8 May 2002, Volume
PLIGHT OF RUSSIA'S HOMELESS CHILDREN.
The lurid news story ran in the "Buffalo News" under the headline "Russia's Lost Generation of Street Kids" on 31 March -- it was recycled again, word-for-word, in the "Los Angeles Times" on 5 May with the headline "Russians in Despair at Street Urchins' Plight." Evidently a newsroom staple, the plight of 5-year-old Kristina found curled on a barroom floor pockmarked from syphilis and 15-year-old Zhenya living on a grate have repeatedly wrenched the heart of millions around the world and painfully prolonged the debate over whether communism or capitalism is to blame for Russia's ills. "Street children embody the hardships Russia has suffered since shedding communist rule a decade ago: mass poverty, loss of social and family security, growth of crime and alcoholism, decline in health care, wars in Chechnya and former Soviet republics," says the AP. The wire stories come especially when adults have gathered at a summit to try to do something about the next generation, such as the UN General Assembly Special Session on children in New York this week. A Russian NGO report to the meeting claimed that only 14 percent of school-age children in the Russian Federation were completely healthy and only a quarter of students were not suffering from mental illness.
The statistics often prove to be as elusive as runaway children. Wire services put the total figure of homeless at 3 million, although both officials and NGOs within Russia usually estimate the number at 1 million (or sometimes 2, depending on the definition); the number of officially registered orphans in state facilities can be estimated at half a million or more. When researchers get closer to the source, they get a better handle on the at-risk population. The Russian Interior Ministry Research Institute, in tandem with the Street Children City Center in Moscow found 33,000 homeless just in the capital, of which 21 percent were Muscovites, up from 7 percent Muscovites in 1999, reported nashi-deti.ru. (The drop was possibly an indication of the success of police campaigns to chase Caucasians and Central Asians from Moscow). A Justice Ministry official provided another vantage on the issue, reporting that from 1995-2000, the number of parents legally stripped of their custody rights increased from 19,800 to 42,000; in 1996, law-enforcers dealt with 200,000 parents neglecting their children, a number which had increased to 300,000 by 2000, reported Russia's Agency for Social Information, a news service for nonprofit groups, on 1 March.
The only sure way to count was to pound the pavement. Two hundred police officers, helped by some civic activists, fanned out in Cheliabinsk on 22 April for a day's "raid" to pick up homeless children. They found 205, of which 28 were said to be from other cities and placed in temporary shelters, 140 were returned to families in town (in 70 percent of these cases they had both parents), 25 were taken to shelters, 13 to boarding homes, 7 to hospitals, and 2 to temporary isolation facilities, reported nashi-deti.ru -- suggesting the great amount of staffing, facilities, and funding required to address the crisis even in one city.
In Kaluga, officials, foster families, and civic groups met at a roundtable to grapple with Kaluzhskaya Oblast's challenge of more than 6,000 registered orphans and children without parental care. Of 845 cases followed in 2001, 312 were placed in orphanages and boarding schools, 390 were given to foster care. Currently, 168 remained in the care of 74 foster families. The lack of state aid for the foster families, social insurance, and sufficient living quarters were cited as the chief obstacle to maintaining and expanding the foster-care system.
All agree that the overwhelming majority of kids are "social orphans," that is with one or even both parents still living, but unable to care for them adequately for various reasons. Getting a real handle on the numbers and finding solutions for the horrible plight of kids are difficult in part because Russia does not have a well-functioning child welfare administration with efficient monitoring and reliable and aggregated data from the whole country. (A million homeless children would mean 12,500 unsupervised kids in each of the main cities of Russia's 80 provinces, and local reporting does not seem to bear this out.)
International agencies like UNICEF rely on the government's numbers to report a finding like "20 million live in poverty in western Russia alone" -- a figure difficult to analyze when Russia's total number of children birth to age 14 throughout the whole federation is 25 million and "poverty" for a vast country with a GNP the size of Holland is a relative concept. An ILO official in Russia, for example, estimated that 33 percent of all families live in poverty. If there were as many as 3 million on the streets, many more would likely be visible.
But whatever the numbers, the problem is acute, and visible enough to have caught the attention of President Vladimir Putin, who said figures were reaching "threatening proportions," according to AP on 5 May. Putin pushed through a government decree on 20 March to create an interdepartmental agency within the Interior Ministry with the power to hold hearings and compel federal officials from Russia's provinces to report on how they are combating the problem of unsupervised children. The agency has already come under fire from activists such as Boris Altshuler of Right of the Child, who told reporters in Moscow on 26 April that no NGO input had been sought in structuring the agency and no plan was evident for government and NGO partnership for providing services. "Where are children supposed to go?" he asked pointedly. The question is increasingly being asked all over Russia. Federal human rights ombudsmen from around Russia, meeting on 20 March in Ufa, called the situation a "national catastrophe," citing a growing child mortality rate and spreading drug addiction and AIDS. They called for unifying and streamlining children's institutions and increase monitoring and educating children and parents about their rights. CAF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE FORUM IN LITHUANIA SIGNS PROTOCOL ON FULL ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY.
