31 July 2002, Volume 3, Number 31
IN FOCUSAZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PLANS TO BOYCOTT TRICKY REFERENDUM. Azerbaijan's political opposition parties are planning to boycott a popular referendum on the constitution scheduled for 24 August, saying there are too many complicated questions on fundamental law to be appropriately subjected to such a public poll, calling the move a further consolidation of President Heidar Aliev's autocratic rule.
Officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Council of Europe agree that attempting to decide 39 complex issues in 24 articles, without a coherent presentation of the facts to the public and sufficient time for digestion and discussion, is inappropriate, but have described the effort as "legal" in an interview with eurasianet.org on 22 July.
Despite international and local criticism, by a vote of 13 in favor, four against, and one abstention, the Central Election Commission in Baku on 24 July approved the procedure for voting in the constitutional referendum, Turan reported on 25 July. The 39 proposed amendments will be divided into eight groups, each of which voters must either approve or reject. Opposition parties had demanded, on the contrary, that each amendment should be voted on separately.
Then, meeting in emergency session on 29 July, parliamentary deputies approved by a vote of 94 to five a statement calling on the country's voters to participate in the 24 August referendum on proposed constitutional changes, Turan reported 30 July. Although in fact foreign observers have expressed reservations about the entire procedure, the statement describes the proposed changes as necessitated by Azerbaijan's commitments to the Council of Europe and other international organizations, and appealed to voters to endorse them. Opening the debate, speaker Murtuz Alesqerov urged the handful of opposition deputies not to call for either a postponement of the referendum or changes in the amendments which, according to Alesqerov, is the exclusive prerogative of the president. He also said that the CIS and NATO interparliamentary assemblies and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have agreed to send observers to monitor the referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2002). Earlier, "Ekho" quoted Peter Burkhardt, head of the OSCE mission in Baku, as saying on 24 July that his organization will not monitor the referendum because the Azerbaijani authorities have not invited it to do so, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002).
In Baku on 27 July, 75 NGOs, 24 parties, and 28 independent media outlets gathered at the initiative of the Institute for Peace and Democracy to consolidate their efforts to postpone the referendum and fight for free and fair elections, reported the Human Rights Center in Baku citing Turan. In a statement released to the press, the opposition coalition said that the constitutional amendments "did not reflect realities" of the country's political situation and were "only due to the political interests of President Heidar Aliev." The proposed changes would include elimination of the proportional voting system, an institution that works to the advantage of small or weak parties, which rely upon it to ensure that their leaders may gain seats in legislatures, especially under circumstances when the executive branch may field "party of power" candidates or use its own "administrative resources" to control or manipulate the majoritarian voting system in electoral districts. The opposition also called for changes in the electoral commissions, to reflect the more diverse presence of independent parties -- a recurring demand engendered by the government's persistent refusal to validate and include political opponents whom they fear may cry foul over stuffed ballot boxes.
Relations between international bodies promoting democracy and the Azerbaijani government have been rocky since Azerbaijan acceded to the Council of Europe in 2000. Andreas Gross, a Swiss national and PACE rapporteur on Azerbaijan who has been critical of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan and the referendum, recently managed to face down an attempt launched by the president's son, Ilham Aliev, who heads Azerbaijan's PACE delegation, to have Gross removed from monitoring Azerbaijan on the grounds that he was "biased."
Gross and other council officials have increasingly become more publicly vocal with their criticism of Azerbaijan, after several years of more quiet diplomacy have failed to gain adherence to European norms for elections and human rights. Ilham Aliyev and Gross clashed after the latter delivered a critical report to PACE on the violence in Nardaran, in which police fired on demonstrators and one man was killed, reported International War and Peace Report this week. Aliyev walked out of the PACE chamber in protest and subsequently called for Gross to be replaced by another rapporteur. The incident was finally resolved when the president himself faxed permission for Gross' re-entry to Azerbaijan.
In the remarkably frank 22 July interview with eurasianet.org, Gross and Guillermo Martinez Casan, his fellow rapporteur from Spain, blasted both the authorities and the opposition for not being "rooted in democracy."
While themselves getting a taste of the Azerbaijani government's manipulative tactics and obstructions -- the kind of reality opposition activists encounter daily � they showed a decided lack of sympathy for Azerbaijan's current democratic and not-so-democratic parties that are determined to topple Aliev. "I am extremely concerned by the way this country is not integrated. To put it a little bit provocatively, power is not rooted in society and the opposition is also not rooted in society; the opposition, in my opinion, is hardly a better alternative to the authorities, so the majority of people are left alone politically, and this creates apathy, and also a vacuum, which is very dangerous," Gross told eurasianet.org "I am very disappointed, profoundly disappointed, by the role of the opposition," he added. "Because in every civilized country, government and opposition dissent, but they always find grounds for mutual understanding in matters which are good for the general interests of the state. But in this country, anything is good for any party in the opposition to fight the government, even if it goes against the general interests of the state, and the general interests of the citizens," he said. Repeatedly faced with evidence of bad faith such as the 24 August referendum, and facing routine curtailment of basic rights of freedom of the press and association, the opposition finds little common ground with a government always determined to de-legitimize it. The constant exigency of deciding how much to oppose or accommodate an authoritarian government means politics is often deformed by accusations of disloyalty. Without a developed and unfettered media -- particularly radio and television -- it is difficult to see how even the best-willed opposition could communicate with the public effectively and obtain authentic feedback outside government control. Opposition activists do speak out frequently on topics of concern to ordinary people -- several democratic leaders vehemently condemned official negligence in the deaths of soldiers this week -- but they cannot be reliably heard nor effectively respond to in a country not only with restricted media, but with deep poverty (UNDP ranked Azerbaijan 88th in its Human Development Report released this week) and some 1.5 million citizens working abroad to survive, reports Azerb@ijan, a weekly bulletin published by the Azerbaijan National Democracy Foundation.
