22 May 2002, Volume 3, Number 21
IN FOCUSWILL SLOVAKIA BE EURO-READY? Slovakia's track record on democracy and human rights has increasingly come into the spotlight as concerns mount about the political renaissance of former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. At a summit of the "Vilnius 10" foreign ministers representing NATO candidates, Slovakia's Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 15 May that there is no danger that Slovakia will abandon its course of democratic reforms following the September elections, which would jeopardize the country's chances of gaining admission to NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 16 May 2002).
Vladimir Meciar said on Czech Frekvence 1 radio on 15 May that he was astonished to see that people in the West link Slovakia's NATO membership to his being out of power. "Why should a strategic decision by the NATO countries, which have tremendous political, economic, and military powers, stumble because of a single person?" he asked. He further questioned the importance of who is in power at the moment of accession and not later, pointing out that in many Western countries the extreme right has emerged as a powerful force. Meciar also said, "Western democracy is built on choice from below, and the West cannot reject Slovakia's choice." Asked whether he is willing to give up his leadership of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Meciar replied: "We shall see after the elections. Since 1998, I have never said I wanted to be premier for a fourth time." (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2002).
The trouble is that Meciar is associated with a time in the 1990s of serious human rights violations and thwarting of democratic will, where parliament struggled to deal with what appeared to be a state-sponsored kidnapping and murder, and where journalists who covered the events suffered beatings and persecution. Assurances of the leopard changing his spots sound hollow. The feisty and informative online edition of the English-language "The Slovak Spectator," slovakspectator.sk, has covered a number of stories indicating the difficulties Slovakia is having in coming to terms with its past, and assuring nervous Westerners that it is "Euro-ready."
About 40 people gathered at the sixth annual commemoration of the death of Ivan Remias, a former policeman who was killed by a car bomb on 29 April 1996, believed to have been the first victim of political murder since the creation of the independent Slovak Republic in 1993, reported slovakspectator.sk on 6 May, citing TASR and SITA. Remias at the time was acting as a go-between for Oskar Fegyveres, a member of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), who was in hiding but claimed to have information on the SIS's involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of Michal Kovac Jr, son of the then-president. Two suspects in the Remias killing, former SIS members Jozef Rohac and Imrich Olah, are sought by Interpol. Former SIS Director Ivan Lexa, a member of the HZDS, is also in hiding to evade an arrest warrant.
Failure to prosecute past crimes by heads of state can lead to future problems of restraining political power. A new law that would see former Czechoslovak secret police (StB) agents purged from state security forces failed to obtain cabinet backing. "If you ask people to look into the mirror of the past and deal with it, you find many who don't want to because they will see themselves," Daniel Lipsic, deputy leader of the ruling coalition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), told slovakspectator.sk on 6 May. The Law on Secret Service Reliability would have meant the removal from all state security services of anyone who had worked in the secret police before 15 February 1990. If passed, the measure would have ruled out as much as one-10th of the current SIS, said its head, Vladimir Mitro.
"There are many public officials who are former communists, some of them very high-ranking," Lipsic told slovakspectator.sk. "Of our highest-ranking figures -- the president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament -- only the prime minister does not have any past links to the Communist Party. They don't want to confront the communist past because many of them were a part of it," he added.
The plight of the Roma in Slovakia, many of whom have suffered skinhead attacks and left to seek political asylum abroad, has also troubled analysts of Slovakia's prospects for European integration. Recently, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda took EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen on a guided tour of a tiny village in eastern Slovakia on 3 May to show him what he called "proof that things can be done" to improve housing for Slovak Roma, reported slovakspectator.sk. The housing project, to serve about 1,500, is supposed to embody Slovakia's commitment to an estimated 400,000 Roma, the majority of whom live in ghettos in the east of the country. Domestic conditions for the Roma have been criticized by the EU since members of the minority began fleeing for EU nations in 1997 to claim asylum. The "Roma issue" remains high on the list of EU concerns regarding Slovakia's EU entry bid. Verheugen during his visit praised Slovakia for having a strategy to improve the lives of its Romany community, and stressed that both the EU and the Roma themselves should take more responsibility to improve living conditions, reported slovakspectator.sk. CAF
ARMENIAOPPOSITION ABANDONS BID TO IMPEACH PRESIDENT... The 13 opposition parties that aligned last month in a bid to force the resignation of the present Armenian leadership abandoned on 15 May their plans to collect the required minimum 44 signatures from parliament deputies to convene a debate on impeaching President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Vartan Mkrtchian of the People's Party of Armenia told RFE/RL that the opposition realized that it would prove impossible to do so given that the majority of the 131 deputies support Kocharian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)
...CLAIMS DOZENS OF ACTIVISTS ARRESTED. Representatives of the 13 opposition parties that organized a series of mass demonstrations over the past six weeks to demand President Kocharian's resignation claimed on 17 May that police have resorted to an "unprecedented" crackdown, arresting dozens of activists and imposing fines on others for their participation in "unsanctioned" street protests, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Artak Zeynalian of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party said police forced their way into apartments to carry out such arrests, while Democratic Party of Armenia Chairman Aram Sarkisian said that the court proceedings that culminated in some activists being fined were carried out in violation of correct legal procedure. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
