26 June 2002, Volume 3, Number 26
IN FOCUSDIFFERING PERCEPTIONS OF OUTSIDE INTERVENTION RETARD PROGRESS ON RUSSIAN MINORITIES. Observers at sessions of the Council of Europe or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are familiar with the routine: each time a state delegation or an NGO mentions human rights violations allegedly committed by Russia against Chechens or other minorities, Russian officials counter with claims about mistreatment of Russians in the "near abroad," or former Soviet republics, particularly in the Baltics. The OSCE's decision to remove its missions from the Baltic states following a certain amount of progress on such issues as language and citizenship, and the process of accession to the EU has been met with increased Russian complaint of discrimination. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov issued a plea to OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolk Ekeus to help protect minority groups of Russians whose civil rights he said continued to be under attack by "repressive laws," reported strana.ru on 17 June on the eve of the high commissioner's visit to the region.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told RIA-Novosti, "About 700,000 people in those countries have no citizen status and cannot enjoy some fundamental socioeconomic, political, and cultural rights." Strana.ru, characterized by media watchers as close to the Kremlin, quoted Yakovenko as saying that Latvia continued to enforce discriminatory laws on language and education, and the Russian tongue, spoken by 40 percent of the population, had been declared foreign. Yakovenko said the Latvian parliament was refusing to ratify a Council of Europe convention on national minorities, though the country was a signatory to the document. Yakovenko also claimed that in Estonia, laws on aliens, elections, and language were among "filters" barring residents from taking part in political and economic life. The Russian official cited the "outrageous case" of a Russian girl denied emergency medical assistance because she could not explain her condition in Estonian when asked by doctors. He did not provide details, but strana.ru said "evidence of bad behavior was said to be mounting."
The Russian website said such evidence included the case of Tatiana Slivenko over violation of travel rights and infringement of "respect for personal and family life" and a favorable resolution of the case of Ingrida Podkolzina, who was denied the right to run in parliamentary elections on the pretext of poor knowledge of the Latvian language.
When the article from strana.ru was posted on Johnson's List, a popular Internet discussion group about Russia, Pauls Raudseps, editorial-page editor of "Diena," the widest-circulating daily in Riga, challenged strana.ru's information. "In fact, the court has refused to hear eight of the 11 complaints lodged by Ms. Slivenko and her family," wrote Raudseps, "including one regarding a decision by the Latvian authorities that Ms. Slivenko's husband had to leave Latvia in accordance with the 1994 treaty on the withdrawal of the Russian army from Latvia. A verdict on the remaining three complaints is still pending, so in fact up to now the court has not taken any decisions that could be used as proof of bad behavior on Latvia's part."
Raudseps also accused strana.ru of creating the mistaken impression in the case of Podkolzina, which had involved a claim of poor knowledge of Latvian leading to denial of her participation in elections, that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found this restriction to be impermissible. In fact, in its ruling in the Podkolzina case the ECHR explicitly recognized Latvia's right to make knowledge of Latvian a prerequisite for being elected to parliament -- although later Latvia removed this requirement from the law, which Raudseps said was further indication of strana.ru's deliberate distortion. While Raudseps conceded integration issues remained for Latvia, he characterized the article as "misleading" and "counterproductive."
On 13 June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the state of enlargement negotiations. The provisions concerning minority issues in Latvia have not been changed during the debates, according to "Minority Issues in Latvia," a regular publication of the Latvian Human Rights Committee. European MPs still hope that Latvia will ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and will study the possibility of continuing to provide access to upper-secondary-level education in Russian beyond 2004, said the Human Rights Committee.
Events in the ongoing saga of language and cultural rights and discrimination in Latvia are indicative of how deeply differing perceptions of impartial outside interventions on behalf of the rule of law continue to impede progress. In its 15 April issue, the Latvian Human Rights Committee had described the Podkolzina decision as "the first victory against Latvia" because the ECHR had found violation of electoral rights in the imposition of an additional language exam, despite the existence of a valid language certificate in her case -- although the court had not ruled against the language requirement per se.
The Latvian Human Rights Committee described widely divergent press coverage of the court's decision at that time. "Diena" ran a headline on 10 April, "ECHR Acquits Latvia's Language Policy," and argued that the court "has recognized the legal basis for the election law" and that it "has dismissed complaints under Article 13 and 14" concerning language requirements. By contrast, the Russian-language daily "Vesti Segodnya" claimed that the ECHR has ruled that Latvia had to amend the election legislation and to abolish the language requirements for deputy candidates -- a perception that persists in the media today as evidenced by strana.ru.
Eventually the language requirement was dropped in May, a move praised by the OSCE but which still left some Russian parliamentarians discontent. A group of deputies from the Russian Duma's International Affairs Committee introduced a resolution "on the discriminatory policies of Latvian official institutions regarding Latvia's Russian residents," BNS reported on 3 June (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report" 17 June 2002). The resolution states that the already complicated situation of Russian-speaking residents in Latvia worsened considerably after the Latvian parliament passed amendments to the constitution in April that bolstered the status of Latvian as the state language and effectively banned the use of Russian in legislative and executive bodies and local governments. The Duma resolution claims the amendments were aimed at the "forced assimilation of Russians and Russian speakers in Latvia."
