6 February 2002, Volume 3, Number 6
INTERNATIONALIS THE HUMAN RIGHTS ERA ENDING? Writing in "The New York Times" on 5 February, human rights specialist Michael Ignatieff argues that human rights may have lost its post-Cold War dominance in the "moral vocabulary" of foreign affairs which is now ruled by the struggle against international terrorism. "Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have leveraged their provision of bases and intelligence into a carte blanche for domestic repression." And Moscow's war against alleged terrorism in Chechnya "has actually been waged against a whole people, costing tens of thousands of lives." Faced with these immense new challenges, Ignatieff concludes that the international human rights movement "has to help [ordinary people] construct strong civil societies and viable states. If it can't do that, it will be remembered as a fashionable cause of the dim and distant 1990's." ("The New York Times," 5 February)
ALBANIAPRESEVO ALBANIANS PROTEST 'DISAPPEARANCE.' Some 3,000 ethnic Albanians demonstrated in Bujanovac on 2 February to mark the second anniversary of the kidnapping of a local man, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic praised the missing man and stressed that an official inquiry into the case is continuing. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
ARMENIAMORE DETAILS EMERGE OF SPY CASE. The daily newspaper "Azg" on 1 February identified the Armenian arrested several days earlier for espionage for Turkey as Murad Bojolian, a former specialist on Turkish affairs with the Armenian Foreign Ministry, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Bojolian, who is 51, left the ministry under circumstances that are unclear and in recent years made a living from retail trade. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
AZERBAIJANPRESIDENT REJECTS PROPOSAL TO EXTEND PRESIDENTIAL TERM. Speaking on 2 February in New York, where he attended the World Economic Forum, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev said he sees no need to amend the constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic to extend the presidential term from five to seven years, ITAR-TASS reported. On 1 February, parliament deputies from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party had suggested doing so, a proposal that met with criticism from the opposition Musavat, Liberal, Democratic, and Civic Unity parties, which in a joint statement condemned it as a violation of constitutional norms that would damage Azerbaijan's international image, Turan reported. Aliev's current second five-year term is due to expire in October 2003. Aliev, who is 78, has said he will run for a third term. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 4 February)
OFFICIALS MEET WITH VILLAGE PROTESTERS. Baku Mayor Hadjibala Abutalibov, together with members of his staff and of the Baku police force, met on 29 January with residents of the village of Nardaran, which lies some 30 kilometers from Baku, to discuss their grievances, Turan reported. The villagers staged a protest demonstration one week earlier to complain about the lack of basic amenities, including gas and electricity supplies, and the cost of public transport to and from Baku. They also demanded the release from prison of Islamic Party of Azerbaijan Deputy Chairman Hajiaga Nuriev. The municipal officials assured the protesters that electricity supplies will be improved, the cost of bus fares to Baku will be cut by half, and the village's carpet factory will be reopened to provide employment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
BELARUSCOMMUNISTS PROTEST SOCIOECONOMIC HARDSHIPS. The opposition Party of Communists of Belarus (led by Syarhey Kalyakin) held pickets on 31 January in Minsk, Vitsebsk, Polatsk, and Homel to protest the deteriorating socioeconomic situation and the authorities' harassment of the trade union movement in the country. The question "Where is the promised monthly wage of $100?" was displayed most frequently on placards during the pickets. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka promised to increase the average monthly wage to the equivalent of $100 by the end of 2001. According to official statistics, he has succeeded in doing so. The same day, the Presidium of the Trade Union Federation of Belarus decided to hold a countrywide protest action on 5 March. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
GOVERNMENT RAISES PENSIONS. Beginning on 1 February 2002, pensions in Belarus will be increased by 20 percent, Belarusian Television reported on 31 January, citing the Labor and Social Security Ministry. The maximum monthly pension for women who served 40 years and for men who served 45 years is to be 128,854 rubles ($78).("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
UPPER HOUSE RUBBERSTAMPS REAPPOINTMENT OF CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION HEAD. At an emergency session on 31 January, the Council of the Republic unanimously approved President Lukashenka's decision to reappoint Lidziya Yarmoshyna as the chairwoman of the Central Election Commission, Belapan reported. Presidential administration head Ural Latypau told the upper house, "She did a wonderful job even though she was pressured by international organizations and from within the country," Latypau said. European election watchdogs have concluded that all three of the major election campaigns she oversaw fell short of democratic standards. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January)
OPPOSITION REACTIVATES COORDINATING BODY. Opposition parties and NGOs on 29 January brought back to life the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces, which stopped its activity in August 2001 prior to the presidential election, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The council includes the BNF, the United Civic Party, the Charter-97 group, the Congress of Free Trade Unions, and a number of regional NGOs. Before the presidential election, the Belarusian opposition also coordinated its efforts in the Consultative Council of Opposition Political Parties, which was set up following an initiative of Hans Georg Wieck, the former head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
BOSNIAWORLD WAR II COMPENSATION CLAIMED. More than 10,000 citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina have filed formal requests for compensation from the German Forced Labor Compensation Program, dpa reported from Sarajevo on 4 February, quoting officials of the International Organization for Migration. Some 6,432 of the claimants appear eligible for consideration from the fund set up by the German government in 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
