9 June 2003, Volume 4, Number 14
IN FOCUSWHEN PIGS FLY. In a novel form of protest, two young pig breeders unleashed about two dozen piglets in Chisinau's central National Assembly Square near government buildings on 4 June, Infotag, BASA Press, and other local news agencies reported on 5 June. Tatyana and Alexander Gisca, owners of a private pig farm in Budesti on the outskirts of Chisinau, told reporters that they were trying to draw the government's attention to the fact that "pig breeding has become a nonprofitable, unfeasible business in Moldova," local media reported on 4 and 5 June.
Noting the animals were "totally indifferent to economics," Infotag described the unexpected porcine protesters as "squeaking of happiness" as they ran around the square and burrowed between and under cars, causing havoc. Within minutes, a large crowd gathered, and many bemused pedestrians began to try to catch the piglets. Police arrived and tried to prevent the animals from wandering into traffic, but two cars collided in an effort to avoid hitting the creatures.
While some onlookers pondering the plight of independent animal breeders in Moldova might have reached for their Orwell and commented, "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others," in fact, the police were only doing their job and were actually rather tolerant of farmers ultimately understood to be showing their utter desperation, expecting change to happen for the better only "when pigs fly." The couple said they had resorted to the outlandish action after failing to get any response from various state agencies to which they had appealed for help, particularly for relief from what they characterized as the burden of heavy taxation.
Eventually, police corralled the carefree creatures into a farm truck and took the hapless Giscas down to the station, where they were booked for disrupting public order and notified of a fine, local wire services reported. Interestingly, police first waited for the farmers to finish making their speech and talk to reporters before two plainclothes agents detained them. Other police cheerfully called on passersby to help round up the piglets. As the Giscas were led away to a police vehicle, they called out that the animals were infected, an unverified claim which went unheeded by the pig-catchers, BASA Press reported on 4 June. The peculiar porcine protest was mainly good for a few laughs within Moldova and newsrooms abroad, but how indeed will animal breeders and other farmers survive in Moldova, among the poorest countries in Europe?
All sorts of U.S. and European government and private programs have been brought to bear on the plight of Moldova's farms, with some important results but still a lot of work to be done. One program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) involves exchanges of volunteer experts from North Carolina University who have spent two-week academic leaves in Moldova exchanging experience and knowledge.
During the Soviet era, Moldova's rich black soil made it one of the region's most important agricultural producers, noteworthy in particular for fruit and wine. Yet as a report explains in "Perspectives Online" (Fall 2001), a publication of North Carolina University's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, with independence in 1991, some collective farms were dismantled, the land and other assets were divided, and the agricultural sector faltered. Although the collective farms were not tenable, for a variety of reasons evidently involving bureaucratic red tape and lack of skills and markets, private farming did not take root, and productivity fell threefold, says the university's agricultural experts.
John Richardson of North Carolina State University's Department of Agricultural and Extension Education likens the agricultural conditions in rural Moldova to those in rural North Carolina in the early 1900s before small-scale farmers had access to the technology and know-how to grow more than they needed to survive, according to "Perspectives". He and his colleagues found that farmers work their field by hand with hoes and pitchforks and even horse-drawn carts, drawing water from wells the old-fashioned way, with buckets on ropes. "In Moldova, there is all that capacity -- that human capital, a wonderful geographic location, an educational infrastructure that's just tops," Richardson is quoted as saying by "Perspectives," "but they need to find a way to get beyond labor-intensive agriculture. They just don't have a sufficient economic infrastructure."
The U.S. nonprofit Citizens' Network for Foreign Affairs (http://www.cnfa.com) helps build partnerships between the public and private sectors to foster market-oriented, economically viable enterprises in the post-Soviet nations. It has helped create a market by launching a program to create a total of 85 farm stores in Moldovan towns and villages by January 2004 to provide supplies, machinery services, credit, and market network to thousands of new private farmers. Such programs have not been able to cover enough ground to help desperate couples like the Giscas who face bureaucratic red tape as well as middlemen who skim off their profits.
