11 July 2002, Volume 3, Number 28
IN FOCUSNGOS URGE BAN ON SPENT-NUCLEAR-FUEL IMPORT, PETITION FOR WHISTLEBLOWERS. In June, representatives of 20 environmental organizations of the Urals, Siberia, Saratov, Moscow, and St. Petersburg, joined in a network known as Movement For Nuclear Safety, gathered in their fourth annual meeting to discuss strategies for advocacy with the government, reported Siberian Scientists for Global Responsibility in an electronic bulletin dated 25 June. They hope to obtain meetings with various relevant ministries to outline their proposal for a moratorium on import of spent nuclear fuel from abroad, complaining of inadequate legislation, lack of a rapid response plan for emergencies, and failure by Minatom, the Russian Atomic Ministry, to reassure public opinion with safety measures.
In June, Greenpeace, the international environmental organization, obtained an official Russian letter characterized as "extremely frank" and published it together with a dramatic multimedia presentation (viewable at http://archive.greenpeace.org/mayak/) about the grim, irradiated lives of illness and early death of citizens living near Mayak, the world's largest nuclear complex, about 130 kilometers north of Chelyabinsk. Addressed to Minatom head Aleksandr Rumyantsev the letter signed by Yurii Vishnevskii, head of Gosatomnadzov, the nuclear inspector agency, condemns multibillion-dollar plans to import foreign spent nuclear fuel on both safety and economic grounds, citing numerous violations of safety procedure currently committed by Minatom, including the use of open reservoirs for holding liquid radioactive waste without proper licensing, public alarm about failure to implement laws to protect the population from radiation, and nuclear-waste pollution and inaction by Chelyabinsk officials.
Russian environmental NGOs believe their lobbying has had some effect in recent years; at least the government is starting to listen. In October, the Health Ministry of, the Ural Scientific Practical Center for Radiation Medicine, the Chelyabinsk Main Directorate for Radiation and Ecological Safety, and the Emergency Situations Ministry have all agreed to co-sponsor a conference with the Movement for Nuclear Safety and Aigul, a woman's ecological organization. Negotiating improved safety compliance with officials is one method used by Russia's environmental movement, but litigation has also increasingly had an impact. Chelyabinsk residents Natalya Mironova and Andrei Talevlin, recently won a suit in the Supreme Court to halt an unlawful government plan to import Hungarian fuel without plans to return the waste for treatment.
Movement For Nuclear Safety, with the help of the Center for Ecological Policy, the office of the presidential ombudsman for human rights, and Chelyabinsk State University also convened an international conference on 17-23 June near Chelyabinsk to discuss environmentalism and human rights, specifically regarding whistleblowers persecuted for alerting the public to unsafe radioactive conditions. NGOs say lack of access to information about pollution of the environment coupled with persecution of environmental activists like Aleksandr Nikitin have been major obstacles to the movement's further success. As a researcher for the Norwegian environmental group Bellona Foundation, Nikitin helped prepare a report on radioactive contamination of the environment by the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet. Naval authorities alleged that Nikitin divulged secret information to Bellona. Eventually he was acquitted, after spending five years fighting the charges and many months in pretrial detention.
The environmentalists at the Chelyabinsk conference, including scientists and lawyers from five countries, drafted a petition to President Vladimir Putin and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in defense of jailed environmentalist Grigorii Pasko, a Russian journalist, and Professor Yury Bandazhevski of Belarus, sentenced to 8 years of prison charges of bribery charges Amnesty International called fabricated in retaliation for his protest about the inept official handling of the aftermath of the Chornobyl disaster.
Russian activists and lawmakers from the Yabloko party also appealed this week to the Supreme Court to reconsider the treason conviction of Pasko. A June decision by the Supreme Court's military panel upheld the decision against Pasko, sentenced to four years in prison in December 2001 by a military court in Vladivostok for attending a meeting of Russian naval commanders and taking notes, said to be intended for the Japanese media (see "Russia: Lawmakers Appeal to Supreme Court in Pasko Case," rferl.org, 10 July).
NGO leaders from 15 Russian regions also met in Chebarkul recently to make an expedition to the river Techa at the point where it intersects with the Chelyabinsk-Yekaterinburg highway. Several meters from a bridge over the river, site of a drain to a radioactive river bed, the Siberian scientists discovered a section which emitted 85,000 microroentgens per hour, or 3,000 times the safe levels of radioactivity. The dangerous contaminated plume is caused by the emptying of liquid radioactive waste upstream into the Techa River's cascade of reservoirs. Tom Carpenter, director of nuclear programs for the Washington-based Government Accountability Project (http://www.whistleblower.org), has called the Techa River near Mayak an "open sewer" in urgent letters to Russian and international officials which his group has been sending since 2000, pleading for attention to the gross contamination.