While formally denying the existence of censorship, the government has closed critical television stations and newspapers, and journalists have constantly been subjected to detention and beatings and denied basic information from government offices. Indicative was this week's surprised report from journalists that President Aliyev had granted his first group interview to the independent media in nine years. Just holding any kind of large public meeting is difficult, with constant, brutal dispersals by police, often accompanied by short-term jail sentences. Police in Sumgait on 20 July detained six members of the city branch of the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) who planned to participate in a sanctioned demonstration in Baku that day, Turan reported on 23 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 24 July 2002). Five were fined, and the sixth sentenced to five days' administrative arrest. Several thousand people took part in the 20 July demonstration to demand that President Aliyev resign and that DPA Chairman and former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev be permitted to return to Azerbaijan from his voluntary exile in the United States, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported.
Azerb@ijan has tracked the government's recent lackluster efforts to stage Soviet-style meetings with "the people" around the country, where mainly Baku officials spoke, and local bureaucrats reiterated their comments in their own speeches in loyal support of the public referendum.
Ultimately, PACE officials expressed disappointment with Azerbaijan's parliament, describing it as "weak" and as having been "mistaken" and missing an opportunity, although it is hard to expect anything different from a body elected under conditions far short of the OSCE's and the council's own rules and recommendations.
Meanwhile, President Aliyev has dug in his heels in the face of critics, including the U.S. Department of State, and insisted that he will go ahead with the referendum as planned, on the scheduled day. While technically lawful, the European officials concede that the referendum will likely cause confusion and further divisiveness in Azerbaijani society. The highly flawed balloting exercise will join a long list of such ventures in democracy, which have regrettably served to retrench rather than dislodge dictators in the region. CAF
INTERNATIONALUN COUNCIL APPROVES TORTURE MEASURE DESPITE U.S. OBJECTIONS. The UN's 54-member Economic and Social Council, or ECOSOC, approved an antitorture measure by a wide margin on 24 July, despite an effort by the United States to reopen negotiations to address what it says are flaws and the need for consensus to make the treaty enforceable. The United States ended up abstaining from the vote that approved what is known as the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. In explaining the vote, U.S. representative John Davison told delegates that the United States condemns torture, prohibits its practice under state and federal laws, and is the largest contributor to the UN voluntary fund for the victims of torture. But Davison reiterated U.S. concerns that the treaty's text, among other things, would infringe on the federal rights of individual U.S. states by allowing international inspections of state prisons without the approval of state governments. Human rights activists say that after 10 years of debate at the UN, a number of checks and balances have been built into the protocol to address governments' concerns about intrusiveness by ensuring consultation with governments, prior notification of visits, and the confidentiality of reports. The protocol will next be considered by the 189-member UN General Assembly this fall, where it would need to be approved by a majority of states and would require a number of ratifications to go into force. Russia, Ukraine, and other CIS states abstained from the vote at ECOSOC. Even if the protocol were eventually approved, it is unlikely that Russia and other states where torture is rampant, such as Uzbekistan, will accept unannounced international intrusive inspections (as distinct from international technical assistance to create a national commission to conduct scheduled visits). Such inspections are currently not permitted by the Kremlin, which continues to resist passage of a law on public inspections. The UN's special rapporteur on torture has only been permitted to visit Russia once in the last decade and has been denied entry since then, as with Uzbekistan; he was able to visit Azerbaijan. ("UN: Council Approves Torture Measure Despite U.S. Objections," rferl.org, 25 July)
BELARUSYOUTH LEADER DETAINED TO SERVE HIS JAIL SENTENCE. Police on 29 July arrested Tsimafey Dranchuk, the leader of the unregistered opposition youth movement Zubr (Bison), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Dranchuk is reportedly to serve the 10-day jail sentence he was given on 2 April for his participation in the Freedom Day rally in Minsk on 24 March. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
REGIONAL BUSINESSMEN TO STAGE STRIKE. Entrepreneurs in Minsk, Hrodno, Vitebsk, Mohilev, Homel, Brest, Orsha, Bobruisk, Volkovysk, and Baranovichi announced plans to participate in a nationwide warning strike, reported charter97.org on 30 July citing Belapan. With increasing crackdowns on private enterprise, businessmen find themselves using the same tactics as their opposite numbers in the labor movement in Belarus. Strike Committee Chairman Valery Levonevsky sent a notice of the planned action to the presidential administration, prime minister, the department for entrepreneurship and investments of the Ministry of Economy, and the Tax Ministry. The walk-out plans were prompted by proposed amendments to presidential decree No. 12 of 17 May 2001, which business owners, already facing myriad restrictions, believe will place them under unbearable economic conditions. In a speech on 18 July, Heorgiy Badey, president of the Belarusian Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers, said confusing laws, macroeconomic instability, and lack of respect for private property were creating a hostile climate for small and medium-sized businesses, reported "Vecherniy Minsk" on 18 July. CAF
