15 May 2002, Volume
PUTIN SEEKING NEW LEGISLATION TO COMBAT EXTREMISM.
Citing the need to combat nondemocratic, ultranationalist movements, Russian President Vladimir Putin has introduced legislation that would allow the banning of extremist groups. Such laws exist in many countries, but experts express concern that Putin's bill could be misused to shut down mainstream opposition parties.
In recent weeks -- most notably in his state-of-the-nation address on 18 April -- Putin has drawn a direct connection between terrorism and homegrown ultranationalist groups that have appeared on the fringes of Russian society over the past decade. Putin says the skinheads, neo-Nazis, and other extremists who parade through Russia's cities and have caused occasional violence, pose a threat to society. He says the answer to the threat is new anti-extremism legislation that he has put forward for parliament's consideration.
The head of the State Duma's Legislative Committee, Pavel Krasheninnikov, also stated recently that Russia is in urgent need of a new law restricting not just extremist individuals but organizations as well, noting that almost all European countries have such statutes.
Analysts believe the bill, which is now being considered by the Duma's Justice Committee, has a good chance of passing. Public sentiment is with Putin on the issue.
But some politicians, especially the Communists, have expressed worries that certain of the bill's provisions could be used to muzzle legitimate expressions of opposition. The fact that the Communist Party stands in opposition to a bill ostensibly aimed at shutting down neo-Nazi organizations is an irony, but also understandable.
Stephan de Spiegeleire, a Russia analyst at the RAND Europe think tank, said: "You could understand how they would be worried, because the organization of mass disturbances for any reason of intolerance -- and that could be defined very broadly -- could be seen as a cause for activating this law. Under the current law, it's only physical persons that can be tried for this and under this law it would also be organizations, so you could see how the Communist Party would have felt threatened by it and would still feel threatened by it."
If the bill is approved, calls by the Communists or any other party for a nationwide strike or other civil disobedience could give the government an excuse to ban the party. Attempts several years ago by former President Boris Yeltsin to have a similar bill passed were blocked by the Communists. But the Communists were recently removed from key committee posts in the Duma, leaving little to block Putin's initiative.
De Spiegeleire agrees with Putin that Russia does have what is perhaps too liberal a regime concerning neo-Nazi sympathizers. "'Mein Kampf' is for sale everywhere; Nazi paraphernalia really can be bought at a lot of flea markets in Moscow and other Russian cities," de Spiegeleire said.
The reason for this anomaly goes back to Soviet times. Whereas all countries in Western Europe instituted restrictions on various forms of extremism following the end of World War II, the Soviets did not devote much attention to the issue. "In the Soviet Union there was this feeling that Soviet society was immune to these forms of extremism. There really wasn't this entire legislation that you would have expected and that you saw emerge in Western Europe. It's really only in the Russian period that this issue became much more salient -- also because of the appearance of all these extreme-right and extreme-left organizations -- that people felt something had to be done about it," de Spiegeleire said.
All of this would appear to back Putin's argument. But de Spiegeleire said both the timing of Putin's bill and the current state of Russia's judiciary should cause some concern.
"Extremism, as it is outlawed or made more difficult under this law, certainly doesn't seem to play the same role anymore in Russia that it did a couple of years ago. It's a long time since we've heard about guys like Makashov and Barkashov and Sterligov -- all these extreme-right leaders who had paramilitary organizations going for them. So it seems to me that the timing, from that point of view, may be a little bit off. And then also, if Russia had a normal legal system, I would feel more comfortable in saying that this law is perfectly OK. Unfortunately, the legal system in Russia is far from perfect and also the...continued politicization of the legal system makes for a situation where laws like this could really be abused," De Spiegeleire said.
The Kremlin cites Europe's example as it pushes for an anti-extremism law. What has the continent's experience been with such laws in the postwar era and what lessons can this offer? Giovanni Capoccia is a political scientist at Oxford University who has studied the issue. He said that preserving the interests of free speech and free association in the broadest possible measure, while safeguarding democracy against extremists, is a delicate balancing act. Different countries pursue different models.
"After World War II and the experience of fascism or occupation regimes, there were quite a lot of reactions in terms of legislation in different countries, so the level of precision with which extremism or extremist actions are defined varies enormously across countries. And so it's very difficult to find one single equilibrium point across Europe that says: This is what an extremist party is, this is what an extremist ideology is, and this is what an extremist action is," Capoccia said.
Capoccia said some European countries have chosen narrow definitions of what constitutes an extremist party -- banning only Nazi groupings, for example -- while others leave the matter more open.
"You have cases, for example, like Germany, where extremist parties or groups or associations are defined quite narrowly, in the constitution and in the jurisprudence of the constitutional accords. And you have cases like France, where in the constitution for example, the definition of what parties cannot do if they don't want to be unconstitutional is much more vague. So, it's impossible to come up with one single European standard," Capoccia said.
While some countries focus on a party's or group's stated ideology in assessing whether it is extremist, other countries, such as the United States, focus on actions. As long as individuals or groups do not incite violence, they may publicly advocate almost any position. Inevitably, whatever the laws in force, it is the courts that become important arbiters in determining whether a party has overstepped the bounds of constitutional behavior.
