19 June 2002, Volume 3, Number 25
IN FOCUSU.S., EUROPE, AND RUSSIA ATTEMPT TO USE LEVERAGE WITH BELARUS. The U.S., the Council of Europe, and Russia all tried their hand at influencing belligerent Belarus this week, using a combination of economic and political levers to try to stem the continuing deterioration of both human rights and international relations. Yet the various actors did not always seem united in purpose or strategy, and the outcome remains poor, Journalists, demonstrators, and the son of a prominent opposition leader continued on trial, facing lengthy imprisonment; gas prices continued to rise, and a delegation from Iran arrived in town -- the latest in a series of interactions with states said to be responsible for terrorism.
In a public speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin harshly criticized proposals by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka concerning the integration of their respective countries, RTR and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 and 14 June. Putin accused Belarus of trying to recreate the USSR on the basis of Russia's economic might. "One cannot restore something like the USSR at the expense of Russia's economic interests, because that might weaken Russia," Putin said. "If Belarus, whose economy equals just 3 percent of Russia's, wants to guarantee its rights of veto, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, then Russia wants this too." Putin spoke out against creating a "supranational organ with undefined functions."
Putin was evidently displeased with the integration scheme proposed on 10 June by Lukashenka, largely endorsed in the past by former President Boris Yeltsin. Instead, Putin seems to be offering Belarus nothing more than the status of a subject of the Russian Federation, "Kommersant-Daily" commented. Vladimir Zhirinovskii later bluntly suggested turning Belarus into two oblasts of the Russian Federation, Minsk and Mahilau, with 5 million people in each (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2002).
Yet despite the union skepticism and tough talk with notions the West likes to hear, like "re-creation of the USSR," at the same time Russia promptly delivered the second tranche of a stabilization loan, emblematic of Russia's considerable economic support of Belarus, and also its failure to attach any obvious strings related to economic improvements or human rights. Belarusian National Bank spokesman Mikhail Zhuravovich told Belapan on 13 June that the Russian Central Bank has disbursed 1.5 billion Russian rubles ($48 million) as the second portion of a loan. The first $48 million was paid in mid-2001. A reason for extending the second tranche was the signing of a joint action plan on 4 June for launching the Belarus-Russia Union's currency by 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2002).
Even as the Russian loan was wired, the Belarusian opposition still felt the cold shower from Moscow's public diplomacy was a positive sign. Social Democratic Party leader Mikalay Statkevich told Belapan on 13 June that Putin will not agree to the creation of supranational power structures in the Belarus-Russia Union or the introduction of the post of union vice president that Lukashenka reportedly is seeking. "Lukashenka has exploited Russia's help according to a pattern, '[Russian] oil for [Belarusian] kisses.' But now comes the end to [Lukashenka's] economic bluff," Statkevich predicted. "Putin has most likely had enough of pandering to the Belarusian president's fancies," former Supreme Soviet speaker Stanislau Shushkevich said. According to United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka, Putin's pronouncements should not be treated as a surprise. "Putin has made a strategic choice in favor of democracy and market economy...while Lukashenka, as before, is in favor of the Soviet Union and against the market and democracy," Lyabedzka added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2002).
Meanwhile, Washington attempted to play the Russia card on Belarus -- a move not without its controversy among U.S. policymakers, some of whom have been concerned about a seeming concession of Belarus to Russian dominance. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 12 June asked Russia to use its influence to resolve the ongoing dispute between Belarus and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) over the OSCE's Minsk mission, Reuters reported. An unidentified senior U.S. State Department official said the Belarusian government's refusal to extend visas for the OSCE mission staff, including one American, meant the U.S. "just asked if the Russians could use some positive influence there," reported Reuters, after a meeting between Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Canada. "Ivanov said they have always emphasized that Belarus needs to have a constructive and cooperative relationship with the international community, and he would check where things stood and get back to us," the official added.
Earlier, in a less publicized statement, the U.S. ambassador to OSCE in Vienna put the request to Belarus more frankly. On 6 June, in a speech delivered to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna and distributed by USIA, Ambassador Stephan Minikes told members, "it is simply impossible to square Belarus's stated desire for cooperation with the OSCE with its expulsion of two international officials representing the organization in Minsk." Minikes said the mission crisis would not be resolved by yet another consultation or resolution but by "Belarus providing authoritative, constructive, and reliable evidence of its commitment, from the highest levels of its government, that it is prepared to forge cooperation with the OSCE and address significant concerns through the work of the OSCE presence in Belarus." Minikes seemed to hint at some unspecified consequences by noting that if the cooperation was not forthcoming, members would "all need to consider the implications this carries given Belarus's shared commitments to the principle of cooperation."
During a visit to Belarus by a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Wolfgang Berendt, PACE rapporteur on Belarus, said in Minsk on 12 June that PACE is ready to form a group of experts to assist the Belarusian authorities in investigating the disappearances of political figures in Belarus, AP and Reuters reported. "We proposed to Interior Minister [Uladzimir Navumau] that this group be set up, but he was very reluctant. The reaction of [presidential administration head Ural] Latypau was much more positive, but the decision hangs on many circumstances." Berendt invited representatives of both the National Assembly and the Consultative Council of Opposition Politician Parties to participate in a PACE session in Strasbourg later this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2002). The PACE delegation did not indicate whether an international parliamentary commission would be prepared to gather and hear testimony directly about the disappeared from their relatives and human rights NGOs, absent cooperation from Belarusian law-enforcement authorities, who have rejected offers of foreign assistance on the cases repeatedly in the past.