LOCAL NGO FINED FOR RECEIVING WESTERN AID. A leading NGO activist has been fined 1 million Belarusian rubles (about $625) for accepting Western assistance. Judge Alyaksandr Khomich of the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Homel upheld an earlier decision charging Viktar Karneyenka, head of the local branch of Civic Initiatives, an umbrella group of grassroots organizations, with violating a regulation designed to prevent foreign support of NGOs, reported "Belarus Update" on 30 July, citing Viasna Human Rights Center. Presidential decree No. 8 bans foreign donations to NGOs that are said by the government to be involved in any political activities or election monitoring. The judge ordered the confiscation of the organization's five computers and a printer. Last August, after the local KGB initiated a criminal investigation against Civic Initiatives on charges of "slandering" the Belarusian president, police broke into Karneyenka 's home and seized six computers, a printer, and a copying machine he was using for his NGO work. The case was later dropped, but the organization's numerous requests to have the equipment returned fell on deaf ears. Instead, the KGB ordered tax authorities to audit the group, which resulted in a fine of 6 million rubles (approximately $3,750). The additional charges under decree No. 8 may now lead to the group's closure. ("Belarus Update," Vol. 5 No. 30, 30 July)
URBAN STUDENTS TO BE WEEDED OUT TO PREVENT POLITICAL UNREST. In June, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka warned the heads of universities and other institutions of higher education that they should be prepared for "surprises" during their forthcoming entrance examinations, and that for the purpose of "order and discipline," the entrance examinations -- for both state and private institutions -- were to be monitored by a special government commission, aided by the KGB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2002). The tone of his statement -- and the involvement of the KGB -- suggest that the order and discipline would be primarily political, with the exclusion of applicants who had any record of opposition activities. Changes in the admission rules have been introduced, which suggests a preemptive strike directed at a whole cohort of young people who are perceived as likely future "oppositionists" -- the city dwellers. Young urbanites who cannot get into higher education will, if male, become liable for military service. While this year's university intake includes a record number of rural entrants, the draft will contain an unprecedented number from the cities. ("RFE/RL's Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" 30 July)
BELIEVERS TUSSLE WITH POLICE OVER NEWLY BUILT CHAPEL. Police arrested four people in the town of Pahranichny (Berastavitsa Raion of Hrodna Oblast) on 26 July from among those trying to prevent local authorities from demolishing the newly built house and chapel of Yan Spasyuk, a priest representing the officially unrecognized Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Belapan reported. Earlier the same week, the Berastavitsa Raion authorities ordered that Spasyuk's 400-square-meter building be demolished, saying its construction was not officially approved. Spasyuk told the agency that he built the house and the chapel without official permission but added that the real motive behind the demolition order is the "threat" that his independent church poses to the officially favored Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)
LAWYER FACES CHARGES OF SLANDERING PROSECUTOR-GENERAL. Prosecutors on 25 July rejected a motion by lawyer Ihar Aksyonchyk to discontinue a criminal case against him on charges of slandering Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, Belapan reported. Aksyonchyk represented the family of missing ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski in a trial of elite police officers charged with kidnapping him. Aksyonchyk said during the trial that top Belarusian officials, including Sheyman, a former national security chief who was later named prosecutor-general, might have been involved in Zavadski's disappearance. Aksyonchyk maintains he is innocent and insists that Sheyman should be questioned in Zavadski's case. A court sentenced two suspected kidnappers of Zavadski to life imprisonment but failed to clarify what happened to Zavadski after he was kidnapped. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
PRESIDENT DENIES CHARGES OF GROWING ANTI-SEMITISM IN BELARUS. Alyaksandr Lukashenka flatly rejected recent charges by Jewish activists in Belarus of growing anti-Semitism in Belarus. "Anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi actions have acquired a massive scale in Belarus," the Union of Jewish Public Organizations and Communities said in a statement after unidentified vandals desecrated about 60 Jewish graves earlier this month at two cemeteries in Minsk. "There are absolutely no reasons for stirring [claims of] anti-Semitic acts in Belarus," the Belarusian president told a news conference later the same day. "[The vandalization] was a commonplace hooligan action. Belarus is an open country that is crossed every day by 2-3 million people. It has not yet been established who did that." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
OPPOSITION LEADER SENTENCED FOR TAX EVASION. A district court in Minsk on 23 July handed former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir a 3 1/2 year sentence suspended for two years and ordered him to pay back taxes of some $4,600 on money he earned while working in Moscow for a German firm, Belarusian and Western news agencies reported. The verdict also banned Chyhir from taking a leading position in a business for the next five years. "This is the personal revenge of [President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka because I joined the opposition," Chyhir said after the verdict. Chyhir, who served as prime minister between 1994-96, took part as a candidate in the opposition-organized presidential election in 1999 and supported opposition candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk in the 2001 presidential ballot. Chyhir spent seven months in prison in 1999 and was given a suspended sentence of three years in 2000 for abuse of office that the Supreme Court subsequently annulled. Chyhir said he will appeal the latest verdict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
CZECH REPUBLICVERHEUGEN SAYS BENES DECREES DISPUTE WILL NOT INFLUENCE CZECH EU ACCESSION. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said in Brussels on 25 July that "experts" representing the Czech Republic and the EU have "identified the issues that need to be examined" in connection with the Benes Decrees' possible impact on current Czech legislation and added: "I am very confident that the Czech postwar order will not create obstacles for the accession of the Czech Republic." Verheugen also said the coalition agreement signed by the parties that set up the new Czech government "allows sufficient flexibility to solve problems with neighbors."
