4 September 2002, Volume 3, Number 36
IN FOCUSSCHOOL OPENINGS REVEAL STRESSES AND STRAINS ON SOCIETIES IN TRANSITION. Schools reflect the state of a country's economy, but there is some indication that the personal dedication of individuals trying to reform Russian schools has prompted some government response. Lack of funding has made electricity shutoffs routine in Russian schools, as are a lack of textbooks, freezing classrooms in winter, and waves of strikes by teachers whose meager wages are often withheld for months by cash-strapped regions. But despite such seemingly insurmountable material problems, however, Russia's teachers are said to be doing the impossible by quietly raising standards in education -- and not only in the relatively rich capital. They are helped by a government that appears to have made a priority of rescuing the country's school system (see "Russia: Class Struggles -- Education Improving Despite Obstacles (Part 1)," rferl.org, 30 August 2002).
Some areas of education have obtained investment. By the middle of 2003, 31 percent of Russian schools will be connected to the Internet, strana.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 27 August. Education Minister Vladimir Filippov made the announcement at a Moscow Internet conference. According to Filippov, 10.3 percent of schools are already connected. He also said that a number of regions have adopted measures to encourage teachers to incorporate new technologies into their programs. In Krasnodar Krai, Filippov said, teachers who do so can earn bonus worth up to 50 percent of their base salaries. "The Internetization of primary education in Russia is extremely important," Filippov said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2002).
And some schools are reflecting ponds of leaders' aspiration. In Armenia, Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian has issued a decree requiring all secondary schools to display portraits of President Robert Kocharian and Catholicos Garegin II, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 2 September. They must also permanently display the state flag and coat of arms. Deputy Education Minister Aida Topuzian, a former Armenian Komsomol first secretary, said the move is intended to boost civic consciousness and patriotism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2002).
Not to be outdone, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 2 September, the first day of the new school year, that schools must promote not only knowledge and culture but also the policies pursued by the state, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. Lukashenka attended the opening ceremony of a secondary school in Maladzechna, and presented the school with several volleyballs and some tennis equipment and left the following message in the guest book: "I will be very glad if our school becomes a bastion of statehood" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2002).
In a vivid indication of the vulnerability of children in a town in turmoil, residents of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku staged a demonstration on 30 August to protest the authorities' failure to fulfill their earlier demands and included some 300 children who have vowed to boycott school until the villagers' demands are met. They also complained that their parents cannot afford to buy them textbooks or school uniforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2002).
In Poland, the Sejm also cut the length of compulsory military service for university graduates from six months to three, PAP reported. However, the bill simultaneously provides for the reintroduction of defense-training courses for students. Upon completion of these courses, students will be obliged to pass exams. Within 18 months after graduation they will be eligible to be called up for three-month service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2002).
The Riga City Council has announced that schools in the Latvian capital are in need of 95 teachers for the new school year that begins on 2 September, BNS reported on 28 August. The largest need is for English-language teachers, for which there are 17 vacancies, as well as 10 crafts teachers, nine for mathematics, and eight to teach geography. The City Council said that it's always hard to find English-language teachers, particularly because of the low salaries. This year 6,261 first graders are expected to start their education in the capital's 140 primary schools (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2002).
Politics can keep students preoccupied. About 300 professors and students from Kalmykia State University conducted a meeting on 28 August in support of the university's rector, German Borlikov, who is also a candidate in the 20 October republican presidential elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 August. Earlier in the month, an adviser to incumbent republican President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Nina Odinokova, accused Borlikov on local television of purchasing a gold medal for himself for $7,500 on local television. She also said that professors at the university take bribes from students. University staff believe that Odinokova's attack is linked to Borlikov's decision to run for president. For his part, Borlikov has complained about Odinokova's "slander" against him to the local election commission and the prosecutor's office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2002).
In Moldova, Leonid Dobrov, the founder of Gagauz University, on 28 April announced in Comrat that the university established in 2001 has been closed down, Infotag reported. Dobrov said the authorities in Chisinau refused to grant a license to the university and alleged that they did so for political reasons. He said the decision to refuse licensing was "a manifestation of discrimination toward the Gagauz language and culture." Dobrov said the 86 students of Gagauz University will be able to continue their studies at Comrat State University or at the Slavic University in Chisinau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2002).