COUNCIL OF EUROPE ASSESSES PROGRESS. Members of a visiting Council of Europe delegation told journalists in Yerevan on 16 May following talks with President Kocharian that they are concerned by a slowdown in Armenia's implementation of pledges it made on admission to full membership of the council, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Delegation head Pietro Ercole Ago singled out the failure to amend the country's constitution; to enact several laws aimed at the democratization of its political system, including new election legislation; and to formally abolish the death penalty. Ago also said that he does not consider the present deadlock in the Karabakh conflict to be in Armenia's interest. He quoted Kocharian as saying that he is searching for a solution to the conflict, but that the time is not yet ripe, and as complaining that Azerbaijan consistently rejects all "confidence-building measures" that Armenia proposes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May)
AZERBAIJANPRESIDENT SNUBS VISITING COUNCIL OF EUROPE DELEGATION. A Council of Europe delegation left Azerbaijan on 15 May after a four-day visit during which its members met with Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev, human rights activists, and members of opposition parties, Turan reported. President Heidar Aliev, however, was reportedly "too busy" to find the time to meet with them. The delegation has presented Azerbaijani officials with a new list of 17 further people whom it considers political prisoners. Mekhtiev said on 14 May that most of the 716 prisoners whose release the Council of Europe demanded on the grounds that they were imprisoned on political grounds have been pardoned. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)
DEMONSTRATORS SLAM GOVERNMENT POLICIES. Several thousand people participated in a sanctioned demonstration in Baku on 18 May convened by the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP), Turan reported. Speakers denounced the Azerbaijani leadership for its failure to liberate the territories currently under Armenian control, or to conduct democratic elections and economic reform or reduce unemployment. They called on the population and other opposition forces to join forces and renew efforts to bring about the government's resignation. Participants also carried placards demanding jobs, a minimum wage of 500,000 manats ($103.7), and "fair pensions." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
POPE JOHN PAUL II VISITS BAKU. This week's 24-hour visit by Pope John Paul II to Azerbaijan will be one of the pontiff's most unusual foreign trips. Baku's Catholic community is so small it does not even have a building to house the pope. The overwhelmingly Shiite Muslim -- but largely secular --country has a population of fewer than 200 practicing Catholics, and no native priests. But Catholic leaders in Baku and the Vatican see the visit as important for precisely that reason, as the pope makes an effort to reach out to Muslims, especially in the wake of 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States. Secular Azerbaijani thinkers, meanwhile, hope the pontiff's presence will help break the impasse in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with neighboring Armenia, and perhaps even open Azerbaijan to greater democracy. ("Azerbaijan: Religious, Political Leaders Have High Hopes For Papal Visit," rferl.org, 20 May)
BELARUSGOVERNMENT SLAMS EU FOR STATEMENT ON OSCE MISSION. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has condemned as direct pressure the European Union's statement deploring the denial of a visa extension to the acting head of the OSCE group in Belarus, Belapan reported on 16 May. Last week, the EU's Spanish Presidency urged the Belarusian government to remove obstacles to the normal functioning of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus and accept a new head for the group. Minsk said the EU statement ran counter to the union's principles of maintaining friendly relations with non-EU states. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)
POLAND TO INTRODUCE VISA REGIME FOR BELARUSIANS. The Polish government has decided to introduce a visa regime for Belarusians beginning from 1 July 2003, reported Radio Racya on 20 May. The move comes in light of Poland's most likely accession to the European Union next year. Polish officials have not confirmed the size of visa charges, but said consular fees would be adjusted to match living standards in every single country. The visa policy will be regulated by a Polish law on foreign citizens. The move could prove to be a significant obstacle for the Belarusian opposition and NGOs, who frequently travel to Poland for support from Polish counterparts. CAF
CROATIASECONDARY SCHOOLS SHUT DOWN BY STRIKE. An estimated 10,000-14,000 secondary-school employees -- 70 percent of the educational sector's workers -- launched a strike on 20 May aimed at securing higher salaries and other benefits, HRT state television and Hina reported the same day. The country's largest high-school union pledged to continue to strike until demands are met. The union blames the Education Ministry for failing to initial a collective agreement that would include consideration of holiday cash grants, Christmas bonuses, and gifts for children, as well as redundancy pay and guarantees of on-time payment, Hina reported. Education Minister Vladimir Strugar called the strike illegal, dpa reported on 20 May, noting that it comes just weeks before the term should end when many students most need to concentrate on school. Andrija Puljevic, leader of the Independent Union of Secondary-School Employees, said a court would determine the legality of the strike and that professors will be made available to fourth-year students who must take final exams. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
CZECH REPUBLICHELSINKI COMMITTEE SAYS ROMA'S PROBLEMS PERSIST... In a report on human rights in the Czech Republic in 2001, the Czech Helsinki Committee (CHV) said the situation of the Romany minority has not improved, despite efforts by the government to cope with the problem, CTK reported (the full text of the report is available at http://www.helcom.cz). The committee estimates that between 70,000 and 100,000 Roma have emigrated from the Czech Republic, the equivalent of about half of the members of that minority in Bohemia and Moravia. CHV official Petra Tomaskova said the country's Romany population does not believe that Czech society is interested in improving the Roma's plight, and that nearly every Rom has experienced a situation in which they were denied service in a restaurant. Tomaskova also described the case of a Romany child who attended school in Britain with success, but upon the family's return to the Czech Republic was placed in a so-called "special school" for children with educational difficulties. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)