"The standards in this respect in Europe are that there is always -- except in exceptional circumstances where you have a state of emergency or something like that -- there is always some form of judicial review," Capoccia said.
In the final analysis, laws are only as good as those who interpret them. And as de Spiegeleire noted, Russia's judiciary is sometimes subject to government pressure and the courts have not always demonstrated sufficient independence. (Jeremy Bransten)
PARLIAMENT DEBATES ELECTION LAW AMENDMENTS.
Parliament deputies on 7 May approved in the first reading by a vote of 79 in favor, seven against, and nine abstentions all proposed amendments to the Election Law except that which would empower the president to name members of the Central Election Commission, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The pro-government majority has lowered the proposed number of presidential appointees on election commissions at all levels from five to three, but the opposition continues to object to allowing the president any say in their composition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)OPPOSITION PARTY CLAIMS MAYORAL ELECTION FALSIFIED.
The Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) Party has demanded that the 5 May election for the mayor of the town of Idjevan be declared invalid due to widespread falsification of the vote, Noyan Tapan reported on 8 May. According to the official results, incumbent Mayor Varuzhan Nersisian was re-elected with 4,042 votes, while his rival, Orinats Yerkir candidate Gerasim Israelian, polled 3,272 votes. Orinats Yerkir representatives say voter lists were amended on 1 May to include the names of over 1,000 people who are not resident in Idjevan, and the Tavush regional court issued authorization for some 170 people to vote at four or five separate polling stations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)OPPOSITION AGAIN DEMANDS PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION.
Between 4,000-6,000 people marched through central Yerevan on 10 May in the fifth of a series of weekly protests organized by 13 opposition parties to demand the impeachment of President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Armenian agencies reported. Participation was estimated as greater than at the 26 April demonstration, even though the authorities had withheld permission to stage the protest and warned the organizers they were acting illegally. Speakers at the protest, including People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian and National Democratic Union leader Vazgen Manukian, accused the Armenian leadership of corruption and "illegal acts." Albert Bazeyan, one of the leaders of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party, said the parliamentary opposition will try to bring impeachment proceedings against Kocharian, and will launch a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience if it fails to do so. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May)
VILLAGERS STAGE NEW PROTEST.
Some 1,000 residents of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku staged a demonstration on 7 May to demand the resignation of the local district mayor and a say in who will be named his successor, Turan reported. They also again demanded action by the municipal authorities to address problems they raised during demonstrations earlier this year and rejected as a violation of the right to freedom of religion the demand by Education Minister Misir Mardanov that schoolgirls should not wear head scarves. The villagers vowed to hold further protests unless their grievances were addressed by 12 May. On that day dozens of carloads of police descended on Nardaran to prevent residents from staging the protest, Turan reported on 13 May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 14 May)OPPOSITION PARTY REGISTERED AFTER ONE-YEAR DELAY.
Azerbaijan's Justice Ministry formally registered the Adalet Party on 8 May, 11 months after the party's founding congress and 10 months after it applied for such registration, Turan reported. The party has 76 regional branches and some 21,000 members. One of its regional leaders died in a prison hospital in February while serving a sentence handed down for participating in an unsanctioned demonstration in September 2001. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)CHIEF MUSLIM CLERIC RETURNS HOME TO FACE NEW CRITICISM.
Sheikh ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, who heads the Muslim Religious Board of the Caucasus, returned to Baku on 4 May after four weeks of medical treatment in Germany, Turan reported. On 3 May, Alinovruz Ibragimov, the former head of the Adjarbey mosque, wrote to President Heidar Aliyev accusing Pashazade of condoning the misappropriation of funds and of appointing "illiterates" as heads of religious communities. Ibragimov called for an investigation of Pashazade's activities. Keston News Service suggested in March that Rafik Aliev, the chairman of the State Committee for Relations with Religious Organizations established last summer (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 30, 16 August 2001) may be campaigning to limit Pashazade's power. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
FORMER OPPOSITION LEADER'S FAMILY GRANTED POLITICAL ASYLUM IN GERMANY.
Lyudmila Karpenka, the wife of former Belarusian opposition leader Henadz Karpenka, and her two children have been granted political asylum in Germany, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 10 May. Henadz Karpenka died in April 1999 in a hospital in Minsk under unclear circumstances. Some opposition activists do not rule out that Karpenka, the then-deputy speaker of the opposition Supreme Soviet, might have been killed for political reasons. "I do not feel any particular joy over my status [of a political refugee] because I think I'll come back [to Belarus]," Lyudmila Karpenka told RFE/RL. "However, under the Lukashenka regime, it is difficult to come back, because one must not only live but also fight." She heads the Henadz Karpenka Fund, which supports civic and democratic initiatives in Belarus. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May)RALLIES MARK ANNIVERSARY OF ZAKHARANKA'S DISAPPEARANCE.