HUNGARYEDUCATION MINISTRY APPOINTS ROMANY OFFICIAL. Education Minister Balint Magyar on 24 July appointed 27-year-old Viktoria Mohacsi as a new ministry commissioner responsible for promoting the integration of Romany and other disadvantaged children, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Magyar also announced that the ministry will allocate 6.6 billion forints ($27 million) in subsidies to schools in the country's underdeveloped regions as part of its "21st-Century School" program. The minister said that the condition of Roma constitutes one of Hungary's greatest social problems, pointing out that while the overall high-school graduation rate is 70 percent in Hungary, the figure for Roma is less than 10 percent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
FIDESZ EXPECTS SOCIALIST APOLOGY OVER HUNGARY'S STATUS LAW. FIDESZ deputy parliamentary group leader Mihaly Varga said on 23 July that his party expects an apology from Employment and Labor Minister Peter Kiss for comments made by Socialist Party officials at the time of the signing of the Hungarian-Romanian memorandum of understanding on Hungary's Status Law, Hungarian dailies reported. Varga said the Socialists warned that the agreement signed on 22 December 2001 would result in 23 million foreigners, mostly Romanians, invading the Hungarian labor market. Varga said that, in fact, just 134 work permits have been issued to foreigners based on the memorandum of understanding. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
KAZAKHSTANOPPOSITION LEADER OUTLINES TACTICS. In an address to Kazakhstan's opposition parties carried by forumkz.org, Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (RNPK) Chairman Akezhan Kazhegeldin suggested how they should best respond to the most recent repressive measures undertaken by the Kazakh authorities, in particular the law on political parties that bars from reregistration any party with fewer than 50,000 members. Kazhegeldin attributed the passage of that law to the erosion of support within the country's leadership for President Nursultan Nazarbaev. He advised opposition parties to ignore the requirement to reregister before the end of the year and to continue functioning as before. That is, he said, especially important in the case of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, as Nazarbaev is prepared to reregister that party and then try to persuade the West that further repression is the only way to prevent the Communists from returning to power. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July)
KYRGYZSTANPRESIDENT CALLS FOR DIALOGUE WITH OPPOSITION... The Kyrgyz leadership convened a third roundtable discussion in Bishkek on 26 July, at which the country's top leadership, the media, political parties, and NGOs were each represented by between 18-25 persons, akipress.org reported. Six prominent opposition politicians boycotted the gathering. In his address to the roundtable, President Askar Akaev appealed to all political factions to engage in a dialogue with the aim of defusing tensions, and warned opposition figures not to try to exploit those tensions for their personal political aims, Russian agencies reported. Akaev also rejected criticism of the border agreements under which Kyrgyzstan cedes territory to China. He accused critics of those agreements of "seeking...to instigate an interstate war." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)
...HINTS MAY CEDE SOME POWERS... Akaev also said on 26 July that he might agree to cede some powers to parliament if the relevant constitutional amendments are endorsed in a nationwide referendum, Interfax reported. Opposition parties represented in parliament want the legislature, rather than the president, to form the Cabinet of Ministers and nominate judges. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)
...AND IS URGED TO PARDON KULOV. In his speech at the 26 July roundtable, Abdygany Erkebaev, who is speaker of the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of parliament), appealed to President Akaev to "solve the Kulov problem as soon as possible," akipress.org reported. Former Vice President Feliks Kulov was sentenced in January 2001 to seven years' imprisonment on charges of abusing his official position while serving as national security minister. He received an additional sentence in May 2002 on charges of embezzlement. Erkebaev pointed to Akaev's earlier decisions to pardon opposition politician Topchubek TurgunAliyev and Zhalgap Kazakbaev, who was also sentenced for large-scale embezzlement. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)
REGISTERED UNEMPLOYMENT ON RISE. The number of registered unemployed in Kyrgyzstan as of 1 July was 88,200, or 5.2 percent more than one year earlier, according to akipress.org on 25 July. In February 2002, the National Statistics Office reported that unemployment had risen by 5.3 percent in 2001 compared with the previous year, and that over half those unemployed are women. Some 500,000 Kyrgyz citizens are said to be currently working abroad, most of them in Russia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
PRESIDENT SIGNS LAW ON FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY. Askar Akaev signed six new laws on 25 July, the most significant of which is that on the rights of citizens to assemble peacefully, without weapons, akipress.org reported on 26 July. The law, passed one month ago in response to the clashes in Aksy in March between protesters and police in which five people died, enumerates the procedures for conducting mass rallies and demonstrations. Prior official permission is no longer required to hold such rallies, except in the vicinity of schools and hospitals, according to Interfax on 29 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
MOLDOVACHURCH PROTESTS CHANGE OF LEGISLATION ON CHURCH REGISTRATION. The Moldovan Orthodox Church, which is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate, on 23 July protested a government-sponsored law on cult registration that shortens and simplifies the registration procedure, Infotag and Flux reported. The government submitted the amendment to parliament in order to comply with the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and make possible the registration of the Bucharest-subordinated Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, which welcomed the initiative. In its protest, the Moldovan Orthodox Church said it is surprised that the Bessarabian Church has done so "without any regard to the threats" posed by the amendments. It says they would "introduce politics" into religious life "via the backdoor," and that they disregard "the danger associated with the penetration" of "alien, retrograde, and harmful values" into a country that has been "for ages a citadel of high morality." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