...AND CRITICIZES OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS INFRINGEMENTS... CHV Deputy Director Petr Bilek said the Czech Republic does not have a law on police and that corruption is still widespread among police members, CTK reported. Bilek also said there are not enough civil servants to tackle the influx of asylum seekers, whose number doubled in 2001. The CHV said that only 83 out of 18,082 requests for asylum were approved. The committee also criticized the lengthy procedures for asylum, which can take several years to process, and the fact that civil servants often reject applications by people who meet the legal requirements. The report said that asylum seekers from nondemocratic countries are told to submit documentation attesting to their persecution by the authorities in their countries of origin. The CHV's report also criticized discrimination against women and the elderly, and infringements of the freedom of expression and the media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)
...AS OFFICIALS REACT. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla, who is also chairman of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and CSSD prime-ministerial candidate, said in response to the report that he considers the estimated number of Roma who have left the Czech Republic unrealistic, CTK reported. Jan Jarab, the governmental commissioner for human rights, said the actual number of Czech Roma who live abroad is probably one-quarter of that given. Spidla also said that the number of asylum applicants who were admitted to the Czech Republic is not as important as whether the process is handled well socially and politically. He said the number of asylum applications has risen because the Czech Republic has become a stable democratic country and thus has turned into "a country of destination." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)
PRIME-MINISTERIAL CANDIDATE DEFENDS BENES DECREES. In an interview with the German daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 18 March, Deputy Premier Spidla defended the Benes Decrees as "necessary" in the post-World War II circumstances, CTK and AP reported. He said that at the time the decrees were viewed as a way to prevent another world war. Spidla, who is the prime-ministerial candidate of the CSSD, said, "The German minority was then identified as one of the possible sources of conflict, because it had already been such a source once and it could not be ruled out that it would become one again." The deportation, Spidla said, can therefore be perceived as "one of the sources of today's peace." He said the generation that had endured the war "had a right to create peace and we have no right to endanger that peace." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR EU MEMBERSHIP DROPS SLIGHTLY. A public opinion poll conducted by CVVM in April determined that 56 percent of Czechs support accession to the European Union while 28 percent oppose it, CTK reported on 16 May. The poll showed that support for EU membership would be lower, however, if a referendum were to be held on joining the organization. Only two-fifths of respondents said they would vote in favor and 19 percent said they would vote against, while 41 percent said either that they would not cast a ballot or that they do not know how they would vote. Support for membership in April was three percentage points lower than in February. CVVM analysts said the drop may be due to the impact of the recent debates about the abolition of the Benes Decrees being made a condition for accession. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May)
KAZAKHSTANDETAINED OPPOSITION LEADER HOSPITALIZED. Former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, one of the leading members of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, was hospitalized early on 18 May in Pavlodar after losing consciousness after a 12-hour interrogation, Interfax reported. Doctors had advised earlier in the interrogation that Zhaqiyanov urgently required medical treatment for heart problems; his condition is said to be "critical." Zhaqiyanov, who turned 39 on 8 May, was taken by force from Almaty, where he was under house arrest, to Pavlodar last month. He faces criminal charges, which he claims are politically motivated, for alleged financial crimes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
KYRGYZSTANMASS PROTESTS ACROSS COUNTRY... Thousands of people participated in demonstrations across Kyrgyzstan on 13 May to protest the ratification by the country's parliament three days earlier of a 1999 border accord under which Kyrgyzstan cedes some 95,000 hectares of territory to China, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Participants also demanded the closure of the criminal case against parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov; the release from prison of opposition Ar-Namys Party leader Feliks Kulov; publication of the findings of the official investigation into the shootings of demonstrators in southern Kyrgyzstan on 17-18 March; and the resignation of President Askar Akaev. In Bishkek, protesters picketed the parliament building and marched along the central boulevard, and in Osh Oblast thousands blocked the main Osh-Bishkek highway. Also on 13 May, Beknazarov, who is chairman of the parliament Committee on Legal Issues and Judicial Reform, told RFE/RL that the committee has appealed to the Constitutional Court to declare the ratification illegal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)
...CONTINUE TO BUILD. On 14 May, an estimated 7,000-8,000 people braved torrential rain to block the main highway linking Bishkek with the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan for the second consecutive day, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Pickets and hunger strikes to protest the border agreement are also continuing in Bishkek and in Chu Oblast in northern Kyrgyzstan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)
POLICE DETAIN DEMONSTRATORS. Police in Bishkek on the morning of 16 May forcibly detained 87 people who were picketing the parliament building to protest the border agreement, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The detainees include prominent human rights activists Ramazan Dyryldaev and Tursunbek Akunov, several opposition politicians, and an RFE/RL correspondent who was subsequently released. Meeting later the same day, the Legislative Assembly (the lower parliament chamber) appealed to Interior Minister Temirbek AkmatAliyev to release the detainees, which he refused to do. Three international human rights organizations -- the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, the Paris-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, and the Geneva-based International Organization Against Torture -- all issued statements on 16 May condemning the arrests. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May)
