18 June 2003, Volume 4, Number 15
IN FOCUSGEORGIA'S STUDENT PROTEST MOVEMENT. Unlike the West, large-scale youth movements have been less prevalent in Eurasia for a variety of reasons. Governments appear to have more capacity to herd young people into officially sanctioned youth or student organizations and give them significant privileges there to dissuade them from dissent. They also wield considerably more powerful tools of repression in depriving students of access to state-funded universities, stipends, and housing if they step out of line. Because the adults' opposition political parties are usually themselves under pressure and fractured over the very issue of how much to cooperate with the existing regime, they have trouble creating solid youth movements. Some still-existing features of traditional families also tend to mitigate against youth protest, but if a critical mass of discontented adults is reached, the parents will stand by their protesting children, and the society at large will see their own aspirations reflected in the next generation.
While the magic number of "100,000 in the central square" has not yet been reached -- the figure said by most analysts to be required for social change to galvanize -- there is indication that the youth protest movement known as "Kmara" (Enough) is growing in Georgia. Some 5,000 opposition activists, many students, demonstrated on 3 June in the main square in Tbilisi demanding the replacement of the Central Election Commission and a new election law before the 2 November parliamentary elections (see "Georgia: Opposition Challenges Shevardnadze Ahead of Autumn Elections," rferl.org, 4 June 2003).
The students called for the resignation of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and complained about the unfairness of the 19-member Central Election Commission, currently dominated by pro-government forces, representing only those parties that overcame the 7 percent threshold in the 1999 parliamentary elections, or which garnered more than 4 percent in last year's local elections. The students have made some common cause with older political opposition leaders. Among the demonstration leaders was Zurab Zhvania, a former Shevardnadze ally and speaker of parliament who now chairs the United Democrats opposition party, and Mikhail Saakashvili, former justice minister and now leader of the New National Movement
Not originally related to existing political movements, Georgia's Kmara took off on 14 April when youth marched from Tbilisi State University to the State Chancellery, chanting their slogan "Enough" and carrying the flags of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic with the faces of the current government leaders on them, according to the Human Rights Documentation and Information Center -- evidently to dramatize their connection with the Soviet past. Although originally the students were motivated to protest against corruption within the university, their demands grew broader to address the whole political system. About 300 students took part in the demonstration, saying they "wish to live in a normal and democratic country, rather than a nation whose authorities make money through corruption," Interfax quoted them as saying on 14 April. The students asked for a meeting with President Eduard Shevardnadze, but were ignored. Some of the protesters had earlier petitioned the government over the closure of the independent television station Rustavi-2 in 2001.
The date of this year's protest was timed to coincide with a major student protest 25 years ago in April 1978, when young people took to the streets to demand that the Soviet-era constitutional article proclaiming Russian as Georgia's official language be revoked. At that time, Soviet officials relented and declared Georgian as an official language along with Russian.
The Georgian students key demand -- democratizing the composition of election commissions --is often the core dispute in post-Soviet elections. Not a single election in the former Soviet states has been given an unqualified characterization of "free and fair" by Western observers and opposition groups, and many former Soviet-era officials like Shevardnadze have remained in power precisely because of such commissions. The executive's explicit control over them means long before election day they are filled either by either close political allies of the top leadership or in the case of Georgia, appointed by the president himself.
In Azerbaijan, for example, the government recently announced that only the parties already in parliament could gain a seat on the Central Election Commission; just as in past years, efforts by the foreign community to push for greater pluralism had only limited success. In Belarus, officials of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and various Western ambassadors failed to persuade the administration to include opposition parties in the national and local election commissions.
A case could be made that with so many political parties and a splitting of votes in transitional countries, a numeric formula is a rational solution to the problem of evening the playing field before elections. Yet the reason political rivals of entrenched Soviet-era despots fight so hard on the issue of election commissions is simple: without at least some kind of sanctioned opposition presence inside the commission, the opposition cannot trust election officials to apply election law fairly and to count the votes accurately. Authoritarian governments resist the admission of the opposition groups into their controlled election commissions for precisely this reason -- if their opponents and the public at large could see into the inner workings of the commissions, they might deter or at least expose fraud and undermine their control and fixing of the outcome of the elections.