BULGARIAMARCH AGAINST TAX INCREASES. Some 2,000 small business owners demonstrated on 1 February outside the parliament in Sofia, protesting tax hikes that, they claimed, will force hundreds of industries to shut down, AP reported. The 40 percent tax increases were introduced in a bid to meet the budget guidelines drawn by the International Monetary Fund. The demonstrators complained that the hike "collides with promises about encouraging small businesses" that Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski made before the June 2001 elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
MUSLIMS SEEK RETURN OF PROPERTIES SEIZED UNDER COMMUNISM. The head of the Bulgarian Islamic community, Mufti Selim Mehmet, raised the issue of properties confiscated by the country's former communist rulers during a meeting with visiting Turkish Premier Bulent Ecevit on 31 January, dpa reported. Bulgaria adopted restitution laws in the early 1990s, but has not yet fully returned the confiscated properties to some 1 million Muslims. Muslim leaders estimate the value of the remaining real estate at $750 million. The Islamic community in Bulgaria says that the restitution is crucial in order to limit the possible influence of financially powerful foreign Islamic fundamentalists. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
CROATIACROATS HONORED FOR SAVING JEWS IN HOLOCAUST. In Zagreb on 29 January, Israeli Ambassador to Croatia David Granit presented his country's Medal of the Righteous to 10 Croatian individuals or families for their roles in saving Jews during the period of rule by the pro-Axis Ustashe between 1941 and 1945, AP reported. Some of the awards were posthumous. A total of about 80 Croats have received the medal to date. At the ceremony, Granit called on young Croats to learn more about the Holocaust. Croatian President Stipe Mesic also stressed that young people should know that the Ustashe were "even more brutal" than the Nazis, even if they were not as well organized, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Mesic urged Croats to take pride in their countrymen who showed courage and saved Jews. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
CZECH REPUBLICHAVEL SUPPORTS DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. President Vaclav Havel told the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 30 January that he supports holding direct presidential elections, CTK reported. He said allowing the country's people to elect their president would contribute to political stability and make the head of state have a "direct mandate" from the people rather than a "derivative" one, as is the case when the president is elected by parliament. He also said presidential prerogatives must not necessarily be increased as a result of changing the system of electing the president. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
SUDETEN GERMANS MULL LAWSUITS IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC... Gerhard Zeisel, the chairman of the organizations representing the Sudeten Germans expelled under the 1945 Benes decrees, said on 3 February that the Sudeten Germans in Austria intend to launch in the Czech Republic a lawsuit demanding the abolition of the decrees, dpa reported. In reaction, Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky and Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik reiterated that the decrees cannot be abolished. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
...WHILE KLAUS, SCHUESSEL DIFFER ON THE ISSUE. Speaking on Austrian television on 3 February, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel called for the dispute on the decrees to be settled by a joint Czech-Austrian governmental declaration that would "say once and for all that the Benes decrees are no longer valid and that they represent a dead wrong." Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus, in an interview with the Austrian weekly "Profil" the same day, said the demand to abolish the decrees is "unrealistic," CTK reported. Klaus said "symbolic moves" may have become "fashionable," but that they cannot achieve anything. He also rejected any claims for compensating those who were expelled. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
GEORGIASTATE TO MONITOR NGO BUDGETS? In late 2001, President Eduard Shevardnadze expressed concern to officials about possible misappropriation of foreign funds by local NGOs. .The Ministry of Finance was tasked to draft amendments that would enable the state to "control" or "oversee" domestic grants and monitor spending by state as well as public organizations. The Finance Ministry drafted the bill as requested and it is currently under review by the Language Chamber. The entire legal effort was kept secret. The NGO Business Law Center is heading an initiative on this issue. (National Democratic Institute Tbilisi, 3 February)
PRESIDENT LAUDS UN SECURITY COUNCIL STATEMENT. Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists on 2 February that the resolution on Abkhazia adopted by the UN Security Council two days earlier is "the most serious" such document to date, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. He noted that the document insists that the final definition of Abkhazia's status must be based on Georgia's territorial integrity, and stresses that displaced persons must be allowed to return to their homes without preconditions. It calls on Georgia to comply with the 17 January agreement on withdrawal of Georgian troops from the Kodori Gorge, and Abkhaz responsibility to ensure the safety of and provide Georgian-language education for the Georgian population of Gali Raion. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
INGURI PROTESTERS CONTINUE... Despite torrential rain, the number of participants in the protest picket at the bridge of the River Inguri has risen to over 1,000, Caucasus Press reported on 29 January. The protesters are demanding that the Russian peacekeeping force withdraw or move further into Abkhaz territory to protect the Georgian population of Abkhazia's Gali Raion. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
...AND PRESIDENT MEETS WITH THEM. On 3 February, President Shevardnadze met with representatives of the Georgian guerrillas and displaced persons who began a picket on 19 January at the Inguri bridge linking Abkhazia with the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. No agreement was reached. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADER RULES OUT TALKS ON RELATIONS WITH TBILISI. Eduard Kokoev, the recently elected president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, told a youth gathering in Tskhinvali on 29 January that he will not agree to any negotiations with the central Georgian government on the political status of the breakaway region, Caucasus Press reported. He said South Ossetia "gained its independence long ago." At the same time, Kokoev expressed readiness to allow Georgians who fled the region during fighting in 1990-92 to return gradually over a period of several years. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