PRESIDENT APPEALS FOR 'PEACE AND UNITY'... Addressing the upper chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament on 17 May, a visibly strained President Akaev appealed to the opposition to help find a peaceful solution to the mass demonstrations and protests that have wracked the country in recent months, Reuters reported. He said the pickets in Bishkek and elsewhere to protest the parliament's ratification of the 1999 border agreement with China "run counter to our laws." Also on 17 May, a government commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Bazarbai Mambetov left Bishkek for the south of the country to meet with the thousands of protesters who have been blocking traffic on the main Bishkek-Osh highway since 13 May. They continued doing so on 18 May, while separate demonstrations to protest the territorial concessions to China were held on 18 May in Aksy, Bazar-Korgon, and Uzgen raions, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
...AMID MORE ARRESTS... Police in Bishkek arrested some 70 people on 17 May, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported, quoting Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR) Chairman Ramazan Dyryldaev, who was released earlier that day after having been arrested on 16 May together with some 80 other picket participants. Also on 17 May, a district court in Bishkek fined Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan Chairwoman Klara Adjybekova and Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov -- both of whom were likewise arrested on 16 May -- 2,000 soms (about $42) and 1,000 soms, respectively, for violating public order. Staff from the OSCE office in Bishkek held talks with government officials on 17 May in a bid to persuade them to release the remaining detainees, 29 of whom were released that day. KCHR regional coordinator Noomandjan Arkabaev was arrested in Osh on 17 May and accused of participating in an unsanctioned meeting of protesters who blocked the road connecting Nooken with the Osh-Bishkek highway. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
...AND MORE INTERNATIONAL EXPRESSIONS OF CONCERN. Ambassador Gerard Stoudmann, who is the director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ended a three-day visit to Kyrgyzstan on 17 May during which he met with President Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Stoudmann expressed concern at "the negative spiral that seems to characterize the social and political environment" in Kyrgyzstan, and called for "a meaningful dialogue between government, civil society, and all political forces," and for all sides to demonstrate "tolerance and restraint." He appealed to Akaev to "exercise leadership and urgently take bold steps to build confidence." On 16 May, Human Rights Watch wrote to President Akaev expressing its concern at the arrests earlier that day of some 87 picketers in Bishkek. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
STATE COMMISSION RELEASES REPORT ON AKSY CLASHES. The state commission tasked with investigating the circumstances of the clashes between police and demonstrators in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion in March, during which six people died, released its final report on 18 May, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The report listed among the factors that triggered the clashes the arrest of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, together with biased coverage by local media of the protests to demand his release, and long-standing social and economic problems. The report suggested that President Akaev consider the personal responsibility of unnamed senior officials for the clashes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
LATVIALANGUAGE LAWS AMENDED, BUT ISSUE REMAINS DIVISIVE. The parliament dropped requirements for those seeking public office to speak fluent Latvian from the election law on 9 May. The move -- aimed at mollifying Western critics of Latvia's policies regarding its large Russian-speaking minority -- brings Latvia closer to entry into NATO and the European Union. Yet some observers say the change is largely symbolic, as is a constitutional amendment made last month that stresses Latvian's role as the official language in parliamentary and local governmental proceedings. Following a trip to America, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga warned that the U.S. might cool traditionally warm relations if the election law was not amended. The changes in the law were also contained in guidelines for closing the OSCE mission in Riga, and cases on the language law were also brought to the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights. Russian speakers continue to complain that the law is particularly unfair because the state does very little to help non-Latvians learn the language or even set standards for "acceptable" levels of proficiency. Yet more and more Russian speakers are likely to seek citizenship as Latvia's entry date nears -- meaning proficiency in the Latvian language, as required by Latvia's naturalization laws, will become an unavoidable reality. ("Latvia: Language Laws Amended, But Issue Remains Divisive," rferl.org, 15 May)
RUSSIA UNHAPPY WITH LANGUAGE LAW. Russian Foreign Ministry official Aleksandr Yakovenko distributed a statement on 6 May which condemned the adoption of amendments to the Latvian Constitution strengthening the status of Latvian as the state language as a "serious obstacle for improving bilateral relations" between the two countries, LETA reported the next day. It stated that the amendments block any opportunity for one-third of Latvia's residents to use their native language at legislative and executive institutions, even in locations where the Russian-speaking population is a majority. The Latvian Foreign Ministry responded by noting that these Russian claims radically differ from the opinions of the Council of Europe, OSCE, and other international organizations which have stated that the situation in Latvia regarding human rights meets international standards. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 16 May)
MACEDONIAETHNIC MINORITIES DEMAND EQUAL REPRESENTATION. Political parties representing eight ethnic minorities held talks on 16 May about seeking equal representation in the parliament slated to be elected on 15 September, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. They demand that 18 out of a total of 120 seats be assigned to the smaller ethnic minorities. They say that representatives of the Serbs, Turks, Roma, Vlachs, Muslims, and Egyptians should be elected according to a proportional system, without any minimum vote requirement. According to the plan, the remaining 102 seats would be distributed on a proportional basis among the ethnic Macedonian and Albanian political parties receiving more than 2 percent of the vote. The minority leaders, who are said to represent some 350,000 (out of approximately 2 million) Macedonian citizens, warned that they will boycott the vote if their demands are not met. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May)