There has been no reply to Washington or the OSCE yet from Moscow on the Belarus matter, but another venue for the unacknowledged but chronic expression of the old East-West dispute is looming in Berlin at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) in early July, when a decision must be made whether to seat a delegation from the Belarusian National Assembly, the legislature elected under conditions deemed by international monitors as "falling far short" of OSCE standards in 2000. By inviting both the National Assembly and the Consultative Council of Opposition Political Parties to participate in the PACE session, Europeans may have set the stage for such an equivalency at OSCE PA. When asked if they would be willing to reject a request to seat a parliament from a country that expelled an OSCE mission, diplomats indicated that opinion in Europe (i.e. Russia) would not likely support such a move. Meanwhile, Belarusian opposition figures were concerned that if such a linkage were made between the OSCE mission and a seat in the OSCE parliament, a sudden reversal of the obstruction of the OSCE mission would mean that an illegitimate parliamentary delegation could be seated. All in all, Lukashenka had everybody exactly where he wanted them. CAF
ARMENIAPARLIAMENT SESSION SUSPENDED, DEPUTIES MUST LEAVE GUNS AT THE DOOR. Parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian suspended the week's parliament session for one day on 11 June after opposition deputies again occupied the podium to protest his refusal to include on the agenda an opposition demand for a debate on impeaching President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Armenian agencies reported. Khachatrian also ordered that beginning 12 June all deputies must deposit firearms in the guardroom before entering the parliament chamber. Pro-government and opposition legislators traded insults, and a member of the People's Deputy faction that supports Kocharian punched opposition deputy Aramayis Barseghian in the head. Kocharian condemned the standoff as "hooliganism" and laid the blame for it on the opposition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June)
AZERBAIJANOPPOSITION DEMANDS PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE ON NARDARAN CLASHES. Several opposition parliament deputies called on 11 June for a debate on the 3 June clashes between police and residents of the village of Nardaran, Turan reported. But speaker Murtuz Alesqerov rejected the request, saying a debate will be held only after the investigation into the clashes is completed. Also on 11 June, Islamic Party of Azerbaijan Deputy Chairman Rovshan Ahmedov told a press conference in Baku that he does not know the whereabouts of party Chairman Alikram Aliev, who was arrested the previous day for his alleged involvement in the Nardaran clashes. Ahmedov said that Aliyev was not in Nardaran on 3 June. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June)
PRESIDENT'S REPRESENTATIVES MEET WITH NARDARAN VILLAGERS. Baku Mayor Hadjibala Abutalibov and three senior members of the presidential administration met on 12 June with 15 elders of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of the capital where at least one villager was killed in clashes with police on 3 June, Turan reported. The village elders demanded that those villagers arrested in the wake of the clashes be released; that the police posts surrounding the village be removed; and that residents be allowed to travel freely to Baku to sell agricultural produce in city markets. The administration officials relayed those demands to President Heidar Aliev, who issued instructions later on 12 June that the demands be met and steps taken to address the grievances that the villagers raised in meetings with Abutalibov earlier this year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
COURT JAILS OPPOSITION OFFICIAL. An Azerbaijani court sentenced an opposition party official to five days in jail on 14 June for inciting antigovernment activity. Party spokesman Hasrat Rustam said police detained Sardar Jalaloglu, the general secretary of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, on the night of 13 June as he was returning home from the village of Nardaran. ("Azerbaijan: Court Jails Opposition Official," rferl.org, 14 June)
LOCAL NGOS, INTERNATIONAL DONORS PROTEST MOVE TO RESTRICT GRANTS. NGOs involved in a variety of activities, from human rights to democratic reform and social concerns, could face new government restrictions under a draft law currently awaiting the president's signature, which mandates registration of foreign grants with local government officials, reported "Azerb@ijan," a weekly electronic bulletin. While ostensibly being approved by the parliament, the law was actually devised by the president's legal advisors, said NGOs. Under the envisioned procedures, officials are likely to have clearance regarding the validity of foreign-funded projects and could kill controversial programs, fear NGOs, who sent hundreds of letters of protest to the government. Foreign donors, including the embassies of the U.S. and Germany, the U.S. National Democracy Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, Eurasia Foundation, and the Open Society Institute, funded by philanthropist George Soros, were among international organizations said to weigh in with the office of President Aliev, noting that such a law would be a significant obstacle to NGOs. ("Azerb@ijan," 13 June)
BOSNIADUTCH PRIME MINISTER SAYS SREBRENICA APOLOGY 'OUT OF THE QUESTION.' Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok met in Sarajevo on 11 June with joint presidency head Beriz Belkic and a group of survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim males, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Kok's government quit in April following the publication of an official report on the Dutch role in the events in Srebrenica in 1995, when Dutch peacekeepers were stationed there. Kok said in Sarajevo on 11 June: "We are no murderers, we were there as part of the international community in order to safeguard security and safety, which proved to be impossible. The blame is to [be] put on those who were really responsible for what happened seven years ago in Srebrenica. It was not the Dutch," he added, in reference to Bosnian Serb forces, Reuters reported. Kok stressed that a Dutch apology is "out of the question." One survivor said: "I don't want an apology or mercy. I want someone to be held responsible for this." Kok is scheduled to visit Srebrenica shortly. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June)
