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(Un)Civil Societies Report: February 20, 2003

20 February 2003, Volume 4, Number 1

"RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies" has been issued in a new format. This process is still ongoing and reader comments are invited.
MILLIONS MARCH AGAINST WAR IN WORLD'S CAPITALS WHILE LEADERS OF NEW DEMOCRACIES SUPPORT U.S. At least 4 million protesters around the world turned out by the thousands in hundreds of cities to urge a peaceful solution to the crisis of Iraq's failure to cooperate with United Nations arms inspectors. Marches were reported in Almaty, Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Durban, Istanbul, Kyiv, London, Madrid, Minsk, Mostar, New York, Paris, Prague, Rome, Seville, Sofia, Tokyo, Warsaw, Zagreb, and elsewhere. Demonstrators largely supported the policies represented by France, Germany, and Russia in calling for more time for inspections and diplomatic pressure on Iraq in lieu of war (see "World: Global Antiwar Protests Draw Huge Crowds,", 17 February 2003).

There were no demonstrations for peace in Baghdad. Instead, tens of thousands of Iraqis, many toting Kalashnikovs, paraded in support of Saddam Hussein, carrying banners such as "Our swords are out of their sheaths, ready for battle," "The Washington Post" reported on 15 February. Unconfirmed Russian media stories that 2,500 Russian "peace volunteers" were to fly to Iraq to take part in antiwar actions were eventually discovered to be "a propaganda stunt" by the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow, reported on 11 February, saying no visas had been issued. Last week the International Federation of Journalists protested the expulsion of 69 foreign journalists from Iraq.

In New York, antiwar organizers were denied a permit to march past the United Nations buildings in midtown Manhattan. The case was reminiscent of the clashes over freedom of assembly between opposition groups and city officials in Azerbaijan, Belarus, or Kyrgyzstan. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging a judge's ruling confirming the ban, saying the march, although opposing U.S. policy, should not be treated any differently than the St. Patrick's Day processing along Fifth Avenue or the numerous other ethnic parades for which the city is known. (Such parades do not normally pass the UN.) Ultimately, New York authorities reached a compromise and granted permission for a stationary rally two blocks from UN headquarters, unlike, say, their Belarusian counterparts, who send demonstrators out to Bangalore Park on the outskirts of Minsk to keep them invisible to the targets of their protest in the center. New York police chiefs and United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of antiwar groups, disagreed whether the rally was 100,000 or 400,000; reporters settled at a figure of 300,000, noting numerous demonstrators milling along side streets blocked by police.

London saw the world's largest antiwar march of about 1 million. Carrying signs saying "No to War" and "No Blood for Oil" and "Free Palestine," many demonstrators said they feared U.S. plans to launch a war against Iraq could lead to numerous civilian deaths, further terrorist backlash, and years of unstable governments by squabbling factions similar to the struggles faced currently by reformers in Afghanistan.

Demonstrations in Eastern and Central Europe and Eurasia attracted far less participation than Western and southern counterparts. Several thousand supporters of Iraq had no trouble gaining permission to rally in Minsk. A march in Moscow was led by hard-line communists voicing opposition solely against the U.S. and supporting Iraq; a separate action was led by conscientious objectors who protested against the war in Chechnya as well as a new Persian Gulf war. Neither gathered more than a thousand participants.

Russian nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovskii's picket last week with a sign saying "America Will Break Its Teeth on Iraq" was emblematic of pro-Iraqi sentiment throughout the old Soviet bloc, which stems from past alliances rather than pacifist feeling. Zhirinovskii first made a highly publicized visit to Baghdad in 1992, where he received various presents from Saddam Hussein including a paisley silk gold-threaded cummerbund he frequently dons on ceremonial occasions.

Yet even such past political ties or current oil interests cannot reliably be expected to supercede the yearning of the post-Soviet states to preserve good relations with the U.S. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia have been siding with Washington on Iraq; Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are torn. And the U.S. has been able to call in chits from its past support of self-determination movements such as in the former Yugoslavia. Prominent Kosovar journalist and political leader Vetan Surroi wrote in the "International Herald Tribune" on 11 February that the debate around Iraq was similar to the Balkan debate of 1999. "Though peace was given a chance through European-sponsored negotiations, [President Slobodan] Milosevic only used those talks to entrench his position in Kosova. In the end, it was only the bombing of Serbia that stopped genocide of Kosovars and ultimately allowed the return of almost a million refugees to their homes." Surroi concluded: "The world ought to recall how the war for Kosova unfolded and how Europe's unfounded fears never materialized. One should remember from the case of Milosevic that it takes military might to topple tyrants, after everything else has failed."

