Accessibility links

Breaking News

(Un)Civil Societies Report: April 10, 2002

10 April 2002, Volume 3, Number 15
UNREST IN MOLDOVA CONTINUES, NEGOTIATIONS FAIL, INTERNET DEBATE RAGES. Thousands marched in Chisinau on 2 April, but negotiations failed to achieve any results, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Demonstrators spearheaded by the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), sometimes reaching as many as 50,000, are demanding closer ties with Europe and an end to what they see as "Russification." Government officials and the presidential office received a protesters' Committee for the Salvation of Democracy, but rejected demands that the cabinet resign, early elections be called, and the Party of Moldovan Communists be outlawed along with fascist parties. In an urgent message to the Council of Europe, President Vladimir Voronin and other leaders asked the council to "urgently dispatch monitors" to Moldova, saying that the ongoing "tense situation" might force the government to "take measures to overcome the crisis," and that "incidents that could produce victims" cannot be ruled out, Flux reported on 4 April. OSCE Chairman in Office Jaime Gama expressed concern on 5 April about the continuing confrontation between the government and protesters in Moldova, and called on both sides to show restraint and "engage in dialogue," Flux reported. (See RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 8 April)

Speaking on Moldovan television on 3 April, President Voronin said the opposition was guilty of provoking "internal tension," and that protests were being financed with "fabulous amounts" by Romania and the Transdniester, Flux reported. Voronin claimed former Premier Dumitru Braghis, who recently demanded that the government resign, is also on foreigners' payrolls. Protesters were further angered when the Communist-dominated parliament voted to strip the immunity from the leader of the opposition PPCD. All opposition parliamentarians boycotted the vote.

Soon afterwards, PPCD leader Iurie Rosca scuffled with police in the vicinity of a high school in Chisinau on 6 April, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and ITAR-TASS reported. Rosca said he was only protecting PPCD deputy Valentin Chilat, whom police were trying to abduct "just as they had abducted [PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad] Cubreacov." He said several plainclothes policemen refused to identify themselves and drove away in a car after he was "forced to push them." Rosca said the policemen had come to the high school to warn the management against student participation in protest demonstrations and found Chilat there. An Interior Ministry spokesman denied the police had in any way attempted to force Chilat into a car, as Rosca alleged (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April), and claimed Rosca had thrown one of the policemen onto the ground and the other into a shop window, inflicting injuries requiring emergency medical attention, dpa reported on 9 April. A Chisinau city prosecutor will file assault and battery charges against Rosca in the near future, the Interior Ministry said, now that he has lost immunity. If proved to have intentionally assaulted a police officer performing his duties legally, Rosca could face up to five years in jail, reported dpa.

Vitalie Nagacevschi, chairman of the Lawyers for Human Rights association, said on 4 April that the association will appeal to the Constitutional Court the parliament's decision to lift the immunity of PPCD leaders Rosca and Stefan Secareanu, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He also said the association he heads will issue a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg against the Supreme Court's decision to forbid demonstrations in the National Assembly Square in Chisinau. He said that if the court in Strasbourg rules that the Supreme Court's decision is illegal, the grounds cited by the Prosecutor-General's Office for lifting Rosca's and Secareanu's immunity will automatically become illegal, as will the parliament's decision to lift their immunity.

The turmoil in Moldova has prompted NGOs in Moldova, Romania, and elsewhere in Europe to an intense debate on the meaning of history and current events in the post-Soviet republic, and ultimately to exchange accusations and insults. An international discussion list devoted to combating racism in Europe known as ICARE, published by the Internet Centre Anti-Racism Centre Europe (, was swamped with messages about Moldova in recent weeks.

Natalia Sineaeva of the Youth Helsinki Assembly of Moldova (YHAM) charged in an open appeal in March that the "PPCD's ultimate goal is to destroy the independence of Moldova," claiming that the demonstrations were "undermining civil peace and accord," and that Rosca, had "managed to convince the international community that he is fighting against communism, although in fact it was Mr. Rosca who paved the road to power for communists," when his parliamentary faction had apparently worked with the Communists to vote the Democratic Alliance out of office in 1999. Commenting on the rise of nationalist sentiment in Moldova, Sineaeva said "many publications are of a revisionist character and justify the Romanian ally of Hitler, Marshal Ion Antonescu, although about 300,000 Jews were killed...during World War II by the Romanian army and administration." She said xenophobic materials on the Internet viewable in Moldova had "increased dramatically" and claimed that special sites "aimed at manipulating Moldovan youths" were being constructed with calls to "annihilate" the Russian-speaking population, and to "take up arms and thus to deal with the 'occupiers.'"

Disturbed at what seemed a tendentious portrayal of events in Moldova, a group calling itself "Save Democracy in Moldova" retaliated by posting clips to the ICARE list from the Associated Press about police dispersal of demonstrations and the disappearance of Cubreacov, a PPCD politician. "Moldova is following the path of Belarus, turning into a Soviet-style dictatorship. The [PPCD] is a Western-oriented political force in Moldova and its leaders are being persecuted," the democracy group countered. Next, Nicu Bazga of an organization called "ATTAC Romania," based in Bucharest, posted a protest, claiming the YHAM leader was "intoxicated with the Communist regime" and was "merely trying to discredit a party and its leader." But despite the strong language typical of such young people's Internet discussion lists, Bazga offered to "work together to defend what we have in common -- the respect of democracy, the respect for the human rights."

As the debate grew more pointed, contributors wondered why Moldova was preserving collective farms and planning on joining the Belarus-Russia Union if it were so democratic, and charged Moldovan police with torturing juvenile demonstrators, although no evidence was cited. Meanwhile, the YHAM countered that taking a position against what it viewed as an extremist party (the PPCD), said to be guilty of chauvinism and anti-Semitism, should not unleash Red-baiting. Moderators finally intervened to tell feuding NGOs to "stop shouting" (i.e., writing messages all in capitals) and then finally terminated the discussion, but not before a manifesto was posted by a dozen Moldovan groups representing the Jewish, Romany, German, Azeri, Belarusian, Tatar Russian, and Uzbek communities, saying, "we regret being forced to witness manifestations of national intolerance and utmost anti-Semitism propagated and actively supported by some political movements in our country, and namely by the [PPCD] led by Iurie Rosca," citing anti-Semitic books said to be published by scholars sympathetic to the party.