Democratic opposition leaders believe they need a physical presence inside the commissions to deter fraud.. External election monitors, officially authorized or organized informally by NGOs, have simply not proven effective as a deterrent to ballot-box tampering or obstruction of democratic participation. And while the staff of Western aid programs providing technical assistance might focus on party building or reaching constituents of various types, they are not going to lead an aggressive political struggle to insist on opposition parity in the commissions in defiance of host government leaders -- especially with the ever-present possibility of punishment or expulsion for such challenges. During his 2 June national radio address, President Shevardnadze singled out an unnamed international organization that he claimed was interfering in Georgia's elections by backing the student opposition, Interpress reported on 2 June. He mentioned that the organization had helped culture and science -- thereby tacitly identifying it as the George Soros-backed Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF).
U.S. charity law prohibits tax-exempt charitable organizations like the Soros foundations from funding political parties and campaigns abroad, although broad educational programs and technical assistance to coalitions of parties in elections are acceptable under U.S. law. OSGF officials say they have not funded Kmara per se, and refer to a telephone conversation held between President Shevardnadze and George Soros on 5 June. Shevardnadze was said to express his gratitude to Soros for his support of scientists for many years, "Sakartvelos Respublika" reported on 6 June. For his part, Soros confirmed that he is "not going to be involved in internal political processes" but "will commit to free and fair elections and support democratic elections," "Sakartvelos Respublika" reported, adding that the two agreed to contact each other again if any "misunderstandings" arose.
In a pointed comment covered by local television channels in Tbilisi, OSGF's executive director, Alexander Lomaia, noted that there were two presidents in Eastern Europe who had suppressed the activities of the Soros foundations in their countries: Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav leader now on trial for war crimes in The Hague, and Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who for a time was subject to a travel ban by the EU and the U.S., adding that he would not like to see Shevardnadze become the third such president to ban Soros activity.
The State Security Ministry claimed Soros had allocated $1.5 million to aid political parties to "provoke destabilization and arrange a coup," "Tribuna" reported on 22 March. In response to this alleged threat, the ministry drafted legislation requiring that all parties declare the sources of their income, which has been approved by the National Security Council and is soon to be reviewed by parliament. Yet the government of Georgia has not provided any evidence that Soros or any other Western donor has contributed directly to any Georgian political party.
In an article published on the Soros-sponsored eurasianet.org (see below under "Recommended News Links"), OSGF representatives are cited as denying that any direct support has gone to Kmara specifically, saying $500,000 was set aside for a general Election Support Program, to promote vigorous political debate and balanced media coverage. Officials say only that a large coalition of youth, student, and civil society NGOs were funded to promote public education in support of free and fair elections. As a nonregistered group without legal status, it would be difficult for a loosely structured movement like Kmara to be supported by Western donors in any event.
So far the protests have been peaceful, without major reprisals. Nine students were detained during a protest in front of the Interior Ministry on 12 June, the Human Rights Information and Documentation Center reported in a statement of protest the same day. The students were trying to write slogans on the walls of the Interior Ministry building, according to Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor of Tbilisi's Mtatsminda-Krtsanisi Raion has summoned David Gamkrelidze of the New Rightists and Zhvania of the United Democrats, two of the five opposition party leaders involved in recent demonstrations, for questioning on 11 and 12 June, respectively, Caucasus Press reported on 12 June. The two were warned that organizing an unsanctioned demonstration is punishable by a prison term of up to five years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2003).
As with allegations about similar antigovernment activity by former administration officials in Ukraine, Belarus, and elsewhere in the region, suspicions have surfaced about possible Russian sponsorship of the student protest to keep Georgia unstable and in Russia's orbit. According the 10 June article on eurasianet.org on 10 June, Prime-News Agency reported on 21 April that Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, leader of the National Democratic Party and spokeswoman for the pro-Shevardnadze bloc known as For New Georgia, said Russian special services were planning the protest movement and would finance at least one television station for the group's propaganda. Kmara's own members ridiculed the notion, saying their protest was homegrown from widespread discontent felt by Georgian students over the Shevardnadze administration's inability to promote stability.
TURKMENISTANRELATIVES OF POLITICAL PRISONERS PERSECUTED. In a report last week based on investigations by its affiliate, the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, the World Association Against Torture said the government of Turkmenistan continues persecuting relatives of four men charged with an attempted assassination of President Saparmurat Niyazov last November (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 11 December 2002). Boris Shikhmuradov, Guvanch Jumaev, and Nurmukhammed Khanamov were all sentenced by Turkmen courts to life in prison; Sapar Yklymov was tried in absentia and his sentence is unknown. Their relatives continue to report intimidation by security police and even detention and ill-treatment in some cases, the human rights groups report.