CZECH REPUBLICSUPREME COURT SAYS FORMER INTERIOR MINISTER HAS NO PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY. The Supreme Court on 11 June ruled that former communist Interior Minister Jaromir Obzina does not enjoy parliamentary immunity and his prosecution can proceed, CTK reported. Obzina has been charged with heading the "Asanace Operation," which from 1977 to 1985 tried to force dissidents to leave the country through physical and mental pressure. The criminal proceedings were put on hold in February when a Prague district judge asked the Supreme Court to rule on Obzina's claim that he enjoys parliamentary immunity because he was a member of the communist parliament. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June)
SOCIAL DEMOCRATS WIN PLURALITY IN ELECTIONS, WHILE ARE COMMUNISTS VIRTUAL WINNERS. The Social Democratic Party garnered 30.2 percent of the vote in the 14-15 June elections, winning 70 mandates in the 200-seat lower house, CTK and international agencies reported. Its chief rival, the Civic Democratic Party, scored considerably lower than predicted by polls on the eve of the ballot, garnering 24.47 percent, and will be represented in the chamber by 58 deputies. Surprisingly, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) placed third (18.51 percent, 41 mandates), ahead of the Coalition, which received 14.27 percent of the vote and will be represented by 31 deputies. The KSCM is the only party whose representation in the Chamber of Deputies significantly increased in these elections, CTK reported. The party garnered nearly 8 percent more votes than four years earlier and will have 17 mandates more than it had in the 1998-2002 legislature. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
HUNGARYEUROPEAN PARLIAMENT PRAISES HUNGARY BUT COUNCIL OF EUROPE SLAMS STATUS LAW. The European Parliament in Strasbourg on 12 June approved the recommendation of its Foreign Affairs Commission to extend the representation of Hungary and the Czech Republic from 20 to 22 deputies, once the two countries become EU members, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The commission's report also calls for an improvement in the status of Roma, noting that the previous government accomplished much toward that end. The report welcomes the Hungarian-Romanian memorandum of understanding on implementing the Status Law and urges an agreement with Slovakia. Meanwhile, the draft of a report commissioned by the Council of Europe's Legal and Human Rights Commission severely criticizes Hungary's Status Law, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 12 June. The report says the law should be revoked and replaced by a new bill after consultations with neighboring countries. It says that the neighboring countries have argued the legislation violates basic EU principles such as respect for territorial sovereignty, good neighborly relations, and nondiscrimination, and the concept of the Hungarian "nation," as outlined in the preamble of the Status Law, is too broad and can be interpreted as infringement of current state borders. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
KAZAKHSTANGOVERNMENT DENIES DETAINED FORMER GOVERNOR'S RIGHTS INFRINGED. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 15 June rejecting as "a mistake that misinforms society" the statement released four days earlier by the OSCE's Almaty office expressing concern for the health of former Pavlodar Oblast Governor and opposition Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan movement leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, Interfax reported. The Foreign Ministry statement denied that Zhaqiyanov, who was hospitalized on 18 May while under house arrest, is being denied access to the doctors of his choice. The condition of Zhaqiyanov deteriorated further on 12 June after an investigator entered his hospital ward unannounced and began questioning him, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The investigator assaulted Zhaqiyanov's wife, Karlyghash, when she began to film the interrogation. Zhaqiyanov tried to get out of bed to protect her and collapsed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 17 June)
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AWARDS FORMER PREMIER... Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Europe and the United States since 1999, was presented with a "Freedom Passport" signed by 15 deputies to the European Parliament at that body's plenary session in Strasbourg on 11 June, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported the following day. Kazhegeldin is the 27th person to receive such an award, which is generally made in support of the entire democratic opposition -- rather than any single individual -- in countries where human rights cannot be taken for granted, according to a European Parliament press release dated 5 June. Asked by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on 12 June to comment on the award, Sharip Omar, who is chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, said it is "too early" to speak of democratic institutions in Kazakhstan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
...AND HOLDS HEARINGS ON STATUS OF DEMOCRACY. The European Parliament also began hearings on Central Asia on 12 June, with its EU-Kazakhstan, EU-Kyrgyzstan and EU-Uzbekistan parliamentary cooperation committees. The delegates heard an exchange of views among independent experts, Kazakh opposition figures, and the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Brussels. Among the NGOs testifying were the U.S.-based International League for Human Rights, which called for the safe return of exiled political leaders, establishment of conditions for the operation of the free media, and support to independent organizations such as the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the "Venice Commission"), in their review of the current Kazakh Constitution, leading to changes that protect individual rights and democratic processes. CAF
KYRGYZSTANTHOUSANDS CALL FOR PRESIDENT TO RESIGN. Thousands of people gathered in the southern Kyrgyz city of Djalalabad 17 June demanding, among other things, that President Askar Akaev resign. Many of the protesters in Djalalabad had started marching there on foot from Tash-Komur, to the north, the week before. The demonstrators are protesting legal proceedings against parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov and are demanding punishment for those responsible for the March killings of demonstrators in the southern village of Kerben. The Kyrgyz opposition said there were between 7,000 to 8,000 people demonstrating in Djalalabad while local police said the number was closer to 1,000. Protests have continued in Kyrgyzstan almost unabated since the start of the year over a number of issues. The government resigned last month when a special commission found police and local authorities were responsible for the killings in Kerben. ("Kyrgyzstan: Thousands Call For President To Resign," rferl.org, 17 June)