MAVERICK EX-PRIEST AGAIN TARGETS JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES. Defrocked priest Basil Mkalavishvili and several dozen of his followers seized four tons of leaflets and other literature belonging to the Jehovah's Witnesses from a Tbilisi warehouse on 3 February and burned them, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
PRELIMINARY CENSUS RESULTS UNVEILED. Georgia's population is currently 4.4 million people, 900,000 fewer than at the time of the 1989 Soviet census, Caucasus Press and Interfax quoted Statistics Department head Temur Beridze as telling journalists on 1 February. The decrease is primarily the result of emigration in search of employment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
HUNGARYFOREIGN MINISTER: ANTI-SEMITISM 'DAMAGES COUNTRY.' On 31 January Janos Martonyi, commenting on U.S. Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker's concerns about anti-Semitism in Hungary, told the Israeli newspaper "Ha'aretz" that "we do not like anti-Semitic manifestations either, and in my personal opinion they do a lot of damage to the country." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
KAZAKHSTANANOTHER OPPOSITION PARTY UNVEILS DEMANDS TO LEADERSHIP... Leading members of the National Alash Party told journalists in Almaty on 30 January that they have sent a list of demands to the Kazakh government, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Those demands are: to establish a multiparty government of national reconciliation; to increase usage of the state language (Kazakh) in official bodies; to switch from using the Cyrillic alphabet for writing Kazakh to the Latin alphabet; to hold elections for all regional officials except for oblast governors; to adopt a law on the state border; and to reintroduce the centuries-old system of judges' courts at the raion level. Party Chairman Savetqazy Aqatay said meeting those demands would enable Kazakhstan to solve the political and economic problems the country currently faces. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January)
...AS PARLIAMENT DEPUTY CLAIMS NEW OPPOSITION MOVEMENT IS CREATION OF GOVERNMENT... Mazhilis deputy Tolen Toqtasynov told journalists on 31 January that the decision to create the Aq Zhol Party was made by the Kazakh government, and not by members of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK), RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. According to Toqtasynov, the rationale for doing so was to split DVK into two opposing parts. Toqtasynov said that some leading members of Kazakhstan's Democratic Choice were named to posts in the new cabinet earlier this week. He said the Kazakh leadership is trying either to take DVK under its control or to destroy the movement from the inside. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
...AND PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTY PROPOSES CENTRIST ALLIANCE. On 30 January, the pro-presidential OTAN party urged all "constructive forces" to join a "centrist alliance" to support President Nursultan Nazarbaev's development plan for Kazakhstan for the period until 2030, Interfax reported. As possible members of that alliance, leading OTAN member Alban Balghymbaev named the Labor, Revival, Civil, Agrarian, and Popular-Cooperative parties. He said the proposed new bloc will promote "balance and harmonization" in Kazakh politics, but will not try to "counterbalance other political forces," by which he presumably meant the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan and the United Democratic Party. Balghymbaev criticized both those groups for having criticized the Kazakh leadership without proposing "constructive solutions" to the problems the country faces. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January)
WORKERS DEMAND PUBLICATION OF REPORT ON OFFICIAL CORRUPTION. Members of the Almaty's Workers Movement (AWM) demanded at a press conference in Almaty on 31 January that the report compiled by President Nazarbaev's son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev on corruption among top Kazakh officials be made public, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. In November 2001, Aliyev, who at that time held the post of National Security Committee deputy chairman, warned the Kazakh government that he planned to report to the Kazakh parliament about corruption among top officials. Aliyev was sacked from his post several days later and transferred to the position of deputy commander of the Presidential Guard, from which he was dismissed earlier this month. His current whereabouts are unknown. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
PARLIAMENT APPROVES AMENDMENTS TO LAWS ON TERRORISM, RELIGION. The Senate (the upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament) on 31 January approved amendments to the law on terrorism and religion passed by the Mazhilis earlier in January. The law on terrorism now makes any attempt on the life of a state official punishable by up to 20 years in prison or the death sentence. Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 31 January, Amirzhan Qosanov, the chairman of the executive committee of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, condemned the amendments as intended to provide a legal foundation for future pressure on the opposition. The law on religion now allows unregistered religious groups to be banned, requires all missionaries to register with the authorities, and denies legal registration to all Muslim organizations outside the framework of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan, Keston News Service reported on 1 February. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
REACTIONS TO NEW LAW ON RELIGION VARY. Keston News Service found that only the Spiritual Administration of Muslims offered unequivocal support for the new law. The Orthodox Church has concerns about the requirements that leaders be chosen by local religious communities, while other denominations had even wider concerns, claiming that the new law turned them into "second-class religions." One group of Baptist churches rejected entirely the provisions allowing the government to ban unregistered religious communities. (Keston News Service, 1 February)
KYRGYZSTANINVESTIGATION OF ARRESTED PARLIAMENT DEPUTY COMPLETED. Prosecutors in Djalalabad Oblast presented the completed investigation into the case of arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov to the Toktogul district court on 29 January, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the following day. Beknazarov is charged with abuse of power for having failed while working as an investigator in 1995 to bring murder charges against a man who killed another in self-defense. Meanwhile, 329 people in Kyrgyzstan are still on hunger strike to demand Beknazarov's release. President Askar Akaev's adviser Askar Aitmatov met with leading Kyrgyz human rights activists on 29 January to discuss Beknazarov's case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January)