A joint statement of the "Vilnius 10" who aspire to join NATO (Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) followed a similar letter of support on 30 January by leaders from nine European countries, including the three ex-communist NATO members, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. But polls indicate that except for Romania, where 45 percent said they were in favor of military action against Iraq, most populations oppose their country's support for war. A clear majority of 57.3 percent of Slovaks are opposed to any form of participation by their country in a possible war against Iraq, TASR reported on 10 February. Only 10 percent support the action in Macedonia, 21 percent in Bulgaria, and 30 percent in Estonia (see "Eastern Europe: Do Citizens Of Vilnius 10 Support Action Against Iraq, Or Only Their Governments?", 7 February 2003). Reasons for such sentiments as that of the Latvian public, where 74 percent oppose the use of force on Iraq, stem from a variety of factors, including for some older people the memory of Iraq as a Soviet ally and Russian pressure to oppose the war. For East Europeans, there is the sense that parliaments and publics, while supportive of NATO membership, have not been consulted sufficiently about their nations' participation in military actions outside the immediate NATO region. East Europeans also share a feeling with West Europeans that the older European democracies such as France and Germany have made a valid point about obtaining authorization for attacking Iraq from the UN's Security Council.

The antiwar marches around the world were the largest seen since the protests against the deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe, and such movements have not been as visible since the end of the Cold War. Groups concerned about the ravages of globalization on developing economies have staged large rallies in recent years especially timed with the meetings of international financial institutions, and have gained experience in using the Internet and local alternative news networks to press their cause.

Publics in Eastern and Central Europe and Eurasia have been less prone to march since the days when they pushed the limits of glasnost and brought down the Berlin Wall, and antiglobalization rallies appear to attract mainly anarchists in the region. Ultimately the lack of large marches in Eastern Europe and Eurasia is explained both by a preoccupation with local economic and social concerns and an indifference to foreign affairs as well as an absence of viable citizens' movements. Despite the positions taken by their leaders, most people remain indifferent, or if uneasy, still unwilling to take to the streets.

NGOS SAY ROMANY WOMEN FORCIBLY STERILIZED. Since the communist era, human rights groups have charged that the Slovak medical community, with government consent, pursues a discriminatory and abusive policy of deliberately sterilizing Romany women in order to reduce the minority population. In the 1970s, Charter 77 reported that "the sterilization is carried out as a planned administrative program" to reduce the "high, unhealthy" birth rate of the Roma. The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) has tracked the issue since the 1990s, finding that reports of involuntary, invasive gynecological procedures persist along with public fears of the growing Roma population, particularly in right-wing political rhetoric and in such films as "Gypsies of Svinia," where a Slovak health worker openly advocates the sterilization of Roma.

In January of this year, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, a group known primarily for advocacy of the right to abortion, together with Slovakia's Center for Civic and Human Rights released a new report documenting 110 cases of what they believe to be unlawful sterilization of Romany women without their consent (see They also presented their findings to the Health Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in the hope that the practice may be changed as Slovakia seeks to enter the European Union.

On 28 January, Deputy Prime Minister for human rights, minorities, and European migration Pal Csaky filed a request for investigation of the original charges of forced sterilization, but also warned that he would subsequently accuse the NGOs of "spreading false alarm" if the claims could not be validated.

Now the two NGOs say police and health workers are rounding up and intimidating Romany women to prevent them from giving evidence in the official probe. Barbora Bukovska, director of the Center for Civic and Human Rights said police threatened women with up to three years in prison if they make false accusations or file criminal complaints against hospital employees where the practices were said to take place, TASR and CTK reported on 10 February. Csaky subsequently filed a criminal complaint against the two organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2003). "The motion is a shocking attempt to divert attention from the government's failure to prevent and investigate suspicions of forced sterilization and violations of the reproductive rights of Roma women," said Katherine Hall-Martinez, international program director of the Center for Reproductive Rights in a statement on her organization's website. To date, Csaky has not pressed his claims against the NGOs but no results of the probe have been forthcoming.