A reporter knowledgeable about the region, contacted for a comment on the Internet debate among NGOs, pronounced "a plague on all their houses." Once again, it seemed Internet discussion lists were generating more heat than light, and further bewildering outsiders concerned about the further political meltdown in Moldova.

NGOs and other observers will have a chance to see how the experts make a more impartial assessment of "who is doing what to whom" when Moldova comes up for periodic review by the UN Human Rights Committee in July 2002. CAF

CHECHEN FURY OVER UNHCR 'INACTION.' Protests by Chechen refugees, alleging discrimination and bribe-taking, forced temporary closure of the UNHCR office in Azerbaijan, reported the Institute for War and Peace Reporting Caucasus Reporting Service (CRS) on 4 April. In an unprecedented move, UNHCR shut its Azerbaijani office for four days on 28 March, following a long-running dispute with Chechen refugees desperate to obtain its services. UNHCR press secretary in Baku Vugar Abdusalimov said that he hoped the move would have a "sobering effect" on the Chechens. A sign on the office's door in Russian, English, and Arabic announced that "the office will be closed for a time due to the inappropriate behavior of certain refugees," CRS said. The agency has operated in Azerbaijan since 1992, mainly assisting Azeris who fled armed conflict in Armenia, but it has also helped "third-country" refugees including Chechens. There are currently some 4,350 Chechen refugees in Azerbaijan unable to support themselves, said CRS, citing representatives from the Aslan Maskhadov government. Mairbek Taramov, editor of the newspaper "Kavkazky Vestnik," said the situation had considerably worsened since the international antiterrorism crackdown after 11 September. "Humanitarian aid used to come via Arabic charitable organizations, but the Azerbaijan authorities have now closed down all their offices and the Chechens have been left without any aid," CRS quoted him as saying. "Basically, the authorities have thrown out the baby with the bath water." Some observers have questioned the CRS report and its sources, however. A Western official commented privately that Arabic charities had been witnessed still dispensing aid to Chechens last week, and apparently moving their locations to avoid closure. With a woefully inadequate budget for the North Caucasus, a lack of donor response, and absence of high-level political will at the UN to deal with Chechnya in the face of Russian obstruction, there is little room to maneuver for an international agency like UNHCR, and the $80 currently dispensed to Chechens is the best that can be done for now. Officials also have to triage clients and prefer to dispense scarce aid to widows, orphans, and the elderly before men of employment age. CAF

PRESIDENT TO HOLD ANOTHER REFERENDUM? Anatol Lyabedzka told a congress of the United Civic Party (AHP) in Minsk on 6 April that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has set up a special team to prepare a new referendum, Belapan reported. Lyabedzka said the plebiscite's main purpose will be to abolish Soviets (elected local councils) and extend the presidential term from five to seven years. According to Lyabedzka, other questions may be added to the ballot -- one on the moratorium on the death penalty in an effort to please Europe, and one on Belarusian-Russian integration to please Russia -- to camouflage the purpose of the referendum. The congress re-elected Lyabedzka as AHP chairman and elected four deputy chairmen: Syarhey Alfer, Alyaksandr Dabravolski, Yaraslau Ramanchuk, and Vasil Shlyndzikau. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

UN OFFICIAL PRESENTS CHORNOBYL RECOVERY PACKAGE. At a news conference in Minsk on 6 March, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kenzo Oshima unveiled three projects for social, economic, and environmental rehabilitation of the areas contaminated after the explosion at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, Belapan reported. Oshima urged donors, international organizations, and the governments of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine to work together on these projects. The proposals include establishing credit unions, improving health services and promoting healthy lifestyles among children, and raising incomes of the affected population by encouraging private enterprise in agriculture. The projects fall into line with a UN report's recommendation that the focus of Chornobyl assistance should shift from humanitarian and technical measures to sustainable socioeconomic development for the region's residents and the more than 200,000 people who took part in cleanup efforts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

DEMONSTRATOR GETS HEAVY FINE FOR FREEDOM DAY... Judge Tatsyana Paulyuchuk on 3 April fined worker Leanid Achapouski nearly 16 times his monthly wage for taking part in the 24 March demonstration to commemorate Freedom Day (the anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian Democratic Republic), Belapan reported. Achapouski, who earns some 90,000 rubles ($52) a month, was ordered to pay a fine of 1.5 million rubles. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April)

...AS ANOTHER OPPOSITION ACTIVIST GETS JAIL SENTENCE. Judge Tatsyana Paulyuchuk on 2 April passed a 10-day jail sentence on opposition activist Tsimafey Dranchuk for his participation in the Freedom Day rally in Minsk on 24 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Dranchuk was not taken into custody since he left the courtroom before the verdict was delivered. "It was evident that the judge was inclined to send me to jail," Dranchuk told RFE/RL by telephone. "I expected the judge to sentence me to 10 or 15 days, because she ignored the testimony of witnesses for the defense and trusted that of OMON [riot police] witnesses. I understood that in any case Judge Pavlyuchuk would pass the sentence she was told to. That is why I did not wait for the verdict and left the court." Dzmitry Bandarenka from the Charter-97 human rights group was fined some $116 in connection with the same rally. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April)