Clearly, the continued festering of the debate and willful misrepresentation of the nuances in the facts are a cautionary tale about the limited efficacy of strictly legal and human rights remedies to resolve problems of communal strife, and the need for continued social and political dialogue and action. CAF
ARMENIAOPPOSITION CLAIMS PRESIDENT UPSET WAR VETERANS. Representatives of the 13 Armenian opposition parties determined to force a parliament debate on the impeachment of President Robert Kocharian told journalists in Yerevan on 21 June that some members of the Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans were alienated by Kocharian's 18 June warning that the police are entitled to grab opposition deputies by the ears if necessary in order to remove them from the parliament chamber and prevent them from disrupting the proceedings, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Albert Bazeyan, a leading member of the opposition Hanrapetutiun Party, said the opposition will again attempt to force Kocharian's impeachment when parliament resumes in September. On 20 June, the Armenian government approved draft amendments to parliamentary statutes that would allow the speaker to order police into the parliament chamber and to bar unruly deputies from entering the building for up to 15 days, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June)
BELARUSBILL ENDANGERS EXISTENCE OF RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES. Many small Protestant and nontraditional religious communities in Belarus say a proposed bill that would require the registration of religious communities would endanger their very existence. A draft of the bill was already approved by parliament in a first reading on 31 May and is expected to be finally approved late in June. The law will hit small religious communities and new religious movements in Belarus, such as the Hare Krishnas, especially hard. According to the draft, the authorities will register only those religious communities that consist of more than 20 Belarusian citizens. The others would be outlawed. The bill would also outlaw all religious groups not active in the country 20 years ago. All religious literature would need the approval of a new state agency before being distributed. Analysts say the law will enhance the state's control over Belarusian society and increase the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is the biggest religious community in the country. Some 70 percent of Belarusians say they are Orthodox believers, while 15 percent say they are Catholics. The rest consider themselves Muslims, Jews, or Protestants of various denominations. A parliamentarian sponsoring the bill said new law would "put up a barrier against all these Western preachers who just creep into Belarus and discredit Slavic values." ("Belarus: Bill Aims To Restrict Registration Of Nontraditional Religious Groups," rferl.org, 19 June)
OPPOSITION LEADER'S SON CONVICTED. Alyaksandr Chyhir and two other men were convicted of car theft in March and each was sentenced to more than seven years in a maximum-security prison. Today, the Minsk City Court upheld the lower-court conviction, which Chyhir's family has called a "political persecution." His father, Mikhail Chyhir, was prime minister of Belarus from 1994-96 and later became a leading figure in the opposition to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Opposition United Civic Party head Anatol Lyabedzka commented after the initial sentencing on 6 March that the sentence is the authorities' revenge for the opposition activities of his father. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June)
BULGARIAEUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS RULES ON ROMA CASE. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found Bulgaria had violated procedural rights in a landmark police-abuse case involving a Romany man, reported the Internet listserve MINELRES, citing the European Roma Rights Center, an international public interest group which helped file the suit. On 13 June, the ECHR reviewed the case, involving the death of Anguel Zabchikov, 17, while in police custody. Zabchikov was allegedly trying to break into cars in a Bulgarian neighborhood on 28 January 1996 when neighbors alerted an off-duty police officer who chased him, caught him after he subsequently fell several times, and took him to the police station. The ECHR ruled that Bulgarian authorities had failed to provide timely medical care, and failed to conduct an effective investigation, but did not find that ethnic discrimination was at issue. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Bonello noted his concern that the court, in over 50 years, has not found a single race-related case of torture or death. "Kurds, coloreds, Islamics, Roma, and others are again and again killed, tortured, or maimed, but the court is not persuaded that their race, color, nationality, or place of origin has anything to do with it," the judge opined, noting NGO reports illustrating a "predilection displayed by police officers for savaging Roma." The court awarded 19,050 euros for nonpecuniary damage and 3,500 euros for costs and expenses. (MINELRES, 15 June)
CZECH REPUBLICEUROPEAN INTELLECTUALS WARN IN PRAGUE AGAINST 'NATIONALIST RHETORIC.' A group of 26 prominent European intellectuals signed an appeal in Prague on 21 June calling on politicians to tone down the "nationalist rhetoric" that has emerged in recent electoral campaigns, CTK and Czech Radio reported. The appeal was drafted by former Hungarian President Arpad Goncz and Czech Senate Chairman Petr Pithart, and was also signed by German writer Guenter Grass, Slovak Deputy Premier Bela Bugar, Polish former dissident Adam Michnik, French European Parliament deputy Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and Prague Archbishop Vaclav Maly. The signatories said that "cheap populism" based on old historical grievances threatens the unification of Europe and cited the recent disputes concerning the Benes Decrees. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June)
ESTONIAPARLIAMENT CONDEMNS CRIMES OF NAZI, SOVIET OCCUPIERS. By a vote of 74 to one, parliament adopted a statement on 18 June condemning the crimes of the Soviet and German occupation forces in Estonia from 1940 to 1990, ETA reported. The initial draft of the statement, which only dealt with the crimes of the Communist parties of the USSR and Estonia, was submitted more than a year ago. Its adoption was delayed because of presidential elections in which two former Communist Party members were among the leading contenders. The draft was later amended to include Nazi crimes as well. The only dissenting vote came from the leader of the Estonian Social Democratic Labor Party, Tiit Toomsalu, who said the text was too soft on Nazi crimes and incorrectly "condemned 20-30 years of positive social development." The statement does not condemn individual former Communist Party members but rather the communist regime and its repressive organs, the KGB and NKVD. It stresses that the Soviet and Nazi occupation forces repressed or deported more than one-fifth of the total population of Estonia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June)