With the help of such grassroots inspections, the scientists are helping local residents to draft amendments to rectify inadequate nuclear-safety laws. In 1997 seven Movement for Nuclear Safety activists sailed down the river in a floating demonstration calling for the evacuation of the village of Muslyumovo, 30 kilometers downriver from the Mayak nuclear reprocessing plant, and obtained a government decree to move the villagers, although no funds or a timetable were initially forthcoming. Since then, activists have used a combination of demonstrations, litigation, press coverage, and dialogue with officialdom to achieve their goals for a safer world. CAF
ARMENIACONSTITUTIONAL COURT ANNULS BY-ELECTION RESULT. The Constitutional Court has annulled the outcome of the 16 May by-election in Shirak, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 1 July. Vartan Makeyan of the opposition Democratic Fatherland Party had protested the official returns, according to which he polled 28 percent of the vote compared with 38 percent for Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun candidate Hovannes Matilian, claiming that police and local officials pressured voters to cast their ballots for Matilian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2002). A repeat election will probably take place on 14 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July)
COUNCIL OF EUROPE AGAIN WARNS ARMENIA NOT TO RETAIN DEATH PENALTY. In a 6 July interview with RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walther Schwimmer warned that Armenia will face unspecified "serious political consequences" if it ends its moratorium on the execution of persons sentenced to death. Council of Europe officials have repeatedly insisted that Armenia must not make any exceptions to its commitment to the council to abolish the death penalty. Parliament nonetheless last month adopted a new Criminal Code that retains the death penalty for serious crimes committed before the code takes effect. That loophole was intended to create a legal foundation for the execution of the five gunmen who shot eight senior officials in the parliament chamber in October 1999. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
AZERBAIJANOPPOSITION DIVIDED OVER REFERENDUM BOYCOTT. The leadership of the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) decided on 3 July to boycott the planned 24 August referendum on President Heidar Aliev's proposed amendments to the Azerbaijani Constitution, Turan reported on 4 July. AMIP Chairman Etibar Mamedov said on 4 July his party will deploy observers to monitor voter participation in the referendum, which he predicted will be no higher than 10 percent. Some other opposition leaders, however, are undecided whether a boycott is the most appropriate countermeasure. Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar said on 4 July his party would not support a boycott. But the 24 parties aligned in the United Opposition Movement nonetheless agreed the same day to convene mass protests beginning in early August against the proposed amendments, which they consider unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 1 July 2002). It is not yet clear whether voters must approve the 39 proposed amendments as one package or individually. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
POLICE POSTS REMOVED FROM VILLAGE. The seven police control posts set up on the outskirts of the village of Nardaran near Baku following clashes early last month between police and villagers were removed on 6 July, Turan reported. On 5 July, members of the Committee for the Rights of Nardaran Residents picketed the Supreme Court in Baku to demand that the police who opened fire on Nardaran villagers, and those officials who approved the use of force, be punished. The Azerbaijani authorities have not yet taken any action to meet villagers' demands, which include the release of all those detained in the wake of the clashes, improvements to the local infrastructure, and the chance to transport their agricultural produce to Baku for sale in the city's markets. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
NEW OMBUDSMAN VOWS TO RESIST PRESSURE. By a vote of 111 in favor and one against, the Azerbaijani parliament on 2 July appointed Elmira Suleymanova, a 64-year-old senior scientist at the Institute of Oil and Chemistry who is also a member of the Presidential Pardons Commission, as the country's ombudsman, Turan reported. The appointment implements a new law on the ombudsman's office recommended when Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe. Ombudsmen's offices have been widely seen in Europe and Eurasia as a stratagem to beat corrupt and inept justice systems by not challenging them head on but rather solving individual cases and easing some problems such as prison conditions. Suleymanova was one of three candidates proposed by President Aliyev for the post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2002). The new rights chief appeared bound to chart a careful course in this politically sensitive position. "The authorities have their truth, the opposition its own. The [real] truth lies somewhere where they intersect. I shall not give the authorities nor the opposition the opportunity to exert pressure on me," Suleymanova told Turan, reported "Hurriyet." Suleymanova said she saw her role as explaining citizens their rights and liberties; it is difficult to violation people's rights when they know the law, she said. She plans to set up representative offices around the country. Ducking requests to comment on the government's recent violent suppression of unrest in Nardaran, Suleymanova said she would prefer to refrain from "hasty comments on issues which require in-depth analysis." CAF
POLITICAL PARTIES AT ODDS OVER COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL'S CRITICISM. Pro-regime Azerbaijani parliament deputies and members of Azerbaijan's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have rejected as lacking objectivity criticisms expressed by Andreas Gross, vice president of the Council of Europe committee that monitors new members' compliance with their specific commitments to the council, Turan reported on 2 July. Gross specifically criticized the Azerbaijani leadership's failure to review convictions of political prisoners, its handling of the Nardaran protests, and President Aliev's plans to seek a third presidential term. But human rights activists said on 3 July that such attacks on Gross reflect badly on Azerbaijan, Turan reported. AMIP Chairman Mamedov said they show that the Azerbaijani leadership "cannot tolerate objective criticism." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July)
'GET OUT BEFORE PRESIDENT ARRIVES!' ADVENTISTS TOLD. Adventist leaders in Azerbaijan are optimistic the decision by local police in the country's exclave of Nakhichevan to expel an Adventist family just days before President Aliev's mid-June visit to the exclave will soon be revoked, reported Keston News Service. "We are discussing this issue with the State Committee for Relations with Religious Organizations," an Adventist leader told Keston on 3 July. "We hope we can resolve it together." Pastor Vahid Nagiev, his wife Keklik Kerimova, and their four children, who are registered to live in the town of Nakhichevan, were subjected to internal deportation on 10 June, despite the fact that Azerbaijan's laws do not allow for internal deportation. (Keston News Service, 3 July)
BELARUSOSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY DENIES MINSK ONCE AGAIN. The OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly once again denied the membership request of the Belarusian National Assembly at a weekend meeting in Berlin, ITAR-TASS reported 7 July. A spokesman for the Parliamentary Assembly told RFE/RL on 8 July that its standing committee "postponed its decision until its winter meeting in Vienna in February." The Parliamentary Assembly has refused to accept the Belarusian National Assembly since President Alyaksandr Lukashenka dismissed the country's democratically elected parliament in 1996. Russia, however, supported the Belarusian bid and State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev demanded that the issue be resolved in the next six months. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
JUSTICE MINISTRY TO INVESTIGATE OPPOSITION PARTY. The Belarusian Justice Ministry has launched an investigation into the activities of the opposition United Civic Party, Belapan reported on 2 July. Investigators from the ministry were tasked with looking into 12 different areas of the party's activities, including its publications and the minutes of all party conventions and meetings of its Political Council, according to the party's press service. The press service also noted that the launching of the investigation comes in the wake of a case filed by the party against the Justice Ministry. The party appealed to the Belarusian Supreme Court, seeking the annulment of a warning from the ministry to party Chairman Anatol Lyabedzka in response to an article he published in the private newspaper "Narodnaya volya." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July)
ACTIVISTS ASK RUSSIA TO ASSIST IN INVESTIGATION OF MISSING PERSONS. Belarusian activists and Russian lawmakers appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin on 1 July, asking him to order Russian secret services to assist in the investigation of disappearances of a number of well-known people in Belarus, AP reported the same day. Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the Belarusian opposition United Civic Party, said Putin promised to raise the subject with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Belarusian opposition groups accuse Lukashenka's administration of involvement in the disappearances of former Belarusian Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, opposition leader Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and television cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski. The groups claim that the missing people were targeted for crossing the authorities. Lukashenka has denied these charges. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July)
BLACKSHIRTS IN HRODNA. On 3 July, celebrated as Independence Day in Belarus, representatives of the Russian National Unity (RNE), a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi organization which originated in Russia, marched through Hrodna, reported the Union of Councils of Jews of the Former Soviet Union citing "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 July. Thirty-one people in black uniforms with Nazi symbols passed freely through the center of town, apparently with police escort, said local monitors. Alarmed citizens called the police, but were told that "RNE members from Russia and Ukraine have arrived on a sightseeing tour." Independence Day is supposed to commemorate Belarus's liberation from the Nazis, and it was unclear which authorities sponsored the sightseers. CAF
BOSNIAHISTORIC MOSQUE REOPENS IN SREBRENICA. Several hundred Bosnian Muslims attended the reopening of the White Mosque in Srebrenica on 5 July, dpa reported. The modest new structure stands in place of one dating from Ottoman times that Serbian forces destroyed during the 1992-95 war. SFOR troops were on guard for the reopening, but no serious incidents were reported. The ceremony marked the beginning of commemorative activities leading up to the seventh anniversary of the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim males by Serbian forces on 11 July, Reuters reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
SFOR SENDS INDICTED WAR CRIMINAL TO THE HAGUE. On 7 July, approximately 20 SFOR troops arrested Miroslav Deronjic in Bratunac and sent him to The Hague, Reuters reported. The war crimes tribunal has indicted him for ordering local Serbian forces to attack and burn the Muslim-held village of Glogova in May 1992. He was present when the community fell to Bosnian Serb troops backed by Yugoslav Army artillery, dpa reported. The village was then destroyed and 60 Muslims were disarmed and executed. He later became the first Serbian civilian administrator in Srebrenica after General Ratko Mladic's forces took the town in July 1995. He negotiated with Dutch peacekeepers to turn Srebrenica over to the Serbs. Deronjic was indicted for committing crimes against humanity, including persecution and murder, as well as violations of the laws and customs of war, including wanton destruction of cities, destruction of religious institutions, and an attack on an undefended village. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 8 July)
POWELL REAFFIRMS U.S. COMMITMENT TO BOSNIA, WHILE EU PLEDGES TO TAKE OVER. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija on 1 July to affirm that the United States remains committed to the peace and security of Bosnia, dpa reported from Sarajevo on 2 July. Powell stressed that "we will not leave unfinished what we started here." Meanwhile at the UN, diplomatic efforts continued to solve the crisis over the extension of the UN mandate in Bosnia, which is linked to U.S. opposition to the rules governing the new International Criminal Court in The Hague. In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said in a television interview that "there is a high probability that the mission will not be extended by the UN Security Council. But that should not stop the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. That would be absurd," Reuters reported. The European Commission announced in Brussels on 5 July that it is prepared to send up to 500 police to Bosnia should the United Nations' police mission (IPTF) there end as a result of the dispute. The EU had previously planned to take over the IPTF at the beginning of 2003. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 8 July)
ESTONIAREGISTRATION TRANSFERRED FROM INTERIOR MINISTRY TO COURTS. Under Estonia's new law on churches and congregations, responsibility for registering religious organizations has been transferred from the Interior Ministry's Department for Religious Affairs to the local courts. Religious organizations have until 1 July 2004 to seek reregistration if they wish to retain legal status -- which is not compulsory -- the department's chief specialist told Keston News Service. It is unclear if the department will continue to exist after that date. The transfer has been welcomed by most religious groups. "Registration was always a political issue," the general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance told Keston. "The courts are independent and disconnected from the government -- this gives the churches a more neutral position." (Keston News Service, 4 July)