BOSNIAN SERB PARLIAMENT CHANGES CONSTITUTION. The parliament approved a set of constitutional amendments submitted by Serbian deputies in Banja Luka on 4 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The legislation stipulates that 65 percent of the cabinet will consist of Serbian ministers and 35 percent of Muslims, Croats, and others. The "Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnjak [Muslim] languages" enjoy full equality. Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic said no one in Europe can take issue with the changes, which protect all peoples' vital interests while guaranteeing the position of the majority Serbs. Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported from Banja Luka that the amendments make Serbs, Croats, and Muslims politically equal. Dpa reported from Sarajevo on 5 April that the representatives of the international community will study the legislation before making any comment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS DOUBTFUL ABOUT BOSNIAN SERB LEGISLATION. A group of experts working with the Social Democratic Party has concluded that constitutional changes recently approved by the Bosnian Serb parliament constitute a "step backward" on the road to complete political equality of Serbs, Muslims, and Croats, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 6 April from Sarajevo. The experts stressed that the international community's high representative must take the necessary responsibility to ensure that equality is indeed achieved. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE WAR MARKED. The anniversary of the outbreak of the 1992-95 conflict was noted across Bosnia on 6 April, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, said in Sarajevo that Bosnia must now look toward the future, Reuters reported. He added, "I know the sufferings of your people, but I know also that the doors of Europe are open" to Bosnia. Prodi stressed that Bosnia's leaders need to demonstrate more unity among themselves. In Belgrade, the NGO Women in Black held a meeting to mark the anniversary of the war and demanded that all war criminals be brought to justice, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Women from Srebrenica also attended the gathering. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

MINISTER SEES ROCKY ROAD AHEAD IN LABOR TALKS. Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic said in Zagreb on 7 April that his upcoming talks with labor leaders about changes in labor legislation will be long and difficult, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Granic added that communist-era attitudes toward work-related issues largely remained in place during the period of the 1991-95 war and in the years that followed it. He stressed that it will be difficult to bring about changes to these attitudes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March)

HAVEL DOUBTS USEFULNESS OF PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE ON BENES DECREES. On 5 April, President Vaclav Havel told Czech Radio in Rome that he doubts the usefulness of the planned debate in the parliament of a declaration on the Benes Decrees, CTK reported. He warned that the debate and the cross-border disputes over the decrees are tantamount to "playing with demons." He said the situation has become "dangerous, and if it does not calm can have far-reaching consequences" for Central Europe as a whole. "Let us hope this hysteria is temporary and will pass," he said. Also on 5 April, the leaders of the Coalition accused Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Civic Democratic Party Chairman Vaclav Klaus of turning the Benes Decrees into an electoral instrument, CTK and AP reported. Christian Democratic Party Chairman Cyril Svoboda accused the two politicians of being "willing to sacrifice everything, even our EU membership." ('RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

BENES DECREES ASSESSMENT SUBMITTED TO EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT. Czech Ambassador to the EU Libor Secka said on 3 April that he is confident the European Parliament does not intend to question either the post-World War II developments in Czechoslovakia or demand that properties confiscated under the Benes Decrees be either restituted or compensated for, CTK reported. Secka spoke after officially submitting to the European Parliament the Czech assessment of the decrees' compatibility with current EU legislation. He said those Benes Decrees that are criticized in some countries deal with aspects that the current EU legislation does not cover at all, such as citizenship, expropriation, privatization, and nationalization. According to the Czech assessment, current Czech legislation does not include any discriminatory aspects. The assessment said the decrees are no longer being applied, but that they cannot be abolished because they are part of the "legal relations" that remain in force. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April)

FORMER PRIEST ACCUSED OF VIOLENCE REMAINS FREE. A Tbilisi court has rejected an appeal by prosecutors to take into custody for three months a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest charged with religious intolerance, reported Interfax from Tbilisi on 1 April. Former priest Vasily Mkalavishvili and more than 500 others have for three years been involved in violence against Georgia's Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses. There have been more than 80 recorded instances in which Jehovah's Witnesses were raided, beaten up, or had their literature burned. International rights organizations have criticized the Georgian government while the European Court of Human Rights has accepted a suit from the Georgian Jehovah's Witnesses. The Tbilisi District Court, in a closed-door session, permitted Mkalavishvili to remain free until the investigation of his case is completed. (Interfax, 1 April)

OPPOSITION MOVEMENT SAYS PRESIDENT WILL RISK CIVIL WAR RATHER THAN CEDE POWER. Former Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili, one of the leaders of the opposition National Movement, has blamed President Eduard Shevardnadze for an incident on 3 April in which some 30 armed men blocked the main highway at Kobi in western Georgia to prevent the passage of cars in which members of the movement were traveling, Caucasus Press reported on 4 April. Saakashvili accused Shevardnadze of creating armed groups to trigger disturbances in order to furnish a pretext for postponing the local elections scheduled for 2 June, because, Saakashvili claimed, Shevardnadze fears the National Movement will defeat his Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) in that ballot. Saakashvili and other former SMK members, including parliamentary Human Rights Committee Chairman Elene Tevdoradze, suggested that Shevardnadze might even begin a civil war rather than risk being forced from power. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)

OPPOSITION INVITES AUTHORITIES TO DIALOGUE. The Kazakh Unified Democratic Opposition has appealed to the country's leadership to stop persecuting democratic opposition leaders and independent media. The opposition favors "a dialogue between the country's leadership and its political opponents," opposition leaders said in a statement issued last month. The opposition think "an essential precondition" for this dialogue is that the authorities release Mukhtar Ablyazov and stop persecuting Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov. In addition, the opposition called for nullifying the sentencing in absentia of former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who has been charged with abuse of office, financial fraud, and other crimes. They also called for "an urgent joint session" of both chambers of parliament, with the president and opposition leaders taking part, to discuss the current situation and ways to settle it. Moreover, this session must be broadcast live by national TV, and all opposition media outlets that were "illegally shut down must immediately be allowed to resume work." Until these demands are met, opposition activists plans to picket the building that houses the French, British, and German embassies in Almaty, where Zhaqiyanov has taken shelter from Kazakh law enforcement agencies since 29 March. The authors of the statement say they hope "for the common sense of the country's leadership" and the support of the parliaments, governments, and public opinion of democratic countries. The statement has been signed by a number of Kazakh parliamentarians, leaders of opposition parties and organizations, opposition journalists, and political analysts, "on behalf and at the request of" an expanded political council of the public organization Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, which is led by Ablyazov and Zhaqiyanov. (Interfax-Kazakhstan, 1 April)