"Who cares that the farmer has no tools to farm his land even after he has finally become a private landowner? Who cares that he has no markets to sell his products even when God gave him a year of good weather and a fruitful crop? Who cares that an army of officials lives in grand style on the farmer's back, while offering him no support and even impeding him?" asks "The Farmer's Hour," an independent publication in Moldova dedicating to helping farmers (see http://www.moldovaland.net.md/public/lmn_eng.htm). "We care," say the editors, who since 1997 have built up a readership of 20,000 people in 1,000 villages providing a local self-help network.
Still, despite the earnest efforts of foreign experts and dedicated NGOs and independent magazines inside the country, unhappiness with the side effects of reform and the increase in poverty has brought Communists back to power in Moldova both at the national and local levels. In local elections held last month, the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) won the most seats in the district and municipal councils -- 45.91 percent of the seats -- whereas the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), which has organized mass public protests in public squares in the last year, garnered only 14.68 percent of seats, seeuropa.net reported on 27 May. While the ballot illustrated undeniable support for the Communists, foreign observers including the U.S. Embassy and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found some flaws in electoral practices even as they acknowledged improvements in legislation. Whatever the manipulation of the electoral system that went on, the popular legacy of the Soviet era and Communist practices do not easily fade.
"More than anything else, what impressed me about Moldova was the damage to the whole culture that came with the Soviet era, the forced relocation of so many people from Moldova to Siberia, then the loss of the memory of how you do agriculture that came with the collective farms -- and then the almost worse disruption when the system of collectives came apart," Mary Peet, of North Carolina State University's Department of Horticultural Science, is quoted as saying in "Perspectives."
"That loss pervades everything -- the way people relate to government, to each other, to authority figures," she said. "I got the sense that success wasn't necessarily something that was desirable -- that people were afraid to stick their necks out," Peet is quoted as saying. Now that two brave farmers, bowed by their fines but not unbroken, have expressed their beef using their future bacon, perhaps officials will pay more attention to their plight and ease conditions for their work.
KYRGYZSTANSOROS OPENS AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL ASIA. At a press conference in Bishkek at a stop-off on his current seven-week international tour, U.S. philanthropist George Soros announced new support for the American University-Central Asia (AUCA), which he views as a centerpiece of efforts to expand academic freedom and freedom of speech in general in Kyrgyzstan and the region of Central Asia. Soros reached an agreement with Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev to build the AUCA's first dormitory and conference center at a cost of $6 million, one-third of which will be provided by Soros's foundation, with the expectation that the remaining two-thirds will be matched by the U.S. and Kyrgyz governments, akipress.org reported on 6 June. Kyrgyz authorities have pledged to set aside land for the construction.
During his visit, Soros also announced the creation of a new, independent Institute for the Study of Economics, which he described as a "fully Kyrgyz" institution which would tap local talent as well as attract free-market experts ranging from Russia's Yegor Gaidar, former top economic minister and now at the Institute for the Economy in Transition in Moscow; former Polish Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz; and Anders Aslund, the Swedish economic adviser on postcommunist economic transformation currently at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The AUCA, formerly the American University-Kyrgyzstan, was officially founded in 1997 but had existed as part of another institution since 1993. The Soros Foundation has funded it for a number of years to provide scholarship support and support to faculty. This week's event in Bishkek was to announce a government land transfer on which a dormitory will be built and provide a visible boost to the graduates, as Soros attended the commencement exercises and handed out diplomas. The AUCA (http://www.auk.kg/index.html) is described as a U.S.-style liberal arts university with "a commitment to democratic values, to freedom of expression and inquiry, and to academic integrity and honesty."