KAZAKHSTANPARLIAMENT PASSES CONTROVERSIAL LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES. Following a two-day debate, the Mazhilis (the lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament) passed late on 20 June a controversial new law on political parties, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 21 June. Opposition politicians immediately condemned the move. Communist deputy Valerian Emelyanov accused those deputies who voted for the bill of "trying to eliminate the opposition and install a one-party dictatorship," according to Reuters. Qurulys Suleyman, who heads the Almaty-based NGO Ar-Rukh-Khaq, told RFE/RL that the new law, which raises to 50,000 the minimum number of members a political party must have to register, was initiated by people within the presidential apparatus with the aim of facilitating the election to parliament of deputies loyal to the president. Suleyman predicted that early parliamentary or presidential elections might be imminent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June)
DETAINED OPPOSITIONIST REFUSES TO REVIEW CHARGES AGAINST HIM. Former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, who was hospitalized last month after an interrogation, has refused to acquaint himself with the criminal case brought against him, which he claims is politically motivated, Interfax reported on 18 June. Zhaqiyanov, who is one of the founding members of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, is charged with abuse of office. Zhaqiyanov is being treated at a clinic in Pavlodar with the powerful sedatives relanium (a Polish-produced form of diazepam, prescribed for anxiety and panic attacks) and dimedrol, according to a Kazakh politician who traveled to Pavlodar earlier this week in the hope of visiting Zhaqiyanov. He was refused permission to do so. Marzhan Aspiandarova of the Azamat Party told a press conference in Almaty on 19 June that it is not known how frequently Zhaqiyanov is being injected with these drugs or what the dosage is, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. EU ambassadors from several unspecified states traveled to Pavlodar where they met on 21 June with Zhaqiyanov, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 20, and 24 June)
TRIAL OF FORMER MINISTER OPENS IN ASTANA. Former Energy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov went on trial in Astana on 24 June on charges of abuse of his official position while serving as head of the country's power grid, Russian agencies reported. Journalists were allowed to attend the trial but forbidden to film or tape-record the proceedings, according to "Vremya novostei" on 25 June. Abliyazov, who last fall cofounded the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, claims that the charges against him are politically motivated. His attorneys appealed to the judge to appoint new prosecutors, as those in charge of the case are "biased"; to allow new witnesses to give evidence; and to release Abliyazov on bail for the duration of the trial. At the personal initiative of its Chairman Akezhan Kazhegeldin, the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan has formed a monitoring group that will relay to the international community details of the trial proceedings, according to forumkz.org on 25 June. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June)
KYRGYZSTANDEMONSTRATORS CALL ON KYRGYZ PRESIDENT TO RESIGN. Some 7,000 people congregated on 17 June in the southern town of Djalalabad to demand the resignations of President Askar Akaev, Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev, and Djalalabad Oblast Governor Jusupbek Sharipov, and the annulment of the sentence handed down by a Djalalabad court last month against parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. About 1,500 of the protesters had marched to Djalalabad from the town of Tash-Komur, some 90 kilometers away. Also on 17 June, Abyshkaev confirmed that Beknazarov's appeal against his sentence will be heard in Toktogul, not Djalalabad. Beknazarov refuses to travel to Toktogul for the hearing because he was not informed of the change 10 days in advance, as legally required. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June)
PROSECUTOR CONFIRMS THAT POLICE RESPONSIBLE FOR SOME AKSY CASUALTIES... Abyshkaev said on 17 June that the investigation has almost been completed into the 17-18 March clashes in Aksy between police and Beknazarov's supporters, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He said four criminal cases have been filed against local police officers and officials in connection with the deaths of six people during that confrontation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June)
...WARNS THAT PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES ARE UNDER SURVEILLANCE. Abyshkaev told Abdygany Erkebaev, speaker of the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament), on 17 June that Interior and National Security Ministry officials are monitoring the activities of Beknazarov and his fellow parliament deputies Bektur Asanov and Duishen Chotonov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. All three participated in the protest pickets in Tash-Komur on 7-8 June and the demonstration in Djalalabad on 17 June. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June)
SUPPORTERS OF KYRGYZ OPPOSITION DEPUTY BEGIN NEW MARCH... Some 500 of the estimated 2,500 Beknazarov supporters assembled in the southern town of Djalalabad set out to march the 100 kilometers to Osh, the largest city in southern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
...AS KYRGYZ OFFICIAL ACCUSES HIM OF SEPARATISM. Addressing a session of the Legislative Assembly on 20 June, Kyrgyz State Secretary Osmonakum Ibraimov accused Beknazarov and his fellow deputies Asanov and Chotonov of actively lobbying the idea of detaching Kyrgyzstan's southern Aksy Raion and declaring it part of either Russia or Uzbekistan, Interfax reported. He claimed Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov is angered by such demands, according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. He added that the objective of the unsanctioned rallies by Beknazarov's supporters is to incite the population to unspecified "anticonstitutional actions," and called on them to desist. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS FORMER KYRGYZ VICE PRESIDENT'S APPEAL. The Constitutional Court on 20 June rejected an appeal lodged on 7 June by former Vice President Feliks Kulov against the additional prison term to which he was sentenced on 8 May, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kulov was sentenced in January 2001 to seven years in prison on charges of abuse of power, and to 10 years in prison last month on charges of embezzlement. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