OSCE CONCERNED ABOUT RELATIONS BETWEEN KAZAKH AUTHORITIES AND OPPOSITION. The OSCE mission in Almaty has expressed its regret about growing tension in relations between the Kazakh authorities and the opposition. The OSCE office stressed in its statement released on 2 April that political issues should be resolved in the process of "an open, peaceful dialogue" based on the principles of political pluralism and observance of human rights. This statement was prompted by the situation concerning Mukhtar Ablyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, former high-ranking state officials, who now head the opposition group called Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan. Zhaqiyanov, former governor of Pavlodar Oblast, and Ablyazov, former minister of energy, industry, and trade, are currently the subject of criminal investigations, charged with crimes they allegedly committed during their tenure as state officials. Ablyazov was arrested last week and is now in custody in Almaty, and Zhaqiyanov has been hiding from law enforcement in the buildings of European embassies in Almaty since 29 March. Both leaders of the Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan believe that they are being persecuted for political reasons. In the meantime, Kazakh authorities, in particular, the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry, have said repeatedly that the prosecution has nothing to do with the former officials' political activities. (Internews Kazakhstan, 2 April)

INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS HE WAS GIVEN INCORRECT INFORMATION ON CLASHES... Temirbek AkmatAliyev told a session of the People's Assembly (the upper chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament) on 2 April that he was "misinformed" by local officials about the circumstances of the 17-18 March clashes between police and demonstrators in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In particular he admitted that he was wrong to claim that the five persons killed in the disturbances were not shot, but either stabbed or hit by stones. But AkmatAliyev added that it is not yet clear whether police or fellow demonstrators shot the victims. Parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose release from the detention the demonstrators were demanding on 17 March, attended the 2 April parliament session, which was held behind closed doors. The People's Assembly ended its debate on the clashes on 3 April but did not issue any statement. But it asked President Askar Akaev on 2 April to second three parliamentarians to the government commission that is investigating the circumstances of the bloodshed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April)

...AS KYRGYZ POLICE TO BE ISSUED WITH RUBBER BULLETS. The government has allocated 25 million soms (about $520,000) to the Interior Ministry to buy rubber bullets, parliament deputy Adaham Madumarov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 3 April. Immediately after the clashes, Interior Minister AkmatAliyev said the police had opened fire using live ammunition because the Interior Ministry could not afford tear gas or rubber bullets for use in crowd control (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April)

PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES SCREEN VIDEO OF AKSY CLASHES. Thirteen deputies from the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament) on 4 April screened for journalists a 40-minute videotape of the 17 March clashes in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Deputy Ismail Isakov said the video confirms that the demonstrators were unarmed, but shows a local police official hurling stones at demonstrators. The footage, shot by local security officials, gives greater coverage to injured police officers than to injured or dead demonstrators. Interior Ministry spokesman Djoldoshbek Busurmankulov declined to comment on the contents of the tape, saying he has not seen it. The Legislative Assembly failed on 4 April to debate the report on the violence prepared by a parliamentary commission due to disagreements over whether the session should be open or closed, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)

PARLIAMENT COMMISSION BLAMES AUTHORITIES FOR 17 MARCH CLASHES... Asel Mambetalieva, chairwoman of the Kyrgyz parliament commission established to investigate the circumstances of the 17 March clashes in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion in which, told her fellow deputies on 5 April that the local authorities planned the clashes and are therefore responsible for the fatalities, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Commission member Akbokon Tashtanbekov told RFE/RL the same day that no opposition politicians were involved in organizing the protest demonstration, whose participants were demanding the release of parliament deputy Beknazarov. Deputies also viewed a videotape of the unrest that Interior Minister AkmatAliyev admitted was made by his ministry personnel. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

...AS PARTICIPANTS BEG PROTECTION FROM RETALIATION... On 6 April, Mamasadyk Djakhishev of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau that some 15 residents of Djalalabad Oblast have appealed to the committee for protection. They said they were detained and beaten by police on 18-19 March and warned not to divulge any details of the violence in Aksy. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

...AND FREED DEPUTY PLANS TO SUE FOR UNLAWFUL ARREST. Meanwhile Beknazarov said in Bishkek on 6 April that he plans to sue Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev and Djalalabad Oblast Prosecutor Zootbek Kudaibergenov for unlawful arrest, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Beknazarov said they sanctioned his arrest on 5 January but provided legal grounds for it only 14 days later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2002). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

EUROPE'S OMBUDSMEN MEET IN VILNIUS. Ombudsmen from 33 European countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine, gathered in Vilnius on 5 April for a two-day conference titled "The Functions and Role of Ombudsmen in Democratic States," "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. The conference was organized by the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commission and the Lithuanian parliament's Ombudsmen Office. Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles told President Valdas Adamkus that Vilnius was chosen as the site of the conference because Lithuania has reached European standards in human rights and democracy. The ombudsman of Kaliningrad called at the conference for an EU conference to discuss implications for the region's 1 million inhabitants when its nearest neighbors -- Poland and Lithuania -- join the European Union in 2004. So far the EU has rejected Russia's requests to soften EU customs and visa regimes for the region. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

VIOLENT PROTESTS IN CAPITAL. Some 1,000 workers of loss-making enterprises staged a protest meeting on 4 April in front of the Macedonian parliament, Makfax reported. The workers demanded new rules on early retirement and monthly financial assistance of $43 for those who lose their jobs. Tensions rose when trade union representatives were not allowed to meet with parliamentarians. Protesters then tried to break through the police cordon, but were pushed back by riot police. Later, the Union of Independent Industrial Trade Unions protested against the police intervention. "We want Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski to publicly apologize to the injured workers, because thanks to the workers' labor...[Boskovski] himself and the Interior Ministry officials have a regular income, health and social insurance, and a secure future," the trade union leadership said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)

