20 February 2002, Volume 3, Number 8
ARMENIAPRESIDENT: OPPOSITION CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS WILL NOT BE PUT TO REFERENDUM. During a 13 February speech at Yerevan State University, President Robert Kocharian that that if the constitutional amendments proposed by the opposition are put to a nationwide referendum along with the amendments prepared by the presidential commission on constitutional reform, there would be a danger that neither package of proposals would be endorsed by the minimum required one-third of all registered voters, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He implied that such a failure would weaken his standing in the run-up to the presidential ballot due in March 2003. Kocharian also said the referendum will take place either concurrently with local elections this autumn, or at the same time as the presidential poll. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
FORMER MINISTER CRITICIZES CAFE DEATH INVESTIGATION. On 12 February, former Education Minister Ashot Bleyan, who now heads the Public Committee for the Protection of Human Rights, argued that the investigation into the death in a Yerevan cafe last September of an Armenian from Georgia demonstrates that Armenian citizens have no defense against the authorities' arbitrary actions, according to Noyan Tapan and Arminfo, as cited by Groong. The official postmortem established that Poghos Poghosian died of serious head injuries. "Armeniaweek" quoted a British witness as saying that Poghosian had been severely beaten and suffered multiple injuries. That witness also said that he did not recognize Aghamal Harutiunian, the member of President Robert Kocharian's bodyguard who is currently on trial charged with Poghosian's manslaughter, among the six to nine members of Kocharian's bodyguard whom he saw beating Poghosian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
AZERBAIJANAPPEALS COURT UPHOLDS SENTENCE ON WHISTLE-BLOWER. Azerbaijan's Court of Appeal on 13 February rejected former Naval Captain Djanmirza Mirzoev's appeal against the eight-year prison sentence handed down to him last November by the Court for Particularly Grave Military Crimes, Turan reported. Mirzoev was found guilty of instigating the 1993 murder of the director of Baku's Higher Naval College. During the review of Mirzoev's case, a key witness withdrew incriminating evidence he said he was forced to give under pressure but the Court of Appeal nonetheless ruled that that testimony proves Mirzoev's guilt. The Council of Europe considers Mirzoev, who repeatedly publicized corruption within the upper echelons of the Defense Ministry, a political prisoner. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
TWO IMPRISONED OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS RELEASED. On 13 February the Court of Appeal also commuted the sentences handed down last fall to two members of the opposition Adalet Party who clashed with police during the forced closure of the party's Sumgait office in September, Turan reported. The two men were sentenced, together with Fazail Tagiev, to 18 months' imprisonment, which has now been commuted to a one-year suspended sentence. Tagiev died in detention on 9 February ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
PROTESTS SPREAD IN EXCLAVE. Residents of the village of Bananyar in Nakhichevan began a hunger strike on 13 February to protest appalling living conditions, Turan reported. Residents of two neighboring villages joined the protest the following day to demand bread, employment, and the resignation of the country's leadership. Turan quoted unidentified sources as saying that there have been "clashes" between the protesters and local officials. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
BELARUSPRISON PICKETED IN SUPPORT OF JAILED OPPOSITION LEADER. Some 50 activists of the United Civic Party on 11 February picketed a prison in Minsk to express solidarity with opposition lawmaker and businessman Andrey Klimau, completing the fourth year of his six-year sentence, Belapan reported. Klimau, who owned a construction firm before his arrest, was convicted of "large-scale embezzlement" and forgery. However, opposition and human rights organizations in Belarus and abroad link his imprisonment to his loyalty to the Supreme Soviet, the parliament outlawed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1996, and his active role in the Supreme Soviet's attempts to impeach the Belarusian president. Under Belarus's Criminal Code, Klimau's imprisonment may now be commuted to corrective labor. Klimau's mother, who participated in the picket, told Belapan that she has not appealed to the authorities to change her son's punishment. "I consider Belarus a large prison, in which everything depends on the prison's chief [Lukashenka], but I will never appeal to him," she said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)
VALENTINE DAY MARCH IN MINSK ENDS IN ARRESTS. The Youth Front on 14 February initiated a three-month campaign of protests against President Lukashenka's regime by delivering Valentine's cards to a dozen embassies in Minsk. "In times of darkness, lies, aggression, repression, and dictatorship, we should remember that only love will help us overcome [them] and revive a European Belarus," Reuters quoted the inscription on a card delivered to the U.S. Embassy as reading. Russia's Embassy did not receive a card. Later in the day, some 200 Youth Front activists organized a traditional Valentine's Day anti-Lukashenka march in downtown Minsk, which was monitored by large numbers of police and, as in previous years, ended in the arrest of demonstrators. According to Belapan, riot police arrested no less than 30 young people. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
MOTHER APPEALS FOR HELP IN FINDING MISSING SON. Nina Korban -- the mother of Yury Korban, who is the head of the Vitsebsk-based opposition youth center Kontur -- has appealed to Belarusian and international human rights organizations for help in finding her missing son, Belapan reported on 11 February. Nina Korban told the agency that her son left the house on 19 January and she has not seen him since. He telephoned her a few times in subsequent days, the last time on 23 January when he asked her to bring $20,000 to a location in Minsk. She arrived to that location with some money but no one met her. During the last telephone conversation her son told her that she would never see him again. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)