MOLDOVASUPREME COURT REJECTS PPCD APPEAL. The Supreme Court on 17 May rejected the appeal of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) against the Chisinau Court of Appeal's ruling to heed Justice Minister Ion Morei's decision of 18 January to suspend the party's activities for one month, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The court ruled that the suspension decision was warranted by the participation of children in the protest demonstrations organized by the PPCD for about three months. Lawyer Vitalie Nagacevschi, who represented the party in court, said the PPCD will appeal against the ruling at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He also pointed out that the government has pledged to the Council of Europe to end all judicial measures against the PPCD by 31 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC INTERNATIONAL SETS UP 'VLAD CUBREACOV COMMITTEE.' PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said upon his return from Madrid on 14 May that the Christian Democratic International's Executive Committee has decided to set up a "Vlad Cubreacov Committee," Flux reported the next day. Rosca, who attended a meeting of the international, said the committee will be chaired by Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar and that its members will soon pay a visit to Moldova to examine the ongoing investigation into the PPCD deputy's disappearance and will make recommendations to the investigators. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)
HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT CAUSES UPROAR IN PARLIAMENT. A report presented to the parliament by National Center for Human Rights Director Alexei Potanga on 17 May on the infringement of human rights in Moldova caused an uproar leading to a walkout by PPCD deputies, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Deputies representing the majority Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) objected to the report's criticism of falling living standards leading to infringement of basic human rights such as health care and education, reproaching Potanga for political partisanship. They also demanded that the report criticize the use of children by the PPCD during its recent antigovernment demonstrations. PPCD Deputy Chairman Stefan Secareanu shouted "Down with communism!" at the communist benches, and the PPCD parliamentary group walked out when a PCM deputy proposed that the PPCD group be eliminated from the debate. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
ROMANIAPACE COMMISSION ENDS 'POST-MONITORING' PROCESS. Meeting in Bucharest on 16 May, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) Monitoring Commission voted unanimously to end Romania's "post-monitoring" process, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Commission Chairman Andras Barsony said Romania is now "at the same level as the other new democracies [that are members of] the family of the council" but added that PACE will continue to follow such unresolved issues as property restitution, protection of children, and prison conditions. President Ion Iliescu said in reaction: "We are a European nation proud of its national identity and of belonging to the free world's civilization and to the great European family." The government issued a communique saluting the decision. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May)
PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST 'REFORM AT ANY PRICE.' In his speech on 19 May at the opening of a meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), President Ion Iliescu said that cooperation with the EBRD must focus on fighting poverty and promoting social cohesion. "We can no longer think in terms of 'reform at any price,'" he said, because this may "encourage a possible return to the totalitarian temptation" in response, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase called on the EBRD to help EU candidate countries achieve sustainable economic growth. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
RUSSIAPROSECUTOR-GENERAL ORDERED TO TIGHTEN MEASURES AGAINST 'FASCISM.' Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov on 16 May signed a directive ordering his office to enhance prosecutors' supervision over the enforcement of laws against "fascism and other forms of extremism," Russian news agencies reported the same day. In particular, Ustinov demanded an "immediate reaction to any signs or manifestations of fascism and other forms of political and religious extremism." He also ordered prosecutors "to expose and prevent the bankrolling of any type of radical organizations." It is worth recalling that none other than President Vladimir Putin was the first instigator of an "anti-extremism" campaign in Russia. In 1998, Putin -- then the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) -- was appointed to head the inter-agency commission to combat extremism created by then-President Boris Yeltsin. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May)
LEGISLATORS PLAN LEGAL CHALLENGE TO NEW CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE. Some 106 deputies in the State Duma plan to appeal to the Constitutional Court regarding the new Criminal Procedure Code, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 14 May. Sergei Popov (Yabloko), deputy chairman of the Committee for State Construction, told the bureau that a number of articles in the code, which will come into force as of 1 June, violate the constitution. For example, under the code, a person may be detained for up to five days without a court decision; however, the constitution specifies just 48 hours. According to Popov, if the court agrees with the deputies, then the code could be returned to its first reading in the Duma. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)
EU INTRANSIGENCE ON KALININGRAD CRITICIZED. Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Vladimir Yegorov described the European Union's unwillingness to grant special travel privileges to inhabitants of the exclave as a "catastrophe," according to dpa, citing an interview in this week's edition of "Der Spiegel." "The position of Brussels could drive Kaliningrad to economic collapse," Yegorov said, according to the news agency. The EU issued a statement on 15 May confirming that Russian citizens will need valid passports and visas for travel through EU member states, even if Lithuania and Poland enter the organization as expected in 2004. On 17 May, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the EU resolution "does not contribute to the settlement of the...problems," according to ITAR-TASS. Meanwhile, dpa reported that Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller said on 20 May that although no special corridor for Russians will be created, efforts will be made to make travel requirements "as elastic as possible" in accord with the Schengen agreement. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