Some 70 people formed a "chain of concerned people" in downtown Minsk on 7 May to commemorate the third anniversary of the disappearance of Belarusian opposition politician Yury Zakharanka, Belapan reported. The same day, similar demonstrations took place in Vitsebsk, Brest, Baranavichy, Pinsk, Pruzhany, and some other Belarusian cities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)PRESIDENT MOVES TO PARDON 1,900.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka has submitted to the Chamber of Representatives an amnesty bill whereby nearly 1,900 people will be released from prison while some 25,000 prison inmates will have their terms reduced by one year, Belapan reported on 8 May, quoting presidential spokeswoman Natalya Pyatkevich. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)
PETRITSCH LAUNCHES STATE COURT.
In one of his last official acts before stepping down as high representative on 27 May, Wolfgang Petritsch named the first seven judges to a new Bosnian state court for three-year terms, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Their first duties will be to look into complaints about rulings by election officials relating to the 5 October ballot. His move came after Bosnian officials were unable to agree on nominees ever since Petritsch set up the legal basis for the court 18 months ago, Reuters reported. Petritsch said, "With the establishment of the state court, and the potential establishment of the war crimes prosecution capability within the context of the state court, there is a clear synergy in terms of the use of resources and expertise." Foreign experts have suggested that a foreigner be selected for a five-year term as state prosecutor as part of a project to have at least some war crimes cases be dealt with in Bosnia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)POLICE ARREST FORMER COLLEAGUES.
Republika Srpska police have arrested five former policemen in conjunction with the killing of a Roman Catholic priest, Reverend Tomislav Matanovic, in 1995 near Prijedor, AP reported from Sarajevo on 9 May. UN spokesman Alun Roberts said, "We are encouraged by this step." The names of the five have not been made public. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)
CROATIAN SERB LEADER WARNS OF HATE CRIMES.
Milorad Pupovac, who is a leader of Croatia's Serbian minority, said in Zagreb on 8 May that there has been an increase in acts of violence against Serbs in the Zadar area recently, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)DEL PONTE VISITS MASSACRE SITE.
Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the UN war crimes tribunal, visited for the first time the sites relating to the Vukovar massacre, in which several hundred Croatian civilians and wounded soldiers were killed by Serbian forces in 1991, AP reported on 7 May. The previous day, Del Ponte discussed questions relating to Croatia's cooperation with the tribunal with Prime Minister Ivica Racan in Zagreb, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
'MEIN KAMPF' PUBLISHER HONORED FOR CIVIC COURAGE.
Michal Zitko, the Czech publisher of a translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," was awarded a prize on 9 May for civic courage in defending the rights and freedom of citizens, CTK reported. The prize was awarded to Zitko by the Prague-based Karel Havlicek Borovsky Institute, which has close ties to the Young Conservatives civic association. The institute's chairman, Milan Hamersky, told CTK that by publishing Hitler's book Zitko was protecting freedom of expression in the country. Hamersky also said that the institute he heads has asked President Vaclav Havel to pardon Zitko, who was fined and given a three-year suspended sentence for his deed. The institute also awarded Premier Milos Zeman a so-called "anti-prize" for "contempt of other people [and] their opinions, for not respecting court rulings, and for permanently harming Czech political culture." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May)
RUSSIAN ORGANIZATION SEEKS NEW RUSSIAN SCHOOLS.
Arkadii Prisyazhnyi, the chairman of the Union of Russian Compatriots' Association in Estonia, has said there are plans to establish Russian secondary schools in Tallinn and Narva that would follow the Estonian curriculum while paying more attention to teaching the Russian language and literature, "Eesti Paevaleht" reported on 13 May. Estonian and Russian authorities are both expected to support the schools financially. Former Education Minister Tonis Lukas has backed the plans, noting that the schools could receive aid from Russia in the form of language teachers and books that would both have to be registered with the Estonian Education Ministry. Prisyazhnyi declared his opposition to Russian higher-education schools establishing affiliates in Estonia, as this is not allowed under Estonian law. He expressed regret that the branches of several Russian-language universities in Estonia use Russian curricula and ignore the realities in Estonia, and suggested that one university be established from the 10 private higher-education schools currently in the country. They would remain independent, but there would be "an umbrella organization to check on what is being taught, and how," Prisyazhnyi said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May)
FUTURE PREMIER MEETS ETHNIC HUNGARIAN LEADERS...
Peter Medgyessy told the leaders of ethnic Hungarian organizations in neighboring countries on 8 May that his government will consider matters that concern them as part of the national agenda, Hungarian media reported. Medgyessy said that while constitutionally he will be the prime minister of 10 million Hungarians, he feels responsible for 15 million. He also said that his government will support the Status Law and will introduce more transparent subsidies for ethnic Hungarians. Medgyessy called for a review of some aspects of the Hungarian-Romanian memorandum of understanding on the Status Law (see item in "Romania" section below), and said the new government will initiate talks with Romania to that end. However, Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko said that the memorandum of understanding signed with Romania by the previous government makes it possible to apply the Status Law in that country, and should therefore be upheld. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)...SPEAKS ON THE BENES DECREES.
"The Benes Decrees that resulted in the deportation of Germans and Hungarians from postwar Czechoslovakia were unjust," CTK on 9 May quoted Peter Medgyessy as saying in an interview with the German magazine "Focus." However, the debate on the decrees should be led by historians, not politicians, Medgyessy said, adding that he prefers to deal with the future rather than with the past. Medgyessy also criticized outgoing Premier Viktor Orban for having brought up the subject of the decrees in the recent election campaign in Hungary. "The Benes Decrees are too serious an issue to be discussed in the election battle," Medgyessy concluded. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May)
STUDENT PROTESTORS, JOURNALIST ARRESTED.