OPPOSITION ACCUSES PRESIDENT OF RENEGING ON PLEDGE. Opposition parliament deputies on 14 June accused Akaev of reneging on his pledge to create a coalition government, noting that all members of the new cabinet support him, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Communist faction member Iskhak MasAliyev said that although Akaev held consultations with the opposition, he did not accept any of their proposed ministerial candidates. Omurbek Tekebaev said Akaev offered the opposition only one portfolio -- that of ecology and emergency situations, which parliament deputy Ismail Isakov rejected because it was not a "serious" post. Interfax, however, reported on 14 June that three members of the centrist For the People faction and one from the Right Coalition were named to deputy ministerial posts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
QUESTION MARK OVER SENTENCED KYRGYZ DEPUTY'S APPEAL. Azimbek Beknazarov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 15 June that he has been informed that his appeal against the one-year suspended sentence handed down to him last month by a court in Djalalabad will be held not in Djalalabad on 18 June but in the town of Toktogul. Beknazarov has not, however, been officially informed by the court of this change of venue, although he should have been told 10 days before the scheduled date of the hearing. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
RUSSIAPUTIN LAUDS DEMOCRACY AND MULTIPOLAR WORLD ORDER... Speaking at an Independence Day banquet in the Kremlin on 12 June, President Vladimir Putin asserted that, for the first time in decades, Russia is not involved in any conflict with the world at large or any foreign country, Russian news agencies reported. However, he added that Russia must learn to protect its position in a world characterized by extremely cruel competition, especially economically. Russia has no special claims in the world, but insists upon treatment commensurate with its history, potential and enormous size, Putin said. "Russia is building a democratic society and seeks to be part of a democratic, multipolar world order," the president concluded. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
...BUT ZHIRINOVSKII SAYS RUSSIA'S DEMOCRACY IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. Meanwhile, speaking in Moscow at a Russia Day rally, Deputy Duma Speaker and leader of Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Vladimir Zhirinovskii spoke disparagingly of Asians and Africans living in Russia, lenta.ru and other Russian news services reported on 13 June. Zhirinovskii said that they are poor, should not have more than one or two children and should "behave in an appropriate manner" or leave Russia. "The Russian people have the right to be masters of this country and should not support unwelcome guests," Zhirinovskii said. Lenta.ru also claimed that the LDPR has noticeably ratcheted up the anti-immigrant rhetoric on its official website (http://www.ldpr.ru). Neither the government nor President Putin's administration have commented on Zhirinovskii's openly racist campaign. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
WAS SOCCER RIOT STAGED? State Duma Deputy Vasilii Shandybin (Communist) said in Bryansk on 11 June that he believes the Moscow riot following Russia's 9 June World Cup soccer loss was a "specially planned action, timed to coincide with the Duma's discussion of the law on political extremism," regions.ru reported. "Izvestiya" on 11 June printed comments by a police officer who was on the scene during the rioting, in which he wondered where rioters procured the sledgehammers and gasoline that they used to vandalize cars and storefronts. "Who brings a sledgehammer to watch a soccer match," the unnamed officer said. Russian national soccer team coach Oleg Romantsev told ITAR-TASS on 12 June that "someone is apparently trying to link the ugly incident to soccer," but "it was prepared [by people] who used the game with Japan as a pretext." Other political figures, including Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, have also expressed doubt that the rioting was spontaneous. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
DUMA TABLES RESOLUTION AGAINST EXTREMISM. The State Duma rejected on 14 June a draft resolution against anti-Semitism, nationalism, and extremism proposed by Deputy Andrei Vulf (Union of Rightist Forces), Russian news agencies reported. The resolution would have called upon President Putin to take urgent measures against a spate of recent extremist incidents. Vulf reminded deputies of the 27 May incident in which a Muscovite was seriously injured when attempting to remove a booby-trapped anti-Semitic sign. He also mentioned a 30 May incident in which vandals wrote anti-Semitic slogans on a memorial plaque on the Moscow house where Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov lived. However, speaking against the resolution, Communist Deputy Yurii Nikiforenko said that it "ignores the negative consequences of Zionism." Fellow Communist Ivan Nikitichuk said that in Russia anti-Semitism is "inflated," while the problems of the Russian people "are kept quiet." After some discussion, the Duma decided to table Vulf's resolution. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
SUPREME COURT ORDERS REFUND OF ENVIRONMENTAL FINES. Russia's Supreme Court ruled last week that environmental fines imposed by the government on industry since 1999 are illegal and must be paid back. The decision means the government will have to refund Russia's most notorious polluters the equivalent of $861 million. This promises not only to dent the federal budget but will also leave Russia without its most effective means to safeguard the environment. Experts agree that the decision strengthens rule of law in Russia, by upholding the constitution, but its impact on the environment and state coffers is certain to be detrimental. Valentin Yemelin, an expert on Russia with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), told RFE/RL, "The problem is, as usual in Russia, that the intentions are very good but the results are quite negative." The victorious defendant in the suit, Norilsk Nickel, is widely acknowledged to be one of Russia's most egregious industrial polluters. Thomas Nilsen of the Norwegian environmental group Bellona said the enterprise had been polluting for decades with heavy metals and sulfur dioxide, and the effects were felt not only in Siberia but near the Norwegian border on the Kola Peninsula. ("Russia: In Windfall For Polluters, Supreme Court Orders Refund Of Environmental Fines," rferl.org, 11 June)