POLICE DETAIN PICKETERS. Police on 1 February detained for several hours and then released some 30 people who tried to stage a picket outside the government building in Bishkek to demand the release of Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. As of 2 February, the number of people on hunger strike across Kyrgyzstan to demand Beknazarov's release reached 408. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
LOCAL AUTHORITIES CLAIM TO HAVE ARRESTED LEADING MEMBER OF BANNED SECT. The authorities in Osh Oblast announced on 30 January the arrest of a leader of the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir party in possession of 43 cartridges and antistate literature, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the following day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
MOLDOVAPREMIER SAYS PROTESTS ARE 'SMOKE SCREEN FOR UNDERMINING THE STATE.' Vasile Tarlev, speaking on television on 28 January, said the protest demonstrations that have been going on for three weeks are a pretext for undermining the government and Moldova's independent statehood, Infotag reported. Tarlev said the "opposition is worried by the positive results achieved by the government," and that "for the first time in a decade we have achieved economic stability." This, Tarlev said, explains why the opposition has "grasped the first opportunity" to launch the protests against the introduction of compulsory Russian-language classes in schools. He also said that in the last few days, the protesters "seem to have forgotten why they came to the [National Assembly] Square and are chanting: "We are Romanians," and "Unification [with Romania]." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
EDUCATION MINISTER SAYS COMPULSORY RUSSIAN CLASSES MUST BE 'SUSPENDED OR NULLIFIED.' Ilie Vancea, who signed the order to introduce compulsory Russian-language classes in Moldovan schools, has asked the government to "suspend or nullify" that order, Mediafax reported from Chisinau on 31 January. Vancea said the protests against the order are growing and "a large part of the intelligentsia" does not accept it, which is leading to "the division of society along ethnic lines." He spoke after Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean handed the cabinet a report saying interethnic tension in schools in the Moldovan capital is rising, both between pupils and between teachers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL CRITICIZES NEW ADMINISTRATIVE DIVISION OF MOLDOVA. Claude Casagrande, the deputy chairman of the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, said on 29 January in Chisinau that the law that reintroduced the Soviet-type administrative division was approved by a vote tainted with "procedural violations," and that the congress should have been notified before changing the law, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Casagrande also said that if the government goes ahead with its plan to conduct early local elections, Moldova risks being expelled from the Council of Europe. Also on 29 January, Vasile Iovv, the chairman of the parliament's Commission on Local Public Administration, was appointed by President Vladimir Voronin as first deputy prime minister. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
PPCD CONTESTS TERRITORIAL ADMINISTRATION DIVISION LAW AT CONSTITUTIONAL COURT. The Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) asked the Constitutional Court on 31 January to verify two recent laws on the country's administrative-territorial division and on local public administration, Romanian radio reported. The PPCD said that the legislation, which reintroduced the Soviet-style local administration division in Moldova, contravenes the European Charter on Local Autonomy as well as constitutional articles on local autonomy and on consulting citizens about problems of local interest. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
GAGAUZ-YERI CONFLICT ERUPTS. Deputies in the Popular Assembly of the Gagauz Yeri autonomous region called on the population on 2 February to participate in the envisaged early local elections and in a referendum they intend to call for dismissing the autonomous region's governor, ("Bashkan") Dumitru Croitor, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The appeal comes after a draft resolution to dismiss Croitor as governor failed on 1 February, falling three votes short of the 24 votes needed for it to pass. The deputies claim Croitor has mismanaged the region's budget to his personal benefit. Croitor and his supporters accuse their rivals of being in the service of the "Communists in Chisinau," and of former region Governor George Tabunshik. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
NEW DEADLINE FOR BAPTIST CHURCH DEMOLITION. A Baptist church in Tiraspol, the capital of Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester, has been given a new deadline of 15 February for enforced demolition, since allegedly it was built illegally, Keston News Service reported. (Keston News Service, 29 January)
METHODIST PROTESTS HARASSMENT. Moldova's Methodist leader has protested against what he claims is harassment by authorities in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniester, including the denial of registration for its two communities and KGB pressure to cut his ties with the outside world. "We have requested registration for the past six years," he told Keston News Service from Bendery/Tighina on 29 January. "They told us the state is Orthodox and no sectarians are allowed here, especially Methodists." An official in the office of the commissioner of religion and cults dismissed Hantil's claims. (Keston News Service, 31 January)
POLANDGOVERNMENT READY TO RELIEVE THE POOREST OF TAXES. Prime Minister Leszek Miller said during a meeting with the Confederation of Polish Employers in Warsaw on 1 February that his cabinet is ready to introduce a 0 percent tax rate for the worst-off in 2003, PAP reported. Miller also said that the government is working on changes to the tax system that would introduce a single corporate and personal income tax. Miller declared that the "entire tax system will undergo fundamental simplification." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
ROMANIARETURN OF MONEY LOST IN INVESTMENT FUND DEMANDED. Hundreds of people demonstrated in Bucharest on 31 January demanding that the government return to them the money they lost when the National Investment Fund (FNI) collapsed in May 2000, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The government has so far compensated some 37,000 people for a small fraction of their losses, and Premier Adrian Nastase said on 31 January that further solutions will be sought "within the limitations of our resources." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