As the American University-Kyrgyzstan, now in its 10th year, the institution has graduated seven classes of students it hopes to place among the educated elite of Kyrgyzstan to lead the country. Soros has often credited the assistance given to him as a refugee fleeing Nazi Germany and his study at the London School of Economics, as giving him an important start in his own illustrious career. In part, Soros has modeled his support of the AUCA on what he describes as his "favorite child," Central European University in Budapest. The AUCA -- now to become Soros's "second-favorite child," according to students on the university's website -- has supported 43 high-achieving students from the CIS with full scholarships and provided partial tuition support for more than 300 others. Among the special activities of the AUCA has been the organization of "crisis games" or role-playing scenarios where students are assigned to various teams to work on an international crisis. In March of this year, for example, a three-day role-playing scenario was organized after the U.S. invaded Iraq with parts assigned to students as leaders from the countries of the world, the Iraqi opposition, and so on, in an exercise to establish a UN-supervised model government for Iraq. Other activities at the school including workshops for students sponsored by such agencies as the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development to provide information about possible internships and work positions, to help from a local professor in how to prepare a senior thesis, to a talk given by a U.S. lawyer for the law program's Legal Clinic titled "How Lawyers Think."
Since many ambitious students in Central Asia, especially those from wealthy families close to positions of power in the government, seek to study abroad to add luster to their resumes, there is hope by some that putting an American University right in Bishkek might help the best and the brightest to remain in their country and help with its arduous transition to democracy.
So much democracy has been fostered by Westerners in Kyrgyzstan of late that they may be seeing some chickens coming home to roost -- or at least some earnest pupils taking them too literally at their word. A local newspaper, "Agym," published a commentary on 6 June titled "How Open is Soros's Open Society?," complaining that staff at the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan selectively provided access to the much-in-demand Soros for various politicians, journalists and deputies who sought to meet with him during his trip to Bishkek. Although the world-renowned philanthropist's time was obviously limited, "Agym" claimed the staff "filtered out" unwanted persons contrary to the stated policy of an "open society" promoted by the foundation.
RUSSIAMONITORS ISSUE UNPRECEDENTED PRISON REPORT. Independent Russian human rights monitors have released a report this month on prison conditions, "Situation of Prisoners in Contemporary Russia," which is the first of its kind. The Moscow Helsinki Group, now in its 27th year, has coordinated a large-scale effort to provide the first domestic nationwide snapshot of their country's prisons and labor camps. In an unprecedented effort of government and civic cooperation, the Justice Ministry's Main Department of Corrections, the Gulag's successor known today by the Russian acronym GUIN (literally "Main Department of Execution of Sentences"), cooperated in permitting the monitors to enter 117 detention facilities to examine conditions firsthand. The monitors also interviewed former inmates and prisoners' families. The NGOs inspected pretrial facilities as well as penal colonies and prisons. (The full text of the report is soon to be made available in electronic form at the group's English-language website at http://www.mhg.ru/english.)
"The fact that in the months of October-November 2002, human rights activists managed to penetrate such a large part of the penitentiary institutions in the Russian Federation has become a high-profile public campaign in itself," the group's leaders commented in their introduction to the report.
While the report's findings are grim and indicate deteriorating conditions in prisons, the study also provides a window on several indisputably positive developments in Russia today. On the one hand, the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) -- a human rights committee forced to disband for several years in 1982 when most of its members were imprisoned -- has had remarkable success in establishing a network of monitors in 83 of Russia's 89 regions, who are now able to function more or less freely. More notably, the prison system itself has now become far more open compared to the days of the Soviet Gulag, when outsiders were allowed inside for visits only for carefully orchestrated "Potemkin Village" tours designed to distract from its horrors. Top Justice Ministry officials from the Department of Corrections cooperated with the Moscow Helsinki Group and allowed their monitors to come in to inspect 41 pretrial-detention facilities, known by the acronym SIZO in Russian, where most incidents of torture have been reported, and 74 colonies, or forced-labor camps, as well as two prisons.