GOVERNMENT WARY OF ASKING FOR COMPENSATION FROM MOSCOW. The cabinet meeting on 2 July decided not to support the draft law proposed by Moderate parliament deputy Enn Tarto by which Estonia would ask for compensation from Russia for crimes committed by the Soviet regime, ETA reported. Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland said that the ministry "is not against raising the issue as such, yet believes that the issue deserves a more thorough discussion on the possible claims and other questions." Justice Minister Mart Rask suggested that a commission could be set up at the president's office for dealing with the issue, as the authority of the president's institution would help achieve a consensus between political parties. President Arnold Ruutel expressed doubts about this suggestion, saying it is a task of the government. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July)
GEORGIASERIOUS CONCERN OVER DRAFT RELIGION LAW. In early June the Justice Ministry circulated its draft of a new law on religion, which has already been criticized by human rights activists and a number of Georgia's minority faiths as having been prepared by the State and Justice ministries together with the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate. Georgia is the only former Soviet republic that has not so far adopted a law covering religion and there is no system of registering religious communities with the government. Some minority faiths argue that there is no need for a religion law at all, stressing that instead the government should tackle the issue of religious violence which has plagued Georgia for the past three years. Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Baptist Union believes churches actively involved in social and relief ministries, especially the Baptists, Catholics, and Lutherans, will be targeted. "It is only now that we are making some modest steps as churches to meet the incredible needs in our society. This new religious legislation will both limit and discourage churches from taking some social responsibilities. The churches and religions due to their special nature are very close to the people's needs." (Keston News Service, 9 July)
HUNGARYDEMONSTRATIONS CLOG CENTRAL BUDAPEST, LEAD TO SCUFFLES AND DETENTIONS. Protesters demanding a recount of April election results blocked Budapest's central Elisabeth Bridge before violence broke out as they resisted police attempts to clear the road on 4 July, AP reported. Twenty-two people were detained and one policeman injured in the melee, which swelled from about 50 to several hundred, according to the agency. "We are now considering charging several of those detained with disturbing the peace, assaulting police officers, and traffic offenses," Budapest police chief Antal Kokenyesi said. "We used the minimum of force that was required to restore order and allow the other citizens of the city to get on with their daily lives." The protesters later regrouped outside the parliament building to demand that the government resign. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy during a visit to Rome condemned the demonstration as unnecessarily violating the law, AP reported, citing MTI. Opposition FIDESZ Vice President Tamas Deutsch said afterward that the government was to blame for "not address[ing] the doubts of many concerning the fairness of the [April] elections" in which his party lost its place in government. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
COLLABORATION ISSUE BACKFIRES ON OPPOSITION LEADER. The leader of Hungary's leading opposition party, FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni, resigned on 3 July after he was forced to publicly acknowledge that his father was a longtime informer for the communist-era secret police, local and Western agencies reported the same day. Pokorni, who last month demanded that Socialist Prime Minister Medgyessy step down after the media reported his ties to communist-era counterintelligence, said he was "under no moral or political obligation to resign, but I am doing so," according to AP. "I cannot continue with my work as party president as I would wish." The agency named former parliamentary leader Janos Ader as a likely replacement in the party leadership and tipped Tamas Deutsch to assume Pokorni's role as parliamentary group leader. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
KAZAKHSTANDATE SET FOR AILING OPPOSITIONIST'S TRIAL. The trial of former Pavlodar Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, one of the founders of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK), will open in Pavlodar on 15 July, Interfax reported on 1 July. Zhaqiyanov, who was hospitalized in May after collapsing during an hours-long interrogation, faces charges of abuse of his official position that he believes are politically motivated. On 28 June, police in Astana used force to disperse several dozen supporters of former Energy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov, also a leading DVK member, who had gathered outside the Supreme Court where Abliyazov is on trial on charges of abuse of his official position while serving as the head of Kazakhstan's power grid, forumkz.org reported on 1 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July)
MACEDONIAORTHODOX CHURCH CONFLICT CONTINUES. The Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church stripped Metropolitan Jovan of the Veles-Vardar region of his church functions and ordered him to retire to a monastery, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Skopje on 6 July. Jovan, who recently reached an agreement recognizing the authority of the Serbian Orthodox Church, said he does not recognize the Macedonian Church's decision or its jurisdiction over him. Irinej, who is the Serbian Orthodox bishop of Nis, said the Macedonian synod's treatment of Jovan shows that further talks with the Macedonian Orthodox Church are pointless. The Macedonian Orthodox Church declared its independence of the Serbian body in 1967 in a move designed to strengthen Macedonian national identity and weaken Serbian influence there. The breakaway church has not been recognized by any other Orthodox church. Talks have been underway recently between the Serbian and Macedonian churches in hopes of reaching an understanding and ending the Macedonians' isolation. In the Macedonian emigration in the United States, some churches owe allegiance to the Macedonian Orthodox Church, while others are linked to that of Bulgaria. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
MOLDOVAEARLY ELECTIONS DEMANDED IN GAGAUZ-YERI. More than 600 local government representatives in the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Republic expressed their dissatisfaction with the tense social and political situation at an extraordinary congress on 30 June, requesting early elections to all its representative bodies, Flux reported. The congress was also attended by members of the local executive, deputies of the For an Integral Gagauzia faction, and representatives of the Mayors Association. Participants endorsed a resolution calling for preparations to begin immediately for new elections that they argue are the only way to overcome the current social and political crisis. They also asked Dumitru Croitor to withdraw his resignation as governor, pending the resignation of the local People's Assembly. The resolution appeals to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin to halt a criminal inquiry into the activities of Croitor and the former director of the legal and protocol department of the People's Assembly, Ivan Burgudji, both of whom are accused of hindering a referendum on autonomy for the region. The resolution was made available to international bodies, diplomatic missions accredited in Moldova, and the Moldovan political leadership. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July)