CZECH REPUBLICNEW DISPUTE OVER PRESIDENT'S PREROGATIVES. The ruling Social Democratic Party and the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) on 14 February criticized President Vaclav Havel for having decided on an appointment to the Constitutional Court without consulting the government, CTK reported. Havel asked the Senate on 12 February to appoint Supreme Court Judge Chairwoman Eliska Wagnerova to the vacant position. Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures said that he "regrets" that the president did not consider it necessary to ask him for information about Wagnerova. Bures asked for a meeting with Havel, which he said he hopes will take place by the end of next week. ODS Deputy Chairman Ivan Langer said Havel's handling of the appointment is "suitable for a monarchy, but not for a democracy." He said Havel should have consulted the premier, the Justice Ministry, and the speakers of both chambers of the parliament. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
NO PLACE FOR SCHINDLER ON WHO'S WHO LIST. The regional assembly of Eastern Pardubice voted on 14 February against including Oskar Schindler, who saved 1,200 Jews in the Holocaust, on a list of the region's outstanding personalities, AP reported. Schindler was born in Svitavy, which is located in the region, but an advisory council said he had been a member of the Nazi Party and is "too controversial" to be included on the list. Schindler's deeds became famous to millions in the world due to Steven Spielberg's 1993 Oscar-winning film "Schindler's List." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
INTERIOR MINISTRY BANS FAR-RIGHT YOUTH GROUP. The Interior Ministry on 14 February announced that earlier this month it dissolved the far-right Republican Youth organization, CTK reported. The ministry said parts of the organization's program violate legal provisions. Last year, the ministry asked the Republican Youth to correct references in the program to Roma, which were deemed to be racially discriminatory and at variance with legal provisions. Only some of those references were changed, the ministry said. Republican Youth Chairman Martin Zbela said the decision was a "mockery of democracy" and that the organization will file an appeal with the Supreme Court. The Republican Youth was established in 1998, and according to Zbela it has between 1,000 and 2,000 members. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
GEORGIAABKHAZ ARMENIAN COMMUNITY APPEALS TO UN. "Krunk," a public organization that represents Abkhazia's Armenian minority, has addressed an appeal to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to secure the abolition of "anti-human" economic and political sanctions imposed on Abkhazia by the CIS and other international bodies, according to Armenpress on 14 February as cited by Groong. The appeal, which was published in the Armenian daily "Respublika Armeniya," argued that those sanctions constitute a violation of human rights, particularly as they make it impossible for local Armenians to travel to Armenia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
HUNGARYMIEP PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATE ASSAULTED. Two men with baseball bats on 11 February beat and seriously injured Janos Olah, a Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) candidate for parliament. Olah was lured to a side street in Budapest's 13th district by a man who offered him "recommendation slips" that parliamentary members have to gather in their own constituency to qualify for April's national elections. MIEP spokesman Bela Gyori said that "while the police are trying to sweep this case under the carpet, there is no doubt Olah was attacked because of his political views," Hungarian and international media reported. According to Gyori, the attackers referred to Olah's party affiliation, used abusive language, and urged him to get out of the neighborhood. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)
KAZAKHSTANHEALTH PROBLEMS IN ARMED FORCES. Kazakhstan's Defense Ministry has launched a program to prevent the spread of AIDS and venereal disease within the armed forces, Interfax reported on 14 February. Four servicemen tested HIV-positive in 2001, and "hundreds" of cases of syphilis and gonorrhea are reported annually, according to the ministry's press service. Meanwhile "Kontinent" reported on 5 February that no more than 15,000 of the potential 70,000 draftees are healthy enough to be inducted into Kazakhstan's armed forces this fall. Forty percent of the potential recruits are underweight, and 25 percent reportedly have an IQ that is too low. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
KYRGYZSTANTRIAL OF PARLIAMENTARIAN OPENS, ADJOURNS... The trial of Azimbek Beknazarov began on 12 February in the southern town of Toktogul as earlier announced, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. But proceedings were adjourned after Beknazarov formally expressed his lack of confidence that any court in Djalalabad Oblast would guarantee him a fair trial, whereupon presiding Judge Busurmankul Baktygulov complied with his request that the trial be adjourned and reconvened elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan. Police detained four of some 45 supporters of Beknazarov who had gathered outside the courtroom. Also on 12 February, 19 supporters of Beknazarov who were on hunger strike at the offices leased in the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources building by two Kyrgyz human rights organizations yielded to a 9 February ultimatum by Minister Aleksandr Kostyuk and moved to the editorial office of the newspaper "Res Publica," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
...AS SUPREME COURT AIDE MEETS HIS SUPPORTERS. Ulan Satarov, who is an aide to the chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court, met in Bishkek on 13 February with representatives of Beknazarov's supporters who have been staging pickets and hunger strikes across the country to demand his release, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Satarov told the protesters that the court "is considering" Beknazarov's request that his trial be held not in Djalalabad Oblast but elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