ONE TOWN PROTESTS STRANGE SMELL FROM PLANT... An unspecified number of protestors gathered in the main square of Novoulyanovsk in Ulyanovsk Oblast on 14 June to protest the "experimental burning" of toxic waste at a local cement plant, NTV reported. The company's technical director, Nikolai Skornikov, explained that the plant is conducting an experiment by burning a ton of Sovtol, a transformer oil, in its high-temperature furnace. If the company does not register any hazardous emissions, it will sign a contract on the industrial reprocessing of this waste. According to Skornikov, burning of such a small quantity does not pose a risk to the surrounding area. However, local activists argue that an independent environmental and public-health assessment must be conducted before the test continues. A local plant worker described the smell as "unbearable" and said she was sick for an entire day after exposure to the fumes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
...AS ANOTHER TRIES TO STOP SMELLS BEFORE THEY START. Residents in the city of Taishet on the border of Irkutsk Oblast and Krasnoyarsk Krai are protesting the launch of a new aluminum factory, "Vremya MN" reported on 14 June. The residents oppose the proposed factory because it would be located fewer than 300 meters from the nearest residence and would release harmful emissions into the atmosphere. According to the daily, local activists have held several protest actions that have been ignored by the city administration, but pleas to the oblast authorities have attracted more attention. The paper reported that residents want the government to conduct a new evaluation of the plant and, if necessary, to resettle residents living nearby. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
REGULATIONS REQUIRE MUSLIM WOMEN TO REMOVE HEAD COVERINGS. Some 3,000 female Muslim residents of the Republic of Tatarstan have refused to obtain new Russian passports because they were not allowed to have their photos taken wearing head scarves, Ren TV reported on 13 June. The deputy head of the republic's passport and visa office, Sergei Gavrilchik, told the station that Interior Ministry regulations require that the passport photo be in full face without any headgear. However, women in Bashkortostan and Daghestan were reportedly allowed to have their photos taken in accordance with their faith. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June)
ATTACK ON MODERATE NATIONALIST GROUP LABELED 'POLITICAL.' Meanwhile, Tatar writer and leader of the Tatar national movement Aidar Khalim told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 12 June that an assault against the Tatar Public Center in Chally last month was part of an attempt to annihilate Tatar national organizations. He said that he is sure the assault was politically motivated. Four people who were seriously wounded during that attack remain hospitalized -- one is in critical condition, according to RFE/RL's Chally correspondent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June)
DEMOGRAPHIC DECLINE CREATES INSTABILITY. Russia's uneven demographic decline combined with internal migration patterns is creating an increasingly unstable Russian Federation. Dr. Graeme Herd, deputy director of the Scottish Centre for International Security, told an RFE/RL audience 6 June that some health researchers and international health organizations already refer to Russia as an "epidemiological pump", with staggering rates of untreated HIV/AIDS, drug-resistant tuberculosis, as well as noncontagious respiratory and circulatory diseases. Increasingly plagued by disease, poor nutrition, and a lack of education, Herd said that Russian defense industries will have a shortfall of qualified workers and soldiers, as the pool of conscripts by 2015 will have shrunk by one-third. Having to end its reliance on mass military mobilization, the Russian government will either adopt a volunteer/professional army model or hire a contract army. "If an economic miracle happens," Herd said, the central government could provide subsidies to repopulate the Russian Federation's northern territories and Far East, or encourage the Slavic diaspora to return to Russia. The Russian government estimates there are over 500,000 illegal Russian migrants in Western countries. ("Demographic Decline Impacts Russian Federation Stability," regionalanalysis.org, 6 June)
CHILD POPULATION SHRINKS BY 4 MILLION OVER PAST DECADE. Russia's child population has shrunk by 4 million over the past 10 years, says Vera Lekareva, head of the State Duma commission for prevention of child homelessness and neglect. Seventy-five percent of those children died unnatural deaths, she said at a news conference in Moscow. Without elaborating on the exact nature of the accidents or harm befalling children, Lekareva cited "violations of law" and "drug addiction," reported RIA-Novosti on 11 June. She urged adoption of a law, recently submitted to the Duma, to establish a children's rights commissioner distinct from the existing human rights ombudsman. Lekareva cited reports from the Prosecutor-General's Office claiming nearly 2 million children do not go to school; many are said to be victimized by traffickers and fall under the influence of other criminals. Ninety-five percent of 720,000 registered orphans are said to be "social orphans," i.e. children who have run away from home, from both impoverished and well-off dysfunctional families, Lekareva said. CAF
MIGRATION SERVICE HEAD SAYS MESKHETIAN TURK DIASPORA IS SUBJECT FOR INTERNATIONAL CONSULTATIONS. Around 20 activists from the Muslim party Vatan picketed the Prosecutor-General's Office in Moscow on 13 June, demanding a stop to what they see as the oppression of Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar Krai, Interfax reported. Vatan party head Mukhammed Minachev said that the krai legislature adopted a resolution in February that encroaches on the Turks' civil rights and runs counter to the federal constitution. Meanwhile, the head of the Federal Migration Service, Andrei Chernenko, said on the same day that the situation of the Meskhetian Turks in Russia should be the topic of international discussions, Interfax reported. According to the agency, Chernenko said, "Georgia should fulfill its obligations" and let those who wish return to that country. He added that a special working group will be created within his department to handle the issue. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June)