Leaders of 36 of the 44 delegations attending the 110th session of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers in Vilnius on 3 May signed Protocol 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, ELTA reported. The protocol prohibits capital punishment under all circumstances including war and unrest. Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Russia, Slovakia, and Turkey did not sign the protocol. All but two of the CE countries earlier signed Protocol 6 of the convention, which bans the death penalty except during or in the threat of war. The session, after which Luxembourg took over the six-month chair of the committee from Lithuania, adopted a communique that stated that actions aimed against terrorism should not violate human rights, and that the CE should help eradicate the roots of terrorism by fighting discrimination, intolerance, and extremism and promoting multicultural and inter-religious dialogue. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
COMMUNISTS MARK 1 MAY.
Some 10,000 people participated in a May Day march in Yerevan on 1 May organized by the Communist Party of Armenia (HHK), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That is twice the number who attended the most recent Friday opposition protests against the closure of the independent TV station A1+ (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 29 April 2002). HHK First Secretary Vladimir Darpinian told the demonstrators that the party will form an alliance with other "popular and patriotic forces," but did not specify which ones. On 29 April, Darpinian distanced himself from the campaign launched by 13 opposition parties to demand the resignation of President Robert Kocharian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)OPPOSITION CONVENES PROTEST IN ARMENIA'S SECOND CITY.
Fourteen opposition parties held a protest rally and press conference on 3 May in Giumri, Armenia's second-largest city, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Speakers included "Socialist Armenia" political secretary Ashot Manucharian and Hanrapetutiun secretary Albert Bazeyan. Speakers called for the resignation of President Kocharian. On 4 May, "Iravunk" published a statement by the 14 parties pledging to cooperate "in the name of democracy" to create "a modern and strong democratic and legal state with free elections and democratic institutions and the right of citizens to live a free and worthy life in their own country." The statement accused Kocharian's administration of coopting state structures, including the law enforcement agencies, to serve their own ends; silencing the free media; monopolizing the economy; and contributing to "social polarization" and mass emigration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
OPPOSITION PARTY STAGES SANCTIONED DEMO.
Several thousand members and supporters of the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) braved heavy rain to attend a sanctioned demonstration on 4 May in central Baku, Turan reported. AMIP Chairman Etibar Mamedov called on his supporters to take more active steps to bring about the removal of the present Azerbaijani leadership by constitutional and democratic means. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)LAWYER SEEKS TO CLARIFY MUSICIAN'S DEATH IN DETENTION.
The circumstances of the death of musical ensemble head Beylar Guliev remain unclear, Ramiz Zeynalov told journalists in Baku on 3 May, Turan reported. Guliev and one of his students, Aygun Gumbatova, were summoned on 18 April to the Prosecutor-General's Office. Gumbatova was released after half an hour, and waited in Guliev's car until the following day, but he did not leave the building. But according to an official protocol, Guliev was charged on 18 April with resisting police at Sabail district police precinct, taken to Sabail district court and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Guliev died of multiple injuries reportedly sustained when he jumped on 19 April from a window of the building housing the Prosecutor-General's Office, but Zeynalov said the results of the postmortem have not yet been released. Gumbatova told the press conference that the investigator repeatedly questioned Guliev in her presence about the identity of someone who telephoned him on 6 January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
TRADE UNIONS STAGE MAY DAY RALLY IN MINSK.
The Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus organized a May Day march in Minsk in which some 5,000 people participated, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Demonstrators carried posters reading "Trade unions support reforms but not at the expense of the people," and "President! Where is the promised [monthly] wage of $100?" May Day celebrations in other Belarusian cities were not as well attended. In Homel the local authorities banned the organizers of a May Day rally from giving speeches. In Brest, a May Day meeting was organized by local authorities who did not allow opposition activists to address the crowd. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)PRESIDENT'S RATING FALLS BY 14 PERCENT AFTER ELECTION.
The Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) found in a poll conducted in April among 1,464 Belarusians that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's approval rating stood at 31 percent, significantly lower than the 45 percent recorded shortly before the 9 September 2001 presidential election, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 30 April. "The main reason [for this drop in Lukashenka's popularity] is of course the deteriorating economic situation of the country and the population," NISEPI Director Aleh Manayeu commented. "More than 60 percent of respondents said they were more than once affected by untimely payments of wages and pensions, while more than 35 percent said they cannot suffer [from the economic situation] any longer. In addition, Lukashenka has not fulfilled his election promises, including those regarding economic liberalization." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
ZAGREB WANTS TO HOST FUTURE WAR CRIMES TRIALS.
The government will ask Carla Del Ponte, who is the tribunal's chief prosecutor, on her upcoming visit to Zagreb to hold future trials of Croats in Croatia, Reuters reported on 6 May. An unnamed government official told the news agency that, "the tribunal has a limited life and is slowly going towards closure, so our demand is not unfounded." U.S. officials have said that the tribunal should complete its work by 2008. Croatia's record in trying its own war criminals has been less than stellar, however, because defense lawyers have been able to tie up proceedings for months on end by citing technicalities and using other legal loopholes. As in Serbia and Bosnia, the idea of trying alleged war criminals at home rather than in The Hague is politically popular. Officials of the tribunal acknowledge that they have a heavy case load but add that they do not have full confidence in the Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian legal systems. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)LABOR PROTESTS IN ZAGREB.