PREMIER FEARS UNREST OVER ECONOMIC WOES... In an interview with Reuters on 7 April, Leszek Miller said he fears violent discontent over Poland's ailing economy ahead of the country's crucial talks on EU membership. Miller said obstinate legislators, the ineptitude of civil servants, state budget woes, and weaker-than-envisioned growth that pushed joblessness to over 18 percent have made him more pessimistic than he was when he took office in October 2001. He warned that low wages, unemployment, and the hopelessness of life in underdeveloped rural areas could be fodder for demagogues and opportunists ahead of local elections this year. According to Miller, the unrest may come at an unfortunate time, giving the impression that Poland is unstable as it tries to convince the EU it is worthy of receiving good terms in difficult last-stage talks for entering the union that are to be completed by December. Miller announced that his government will resign if Poles reject joining the EU in a referendum next year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

...WHILE RADICAL AGRARIAN THREATENS PROTESTS. Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper told a congress of his union in Warsaw on 7 April that the process of taking over power in Poland by Self-Defense has begun, Polish media reported. Lepper accused the governing parties of stealing national assets. He also warned that unless the government changes its policies, Self-Defense will take to the streets. "I'm saying this officially: I am not plotting anything, I'm not organizing any groups of thugs; they will form themselves of their own accord," Lepper said. "Unless the government grows wiser and immediately changes its social and economic policies, we will take people to the streets and nobody will be able to stop us. And the police will go together with us." The congress re-elected Lepper to lead Self-Defense for another term and approved a new statute giving the leader more powers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

SOLIDARITY READY FOR PROTESTS, FARMERS THREATEN BORDER BLOCKADES. The Solidarity trade union on 3 April announced its readiness to launch protest actions over the government-proposed amendments to the Labor Code, PAP reported. Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski said the union will prepare a nationwide protest rally in Warsaw to be held in the last week of April. Meanwhile, the farmers' Solidarity has warned that beginning next week, it will block border crossings and dump imported grain on railway tracks in protest against agricultural imports. "Our patience has been exhausted," commented Marian Zagorny from the farmers' Solidarity branch in Jelenia Gora (Silesia). "Uncontrolled agricultural imports are still being shipped into Poland. We will be destroying grain shipments and disassembling railway tracks on which [we find] trains loaded with grain. We will also block trucks [hauling] poultry at the border," Zagorny added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April)

PREMIER PRESENTS PROGRAMS FOR COPING WITH HOMELESS CHILDREN... Adrian Nastase said on 5 April that the government has approved four programs for coping with different aspects of the homeless children problem and allocated 215 billion lei (some $6.5 million) for this purpose, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The programs envisage social integration, closing down inadequately equipped institutions for handicapped children, training of specialized personnel, and the integration of homeless youth into the workforce after the age of 18. Nastase also said the moratorium declared last year on international adoption will be prolonged until the government approves new legislation. He said he will present draft legislation pertaining to international adoptions to the EU's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, in Brussels on 16 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

...MEETS WITH BARONESS NICHOLSON. During his 4 April meeting with the European Parliament's rapporteur on Romania, Baroness Emma Nicholson, Nastase discussed his country's efforts to cope with the problems associated with possible abuse of children adopted by persons abroad, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Baroness Nicholson told journalists after the meeting that a report produced by an independent NGO on the problem of international adoption is "the most serious" produced on the issue thus far, and that a joint Romanian-international team of experts should work to correct the failings mentioned in the report. Nastase said Romania will coordinate its strategy for finding a solution to the problem with Baroness Nicholson and the European Commission. It was later announced in Bucharest that the government will finalize measures intended to control the process of international adoption by 16 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)

SENATORS REJECT HOLOCAUST RESPONSIBILITY ADMISSION. Senators Corneliu Vadim Tudor, Adrian Paunescu, and Mircea Ionescu-Quintus, in addressing the chamber on 2 April, rejected the recent admission by Premier Nastase of Romania's responsibility for participating in the Holocaust against Jews in World War II, Mediafax reported. Greater Romania Party Chairman Tudor said, "Someone is interested in portraying the Romanians as a nation of criminals," and added that Nastase "wants to kill [Marshal Ion] Antonescu once more." Paunescu, who is a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party, said that "no government can establish what only experts are entitled to do," and that "historic matters are the competence of historians." Ionescu-Quintus, who is the former chairman of the National Liberal Party, said those who "out of ignorance or enmity dared accuse us without justification ought to apologize." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April)

SUPREME COURT MAKES IT DIFFICULT TO CHALLENGE SECRECY REGULATIONS. The Supreme Court has declined environmentalist and former naval captain Aleksandr Nikitin's appeal concerning the classification and transparency of governmental and presidential materials, and ruled that presidential decrees cannot be challenged by citizens in court, Interfax reported on 3 April. The decree in question, No. 763, was published by former President Boris Yeltsin in March 1996 and provided grounds for the publication of classified regulations dealing with state secrets. Over the last several years, many scientists and journalists, including Nikitin, have faced charges of state treason and espionage brought by the Federal Security Service (FSB) after publishing such materials as allowed by the decree (see "Russia: Supreme Court Rulings Bring Hope to Pasko, Others Accused of Treason,", 14 February 2002). It is feared that the Supreme Court's decision will have a negative affect on the cases of military journalist Grigorii Pasko and scientist Igor Sutyagin. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April)