RNE SLATED FOR ELIMINATION IN TOMSK. The directorate for the Justice Ministry in Tomsk Oblast announced that it is seeking the liquidation of the ultranationalist group Russian National Unity (RNE) on the oblast's territory, nns.ru reported on 14 June citing "Sibirskii Kurer-RIA Novosti." According to the site, the Tomsk prosecutor alleges that the Tomsk branch of RNE committed a number of violations of the federal law on public associations when registering in the region. The group has received a number of written warnings from the Tomsk prosecutor and the local office of the Justice Ministry in connection with the distribution of leaflets "clearly expressing a nationalist orientation" and the failure to file certain founding documents with the ministry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June)
OFFICIALS TELL UN RETURN OF CHECHEN DISPLACED PERSONS WILL BE VOLUNTARY. Russian officials assured the UN last week that no Chechen displaced persons will be forcibly sent back to Chechnya from neighboring Ingushetia, chechenpress.com reported on 15 June, quoting RFE/RL's Russian Service. UN official Chris Yanovski said very few of the Chechens currently in Ingushetia are prepared to leave, as they fear falling victim to the ongoing Russian search operations in Chechen villages. Also on 15 June, a Chechen government official in charge of preparing for the return of displaced persons told ITAR-TASS that 40 families were expected to return that day from tent camps in Ingushetia to Grozny, where they will be accommodated in a specially prepared hostel. He said an estimated 8,500 displaced persons have expressed their willingness to return to Chechnya. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL'S REPRESENTATIVE TO VISIT NORTH CAUCASUS. UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed conflict Olara Otunnu arrived in Moscow on 16 June with aides for on a week-long mission to the Russian Federation, including the North Caucasus, reported reliefweb.int. Otunnu met with officials from the Interior Ministry and others responsible for Chechnya and humanitarian affairs as well as the Duma International Affairs Committee, and planned to spend four days in Ingushetia, Chechnya, and North Ossetia to meet with the UN agencies, government officials, and NGOs, and to visit refugee camps, schools, hospitals, and trauma centers. Earlier, Otunnu told reporters that the Chechen conflict had caused among the highest number of landmine casualties in the world; he said "between 7,000 and 10,000 people have become victims of landmine detonations, children accounting for more than half of them," reported AFP on 17 June. CAF
MESKER-YURT SWEEP ENDS... Russian troops have ended their 20-day search of the Chechen village of Mesker-Yurt, chechenpress.com reported on 12 June. On 10 June, the site published a list of 19 people detained during the search whose whereabouts are unknown. Ten villagers whose relatives are members of the armed resistance were shot dead. In an interview published in "Krasnaya zvezda" on 11 June and summarized by Interfax, Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, who commands the combined federal forces in Chechnya, said that the use of force by Russian troops during the Mesker-Yurt search operation was justified because the villagers were protecting a band of some 50 Chechen fighters who had been using the village as a base from which to attack Russian forces. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June)
...WHILE TROOPS SAY PUTIN ORDERED REPRISALS... Residents of the Chechen village of Mesker-Yurt on 12 June buried 24 victims of the Russian search operation conducted there between 21 May and 11 June, chechenpress.com reported. Most of the victims were young men who had been subjected to torture; none of them had participated in fighting against the Russian forces, the website said. Before withdrawing from the village, Russian officers warned the inhabitants against lodging any official complaints about atrocities committed by Russian forces. "If you complain, we'll come back and finish you off," they were quoted as saying. Russian officers also rejected the argument that they violated the procedures for conducting such search operations promulgated in March by Lieutenant General Moltenskoi. They said they do not answer to Moltenskoi and were acting on direct orders from Russian President Putin, according to the website. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
...AS THEY LAUNCH NEW SEARCH OPERATIONS IN CHECHNYA. Russian forces launched new search operations on 13-14 June in Grozny and the villages of Prigorodnoe and Chechen-Aul, Interfax reported on 14 June. Interfax on 14 June quoted a village administration official as saying 13 people were detained, while Russian troops opened fire on four who tried to evade detention, killing one of them. But chechenpress.com on 17 June said five people have been shot dead in Chechen-Aul on suspicion of fighting on the side of the resistance, including two 15-year-old boys. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
SLOVAKIAFICO WANTS TO LOWER ROMA'S BIRTHRATE. Robert Fico, leader of Smer (Direction), on 15 June said after a conference of his party in Bratislava that Smer will examine ways to end "the irresponsible growth in the birthrate of the Romany population," CTK reported. He said his party will consult for this purpose with social workers and with other experts. Smer and its leader have consistently been indicated by public opinion polls as running second in electoral preferences to Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, and observers say Fico is viewed in the West as the only likely option in the "stop Meciar" drive concerning the next Slovak coalition. Fico said he expects the party to be part of the next government. He said the program of Smer, to be presented at the end of the month, will also concentrate on fighting corruption and trimming state administration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION URGES PASSAGE OF ANTIDISCRIMINATION LAW IN SLOVAKIA. U.S. Helsinki Commission co-Chairman Christopher Smith, meeting with Slovak politicians on 11 June, praised the country's democratic reform process and expressed hope that Slovakia "will stay the course and build on these achievements." A commission press release said Representative Smith commended the Slovak government "for preparing draft antidiscrimination legislation" and added that if the draft legislation is adopted and implemented, it "would provide remedies for Roma who experience race discrimination." Smith said the passage of the legislation would "be a concrete sign of the government's commitment to ensure equality of opportunity for Roma." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