Their findings are based on their own interviews and have not been confirmed by official international human rights bodies, which have been unable to perform thorough investigations in Turkmenistan. The activists say Boris Shikhmuradov remains in poor health and his brother, Konstantin Shikhmuradov, and grandson, Murad Shikhmuradov, were also both sentenced to jail terms. There are also unconfirmed reports that Murad Shikhmuradov has since died, which relatives are unable to check because they are denied visits to the prison. They report being under constant surveillance.
According to the human rights groups, Rozy Jumaev, Guvanch Jumaev's elderly father, received a prison sentence, and his brother, Chary Jumaev, was also sentenced to 20 years in prison. Timur Jumaev, Guvanch Jumaev's son, was sentenced to life in prison. Magtym Jumaev, another of his brothers, was detained for investigation for over two months, was allegedly tortured in detention, and is now under house arrest. Relatives are not allowed to visit any of the imprisoned Jumaevs, their houses and property have been confiscated, and they have been dismissed from their jobs. Jumaev's relatives are also said to be under surveillance.
Nurmukhammed Khanamov was sentenced to life imprisonment, while several of his relatives were sentenced and released, but have lost their jobs. Annamukhammed Khanamov, Nurmukhammed's brother, has leukemia and is not being permitted to leave the country to obtain medical care.
Sapar Yklymov, who has Swedish citizenship, was tried in absentia, but the sentence has not been publicized. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry has demanded Yklymov's extradition from Sweden. Amanmukhammed Yklymov, 55, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. Orozmamat Yklymov, 53, Sapar's brother, was sentenced to 19 years in prison. Esenaman Yklymov, his uncle's son Yklumov Orsmoukhamed (a stringer for RFE/RL), was sentenced to five years imprisonment after making critical comments regarding the harassment. Yklym Yklymov, 48, a lawyer and former head of a Justice Ministry agency, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Orozmamat and Yklym Yklymov are being held at investigation-detention centers of the National Security Service. Although Swedish authorities have granted political asylum to Maral Yklymov, Sapar's daughter, she is not permitted to leave Turkmenistan and is barred from communicating with relatives abroad, or with international organizations and agencies such as the United Nations. The family's homes and property have been seized and they are reportedly subjected to constant psychological pressure.
Human rights groups say Amanmukhammed Yklymov, his wife, Gozel, and sons Dovlet and Toili, were held in poor conditions in a detention facility for more than a month and then left homeless. Amanmukhammed's current location and condition are unknown. More than 100 of their relatives are under house arrest. Bairam Bairamov, Sapar's uncle, was sentenced to four years, and his 83-year-old father, S. Bairamov, has received threats. According to the information received, the prison rations have been cut to the minimum and their quality is very poor. The prisoners are often denied food and are also reportedly being subjected to torture. After five months of detention, the health of the prisoners has seriously deteriorated, with many of them suffering from diseases and weight loss. Doctors, including from the Red Cross, have not been allowed to visit the detainees, despite appeals from the international community.
Flying in the face of all these grim reports, on a working visit to the Ahal and Balkan regions on 9 June covered by Turkmen TV, President Niyazov claimed the people of Turkmenistan have the same rights and liberties as people in other countries of the world. "You have every right to move anywhere, to choose any occupation, to own a plot of land, or to establish your own business," he told local residents. His remarks were translated into English and distributed by the Turkmenistan Project of the Open Society Institute, which commented that the president's statement may have been intended to dispel criticism about forthcoming plans to end recognition of Russian-Turkmen dual citizenship (see "Recommended News Links" below).
UKRAINEFACING JOBLESSNESS, SOME MIGRANT WORKERS LEAVE... On 1 July, a little-known international treaty, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, will finally enter into force as the required 20th ratification has been submitted. Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Tajikistan are among the 23 countries who have signed and ratified the treaty, which was passed in 1990 by the UN General Assembly but has gone unheeded by most nations --Russia, Ukraine, and other former Soviet states are among the world's top producers and receivers of migrants whose rights are often violated.
Nongovernmental organizations campaigning for ratification and implementation of the migrant rights treaty, including Migrant Rights International (see below under "Recommended News Links), believe the convention will be helpful in improving the lot of migrants, as it provides a definition of "migrant labor" that could provide a benchmark for local legislators. The treaty mandates humane treatment of migrant workers and their families and calls for guarantees against arrest for failure to fulfill contractual employment. It makes unlawful the confiscation of passports and other official documents. The idea is to deter a common practice whereby migrants are deprived of freedom or have their identity papers confiscated by abusive employers. The treaty reiterates guarantees found in other UN conventions about the right to due process, fair trial, and equality before the law.