On 8 May outside the Uzbek Embassy in Almaty, several dozen Kazakh students congregated to stage an unsanctioned protest against the unresolved border dispute between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan over the villages of Baghys and Turkestanets, Deutsche Welle's Russian Service and the press service of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan reported. Police pressured the protesters to disperse after less than half an hour and detained several of them. Bakhytkul Makimbai, who is a correspondent for the independent newspaper "Sol-Dat," was also arrested. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May)
PARLIAMENT DEPUTY TO SEEK PRESIDENT'S IMPEACHMENT...
Azimbek Beknazarov, whose arrest and trial earlier this year sparked the nationwide protests that culminated in the clashes on 17-18 March between police and demonstrators in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 6 May that he has begun collecting the 31 signatures required to establish a special parliament commission charged with launching impeachment proceedings against President Askar Akaev. Beknazarov argued that several grounds exist for impeachment: he claimed Akaev violated the constitution by ceding Kyrgyz territory to China; by violating human rights; by being elected three times, in 1991, 1995, and 2000, although the constitution allows one individual to serve only for two presidential terms; and by giving the order to police to open fire on demonstrators in Aksy on 17 March. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)...AS THOUSANDS DEMAND HIS RESIGNATION.
Some 6,500 people turned out for a protest demonstration on 7 May in Kerben, the largest town in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Participants demanded that Akaev and the entire government resign; that impeachment proceedings be opened against Akaev; that the criminal case brought against parliament deputy Beknazarov be shelved; that those persons responsible for the clashes in Aksy on 17-18 March between police and demonstrators be identified and punished; and that no further Kyrgyz territory be ceded to China. They warned that if these demands are not met, they will stop sending their children to school and their sons to serve in the army, and will withhold both taxes and payment for electricity. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS SLAM SENTENCING OF FORMER OFFICIAL.
The New York-based International League for Human Rights has written to Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev condemning as "yet another unlawful step taken by your government" the new 10-year sentence on three charges of embezzlement handed down on 8 May to former Vice President Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. "There is reason to believe that Feliks Kulov has been targeted for political reasons, ever since he founded the Ar-Namys Party and decided to run in the presidential elections of 2000," the letter continued. In Bishkek, Topchubek Turgunaliev, who is president of the Institute for Human Rights, and Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee Chairman Ramazan Dyryldaev likewise both condemned the new sentence as politically motivated. On 9 May, some 100 supporters of Kulov blocked the main highway through the village of Baitik on the outskirts of the capital to protest the sentence on Kulov, rising unemployment, and delays in paying wages and pensions, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They called for Kulov's acquittal and for Akaev to resign. Kulov is barred from holding any government office for a further three years after completion of his prison term, according to Interfax. Kulov pleaded not guilty to the charges, which he claims were politically motivated. Kulov will serve the new sentence concurrently with a seven-year sentence handed down last year on charges of abuse of his official position while serving as national security minister in 1997-98. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 May)
PARLIAMENT SCRAPS LANGUAGE REQUIREMENTS FOR CANDIDATES.
The parliament approved on 9 May by a vote of 67 to 13, with four abstentions, amendments to the parliamentary election law abolishing the requirement that candidates must have the highest level of Latvian-language proficiency, BNS reported. Similar amendments to the local council election law were passed by a vote of 71 to 13, with three abstentions. The negative votes were cast by deputies of the right-wing For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK and the left-wing Union of Social Democrats. The amendments were proposed by President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and had been mentioned at times as a condition for Latvia's membership of NATO. OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus and the U.S. government immediately welcomed the passage of the amendments. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May)
POLITICIANS REACH COMPROMISE ON ELECTORAL LAW.
After months of haggling, leaders of the main ethnic Macedonian and Albanian political parties reached agreement on electoral legislation on 11 May, dpa reported. President Boris Trajkovski said, "This law will improve democracy, stability, interethnic relations, and the prosperity of Macedonia." U.S. envoy James Holmes added, "Even though this political agreement sets the stage for the free, fair, and democratic elections, the international community should keep its presence in Macedonia." Alain Le Roy, who is the EU's special envoy, told the BBC that the fact that the agreement has been reached shows how much progress Macedonia has made in the past nine months. Trajkovski said the government and parliament will approve the measure in the next few days. The long-awaited parliamentary elections are slated for 15 September. Many observers had feared that delays in passing electoral legislation would make it difficult to hold free and fair elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May)TRADE UNIONS BLOCK ROADS.
Workers of loss-making enterprises blocked main thoroughfares throughout Macedonia on 10 May, the daily "Dnevnik" reported. The protesters demanded changes to the laws dealing with employment and with unemployment insurance. They also called for efforts to revitalize their enterprises. "The blockade is a warning signal to the government and the parliament to stop [playing games with] the employment law" to the detriment of the workers of loss-making enterprises, said Union of Trade Unions in Macedonia (SSM) leader Vanco Muratovski. The SSM also announced another wave of protests for the coming weeks. On 20 May, the SSM plans a large-scale strike of some 80,000 people employed in education, justice, administration, health care, and defense. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May)
COUNCIL OF EUROPE EXECUTIVE DEMANDS REPORT ON PACE RESOLUTION IMPLEMENTATION.
The Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers approved a resolution in Vilnius on 7 May that obliges the Moldovan government to report on the implementation of the council's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) recommendations of 24 April, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The council demanded that it be informed of measures taken to register the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church by 31 July. It also said it is ready to promote a dialogue between political forces in Moldova, suggesting a roundtable with the participation of Council of Europe representatives. In addition, it said the council is prepared to offer its expertise in order to bring Moldovan legislation into line with the European Convention on Human Rights. In a letter addressed on 7 May to the council's secretary-general, Walter Schwimmer, Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca expressed concern that the government does not intend to implement the PACE recommendations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)ECHR AGREES TO EXAMINE STRIKERS COMPLAINT.
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on 7 May agreed to examine "in emergency procedure" the complaint by the Teleradio Moldova strikers' committee against the government's infringements of the European Convention on Human Rights, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)
SHIPYARD WORKERS TAKE TO THE STREETS.
Shipyard workers have taken to the streets in Szczecin, a development that could be troubling to the left-wing government, says Michael Sporer of SIEC, the Polish American Network, an electronic news bulletin. Current economic woes and Leszek Miller's government's uncertain policies are perceived as the cause of mounting labor unrest, says Sporer. The latest protests, which included work stoppage, came in the Szczecin shipyard, the third-largest in Europe and 11th in the world. The workers would like Prime Minister Miller to come to the shipyard but so far he has refused. The Szczecin shipyard reportedly owes half a billion dollars; it is struggling because of delivery delays and the strength of the zloty, a claim Sporer describes as "political." Government bailout seems unlikely, and according to Minister Jacek Piechota would be ineffective without the banks, even though ship-building is very important for the overall economy, and the holding company that owns the Szczecin shipyard is the largest company on the Western coast. According to "Rzeczpospolita," 20,000 shipyard workers are employed in the Polish shipyards. Gdynia is the largest shipyard in Europe in orders, and seventh in the world; the complex includes the famous Gdansk shipyard, the birthplace of Solidarity. (SIEC, 14 May)
PRESIDENT SAYS ADOPTION BAN TO LAST UNTIL END OF 2002.
President Ion Iliescu, in an interview with RFE/RL in New York, said the ban instituted by his country on international adoptions of children will last until the end of this year. Iliescu said that in Europe and in the United States there is interest in adopting children from Romania, but that Bucharest needs more time to work out legislation ensuring that abuses in adoptions are curbed. He said that a number of Romanian children were taken abroad illegally before the moratorium on adoptions went into effect in June 2001. Earlier, President Iliescu told a special UN General Assembly session on children and children's rights on 8 May that Romania is confronted with "the burdensome heritage" of the communist regime's neglect of children and the costs of "radical social transformations." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 May)PREMIER PREFERS STATUS QUO ON STATUS LAW...
In an interview with Mediafax on 7 May, Adrian Nastase said the government does not "under any circumstance" envisage agreeing to the Hungarian Socialist Party's demand to nullify or modify the memorandum signed last December on the implementation of the Status Law in Romania. He expressed the hope that the new Hungarian government will approach the issue "with responsibility," and that "wisdom" will prevail in the end. Nastase warned that a Hungarian refusal to withdraw the demand would force the government in Bucharest to re-examine the possibility of passing legislation nullifying the law's "extraterritorial and discriminatory aspects." Foreign Ministry spokesman Victor Micula said the next day that the memorandum is a "compromise solution" offered by Bucharest to Budapest as a way out from a "dead end," and that it has been backed by "European fora." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)...WHILE AUTHORITIES WILL DEFEND ROMANIAN MINORITY RIGHTS IN NEIGHBORING STATES.
Doru Vasile Ionescu, head of the government's Department for Diaspora Romanians, said on 8 May that the cabinet will take measures aimed at ensuring that the rights of ethnic Romanians in neighboring countries are respected, Romanian radio reported. Ionescu, who recently returned from visits to Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania, said the government will demand that Romanians living in those countries be officially recognized as national minorities and will extend aid to facilitate education in their native languages for members of the Vlach and Aromanian minorities, which are both related to Romanian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)
KALININGRAD SENATOR PROFFERS KRASNODAR AS MODEL FOR IMMIGRATION POLICY.
Valerii Ustyugov, representative for Kaliningrad Oblast's governor in the Federation Council, has suggested that Russian citizens' entry into Kaliningrad Oblast be drastically limited in light of the impending EU membership of neighboring Poland and Lithuania, BNS reported on 8 May. Ustyugov told members of the oblast's legislature the previous day that "unusual problems call for unusual solutions." Ustyugov also noted that the strict measures introduced against migrants in Krasnodar Krai and in the city of Moscow provide a good example. "Europe is not afraid of 1 million Kaliningrad residents. It is afraid of crowds of illegal immigrants from the North Caucasus and Central Asia that may use Kaliningrad to reach the West," he said. Under Krasnodar Krai's operation "Foreigner," some ethnic groups -- such as the Meskhetian Turks -- who have lived in the region for more than 10 years have faced new scrutiny of their legal documents and have been threatened with expulsion, prompting criticism from human rights groups and political analysts (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 10 April 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)CENSUS TO CONFIRM DISAPPEARANCE OF HUNDREDS OF VILLAGES?