LEGISLATURE ASKS COURT TO CONSIDER REASONS FOR AKSY UNREST. The Legislative Assembly adopted a statement on 21 June calling on the Djalalabad Oblast court to take into consideration the findings of the government commission to clarify the circumstances of the 17-18 March clashes in Aksy Raion when reviewing the appeal by Beknazarov against the sentence handed down to him last month, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The commission concluded that one of the main contributing factors to the Aksy clashes, in which five people were killed, was Beknazarov's "unlawful" arrest in January 2002 and the local authorities' failure to respond to the wave of public protest to which it gave rise. Beknazarov was charged with his failure while working as an investigator in 1995 to bring charges of murder against a colleague who killed a man in self-defense. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June)
LITHUANIAPARLIAMENT AMENDS CONSTITUTION ON LOCAL ELECTIONS. Parliament by a vote of 105 to 14 with four abstentions approved amendments to Article 119 of the constitution on 20 June, ELTA reported. The amendments extend the term of local-council deputies from three to four years and allow noncitizens permanently residing in Lithuania to vote and to be elected to local councils. Parliament originally approved the amendments on 25 January by a vote of 108 to two, with one abstention. That means the constitutional requirement that at least two-thirds of lawmakers vote for the amendments on two occasions separated by at least three months has been met. The provisions accompanying the amendments, however, provide that they do not go into effect immediately and that noncitizens will be allowed to vote only in 2006. Parliament also decided by a vote of 59 to 32, with two abstentions, to advance the date of the local-council elections, originally scheduled for February or March 2003, to 22 December, the date of the presidential election. By merging the two polls, the state is expected to save about 10 million litas ($2.7 million). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
POLANDAMENDMENTS TO LUSTRATION LAW RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL. The Constitutional Tribunal ruled on 19 June that amendments to the 1997 lustration law were adopted earlier this year in an unconstitutional manner, Polish media reported. The amendments removed intelligence, counterintelligence, and border-protection service officers from the list of officials subject to the lustration process. They also defined as secret-service agents only those who had acted to the detriment of the political opposition, the Church, and civil rights. The ruling means that the lustration trials of some 20 politicians, which were suspended by the amendments, will be resumed. This group of politicians includes former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, Democratic Left Alliance parliamentary caucus head Jerzy Jaskiernia, and Prime Ministerial Chancellery chief Marek Wagner. "A beautiful day has dawned after the darkness of the night, and it causes the birds to sing. This tribunal decision restores the faith that Poland can be a state of law and respect for the law, and that even the mightiest political forces must take this law into account," commented Peasant Party lawmaker Bohdan Pek. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)
ROMANIAPARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION HEAD DENIES ATTEMPTS TO OBSTRUCT WORK OF CNSAS... Ion Stan, chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activities of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), on 19 June denied media reports alleging that the commission has sought to obstruct a body in charge of the former communist secret police files, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Stan said his commission is, however, insisting that the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS) must act in compliance with the law. After the council said it intends to make public names of former Securitate officers still employed by the SRI, Stan threatened to take the council to court. On 19 June, he said current legislation obliges the council before disclosing such names to interview those suspected of having aided the Securitate as "political police," to grant them the right to appeal the council's decisions and the right to appeal to courts if the council decides against them. Only after all these steps are taken, he said, can the CNSAS make their names public in the official gazette. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)
...ACKNOWLEDGES SRI EAVESDROPPED ON SUSPECTS IN 1991-92... Stan also said on 19 June that the SRI indeed placed the telephones of 13 Romanian personalities under surveillance in 1991-92, as claimed by writer and political scientist Stelian Tanase, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Stan said the surveillance was carried out with the approval of the Prosecutor-General's Office, as stipulated by law. Tanase told the commission that he suspects his conversations are still monitored and added that he has never endangered the country's national security -- the only legal ground on which the Prosecutor-General's Office can approve telephone surveillance. Former SRI Director Virgil Magureanu denied such surveillance has been carried out by the service "as political police" and said the 13 were at the time suspected of activities endangering national security. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)
...WHILE EXTREMIST LAWMAKER ALLEGES CNSAS MEMBERS ARE FORMER SPIES. Daniela Buruiana, deputy chairwoman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activities of the SRI, on 19 June said three CNSAS members have had "ties to foreign intelligence agencies" and threatened to publish proof of such links if the CNSAS does not renounce its intention to publish the names of SRI officers employed by the Securitate, Mediafax reported. Buruiana, who is a member of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), named former Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, anticommunist dissident and poet Mircea Dinescu, and essayist Horia Roman Patapievici as alleged foreign-intelligence agents. She said her information comes from "people who had direct links with the Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)