A number of the main provisions, such as protection from dismissal or unemployment benefits are specified for documented or authorized migrants only, meaning that millions of undocumented aliens migrating from poor to wealthier countries for temporary employment are not covered. Many of the Ukrainians in the wealthier countries of the West such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Germany fall into this category.
In a 10 June article on migrants from the western part of Ukraine, "The Christian Science Monitor" paints a grim portrait of children living without their parents in Ukraine, cared for mainly by grandparents, and eating mainly potatoes. Small mountain villages have been emptied of working-age adults, says "The Christian Science Monitor," as poor living conditions following the breakup of the former Soviet Union have impelled people to seek employment in neighboring East and Central European countries such as Poland and Slovakia, or further west if they can manage it.
Although not noted by the article, the tradition of parents leaving children with grandparents to raise during stressful times is a common one dating from the upheavals of the last century, particularly the famine and World War II, when parents were forced to leave children when they went to the front or in search of work. Throughout the Soviet era and to this day, it was common for extended families to live together and leave child raising to grandmothers while parents seek employment opportunities in large cities or abroad. Nevertheless, the increasing new pressures of migration have broken up families, increased the divorce rate, and emptied villages of the working-age population.
According to a new report by the German branch of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), thousands of children, including many from Ukraine as young as six years old, are being forced to work in prostitution or sweatshops in Western Europe, dpa reported 10 June.
The problem of trafficking in human beings is often viewed from the perspective of crime prevention and prosecution as well as international relations -- recently Ukraine was cited as a "Tier 2" country, i.e. with serious trafficking problems it is attempting to address, by a U.S. Congress-mandated report prepared by the State Department on the international trafficking of human beings.
The flip side of the trafficking crime issue is a more complex human rights problem at the nexus of labor rights, the right to freedom of movement, and now better-defined migrant rights. The size of the remittance economy for Ukraine and what it means to many individual families on the edge of poverty gives an indication of why NGOs concerned about trafficking find it so hard to convince Ukrainian women in particular not to fall prey to criminal gangs often made up of their own countrymen, much less to give testimony against their abusers or to return home to Ukraine from abroad. The U.S. government report, citing official Ukrainian statistics, says 202 victims were willing to provide testimony to Ukrainian prosecutors and police, eventually leading to just 41 prosecutions with only 17 prison terms. Although the U.S. Justice Department prosecuted a total of 79 traffickers from various countries in 2001-02, three times as many as the previous two years, in the United States itself, it is not known how many Ukrainians specifically have taken advantage of existing legislation to provide testimony against abusive employers.
"The Christian Science Monitor" reported that the Ukrainian government officially registers 30,000 citizens working legally abroad, but cites unspecified analysts who estimate as many as 7 million Ukrainians work abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2003), a figure growing by a million per year in recent years. These migrants send or bring home about $1 billion back to Ukraine annually, government agencies are cited by the newspaper as claiming. The figures are difficult to check because the Ukrainian government evidently has not officially reported remittance payments to the UN and other international agencies; the chart of such figures for the world annually prepared by the UN Population Fund, for example, has the number for Ukraine left blank.
There is little doubt that the figure of a billion is realistic, however, as there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of Ukrainians working abroad in every job ranging from cleaning lady to medical technician to computer programmer and using a variety of channels to return cash home to relatives. "The Poles are skimming off our doctors, and the Germans want our computer technicians," the newspaper quotes Valeriy Padyak, a publisher and sociologist in the Carpathian city of Uzhhorod, as saying.
Many Ukrainians have found work in neighboring countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, primarily Russia, where there are 13.5 million migrants, according to the recently released "World Report 2003" from the International Organization for Migration. According to the EU-sponsored information portal at http://www.reintegration.net, Portugal, when it declared a large amnesty in 1999-2000 for illegal migrants, found that Ukraine was the first country of origin for many thousands of migrants, far beyond Cape Verde, for its migrant population.
A major factor driving Ukrainians out of their country is unemployment and very poor wages for skilled employment contrasting sharply with opportunities even just over the border. The International Labor Organization's "World Labor Report 2000," found that official statistics cover up a situation where "most of the employed do not have jobs" and "many of those in jobs are not being paid." Eighteen percent of all workers were on unpaid "administrative leave," a large proportion for at least three months. As a result, they were counted as employed although they were actually unemployed. In addition, over 20 percent of workers were classified as "part-time," although this figure did not include those working an average of 32 hours a week, and about 12 percent of women in Ukrainian factories were on long-term "maternity leave."