TERM OF MILITARY SERVICE SHORTENED. The Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament) on 14 February passed in the first reading a draft bill that reduces from two years to one the term of compulsory military service, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Servicemen may opt to sign a further two-year contract after completing their service. The bill's author, Defense and Security Committee Chairman Ismail Isakov, said the bill will save an unspecified amount in budget funds. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
JOBLESS HOPE FOR OPPORTUNITIES IN AFGHANISTAN. Since 7 February, a total of 2,000 residents of Kyrgyzstan's southern Batken Oblast have signed up for employment opportunities in Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Over 50 percent of those who did so are currently unemployed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
MOLDOVAANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS CONTINUE... Between 20,000 and 30,000 people, mainly young, demonstrated in Chisinau on 13 and 14 February, chanting antipresident and antigovernment slogans and demanding the resignation of the cabinet headed by Vasile Tarlev, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The protest demonstration was fueled by the government's decision earlier that day to approve replacing the teaching of the "History of Romanians" with that of "History of Moldovans." The demonstrators chanted slogans of "Stop Russification" and "Down with the Communists" in front of the parliament and the seat of the government. Concern was expressed that the "logical next step" of the government would be to have the Cyrillic alphabet replacing again the Latin transcription of "Moldovan," thus returning to the Soviet-era norm. After the demonstrations ended, armored personnel carriers were deployed on the city's main square. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
...AS PPCD CALLS FOR 'GENERAL STRIKE'... The Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), which organized the protest, said the demonstrations will continue for several days more. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca, speaking on Romanian television, called for a "general strike, the resignation of the communist leadership, and early parliamentary elections." His deputy, Vlad Cubreacov, earlier said that the latest protests mark "the beginning of the movement of national liberation of Romanians in Moldova." Cubreacov also said that the government is now implementing in regard to the Romanian majority policies identical to those of Tiraspol. For his part, Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said that he does not "feel ashamed of any single decision taken by my cabinet, and that includes today's decision as well." This decision, he said "will enable our children to learn our forefathers' history." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
...AND COMMUNISTS REJECT PROTESTERS' DEMANDS. The leadership of the PPCD met on 14 February with leaders of the parliament, who rejected the PPCD demand that President Vladimir Voronin and the government resign and early elections be called. Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuc said that "for 12 years, the Moldovan education system has prepared young people to become Romanian citizens -- the time has come to prepare the young generation to be Moldovan citizens." Parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapchuk told the PPCD leaders that their demands are "unfounded and absurd," and that the PCM has "received a four-year mandate from the people." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
COUNCIL OF EUROPE WELCOMES PPCD RULING. Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer on 12 February welcomed the decision of the Chisinau government to abolish its ruling to suspend the PPCD for one month, Flux reported. Schwimmer called the nullification of the suspension "a first step in the direction of making the early local elections respect democratic values, norms, and practice." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
GOVERNMENT SAYS GAGAUZ-YERI TENSION CAUSED BY INNER PROBLEMS. The Foreign Ministry on 12 February released a statement saying that the causes of the current tension in Gagauz-Yeri must be sought in the autonomous region itself, and not in the relations between Chisinau and Comrat, Infotag reported. The ministry said that "improper emotional reactions from outside may only stir up passions further and be fraught with further aggravation of the situation." The ambassadors of the U.S., Germany, and Turkey and diplomats from the Bulgarian, Austrian, Swedish, and Norwegian embassies have visited the region since the outbreak of the current crisis. The ministry said the Moldovan government sees itself as duty-bound to act in line with the constitutional provisions and the current legislation, and in this context welcomes the decision of the region's Popular Assembly to hold on 24 February a referendum on dismissing the region's governor. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
POLANDPARLIAMENT PASSES LOCAL ELECTION LAW... The Sejm on 15 February adopted a law on local elections, shifting the ballot date from spring to autumn and approving the d'Hondt method for calculating seat allocations, which favors large groupings, the "Gazeta Wyborcz" website reported. In a previous vote in January, the Sejm opted for the Sainte-Lague method, which is more favorable for small and medium-sized parties. The ruling Democratic Left Alliance managed to push through the d'Hondt system thanks to votes from Andrzej Lepper's Self-Defense. "Self-Defense has decided to support the d'Hondt method so that all the agrarian-national organizations unite and together oppose the liberal left and win against it," Lepper told PAP on 14 February. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