Several thousand persons demonstrated in the Croatian capital on 1 May to protest the government's plans to change labor legislation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. This was the first time that top government officials were not invited to the May Day events by the four unions that organized them. President Stipe Mesic nonetheless attended in a "private capacity," saying that the unions should be included in talks about changing labor laws. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)SOUP KITCHENS ATTRACT NEWLY JOBLESS.
Some 80 percent of the people who regularly visit soup kitchens in Croatia were once regularly employed, in many cases until very recently, "Jutarnji list" reported on 3 May. Some 70 percent of those interviewed said that they go to a soup kitchen daily, and half of them added that this is their only square meal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)
GERMAN MINORITY TO DEMAND COMPENSATION FOR CONFISCATED PROPERTY.
Following the June parliamentary elections, the German minority in the Czech Republic intends to resubmit to the parliament a demand for compensation for confiscated properties and "other legal injustices," CTK reported on 30 April, citing the Austrian daily "Volksblatt." Irena Kuncova, chairwoman of the Association of Germans in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, told the daily that the reason the association has refrained from demanding the abolition of the Benes Decrees is "not that we have reconciled ourselves to them, but...such a demand has no chance of succeeding because there is no political will." She said the association will demand "the elimination of inequities" stemming from the implementation of the decrees, rather than their abolition. A demand for compensation for time spent in prisons and camps by member of the German minority after 1945 was submitted to the parliament in November 2001 and was rejected by the legislature. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)EUROPEAN ROMA RIGHTS CENTER CRITICIZES CZECH REPUBLIC AGAIN.
The Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), in a report prepared for the UN Commission on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, said on 30 April that Roma in the Czech Republic "face racial discrimination in almost all aspects of their economic and cultural rights," CTK reported. The ERRC has sharply criticized the Czech Republic on several occasions in the past. The latest report said there is a "lack of political will" in the country to change that situation, as attested by the "striking absence of adequate legislative measures in the fight against racial discrimination." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)ANARCHISTS CLASH WITH POLICE IN BRNO.
Police protecting a neo-Nazi rally clashed in Brno on 1 May with about 250 anarchists protesting against the rally, CTK and dpa reported. Four members of the anarchists' group were detained after hurling beer bottles and at least one Molotov cocktail at police. There were no injuries. In Prague, police detained four people, including a skinhead who displayed Nazi symbols prior to a march by an anarchist group, CTK reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
RUSSIAN SERVICEMEN SEEK REFUGE IN GEORGIAN OMBUDSMAN'S OFFICE.
Two Russian servicemen who abandoned their unit without permission on 29 April have sought refuge in the office of Georgian ombudsman Nana Devdariani, claiming that they were beaten and driven to steal, AP and Caucasus Press reported on 3 May. An officer from the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus has demanded that the men be sent back to their unit. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
EXTREMISTS MAINTAIN DEFIANT POSTURE FOLLOWING ELECTION.
The Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) held a mass rally in Budapest's Heroes' Square on 5 May and passed a resolution stating that it refuses to acknowledge an "election outcome that was the result of lies, fraud, and the use of alien methods by alien forces," Hungarian media reported. MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka called for "national resistance" and if needed "civic disobedience" against the incoming Socialist-led government, globalization, and Hungary's accession to the EU. In other news, the revisionist 64 Counties Youth Movement on 4 May held a demonstration in front of the parliament building, calling for the unity of "15 million Hungarians," Hungarian media reported. The group's leader, Laszlo Toroczkai, said that if all ethnic Hungarians had participated in Hungary's parliamentary elections, the right wing would have certainly won with an overwhelming majority. Toroczkai thanked Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the right wing for recognizing ethnic Hungarians by providing them with nationality certificates. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
OFFICIAL DENIES PRESIDENT GAVE ORDERS TO FIRE ON DEMONSTRATORS.
Presidential adviser Bolot Djanuzakov denied on 30 April that President Askar Akaev gave orders to police to open fire on demonstrators in Djalalabad's Aksy Raion on 17 March, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He described the 29 April allegation by the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights that Akaev had issued such orders as "lies and slander." Presidential press secretary Ilyas Bekbolotov said that only politicians intent on destabilizing the domestic political situation could make such allegations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)COMMISSION AT ODDS OVER INVESTIGATION OF AKSY CLASHES...
Karamyrza Kalmyrzaev, who is a member of the state commission created to investigate the clashes between police and demonstrators in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion on 17-18 March in which six people died, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 4 May that during its session on 2-3 May the commission was unable to reach agreement over who was responsible for the bloodshed. The pro-government commission members argue that responsibility rests with local officials, while opposition members and representatives of the local population say that senior state officials who gave orders for the police to open fire should also be punished. The commission will convene again on 13 May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)...AS INTERIOR MINISTER APOLOGIZES TO HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST.
On 3 May the government newspaper "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" printed an apology by Interior Minister Temirbek AkmatAliyev to Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akunov sued AkmatAliyev for slander after AkmatAliyev accused Akunov of organizing the Aksy unrest. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)SUPPORTERS CALL FOR RELEASE OF IMPRISONED FORMER KYRGYZ VICE PRESIDENT.
Some 200 supporters of former Vice President Feliks Kulov staged a demonstration in the village of Baitik near Bishkek on 4 May to protest what they termed the politically motivated criminal charges brought against him and to demand his release from prison, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of office; a prosecutor last week demanded a further 11-year sentence on charges of embezzlement, to which Kulov has pleaded not guilty. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
PARLIAMENT PASSES CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES STRENGTHENING LANGUAGE.