MINERS' LEADER SENTENCED TO ADDITIONAL JAIL TERMS. Miners' leader Miron Cozma was sentenced on 21 June to an additional 12 years in prison for his role in the 1999 clashes in Stoenesti between miners who were attempting to march on Bucharest and the forces of order, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The judges sentenced Cozma to seven years for having instigated the miners and to five years for his role in the violent clashes. The two sentences will be served concurrently with the 18 years Cozma is already serving for his role in the 1991 attempt to overthrow the Petre Roman government. Three of Cozma's associates were sentenced to terms ranging from four to 5 1/2 years for their roles in the Stoenesti clashes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June)
RUSSIABILL ON EXTREMISM CONTINUES ITS RAPID PROGRESS TOWARD PASSAGE... Despite being introduced only at the beginning of June, the government-sponsored bill on combating extremism passed its second reading on 20 June, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 272 in favor, with 126 against and two abstentions. According to "Izvestiya," discussion of the bill occupied almost half the session, as sharp words were exchanged regarding the definition of extremism and the possibility that the law could be interpreted by the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Justice Ministry in such a way as to be a weapon against "internal enemies." However, Legislation Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces) argued that more than 100 amendments were considered, and the new version contains a more clear-cut definition of extremism and better-formulated norms governing the suspension of the organizations considered extremist, ITAR-TASS reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
...AS DEPUTIES WARN THAT BILL CAN BE USED AGAINST POLITICAL ENEMIES. However, the Communist faction was not persuaded, and all but two of them voted against the bill, according to RIA-Novosti. Communist Deputy Aleksandr Salii said the bill is not directed against groups such as Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party, which has "no more than 500 members," but at the Communist Party -- which the presidential administration does not want to participate in the next Duma elections, "Izvestiya" reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DOWNPLAYS CRIMES AGAINST FOREIGNERS IN GENERAL... Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov told group of heads of foreign diplomatic missions in Russia on 20 June that the incidents of extremist violence in recent weeks in Russia were not directed "intentionally" against foreigners, RosBalt reported the same day. Last year, about 3 million crimes were committed in Russia, of which 1,500 were directed against foreign citizens, Ustinov said. He did not mention that the number of foreigners in Russia is far smaller than the number of Russians. RosBalt also quoted the head of the Interior Ministry department in charge of tracking down fugitives, Viktor Papsuev, as saying that there have been "hardly any" cases in Moscow of racial or religious crimes committed against African citizens. Papsuev reported that 37,166 crimes committed by foreign citizens in Russia were registered in 2001, an increase of 5.8 percent over the previous year. He estimated that 90 percent of those crimes were committed by citizens of the former Soviet republics and that 20 percent of these crimes involved the drug trade. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
...AS DUMA PASSES LAW ON STATUS OF FOREIGNERS. Deputies on 21 June adopted in its third reading a law governing the status of foreigners in Russia, RosBalt reported the same day. The law regulates the status of all foreigners living and conducting business within the Russian Federation. It forbids foreigners from moving or traveling outside of the regions they have permission to visit without first receiving state permission. It permits the government to establish a list of places that foreigners must obtain special permission to visit, and it authorizes the government to create and maintain a database of foreigners living in the country. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
OPINIONS, NUMBERS DIFFER OVER CHINESE 'THREAT.' "Versiya" reported on 10 June that while the Interior Ministry estimates that there are 2 million Chinese in all of Russia, other unnamed sources believe that there are 5 million ethnic Chinese in Russia, compared with just 250,000 five years ago, according to Carnegie Moscow Center figures. However, Federal Migration Service head Andrei Chernenko told reporters in Moscow on 13 June that "migration to Russia from China does not constitute a big threat," Interfax reported. Chernenko said that in the last five years there has been no increase in migration from China to Russia, although there has been "an integration of Chinese representatives into the system of socioeconomics of the border zone." According to the weekly, although local authorities in the Russian Far East frequently complain about the threat of Chinese domination of the region, not a single representative in Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, or Ussuriisk has any exact data on land purchases by Chinese citizens. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June)
DUMA ADOPTS HARD LINE ON KALININGRAD, WHICH EU REJECTS. The State Duma on 19 June overwhelmingly approved a hard-line, nonbinding resolution on the Kaliningrad Oblast issue, "Izvestiya" and other Russian news agencies reported. The resolution, which garnered 401 votes, demands that the European Union provide a visa-free transit corridor between the exclave and the rest of Russia after neighboring Lithuania and Poland enter the organization. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visited Warsaw on 20 June, where he discussed the transit problem, telling journalists that Russia is not interested in obtaining any corridors through Poland or Lithuania but in having free transit between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia. Leaders at the European Union summit on immigration policy in Seville subsequently rejected Russian proposals to provide visa-free transit corridors between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 22 June. The summit's final documents instead offer residents of the Kaliningrad exclave the right to multiple-entry Schengen visas at the lowest possible rate following the accession of Lithuania and Poland to the organization, with the details to be fleshed out before September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 21, and 24 June)
MAN KILLED DURING ELECTRICITY PROTESTS. On 17 June, more than 300 residents of a town in the Baryshkii Raion of Ulyanovsk Oblast blocked the Penza-Ulyanovsk highway to protest the lack of electricity to their village. During the protest, a passing car killed one picketer and injured another. On 19 June, town residents stopped their protest after electricity was restored. Ulyanovsk Governor Vladimir Shamanov has been on vacation and, in his absence, First Deputy Governor Viktor Sidorchev publicly called for the head of the raion to resign, RFE/RL's Ulyanovsk correspondent reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)