...EXCLUDES INTELLIGENCE, BORDER SERVICES FROM LUSTRATION. The Sejm also approved the Senate's amendments to the 1997 lustration law removing intelligence, counterintelligence, and border protection service officers from the list of officials subject to the lustration process. Under the law, state officials are obliged to submit written declarations as to whether they collaborated with the communist-era secret services. The law stipulates that those concealing their collaboration with the communist secret police will be punished with a 10-year ban on holding public posts. In January, contrary to proposals by the president who was an author of the amendments, the Sejm decided that intelligence and counterintelligence would still be vetted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
TEACHERS PROTEST OVER PAY. On 13 February in Warsaw, several hundred teachers from the Polish Teachers Union protested the government's budget cuts and its plans to put off wage rises for teachers by one year, PAP reported. A day earlier, teachers who are members of Solidarity staged a picket in front of the parliament over the same issue. In December, the Sejm changed the Teachers' Charter to postpone teachers wage rises until 2003 in order to achieve savings of 1.9 billion zlotys ($460 million). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
ROMANIASENATOR TO SUE PREMIER? Senator Radu F. Alexandru, leader of the National Liberal Party's parliamentary group, said on 13 February that he will sue Prime Minister Adrian Nastase if the premier does not make public the reasons why Alexandru's envisaged appointment as cultural attache in Israel in 1990 was vetoed by the Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Alexandru is Jewish. Nastase said earlier this week that he "presumes" that Alexandru's recurrent attacks on himself are due to his being ruled out for the post by the SIE at a time when Nastase was Romania's foreign minister. Nastase said he had proposed the appointment but could do "nothing about it" after the SIE vetoed the proposal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
RUSSIACHECHENS PROTEST ARTILLERY BOMBARDMENT. Residents of the village of Tsotan-Yurt south of Grozny prevented Russian troops from entering the village on 13 and 14 February, AP reported. The villagers were protesting the deaths of two civilians, one of them a woman, during artillery bombardment of the village on 12 February. Drunken Russian troops are reported to have killed dozens of civilians in Tsotan-Yurt during a security sweep in the village in early January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
TROOPS LAUNCH NEW SEARCH OPERATION IN CHECHNYA. Russian forces surrounded and sealed the villages of Gikalo, Prigorodnoe, and Chechen-Aul on the southern outskirts of Grozny during the night of 10-11 February, deploying armored vehicles and engaging in indiscriminate artillery fire that has killed or injured civilian residents, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 11 February. ITAR-TASS on 13 February reported that search operations were continuing and that "dozens" of residents have been detained for passport violations or on suspicion of links with Chechen resistance fighters. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
ALTERNATIVE SERVICE BILL ADOPTED... Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko announced that at its meeting 14 February, the government approved the draft of the Law on Alternative Service strana.ru reported. According to Matvienko, the term of alternative service will be double that of compulsory military service, and young men will be allowed to perform it at their place of permanent residence, "unless there is an urgent need to send them to other regions." The approval of the bill by the government is considered a major step towards its transformation into law, because its smooth passage through both chambers of the parliament is almost guaranteed, according to strana.ru. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
...AS ARMY SUFFERS FROM MASS EXODUS OF OFFICERS. Low salaries, inadequate social conditions, lack of status, and hazardous technical equipment are among the reasons for the mass exodus of officers from the Russian Army, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 February. According to data recently released by the General Staff, every 10th medium-rank officer position is vacant and among petty officers, every third. In the last few months over 100 officers lecturing in the Ground Forces Academy have asked for dismissal from military service, and if this trend continues, the academy will have to close in six months. About 70 percent of the officers who resigned last year were 30 or younger, the newspaper noted. Another reason for leaving the army is that much military equipment is in such poor condition that it is dangerous to use it. Since 1991, over 400,000 officers have quit military service, the paper concluded. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
ZYUGANOV SOWS NATIONALIST OATS AS NEW PARTY TAKES SHAPE. Speaking in Moscow on 11 February, Communist Party of the Russian Federation leader Gennadii Zyuganov called on all "peoples-patriotic forces to unite and prevent power from slipping into the hands of the junta and oligarchy." Meanwhile, Vladimir Miloserdov, a spokesman for the founding committee for the Peoples-Patriotic Party, said the inauguration congress of the new party will take place on 23 February, RosBalt reported on 11 February. "We are not concealing that the new party is created on the ruins left by the demise of the Peoples-Patriotic Union led by Zyuganov," Miloserdov said. He added that the most likely leader of the new party will be former Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko, known for his policies aimed against regional ethnic minorities such as Meskhetian Turks, and that the party's program includes the "restoration of independence and integrity" for Russia, as well as the suppression of ethnic conflicts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)