At an extraordinary session on 30 April, the parliament voted 72 to 15, with one abstention, to approve amendments to the constitution aimed at strengthening the status of Latvian as the state language, LETA reported. The amendments foresee that the parliament's working language is Latvian and that each person has the right to ask questions and receive answers from state institutions in the Latvian language. They also provide that parliament members will have to swear an oath before taking their posts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
COURT REJECTS PPCD LEADERS' APPEAL.
The Chisinau Municipal tribunal on 30 April rejected the appeal of three Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) leaders against a 450 lei ($33.33) fine imposed on them by a lower court for having organized unauthorized demonstrations against the government, Flux reported. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca, his deputy Vlad Cubreacov -- who meanwhile has disappeared -- and PPCD parliamentary group leader Stefan Secareanu said in their appeal that the verdict contradicts the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and Moldovan legislation. Lawyer Vitalie Nagacevschi, who represented the three leaders, told Flux that the Municipal Tribunal's decision demonstrates that "the Communist rulers do not honor the pledge to respect the [24 April] recommendations" of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and that he intends to file a complaint with the ECHR and to inform PACE that "dialogue with the Communist leadership is impossible." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)PRESIDENT CALLS FOR REFORMING HIS OWN PARTY.
Vladimir Voronin, who is also the leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), on 2 May called for reforming the party and modernizing its ideological principles, Infotag reported. In an article published in the daily "Kommunist," Voronin said, "We need...to get rid of inertia, conservatism, ignorance, and arrogance." Voronin said the PCM was poorly prepared for the recent "collision with the irreconcilable opposition" and should begin a "wise dialogue with society" ahead of important decisions. As an example he mentioned the "insufficiently prepared" decisions on introducing compulsory Russian-language classes in schools and changing the teaching of history. As a result, he said, the PMC "was forced to retreat under pressure from the opposition." He said he is opposed to changing the party's name. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)COMMUNISTS TO FOLLOW KIM IL-SUNG?
PCM Secretary Valerii Garev, in an article published in the daily "Kommunist" on 3 May, said the PCM should apply in Moldova the "the Juche idea" of late North Korean communist dictator Kim Il-Sung, Infotag reported. Garev recently returned from a visit to North Korea, where he participated at the head of a PCM delegation in the festivities marking 90 years since Kim's birthday. Garev said the key principle of these ideas is that of relying on one's own forces, and that "the Korean example shows us the way to the revival of socialism." Concluding his article, Garev wrote, "the Juche philosophy teaches: one ought to get rid of the fear of, and illusions concerning imperialism." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
SENATE DEBATES POLICY REGARDING COMPATRIOTS ABROAD.
The Senate on 30 April held a session devoted to the state policy regarding ethnic Poles living abroad, PAP reported. The debate was attended by President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Sejm speaker Marek Borowski, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, and cabinet officials, as well as by representatives of Polish communities in different countries, including World Polonia Council President Marek Malicki and Polish American Congress President Edward Moskal. The Senate adopted a resolution pledging that the main goals of Poland's policy toward Poles abroad will include state assistance in ensuring that their rights are upheld, the fostering of the Polish language, and promoting Polish culture. It is estimated that up to 16 million people of Polish ethnic background may currently live abroad.("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)CORNERSTONE LAID FOR CHURCH CONCEIVED IN 1791.
On 2 May in Warsaw, Cardinal Jozef Glemp and President Kwasniewski laid the cornerstone for Holy God's Providence Roman Catholic church, Polish media reported. The inauguration is the fulfillment of a vow made by members of the Polish Sejm in 1791, after the promulgation of the constitution of 3 May. The construction plans in the 18th century were abandoned following the partitions of Poland by Russia, Prussia, and Austro-Hungary. A second attempt to erect the temple after Poland regained independence in 1918 fell victim to economic woes and World War II. After the toppling of communism in 1989, the Sejm revived the plans to build the church. An earlier design that would have cost 220 million zlotys ($55 million) was deemed too expensive. The new version, to be financed through private donations, is expected to cost about half as much. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)
GREENS OPPOSE 'DRACULA' PARK.
Great Britain's Prince Charles, on a private visit to Romania, on 4 and 5 May visited medieval Saxon villages in Transylvania, to whose preservation he has been contributing for several years, Romanian radio and international agencies reported. He also visited the medieval town of Sighisoara, where a controversial "Dracula park" is planned. British Ambassador to Romania Richard Ralph said Charles is "very aware" of the controversy surrounding the park. Romanian environmentalists and the international group Greenpeace oppose the park, saying it threatens the UNESCO-protected citadel in Sighisoara and nearby old-growth forests. The visit was sponsored by the private British Mihai Eminescu Trust, which supports the preservation of the Romanian countryside.("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
PRO-KREMLIN PARTY HOLDS MAY DAY RALLY...
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov addressed a 1 May rally in Revolution Square in central Moscow with a call for the government to resign, Interfax reported. According to the agency, police estimates of the size of the crowd ranged from 10,000 to 20,000 -- organizers said there were 100,000 participants. And in a different part of the city near St. Basil's Cathedral, some 140,000 people took part in a rally organized by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov also criticized the government. Addressing the gathering, he said, "We say to the government: If you do not see the necessity of supporting the real economy by improving living standards and boosting people's spending power, then you are making a grave mistake and you are failing," RTR reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)...AS VORONEZH GATHERING TAKES PLACE WITH TIGHT SECURITY.