BRIDE-NAPPING LINKED WITH WAHHABISM. Tsentr-TV reported on 10 May that the Mordovian village of Belozersk has experienced a rash of bride abductions. According to the station, many local families have sent their daughters away to live with relatives, while others have stopped sending them to school for fear that they will be abducted. The station's correspondent blamed the abductions on young men who oppose traditional Islam and do not consider kidnapping girls a crime: "They try not to call themselves Wahhabis, but it is not easy for them to hide the spirit of [their] ideology." The village, which has only some 400 houses, reportedly has six mosques. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May)
GOVERNORS SPEAK OUT AGAINST RESTORING DEATH PENALTY. In the wake of a call by Daghestan's parliament to reinstate the death penalty, a number of governors in interviews with Interfax-Northwest on 13 May expressed their opposition to such a move. Pskov Oblast Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov said that historically the country has experienced less crime when there was no death penalty and, therefore, he does not think that there will be "any improvement in the situation if the moratorium is canceled." Vologda Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev agreed with Mikhailov, noting that, in his opinion, the "optimal" punishment for especially serious crimes is life in prison. Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak said that he believed "there are a number of circumstances in which our country must observe general norms." However, he added that "in the area of military activities," the decision of whether to apply the death penalty should be made according to laws in effect during wartime. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)
NORTH OSSETIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS DAGHESTAN'S CALL TO LIFT MORATORIUM ON DEATH PENALTY. The North Ossetian parliament on 17 May expressed its support for the call by Daghestan's State Council to lift the moratorium on the death penalty "specifically in relation to the organizers and direct perpetrators of terrorist acts," Interfax reported. Daghestan's legislature adopted that appeal in the wake of the 9 May Kaspiisk terrorist bombing that killed 43 people and wounded more than 100. North Ossetia's capital, Vladikavkaz, has been hit by three such bombings in the past three years. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May).
BACKLOG OF UNPAID WAGES TO EDUCATORS MOUNTING. As of April, the backlog of unpaid wages to educational workers amounted to 6.5 billion rubles ($210 million), ITAR-TASS reported on 15 May, citing the Finance Ministry. That total represents an increase of 44 million rubles ($1.38 million) from March levels. On 15 May, members of the Federation Council adopted a special resolution anticipating that the situation regarding the unpaid wages to all state sectors will become even more complicated. According to the resolution, the majority of regions already spent more than 40 percent of their general budget revenues on wages in the first quarter of this year; 20 regions had spent from 50 to 60 percent; and nine regions had spent more than 60 percent. The senators therefore concluded that, without "significant financial support from the federal budget, a number of regions will increase their indebtedness to state-sector workers in the second quarter of the year." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May)
TURKMENISTANU.S. PRESSURED TO EXTRADITE OPPOSITION LEADER. On 11 May, Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry press service in Ashgabat circulated a commentary saying that the government was demanding the extradition of former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov from the United States, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. Ashgabat has previously demanded Shikhmuradov's extradition from Moscow, where he settled as opposition leader-in-exile last year. The Turkmen Prosecutor-General's Office opened criminal cases against him last autumn after he resigned as ambassador to China to become Turkmenistan's most outspoken critic of President Saparmurat Niyazov. Shikhmuradov is accused of appropriating state property and embezzling state funds, illegally selling abroad five MiG jet fighters, more than 11,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, and several million cartridges, enriching himself by about $25 million, ITAR-TASS noted on 11 May. Shikhmuradov has dismissed the charges as politically motivated and in turn accused Niyazov of drug trafficking, ignoring human rights, and turning Turkmenistan into a police state, AP said on the same day. ("RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 16 May)
PRESIDENT SAYS HE'S 'OPEN TO CRITICISM.' At a banquet to celebrate Turkmen Remembrance Day on 8 May, Niyazov declared that he was open to criticism and that nobody should be afraid to speak out against him, Altyn Asyr TV reported. Saying that, "the good and bad deeds of every official" should be publicized and scrutinized, Niyazov invited citizens not to spare his faults either: "If you see that even I am growing corrupt, please feel free to discuss it publicly at the Council of Elders: 'Hey Mr. President, you're corrupt too in this or that,' so I can mend my ways," he told the television station on 8 May. ("RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 16 May)
UZBEKISTANCOURT SHOWS LENIENCY TO WOMEN ISLAMIST SYMPATHIZERS... A court in Tashkent on 17 May handed down suspended sentences of between two and three years to four women charged with anticonstitutional activities on the basis of their alleged ties to the banned Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, AP reported. The human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch recently expressed concern that, having already jailed tens of thousands of devout Uzbek men, the country's authorities have now begun cracking down on women believers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