MILITARY SUPREME COURT ANNULS LIST OF STATE SECRETS. The Collegium of the Military Supreme Court favored the appeal filed by Grigorii Pasko's lawyers on 12 February, ruling out as "null and void" the Defense Ministry's list of state secrets used as the basis for sentencing the military journalist and environmentalist to four years in prison for providing such information to Japan, Russian news agencies reported. However, the decision will not affect Pasko's fate, or others who have been imprisoned for espionage for providing information found on the list. They include: Moscow businessman Viktor Kalyagin, who was sentenced last October to 14 years in prison for providing information to the United States; and scientists Igor Sutyagin and Vladimir Danilov, who are accused of divulging military secrets and espionage. Meanwhile, Naum Nim, the spokesman for a public committee in defense of Pasko, told "Izvestiya" on 12 February he cannot exclude the possibility that a new trial will be set in Pasko's case -- which in practical terms would mean an extension of his time in prison. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
FOREIGN MINISTRY ASKS VATICAN TO REFRAIN FROM RAISING ITS PROFILE IN RUSSIA... In an official note sent to the Vatican, the Russian Foreign Ministry asked the Holy See to annul its decision to set up four Catholic dioceses in Russia, strana.ru reported on 14 February. "Although Russia does not question the Vatican's right to self-organization, implementing its decision will cause complications between it and the Russian Orthodox Church," the note said. Therefore, continued the Foreign Ministry, "It recommends the Vatican take no action before resolving this issue with Russian Orthodox Church." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
...AS RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ACCUSES VATICAN OF UNDERMINING ITS AUTHORITY... In its official reaction to the Vatican's decision, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church states that it "poses a challenge to the Church that is unheard of in Russian history," ORT reported on 13 February. The Synod statement also says that by its decision the Vatican lays claim "to Russian people as its flock, at a time when the Russian people culturally, spiritually, and historically are the flock of the Russian Orthodox Church." The Synod statement also blames the Vatican for the "acute deterioration of relations between two confessions." Meanwhile, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate Foreign Relations Department, Archbishop Kirill, told RTR on 13 February that he has informed the Vatican that a visit by papal envoy Walter Kasper to Moscow planned for the end of this month is not "welcome anymore." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
...AS TOP ISLAMIC CLERIC JOINS PROTESTS. The chairman of the Central Spiritual Board of Muslims of Russia, Talgat Tadjuddin, said he agrees with objections expressed by the Russian Orthodox Church against the Vatican's decision to upgrade its institutions in Russia, NTV reported on 12 February. "Catholicism is not a traditional Russian confession like the Orthodox Church and Islam," Tadjuddin said. Meanwhile, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusevich, the head of Russia's Catholics, told NTV on 12 February that the Russian Orthodox Church has never asked for the Holy See's consent when it seeks to expand its own religious activities, thus the Roman Catholic Church is not obligated to seek permission either. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
FREE RIDES TO COLLEGE TO BECOME FEWER. The Education Ministry plans to slash the number of citizens eligible for free higher education, ORT reported on 13 February. According to the report, there will be 170 free places in universities for every 10,000 people in Russia. Under the current system, students scoring over 70 percent on common state exams pay nothing, while those that score over 60 percent pay an extra $100 a year. The new system will be introduced gradually beginning this summer. Within two years, some students will be offered repayable loans under certain conditions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
INTERIOR MINISTRY TO TAKE LEAD IN COMBATING HOMELESSNESS. Deputy Prime Minister Matvienko announced on 14 February that as a result of a cabinet ministers' meeting that day to discuss the results of last November's Civic Forum, an interdepartmental working group for the struggle against homelessness will be established and headed by Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, polit.ru reported. The Interior Ministry, in fact, will play the leading role in the struggle against homelessness, assisted by the Labor Ministry and Education Ministry. The government also intends to strengthen the legal responsibility of parents and schools for raising children. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
SERBIAMILOSEVIC REMAINS DEFIANT IN THE HAGUE... Former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic told the war crimes tribunal in The Hague on 13 February that it has no jurisdiction over him and is engaging in a "lynching" through a media campaign against him, RFE/RL reported. Presiding Judge Richard May dismissed Milosevic's complaints as "completely irrelevant." The next day, Milosevic charged that the prosecutors were trying to depict him as "super-human...influencing people and having responsibility outside the territory of my own country." The former dictator argued that the prosecutor "has accused Serbia and all Serbs who supported me in Serbia and those Serbs who supported me outside of Serbia. And all the people who support me in Serbia today. And then he is accusing the nation" of complicity in the crimes. RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service commented that Milosevic is making his remarks with an eye toward the Serbian public. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
...TELLS COURT OF SERBIAN FORCES' HUMANITARIAN WORK. Addressing the war crimes tribunal in The Hague on 15 February, Milosevic again denied that Serbian forces committed war crimes, and charged that NATO planned and provoked a war with Serbia, RFE/RL reported. Milosevic claimed that Serbian forces did not seek to expel Albanians from Kosova but rather that "the Serb forces were trying to save them, they assisted them, they transported them to hospitals, even to the most elite American institutions, even to Belgrade and not to Pristina and other towns of Kosovo." Referring to NATO's efforts to stop the ethnic-cleansing campaign, Milosevic argued that "this entire war was pointless and it constitutes a crime. Those [who] come to kill children in their sleep can hardly sleep peacefully themselves if they are human at all and if they have any morals.... The migration of Albanians from Kosovo was of strategic importance for the Clinton administration to win the support of the media and public opinion, as a justification of what they were doing" against Serbia. Presiding Judge May suggested that 15 February will be the final day of Milosevic's opening presentation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