Education issues have been at the heart of the opposition struggle in Moldova. Contrary to earlier reports that school curriculums for 2003 will continue to include courses on the "History of Romanians," reports from Chisinau say the teaching of the controversial "History of Moldova" may be made compulsory after all. According to a 28 August Flux report, Education Minister Gheorghe Sima has urged Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev to issue an emergency government ordinance making compulsory the study of the "History of Moldova" at all learning institutions as of 1 September. Citing government sources that requested anonymity, the agency said courses are to be based on a textbook written by Party of Moldovan Communists deputy Vasile Stati, as well as on a collectively authored volume among whose authors is Vladimir Taranov, considered to be the chief promoter of the "Moldovianism" ideology. The sources said that in his reply to Sima, Tarlev pointed out the likelihood of renewed tensions in the wake of such a decision and said that President Vladimir Voronin would have the final word on the matter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002).
In impoverished Central Asia, parents often have to contribute to reconstruction costs, as well as pay for all educational materials, including schoolbooks. Consequently, more and more children in Uzbekistan can be seen in the streets and in the bazaars instead of behind school desks, as this frustrated mother from Ferghana explained: "Today, there is a lot of talk about [the privileges] of independence, but a lot of children are wandering in the streets. Today, even small children are in the bazaars. For example, I am a mother of five children. I get a pension of 17,000 soms [$17], which is enough for nothing. That's why I had to send my three kids to the bazaar instead of to school, to be honest. The situation is very difficult. If children do not go to the bazaars, they will starve" (see "Central Asia: Class Struggles -- Extreme Poverty Endangers Education (Part 4)," rferl.org, 30 August 2002). CAF
AZERBAIJANOPPOSITION PARTIES CALL FOR ANNULMENT OF REFERENDUM RESULTS. Twenty-six Azerbaijani opposition parties adopted a statement in Baku on 30 August affirming their joint refusal to recognize the validity of the results of the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments, Turan reported. They said that despite pressure from police and the authorities, no more than 10-15 percent of the electorate participated in the vote. The Central Election Commission (CEC) gave participation as 88 percent. The opposition said they will contest the referendum outcome in both Azerbaijani and international courts. On 2 September, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan duly lodged a suit with Baku's Sabail district court challenging the CEC's endorsement of the referendum results the previous day. The opposition announced separately on 30 August that it will convene a demonstration in Baku on 14 September to demand the annulment of the referendum outcome. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)
GOVERNMENT REJECTS CRITICISM OF REFERENDUM. A 29 August session of Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission refused to consider statements from the opposition Democratic Party and Azerbaijan National Independence Party alleging serious procedural violations in the course of voting in the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments, and also rejected copies of voting-station protocols that they submitted to substantiate those allegations, zerkalo.az reported on 30 August. Commission Chairman Mazahir Panakhov dismissed those complaints and others by opposition parties that monitored the vote as subjective and totally unfounded. He added that statements by the OSCE office in Baku and the U.S. State Department expressing concern over irregularities in the voting were "not objective, unsubstantiated, and a manifestation of disrespect to the Azerbaijani people and the millions of voters" who participated in the referendum. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)
BELARUSTRADERS STRIKE OVER FISCAL PRESSURE. Thousands of Belarusian small traders went on strike on 1 September to protest increased taxes and rules aimed at increasing government revenues, Reuters reported. The protesters want to roll back higher taxes for social programs and on employers as well as the obligation that traders have cash registers in an effort to tighten control over transactions. "The authorities simply lobby in favor of big businesses, which build large shops and wipe us out as a class," the agency quoted one protester as saying. Belapan reported on 2 September that Premier Henadz Navitski has instructed Economy Minister Andrey Kabyakou to organize "constructive talks" with protesting vendors. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September )
BOSNIABOSNIAN SERBS DENY SREBRENICA MASSACRE... Three Bosnian Serb officials have released a report denying that a massacre of 8,000 Muslim male civilians took place at Srebrenica in July 1995, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 3 September. The report alleges that some 1,800-1,900 Muslim soldiers died in combat. Women whose male relatives were killed told Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service that they are furious over the report. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)
...WHICH OUTRAGES HAGUE TRIBUNAL. Jim Landale, who is a spokesman for the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 3 September that "any claim that the number of victims after the fall of the Srebrenica enclave was around the 2,000 mark, and most of those killed in battle, is an absolutely outrageous claim. It's utterly false, and it flies in the face of all of the evidence painstakingly collected in the investigation into the tragedy." He stressed that "any claim contrary to that, trying to minimize the number of victims, is, frankly, disgusting." Jean-Jacques Joris, who is legal adviser to the chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, called the report "a saddening example of revisionism and an element which certainly stands in the way of reconciliation in the region." He noted that "approximately 3,000 [bodies] have been exhumed by or under supervision of [the tribunal], 3,000 bodies which are related to Srebrenica, to the fall of Srebrenica, to the aftermath of the fall of Srebrenica, many of them with clear evidence...of having been severely executed." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)
GEORGIARUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS COMPLAIN TO TBILISI OVER DISPLACED PERSONS' BORDER PICKET. Major General Aleksandr Yevteev, who commands the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, expressed concern on 29 August at a weekly meeting with Georgian, Abkhaz, and UN representatives about the picket by Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia at the border bridge over the Inguri River, Caucasus Press reported. The picketers, who Abkhaz security officials say have been blocking traffic across the bridge since 22 August, are demanding the Russian peacekeepers' withdrawal, the dismissal of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze as President Eduard Shevardnadze's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, and a UN military intervention in Abkhazia to enforce peace there. Yevteev complained that the protesters' action hinders the political settlement of the conflict. He also expressed concern over warnings by Georgian guerrilla detachments that they will resort to military force in a bid to reimpose Georgian jurisdiction over Abkhazia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)
HUNGARYFIDESZ SAYS MECS COMMISSION RUNNING 'POLITICALLY AMOK.' The opposition FIDESZ party said in a statement on 29 August that the parliamentary commission headed by Imre Mecs that is investigating government officials' secret-service pasts is running "politically amok" and trampling on people's dignity and solid reputations, Budapest dailies reported. FIDESZ issued the statement after three more politicians recently alleged by "Magyar Hirlap" to have links to communist-era secret services strongly denied any such links. Bela Kadar, international economic trade relations minister from 1990-94, as well as two former state secretaries, Laszlo Sarossy and Laszlo Bogar, on 29 August told Hungarian media that they never worked for the secret services. FIDESZ said in the statement that developments over the last few days highlight concerns by opposition parties that the Mecs commission is unlawful. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)
NEW ROMANY COALITION SEEKS TO OUST PRO-FIDESZ CHAIRMAN. Nine Romany organizations on 29 August formed an electoral alliance that is designed to remove incumbent Florian Farkas from his post as chairman of the National Gypsy Authority, Hungarian media reported. Farkas, a FIDESZ parliament member and chairman of the Romany organization Lungo Drom, said Romany policy should only be approached along the lines of programs and not from an ideological point of view. Farkas added that Lungo Drom supports all measures taken by the new Socialist government on Romany issues. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)
KYRGYZSTANANTIPOVERTY COMMITTEE MEETS. On 27 August Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev chaired the first session of a coordinating committee tasked with drafting programs for sustained economic development and to reduce poverty, akipress.org reported. Some 82 percent of Kyrgyz families live below the poverty line, and almost 40 percent of the country's 5 million population subsist on per capita incomes of less than 140 soms ($3) per month. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August)
PRESIDENT GIVES GREEN LIGHT FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM. Askar Akaev has signed a decree on creating a constitutional council that on 4 September will embark on the process of drafting constitutional reforms, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In a television and radio address on 26 August, Akaev proposed that all political parties represented in parliament be included in the council, and invited other political parties to propose representatives, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He also said that the clashes in March in Aksy between police and demonstrators testified to the existence of serious communication failures within the executive branch and in its interaction with other branches of power. He said the constitutional amendments will expand the powers of the prime minister, the government, and local authorities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August)
INVESTIGATORS SAY USE OF FORCE AGAINST PROTESTERS WAS LEGAL... Deputy Prosecutor-General Kurmantai Abdiev and a senior official from the Prosecutor-General's Office said in Bishkek on 30 August that video recordings confirm that police acted legally when they opened fire on demonstrators in Aksy on 17-18 March, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. They said the investigation into the standoff in which five demonstrators were shot dead is continuing, and that six local officials have been charged with abuse of their official position. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)
...AS PARTICIPANTS SCHEDULE PROTEST MARCH TO BISHKEK. Some 300 participants of the Aksy protest gathered on 31 August in the southern village of Bozpiek and decided to embark on a march to Bishkek on 4 September to protest the authorities' failure to punish those responsible for the police violence, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. On 2 September, some 3,000 people attended two similar meetings in Djalalabad Oblast to support the protest march. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)
OFFICIAL WARNS OPPOSITION AGAINST NEW PROTEST MARCH. Kyrgyz State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov told journalists in Bishkek on 28 August that some opposition members continue to advocate destabilization, Interfax reported. He specifically mentioned reports that "some political forces" are planning a march on Bishkek and that some march participants will be armed. He said the government will do everything in its power to maintain order. On 27 August, relatives of those killed in March in a clash between police and protesters in Aksy said at a meeting in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast that they plan to march to Bishkek to protest the government's failure to identify and bring to trial those responsible for the deaths, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Also on 28 August, some 3,000 participants in a demonstration in Djalalabad demanded the release of jailed former Vice President Feliks Kulov and that those responsible for the Aksy killings be brought to justice, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August)
MACEDONIAINTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY WARNS MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER NOT TO ARREST ETHNIC ALBANIAN LEADER... Reacting to threats by Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski that he will order the arrest of Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), representatives of the international community held talks with Boskovski and Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule on 27 August, "Dnevnik" reported. Boskovski subsequently pledged not to arrest Ahmeti or any other former members of the disbanded National Liberation Army (UCK) who are now members of the BDI. Ahmeti, for his part, agreed not to appear at party rallies in Skopje. The international community warned the Macedonian government that Ahmeti's arrest before the 15 September legislative elections would be considered an unhelpful political act. Nevertheless, the ministry, which is headed by hard-liner Boskovski, has issued an arrest warrant for Ahmeti, AP reported from Skopje on 29 August. Interior Ministry spokesman Voislav Zafirovski said in a television interview that an amnesty granted to Ahmeti and other former guerrillas of the UCK under the Ohrid peace agreement applied to only one of four charges outstanding against Ahmeti. Zafirovski did not elaborate, nor did he say why the warrant was issued despite a recent pledge by Boskovski not to do so ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 August)
...BUT A GRENADE IS HURLED AT HIS OFFICES. Unknown persons threw a grenade at the headquarters of the BDI in Skopje on 28 August, causing slight damage to a nearby bakery, Reuters reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August)
MOLDOVAOPPOSITION LEADER ALLEGES HARASSMENT. Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca on 28 August protested against harassment, allegedly by the authorities, of his party, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rosca wrote to President Vladimir Voronin and Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev, complaining that measures are being taken to obstruct the 1 September rally organized by the PPCD. He said the Interior Ministry, the Education Ministry, and the Transportation Ministry are all involved in attempts to prevent the meeting. According to Rosca, police have warned school directors in Chisinau and asked them to sign a pledge to forbid school students and teachers to participate in the planned rally. Rosca also said Education Minister Gheorghe Sima has instructed university deans and school directors to hinder young people's participation in the rally and that the Transportation Ministry has issued warnings to transportation companies that their licenses will be revoked if they transport participants to the rally. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August)
PRESIDENT SAYS THIS IS NOT THE INDEPENDENCE MOLDOVANS ASPIRED TO. Addressing members of the diplomatic corps accredited in Moldova on Independence Day, Vladimir Voronin said the present situation in his country "is not the independence to which the Moldovan people aspired," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin said Moldova is "one of the poorest countries in Europe" and that the "carnival-like" mood that dominated after independence was declared in 1991 was soon replaced by "a situation from which hundred of thousands of Moldovan citizens are running away" by seeking to settle abroad. "We regret the wasted time [since the declaration of independence] that could have been used to implement genuine reforms, modernization, and integration into the international community," he said. Voronin added that his words were not targeted against present-day "political opponents," but "without exception, all politicians who during the last decade counted on the boundless generosity of East and West to provide a solution for all accumulated problems that the country was facing." He said Moldova will become truly independent only if "we prove to ourselves that we are able to make up for wasted time and ensure the country's development toward civilization." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August)
POLANDCONTROVERSY CONTINUES OVER POLAND'S EU CAMPAIGN CHIEF. Premier Leszek Miller told journalists on 1 September that he will not yield to opposition demands that he dismiss Slawomir Wiatr -- the government's commissioner for promoting European Union membership -- who has admitted that he collaborated with the communist-era secret services (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2002), PAP reported. Miller added that Brussels is not interested in Poland's lustration process. Ombudsman Andrzej Zoll said the following day that Wiatr's appointment was "very dubious," adding that the EU promotion campaign supervised by Wiatr will be less efficient following his revelation. Meanwhile, the Law and Justice group has prepared an appeal requesting that Miller sack Wiatr. Wiatr commented on 2 September that he "resolutely" dismisses the idea of resigning his post. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)
LAWMAKERS URGE CABINET TO PRESENT PLAN FOR FIGHTING UNEMPLOYMENT. The Sejm's Social Policy and Family Commission has urged the government to present a program to combat unemployment, PAP reported on 27 August. The same day the commission made itself familiar with a Labor Ministry report on unemployment. Anna Bankowska from the Democratic Left Alliance commented that the report includes statistical data, "but lacks the assessment of the situation, tendencies, and conclusions." According to the Main Statistics Office, the number of registered unemployed amounted to 3.1 million people at the end of July (17.4 percent of the country's labor force), an increase of 14,500 people as compared to June. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August.