Meanwhile, similar May Day rallies were also held in cities across Russia. Chelyabinsk and Volgograd hosted some of the largest gatherings with 20,000 and 9,000 people, respectively, according to ITAR-TASS. In Chelyabinsk, the gathering organized by local trade unions protested low wages and growing public utility rates. In Voronezh, the scene of an earlier large protest against rising rents, a rally took place under tight security restrictions. According to ITAR-TASS, Voronezh Mayor Aleksandr Kovalev rescinded his earlier order raising rents and communal service rates. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)MORE TENSION REPORTED BETWEEN COSSACKS, ARMENIANS.
In a report broadcast on REN-TV on 30 April, two leaders of local Cossacks groups in Krasnodar Krai expressed their support for the new immigration policy announced by Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev. Two Cossack atamans, Viktor Vodolatskii and Nikolai Kozitsyn, spoke at a meeting in April in favor of new restrictions on immigrants. Vodolatskii said: "Our children will not live here in 20 or 30 years. And if they do, then they will be slaves of these so-called national minorities." Kozitsyn suggested: "Let them go to Armenia, Georgia, and Meskhetia. Let them rebuild their towns there. How long will they milk the Russians?" According to a REN-TV correspondent, Kozitsyn has in mind not just recent immigrants but Armenians who have been living in the region for 200 years. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)SMOKING BECOMING MORE POPULAR AMONG REGIONAL YOUTH.
Voronezh and 22 other regions in Russia are hosting an international action to give up cigarettes, RIA-Novosti reported on 2 May. In Voronezh, some 2,000 people are participating by pledging to quit smoking for at least one month. This is third year for the action, and according to organizers, 20 to 25 percent of those who participate end up quitting for good. The organizers include the World Health Organization, the National Institute of Public Health of Finland, and the Voronezh Center for Preventive Medicine. According to the Voronezh center, smoking is becoming increasingly popular among young people. Among upperclassmen of village schools, 47 percent of boys and 21 percent of girls smoke, and in city schools the numbers are even higher, the center reported, according to the news agency. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)PUTIN ASKS DUMA TO ADOPT BILL ON EXTREMISM.
President Vladimir Putin submitted a bill to the State Duma on 29 April that would create legal, administrative, and financial penalties for organizations engaged in extremist activities, Russian news agencies reported. The bill includes amendments to the Criminal Code that would make establishing or participating in an extremist organization an offense punishable by two to four years in prison. The bill would also criminalize any public calls for extremist actions and impose bans on certain kinds of professional activities for members of extremist groups. Furthermore, it would amend the law on money laundering that would put extremist activity in the same category with organized crime and open the financial activities of extremist groups to special state scrutiny, according to polit.ru on 30 April. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)PUTIN ORDERS FOREIGN MINISTRY TO SUPPORT ETHNIC RUSSIANS ABROAD.
President Putin has issued a decree ordering the Foreign Ministry to develop additional policies concerning ethnic Russians living abroad, Russian news agencies reported on 5 May. The decree authorizes the Foreign Ministry to coordinate the policies of federal and regional bodies toward ethnic Russians abroad and to oversee the work of a special government commission. The website nns.ru commented on 6 May that the decree seems to be based on the idea of "gathering the Russian world together," which has gained currency of late in Moscow. The essence of the idea is to consolidate Russian business elites to counter the national demographic crisis and to create an ethnic Russian political lobby abroad, the website added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DOES NOT RULE OUT NEW CHALLENGE FOR TATARSTAN CONSTITUTION.
Tatarstan's recently revised constitution will come into force 10 days after its publication on 30 April, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 2 May, citing Tatar-inform. Also on 30 April, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" that Tatarstan's new constitution will be -- if necessary -- challenged in court as the previous constitution was. Ustinov added that he has discussed the issue with Deputy Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Zvyagintsev and said that the document is currently being analyzed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)CHECHEN WOMEN PROTEST DISAPPEARANCES.
Several dozen women picketed the government building in Grozny on 3 May to protest the disappearance of relatives during a recent Russian search operation, Interfax reported. Human rights organizations including Memorial and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern that the instructions issued in late March by the commander of the joint Russian forces in Chechnya, Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, concerning the need to avoid gratuitous brutality and detentions during such "sweeps" are being systematically ignored. On 6 May, chechenpress.com reported that during a sweep of the village of Alkhan-Kala between 25-30 April an unspecified number of residents were detained and killed. Those bodies recovered thus far had reportedly been dismembered and the internal organs removed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)
INVESTIGATORS SAYS PUPILS DESECRATED JEWISH CEMETERY.
In Kosice on 30 April, Interior Ministry investigators said three boys aged 10 to 12 are responsible for the desecration of the Jewish cemetery in that town, CTK and AP reported. The boys, who overturned 135 tombstones, told the investigators they had been "looking for gold" beneath the stones. The pupils cannot be prosecuted because of their young age. The Kosice Jewish community said it might sue the boys' families for compensation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)EU COMMISSIONER PRAISES ATTEMPTS TO SOLVE ROMANY PROBLEMS.