PROSECUTOR: MILOSEVIC OVERSAW COMMAND STRUCTURE. In The Hague on 13 February, Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice told the International Criminal Tribunal that former President Milosevic oversaw a command structure that carried out war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2002). Nice noted that in 1991 and 1992, "there was a heavy preponderance of military crime being committed coming from the east, coming from Serbia, in the name of the [Yugoslav army]." The prosecutor added that local Serbs "declaring their autonomy or independence weren't just doing it for themselves. They were doing it in order to be joined to something else. Was it purely fortuitous that they wanted to be joined to something that was going to be headed by this accused? Or was he, as we say, for all the reasons already advanced, a party to precisely that plan?" Nice noted that in regard to Bosnia "we accept that our proof against this accused, at this stage, for complicity in these awful events [during the siege of Sarajevo], is via his support for the Republika Srpska and via support for its army. We do not, of course, exclude the possibility of being able to go further in due course." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
MIXED REACTIONS TO TRIAL IN FORMER YUGOSLAVIA. The media and many politicians throughout former Yugoslavia followed the developments in The Hague on 12 February carefully, as did many ordinary people, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. But with the exception of some people who were directly affected by Milosevic's war crimes, most people seemed more interested in getting on with their daily affairs. The issue of war crimes is generally not one that hurts or helps politicians throughout a region in which most people are concerned primarily with their standard of living and their future. In Belgrade, the Yugoslav federal parliament adjourned so that deputies could follow the proceedings on television. More than 1,000 journalists covered the trial from The Hague. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)
SLOVAKIAROMANY ORGANIZATION LAUNCHES COMPLAINT WITH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT. The Council of Non-Governmental Organizations of the Romany Parliament in Slovakia said on 9 February that it has filed a complaint to the Constitutional Court about violations of Roma's right to be educated their native language, CTK reported. The council said that the recent amendment to the Education Law approved by the parliament puts the Romany minority at a disadvantage compared with the right of other minorities to be educated in their mother tongues. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)
TAJIKISTANSLIGHT FALL IN REGISTERED UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMED. Registered unemployment fell very slightly in Tajikistan in 2001 and is now equal to 4.2 percent of the workforce, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 14 February. A total of 42,900 people are registered as out of work, of whom 52.8 percent were women and 65.7 percent are between the ages of 15-29. Almost 80 percent have no professional skills and/or only a rudimentary education. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
UN, OSCE COMMENT ON UPCOMING BY-ELECTIONS. The heads of the OSCE and UN missions in Dushanbe, Marc Gilbert and Ivo Petrov, together with Central Commission for Elections and Referenda (CCER) Chairman Mirzoali Boltuev, held a joint press conference in Dushanbe on 12 February to assess preparations for by-elections in three constituencies, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Petrov stressed that elections must be held on an alternative basis. Gilbert said that the OSCE will soon establish a working group together with parliament deputies to draft a new "Law on Elections and Political Parties." Asked by Asia Plus-Blitz to comment on the CCER's refusal to register two candidates from the opposition Democratic Party of Tajikistan (DPT) for those by-elections, Boltuev said the candidates in question had violated the election law. DPT Deputy Chairman Asliddin Sohibnazarov, one of the rejected candidates, denied that charge and criticized the activities of the CCER and its regional subcommittees. In two of the three constituencies, candidates from the ruling People's Democratic Party (the former Communist Party) and the Islamic Renaissance Party (representing the opposition that now holds one-third of all government and local administrative posts) have been registered. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
TURKMENISTANFORMER FOREIGN MINISTER SOUNDS ALARM OVER CRACKDOWN ON OPPOSITION... In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 13 February, former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov said that over the previous week more than 100 persons suspected of sympathizing or maintaining contact with his People's Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan have been arrested. Shikhmuradov also said the movement's members have adopted an appeal to the OSCE to suspend Turkmenistan's membership in that organization. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
...AS NIYAZOV SEEKS EXTRADITION OF FORMER DIPLOMATS. In a televised address on 12 February, Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov instructed the country's prosecutor-general to intensify efforts to secure the extradition from Russia of former Foreign Minister Shikhmuradov and former Ambassador to Turkey Nurmukhammed Khanamov, Reuters reported on 13 February. Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova and National Security Committee Chairman General Mukhammed Nazarov both said that said it has been "proved" that Shikhmuradov embezzled or misappropriated state property worth $28 million. Shikhmuradov resigned last fall as Turkmenistan's ambassador to China and has since formed an exile opposition movement to Niyazov, which Khanamov has recently joined (RFE/RL Newsline 14 February)