Forced sterilization itself has a long history throughout the world, and even Western democracies have only relatively recently ceased the practice. It was unchallenged in the U.S. until the 1970s, notably as part of the "eugenics movement" whose advocates claimed mental illness, genetic defects, and social ills could be eliminated by preventing births among certain populations, which often turned out to be minority communities already suffering discrimination. Both medical experts and human rights groups have successfully opposed involuntary sterilization. North Carolina became the first state to officially consider paying reparations to victims of a forced sterilization program from 1929-74, where more than 7,600 people, mainly poor, young, black women, were sterilized, the "Winston-Salem Journal" reported on 11 February. Last year, governors of Oregon, Virginia, and North Carolina apologized for forced sterilizations that were performed in those states; at least 30 U.S. states are known to have consented to the practice in the past but reversed it. Canada, Sweden, and Norway have also admitted to forced sterilization programs in the past.

Some experts have characterized the current practices in Slovakia as more accurately termed "coerced" rather than "forced," i.e. they involve performing sterilization on minors, or when women are under anesthesia by claiming it was done on an emergency basis, or after Caesarian sections or other pregnancy complications. Especially after previous multiple births, women are told they will imperil their lives if they became pregnant again and have been pressured into giving their consent. Some women gave signed consent, but later said they were insufficiently informed about their options.

After several fact-finding missions in 2002, the ERRC found that a practice exists of "racially-based contraceptive sterilizations of Romany women, taking place absent acceptable -- and in many cases even rudimentary -- standards of informed consent." In making this pronouncement, the ERRC emphasized the difficulties in obtaining and verifying comprehensive data. The ERRC found in about 10-20 percent of cases they saw, consent met ethical and legal standards, but another 10 percent constituted criminal malpractice, i.e. clear-cut lack of consent. Some 70-80 percent of the cases were thus more complicated, involving manipulative information, pressure, or tricks to secure "consent," or a lack of clear and coherent information for the patient. This "gray area" in the overwhelming majority of cases involves determining the extent to which the medical community adequately informs patients versus the degree to which they pressure women to have therapeutic abortions or sterilization in an overall climate of prejudice toward Roma.

Jan Wiersman, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Slovakia, has recommended an independent study of the issue. The Slovak government has indicated that it will not commission such a study but will review a request to cooperate with one. With its March vote coming up on the accession treaty of Slovakia and nine other candidates, the European Parliament has asked the Slovak government to provide additional information about how it will address Romany issues. Meanwhile, the NGOs who originally documented the cases hope for justice from local courts through international pressure during the accession process. The difficulty comes with trusting the Slovak police to conduct an impartial inquiry, and then hoping that Slovak judges, in many cases unchanged since the communist era, will try the cases fairly.

Even those sympathetic to the human rights groups' concerns are worried about giving the Slovak government any ammunition to discredit the claims. In 2001, when both a consultant for the Open Society Institute and a Romany representative tried to present cases of sterilization, the testimonies could not be confirmed under Slovak police questioning, SITA reported on 28 January, and the ERRC says all parties to the issue denied the reports. Even those advocating on behalf of Romany women say the difficulties in obtaining and corroborating such testimony from some of the poorest and most marginalized women proved too great. While vindication in a single symbolic lawsuit within Slovakia's court system might serve to change public opinion, its failure could also undermine efforts to get authorities to take the problem seriously.

The frustrations of trying to use either international commissions or local courts have prompted some experts to question the litigation approach on the issue of sterilizations, and to opt instead for concerted education of the health- and social-worker communities dealing with the Romany population. Like law enforcers, they still harbor attitudes from the communist era when the state implemented programs to compel Romany women to be sterilized in exchange for other social services like getting an apartment. The accession process for Slovakia offers a political moment when some adverse practices might be changed under pressure, but also required is a long-term approach to change deep-seated societal prejudices and the paternalistic attitude of the medical profession.

DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION LOSES 'EMPTY SEAT.' This week, the remnants of Belarus's last democratically elected parliament and other democratic opposition leaders lost their long struggle to prevent international recognition of the nondemocratic parliament of Belarus. The National Assembly, elected in 2000 under conditions characterized as not free or fair by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other international monitors, has had little leeway to challenge the authoritarian policies of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

At a meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) on 20 February, the U.S. congressional delegation proposed once again postponing recognition in light of continuing human rights problems and lack of authentic democratic functions in the existing parliament. Other delegations pointed to the recent re-deployment of an OSCE office in Minsk as a sign of progress warranting the seating of Belarus's parliamentary delegation.