TWO JURIES ARE BETTER THAN NONE. A court in Stavropol is planning to make history by delivering verdicts from two parallel juries, reported RIA "OREANDA" on 4 April. The trial will examine evidence in the murder of Vasilii Kolodko, the director of the Beshtau-Tempelhof agricultural enterprise. Stavropol Krai Court of the Caucasus Mineralnyye Vody opened session in Zheleznovodsk. Presiding over the session was Judge Mikhail Tashchilin, deputy chair of the Stavropol Krai Court and chair of the court's permanent session. The suspect is Valerii Stepanyan, a 39-year-old native of Chechnya residing near Pyatigorsk, accused of carrying out a contract hit on Kolodko for $10,000, prosecutors say. Two juries have been formed for the trial, one drawn from voters' lists in the traditional fashion, and another made up of students from local law faculties and journalists. A court spokesman said both juries' verdicts would be read out at the conclusion of the trial. CAF

SKINHEADS DESECRATE SYNAGOGUE IN KOSTROMA. Members of an informal national-extremist youth organization have committed an act of vandalism in Kostroma, a regional center northeast of Moscow. They desecrated the town synagogue when the local Jewish community was celebrating Passover, Andrei Osherov, a member of the United Committee for the Protection of Jews, told Interfax. The youths painted a black swastika on the synagogue wall and made insulting inscriptions, signed the "Skins," on the synagogue building. (Interfax, 1 April)

INTERIOR MINISTRY TO INTRODUCE RUSSIAN GREEN CARDS. Aleksandr Chernenko, the head of Interior Ministry's Federal Immigration Service (FSM), told a press conference in Moscow on 3 April about the structure of his recently created organization, RIA-Novosti and reported. According to Chernenko, FSM will have departments for immigration control, crisis situations, and labor migration, and will employ 300 people in its central apparatus and 3,000 officers in its regional subdivisions. He said that as one of its first measures, the agency plans to introduce an immigration card for immigrants to Russia that will contain their personal data. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April)

MESKHETIANS FACE NEW PERSECUTION. In Krasnodar Krai, a plan by Cossacks in the village of Nizhnebakansaya to evict two Meskhetian Turk families was foiled when local human rights groups alerted the media, "Vremya novostei" reported on 2 April (see End Note below). Tamara Kasrastelebayu, chairwoman of the Novorossiisk Municipal Committee for Human Rights, told the daily that the krai government "is looking for some enemies allegedly responsible for the crime rate here." As a result, she continued, it is "deliberately escalating the conflict between the Cossacks and the newcomers, even though the consequences of that could be horrible." According to an article by commentator Andrei Piontkovskii in "Novaya gazeta" on 28 March, even Meskhetian Turks with Soviet passports who have lived in Krasnodar for years are being targeted. Piontkovskii also said that with his recent statements on immigrants, Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev has been playing the role of a "fascist." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April)

RESIDENTS LEAVE CHECHEN VILLAGE IN FEAR OF FURTHER 'SWEEPS.' Since the beginning of April, over a dozen families have left the village of Tsotan-Yurt either for Ingushetia or for other regions of Chechnya, reported on 5 April. The village has been subjected to repeated search operations by the Russian military since January; dozens of residents have been detained and beaten, or killed, or have simply disappeared. On 4 April, Russian OMON troops detained six young Chechen men in the village of Dyshny-Vedeno, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Also on 4 April, three Chechen fighters were killed in an exchange of fire with Russian troops in the village of Goity in Urus Martan Raion. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)

MURDERED CHECHEN CHILDREN IDENTIFIED. The three boys found dead in northern Chechnya late last month with bullet wounds to the head have been identified as residents of Grozny, Interfax reported on 3 April, quoting Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Nikitin. Police have identified the suspects whom they believe took the boys hostage and then killed them. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April)

MOSCOW, GROZNY COMMENT ON CHECHEN SISTERS' MURDER. Unnamed sources within the Russian presidential press service told ITAR-TASS and Interfax on 2 April that the killing in the Chechen village of Avtury the previous night of murdered Chechen politician Adam Deniev's two sisters was carried out on orders from Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and was intended to intimidate all those Chechens who are loyal to the federal authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). In Grozny, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov termed the killings "a catastrophe," adding that "a Muslim, a true believer, will never shed the blood of a woman." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April)

NEW REGULATIONS ON CHECHEN SEARCH OPERATIONS VIOLATED. In what appears to be a blatant violation of instructions issued last week by Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, who commands the joint Russian forces in Chechnya, to refrain from violence against civilians during search operations, Russian troops detained some 300 Chechens during a search operation in the village of Tsotan-Yurt between 25 March and 1 April, "The Moscow Times" and reported. All males between the ages of 13 and 65 were severely beaten to the point that they were unable to walk, but were forced to sign documents saying that they had not been mistreated. Fourteen persons vanished without a trace during the search, three houses were destroyed, and five others were looted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April)

STRONGEST CANDIDATE EXCLUDED FROM BALLOT IN INGUSHETIA. On 5 April, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that Ingushetia's Interior Minister Khamzat Gutseriev's registration as a candidate for the 7 April presidential poll should be invalidated on the grounds that he declined to take leave of absence from his government post for the duration of the election campaign within three days of registering as a candidate, Interfax reported. On 3 April, a group of armed men who said they were members of presidential representative to the Southern federal district Viktor Kazantsev's staff acting on orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin forced their way into the Ingush Supreme Court hearing that was considering an appeal to disqualify Gutseriev and demanded that all papers pertaining to the case be handed over to the Russian Supreme Court, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 6 April. Gutseriev was widely regarded as the most popular candidate, but Kazantsev openly supported his own deputy, FSB General Murat Zyazikov. None of the eight candidates received the required 50 percent-plus-one-vote majority to win election as president of Ingushetia in the ballot on 7 April, ITAR-TASS reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

KDH CHAIRMAN SAYS SLOVAKS SEE EYE-TO-EYE WITH CZECHS ON BENES DECREES. Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) Chairman Pavol Hrusovsky, who is a deputy chairman in the parliament, said on 2 April that the Czech Republic and Slovakia share the same opinion on the Benes Decrees, TASR reported. Hrusovsky spoke after meeting in Prague with Jan Ruml and Petra Buzkova, deputy chairpersons of the Czech Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, respectively. "We consider the decrees to be a closed chapter in history. There is no need to return to the past," Hrusovsky said. The two sides also discussed the Hungarian Status Law. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April)