The 275-page report available in Russian and English is the kind of dense and complex tome that usually finds its way only to the shelves of specialists in international bodies, government officials, and local NGOs. Despite the arcane format, scattered throughout the report's pages is a subtle but sobering indictment of both the heirs of the Gulag and the international community for failing to pay sufficient attention to this area of urgently needed reform in Russia. In fact, the Justice Ministry's historic levels of openness appear to be a tacit cry for help. As the MHG concludes, "the living conditions of prisoners have become even more dire" since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The most obvious problem is the sheer enormity of numbers of prisoners going through this brutal system, in contrast with many industrialized nations of the world. Some 2 million people are employed in Russia in the vast system of pretrial lock-ups, prisons, colonies, camps, and inspectorates. Although China and other nations have record numbers of persons incarcerated, throughout the 1990s, Russia held first place in the world for total number of prisoners per capita -- an unenviable title only recently yielded to the United States, where numbers of prisoners relative to the total population have also soared in the last five years, particularly in relationship to antidrug campaigns. In Russia, currently, 877,000 men and women are behind bars, including 145,000 in pretrial detention. That figure constitutes 40 percent of the total prison population of Europe, says the MHG.
As they had constantly received complaints of abuses from all over the country, the NGOs decided to dedicate their latest report, funded by the European Commission, to the prison system. They roamed throughout Russia's vast territories seeing facilities from the Adygei Republic to Yaroslavl Oblast. The degree of openness and cooperation conceded to the prison rights activists suggests that Russian authorities themselves are desperate to find ways to fix the many problems of the sprawling Gulag, which takes a great toll on society, not only in removing people from productive work, but in the spread of tuberculosis and in the creation of more hardened criminals who do further damage to society once released. It is not just the absence of rights, the MHG says, but the "widespread practices of cruel and degrading treatment," involving both abuses by guards against inmates and by inmates against other inmates without interference from guards, as well as the failure to create a functioning system of rehabilitation and follow-up to make the stay in prison less traumatic and prevent rearrest.
While grim in many respects, the report is careful to accord praise to reformers within the system who appear to be attempting to meet the obligations imposed by Russia's accession to the Council of Europe. In 2000, Russia's Main Department of Corrections was transferred from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry and some 100,000 prisoners were released. Still, such reforms have to be seen in light of a surge in arrests in 1993-96 following economic reforms. Theft accounts for 40 percent-50 percent of all offenses, and many of those convicted are economically disadvantaged, especially women. As an outcome of the decade's reforms, the government itself also appears to have less funds available for social services. Thus, the relaxing of some criminal legislation and the reductions of the population in recent years seem to be driven not only a drop in crime rates but a lack of funding. "The resources the government commanded were too limited to support the physical survival of the million prisoners, to say nothing about compliance with at least national regulations. Everything was in short supply, including food, medical services, sanitary and hygienic materials," writes prison expert Valerii Abramkin.
Although cooperative with the NGO inspectors, justice officials tended to focus on improvement in legislation and overall statistics, whereas the MHG tried to capture the human side by making personal interviews with prisoners and examining petitions from inmates -- information described as "unverified" by officials. In some instances, officials were unhappy with MHG's outspoken criticism over such issues as the notorious grills placed over prison windows that block fresh air and light. Ministry spokesmen say they have passed regulations to remove the grills and have begun to implement them, whereas the activists say that the signaling of good intent in the law is no substitute for full compliance when they have found so many actual instances of continued use of the grills.
The report is peppered with direct quotes of inmates who have suffered deprivations in the system, some reminiscent of the Gulag days. Just as in the Soviet era, the transfer of prisoners is an ordeal sometimes lasting many months as the convicts crisscross the country in trains and vans. They wait for long periods in poor, cramped conditions before being taken to the next way station in train cars still known as "stolypins" for Petr Stolypin, the tsarist minister who invented their use.
"A transport arrives. The inmates are convoyed out. The roll is called and everyone is at the double-quick. If you fail to reach the transport the convoy will beat you up or the dogs will bite you within an inch of your life. Those who are transferred for the first time suffer the most, the convoy will humiliate them to the utmost: either beat them up with the clubs or have the dogs bite them," one former prisoner said. Although more is known about such brutalities now that human rights groups can function, to remedy them requires official response, and the internal complaints system does not function due to deliberate official obstruction. "Nobody has any complaints because everybody believes it is no use," one desperate inmate commented.