POLANDSHIPYARD STRIKE MOVES TO STREETS OF SZCZECIN. Thousands of striking shipyard workers blocked a central street in Szczecin on 2 July to protest against the government's handling of the bankruptcy of the Stocznia Szczecinska shipyard, AP reported the same day. Protests have been held every weekday since the shipyard filed for bankruptcy two weeks ago and the government refused to bail it out The government on 1 July gave the shipyard 14 million zlotys ($3.5 million) to pay some 4,500 workers their April wages, but protest leaders said it did not cover all the workers and demanded back wages for May and June. The government has said it has plans to create a new company, Stocznia Szczecinska Nowa (New Szczecin Shipyard), on the basis of the ailing shipyard that will employ 3,000 workers, Industry Development Agency head Arkadiusz Krezel told PAP news agency on 30 June. Stocznia Szczecinska was Szczecin's biggest employer, with 6,000 employees. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July)
ROMANIAPRELIMINARY CENSUS RESULTS SHOW CONSIDERABLE DECLINE OF POPULATION. Preliminary results of the March 2002 census show a 5 percent decline in Romania's population over the last 10 years, Romanian Television reported on 4 July. According to the results, Romania's population is 21.7 million, down from the almost 23 million in 1992. National Statistics Institute Director Aurel Camara said the two main reasons for the decline are migration and the fact that the mortality rate exceeds the birth rate. He added the population is also tending to move out of the larger cities. Ethnic Romanians make up almost 90 percent of the population. The ethnic Hungarian population decreased by more than 10 percent, and a similar declining tendency can be found among other ethnic minorities, with the exception of Roma, which is due to a higher birth rate and an increased willingness to declare their ethnicity to census-takers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
DRACULA PARK AGAIN RISES FROM THE DEAD? Romanian Tourism Minister Dan Agathon on 1 July denied that his government -- under pressure from environmental groups, England's Prince Charles, and most recently UNESCO's World Heritage Committee -- has abandoned plans to build a Dracula theme park near the medieval town of Sighisoara, Mediafax reported. Seemingly contradicting a recent statement from the Culture Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2002), he said, "Any rumors saying that we intend to move the location of [the] Dracula park or give up the project are simple fabrications." Agathon insisted that any decision concerning the park will be based solely on suggestions made by consultants from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has been hired by the government to produce a feasibility study. That study will be ready by mid-September. PricewaterhouseCoopers would also be involved in seeking financing for an estimated $100 million investment into the park. Agathon said the consultant's opinion regarding alternative locations for the park will be carefully considered. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July)
RUSSIAFURTHER MANIPULATION OF CONTROVERSIAL WAR CRIMES CASE. The case of Colonel Yurii Budanov, who is charged with murdering an 18-year-old Chechen woman in March 2000, received major attention last week when a military judge failed to deliver a verdict and ordered further psychiatric examination of the colonel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2002). Earlier, human rights advocates and independent psychiatrists, recalling the notorious Soviet-era abuse of psychiatry against dissenters, expressed concern that the Serbskii Institute, the leading forensic psychiatric body of Russia, might succumb to official pressure to provide a politically expedient diagnosis (see "Russia: Budanov Case Raises Questions Over Use of Psychiatry," rferl.org, 12 June 2002) . The practice of returning to earlier stages of the legal process, frequent in the Soviet era, is still permitted under the new code of criminal procedures, in force since 1 July. "Vremya MN" on 2 July suggested that the prosecutor in the Budanov case purposefully "used the new code to serve his own interests" to delay the case. On 1 July, the Ministry of Defense announced its dismissal of Colonel Sergei Nazarov, the military prosecutor in the Budanov case, "on account of his ill health, reported "Bigotry Watch," citing Russian news agencies. During the trial, Nazarov had argued that Budanov was mentally disturbed at the time of the killing and should be prosecuted for "abuse of office," a minor crime that would allow him to go free under an amnesty program for soldiers who had earned military honors. Nazarov's replacement, Colonel Vladimir Milovanov, agreed last week with the judge's decision to order a new psychiatric evaluation. According to Interfax, the new prosecutor also revised the case against Budanov, who will now be tried on far more serious charges. If convicted of murder, he faces 20 years in jail. CAF
PRESIDENT PROMISES TO LOOK INTO KRASNODAR SITUATION. The group of Meskhetians in Krasnodar Krai suspended on 2 July a 10-day-old hunger strike amid pledges that President Vladimir Putin's office would appoint a commission to investigate what they say is discrimination against their group. Matvei Borsuk, a spokesman for the Novorossiisk Human Rights Committee, told RFE/RL that a total of 37 people had joined the strike since it began on 22 June, and nine protesters were hospitalized on medical grounds. The Meskhetians are demanding that their rights to cultivate small acreages leased by private owners and to sell vegetables on local markets be restored. They say local authorities recently deprived them of this right, leaving them with virtually no source of income. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July)
COURT DECISIONS ON THE INTERNET. In the past few years, the Russian judiciary has begun to publish its decisions on the Internet, greatly improving the general public's access to court decisions, says the East-West Institute Regional Report, which recently listed the sites. The Russian Constitutional Court has its own website (http://ks.rfnet.ru) which contains all decisions and some rulings. The federal Supreme Court (http://www.supcourt.ru) has information about its work and contains links to a dozen regional courts, including two military courts. The majority of the regional courts' websites simply list the courts' addresses, working hours, and contact information. The Krasnodar Krai Court site (http://kks.krasnodar.ru) also explains how to file a suit. The Chelyabinsk Oblast Court is famous for its televised criminal trials. Its website (http://www.ural-chel.ru/gubern/obl_sud/index.htm) contains materials on the information technology to support such practices. The Bryansk Oblast Judicial Department's site (http://www.debryansk.ru/~suddepbr) devotes attention to this issue as well as to the work of the justices of the peace in the region. More URLs for courts can be found at http://psp.iews.org/rrr.cfm. ("EWI Russian Regional Report," 3 July).