ALTERNATIVE-SERVICE BILL MOVES FORWARD... Duma deputies adopted on 19 June a government-sponsored bill on alternative military service in its second reading, Western and Russian news agencies reported. If adopted unchanged, the bill will make the length of alternative service 3 1/2 years at a civilian facility or three years at a military facility. Those with higher-education degrees would have to serve only 22 months, according to Interfax. The vote was 274 in favor and three opposed, the agency reported. Pro-Kremlin centrist factions were able to block most of the more than 300 amendments that were proposed after the first reading of the bill, mostly by deputies from Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). Presidential Ombudsman for Human Rights Oleg Mironov told Ekho Moskvy the same day that he considers "doing alternative service in military units to be absolutely unacceptable" because young men would likely become "pariahs among the servicemen and negative phenomena like vicious hazing will assume new forms." Duma Deputy Vladimir Semenov (SPS) suggested having draftees avoid compulsory military service by making a set payment to the state treasury, RIA-Novosti reported on 18 June. Semenov was quoted as saying that the bill is intended to reduce opportunities for corruption at military induction centers, where presently conscripts often pay bribes from $1,500 to $3,000 in order to avoid service. SPS deputy head Aleksandr Barranikov introduced an amendment that would have reduced the term of alternative military service to 2 1/2 years; however, that amendment attracted only 71 votes. Displeased with the final results after the more than four hours of debate, Barranikov declared, "The military lobby won." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 June)
�.AS CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS CAUGHT IN BATTLE BETWEEN CENTER AND REGION. The General Staff has demanded that the more than a dozen young men currently performing alternative civil service in Nizhnii Novgorod under that city's experimental program be inducted into the military, Interfax reported on 20 June. Meanwhile, the young men, who were working in a local hospital, have quit the work they started in January, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Local human rights activist Viktor Gurskii, who supported the city's experiment, said the new version of a draft federal law on alternative civil service "offers nothing to those potential draftees who, as earlier, will either have to flee the country, enter into some unneeded course of study at a higher-educational institution, or hide from induction officials so that they don't get called up." The new draft law passed in its second reading on 19 June. Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev, who faces elections on 15 September, vowed that the city administration will defend the interests of the participants in the experiment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June).
BASHKIR CONGRESS PICKETERS PUNISHED. Ufa's Lenin district court on 17 June considered the case of five Tatars who staged a picket on 14 June in front of the Ufa Neftyanik Palace of Culture in which the World Bashkir Congress began, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported. On 14 June police detained the picketers but released them the same day. The court issued a symbolic 50-ruble ($1.6) fine to the organizer of the event, Milli Mejlis leader Marat Ramazanov, while other participants received only formal warnings for holding the picket without the previous consent of city authorities. Picketers now reportedly plan to sue the police officers who detained them for more than three hours, in violation of the administrative code. ("RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Daily Report," 18 June)
FORMER U.S. OFFICIALS OUTLINE CHECHEN PROPOSALS. In an article published in "The Washington Post" on 21 June, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Alexander Haig, and Max Kampelman outline a plan for ending the war in Chechnya. That plan would require the Chechens to acknowledge the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, while Russia would acknowledge the Chechens' right to national, but not political self-determination. A referendum would be held in which Chechens would be called to endorse a constitutional basis for self-government within Russia modeled on Russia's relations with Tatarstan. Aslan Maskhadov, whom the three statesmen stress is Chechnya's legitimately elected leader, would demand that those Chechen fighters who refuse to accept that arrangement leave the country. Russian troops would remain deployed along Chechnya's southern border to protect Russia's territorial integrity. And the international community would finance, and oversee, a broad program of economic reconstruction. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June)
BUDANOV SET TO ESCAPE IMPRISONMENT... The prosecutor at the trial in Rostov-na-Donu of Colonel Yurii Budanov, who is accused of strangling a Chechen woman whom he believed was a sniper in March 2000, called on 18 June for the murder charge against Budanov to be dropped on the grounds that psychiatrists have concluded that he was "temporarily insane" when he committed the killing, Russian agencies reported. The prosecutor proposed that Budanov receive a three-year sentence on charges of abuse of his official position but be amnestied immediately under a presidential decree pegged to the 55th anniversary of the allied victory in World War II. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June)
...TO CHECHEN OFFICIALS' OUTRAGE. Retired police General Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who represents Chechnya in the Russian State Duma, expressed "complete outrage" on 18 June at the prosecutor's proposal to acquit Budanov of murder, Interfax reported. He added that the recommendation demonstrates the lack of independence and objectivity of the military court that heard the case. Aslakhanov said he will ask the prosecutor-general to open a new investigation into the killing. In Grozny, Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev said on 18 June he was not surprised by the prosecutor's proposal. But he noted that it runs counter to the position taken by the Chechen administration and its head, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who believe that Budanov should receive the harshest possible punishment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June)