The report's authors actually make rather modest recommendations, possibly sanguine about the ability of the cash-strapped and mismanaged bureaucracy to affect much change, especially given the unwillingness of parliament to pass significant changes such as alternative sentencing, and for the executive branch of government to invest more resources in the system. First, they call for regulations to ban inhumane treatment, i.e. lengthy confinement in inadequate facilities and such uncomfortable forms of restraint as the cuffing of hands behind the back and forcing prisoners to walk in a bent position. They also call for a statement of basic sanitary requirements including in transport vehicles and rail cars in an attempt to set benchmarks.
Among the gravest damages inflicted on society by the sprawling and abusive prison system is the spread of tuberculosis (TB). The NGO experts, citing their official contacts, say out of 250,000-300,000 prisoners release each year, 30,000 were infected with TB; of these, one out of four has the incurable, multiple drug-resistant form of TB, mainly due to food shortage and overcrowding, interrupted treatment, and lack of drugs. Currently, 84,000 within the system are said to be infected.
Ultimately, say the report's authors, maintaining such a large prison population "is a heavy burden for the state budget, curtails the resolution of many social problems, and contributes to the spreading of criminal customs and traditions among the population," says the report. It also spawns other problems once the prisoners leave the system. Their hope is that these factors will spur change.
A little-known statistic highlighted in the study is that almost a quarter of the entire homeless population of Russia is made up of former prisoners. Released convicts are given almost no social services and face discrimination in getting work and housing. There are at least 100,000 homeless living in Moscow alone, say the authors, citing media accounts; 356 died of exposure last winter. The problems begin, says the report, with the simple failure in many institutions across the land to issue the standard internal passport as the prisoner leaves. Without such identity papers, the former prisoner is ineligible for many services.
The authors' most important recommendation, which they believe will deter day-to-day abuses at the local level in particular, is to ensure public oversight -- the kind of inside view which they themselves have obtained by gaining entry at least for a time to the previously closed system. They say the Justice Ministry should pass regulations spelling out procedures for both local government bodies and public organizations to access prisons regularly, and even specify a formal system of accreditation for that purpose to overcome bureaucratic reluctance.
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KYRGYZSTAN. "Aksy Women Protest Acquittals of Local Officials." However much Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev's regime tries to close the book on the bloody events of March 2002 in Aksy, stubborn opponents of his government, whether professional activists or ordinary citizens quixotically seeking justice, simply won't let the matter rest. That was the message from the latest protest demonstration by a group of Aksy women who were outraged when provincial officials convicted in connection with the shootings won appeals and were released. http://www.rferl.org/centralasia/2003/05/19-290503.asp
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RUSSIA. "Government Says Islamic Headscarf Permissible For ID Photo." http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/06/02062003163039.asp
UKRAINE. "How Can We Right the Injustices to Our People?" During a recent conference in Berlin on the deported peoples of the former Soviet Union, RFE/RL interviewed Mustafa Dzhemilev, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and the head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis (parliament). Dzhemilev spoke of the current challenges facing the Crimean Tatars. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/06/02062003154311.asp
UNITED STATES. "Government Probe Criticizes Arrests Of Immigrants After 11 September." For months after the 11 September 2001 attacks, civil rights groups complained that the U.S. government was violating basic human rights by rounding up illegal immigrants and detaining them for months. Now, a new report from inside the government backs these charges. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/06/05062003152917.asp
UZBEKISTAN. Human Rights Watch says continued deaths in detention belie U.S. government certification of Uzbekistan as making improvements in human rights. Otamaza Gafarov was due to be released in September from Chirchik prison in northern Uzbekistan. Instead, he died there on 3 May, apparently from torture. http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/06/uzbek060303.htm