRW's site.
Last month, in an interview with RFE/RL about a report on human rights violations in Chechnya, executive director Ken Roth said, "There are serious abuses being committed by both sides in the Chechen war. The Chechen rebels, themselves, have regularly committed atrocities, including indiscriminate bombings and attacks on Russian civilians. The Russian military, for its part, is regularly torturing, disappearing, and killing people." While concerned about violations on both sides, Roth said, "I, in no sense, accept the Russian characterization of this as a war against terrorism, if by that it means that this justifies an anything-goes approach to Chechnya. Yes, indeed the Chechen rebels are violating international humanitarian law and we condemn that and certainly we urge prosecution. We don't even differ with the Russian government's choice of military means to deal with the rebellion. What we do object to is the Russian government's use of atrocities to fight that war," he said.
The difference between HRW's assessment, and that of not only the Russian government but the relatives of many victims of terrorism, is that they disagree with the characterization of the Chechen struggle as merely a "rebellion." Russian officials call it deliberate, planned terrorism with help from international terrorist groups, particularly Al-Qaeda. They have recently obtained the endorsement of Aleksander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, in that analysis.
While Amnesty did not appear to have made any statement on the subway blast, in statements in the past about similar attacks, it has been adamant that no liberation cause can justify the use of attacks on civilians. Amnesty, like local groups in Russia who care about human rights in Chechnya, have not characterized the armed resistance as a deliberate, planned terrorist conspiracy with aid from terrorist groups abroad.
In Moscow, the Memorial Society issued a statement on 7 February condemning the "totally terrible evil act" in the subway and said there could be no justification for it. Yet they said there was no proof that Chechens were responsible, and that it was the refusal of the country's leaders to seek a real political solution which had "led to the strengthening of the extremists' position." The Moscow Helsinki Group and other human rights organizations condemned the explosion and made the link to human rights abuses in Chechnya. Other Russian liberals also commented that Putin had brought the blast on himself, and merely used international terrorism as an excuse. Viktor Shenderovich of "Novaya Gazeta," in a 9 February editorial, excerpted in English by "The Guardian" on 10 February, said, "It's as if all the Russians who died in Dubrovka, in Tushino, in Kaspiisk, at Manezh Square and in the Moscow metro [sites of suicide bombs] had died because of some abstract world terrorism and not from the second Chechen war which Mr. Putin, himself, personally invited us to.... It's as if the explosion has nothing to do with the four years of lies on the two state channels about the normalization of life in Chechnya. It's as if blood is an answer for our indifference to other people's pain," Shenderovich wrote.
BELARUSPOLLSTERS WORRY ABOUT THEIR INDEPENDENCE IN UPCOMING ELECTIONS. A group of social scientists from Belarus visiting New York last week under the U.S. International Visitors' Program met with "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies" to describe their work and express their concerns about the ability of public opinion pollsters and analysts to operate freely during parliamentary elections in Belarus, likely slated for this fall.
The Belarusians come from various independent think tanks, established in a more liberal era in their country, which have managed to survive. While the official media ignores or disparages them, they have made an important contribution to public discourse by conducting independent opinion surveys, producing political and social analysis, and also providing consultation services for businesses interested in learning Western-style management.
Being an independent pollster means being part of the opposition, the sociologists conclude ruefully. While they are not explicitly backing any one opposition party, the regime's crackdown on civil society means they are forced into confrontation with the government, although their intention was to study social movements and trends, not create or join them.
The analysts waved a copy of a law that contains troublesome language they feel will significantly curtail their ability to work freely to determine public attitudes. The Soviet of Ministers passed a resolution (No. 707) in May 2002, which they say essentially amounts to a "licensing" of public opinion polls because of various hurdles that must be cleared. Before conducting a survey, sociologists must first notify the Opinion Poll Commission, a 15-member panel sitting at the government-controlled National Academy of Sciences. They must indicate their procedures, "information about the association carrying out the opinion poll and its client," its timing and conditions, and the sources of financing. After the data is gathered, it must be presented to the Opinion Poll Commission to be reviewed before it can be published. If the commission disagrees with the findings, it may carry out its own comparative analysis, check the findings of the poll, and publish a rebuttal. If the commission finds any violations of the law, or falsification of data, they have the right to demand publication of more accurate data by the polling agency, or publish it itself.
Sociologists are most concerned about a seemingly innocuous clause in the law that requires presentation to the commission of proof that the polling agency has performed internal inspections of its work. Article 5 states that if a poll is to be published, the polling agency must provide the following: the subject, the methods for information collection, criteria for selection of respondents, a complete list of the questions to be asked, and the number of respondents who replied on each question (or did not reply), copies of "quality assurance protocols," and the published poll-based material. Given the heavy reliance on polls of all kinds (some of them quite dubious in the regional press), a demand for quality control might seem reasonable. Yet pollsters explain that this is far too much intrusion from the state, and involves a direct impact on the confidential nature of respondents' identities and answers. The law stipulates that agencies should hand over information taken from their spot inspections -- normally such reports are kept only as internal documents.