RENEWED PARTY PACT TO PROVIDE NEW FACILITIES FOR HUNGARIANS? The ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) officially signed a new one-year cooperation agreement on 29 January, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Within three months, the PSD pledged to submit to parliament a law on the restitution of church properties confiscated by the communists; to set up additional Hungarian-language faculties at Cluj Babes-Bolyai University, to examine the possibility of setting up a Hungarian-language section at Targu Mures Medicine Faculty; and to resume Hungarian-language TV broadcasts from Targu Mures ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
RUSSIAPARLIAMENTARIAN SAYS RUSSIA IS 'ONE STEP' FROM AUTHORITARIANISM. Writing in "Vek," No. 5, Duma deputy Vladimir Lysenko said that the political strength of President Vladimir Putin is based not on the consolidation of society around him and his policies, but rather on the weariness felt by the Russian people as a result of those policies. Lysenko said that it has become clear that the negative effects of Putin's monopolization of political power have outweighed the positives resulting from liberal economic reforms. Should a dismantling of the political monopoly be made from above and very quickly, Lysenko argued, Putin's regime of "directed democracy will make the step that separated it from authoritarianism." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
ANALYSTS SAY PUTIN TO FACE KEY TEST THIS YEAR. In an overview in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" published on 31 January as to how Russian political analysts view Russian President Putin, Sergei Karaganov, the head of the Foreign Policy and Defense Council, predicted that Putin will "inevitably encounter the problem of the ineffectiveness of state executives and the power vertical" this year. Union of Rightist Forces deputy Boris Nadezhdin expressed a similar point of view, suggesting that "the moment of truth" for Putin is drawing near. Nadezhdin believes that Putin may decide to make a sharp turn away from liberalization. However, Analyst Igor Bunin said he believes that Putin has a "messianic complex.... He decided that he must bring the country to the West, and that's what he has been doing." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
LOWER HOUSE WANTS TO REFORM THE UPPER HOUSE. The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), the Communist, and Yabloko factions in the State Duma are discussing the possibility of cooperating to allow them to push through changes to the constitution that would alter how the Federation Council is formed, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 29 January. According to the daily, many deputies consider the current Federation Council a "sorry sight." SPS reportedly wants regional legislatures to launch an initiative to change the constitution. Meanwhile, in a survey conducted among 1,500 respondents by the Public Opinion Fund on 19-20 January across Russia, 54 percent did not know what the upper chamber does, while 16 percent had difficulty answering the question, RIA-Novosti reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
JUSTICE MINISTER: REDUCTION OF PRISON TERMS, NUMBER OF PRISONERS. Yurii Chaika proposed at his meeting with President Putin on 29 January to reduce sentences for crimes such as larceny and, by so doing, to reduce the number of prisoners in overcrowded Russian prisons, RIA-Novosti reported. Chaika also suggested that the maximum prison term in Russia be reduced from 20 to 15 years. He told the president that the number of prison inmates rose to a critical level last year as the result of an "unjustified" increase in the number of prison-term sentences for minor crimes. Thus, the number of prisoners sentenced for larceny grew in 2001 by 36 percent, or 42,000 people. Putin said he approves of Chaika's proposals and has asked him to prepare them for a legislative initiative. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
TWENTY SUSPECTS DETAINED FOR DAGHESTAN BOMBING... Police have detained 20 people on suspicion of involvement in the 18 January car bomb that killed seven Russian servicemen in Makhachkala, Russian agencies reported on 31 January. They also located and confiscated an arms cache in the city. Yurii Demidov, a spokesman for Daghestan's Interior Ministry, told ITAR-TASS that there is "solid evidence" that the detainees had traveled to Daghestan from Chechnya in order to perpetrate terrorist acts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
...AS ARRESTED DAGHESTANI POLITICIAN GOES ON HUNGER STRIKE. Nadir Khachilaev, the leader of Daghestan's Lak minority, has embarked on a hunger strike following his arrest in Makhachkala last month, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 2 February. Khachilaev is suspected of involvement in the 18 January bombing in Makhachkala that killed seven Russian servicemen. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSAR ADMITS VIOLATIONS IN RECENT CHECHEN SWEEPS. Vladimir Kalamanov, who is President Putin's special representative for human rights issues in Chechnya, told journalists in Moscow on 31 January that complaints by local residents that Russian servicemen committed human rights violations during operations in January in the towns of Tsotan-Yurt and Argun are true, Russian agencies reported. The U.S. State Department condemned Russian troop brutality against civilians during those operations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
CHECHEN PREMIER WANTS RUSSIAN MILITARY TO JOIN GOVERNMENT... Speaking on local television on the evening of 28 January, Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov proposed that those Russian military commanders in charge of the ongoing "antiterrorist" operation in Chechnya should be included in the Chechen government, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that his government will continue to experience "problems" in discharging its duties without the "support" of the Russian military. Several Russian journalists have claimed that Russian generals are engaged in illicit commercial activities in Chechnya, including the theft of oil and strategic metals, and for that reason have no interest in ending the war. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
...BUT ENVOY SAYS CHECHEN PRESIDENT REMAINS IN CHARGE. In an interview with "Obshchaya gazeta" No. 5, Aslan Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev affirmed that contrary to repeated Russian media statements, Maskhadov "controls more of Chechnya and more in Chechnya" than does Russian President Putin, although Maskhadov's control does not extend to those Chechens who have laid down their arms and quit the resistance. Zakaev reaffirmed that "Chechens want only one thing: sovereignty as a guarantee of security for the people." For that reason, he said, political dialogue is essential. Zakaev also said that the Chechen fighters have no shortage of either Russian weaponry and ammunition or of money, as funds sent to Grozny for reconstruction are channeled to the resistance by members of the pro-Moscow Chechen government. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