ANOTHER ANTI-SEMITIC BOOBY TRAP WOUNDS TWO, AS COPYCATS ARRESTED. A booby-trapped anti-Semitic sign exploded on 8 July near the Siberian city of Tomsk, slightly injuring the two men who were trying to remove it, AP reported the same day. The sign was the latest in a series of such incidents since a booby trap severely injured a woman on a Moscow highway on 27 May, costing her her sight in one eye. On 4 July, police sappers removed a similar sign in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok, although no explosives were found. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). Copycat anti-Semites have set similar traps -- some real, some fake -- around Russia, say human rights monitors. A 22-year-old-woman and her 19-year-old brother have been arrested in St. Petersburg after police found them carrying a large sign that read "Death to Yids!" and a fake explosive device, according "Smena" on 2 July, reported Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union. Similar copycat incidents, all involving fake explosives, have taken place in Voronezh and Krasnoyarsk in recent weeks. In a similar incident authorities said was not related to the anti-Semitic attacks, a man was killed in the Kaliningrad Oblast city of Baltiisk on 10 July when an obscene sign that he was attempting to remove exploded, Russian and Western news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2002). CAF
BREAKING DOWN THE BUREAUCRACY. The State Statistics Committee announced on 4 July that over the past 18 months, the largest growth in the number of state officials has occurred in the legislative branch, which saw a 25 percent increase, "Izvestiya" reported the next day. The number of judges and prosecutors also increased -- as was expected because of the judicial reforms -- but by less than 25 percent. Overall, according to the daily, there are 1.14 million state officials in Russia, which represents a slight decrease over the past year and a half. The newspaper concludes that there are eight officials at various levels of government per 1,000 Russian citizens. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
LOCAL NEWSPAPER COMPLAINS ABOUT NEW CITIZENSHIP LAW. The Astrakhan-based newspaper "Komsomolets Kaspiya" wrote recently that the new federal law on citizenship will not rid the oblast of undesirable immigrants, nns.ru reported on 1 July. The new law came into force as of 1 July, and although would-be citizens must demonstrate their knowledge of the Russian language and the country's constitution, the law will not help the oblast free itself of "Tajik gypsies," according to the newspaper. In order for that to happen, the paper said, other laws will need to be strengthened. The newspaper appears twice a week and has a print run of about 45,000. Last year, Astrakhan Oblast Governor Anatolii Guzhvin appealed to federal authorities for "special efforts to regulate immigration," following the appearance around the oblast of a number of shantytowns populated by Tajik migrants. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July)
MORE RUSSIANS OPPOSING WAR IN CHECHNYA. About two-thirds (62 percent) of Russians -- a record number since the onset of the second war -- favor starting peace talks in Chechnya, reported "Anti-war News," a bulletin produced by the NGO Freedom of Conscience, citing "Izvestiya" and other Russian media sources that covered a survey conducted by VTsIOM, the nationally respected polling institute, on 24-27 May this year in 83 cities of 33 regions of the country among 1,600 persons (with a 3.8 percent margin of error). An additional 5 percent of Russian citizens would also advocate peace talks if troops were to suffer more casualties, pollsters found. Nevertheless, a significant number (43 percent) of Russians do not consider Chechens to be the same kind of citizens of Russia as Russians are themselves, and perceive the war as an "interethnic" conflict. Still, according to the survey, 52 percent of Russians said Chechens were citizens with equal rights as Russians. CAF
REFUGEES FEAR RETURN. The Chechen Committee for National Salvation says Chechens are being pressured by Russian soldiers to return home, reported chechenpress.org on 4 July. Despite official assurances and claims to foreign observers, such as Olara Otunnu, the UN's special representative on children in armed conflict, who recently visited the region, refugees say soldiers are treating people aggressively and warning them of suspension of assistance to roust them out of tent cities. About 20 Russian officials came to the Sputnik tent camp near Ordzhonokidzevkskaya recently and began to register people, telling them they would soon face an end to basic services such as water, gas, and electricity with the onset of winter and would have to go. Tent-camp inhabitants say juveniles of 14 and older without passports were cut off assistance, and women were being asked to register infants, a practice which they protested, evidently causing authorities to withdraw the request. Authorities say 10,000 refugees have already been logged for departure, but NGOs believe this may be due to a practice of placing entire families on lists even if only one member leaves. Russian troops in the area also reportedly asked religious leaders to draw up lists of refugees attending mosques. The greatest point of pressure has been through children, report refugees, as authorities in Ingushetia have announced they will not register Chechen children in Ingushetia's schools for 1 September this year. CAF