As a result of the national census to be held in October, many villages and settlements may be removed from Russian maps, RTR reported on 13 May. According to the channel, some villages are effectively ghost towns, with nothing left but "dozens of derelict houses and tumble-down fences" and not a single person remaining. For example, in Kursk Oblast, there are reportedly more than 30 depopulated villages and settlements. However, RFE/RL's Karelia correspondent reported last year that local journalists had found people -- most of them elderly -- still living in some of the republic's villages that were marked for "liquidation" by local authorities. At issue in Karelia was the local government's responsibility for ensuring that basic living conditions, such as potable water, are provided. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)TRAVEL TO OIL-AND-GAS REGION NOW REQUIRES SPECIAL VISA.
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a decree on 6 May virtually closing the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug to foreigners, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 May. According to the daily, authorities in Yamalo-Nenets have attempted repeatedly over the last five years to restrict access to the okrug, and at least twice each year have sent draft legislation to the federal authorities to tighten borders because of rising levels of crime and drug addiction. Finally, in October 2001, President Vladimir Putin expressed support for Governor Yurii Neelov's desire to limit travel, but he reportedly didn't want to close the okrug completely. Putin and Neelov agreed to set up a commission to study the situation and to present suggestions by 1 July of this year. However, Kasyanov beat the commission to the punch. According to the daily, before the 1990s it was practically impossible to enter the okrug without a special visa. The daily also reported that there are currently 20 territories in Russia to which access to foreign citizens is restricted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)BURNING WASTE DUMP POLLUTING AIR IN TULA.
Waste burning across 26 hectares of a dump in the city of Tula is depositing dangerous toxins across the southeastern section of the city, REN-TV reported on 8 May. According to the station, soot containing lead, toluene, nitrogen peroxide, and resins -- all in quantities exceeding permissible norms by thousands of times -- is raining down on the city of nearly 600,000 people. Funds for preparing an earthwork around the waste to prevent spontaneous combustion ran out last month when the oblast legislature changed the way that money is allocated. Local environmentalists estimate that the damage to the environment caused by the burning waste exceeds the damage produced by all industrial enterprises in Tula combined, the station reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)
JOURNALIST ACCUSES ISLAMIST PARTY, IRAN OF POLITICAL MURDERS.
In a 1 May interview with Deutsche Welle's Russian Service, Dododjon Atovulloev, who is editor of the opposition newspaper "Charoghi ruz," said that the Iranian Embassy in Dushanbe recruited members of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) to commit political assassinations, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 8 May. Atovulloev claimed that Tajik security services have apprehended supporters of IRP Chairman Said Abdullo Nuri who confessed to the killings of several prominent Tajik politicians, including Otakhon Latifi. He said the Iranian Embassy in Dushanbe arranged the escape to Iran of three of Nuri's closest associates. IRP Deputy Chairman Muhiddin Kabiri rejected Atovulloev's claims as "slander" intended to create tensions between Tajikistan and Iran and to destabilize the political situation within Tajikistan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)PASSENGER TRAIN TRAFFIC RESUMES WITH RUSSIA.
The first passenger train left Dushanbe for Russia via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan on 3 May after a two-month suspension, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Moscow ordered a temporary suspension of passenger traffic between the two countries in March on hygiene and sanitary grounds. Tajik Railways responded by modernizing two trains and will also improve a third. There will now be one train in each direction per week, which Tajik officials say is not enough to meet demand from unemployed Tajiks hoping to travel to the Russian Federation in search of summer employment. The train fare to Astrakhan is 126 somonis ($46.6), while the black-market price for an air ticket from Dushanbe to Moscow is $170-$200. On 6 May, police in southern Kazakhstan intercepted a truck transporting 58 Tajiks en route for Russia, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the following day. Only 44 of the detainees had a valid passport and only one had the necessary permit to enter Kazakhstan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
COURT ISSUES ARREST WARRANTS FOR WAR CRIMINALS...
The Yugoslav Justice Ministry submitted to the Belgrade district court on 7 May a list of 18 individuals indicted by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague who have not offered to turn themselves in, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Included on the list are Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, former army officers Veselin Sljivancanin and Miroslav Radic, as well as Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. The next day, Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said that former Krajina Serb leader Milan Martic has become a Yugoslav citizen and will receive a passport as part of the final legal formalities leading up to his trip to The Hague. On 9 May, the Belgrade district court issued arrest warrants for 17 of the 18 indicted men, the exception being Milutinovic, AP reported. The court said his arrest could "jeopardize the sovereignty and security of the country" and asked the government to shelve the case until his term expires later this year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)...AS POLITICIANS PROTEST ALLEGED U.S. CONDITIONS.