...AS QUALITY OF TEACHING IN RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS DEEMED POOR. Addressing a meeting of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Uzbekistan, Zuhriddin Husniddinov, who is an adviser to Uzbek President Islam Karimov, criticized the standard of teaching at higher religious schools, according to the newspaper "Turkistin" on 18 May, as cited by uzreport.com the following day. As a result, Husniddinov said, the professional knowledge of some imams is poor, and their Friday sermons are lacking in interest. He also criticized the board's main newspaper, "Islom nuri," for repeatedly publishing articles by one and the same author. It is not clear whom he meant. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May)
NGOS ASK EBRD TO PEG UZBEK MEETING TO HUMAN RIGHTS PROGRESS. More than 50 NGOS from 24 countries that are shareholders in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have written to the bank's president, Jean Lemierre, asking him to pressure the Uzbek leadership to make "concrete progress" on improving the human rights situation before holding its annual meeting in Tashkent in 2003, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) press release of 17 May. "Holding such a high-level gathering in Tashkent without requiring anything in exchange will send the wrong message to the Uzbek leadership, which will be able to flag it as an endorsement of its repressive policies," the statement quoted HRW's Elizabeth Andersen as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May)
YUGOSLAVIAU.S. SENATOR SETS FOUR BENCHMARKS FOR SERBIAN AID. On 28 April, U.S. Senator Joseph Biden, who is a Democrat from Delaware and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, addressed an Albanian-American civic group in New York. His speech covered many aspects of Balkan affairs and his recommendations for U.S. and international policies toward the region. He noted that the situation there remains "precarious" despite much progress in recent years. Biden chided the European Union for offering Belgrade a $160 million credit just after the United States suspended all economic assistance to Serbia over its failure to cooperate completely with The Hague. The first is that it must cease "negative interference in Kosova's and Bosnia's political life." Second, Serbia "must fully comply with the international war crimes tribunal." Third, it must "end the de facto partition" of Mitrovica in northern Kosova. And fourth, "[Yugoslav President Vojislav] Kostunica and [Serbian Prime Minister Zoran] Djindjic must publicly own up to Serbia's behavior in the 1990s by apologizing for its genocidal campaign in Kosova, as well as in Croatia and Bosnia." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May)
ALBANIAN SENTENCED IN KOSOVA FOR KILLING A SERB. A UN district court in Prizren found Artan Hasani, 23, guilty of the murder of 70-year-old Stana Srdic in March 2000, AP reported on 14 May. The court sentenced the ethnic Albanian to 15 years in prison. Hasani had repeatedly threatened to kill Srdic if she refused to leave Kosova and give him her house in her will. In recent weeks, courts have sentenced two ethnic Albanians in the drive-by slaying of a Serbian teenager, and one German citizen, Roland Bartetzko, for the murder of a Yugoslav government official. Bartetzko fought on the side of the ethnic Albanian guerrillas in the 1998-99 conflict and is married to a local woman. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May)
END NOTEPIONEERING LEGAL-EDUCATION REFORM IN LITHUANIA
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Law schools have been among the last institutions to reform in Eastern Europe, comments Dr. Tadas Klimas, attorney and dean of the Vytautus Magnus University Law School in Kaunus, Lithuania's second city. At a 11 May meeting of the Lithuanian-American Bar Association (LABAS) at Scandinavia House in New York City, Dean Klimas reported on his pioneering efforts to create an innovative law school that is producing the new generations of lawyers crucial for Lithuania's continuing reform as well as its integration with the European Union and NATO.
For the last decade since Lithuania's independence, LABAS members have provided their time and talent to assist their colleagues in their homeland to deal with what was described as a "gigantic revolution" with traditionalists "fighting everything tooth and nail." Commenting on the oppressive judicial system which prevailed in the Soviet era and had many lingering effects on the region, Dean Klimas says, "it's not a legal system." "The so-called law had no general principles that applied no matter what the case" -- a state of affairs often characterized by observers in the region as "rule by laws" rather than "rule of law."
A Philadelphia-born attorney who obtained his doctorate from DePaul University, Dr. Klimas went into private practice in Rochester, New York, and worked for a time as an FBI agent. He returned to his ancestral homeland in 1995, eventually serving from 1998-99 as chief legal counsel to Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, chair of the Lithuanian parliament. Dr. Klimas is author of several Lithuanian laws, including the law granting public access to court records.
In 1998, Dr. Klimas was appointed dean of Vytautas Magnus University Law School. He found legal education in a sorry state; while other sectors of society had had their "perestroika," law training was lagging, despite various rule-of-law programs, many supported by Western government aid programs. As Dean Klimas explains it, a key reason for the lack of progress was that many would-be reformers and donors, including from the Lithuanian diaspora, came from English-speaking nations and were educated in the Anglo-American common-law system. Meanwhile, Lithuania, like other Eastern and Central European nations, is a civil-law country with a system more like Spain or Italy than the United States. All the textbooks supplied in various programs were in English, but about an unfamiliar system. In the common-law countries, the judicial system is based on customary law and distinguished by such features as binding precedent, and trial by jury. Judges resolve disputes through the application of law but also promulgate new legal rules and play a lawmaking function. In civil-law systems, courts apply the law announced by legislatures to handle disputes and therefore require law such as criminal codes to be set out precisely to explain what the law would be in particular situations.
Created before the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1989, although a government-sponsored educational institution, in setting higher standards for education the Vytautas Magnus School of Law has been unique in the region and a potential model for other countries in transition looking to make the best use of their resources. How to harness all the good will and ready supply of English speakers and colleagues willing to conduct university exchanges and interested donors? Dean Klimas hit upon a winning combination of strengths in both the American and European traditions to design a school for both a newly independent Lithuania and a newly unified Europe.