PENALTIES STIFFENED FOR TERRORIST ACTS. Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky told journalists after a cabinet meeting on 3 April that the government has decided to amend the Penal Code, stiffening penalties on terrorist and similar activities, CTK reported. Such acts will be punishable by 12-15-year prison sentences and, in exceptional cases, the confiscation of property as well. The amendment defines acts of terrorism as attempts to "seriously intimidate the population; destroy or destabilize the constitutional, political, economic, and social order; force the government of a state or an international organization to act against its will or refrain from so doing; threatening to commit or committing a serious crime endangering the lives or health of the people; or seriously damaging their assets." Carnogursky said the amendment reflects a Council of Europe effort to reach a commonly agreed upon definition of terrorism. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April)

WHAT MOTIVATES SERBIAN BEHAVIOR... A leading Serbian NGO personality said in Belgrade that the authorities will not take action against indicted war criminals without pressure from the outside, Reuters reported on 3 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia stressed that "without pressure, nothing would happen. [The leadership] would never do it willingly. Cooperation with The Hague is presented as a necessary evil." Matias Hellman, a Belgrade-based official of the war crimes tribunal, noted that "it is very regrettable that Yugoslavia seems to cooperate only because of economic factors and pressure from the international community.... In this society there is not much discussion about the alleged war crimes that were committed." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April)

...OR WASHINGTON'S? On 3 April, the BBC's Serbian Service broadcast an interview with "The New York Times" journalist David Binder in which he said he is sorry to say that Washington opinion holds Serbia responsible for much of what has happened in the Balkans during the past decade or so. He added that Washington opinion continues to regard Serbia as the region's "bad boy" and expects it to compensate for its past behavior in return for its acceptance by the international community. Binder claimed one of the two senators behind legislation requiring U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to certify Belgrade's compliance with democratic standards is under the influence of "the Albanian lobby," and receives campaign contributions from "the Albanian diaspora." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April)

SERBIA STILL STALLING ON EXTRADITIONS. An unnamed "high official" of the Serbian Interior Ministry told "Danas" of 5 April that there will be no arrests of indicted war criminals "in the coming days." He added that arrests will take place only after a law on cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal has been passed. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said it is "not realistic" to expect the passage of a law at any time soon, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Belgrade leadership has been promising such legislation ever since it came to power in October 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica repeated that pledge on 4 April. In related news, "Vesti" reported on 5 April that indicted war criminal Vlajko Stojiljkovic has left a "farewell letter" saying that those who want to arrest him will never take him alive. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April)

U.S. WARNS BELGRADE ON COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE. Pierre-Richard Prosper, who is the U.S. ambassador-at-large dealing with war crimes, told senior Serbian and Yugoslav leaders in the Serbian capital on 5 April that time is running out for concrete deeds to demonstrate Belgrade's cooperation with the war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that special legislation is not necessary for cooperation with the tribunal, which is a UN-sanctioned body. Prosper said serious consequences could result from non-cooperation. In Podgorica, the Socialist People's Party (SNP) is considering at least one version of the draft text on cooperating with The Hague as discussed by leaders in Belgrade. The SNP is part of the governing coalition in the Yugoslav government, as it was under President Slobodan Milosevic. The SNP has strong reservations about any cooperation with the tribunal. Critics charge that the governing coalition is stonewalling because cooperation with The Hague is anathema to President Kostunica and others in the leadership, and politically unpopular in general. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April)

STEINER OFFERS SERBS A DEAL. Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova, signed an agreement in Belgrade on 3 April on transferring an unspecified number of Serbian prisoners from Kosova to Serbia proper, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic signed for the Serbian side. Steiner also discussed with Kostunica the need for Kosova's Serbian minority to end their boycott of the provincial government and participate in its state institutions. Steiner has rejected a direct role for Belgrade in Kosova's affairs as well as the local Serbs' demands for a cabinet-level post to deal with refugee returns, but he offered a compromise. Steiner suggested that the local Serbs could have a post of "senior adviser" to him on refugee return, or a governmental position of "coordinator for refugee return." On 28 March, Steiner told Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service that UN Security Council Resolution 1244 assigns responsibility for refugee return to the international community and not to the government. He added that this arrangement is in the Serbs' interest, since Albanians dominate the government. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April)


By Alexander Osipov

Between 15,000-18,000 Meskhetian Turks (or Meskhetians) reside in Krasnodar Krai, a southern region of Russia, and are currently in danger of mass expulsion by regional authorities. After the 1989 ethnic clashes in the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan, they fled to other republics of the Soviet Union, including the Russian Federation. Krasnodar authorities arbitrarily refused to grant them registration permission, still known as "propiska" as in the Soviet era.

Like other groups which authorities wanted to discourage from permanent settlement, Meskhetians were denied registration permits in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in direct violation of the Russian citizenship law of 1991. Therefore they are not officially recognized as Russian nationals and remain in immigration limbo. While actually Russian citizens under the law, Meskhetians are in the position of de facto stateless persons because of the authorities' refusal to legalize their residence. Some 11,000-13,000 Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar are deprived of almost all civil, political, and social rights because they still do not have registration to this day.

Since 1992, the regional authorities in Krasnodar Krai have repeatedly singled out the Meskhetian Turks through special regulations citing their ethnicity as a distinct category and subjecting them to special discriminatory treatment. The Meskhetians are regularly searched and fined by police for the lack of registration. The Krasnodar government and local officials openly and blatantly acknowledge that their goal is to squeeze the "Turks" out of the region. The Meskhetians are also suffering from impromptu "inspections," violence, and harassment by the extreme nationalist paramilitary units known as Cossacks. The federal government clearly supports these policies.