Guenter Verheugen, the EU's commissioner in charge of enlargement, said that Slovakia is a "good example" of a candidate country making genuine efforts to find solutions to the problems of the Romany community, CTK reported. He said that there is no anti-Roma discrimination ensuing from the Slovak Constitution or laws, but that the Roma's conditions are discriminatory. He said the EU "needs to see and can see that countries such as Slovakia have a strategy and implement it," adding, "this is also a condition for membership." The main problems faced by Roma, Verheugen said, are "insufficient education, unemployment, poor living conditions, skinhead attacks, and discrimination by some police." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)ETHNIC HUNGARIANS PROTEST AGAINST DURAY STATEMENT.
Ethnic Hungarian intellectuals in Slovakia warned on 2 May against arousing Slovak nationalism ahead of the September elections as a result of the "irresponsible and ever more provocative behavior" of Slovak Hungarian Coalition (SMK) Deputy Chairman Miklos Duray, CTK reported, citing the daily "Sme." The letter signed by some 90 ethnic Hungarian intellectuals rejected the use of the term "Upper Hungary" by Duray at a rally in Budapest last month in support of the Hungarian FIDESZ party. The intellectuals wrote that former Premier Vladimir Meciar "came to power in the past because he found partners among Slovak National Party politicians," and that the "stubborn nationalism" of some Hungarian politicians in Slovakia also contributed to Meciar's success because they "expediently provoked Slovak national awareness." The signatories called on the SMK to distance itself from Duray. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)FORMER SIS MEMBERS, POLICEMAN, CHARGED WITH ATTEMPT TO DISCREDIT OPPOSITION.
The former police director of the Nitra region and two former Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) members were charged on 2 May with having attempted to discredit former Democratic Party Chairman Frantisek Sebej and comedian Stanislav Radic in 1998, CTK reported, citing Slovak television. The two former SIS members were said to have placed drugs and explosives in a room where a meeting between Sebej and Radic took place, and to have subsequently alerted the director of the regional police, who then ordered 50 men to raid the building. All those present had to put their hands on the table and police pointed guns at them. The police then "found" drugs and explosives. At that time, the Democratic Party was in opposition to the government headed by Meciar. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)
PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTIES CELEBRATE MAY DAY WITH MASS RALLIES.
This year, the largest May Day rally in Ukraine took place in Kharkiv, where pro-presidential parties from the For a United Ukraine bloc drew some 100,000 people, according to police reports. Some 1,000 leftists at a separate rally in Kharkiv called for "toppling the existing regime," Interfax reported. The Communist Party and the Progressive Socialist Party attracted several thousand people to two separate May Day rallies in Kyiv under antigovernment slogans. In Dnipropetrovsk, a pro-government rally gathered some 20,000 people, while the Communists were able to mobilize only 2,000 supporters for a separate meeting. Some 4,000 people celebrated May Day in Simferopol and some 1,000 in Luhansk. There were no May Day rallies in Lviv or Ivano-Frankivsk. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
POLICE START DETAINING PRACTICING MUSLIM WOMEN.
Over the past two weeks, police in Tashkent and the Ferghana Valley have detained dozens of women who are either practicing Muslims or whose male relatives have been jailed on charges of belonging to subversive Islamic organizations, according to a Human Rights Watch report released on 1 May. Four women were convicted in Tashkent on 24 April of membership of the banned Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir; four more are currently on trial on similar charges. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)
WILL THE HAGUE TRIBUNAL FARM OUT CASES?
"The Independent" reported on 2 May that the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague is swamped with cases and may allow some of the less important trials to take place in Bosnia or elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia. The Belgrade authorities have long sought to cut a deal that would enable Serbs to be tried in Serbian courts. The tribunal has rejected such a proposal, saying the Serbian judicial system is not yet sufficiently reformed and that many important witnesses would not travel to Serbia, where they would not feel safe. The Serbian leaders claim that holding trials in Serbia would show that the Serbian judicial system is up to the task and help defuse nationalist opposition to war crimes trials in general. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)POLICE TO OPEN FILES FOR WAR CRIMES.
Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said in Belgrade on 30 April that representatives of The Hague tribunal may examine Serbian police archives, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added, however, that they are unlikely to find much because war crimes are not usually "planned in meetings and written down." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)GOVERNMENT TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT POVERTY?
Goran Pitic, who is Serbian minister for economic relations with foreign countries, said in Belgrade on 4 May that the government will complete drawing up an action program against poverty within one year, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The plan will draw on funds from the World Bank and international donors. It will seek to create new jobs, develop the private sector, and strengthen social programs and the social security system. For many -- if not most -- Serbs, the most pressing issues are poverty, crime, and corruption. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)TITO'S DEATH ANNIVERSARY MARKED.
Several hundred people gathered in Kumrovec, Croatia, on 4 May to mark the 22nd anniversary of the death of Josip Broz Tito, who was born in 1892 in that village near the Slovenian border, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The commemoration was organized by the League of Antifascist Fighters, the Antifascists of Croatia, and the Josip Broz Tito Society. Representatives of Slovenian and Bosnian NGOs also attended. In Belgrade, Tito's widow Jovanka, other family members, and communist delegations from Croatia and Serbia laid flowers at Tito's grave. His legacy remains controversial in many parts of former Yugoslavia. For some people, he represents a time of peace and relative prosperity when Yugoslavia enjoyed considerable prestige in the East and West. For others, he was a dictator whose refusal to promote democratic reforms in the 1960s ultimately led to the rise of Slobodan Milosevic and other nationalists and to the violent breakup of the country. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May)LEADER WANTS KOSOVA SETTLEMENT PROGRAM.