UKRAINEELECTION WATCHDOG REPORTS CAMPAIGN IRREGULARITIES. The Committee of Voters of Ukraine is concerned about mass irregularities in the election campaign, such as ignoring the ban on campaigning before 9 February, candidates abusing their official positions, breach of procedure in the formation of election commissions, and violence against candidates, STB Television reported on 12 February. According to the outcome of the committee's January monitoring, none of the culprits were punished. Observers noted mass distribution of fake campaign materials in Donetsk, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kirovohrad, and Luhansk oblasts; particularly in the name of opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko. According to the committee, 70 percent of irregularities in January amounted to officials campaigning for the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine bloc. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
SUPREME COURT WANTS COMMISSION TO REVIEW REJECTION OF BLOC. The Supreme Court has obliged the Central Electoral Commission to reconsider its decision not to register the For Yushchenko election bloc led by Oleksandr Rzhavskyy, UNIAN reported on 12 February. Many Ukrainian observers see Rzhavskyy's election initiative -- using the name of popular politician Viktor Yushchenko without his approval -- as a dirty election technique intended to confuse the electorate and take away some votes from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
COMMUNISTS SHOWER PROMISES OF 'SOCIALIST REFORMS.' The Communist Party published its election manifesto in "Uryadovyy Kuryer" on 14 February, pledging to make workers "the masters of life" and to implement "socialist reforms...to restore the economy" after winning the 31 March parliamentary ballot. The Communists promise to ensure comprehensive support for domestic producers; restore the "uninterrupted operation" of the fuel and energy sector; support agricultural producers with preferential credits; prevent the massive purchase of land by the nouveau riche and foreigners; guarantee equal legal conditions for the operation of enterprises and businesses with different forms of ownership; lower tax pressure and abolish value-added tax; stop "the criminal grabatization" [privatization]; and "get rid of the dictatorship and the services of the U.S. administration, the IMF, and other financial-political octopi." The Communists also promise to turn Ukraine into a "parliamentary-presidential" country. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
'OUR UKRAINE' ADVERTISES YUSHCHENKO'S GAINS, PLEDGES MORAL POLITICS. Ukrainian Radio on 13 February aired a government-sponsored campaign spot by the Our Ukraine election bloc led by former Premier Viktor Yushchenko. The spot underscored that the Yushchenko government was the first to pay back wages and pensions "without taking a cent either from Russia or the West," and can also take credit for the economic recovery now under way. The bloc's advertised goal is to build "a fair and open civic society with equally fair, open, and responsible authorities," and to stick to "professional and moral" politics. "We are not seeking allies either among pro-presidential or opposition forces. The Ukrainian nation is our only ally in this election," Yushchenko said in the program. Our Ukraine's election slogan, repeatedly voiced in the broadcast, is "Not by words, but by deeds!" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
REGIONALRUSSIA SEEKS REPATRIATION OF CHECHEN REFUGEES IN GEORGIA. A Russian delegation headed by Deputy Minister for Emergency Situations Yurii Brazhnikov began talks in Tbilisi on 14 February on the voluntary repatriation to Chechnya of the estimated 7,000-8,000 refugees currently encamped in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. Brazhnikov did not mention any specific time frame for beginning the repatriation process. Brazhnikov said after meeting with Georgian Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili that Tbilisi will conduct a census of the refugees next month and determine how many of them are prepared to return to Chechnya. It is not clear how that census will be conducted as Pankisi has long been considered a "no-go" area even for the Georgian police. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 February that almost all the refugees have already said that they are not prepared to return to Chechnya until the fighting there is ended. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)
END NOTEPOSTWAR DECREES HAUNT CZECH RELATIONS WITH BERLIN, VIENNA
By Jolyon Naegele
The main Sudeten German expellees' organization asked German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer at a meeting in Munich to speak up for them in Prague when he pays a visit to the Czech capital on 20 February. The Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft wants Fischer to protest recent statements by Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman branding the Sudeten Germans as "traitors" and "[Adolf] Hitler's fifth column." Zeman made the remarks in a recent interview with the Austrian news magazine "Profil."
Landsmannschaft president Berndt Posselt, who earlier this month was elected first deputy chairman of the European Parliament's Czech-EU Committee, announced that his association will open an office in Prague on 1 April to establish relations between the expellees and the Czech populace, and to answer questions from the public. Posselt said removing the issue of controversial Czechoslovak presidential decrees from the table in an admissible way is in both sides' interests. The Sudeten Germans had been loyal subjects of the Austro-Hungarian empire and were largely opposed to their incorporation into the new Czecho-Slovak Republic after World War I, when they went from being a member of the ruling nation to a minority that constituted barely a quarter of the country's population.