POLANDFINANCE MINISTER APPEALS FOR 'NATIONAL CRUSADE' AGAINST UNEMPLOYMENT. Addressing the Sejm on 26 July, newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko called for a "national crusade" against the country's 17 percent unemployment rate, PAP reported. Kolodko was presenting three draft laws linked to the government's anticrisis program adopted earlier the same week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2002). "I will be grateful if you will help me in this national crusade, because if not, this plague [high unemployment] will devour all the fruits of the Polish economy," Kolodko noted. He said Poland's return to 5-7 percent economic growth is possible by 2005, up from 1 percent forecast for this year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)
WORKERS HOLD PICKETS IN DEFENSE OF JOBS. The National Protest Committee (OKP) on 23 July organized pickets in front of provincial government offices in several Polish cities, demanding "the preservation of jobs and the halting of criminal privatization and manipulations of the Labor Code," PAP reported. The OKP, which was recently set up on the initiative of workers of the Szczecin shipyard, includes representatives of companies that face liquidation and of professional groups that are threatened with layoffs. The largest picket was staged in Szczecin, where some 2,000 shipyard workers demanded early parliamentary elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
ROMANIAELIE WIESEL BEGINS VISIT TO NATIVE LAND. Noble Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel on 28 July met in Bucharest with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase at the beginning of a visit that includes the inauguration of a museum in the house where Wiesel was born in Sighet and the presentation of a decoration by President Ion Iliescu, Romanian radio reported. The 74-year-old Wiesel was deported by Hungarian authorities, who ruled northern Transylvania at the time, to Auschwitz in 1944. He was later sent to Buchenwald. His mother perished at Auschwitz, and his father at Buchenwald. Wiesel is also to be made a honorary member of the Romanian Academy. On his arrival, he said that he intends to discuss with President Iliescu and other Romanians the past and "ways to build a future without hate and fanaticism." In a press release on 28 July, Nastase said that Wiesel's visit is part of the government's actions aimed at "assuming [responsibility] for history and overcoming its painful legacy." Nastase also drew attention to the government's ordinance of earlier this year forbidding the display of fascist symbols, and to the introduction of courses teaching the Holocaust in school and in the curriculum of the National Defense College. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)
RUSSIASTATE TV WARNS VIEWERS ABOUT 'GYPSIES.' The Interior Ministry announced the results of the 10-day Operation Tabor, a national program directed against Roma that began on 16 July, Interfax reported on 30 July. "The purpose of the operation was to combat the exploitation of children, who are engaged in vagrancy, begging, and con games," Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Chekalin told reporters. Chekalin reported that during Operation Tabor, 2,143 children under the age of seven and 2,274 between the ages of seven and 16 were identified. Among them, police found 221 non-Romany children whose presence among the Roma could not be explained. In all, 592 crimes were "solved" during the operation. Officers found 116 people on police wanted lists and seized 56.5 kilograms of narcotics, 275 firearms, and 1,800 units of ammunition. A report on RTR on 24 July provided details about the Moscow police directorate's Operation Tabor, in which city police checked all persons who appear to be ethnically Roma at train stations to make sure they are legally registered. According to the correspondent, a Rom began to feel his pockets during a fortune-telling session and removed a 500 ruble ($16) note from his pocket. "The [Roma] possess remarkable sleight of hand," he said, adding that "in addition to swindling, [the Roma] also sell drugs." The report concluded: "Although Operation Tabor is over, the problem remains: It does not seem that there will be fewer [Roma] in the future." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 30 July)
SOROS FUND SUSPENDS ITS WORK IN RUSSIA. Late in the day on 22 July, the employees of the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute-Russia found themselves locked in their Moscow office, RIA-Novosti reported. According to Open Society Institute-Russia President Yekaterina Genieva, she and five of her colleagues found themselves trapped in their offices when representatives of Nobel Technologies hung a lock on the gate at about 6:30 p.m., preventing them from leaving the building. The Soros Foundation and Nobel Technologies are engaged in litigation, both claiming the right to the premises located at 8 Ozerkovskaya Naberezhnaya. Genieva insists that Nobel Technologies' claim is baseless and says that no arbitration court has ever ruled in favor of Nobel Technologies in any of its suits. "Such a situation forces me to suspend the activity of the Soros Foundation in Russia until the foundation is provided with normal working conditions," RIA-Novosti quoted her as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July)
GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS FOR RUSSIAN WOMEN. Women are becoming increasingly active in Russia's social and political life, "Izvestiya" reported on 26 July, citing the results of a recent study by the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Complex Social Research. According to the study, women -- particularly those under the age of 30 -- have adopted strongly "pro-Western values," including among their priorities career, higher education, and equality between the sexes. The study identified a growing number of grassroots nongovernmental organizations devoted to women's issues. However, according to other academic sources cited by the daily, the electoral party lists of the country's political parties typically include just 10 to 12 percent women. Moreover, just 1.3 percent of the country's high-ranking bureaucrats are women, as are just 7 percent of Duma deputies. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 29 July)
ANOTHER BOMB INSCRIBED WITH ANTI-SEMITIC SLOGAN EXPLODES IN MOSCOW. A pipe bomb bearing the slogan "Death to Yids" was thrown onto the balcony of an apartment in southwestern Moscow and exploded on 28 July, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. No one was injured in the incident. Responding to the news, Russia's Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar called on the authorities to take emergency measures -- such as forming a special commission -- to combat anti-Semitic extremism. However, according to Interfax, Moscow police are not linking the incident with extremism or anti-Semitism; so far, they consider it a case of hooliganism. According to the agency, no Jews live in the particular apartment or in the entire building. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)
ARMY UNITS ADOPTING ABANDONED CHILDREN. More than 200 formerly homeless boys are now being looked after by units of the Russian military under a Defense Ministry order issued in June 2001, "Izvestiya" reported on 26 July. According to unidentified ministry sources, that number is expected to reach 400 by the end of the year. According to the daily, the practice of army units adopting abandoned children began informally in 1995 during the first campaign in Chechnya. Since the order was signed last year, the practice has become widespread nationally. "Teenagers between 14 and 16 years old from city orphanages are literally lining up," said Nadezhda Kokoyanina, an official with the Arkhangelsk municipal government. "I think that this is happening because they hope that in the army they will feel like a member of a large, reliable family." An official from Vladimir Oblast was quoted as saying that the construction of special facilities for the estimated 220 abandoned children in that region is too expensive and so officials there look favorably on the practice of military units adopting them. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)
PUTIN SIGNS NEW LAWS AMIDST DOUBTS. President Vladimir Putin on 28 July signed three controversial federal bills into law, Russian news agencies reported. Putin signed the laws on alternative civil service, on the prevention of extremist activities, and on the legal position of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation. Human rights activists have spoken out against the alternative-service law, saying that it is overly restrictive. The law on political extremism is considered by some to be so vague that it can be used as a weapon against almost any kind of political activity (see "(Un)Civil Societies," 24 July 2002). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)
DUMA COMMITTEE CHAIR PRAISES ANTI-EXTREMISM LAW. In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 30 July, Pavel Krasheninnikov, chair of the Duma's Legislative Committee, noted that for the first time Russian law will contain a definition of "extremism" that will help curb "any groups which operate outside the scope of the constitution," whether left or right. Krasheninnikov, a former justice minister, outlined what he portrayed as attractive features of the law, including the granting of power to authorities to bar a group from registration if it is deemed to be engaged in extremist activity, authorizing of law enforcers to launch a suit to close extremist groups, and the making of associations, not just individuals, liable under the law. "A party or a civic organization must take responsibility for the statements of their leaders, or else disassociate themselves from them," explains Krasheninnikov. "Accordingly, if they show solidarity [for extremist groups], the repressive machinery will activate and move against them, but if they disassociate themselves, then only the one person will be made criminally liable," "Rossiiskaya gazeta" quoted him as saying. CAF
HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS SAY SITUATION UNCHANGED. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 23 July, Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseeva said that the human rights situation in Chechnya has not improved over the past 12 months, Interfax reported. Both Alekseeva and International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights Executive Director Aaron Rhodes advised that no additional displaced persons should be encouraged to return from Ingushetia to Chechnya until search operations by Russian troops end. Rhodes questioned Chechen official claims that the displaced persons are returning to Chechnya voluntarily. He estimated that over the past six months between 50 and 80 Chechen civilians have been killed each month during such searches. In separate comments to Interfax and ITAR-TASS on 23 July, Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov dismissed as "a sick man's fantasy" Rhodes's estimate of the number of civilians who die monthly at the hands of Russian servicemen. He said that 80 percent of those deaths are the work of "criminals." Ilyasov also denied that Chechen displaced persons are being forced to return to Chechnya from Ingushetia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
POVERTY WIDESPREAD IN MILITARY. Forty-six percent of Russian soldiers live at or below the poverty line, "Die Welt" reported on 22 July. Citing a report in the Defense Ministry newspaper "Krasnaya zvezda," the German daily wrote that about 1.2 million officers and soldiers have not received their wages for June and that they likely will not receive their July wages on time. Ironically, the wage arrears have accumulated just when a 1 July salary increase for officers of 988 rubles ($32) per month, which was approved at the initiative of President Putin, comes into effect. "We live worse than homeless people, and this can't continue any longer," the German paper quoted one unidentified officer as saying. The average monthly income for an officer, including all benefits, stands at 6,114 rubles. Moonlighting in order to make ends meet is rampant, the newspaper asserted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July)