YUGOSLAVIAU.S. AGAIN WARNS SERBIA ON COOPERATING WITH THE HAGUE. Pierre-Richard Prosper, who is the U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes issues, told Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica in Belgrade on 15 June that his country must send more indicted war criminals to The Hague if it wants to avoid further financial penalties from the U.S. Congress, Reuters reported. Prosper added: "In order to be in a position where we don't have a [congressional] certification process, there are a few steps remaining. If we get movement on this issue before the Congress actually decides to enact the law [requiring certification], I believe that we, the U.S. administration, will have the arguments we need to go to the Congress and argue against having such a law." The envoy stressed that "as a partner and as a friend, we look to Yugoslavia to help us in this global effort because we need the peace and stability of the entire region." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
FORMER NATO COMMANDER: MILOSEVIC PLANNED TO KILL ALBANIANS. Testifying in The Hague on 13 June, former German General Klaus Naumann said that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic told Western negotiators in 1998 that he believed Kosova's problems could be dealt with by killing Albanians, "The Washington Post" reported. Milosevic reportedly told his visitors "that one of the big conditions for a solution in the Kosovo area is to achieve a balance between the two ethnic groups." After a Serbian official said over drinks that Albanians are reproducing faster than Serbs, Milosevic proposed resorting to "tactics used in the 1940s." When Naumann asked what those tactics were, "the answer was -- and that was a little bit difficult for us to take -- but the answer was that, 'We got them together and shot them,'" Naumann said. "Those of us there were flabbergasted; we simply couldn't believe it." AP reported that Naumann's "testimony...was the most direct evidence heard yet by the...tribunal linking Milosevic with an allegedly premeditated campaign to wipe out or drive out the ethnic Albanian population" from Kosova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June)
TRIBUNAL WANTS IMMEDIATE SURRENDER OF WAR CRIMINALS IN SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO. Graham Blewitt, who is deputy chief prosecutor at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, said in Belgrade on 14 June that he has asked Yugoslav authorities to arrest and extradite the 18 indicted war criminals believed to be still at large on their territory, Hina reported. Blewitt added that the tribunal wants the authorities to act quickly so that some of the 18 can be put on trial with individuals already in The Hague. He called the trial of prominent indicted individuals in Serbia unlikely, citing the possibility of political interference with the judicial process. Blewitt did not rule out the possibility that the tribunal might ask Serbian courts to try some selected cases once the Serbian justice system has completed reforms, dpa reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June)
FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS SERBIAN PUBLIC STILL COOL TO TRIBUNAL. Speaking at the same conference as Blewitt in Belgrade on 13 June, Goran Svilanovic said that Serbian "politicians have to send clearer messages to the public saying that The Hague-based tribunal was established because war crimes were committed in Bosnia, in Croatia, and on Yugoslav territory, and because the domestic judiciary did not react to those crimes adequately," Hina reported. Svilanovic warned against continued attempts to ignore the subject, saying that "the past 10 years cannot be covered [over] with dust." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June)
SERBS END BOYCOTT OF KOSOVA GOVERNMENT. Representatives of Kosova's Serbian minority took their oath of office together with their ethnic Albanian colleagues before Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), in Prishtina on 12 June, Reuters reported. All officials swore to work "in the best interests of all the inhabitants of Kosovo without discrimination on any ground." Afterward, Steiner said in a statement, "Now that the government is fully completed, let's get down to work." He warned the Kosovars that "we should not count on the long-term and eternal commitment of the international community," AP reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
REGIONALSIBERIAN RIVER DIVERSION PLAN REVIVED. As Central Asian states continue to haggle over the use of water resources, the Uzbek government is reviving the possibility of diverting Siberian rivers with the aim of bolstering the region's agricultural infrastructure, which is dependent on irrigation consuming about 90 percent of the country's water resources. Proponents see the project as necessary to prevent an economic disaster, while adversaries warn that diverting Siberian rivers could cause new ecological damage in a region already ravaged by environmental catastrophes. The drastic decline of agricultural yields provided the impetus for renewed interest in the long-forgotten project to divert Siberian rivers in both Uzbek government circles and in the country's scientific community. A study produced under the auspices of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Siberian Branch showed that diverting river waters could upset the global environmental balance, and cause considerable damage to Siberia's ecosystem. But not all Russian scientists involved in the development of the project share the opinion that diverting the rivers is environmentally unsound. Oleg Vasilyev, hydrology academician from Novosibirsk, claimed that diverting about 5 percent of the rivers' waters would not have severe environmental repercussions, since water is a renewable resource. Environmental advocates argue that poor management and waste are the real factors for the current agricultural crisis. (eurasianet.org, 11 June)
END NOTEAZERBAIJAN WRESTLES WITH RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN FACE OF RISING ISLAMIC INFLUENCE
By Richard Allen Green
Azerbaijan may have been one of the first countries in the world to accept Islam, but the people of this majority Shia country do not generally let religion interfere too much in their daily lives.