CHIEF RABBI: 'HOOLIGANISM, NOT ANTI-SEMITISM.' Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar said on 29 January that he believes that the situation for Jews in Russia has taken a significant turn for the better, Interfax reported. In an interview with the "Versiya" newspaper, Lazar said that in the past two years official structures view "with support" appeals from Russia's Jewish community . In regard to financial support for Russian Jews, Lazar noted that "donations from abroad make up about half of the total income of the Jewish community" and that many of these donors are Soviet emigres. Lazar also said that Russia "does not have the problem of anti-Semitism, but hooliganism, which can be targeted at a person of any ethnicity." (Interfax, 29 January)
ST. PETERSBURG'S SKINHEAD GROUPS PROFILED. Between 2,000 and 5,000 skinheads live in St. Petersburg, according to the 17 January "Vecherny Peterburg." Considered the city's most radical skinhead group, the "Death Head" gang was formed five years ago and today has 150 members.. The "Death Head" leader -- whose name was withheld by authorities -- has already served two years in prison for attacking citizens of Sri Lanka. He is currently on trial, accused of stabbing another skinhead and murdering a stranger at a rock concert. Another skinhead gang, "Russian Fist," has over 150 members. The article also noted that "instructors from Western neo-fascist groups work" with local skinheads. (Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, 23 January)
GOVERNMENT TO REVOKE NATURAL RESOURCE EXTRACTION LICENSES. First Deputy Natural Resources Minister Vitalii Karaganov announced on 29 January that the government plans to revoke about 1,000 licenses issued for extracting natural resources from holders who have failed to meet their obligations, RBK news agency reported. The blacklist includes some 60 oil and gas companies that have no funds to help further develop the exploration and extraction of resources, according to Karaganov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
RUSSIAN CUSTOMS INTERCEPTS ILLEGAL NUCLEAR WASTE FROM JAPAN. The Customs Service intercepted an illegal shipment of nuclear waste at a Primorskii Krai port on 30 January, RIA-Novosti reported. The 346-ton shipment originated from Japan and had been declared as aviation motors and spare parts to be sent to a local import-export company. However, during a routine inspection the customs officers detected that the cargo had a radioactivity level that was 150 times higher that normal. After opening the cargo and discovering nuclear waste, they sent the shipment back at the expense of the addressee. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January)
PRESIDENT DECRIES HEALTH DEGRADATION. Speaking on 30 January at the meeting of the State Council devoted to national health and sport issues, President Putin said the decline of the population's health has seriously harmed Russia's economy and demographic balance, Russian news services reported. Putin cited a World Health Organization report that gave Russia a 1.4 rating on a five-point scale for "coefficient of a population's vitality" -- a ranking lower than those received by Somali and Haiti. He added that as a result of the poor health of Russia's workforce, the country is spending 3 percent of salary funds on sick pay. In addition, the number of people suffering from chronic diseases continues to grow, and the number of men up to age 40 who smoke has increased from 25 to 70 percent over the last five years, according to Putin. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January)
SERBIAMILOSEVIC TO FACE ONLY ONE TRIAL. Officials at The Hague-based tribunal announced on 1 February that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will face one single trial for charges stemming from his wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported .The trial will begin on 12 February. In related news, the Croatian weekly "Globus" published extensive transcripts of telephone calls by Milosevic in its 1 February issue. The calls were intercepted by Croatian intelligence between 1996 and 1998 and involve top Belgrade officials as well as members of the Milosevic family, among others. The language can be described as lively Serbian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER CAUTIOUS ON HAGUE COOPERATION... On an official visit to the Netherlands, Goran Svilanovic said in The Hague on 29 January that his government will cooperate with the tribunal but on a "step-by-step" basis, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He argued that the Serbian population must be first convinced that war crimes did indeed take place and then that those responsible must be made to answer for them. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
...WHILE PRIME MINISTER PLEDGES MORE EXTRADITIONS. Zoran Djindjic told Reuters in Belgrade on 30 January that Serbia will need to deliver "three or four" additional indicted war criminals to The Hague to prove that it is democratic and a serious member of the international community. He warned his countrymen that "if we hesitate [in making extraditions], if we don't meet our international obligations [to cooperate with the tribunal], we risk losing our credibility and being pushed into a slow pace of international integration." Djindjic said that those extradited will have to include "Milosevic's closest allies, and [Radovan] Karadzic and [General Ratko] Mladic." This is the second time in less than a week that Djindjic has conceded that Mladic might be in Serbia, but probably the first time he has publicly suggested that Karadzic might be there as well. He did not name the names of "Milosevic's allies," but four top leaders were indicted in 1999 together with Milosevic. One of them, Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, is still in office. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January)
SLOVAKIAPARLIAMENT POSTPONES DEBATE ON STATUS LAW. The parliament on 29 January postponed for next week a debate on the Hungarian Status law, CTK and Hungarian media reported. The decision was taken after Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told a closed meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee that he has received a letter from his Hungarian counterpart Zsolt Nemeth, indicating that Hungary is prepared to publicly declare that the law has no extraterritorial validity. The parliament also rejected a proposal by Real National Slovak Party deputy Rastislav Septak to abrogate the Slovak-Hungarian basic treaty. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