TENT CAMPS IN CHECHNYA DISMANTLED. The last remaining tent camps for displaced persons, which were located in the Znamenskoye and Nadterechnyi raions of northern Chechnya, have been dismantled, and some 6,000 former inmates have been re-housed in temporary accommodations in Grozny and other Chechen towns, Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov told Interfax on 24 July. In addition, Ilyasov said, some 200-300 families return to Chechnya from Ingushetia each week. He again denied that Chechen displaced persons are being pressured to leave Ingushetia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July)
UN SUSPENDS MOST OPERATIONS IN CHECHNYA AFTER AID WORKER ABDUCTED. The UN announced on 29 July the indefinite suspension of almost all its humanitarian operations in Chechnya after Russian aid worker Nina Davydovich was abducted there on 23 July, Reuters and "The Guardian" reported on 29 and 30 July, respectively. A spokeswoman for the UN office in Moscow said the organization will nonetheless continue distributing drinking water in Grozny, as those supplies are "indispensable for the survival of the local population." Chechen administration head Akhmed Kadyrov criticized the UN decision, Interfax reported on 29 July. He said a search has been launched for Davydovich, but that it is made more difficult by her failure to inform the Chechen authorities of her planned movements. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
SLOVAKIAJUSTICE MINISTER DISMISSES LEXA'S ARGUMENTS AGAINST DETENTION. Reacting to arguments made by lawyers of former Slovak Information Service chief Ivan Lexa against his detention, Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky said on 23 July that there would have been no need to detain Lexa if he had not fled the country and gone into hiding while he was being investigated in 2000, CTK reported. Carnogursky said Lexa was "flattering" him when he claimed to be the prisoner of the justice minister and of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. Carnogursky also dismissed the lawyers' claim that their client's detention is intended to politically harm Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), of which Lexa is a member. Nor, according to Carnogursky, was Lexa threatened during his flight from South Africa that he would be injected with the HIV virus if he refused not cooperate. "When the Slovak authorities transported Lexa to Slovakia, they did so in line with international law and Slovak law," he said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
NEW TRENDS IN SLOVAK POLLS. A public-opinion poll conducted by the Focus polling institute at the end of June shows the popularity of the HZDS has dropped to 25.1 percent, which is 3.3 percent less than in April. Support for the second-placed Smer (Direction) party has also fallen from 17.7 to 16.6 percent. The third-placed Hungarian Coalition Party has 11.3 percent support, whereas in April it registered 12 percent. Also losing support is Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (7.8 percent as compared to 9.3 in April). The Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) headed by Markiza television co-owner Pavel Rusko increased its backing from 2.5 to 10 percent. The Communist Party also registered increased backing with 4.9 percent, thus nearing the 5 percent threshold for parliamentary representation. According to the poll, the Christian Democratic Movement and the chauvinist Slovak National Party (both backed by 5.7 percent) would also make it to the parliament. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
DEFENSE MINISTER EMBARRASSED BY SDA YOUTH WING ANTI-SERVICE CAMPAIGN. Defense Ministry sources said on 23 July that Defense Minister Jozef Stank is "outraged" by a campaign launched by young Social Democratic Alternative (SDA) members against military service, CTK reported. Stank has agreed to run on the SDA lists in the September elections, although he is not a member of the recently formed party. The campaigners have distributed leaflets against military service showing a turtle making love to a military helmet and carrying the logos "F**k the Army!" The ministry officially protested against the campaign and quoted Stank as saying that it discredits the military, reforms in the Slovak Army, and efforts to join NATO. SDA Chairman Peter Weiss said he identifies with Stank's position and that the SDA youth wing had not informed him of its plans to launch the campaign. Meanwhile, Stank left on a one-month holiday without mentioning whether he will change his decision to run on the SDA lists. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
UKRAINENATION MOURNS WORLD'S WORST AIR-SHOW TRAGEDY. An Su-27 fighter jet crashed into a crowd of spectators during an air show in Lviv on 27 July, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. According to official reports, 83 people, including 23 children, were killed and 116 were injured in the world's worst air-show disaster. The jet's two pilots managed to eject before the jet hit the tarmac and remain hospitalized. President Leonid Kuchma declared 29 July a national day of mourning. "It's like a bad dream," Kuchma said at the tragedy site on 27 July. Many heads of state, including the pope, have sent their condolences to the victim's families, and Switzerland and Poland have offered medical assistance in treating the injured. The 26 July air show in Lviv was attended by some 10,000 spectators. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)
OPPOSITION REPORTEDLY AGREES ON PROTEST ACTION TO DEMAND EARLY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Socialist Party lawmaker Yosyp Vinskyy told UNIAN on 25 July that the opposition has agreed to hold a nationwide protest action on 16 September to demand early presidential elections. According to Vinskyy, the protest will involve activists of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and Our Ukraine. The action was scheduled to coincide with the second anniversary of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