Ultimately, the vote of 18 in support of postponement of the decision until the July session, 20 against, and five abstentions read in part like another chronicle of what has come to be called significant differences among "old" and "new" Europe on how to promote freedom: those "pro" included the United States, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, France, Spain, Austria, Andorra, Georgia, Estonia, Denmark, and Malta; those abstaining included Cyprus, the U.K., Hungary, Netherlands, and Sweden; and those against included Russia, Belarus, and other CIS allies. Some countries' votes may have been explained by a notion that seating a less-than-perfect delegation from Belarus was better than leaving the seat empty at a time when Russian pressure on Belarus for a more closer union has been increased.

Rather than legitimize Lukashenka's parliament, the democratic opposition of Belarus had called on the Western democracies and new members of NATO to challenge Russia, Belarus, and allies among former Soviet republics who were pressuring the West to recognize the National Assembly and normalize strained relations that culminated in a visa ban for Lukashenka and other top officials last year and a visa denial to the Belarusian president for the NATO summit last November. The sanctions are now being reviewed.

In 2001 and 2002, the OSCE PA left an empty seat for Belarus to symbolize both flawed elections and the repression of parliamentarians, including jailing and even disappearances of some members who attempted to launch impeachment proceedings against Lukashenka when he disbanded the 13th Supreme Soviet after a manipulated national referendum in 1996 to extend his term. Meanwhile, Belarusian officials, Russian Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, and various European members who are tired of the impasse urged recognition of the National Assembly to avoid further isolation of Belarus. Russians emphasized the fine legal points of the OSCE PA's charter, which specifies only that it be an assembly of parliaments, not necessarily democratically elected parliaments. Europeans reasoned that they could hardly keep out one delegation from a dubious body when the membership of so many other legislatures in countries with far worse human rights records, including Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, were not challenged.

In last year's debates, the decision not to seat Belarus's nominal parliament was easier, not only due to the worsening human rights abuse in Belarus but due to the expulsion of the OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group, through denial of visa renewals to its chief and staff, and claims of its "interference in internal affairs" for engagement with the opposition and training of monitors for the 2001 presidential elections. Although not formally linked, the mistreatment of one OSCE institution helped the other to hold the line on recognition that would seem to reward bad behavior. Throughout 2002, the OSCE PA seat for Belarus remained empty despite tense debates. Ultimately, the OSCE Mission in Minsk was closed last December and negotiations ensued to pressure the Belarusian government to open a new one.

Although OSCE officials have tried to paper over the difficulties with Belarus, when the new office's mandate was finally negotiated, it was watered down with the removal of one crucial word, the adjective "democratic." The mandate passed in 1997 calls for the OSCE Office in Minsk to "assist the Belarusian authorities in promoting democratic institutions and in complying with other OSCE commitments; and monitor and report on this process." The mandate renegotiated in December 2002, however, is to "assist the Belarusian government in further promoting institution building, in further consolidating the rule of law and in developing relations with civil society, in accordance with OSCE principles and commitments," to assist the government in economic and environmental activities, and to "monitor and report accurately" on these objectives. The loss of the word "democratic" and the addition to the mandate of economic and environmental activities, along with an admonishment to report "accurately" signify the office will be under constant pressure from the Belarusian government if it promotes civil and political liberties.

It remains to be seen how "promoting institution building" without the adjective "democratic" will be achieved by the new chief of mission, Ambassador Eberhard Heyken, who previously served as Germany's ambassador to Ukraine. Not content even with the dropping of "democratic," when the mandate was approved by the OSCE's Permanent Council, the Belarusian delegation demanded an interpretative statement specifying that all projects or programs of the mission had to be cleared by the Belarusian government and extra-budgetary financing of projects could not be conducted without the host government's approval. Belarus also demanded that monitoring reports must present the official position of Belarus and invoked a Soviet-style "noninterference in the internal affairs" in the face of a potential human rights critique.