Failure to pay back wages remains a chronic problem in Ukraine as in most of the former Soviet states. Recently, for example, about 3,000 construction workers in Kryvyy Rih marched through the streets of the city and picketed the main office of the Pivdennyy mining company which did not pay wages of some 20 million hryvnyas (about $3.75 million) to 11 construction companies for a year, 1+1 TV reported on 12 June. Such plants are on the brink of closure in any event, and their offer to pay 30 percent of the owed wages and make a schedule of payments for the uncertain future has been unacceptable to the demonstrators.
...AS OTHER MIGRANTS ARE DETAINED UPON ARRIVAL. As difficult as the unemployment and migrant situation is for Ukrainians themselves, surprisingly Ukraine itself is a magnet for even poorer migrants, mainly from Africa and Asia. The International Organization for Migration reported that Ukraine has 6.9 million migrants of its own staying within its borders, putting it in the top 10 of the world's host countries for migrants.
With the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Ukrainian border guards last month detained 17 illegal Chinese immigrants near the border with Belarus and now have nearly 700 illegal immigrations, mostly Chinese, under quarantine, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) Radio Australia reported on 23 May. None of the detainees were found to be suffering from SARS. About 5,000 migrants, mainly from China, India, and Pakistan, were arrested in Ukraine last year, ABC Radio Australia reported.
While Ukrainian parents are leaving their children to try their luck in Poland or Portugal, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, western Ukraine has seen a doubling of illegal migrants, mainly from China, and reported 609 migrants, of whom 225 were Chinese, detained in the Transcarpathia region in the last year.
The Ukraine Red Cross Society has taken the lead in caring for these people who are facing up to three months' detention in conditions described as "extremely poor," and has made urgent pleas for medical supplies, disinfectants, food, and bed sheets since they have had trouble coping with the influx.
While many Ukrainian youngsters try to find a scholarship in Europe or North America, even the deteriorating remnants of the once well-funded Soviet educational system are in turn a draw for much poorer migrants from Afghanistan, India, and Africa. For Chinese and Mongolians, for example, a medical education in Ukraine is a cheap and cost-effective solution to the lack of opportunities in their own countries. The numbers of such foreign students has dwindled, as in other countries, since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, although Ukrainian educational institutions still receive about $40 million per year in fees from foreign students, "Dien" reported on 15 October 2002.
RECOMMENDED NEWS LINKSGEORGIA. "Opposition Challenges Shevardnadze Ahead of Autumn Elections." A political battle is gaining momentum in the South Caucasus republic of Georgia ahead of parliamentary elections in November. A dispute pitting supporters of President Eduard Shevardnadze against his opponents has focused on the composition of the country's main election body. With no breakthrough in sight after weeks of negotiations with the government, Georgia's opposition yesterday decided to step up the pressure. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/06/04062003171807.asp
GEORGIA. "Amid Controversy, Georgian Student Protest Movement Grows," by Giorgi Lomsadze. Less than five months before parliamentary elections in Georgia, a protest movement called Kmara has quickly inserted itself into the swirling political debate in Tbilisi. A relatively loose organization of students, Kmara is agitating for the conduct of free and fair elections and is also pushing for the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze. http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/rights/articles/eav061003.shtml
INTERNATIONAL. NGOs are campaigning globally for their countries to sign and ratify the new international covenant on migrant laborers' rights. To date they have obtained the support of 63 organizations in 24 countries for their appeal to governments. http://www.december18.net/intro.htm#one
IRAN. "Vigilantism Fuels Iran Protests." The Iranian government is dealing with mid-June protests by university students in Tehran and other cities by arresting people and creating scapegoats. This is nothing new. The significance of these protests is in the attention they draw to hard-line vigilantes there. http://www.rferl.org/iran-report/2003/06/25-160603.html
TURKMENISTAN. "Ashgabat And Moscow At An Impasse As Dual-Citizenship Deadline Looms." Officials from Russia and Turkmenistan met last week in an attempt to resolve a dispute, verging on a crisis, about how to phase out their countries' 1993 dual-citizenship agreement. The 22 June deadline set unilaterally by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov -- the date by which holders of dual citizenship residing in Turkmenistan must decide which passport they want to retain -- is approaching fast, accompanied by reports of panic among the country's Russian population. http://www.rferl.org/centralasia/2003/06/20-120603.asp