YUGOSLAVIAKOSTUNICA'S PARTY EXPELLED FROM SERBIAN GOVERNING COALITION. The presidency of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) voted in Belgrade on 26 July to expel Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) from the coalition, which is a first step toward depriving the DSS of all its seats in the Serbian parliament, Reuters reported the next day. The move comes in the run-up to the 26 September elections. The presidency's decision immediately followed a ruling by the Yugoslav Constitutional Court to uphold a demand by the DSS that the recent replacement of some DSS deputies to the Serbian parliament by the DOS be ruled illegal. Kostunica hailed the court's decision, but officials of the Serbian Constitutional Court said that their court alone had the right to rule on the matter. Dragan Marsicanin, who is deputy leader of the DSS, promised to fight the DOS decision to expel his party "by all legitimate political means." The DSS has boycotted the Serbian parliament for some weeks. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)
DJINDJIC TESTIFIES BEFORE BUGGING COMMISSION. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic told the Serbian parliament's commission investigating the "Pavkovic affair" on 27 July that he is innocent of any wrongdoing, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). The prime minister added that he and Kostunica "have had virtually no communication for months." Djindjic said he fears that the ongoing political imbroglio is frightening away much-needed foreign investors. Kostunica, who refuses to recognize the commission or its authority, called that body "a theater." But several NGO representatives hailed the six days of public testimony by leading officials, saying that the experience was one of virtually unknown openness and transparency in Serbia. The representatives added that they hope officials will be held accountable before the public in the future as well. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July)
HEALTH PROBLEMS BEDEVIL MILOSEVIC... Doctors in The Hague have concluded that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic suffers from heart disease and "dangerously" high blood pressure, "The Washington Post" reported on 26 July. The war crimes tribunal agreed that he needs medical treatment and "less work in court." This medical recommendation is likely to slow Milosevic's trial for atrocities committed in Kosova in 1998 and 1999. He is also charged with genocide stemming from the Serbian aggression in Bosnia from 1992-95. The prosecution will begin presenting its evidence in that case on 30 September, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. It may call up to 177 witnesses and conclude its presentation on 16 May 2003, after which Milosevic will begin his defense. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
...WHO STILL HAS FRIENDS IN RUSSIA. Nikolai Ryzhkov, who head's the State Duma's committee for "assisting Yugoslavia in overcoming the consequences of NATO aggression," said in Moscow that Milosevic's trial is "a form of torture, aimed at breaking the will of the leader of Yugoslavia's patriotic forces," Interfax reported on 25 July. ("RFE/R" Newsline, 26 July).
DEL PONTE WANTS KEY U.S. WITNESSES. Carla Del Ponte, who is the UN tribunal's chief prosecutor, told the London-based "Financial Times" of 24 July that she intends to remain at her post until the Milosevic trial is over, probably in 2004. She added that the tribunal must continue its work until all indictees are brought to trial, even if that means extending its life past 2008. The United States, which provides much of the funding for the court, wants it to wrap up its work by that date. The daily also reported that Del Ponte is working to reach an agreement with the Bush administration so that former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke and former General Wesley Clark, who commanded NATO forces in Kosova in 1999, can testify before the tribunal. The administration is concerned lest sensitive information becomes public. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)
REGIONALLITHUANIA, RUSSIA FAIL TO BREAK ICE ON KALININGRAD VISAS. Chairmen of the Lithuanian-Russian governmental cooperation commission, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and Russian Transport Minister Sergei Frank, did not make any progress in resolving the issuance of visas for Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast residents in a meeting in Palanga on 25 July, BNS reported the next day. Valionis said Lithuania cannot revise its EU obligations and will require visas for Kaliningrad residents beginning in mid-2003, but is "ready to be very flexible" and "introduce inexpensive and long-term visas, and develop infrastructure to ensure as few difficulties as possible." He also urged Russia to hold negotiations with the European Union, noting that Lithuania will comply with any decisions reached. Frank maintained Russia's total opposition to any visas as they would isolate the Kaliningrad exclave from the rest of Russia and could result in mass violations of human rights in the process of issuing visas. Frank also visited the port of Klaipeda and held talks with Transport and Communications Minister Zigmantas Balcytis. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
EU CRITICIZES HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN KAZAKHSTAN, KYRGYZSTAN. In a statement on 23 July, Danish Minister for European Affairs Bertel Haarder said Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan must make greater efforts to promote democracy, a free market, and the rule of law, and to safeguard human rights and the independent functioning of the media, Reuters reported. At the same time, he lauded the role played by both countries in making airfields available to the international antiterrorism coalition. Denmark currently holds the rotating EU chairmanship. Haarder headed the EU delegation to the fourth session of the EU-Kyrgyzstan Cooperation Council, which took place in Brussels on 23 July, and at which the EU expressed support for Kyrgyzstan's efforts to draft and implement an antipoverty program, akipress.org reported on 24 July. Also discussed were the parameters for continued EU assistance for 2002-03, including technical assistance and financial support for Kyrgyzstan's food-security program. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July)