Officials of unspecified leading Serbian political parties rejected any link between the extradition of Karadzic and Mladic and the resumption of U.S. aid to Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 8 May. Belgrade leaders maintain that the two men are not in Serbia and that Serbia cannot be held responsible for them. Serbian Prime Minster Zoran Djindjic said that "those who claim Karadzic and Mladic are in Yugoslavia should give us that proof, and not demand that we [prove otherwise]," AP reported. Pierre-Richard Prosper, who is the U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes, was recently quoted by Belgrade media as saying that resumption of U.S. aid is contingent on the extradition of the two Bosnian Serbs or on the presentation of proof that the two are not in Yugoslavia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May)UNHCR CONTRADICTS COVIC.
A spokeswoman for the UNHCR said on 10 May that two-thirds of the 3,600 refugees who have returned to Kosova since the conflict are Serbs, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Belgrade. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova and southern Serbia, has said that only 150 Serbs have returned. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May)
ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN DECLINE TO JOIN TOTAL BAN ON DEATH PENALTY.
While Armenia remains committed to abolishing the death penalty, it will not sign the new protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights in the near future, Deputy Foreign Minister Armen Martirosian said in Yerevan on 6 May, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That protocol bans the death penalty even in time of war or under "exceptional circumstances." Armenia, together with Azerbaijan and six other Council of Europe members, declined last week to sign Protocol No. 13. Nor has the Armenian parliament ratified Protocol No. 6 banning the death penalty, although no death sentences have been carried out since 1990. The Azerbaijani daily "Ekho" on 4 May quoted Foreign Minister Vilayet Guliev as saying that Azerbaijan "was not invited" to sign the protocol, while Gultekin Hadjieva, who is a member of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said Azerbaijan will sign it only after it has liberated the seven districts currently under Armenian control, Turan reported on 4 May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)
POLITICAL EXTREMISM IN EASTERN EUROPE -- ON THE WANE OR GOING MAINSTREAM?
By Jolyon Naegele
Right-wing parties have struck a chord over the past dozen years with many disaffected voters in Eastern Europe. In the past several years, however, the strength of these parties at the polls has largely dissipated as mainstream parties seeking to expand their voter base through populism and nationalism have absorbed some of their policies. Such parties include the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP); Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS); Corneliu Vadim Tudor's Greater Romania Party (PRM); Istvan Csurka's Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP); Jan Slota's True Slovak National Party; and in the Czech Republic, Miroslav Sladek's Republicans (SPR-RSC). All are, or have been, in parliament, but their voter support tends to hover around 5 to 7 percent. The platforms of these parties tend to be ultranationalistic and racist in content.
In Poland, Leszek Moczulski's ultranationalist Confederation of Independent Poland (KPN), which gained 10 percent of the vote in 1990 and nearly 6 percent in 1993, left parliamentary politics in 1997 and is no longer perceived as a serious political force.
Rudolf Rizman is a professor of sociology at Ljubljana University in Slovenia. Rizman believes that what he calls the "era of fascination" with right-wing rhetoric has ended in Eastern and Central Europe. "You know [extremist right-wing politics] was considered a kind of forbidden fruit due to the fact that extreme, radical-right ideas in the communist times were more or less forbidden, and young democracies did not find at the beginning the best ways to cope with some of the issues that extreme rightists opened," Rizman said.
Right-wing parties seeking restoration of their countries' past status -- that is, devoid of foreign workers and of certain minorities -- had sufficient support in the early and mid-1990s to get into parliaments and in a few cases even to be junior partners in coalition governments, such as the KPN in Poland, the Serbian Radical Party, and the Greater Romania Party.
That has now changed, says Rizman. "We are witnessing the first phase of the consolidation of democracy, which is also a kind of a barrier toward expressing those views that might be very radical and laden with high rhetoric on the part of the extremists."
Classic mainstream parties have actively sought the support of disaffected voters -- those with low incomes, the unemployed, and the elderly -- taking away much of the power base of the far right. "Mainstream parties -- I mean moderate parties on the left and the right -- have partly hijacked the extreme-right agenda and have moderated some of the stands on the issues like immigration and ethnic minorities," Rizman said.
There are exceptions. One of them, as Rizman confirmed, is Serbia, which he described as undergoing "an interesting and useful evolution." "These parties with extreme, radical-right rhetoric are still there, but if we remember their rhetoric, say five or seven years ago or even earlier, [they were] associated with actions. I would say this was not just rhetoric, but it was something that was producing killing, that was producing concentration camps," Rizman said.
Unreformed communist parties on the left of the political spectrum in Eastern Europe are splinter groups that have attracted only negligible public support, insufficient to enter parliament. However, there are a number of reformed or semi-reformed communist parties where extremism can sometimes be in the eye of the beholder and that attract a loyal following of 11 to 14 percent of voters in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and far more in Serbia.
These parties include the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), which, though in the Czech parliament, is unlikely to be allowed into any government in the foreseeable future. That's largely because of its unwillingness to come to terms with its own past and for its continued anti-Western, pro-Moscow stance.
Slovakia's Democratic Party of the Left (SDL), in contrast, is a member of the Slovak ruling coalition. SDL has recently moved far to the left on economic issues after breaking with its moderate wing but still publicly advocates privatization rather than nationalization. Analysts insist it is not extremist in the broader sense.