Recently, the regional authorities have intensified pressure upon the Meskhetians, and they have been completely denied access to justice. In recent years, some of them have tried to achieve equality through litigation in the courts, specifically, to establish ownership of the houses they purchased in 1989-90, to appeal against refusals of residence registration and to confirm their status as Russian citizens. The pressure of the regional executive branch of government on the courts is obvious, and since 1997 the courts have carried out unlawful decisions based not on federal legislation but on discriminatory regional regulations. Many times, even decisions in favor of the Meskhetians Turks (mostly on residence registration) simply have not been implemented. Since 2001, the judges have refused to put Meskhetian lawsuits on trial under various arbitrary pretexts. In 2001, two Meskhetians whose access to court was denied brought an action before the European Court on Human Rights under articles 6(1), 13 and 14 of the ECHR and are awaiting a decision.

Since employment is actually prohibited by law for people without local residence registration, the Meskhetians have had two major sources of income. One was cultivation of vegetables on the lands leased from local collective farms or private persons. The other one was trading at local bazaars. In recent months, the district authorities forced landowners to cancel all leases with the Meskhetians for the 2002 season. The Meskhetians are now also barred from selling vegetables even from plots of land attached to their houses. The local authorities refuse to give them papers certifying that they possess these plots of land, and tax inspection imposes fines for "illegal" commerce.

The Meskhetians are also penalized for "unlawful" occupation of the land and houses which were purchased 12-13 years ago but were arbitrarily refused registration. They cannot pay the administrative fines, and the local courts have already seized the property (including livestock, food, and cutlery) of dozens of families. In short, the authorities have chosen starvation as the most effective tool to get rid of the Meskhetian Turks. The administration of the Krymsk Raion has also promised to start demolition of the "unlawfully occupied" dwellings of people without local permanent residence registration, who are almost exclusively Meskhetians.

On 20 February, the regional Legislative Assembly adopted a new Decree No. 1363, "On Additional Measures to Decrease Tensions in Interethnic Relations in the Areas of Compact Settlement of Meskhetian Turks Temporarily Residing on the Territory of Krasnodar Krai," which confirmed the special status of the Meskhetian Turks as such. The act contains two appeals to the federal government: to accelerate negotiations with Georgia on Meskhetian repatriation, and to revise the 1996 treaty between the federal and Krasnodar authorities on the division of competence and to grant the Krasnodar government new power in the area of migration. Moreover, it bans any means of residence registration for "stateless persons" (in theory, the permission could be given by the regional commission of migration control), envisages more intensive passport and residence checks, and requires strict administrative control over the issue of papers certifying land possession in the places of "compact settlement of ethnic groups."

On 18 March, the Krasnodar administration arranged a meeting in Abinsk on migration issues for the officials of regional and district levels. Governor Aleksandr Tkachev promised to increase fines for living without registration up to 6,000 rubles (approximately $200), to create "detention and filtration centers" within district police departments, and to establish the procedure of deportation of the "illegal migrants." Some participants also proposed drafting mandatory plans of eviction for each district, to pay charter flights to Uzbekistan for the forcible displacement of Meskhetian Turks, and to start negotiations with the president of Armenia on future resettlement of ethnic Armenians. Since then, the regional Legislative Assembly has been working on the regulations of deportation from Krasnodar Krai. Aleksandr Tkachev also said in Abinsk that his willingness to get rid of "migrants" had been supported by President Putin. The Kremlin has neither confirmed or denied the statement and offered no comment.

Worse, a one-year temporary registration for the Meskhetian Turks expired on 1 March, and no new permit is envisaged by the local authorities. The Meskhetians are currently subjected to house-to-house passport checks and fines. The police are working with the Cossacks, and both behave in an offensive manner. Any check or threat of eviction can rapidly evolve into clashes. "Soft ethnic cleansing" in Krasnodar Krai is turning into a massive violent expulsion.

The attack on the Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar must be viewed now as a part of the nationwide "mop-up operation" targeting all former citizens of the USSR. Those former Soviet nationals who are not able to prove their Russian citizenship and who live in Russia without permanent registration are officially perceived as "illegal migrants." In fact, however, their coming to Russia and their stay in Russia do not constitute a violation of any law. The 1981 USSR law "On the Legal Status of Foreign Nationals in the USSR" is still in force but not applicable to the former Soviet nationals in accordance with the government's decisions. CIS citizens (except for Turkmenistan since 1998 and Georgia since 2001) do not need Russian visas and the term of stay in Russia was not limited until 2001. Other CIS residents are obliged to register their stay and residence on equal footing with Russian citizens. Foreigners' labor rights are not restricted by any law. Travelers from the CIS have had run-ins with the ex-Soviet passport and propiska system with its formal and informal restrictions; many of them have been denied registration. Yet under the current legislation, a propiska or its absence is not a criterion for legality or illegality of residence or migration.

Since 2000, former Soviet nationals have lost the right to acquire Russian citizenship under a simplified procedure. Under unpublished regulations of the Interior Ministry, they were equated with visitors from outside the CIS. They are now obliged to apply for residence permits and the term of temporary stay for them is limited to one month. Hundreds of thousands of former Soviet nationals (there are no definite and reliable figures so far) who have already lost links with the countries of their origin and who have lived in Russia for years cannot comply with these requirements. Only those in Russia with permanent residence registration were able to acquire Russian citizenship. Now the people who cannot prove their Russian citizenship and who live with temporary registration or without registration regardless of the term of stay, property or business cannot get residence permits. Temporary registration can be given only to those who have a stamp from the border control in their passports. Such people are trapped; they have lost all their rights and their prospects for survival. The old-style internal passports of the USSR are valid only until the end of 2003.

The new citizenship law will sharply reduce the opportunities for acquiring Russian nationality. The new regulations are neutral in ethnic terms but a number of signals sent by State Duma deputies and governmental officials can be apparently interpreted in the way that the campaign is targeted primarily at non-Russians.

Alexander Osipov is a program coordinator for Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow, specializing on the Meskhetian Turks, and is author of Memorial's publications on the subject. His report was posted to the discussion list MINELRES.