TURKMENISTANNIYAZOV INTRODUCES RESTRICTIONS ON TRAVEL TO IRAN, UZBEKISTAN. President Saparmurat Niyazov announced on 4 July the introduction of a new $6 exit visa for Turkmen citizens wishing to travel to Iran or Uzbekistan, ITAR-TASS reported. In addition, persons wishing to travel to Iran must declare the purpose and duration of their journey, and a special mark will be stamped in their passport. Niyazov said the reasons for the restrictions, which will remain in place for at least two years, was to prevent attempts by Turkmen to smuggle drugs to Iran, or gasoline to Uzbekistan. But the restrictions on travel to Uzbekistan are likely to further antagonize Turkmenistan's already disaffected Uzbek minority. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
UKRAINEFIRE KILLS 35 IN COAL MINE. Two more people have died from a fire in a coal mine in Donetsk that officials said was probably caused by complacency and neglect, bringing the death toll to 35 and injured to 12, reported CNN on 10 July. The fire started before dawn some 500 meters underground where 107 miners were working (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). A government commission led by Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Dubyna is investigating the fire. Officials say the miners had respirators, but their bodies were found without them. Ukraine's Labor Safety Committee reported that 116 miners were killed in industrial accidents in Ukraine from January to June this year; more than 3,700 miners have died since Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Reuters reported. Some 300 miners were killed in mining accidents last year, according to Reuters. An estimated 75 percent of the country's 209 mines are considered to be highly prone to methane blasts. The World Bank has advised Ukraine to close half its mines, offering a $100 million "mitigation" loan to cushion the social impact, but the government rejected the program and has closed only a small fraction. The International Labor Organization told RFE/RL a combination of factors cause the frequent accidents, ranging from the geology of Ukraine's deep coal seams to lack of investment in production and safety equipment and nonpayment of wages (see "Ukraine: Can the Country's Deadly Coal Mines be Reformed?" rferl.org, 10 July 2002). An official from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration who has inspected Ukraine's mines says that more methane extraction should be performed before drilling, and has initiated a cost-effective rock-dusting program to prevent explosions from spreading. CAF
UZBEKISTANISLAMISTS DETAINED IN KAZAKHSTAN. Police in Almaty have detained two Uzbek citizens suspected of belonging to the banned Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, Interfax and AP reported on 1 July. Both are wanted in Uzbekistan on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government; negotiations on their extradition are under way. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July)
EXTENT OF EMIGRATION FROM UZBEKISTAN TO RUSSIA CALCULATED. A new outflow of Russian speakers from Uzbekistan is under way, according to ferghana.ru on 2 July. The Russian Embassy in Tashkent is currently accepting between 300-400 applications daily for Russian citizenship, and it will take until at least 2004 for all those applications to be processed. Some 14,000 people have submitted such applications since March of this year. They included Russians, Tatars, and Koreans, but very few Uzbeks. Over 300,000 people have left Uzbekistan for Russia over the decade since the demise of the USSR. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July)
HAS NEW ALLIANCE WITH WEST HELPED OPPOSITION MOVEMENTS? Mohammad Solih, chairman of the Erk democratic party of Uzbekistan, began his opposition activities during the Soviet perestroika era. He is one of the founders of the first opposition movement, Birlik, and the first political party, Erk. In 1992, Solih was the only challenger to current Uzbek President Islam Karimov in the first presidential elections. After years of harassment, Solih was forced to flee Uzbekistan in 1993. After living in Turkey and Germany, he received political-refugee status in Norway in 1999. In an interview with RFE/RL on 4 July, Solih said Central Asia's new alliance with the U.S. and growing interest in the region have not changed the fate of the political opposition in Uzbekistan so far. "Frankly, the situation of dissidents and the political opposition in Uzbekistan has not been changed a bit. The U.S. representative, Mr. [Lorne] Craner [assistant U.S. secretary for human rights] in his testimony [to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 27 June] has expressed his hope that soon the opposition Birlik party would be registered in Uzbekistan. If the Uzbek government takes this step, we happily support it. But if the Uzbek government hopes that by registering the Birlik party it would get rid of the 'headache' called the opposition, it would be a big mistake. It will not mean the recognition of the political opposition at all, while the real opposition force -- which for most of population, for the government itself, and for Mr. Karimov is the Erk party -- remains out of the legal political spectrum. To say that the opposition in Uzbekistan is recognized would be a lie." ("Central Asia: Has New Alliance With West Helped Opposition Movements?," rferl.org, 4 July)
YUGOSLAVIAKOSOVA'S PRIME MINISTER HOPES FOR INDEPENDENCE IN THREE YEARS. Bajram Rexhepi told Reuters in Prishtina on 2 July that he hopes the province will be independent by the time his term expires in three years. He added that he recognizes that Kosovars must first show the world that they are able to manage their own affairs, which includes enabling Serbian refugees and displaced persons to go home. Rexhepi added that an independent Kosova will still need a NATO military presence to ensure stability, albeit not as large a force as the 30,000-strong KFOR. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July)