NGOS PROTEST FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH ORDERS. Memorial Human Rights Center, Moscow Helsinki Group, Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship, and other NGOs publicly released a letter to Yurii Puzanov, the Kremlin's representative for human rights in Chechnya on 19 June. The groups said their repeated documentation of violations of an order issued two months ago by Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, commander of the joint federal forces in Chechnya, to curb the abuses of Russian troops were going unheeded, calling into question the efficacy of the dialogue between government and civil society regarding human rights in Chechnya launched at last fall's presidentially sponsored Civic Forum. Moltenskoi's order was supposed to prevent abuses by armed forces conducting sweeps through Chechen villages by mandating the presence of Chechen officials and registration of detentions. Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov admitted that the law was violated on several occasions during passport inspections and raids in Chechen villages, reported Interfax on 18 June. "Moltenskoi's order was not fully complied with. But we have worked out a system -- if a complaint is filed, the Prosecutor-General's Office gets involved and so do we," Ilyasov claimed at a roundtable discussion. NGOs say prosecutors fail to follow up on their complaints. CAF
UKRAINEMINERS PROTEST OVER WAGE ARREARS, PRESIDENT ORDERS PAYMENTS. Some 90 coal miners from Luhansk Oblast launched a hunger strike on Independence Square in Kyiv on 18 June, demanding payment of overdue wages. "We are determined to stay here until the government pays our money. In some months, we get only one-third of our salaries -- and sometimes nothing. It is impossible to live like this," one of the protesters told Reuters. The same day, some 70 miners from Donetsk Oblast picketed the parliamentary and governmental headquarters in Kyiv with similar demands, AP reported. President Leonid Kuchma has ordered Prime Minister Kinakh to take urgent measures to pay overdue wages in the coal-mining sector, UNIAN reported, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Kuchma reportedly called for 50 million hryvni ($9.5 million) to be paid monthly. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 24 June)
YUGOSLAVIAGOVERNMENT REVEALS DOCUMENT ON MILOSEVIC'S ROLE. The Yugoslav government unsealed secret papers showing that former President Slobodan Milosevic decided in 1997 to place elite security forces directly under his own control, AP reported. The Interior Ministry recently acquired the document from former state security chief Jovica Stanisic. The document could help the war crimes tribunal based in The Hague to prove Milosevic's direct responsibility for war crimes committed by Serbian forces in Kosova in 1998 and 1999. Yugoslav Justice Minister Savo Markovic told AP that the document will be given to prosecutors in The Hague. Milosevic's lawyer has called the document a fake. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)
HAGUE TRIBUNAL SAYS KARADZIC IS IN BOSNIA AND MLADIC IN YUGOSLAVIA... Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor for the war crimes tribunal based in The Hague, said in Brussels on 19 June that Belgrade has done only "the barest minimum" in terms of cooperating with the tribunal, Reuters reported. She added that a new law on cooperation is merely "lip service" and that the Belgrade authorities have blocked access to witnesses and archives. She stressed that she will ask the U.S. and EU to apply more pressure on Belgrade to cooperate. In Sarajevo, Del Ponte's spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, said that "according to our information, Radovan Karadzic is in the [Republika] Srpska and [his army commander General Ratko] Mladic is still on the territory of Yugoslavia," dpa reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)
...BUT YUGOSLAV ARMY CHIEF DENIES KNOWLEDGE OF MLADIC. General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who heads the Yugoslav Army's General Staff, said in Belgrade on 19 June: "We are not protecting Mladic, and we don't know where he is. For the past few months we have not had any information about where he is, because the Yugoslav Army security services do not deal with retired generals," Reuters reported. Reports appear in the regional media from time to time about alleged sightings of Karadzic or Mladic. These are, however, often contradictory and virtually always impossible to prove. They might be regarded as a Balkan version of Loch Ness monster stories. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)
END NOTEEXILES, NGOS MULL OPTIONS FOR CHANGE IN TURKMENISTAN
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
At a historic meeting in Vienna in mid-June, exiled Turkmen dissidents and international human rights groups convened the first major international conference to discuss ways in which they could promote democracy and the rule of law in Turkmenistan, widely acknowledged as the most repressive of former Soviet states. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), a watchdog group with members throughout Western and Eastern Europe (but not in Turkmenistan) hosted the conference together with Memorial Society of Russia, which monitors human rights in Central Asia, and invited a number of prominent exiles and human rights leaders from various countries.
The gathering was prompted by increasing political agitation in Turkmenistan, where the president has cracked down on his former close aides and other officials, particularly security agents. After earlier incidents of President Saparmurat Niyazov's agents kidnapping or beating opposition members, some conference participants hid their identities. In an unusual move, the IHF also hired guards to protect participants over the meeting's three days, eurasianet.org reported on 24 June.
A wave of defections and jailings this year galvanized the groups to meet. On 15 June, a court in Ashgabat passed lengthy sentences on three former leading National Security Committee (KNB) officials, gundogar.com reported on 17 June, the latest in a series of such trials. A number of high-profile defectors from the government of Turkmenistan, including two ex-foreign ministers and several ambassadors who once served the regime, have made their way to the West in recent months, evidently not without some resources. Such factors make them strange bedfellows for NGO activists, who are sanguine about the tendency of "formers" -- whom they believe to be injured but not innocent -- to exaggerate claims of rampant corruption and abuse, including practices in which they no doubt had a hand when they occupied positions of power. Nevertheless, in such a closed and oppressive society as Turkmenistan, every voice from inside must be nurtured if it is dissonant from the clamorous cult of personality of Turkmenbashi, Father of all Turkmen, as Niyazov calls himself.