UKRAINEOPPOSITION LEADER'S CAR CRASH SEEN AS 'EXTREME STAGE' OF ELECTION CAMPAIGN. Yuriy Kostenko, the leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, said that the automobile crash of opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko on 29 January testifies to "the transition of the electoral process to an extreme stage," UNIAN reported on 30 January. "It is difficult for me to comment on the reasons for the crash. But everyone in Ukraine who has heard about this event -- I am sure 100 percent -- sees it not just as an [ordinary] road accident. [Such a perception] testifies to our assessment of the level of security in the state and to the fact that people in Ukraine have become used to criminal methods of political struggle," Kostenko noted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
HEADQUARTERS OF UKRAINE'S RUSSIAN BLOC FIREBOMBED. The headquarters of the Russian Bloc in Kyiv has been subjected to an arson attack, Ukrainian media reported on 30 January. Unknown attackers broke the windows of the headquarters, which is also the site of the newspaper "Russkii Mir," and threw Molotov cocktails into the premises. The fire destroyed some furniture and a computer. The Russian Bloc has appealed to President Leonid Kuchma and law enforcement bodies for protection, saying the attack was an attempt at "intimidating the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine and depriving it of moral support" in the ongoing election campaign, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January)
THIRTY-SIX GROUPS SEEK TO REGISTER FOR ELECTION. The Central Election Commission (CEC) told UNIAN on 30 January that 23 parties and 13 election blocs managed to submit documents for registration of their candidates for the 31 March parliamentary election. Under the election law, 29 January was the last day for submitting such documents. Interfax reported that the CEC has thus far registered 2,765 candidates on party lists and 1,160 candidates seeking parliamentary mandates in single-seat constituencies. The Verkhovna Rada has 450 seats, of which 225 will be contested in one countrywide constituency under a proportional system and the other 225 in single- seat constituencies. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
OFFICIALS SEEKING PARLIAMENTARY SEATS URGED TO TAKE LEAVE. Premier Anatoliy Kinakh on 1 February pledged to ensure that all government officials seeking parliamentary mandates in single-seat constituencies as well as "a maximum number" of those officials running as party-list candidates will take leave during the election campaign, Interfax reported. Kinakh noted that the election law does not include such a requirement, but added that he will insist on this measure in order to avoid possible accusations that government officials use "administrative leverage" to help their election bids. He did not say whether he himself will take such leave. Kinakh is running on the list of the For a United Ukraine election bloc. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
$60 MILLION FROM WORLD BANK TO FIGHT AIDS, TUBERCULOSIS. The World Bank is ready to allot $60 million to Ukraine to combat AIDS and tuberculosis, New Channel Television reported on 1 February, quoting unnamed World Bank officials who spent two weeks in Ukraine studying the situation pertaining to those illnesses. The money will be primarily channeled into diagnosing AIDS and tuberculosis, supplying medicines, and monitoring infected people. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
PRESIDENT VETOES BILL ON COMPENSATION FOR DEVALUED SAVINGS. Leonid Kuchma has vetoed a bill on state guarantees to compensate depositors for their devalued savings, Ukrainian media reported on 31 January. The bill, passed by the Verkhovna Rada on 10 January, obliged the government to pay 9 million hryvni ($1.6 billion) this year in compensations for devalued savings, whereas the 2002 budget provides only for 500 million hryvni to be spent for this purpose. Ukrainian banks owe depositors nearly $24 billion dollars in lost savings, which is equal to approximately three times the country's annual budget. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
UZBEKISTANPOLICE SENTENCED FOR TORTURING SUSPECT TO DEATH. A Tashkent court sentenced four Uzbek police officers to 20 years in prison for having beaten a suspect to death last October, Human Rights Watch reported in a 1 February press release. The detainee was suspected of belonging to the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir party. Human Rights Watch hailed the convictions as "a good first step," while stressing that countless other cases of police brutality have gone unpunished. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
FINAL RESULTS OF REFERENDUM PUBLISHED. Turnout in the 27 January referendum in Uzbekistan was 13.26 million, or 91.58 percent of the total electorate, the National Information Agency of Uzbekistan reported on 2 February. Of those, 93.65 percent approved the creation of a bicameral parliament, while 6.35 percent voted against. And 91.78 percent of respondents approved the proposal to extend the presidential term to seven years from the current five, while 8.22 percent voted against that proposal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February)
BILATERAL, REGIONALAliyev RAISES ISSUE OF AZERBAIJANI MINORITY IN GEORGIA. On a two-day visit to Baku on 28-29 January, Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze met with her Azerbaijani counterpart Murtuz Alesqerov, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, and President Heidar Aliev, Turan and Caucasus Press reported. Aliyev addressed the issue of Georgia's 250,000 Azerbaijani minority, which has in the past alleged discrimination by the Georgian authorities. He offered to supply textbooks for and to fund repairs to Azerbaijani schools in southeast Georgia. The two sides also emphasized the importance for the South Caucasus as a whole of resolving the Abkhaz and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts on the basis of respect for the territorial integrity of Georgia and Azerbaijan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January)
SLOVENIAN PRESIDENT CONCERNED ABOUT CROATS' ATTITUDE. President Milan Kucan said in a local radio interview in Ljubljana on 31 January that he is "baffled at how much mistrust there is among the Croatian public and in political life there toward Slovenia, and I don't know where the mistrust comes from." After more than 10 years of independence, there are still a number of border and other outstanding questions between the two republics. In the ethnic stereotypes widespread in former Yugoslavia, Croats were widely seen as nationalistic, and Slovenes were commonly regarded as clannish and interested only in their own economic well-being. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February)
END NOTECHECHEN OFFICIAL URGES WORLD TO PUSH FOR PEACE
By Jeffrey Donovan
The foreign minister of Chechnya's separatist leadership has ended a trip to Washington with a plea to the international community to make a concerted push for peace in his republic. Ilyas Akhmadov, foreign minister for Chechnya's elected president, Aslan Maskhadov, said Chechen separatists were ready and willing to start peace negotiations with Russian officials.