EIGHT ARRESTED IN KOSOVA CRACKDOWN. Approximately 90 UN and local police arrested eight ethnic Albanian men on 6 July in simultaneous raids in Prishtina and Gllogovc, AP reported. The eight are wanted in conjunction with the killing of five members of an ethnic Albanian family in August 2001, including one man who worked for the Serbian police prior to the entry of NATO forces into Kosova in June 1999. Three of the arrested men, who have not been identified, are members of the civilian Kosova Protection Corps (TMK). In related news, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 5 July that a lively discussion has begun in the Kosovar press over whether there are war criminals among the Albanians and, if so, whether they should be punished. Until recently, most Kosovars took the unqualified position that their struggle against the Serbs in 1998-99 was one of self-defense for survival, and that self-defense cannot be considered criminal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
SERBIAN COURT ISSUES FIRST SENTENCE FOR KOSOVA CRIMES. On 8 July, the district court in Prokuplje sentenced Ivan Nikolic to eight years in prison for crimes against civilians in Kosova in 1999, dpa reported. Nikolic, who was a Yugoslav Army reservist during the conflict, was charged with killing two ethnic Albanian civilians on 24 May 1999. This is the first time that a Serbian court has sentenced a Serb for war crimes against Albanians in Kosova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
REGIONALNGOS CHALLENGE OIL COMPANY OVER OIL-EXPORT PIPELINE. Some 64 predominantly European NGOs have appealed to the World Bank, the European Bank for Regional Development, and other major financial institutions to impose stringent conditions before agreeing to finance the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, according to the "Asia Times" on 28 June, as cited by Groong. They called on British Petroleum (BP), which heads the consortium formed to build the pipeline, to demonstrate that the project will benefit the impoverished population of the regions through which it will run, rather than compound existing tensions. Caucasus Press on 30 June quoted BP's David Woodward as assuring Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze that construction of the pipeline will begin within three months. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July)
CENTRAL ASIAN OPPOSITION PRESSES ITS CASE AT OSCE'S BERLIN ASSEMBLY. Parliamentarians and Central Asian opposition leaders discussed the impact of the new alliance between the West and Central Asia in the war on terrorism on the state of democracy and human rights in the region at a roundtable in Berlin, held in conjunction with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Opposition activists from five Central Asian countries spoke at the roundtable, organized by the New York-based International League for Human Rights (ILHR). In an interview with RFE/RL, Peter Zalmayev of ILHR described world interest in Central Asia as "serious and growing" and that regional activists wished to convey the message that "the situation of human rights and democracy in Central Asia has not improved after 11 September." Citing recent disturbances in Kyrgyzstan, Zalmayev said activists "want to bring to the OSCE parliamentarians' notice that there is a huge need for fundamental reforms and changes in the field of human rights in the region. Otherwise, it will entail the even further deterioration of the situation." Dododjon Atovulloev, a Tajik dissident and founding editor of the "Charogy Ruz" newspaper, currently living in exile, who participated in the roundtable said: "the totally illegal and unprofessional regime of Imomali Rakhmonov has brought our people to the brink of a national catastrophe.... I want to show the [European] parliamentarians the real picture of the so-called 'Tajik democracy,'" Atovulloev said. ("Central Asia: Opposition Presses Its Case at OSCE's Berlin Assembly," rferl.org, 8 July)
OSCE CHIEF: UNSTABLE AFGHANISTAN THREAT TO CENTRAL ASIA. The assassination of Afghan Vice President Haji Abdul Qadir this week could undermine stability in the war-ravaged country and threaten security in Central Asia, said Antonio Martins da Cruz, Portuguese foreign minister and OSCE's chairman-in-office, reported AFP on 8 July. "An unstable situation in Afghanistan is always a threat for the countries of this region," AFP quoted him as saying after talks with Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev. "The situation in Central Asia is a priority for the OSCE and we aim to reinforce cooperation with the countries in this region," he added. Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov said his country's leadership had chosen a democratic way to resolve the situation in Aksy in the south following a wave of unrest and hoped for the support and understanding of the OSCE. Aitmatov said he and da Cruz had discussed participation in the training of Kyrgyz security officials and steps that need to be taken towards democracy, especially in the light of the Aksy events. Travelling on to Tajikistan, da Cruz met with President Imomali Rakhmonov to discuss the OSCE's antiterrorism efforts, but commented: "We should work against the wrong view that a Muslim and terrorism are the same. The OSCE is categorically against such parallels," Interfax quoted him as saying on 8 July. Although he had met in Berlin at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly with Central Asian oppositionists who described poor human rights conditions, Interfax quoted da Cruz on 8 July as telling President Rakhmonov, "We highly value efforts of the Tajik government towards strengthening democracy, observing human rights, and creating independent media outlets." CAF