Serbia, which has fought four wars since 1991 in a search for its national identity, boasts two strong left-wing extremist parties. Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and his wife Mila Markovic's Yugoslav Left (JUL) constitute the bulk of the parliamentary opposition and will be a force to be reckoned with in parliamentary elections later this year, particularly due to the disunity of the ruling 18-party pro-democracy bloc, DOS.
Nationalism and intolerance are endemic in the western Balkans. Most parliamentary parties in government and in the opposition throughout the former Yugoslavia and Albania share strongly nationalist tendencies, regardless of whether they are on the left or right of the political spectrum. However, thanks to the development of civil societies in recent years, most fall short of being extremist.
Ultranationalist parties suffered a major decline in voter support among Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims, though not among Croats in parliamentary elections in Bosnia 18 months ago. That trend can be expected to continue in elections in Bosnia this fall.
Rizman said the swing away from extremist parties by disaffected voters and their move toward postcommunist leftist parties is a "natural, logical development," as these parties transform themselves into social democratic parties. "It's not therefore surprising that younger, unemployed people and pensioners are casting their votes for ex-communists or social democrats because they do expect that their material interests will be much better protected by these parties than by the right or conservative parties, which rather favor private capital or, in general, privatization," Rizman said.
However, Michael Shafir, an expert on extremist parties in Eastern Europe at RFE/RL, believes appearances can be deceiving. He said that just because extremist parties have been doing poorly at the polls doesn't mean that no one is promoting their extremist policies.
Shafir said the far-right label has become so malleable that there are parties -- for example, the PRM in Romania and Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) -- that some call far-right, while others call far-left. As Shafir put it, "It amounts to practically the same thing because they are an exacerbation of extreme nationalistic policies under communism."
Shafir said the vocabulary of extreme nationalism has been made acceptable after having been absorbed by mainstream parties, such as in Hungary, where the once-liberal student movement FIDESZ became a right-wing party adopting nationalist rhetoric, or in Slovakia, where Meciar's HZDS similarly evolved. "The picture is very mixed. One couldn't say, couldn't talk at all, about a disappearance of extreme leftism or extreme rightism," Shafir said.
But nationalist views can often be found in virtually all political parties, e.g., in the recent unanimous decision by the Czech parliament to uphold the controversial decrees issued by Czechoslovak President Eduard Benes at the end of World War II. These decrees legalized the confiscation of German and Hungarian property, stripped ethnic Germans and Hungarians of Czechoslovak citizenship, and amnestied crimes of vengeance committed by Czechoslovaks against members of these minorities during and after the war.
"Nationalism is present across the board. And if someone thinks it is absent, it is enough that somehow someone from the region tickles the issue and all of a sudden, particularly if you deal with the eve of the elections situation, like right now in the Czech Republic, it pops up and it's used by the different parties. And in Serbia, in a way, this is illustrated only in an exacerbated way," Shafir said.
Shafir said the rhetoric that can now be heard in parliaments and in campaigns throughout the region could be an indication of things to come. "We could argue endlessly about what is better: to have the nationalists have a relatively minor representation of their own, isolated and having always someone to point the finger to, or, as in Romania's case, to have the main party [Social Democrats] actually lure into its [ranks] people like Ilie Neacsu, who was the editor in chief of the most anti-Semitic, most extreme weekly ['Europa'], and all of a sudden [having quit the Greater Romania Party,] he has become a great Social Democrat."
Shafir noted that Romania wants to show the West that the nationalists have been isolated. But he questioned whether herding nationalists into the mainstream really constitutes isolation.
As for Hungary, Shafir said he does not regard the outcome of the Hungarian elections -- in which FIDESZ lost to the Socialist Party and Liberal Democrats by a slim margin -- as a rejection of nationalism.
"The official extreme-nationalist party, Istvan Csurka's MIEP -- Hungarian Justice and Life Party -- actually got about the same number of votes as it got four years ago. What happened, however, was that the turnout was much higher, so the same number of votes didn't make the 5 percent [hurdle to get into parliament] that they did four years earlier," Shafir said.
Shafir said that whatever additional support Csurka could have added to his party was taken by incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Orban's FIDESZ, because Orban played on even more extremist themes than Csurka did. "The anti-FIDESZ vote was, in fact, not a vote against FIDESZ nationalism but was a vote of the less-well-to-do, of the elderly, of those who cannot compete. So the young generation [in Hungary] was not bothered by FIDESZ's ultranationalist postures. And this doesn't bode well at all for the next election," Shafir said.
Rizman shares this view. And he said the specter of extremism spreading from Western Europe eastward, thanks to globalization, threatens to make itself felt in elections throughout Eastern Europe this year. Parliamentary elections are due in the Czech Republic next month and in Slovakia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and possibly Serbia later this year.
Rizman said the danger exists that some extremists on the left and right might use the consequences of globalization for negative ends. As he put it, "Globalization can be seen as a useful tool for both the extreme right and extreme left to mobilize their forces in a way that may not be conducive to their further democratic and pro-Western development."
Jolyon Naegele is an RFE/RL correspondent.