But he told RFE/RL in an interview on 31 January that the combination of international apathy and Russian obstinacy had left him with little hope that the violence that has ravaged his North Caucasus republic for over two years would end any time soon. "The current analysis of the present situation doesn't leave us with even the slightest bit of optimism."
The trip by Akhmadov -- who met with U.S. State Department officials, Senate leaders, and human rights groups -- came amid a mild revival of international criticism of Russia's war in Chechnya and intensified contacts between separatist leaders and several Western governments.
Moscow reacted angrily last week to meetings between another Maskhadov envoy, Akhmed Zakaev, and representatives of the French and British governments. It then accused the U.S. of undermining the world fight against terrorism as well as its new friendship with Russia, after State Department officials held informal talks with Akhmadov at a Washington university.
U.S. rights activists and commentators, however, criticized the administration of President George W. Bush for not welcoming Akhmadov at a state venue, since another Chechen envoy was recently received at London's Foreign Ministry and the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. "The Washington Post" called it "skulking diplomacy," adopted out of fear of offending Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been welcomed by the U.S. as a partner in the international antiterrorism coalition. The newspaper said the Bush administration's decision to forego an official meeting had sent the wrong message to human rights abusers around the world -- that the U.S. president can be intimidated. It added that the decision would only encourage other governments to defend rights abuses as campaigns against terrorism.
Akhmadov delivered a similar message. He says the U.S.-Russia antiterrorism alliance is fueling Moscow's sense of impunity in Chechnya. Since the September attacks on America, Moscow has emphasized that its engagement in Chechnya is also a war on terrorism, much like the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.
The U.S. government, which views Chechnya as part of Russia, has rejected that comparison. And the State Department recently accused Moscow of violating human rights and using "overwhelming force against civilian targets" in Chechnya.
Akhmadov told RFE/RL he made several requests during his meetings with the U.S. officials, but said his main concern is that Washington continue to apply "constructive pressure" on Russia to enter peace talks to end the conflict. Russian officials and Chechen separatists have so far come together only once, for a half-day meeting last November between Zakaev and Russia's presidential envoy to the North Caucasus, Viktor Kazantsev. Since then, however, there has been no sign that Moscow is willing to pursue a political solution to the conflict, despite repeated requests from the State Department.
Jesse Helms, the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also urged Moscow to start peace talks after meeting with Akhmadov this week. Helms said neither side could win the conflict militarily.
Akhmadov said that only through sustained diplomatic pressure and the help of institutions like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, could there be hope of bringing Russia to the negotiating table. "It's obvious that our one-on-one discussions have led to absolutely no success and that it's vitally necessary for there to be some sort of observers at these negotiations. And only then will we be able to discuss the full spectrum of this conflict. It's the only way you can discuss the full spectrum of any conflict. And we have shown our willingness and openness -- we've tried to demonstrate that openness, that we're always willing to discuss these issues."
Akhmadov echoed remarks by observers that a major hurdle to overcome is the Russian military's economic interest in maintaining the status quo in Chechnya. "It's absolutely true that the situation in Chechnya is actually a source of enrichment at all the various levels: everything from the sale of arms to the sale of hostages to the sale of bodies back to Chechen families, as well as kidnapping, looting, robbing cars on the roads. It allows everybody in the Russian military [located in Chechnya] to enrich themselves."
Vladimir Kalamanov, the Russian government's human rights envoy for Chechnya, said on 31 January that several criminal cases have been opened against Russian servicemen for alleged violations in conducting sweeps of the Chechen towns Argun, Tsotsin-Yurt, and Bachi-Yurt earlier this month. But Kalamanov said the sweeps -- during which towns are barricaded and residents held for hours as troops search for rebels -- must continue in order to keep a lid on crime in Chechnya.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to former President Jimmy Carter from 1977-1981, said this week that the West must genuinely seek to bring Russia into its fold. Speaking at a forum with Akhmadov, Brzezinski said that such a relationship, however, must be based on more than a security alliance, and that Russia has to accept Western values. The Polish-born Brzezinski, who is now a leader of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, added: "The war on Chechnya certainly is not helping the evolution of democracy. It is strengthening the worst remnants of the Soviet system -- the apparatus of suppression, the apparatus of coercion. It's not contributing to a healthy political evolution."
Brzezinski said a solution to the crisis would require a little imagination on both sides. He said comments late last year by Putin -- who said it was crucial that Chechnya not be a base for launching attacks on Russia -- suggested the Russian leader may be open to such a "creative" solution. Brzezinski said he could envisage a deal whereby Russia had the right to control the republic's borders to guarantee security but gave Chechnya an "opportunity for some self-determination." He said such an agreement must avoid using words that would signal failure or success for either side, such as "absolute sovereignty" or "capitulation."
But Akhmadov said a final deal on Chechnya would be up to the Chechen people to decide. "This barbaric policy of the Russian government toward the Chechen people has left not even the slightest illusion among the Chechen people as to the possibility of being able to live together." While the prospect of sovereignty is dim, Akhmadov said at the very least the Chechen people have the right to live free of Russian tanks, artillery, and soldiers.
Jeffrey Donovan is an RFE/RL correspondent.