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic told Belgrade radio B-92 on 30 April that he wants to expand existing enclaves of Serbs and other non-Albanians with new settlements, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The result will be 24 regions that he feels will be more secure than the present enclaves. Covic added that some 300,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians fled Kosova after the end of the 1999 conflict. Observers note, however, that it is not clear how many of these people would return if they had the chance, given the long history of Serbian economically motivated migration out of Kosova. Nor is it clear how many would be willing to return to new settlements or who would pay for the new communities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May)
RUSSIAN NGOS, RESEARCHERS, AND OFFICIALS TACKLE CHILDREN'S CRISIS
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Analysis of the emotional issue of child homelessness in Russia, like other social ills, tends to fall into two camps on the left and right of the political spectrum, with liberals blaming Yeltsin's market reforms, the failure to spend on social services, and the tearing of the communist social safety net for the presence of homeless children in Russian cities; and conservatives decrying the breakdown of the two-parent family, the collapse of the rigorous Soviet education system with its indoctrination through youth organizations like the Pioneers, and pernicious Western influences in film and music. A number of researchers are trying to look beyond the stereotypes to explain the surge in numbers of visible street urchins in Russia, and NGOs around the country are working with local officials to monitor at-risk youth and provide direct services, some aimed at prevention, others at rehabilitation after juveniles leave state facilities, either orphanages or labor colonies.
Dr. Sally Stoecker, research professor and project director at the Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at American University, recently presented her findings at Woodrow Wilson Center (see http://wwwics.si.edu/NEWS/digest/homchild.htm). According to Stoecker, a 1999 law spelling out children's rights and restricting the right of the police to pick up children off the street has led to the burgeoning child homeless numbers. Stoecker notes many street children come from dysfunctional families, with parents who are alcoholics or drug addicts, and many are involved in criminal activity, including drug sales for adult dealers wishing to avoid arrest. She also theorized that with the great economic dislocations in Russia in the last decade, single mothers who head many households have been forced to work two and three jobs to survive, or have suffered unemployment, and their personal absence or lack of resources have taken a toll on their children. Stoecker also cited several Russian "newspaper sources" -- difficult to verify given the uneven state of Russian journalism -- that nearly 300,000 homeless children are not in school, and that one in five homeless children becomes a prostitute and one in four develop habits of drug or substance abuse.
UNICEF, in a 1997 report titled "Children At Risk in Central and Eastern Europe: Perils and Promises" (summarized at unicef.org) blamed poor nutrition, alcoholism, smoking, stress in the workplace and at home, and increasing violence and premature deaths, focusing more on the deaths of working-age men in analyzing the orphan and homeless problem, rather than on the unavailability of overworked moms, noting that from 1990-95, some 525,000 children have experienced the premature death of parents (mostly fathers but also mothers).
The Russian Academy of Science's Institute for Social and Economic Problems of the Population reported that a study of newborns and their families reveal poor health habits affecting birth outcomes. In 1995, 22 percent of women smoked before they were pregnant and only 2.8 continued to smoke after they learned they would become mothers. But in 1998, 28 percent smoked before pregnancy and 13 percent after learning they were expecting babies -- increases in the numbers of young women who smoke are often reported in countries of transition undergoing stress with new markets targeted by tobacco companies. As a result, less than a quarter of babies born to smoking mothers were healthy -- almost all were said to have some health problems by the age of six months.
A writer on family issues at nashi-deti.ru, a resource and news page for NGOs, social workers, and child protection officials, claimed that overall throughout Russia, in the first five years of reform, children's cancer increased 18 percent; 24 percent more children were said to be suffering from mental retardation, and 70 percent more had contracted tuberculosis -- all startling numbers indeed, but revealed to be exaggerated when checked with the joint report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Russia's State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology Vector, which report that TB rates increased 70 percent for the entire population in five years; 12 percent from 1998-99 alone.
A major reason for the near hysteria with which Russian public and media address the plight of children is that children represent the future of the nation. With all the political and economic upheavals of the last decade, vulnerable children tend to symbolize the plight of the whole country. And people are fearful for children because there are a lot less of them -- with Russia's birthrate exceeded by its death rate and a declining population, the actual number of children is falling. The number of children ages 0-4 has fallen in the first part of this decade from 14 million in 1990 to 10 million in 1996 but is expected to rise again over the next 10 years, says the CIA World Factbook. Researchers at RAND Corporation are also among those who caution against overly pessimistic demographic projections. Another encouraging sign is that infant mortality, which stood at 24.7 per 1,000 in 1995 has dropped to 20 per 1,000 in 2001, but is still twice as much as the U.S. and Europe.