For example, if a company double-checks some of the respondents' answers and contact information, the government could have access to that information. The commission is empowered to request any information it pleases. Article 4 of the resolution stipulates that "Information requirements are determined by the commission." Valery Karbalevich, head of political research at Strategy, an analytical center, says, "It undermines the basic idea for conducting polls -- anonymity for a respondent." Pollsters make the promise of confidentiality, particularly because they often deal with reluctant respondents raised in a climate of fear and government intrusion. The law is trying to compel pollsters to violate that public trust. "The firms are obliged to guarantee anonymity in their polls," Karbalevich says.
The danger is that the government's commission will use such harvested data to harass people who have made critical statements about the leadership. The sociologists fear that officials will be able to go back to the people interviewed, confront them about their views, and pressure them into retracting any critical statements.
While the government has not yet demanded a respondents' list from any agency, the clause in the law about obtaining access to internal auditing reports and any other information opens up the door to abuse. In September 2002, the state-run "Sovietskiy Belarus" ran a scathing article, titled "Monitoring or Call Girls?" about an engineer, Ivan Petruchenya, who was annoyed that "someone, on someone's command, has published some sort of muddle and called it a 'sociological study.'" The survey had found that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had suffered a drop in his approval rating by four points. "Well, how can it be?" fumed Petruchenya. "Lukashenka's rating has plunged. For eight years, it has been sliding and sliding downward. But then he up and beat Hancharyk with one hand tied behind his back," Petruchenya smugly concluded, referring to trade-union leader and opposition candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk, who lost the 2001 presidential elections. The author expands on conspiracy theories that either the U.S., by implication, or the Kremlin, are involved in manipulating opinion polls.
The law on opinion polls has not really been used for much beyond intimidation, but it hangs over the heads of pollsters now, making them wonder how far they can push their work. In an effort at co-optation, authorities have offered places on the commission to some of Belarus's leading and respected sociologists, such as Oleg Manaev of the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS), but they have declined. "They believe that if they were to join that commission, they would lend it authority, and they don't wish to do that. We have independent sociologists," says Maryna Baturchyk of the Association of Belarusian Think Tanks.
Groups that conduct polls, like any sort of institute, already have to register with local authorities to operate. "When there will be a referendum, or elections, using this commission, the government will essentially undo laws already passed by parliament about the right to register agencies and conduct work," says Uladzimir Dorakhau, head of the documentation center of IISEPS.
The requirement to reveal sources of financing also appears designed to weed out the support of donors such as the Soros Foundation, which was forced to discontinue its work in Belarus in 1997 and is still fighting lawsuits, or restrict groups like the Washington-based International Republican Institute, which has conducted polls in Belarus. The International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), a U.S.-funded agency which provides technical assistance to the media, was subjected to a hostile investigation and barred from further operation in Belarus in 2002. Local nongovernmental groups have been forced to close on various technicalities under the law on foreign aid as well as a restrictive law on associations. "They will say a group hasn't printed its stationery properly or find some other pretext," says Baturchyk. "If the name on the door is different from the name in the by-laws, they could close a group," said Karbalevich.
The sociologists noted that representatives of the Justice and Information ministries have representatives on the 15-member body and are wary. "Are they going to teach us how to run polls?" several of the visitors said.
What are the sociologists finding in the polls, which could make the government squirm? For one, recent independent polls have noted that Lukashenka's rating is indeed falling. It is not a message the government likes to hear, but it is not necessarily a source of comfort for the opposition. According to the sociologists, old people, especially in rural areas, are wont to answer "Gorbachev" or even "Clinton" when asked who they would like to see elected as president. When asked whether they knew about the five or more opposition candidates who have united in a bloc to press for free elections, only 10 percent of those recently polled had ever heard of them, say the sociologists. Western democracy experts hear these figures and come away blaming the parties for poor communications work, the analysts say. In reality, it is merely indicative of a country with a profound lack of press freedom, and lack of resources for breaking the information blockade imposed by the government.
The think tank directors are waiting for concrete incidents to happen in order to react to them. They believe announcing some kind of concerted public protest now might draw unnecessary fire. Either they will refrain from polling completely, or find some other way to continue their work.
The fate of the independent pollsters is inevitably linked to the precarious position of Belarus's independent press, particularly papers like "Belarusskaya Delovaya Gazeta," the largest-circulation independent daily remaining in Belarus, forced to close for some months over libel suits and other difficulties with the government. Banned by official distributors, and out of business for so long, the paper has lost advertising, and was forced to cut staff and circulation. Its influence on society has been sharply reduced and it is essentially paralyzed, say the sociologists. They say the authorities have become more refined in the work of repression, and have learned how to use a slow strangle rather than a rapid blow, in order to avoid protest. Still, they are hoping to continue their work to find out what an uninformed public is thinking and to help fulfill that same public's right to know.
RECOMMENDED NEWS LINKSBELARUS. The website of a leading think tank in Minsk, the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies. (In Russian and English). http://www.iiseps.by
Mises Center for Academic Research. Research on the transition to a free market, democratic society, and organized debate on limited government, individual liberty, and private property. The group maintains a site with information on management training and business start-up (Russian only). http://www.capitalizm.org
RUSSIA/CHECHNYA. Human Rights Violations in Chechnya. A portal for English-language press clippings and releases from Russian and international press maintained by Marco Masi in Italy. (In English). http://www.hrvc.net/news/updates.html
Russian-language site of Human Rights Watch. Contains information about human rights in Russia and also other former Soviet republics. http://www.hrw.org/russian/