Many people in Azerbaijan drink alcohol -- a local saying has it that the Prophet Mohammed may have forbidden wine, but he didn't say anything about vodka -- and a typical young woman's summer outfit in the capital, Baku, bears more resemblance to a bikini than a burqa.
But this spring has seen a number of high-profile run-ins between the state and religion. The state has instructed all religious groups to register with a new government body, the State Committee for Relations With Religious Organizations. Many groups have complained that the committee has moved slowly on their applications or refused to register them at all.
In April, a court sentenced five Azerbaijanis and a Ukrainian to jail for allegedly plotting to attack Western embassies and overthrow the government in Baku. The prosecution alleged that the men were members of the illegal Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which advocates the peaceful establishment of an Islamic state in Central Asia.
At the beginning of May, a row broke out among several universities and the women whom they wanted to ban from wearing head scarves in class. Soon after, the State Committee for Relations With Religious Organizations floated a proposal that mullahs, or religious leaders, receive some kind of official certification.
And in perhaps the most alarming incident, months of simmering protest and discontent in the poor and deeply devout village of Nardaran near Baku boiled over into armed confrontation with security forces at the beginning of June, leaving at least one villager dead.
Rafig Aliev, head of the State Committee for Relations With Religious Organizations, said that religion was misused in Nardaran. "In the case of Nardaran, religion has been used as a tool of anxiety, not to bring peace to the people of the village. Somebody who really loves his religion would never use it for purposes like this. Religion is an internal state of a person. To pour it out in such a form is a great sin," Aliyev said.
The government seemed convinced that religion was used to stir up discontent in Nardaran. On 10 June, a week after the arrest of a number of village elders sparked the standoff between locals on the one hand and police and Interior Ministry officers on the other, two top officials of the Islamic Party were detained by police. Both live in Nardaran.
But not everyone is convinced that the Islamic Party is responsible for provoking the clash. The villagers had for months been demanding improved social services, such as repairing or building roads to Nardaran, and ensuring reliable gas and electricity.
Nariman Qasimoglu, who teaches the Koran at Khazar University, said the conflict in Nardaran was not fundamentally about religion. "The Nardaran events don't have to do with religious conflict. There was no religious conflict because they didn't say that the government was suppressing our religious values. There were a lot of people protesting some government politics, [saying] the government doesn't want to solve their problems," Qasimoglu said.
Qasimoglu, who is a vice president of the opposition Popular Front party, said the government may be using the Nardaran conflict to crack down on the Islamic Party, and perhaps to send a signal to Tehran, as well, since the Islamic Party is pro-Iranian.
Qasimoglu is among many who assume that neighboring Iran is trying to export its Islamic revolution to Azerbaijan, which has strong ethnic and historical ties to Tehran. "Maybe they think that they better use this moment to arrest them and tell people they caused all these problems. To some extent, Iran can use these events in its own interests through its intelligence services. Maybe just to make it clear to Iran that Iran has to cut all its agents here," Qasimoglu said.
One international observer who has investigated Iranian influence in Azerbaijan said that part of the mission of the State Committee for Relations With Religious Organizations is to block Iranian religious influence in the country. The observer said the committee regularly bans books coming in from Iran.
Rafiq Aliev, the committee's head, phrases his mandate more generally. "To protect the people from religion and religion from the people. We are a bridge between society and religious structures, and we would like to create tolerance among various religious communities," Aliyev said.
Although he is no supporter of the present Azerbaijani government, Qasimoglu agreed that there is a need to monitor religious activity in Azerbaijan. He admitted that the sweeping religious-freedom law introduced by the late President Abulfez Elchibey may have been "extreme." "If you open the borders to Iran or Saudi Arabia or some religious sects from Turkey, they might cause some problems because of the low level of knowledge [about religion here]. Society has to take care of all people. It's better to regulate and create a situation where all sects can coexist peacefully," Qasimoglu said.
But he warned that regulation does not mean suppression, something the authoritarian government in Baku is often accused of.
Although the population generally seems to be in favor of certifying mullahs, it is less clear that they support bans on head scarves. Aliyev said there is no official government stance on head scarves in universities, but women will not be allowed to cover their heads in photos on the new official identity cards that are being introduced.
A group of women has already threatened to take the government to the Court of Justice of the European Communities over the issue, suggesting that the struggle between state and religion in Azerbaijan is far from over.
Richard Allen Greene is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Baku.