With the rise of fascism in Central Europe in the 1930s, the Sudeten Germans became a convenient tool for Hitler to destabilize Czechoslovakia. Hitler forced Britain and France, at the Munich conference in 1938, to allow Germany to annex the Sudetenland. Eventually on 15 March 1939, Germany dismembered Czecho-Slovakia. The ailing Czecho-Slovak president, Emil Hacha, having been summoned to Berlin for a nighttime talk with Hitler, capitulated in a radio address. "After a long conversation with the Reichschancellor (Hitler), and after evaluating the situation, I have decided to announce that I am placing the fate of the Czech nation and state with full trust in the hands of the Fuehrer of the German nation."
The Munich Pact, the dismemberment, and the subsequent six years of German occupation, left a lasting imprint on the Czech national psyche and paved the way for the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans in 1945-46 and the rise of the Communist Party. Toward the end of World War II, the Czechoslovak government in exile received approval from the allied powers to expel its German minority. Czech vigilantes herded Sudeten Germans and other German civilians in a disorderly and often violent round-up in the first weeks after the war ended. Thousands were killed by members of the "Revolutionary Guard," who committed a variety of documented atrocities, the best-known of which were the forced marches of tens of thousands of Germans from Czechoslovakia's second-largest city, Brno, to the Austrian border in June 1945, and an anti-German pogrom on a bridge at Usti nad Labem.
Many German civilians, especially older males, committed suicide rather than face a violent death at the hands of the Revolutionary Guards or have to build a new life in permanent exile in Germany. After the Potsdam talks between the leaders of the victorious allies in July 1945, the transfer of Sudeten Germans became more orderly. Nevertheless, Sudeten German property was confiscated. They were forced to wear armbands identifying them as such and they were confined to camps from where they were put on freight trains mainly to the neighboring American and Soviet sectors of occupied Germany. Sudeten Germans in West Germany were vociferous throughout the Cold War in denouncing Czechoslovakia, and after the collapse of communist rule in 1989 they lost no time in demanding a formal apology, restitution, and special rights to purchase property. Prague rejected all these demands.
Similarly, Sudeten German attempts to persuade the German federal government to make their views a component of German foreign policy never succeeded. Even when Germany negotiated a Czech-German declaration with Prague five years ago, the exiles' demands fell on deaf ears. The declaration cleared the air and put German-Czech relations on a new footing. Germany accepted responsibility for its role in developments leading to the Munich Pact of 1938, which forced the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, the annexation of the Sudetenland, and the establishment of a protectorate in the rump Czech Lands. Germany also took responsibility for having expelled Czechs from the Sudetenland -- the majority ethnic German border areas -- and expressed regret for the suffering and wrongs the Nazis committed against the Czechs.
By the same token, the Czech Republic expressed regret that much suffering and many wrongs were inflicted on innocent people during the postwar expulsion and forced resettlement of the Sudeten Germans. In perhaps the most significant concession, the Czech Republic expressed particular regret for excesses at variance with elementary humanitarian principles and the laws valid at the time. The Czechs regretted "that under Law 115 of 8 May 1946, these excesses were not regarded as unlawful and as a consequence were not punished." Law 115 of 1946 was one of more than 100 decrees passed by the provisional Czechoslovak parliament under former President Eduard Benes in the first year of peace after the end of World War II. Law 115 amnestied Czechs for crimes committed against German civilian inhabitants at the end of the war and in the first days of peace.
Robert Schuster of the Prague-based Institute of International Affairs says the issue of the Benes decrees completely vanished from public discourse after the Czech-German declaration of 1997. But he says that issues thought to have been resolved five years ago are now being resurrected. "Of course there is the question -- and we'll have to wait on this -- whether this position, mainly of Germany -- will prevail through this year's (German parliamentary) election campaign, which is starting to get under way. And it is precisely Mr. Stoiber, the candidate for chancellor of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union, [who would have] the function of patron of the Sudeten German (expellees). [He] will, of course, have room to raise this issue once again. The question is whether they will do it. I think they'll be very cautious -- they'll stay away from it."
However, in light of Zeman's recent comments and the political mood in Austria, Schuster suggests that Stoiber and other CDU/CSU politicians may feel pressure to speak out on the Sudeten German cause. Schuster says Austria, which initially took little interest in the Sudeten German issue -- although it has several hundred thousand citizens of Sudeten German origin -- can be expected to try to find a resolution with Prague over the course of this year. Sudeten German expellees and some populist German and Austrian politicians have demanded that the Benes decrees be repealed. Czech politicians say repealing the decrees is out of the question, in part because only a very few actually deal with the Sudeten Germans -- expropriating their property, denying them citizenship and civil rights, and requiring them to leave the country. Part of the reason is that the forebears of the three left-of-center parliamentary parties that enacted these decrees in the first place -- the Communists, the Social Democrats, and the People's Party -- are still in existence and bear responsibility for them.
Jolyon Naegele is a Prague-based RFE/RL correspondent.