It further specified that OSCE mission staff could not come from officials previously involved in intelligence services or "actions against Belarus's national interests." The U.S. delegation challenged the interpretation, referring to past OSCE decisions and principles. PACE's special reporter on Belarus, Wolfgang Behrendt, on 9 January told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service there were no grounds for optimism about the mission as long as its real functions remain unclear. He was particularly concerned that the agreement did not specify the monitoring of human rights and media freedom, which were staples of the previous mission and are long-standing problems in Belarus. A certain amount of maneuvering is likely as the new OSCE Office attempts to report under the watchful eye of the administration, and also faces pressure from human rights victims, journalists, and opposition to do more.

OSCE parliamentarians visiting Minsk last week tried to put a good face on the uncertain prospects of the new office by claiming work on economic and environmental issues would actually mean expanding rather than reducing the mandate, although it is unclear how duplication will be avoided with United Nations Development Program and other agencies already working on these issues, atypical of OSCE field missions in any event.

For its part, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on 11 February to "step up contacts with reform-minded forces" in Belarus, including churches, trade unions, universities, and the democratic opposition. In a parliamentary debate, EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten said he did not believe Lukashenka would loosen his grip on power and could not predict when the EU would normalize relations, Radio Raciye reported on 11 February. While welcome, this support did not translate into the significant gesture of solidarity to the democratic opposition that would have been implied in keeping the OSCE PA's seat empty.

In an urgent appeal earlier this month to PACE, five Belarusian opposition parties including the United Civic Party and the Belarusian Social-Democratic Hramada (Assembly) warned that none of PACE's past resolutions on Belarus had been implemented and thus there was "no basis -- legal or political or moral -- for legitimizing the National Assembly" through the granting of observer status at PACE or membership in the OSCE PA, especially some 18 months before the next round of parliamentary elections are expected in 2004. The opposition leaders feared that recognition by the OSCE PA gives the National Assembly enhanced credibility and authority at a time when it is likely to pass a "constitutional act" ratifying a closer Union of Belarus and Russia, which could override Belarusian law and threaten Belarusian sovereignty. A legitimized parliament still in the president's pocket could in theory take other actions such as passing a resolution for another national referendum to extend Lukashenka's term or declare a state of emergency furthering consolidating his control over society. The Belarusian democratic parties warn that "concessions on the part of the West only reinforce the dictatorship in Belarus" and hinder the struggle for democracy.

Some members of the OSCE PA argued that regardless of whether the seat was kept empty or the National Assembly recognized, that body could still serve as the vehicle for a closer union with Russia or consolidating Lukashenka's control. Without massive popular pressure and real concessions from the government, the OSCE's conditions for free and fair elections are unlikely to be met by the Belarusian government anyway by next year. The opposition is split over issues ranging from attitudes toward Russia and the degree to which accommodation with Lukashenka's regime should be sought, and is also severely hampered at the polls without a large following or press freedom to carry their message. Now the word "democratic" has been dropped from the mandate of the OSCE's Office in Minsk, as well as from the description of parliamentary delegations, making the OSCE's own critique of nondemocratic elections less powerful. Sadly, at a time when Western democracies -- new and old -- were asked "not to do something, but to stand there" and keep the seat eloquently empty in the OSCE PA, they did not rise to the occasion.

AZERBAIJAN. The Institute for Peace and Democracy in Azerbaijan has issued a new report on the latest events in the troubled town of Nardaran, site of unrest last year leading to police clashes and the shooting death of one villager. Armed, camouflaged troops raided a tent settlement on 5 February, arresting eight.

KAZAKHSTAN. Amirzhan Qosanov, the chairman of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, may face imprisonment for his protest against the government of President Nursultan Nazarbaev but believes Western opinion influences democratic development in Kazakhstan.

RUSSIA. Memorial Society Human Rights Center has appealed to the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil-Robles questioning support of a referendum in Chechnya.

SERBIA. The chief prosecutor of the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Carla Del Ponte, is welcoming the decision by Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj -- recently indicted by the tribunal -- to turn himself in for trial.

TURKMENISTAN. The Open Society Institute has launched a Turkmenistan Project and news listserve as part of a new program to increase grant making for Turkmenistan's civil society initiatives, to provide independent research and media outreach, and advocate with the international community to seek accountability of the government.

UZBEKISTAN. The International Crisis Group released a report, "Uzbekistan's Reform Program: Illusion or Reality?" calling on the United States, European Union, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and other international donors to take a much tougher, critical approach with the Uzbek government on political and economic reform.