For some women, the nation's supposed demographic crisis has not intruded on their personal choices, often dictated by poverty or unreliable partners. In 1995, the rate of abortions was 67.6 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-49 in the Russian Federation, among the highest in the world. Although the abortion rate is declining, Russian women were almost twice as likely to have an abortion as a live birth. A curious disinclination by government and citizens alike to worry about public safety also makes itself known in determining the total numbers of children. Extremely high rates of accidents compared to the rest of the industrialized world, particularly drownings, point to the lack of safety precautions -- life jackets, seat belts, and car seats for children are unknown. The CDC reports the accidental death rate for children ages 1-14 in Russia is comparable to the death rate for all causes of death combined in the United States.
While much more serious investigative reporting and medical and crime studies are needed to grasp the true dimensions and causes of the plight of Russian children, everyone can agree about the need for action. While in the Soviet era, police rounded up homeless bezprizorniki (children without supervision) and put them in work camps, in the liberal 1990s, authorities were mandated not to arrest such children but turn them over to what turned out to be a bewildering, disorganized, and woefully inadequate array of other agencies. Dr. Stoecker suggests giving authority again to the Interior Ministry (MVD) to conduct "street sweeps" again. She stated that many of the practitioners from the MVD do have the best interests of the children at heart and even donate their own time and money to help children. Not all police and social workers reach for such a solution, however, even with 3,000 various agency offices devoted to caring for children in Russia. At a meeting of law-enforcement and social-work NGOs in Novosibirsk, the complaint of an MVD official was typical -- a lack of beds and funding for temporary jails, labor colonies, and drug treatment programs after the sweeps are done. NGOs proposed increasing foster families, providing them more funding and support, and opening rehabilitation centers especially for those leaving the criminal justice system and doing more crisis intervention with troubled families.
In 1999, concerned at the growing plight of Russian children, USAID granted $6 million for a period of three years to Holt International Children's Services, Mercy Corps International, and Charities Aid Foundation to work with leading Russian NGOs through a consortium called Assistance to Russian Orphans (ARO) to improve the current situation of orphans in Russia. USAID claimed approximately 600,000 children registered as orphans in Russia, 10 percent with no parents and 90 percent with at least one living. While clearly insufficient given the vast need, the funding has helped to sustain hundreds of projects around Russia benefiting children. Inevitably, some of the aid is soaked up in consulting fees, overhead, and "seminarization," and yet a study of listing of projects and groups providing direct services to children (see aro.org and nashi-deti.ru) reveal many dedicated Russians trying to help prevent abandonment and provide community services to those left without care, and managing to save some lives.
Some NGOs still search for the ubiquitous superstructures of Russia; a new all-Russian NGO called Civil Society for Children proposed a new commission "pri prezidente" (at or near the president's administration) -- a proximity often required to galvanize leaders to tackle tough issues in Russia. Others look for new legal norms or more official fact-finding missions. Indeed, legal underpinning is needed for reform, for example, child rights advocates helped bring about a recent statute in Novgorod Oblast which established rights of foster families and children, thereby removing some obstacles to the system.
The Women's Parliament, an NGO in Velikii Novgorod, has created a program to mentor, train, and find employment in the NGO sector in the city. New Steps, a group in St. Petersburg, provides a walk-in center for counseling and legal services. In Barnaul, a crisis shelter for mother and children was founded. A group called "Hope" in Vladimir has opened up family-type homes for orphans and provided skills training. Association of Social Pedagogues and Social Workers in Magadan is providing intervention and counseling for high risk families who are in crisis and likely to abandon their children.
All of them hope for commitment from government, which cannot expect entirely to displace the burden of the next generation on grassroots groups. NGOs such as Right of the Child have clamored for unannounced inspections and public oversight of often abusive facilities, where the state's per-child payment -- higher than what is given to families for foster child care -- is an incentive to keep the abusive children's homes system in perpetuity. A prosecutor performing a check in Arkhangelsk found children malnourished in almost all facilities for juveniles, two to three times less the amount mandated by law. In Komi, the Ministry of Social Affairs found 5,604 poor families caring for some 9,000 children, many of the potential social orphans -- Komi reported 11,000 such cases had been through children's homes in the last seven years.
While foreign aid to help children must be expanded, lasting solutions will have to come from Russia's own public and private sectors. So far, only controversial media magnate Boris Berezovsky has accepted the challenge to fund such social projects. Through his Fund for Civil Liberties, Berezovsky recently provided $1 million for legal aid for children, particular some 4,000-6,000 children under 16 being held in investigation jail cells by the Ministry of Justice, reports kolokol.org, Berezovsky's foundation newsletter.
In Bratsk, the local human rights commissioner has urged NGOs to make their projects self-supporting, and lawyers have helped teenagers leaving juvenile colonies in a new rehabilitation center to start a paper recycling project and a wood shop, and a local entrepreneur has taken them as a cleaning crew. In Nyagan, municipal authorities have put at-risk youth to work in city plants -- raising questions of creating the problem of child labor while solving the problem of juvenile delinquency, although local officials claim placing youths in jobs is the best prevention of crime and they will look out for their rights.
Nowhere is the problem of dislocation and poverty as great in Russia than among the estimated 150,000 displaced Chechens in Ingushetia, most of whom are children. All-Russian Young Europe and International Youth Human Rights Movement kick off an action in 18 cities on 9 May, Veteran's Day, to continue until 1 June, Children's Day, to attract attention to the plight of children in war. They plan to collect donations of school supplies, toys, and books for children in Chechnya and Ingushetia.