Dean Klimas's goal was to use the American model of establishing high-quality accreditation bodies in Lithuania, similar to the American Bar Association, to accredit law schools. In Western Europe, many law schools are at the level of a bachelor's degree. Students take oral exams, and may remain in school for years, taking the test until they eventually pass. Without a goal-oriented higher education designed to lead to the profession of trial attorney, it is hard to expect qualified persons to emerge. Noting the distinction between "jurist" and "advokat," something like the English differences between barristers and solicitors, Klimas said his aim was not to turn out thousands of "jurists," as in Lithuania's Law Academy (the former Police Academy of the Soviet era), but to educate attorneys at a higher level with greater skills.
Isolating from the American system some of the successful elements that apply regardless of the type of legal system, Dean Klimas fastened on the Socratic method, which he defines as asking students to prepare rigorously to argue legal cases in class, guided by teachers asking questions and challenging student to think critically and analyze both law and facts. With smaller class size, tutorials, and intensive short-term courses, the student develops better critical faculties than from the traditional method with large classes in lecture halls, reliance mainly on note taking, learning by rote, and -- particularly in the East European context -- oral exams, which left a lot of leeway for subjectivity. As Dr. Klimas notes, the written exam also creates the desired degree of transparency because it can be reviewed and appealed.
In the first year at the law school, students take basic law courses taught in both Lithuanian and English. Mindful of the limited time and cost of visiting lecturers, for the following two years Dean Klimas instituted a cost-effective system of modules of intensive "immersion" courses of 2-3 weeks, whereby visiting American and European lecturers address one subject in depth, i.e. negligence. This type of training differs from the Law Academy, the former Police Academy of the Soviet era, which prepares thousands of students only at the bachelor degree, and not necessarily to go into the legal profession.
With 12 years in operation, Dean Klimas feels he is now beginning to see an impact from the law school, which graduates between 50-100 students each year. Students who came into the school in their 20s are now in their early 30s, and they will begin to take more influential positions at the national and international levels. Already alumni include the chief legal counsel of the city of Kaunas, the legal counsel for the children's protection agency, the chief legal counsel for Lithuania's antitrust body, former chief legal counsel to the chair of the parliament, and attorneys for major corporations such as Williams International.
With only a handful of lawyers in the 141-member Seimas, or legislature, and various government ministries, legal training is increasingly valued and needed. By contrast with thousands of jurists who can serve in various jobs ranging from paralegals to law clerks to police and prosecutors, there are only 950 members of the Collegium of Advocates in this Baltic country of 3.6 million. More lawyers and specifically qualified trial attorneys, especially those with transnational experience, will be required as more sophisticated institutions and businesses are built and as thousands of laws are harmonized and implemented across the EU. In a 1999 meeting, European education ministers gathered in Bologna, Italy, and issued a declaration outlying their goal to harmonize Europe's varying educational standards and grading methods. Dean Klimas feels that the ministers had an eye on the U.S. and Japan as they vowed to make Europe more competitive, and he feels he is well positioned at a critical time to provide a bridge across nations and systems with his school. He hopes to attract more West Europeans now as well as Lithuanians and other East European students, and others from around the world. Because the cost of living is cheaper in Lithuania, and there are intensive law courses taught in English, Dean Klimas believes that he has an advantageous alternative for students, who will welcome the opportunity to improve their legal English and obtain the additional exposure to other systems and a transnational certificate. The Vytautas Magnus School of Law is also attractive to EU donors, conscious of the need for increased travel of students between countries, and an end to what appears to Dr. Klimas to be an unacceptable waste of resources in a system allowing students to spend many years in school and repeatedly fail oral exams. English is increasingly a lingua franca for West Europeans just as much as East Europeans; "the U.K. cannot absorb everybody," says the dean.
The Vytautas Magnus School of Law features a three year, eight-semester program, eligible to those who have completed a non-law bachelor's degree, an English-language exam, and an entrance exam for law school similar to the American LSAT. Upon completion of the course work and exams, students receive a masters degree in law, the functional equivalent of the LLM. Recently a Certificate in Transnational Law from Michigan State University-Detroit College of Law has been instituted as well
All of these new graduates are sure to put pressure on the bar, which only began to reform last year. The move to a market economy has seen many lawyers consultation offices open for business, often with people who are not qualified and do not have any ethical constraints or code by which to serve clients. Dean Klimas advocates improved licensing procedures and requirements for such consulting offices to make them more publicly accountable, and also points to the need to address the shortage of licensed trial attorneys who can represent clients in criminal, as distinct from civil, court cases. While hidebound justice officials and old-fashioned lawyers continue to block some reforms, including an end to a system where Supreme Court and Constitutional Court members supposedly serve as professors in law schools but then neglect their teaching due to a heavy workload, Dean Klimas and his colleagues believe they will make a difference by investing more careful attention to quality education. "A lot of my graduates will have a profound affect in 10-15 years," he says. "They will serve as a critical mass. They will lift the general level of discourse." Further information on the Vytautas Magnus School of Law is available at http://teise.vdu.lt/english/.