At the meeting, activists pointed to the need to go beyond clucking over the excesses of the president's cult of personality, evident in everything from the naming of perfumes for the president to the recently introduced requirements for university applicants to memorize the president's biography and writings. Indeed, the oft-told anecdotes of the antics of President Niyazov, human rights groups say, have distracted from the exposure of such serious issues as torture in prison and economic deprivation for the population. They say part of the campaign to change Turkmenistan must include greater focus on such widespread harsh realities and less on the president's persona. Exiles add to the litany of abuses their own insiders' charges of drug trafficking and presidential connections to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, as well as rampant corruption and chaos throughout the government, making it ripe for overthrow, they say, although the timetable for such action is uncertain.
Sticking to a more traditional agenda, conference participants called on Turkmenistan to release prisoners Mukhametkuli Aimuradov and Kurban Zakirov and review other cases of apparent politically motivated imprisonment, to rein in the abusive KNB, to stop torture and allow foreign journalists in Turkmenistan -- and the list goes on, including an end to child labor and what amounts to a ban on foreign marriages.
The question is really how to tackle these issues in a context where Turkmenbashi has no intention of leaving the scene before 2010. As Emma Gray of the Committee to Protect Journalists told IRINnews.org on 5 June, it is not a question of what should be done but what can be done. "There is a real danger of getting journalists into trouble if they are seen to be communicating with foreign organizations. Our support has to be strong, but no so open that it invites the suspicion of the KNB," she said, adding that the quiet work of international organizations like OSCE and international reporters' groups with local journalists may be a way forward.
In Vienna, exiles and activists considering conditions both inside and outside the country grappled with the same issues of how to calibrate the necessary level of quiet and still be effective in dealing with such an oppressive and retaliatory government as Turkmenistan. Human rights groups noted their successful vocal campaigns to free prisoners such as Vyacheslav Mamedov and Shageldi Atakov, although they remain under surveillance and cannot register their organization.
Ultimately, to bring about change, such groups reach for the levers of economic aid and trade. For Russia, there is the risk of instability of its gas deliveries, and for the West, the loss of investments in the oil and gas industry. For now, Niyazov supplies stability in "neutral Turkmenistan" but it is a brittle one, given the history of such dictatorships in the post-Soviet region. The World Bank or the International Monetary Fund should freeze assistance programs until they can get better accountability and monitoring, say NGOs.
Critics also expressed a wish to gain greater coverage of the opposition's charges of President Niyazov's connections to the Taliban, although they will encounter the pragmatism of an agency like USAID, which notes on its website that Turkmenistan "has the longest border with Afghanistan, and its supportive role in supplying humanitarian relief for Afghanistan has been essential: it facilitated over 30 percent of the food aid for Afghanistan" from the U.S. The World Bank still maintains programs for water supply and technical assistance for unspecified "institution building" -- if such programs are cut, not only could they affect some NGOs, they could help the government turn the public against the outside world by portraying Westerners as callous to human suffering and basic needs like sanitation. Loans from the IMF were halted due to corruption in 2000.
One political gesture envisioned by activists to influence Turkmenistan was expulsion from OSCE. Only Yugoslavia has been suspended from this European institution, which, unlike others such as the Council of Europe with more restrictive membership rules, prides itself on maintaining links of communication even with the worst regimes in order to advance human-rights goals. If Turkmenistan's membership in OSCE were to be suspended, the OSCE mission in Ashgabat, which at least serves as an outpost of foreigners concerned about the welfare of both dissenters and ordinary people, would have to go as well. That seemed too high a price with too little anticipated results.
Whatever levers are eventually used, unification of the opposition appears to be a critical element for change, and would presumably involve linking the United Turkmen Democratic Opposition headed by Avdy Kuliev, a former foreign minister who lives in Russia in exile, with the National Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan chaired by Boris Shikhmuradov, also a former foreign minister, who succeeded Kuliev and recently fled abroad. Shikhmuradov did not attend the conference in Vienna, to the great disappointment of participants who hoped his presence would foster the unification process. But he did agree to support the text of proposals by telephone later.
Among other concrete proposals was a call for better scrutiny of small steps praised by OSCE, such as the alleged abolition of exit visas, as well as more vocal criticism of human rights abuses, and far better discrimination by UNDP, USAID, and other foreign agencies regarding the differences between NGOs, genuinely independent groups, and GONGOs, government-organized civic groups which not only feign independence but help displace and undermine authentic groups. Conference-goers also proposed that RFE/RL's Turkmen Service include some Russian-language broadcasting as part of an overall effort to broadcast in Russian to Central Asia, a concept designed by Turkmen patriots not to further "Russificiation" but to reach Russian speakers and facilitate cross-border communications about shared problems.
While the meeting in Vienna led to the establishment of a "Roundtable of the Turkmen Democratic Opposition," which immediately called for suspending Turkmenistan's membership in OSCE, human rights groups refrained from endorsing the call for expulsion from OSCE while pressing international institutions to coordinate their approach to Turkmenistan more vigorously and to make their interventions more consistently aggressive.