ROMANIAROMA PROTEST INTERDICTION TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY. Some 200 Roma staged a protest at the railway station of Arad, western Romania, on 27 August after being denied permission to leave the country, Mediafax and AP reported. The permission was denied three days earlier. The Roma and their families occupied the railway station and slept on benches in Arad parks, triggering subsequent protests by the local population. The Roma said they had intended to travel to neighboring Hungary to visit relatives or find work there, but the authorities denied them exit, saying they did not satisfy travel requirements. Border controls were recently tightened to combat illegal emigration. In related news, Romany Social Democratic Party Chairman Nicolae Paun, who also heads the Chamber of Deputies' Human Rights Commission, said on 27 August that the French authorities' campaign against illegal Romany immigrants in that country is affecting the image of all Romanian citizens. Paun said the problem posed to the European Union by Romany immigrants is a real one, but that Romania should not be singled out as the source of the immigrants as the issue is common to all former communist countries, Romanian radio reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August)
RUSSIAPUTIN EMPHASIZES IMPORTANCE OF CENSUS... In his remarks to delegates at the third International Congress of Tatars in Kazan on 30 August, President Vladimir Putin said that the upcoming national census is "an extremely serious state enterprise that demands the maximum correctness and tact, first of all from government representatives," strana.ru reported. He said that state policies on "matters of facilitating national-cultural development and preserving national languages and traditions" will be based on the census results. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)
...AND SAYS STATE SHOULD NOT INTERFERE WITH RELIGION. President Putin also told congress delegates that the state should not tell religions "how they should act, who they should select, and how they should unite," RIA-Novosti reported on 30 August. "We must help them create conditions in which they can work and do everything we can to ensure there are no barriers between them and the citizenry." He said that although it is important to keep religion separate from the state, "it would be a mistake to separate the people from religion." The president, responding to a question concerning whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear their traditional headscarves for their document photographs, said that such photographs must conform to "national standards," RIA-Novosti reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)
COMMUNISTS RETAKE LEAD IN PUBLIC-OPINION POLL. According to the latest poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 34 percent of respondents would support the Communist Party if State Duma elections were held today, Interfax reported on 30 August. This is an increase of 5 percent over a similar poll taken one month ago. Twenty-six percent said that they would vote for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, down from 29 percent in July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)
GOVERNMENT AGREES TO DO SOMETHING FOR FARMERS. At a meeting to discuss the grain market on 29 August, members of the cabinet adopted a decision to intervene in the wheat and rye markets to try to stabilize prices, ITAR-TASS reported. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov asked ministers to submit proposals for how such intervention would take place and a final decision is expected on 19 September. According to polit.ru the same day, Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev had threatened to resign if the government did not provide money for such an intervention. Last year, the government undertook a similar effort to prop up prices, and this year some analysts are predicting that average grain prices could be 15 percent lower than last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2002). The government's decision follows a number of different policies announced by local leaders to support prices in their local markets. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)
HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL WORRIED ABOUT 'VISA CURTAIN.' Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the presidential Human Rights Commission, told a conference in Kaliningrad on 28 August that the public must not allow an "iron curtain" to be built between Russia and the Kaliningrad exclave, RosBalt reported. She encouraged the use of public diplomacy to resolve the Kaliningrad impasse. "Russian bureaucrats are not capable of demonstrating the perniciousness of such measures as convincingly as the people whose interests and rights are directly and painfully affected can," Pamfilova said. She regards the issue as a matter of "defending the honor and dignity of Russian citizens." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August)
THIRD CATHOLIC PRIEST DENIED VISA. The Foreign Ministry has refused to extend the visa of a Catholic priest, Reverend Stanislav Krajniak from Slovakia, who for the last year has been working in Yaroslavl, Interfax reported on 28 August. "This is the third time in the last few months that a priest of the Vatican has been denied a visa," Igor Kovalevskii, head of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Russia, was quoted as saying. In April, Bishop Jerzy Mazur of Irkutsk and Reverend Stefano Caprio of Vladimir were refused visas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 22 April 2002). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August)
ORTHODOX CHURCH LOBBIES TO INCLUDE CONFESSIONAL PREFERENCE IN CENSUS DATA... Antonii Ilin, spokesman for the Foreign Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, has said that the Russian Orthodox Church has a "direct interest" in including a question about citizens' religious confessions in the questionnaire of the national census, which will be conducted in October, strana.ru reported on 27 August. Ilin said such a question would be "very useful because it would highlight the real percentage of [the population espousing] traditional confessions in Russia." Ilin added that not including questions about citizens' religious adherence would deprive the census of its "spiritual and cultural significance." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August)
...BUT GOVERNMENT DISAGREES... However, Vladimir Zorin, the government minister who oversees nationalities policy, said there is no urgent need to include this question, the website reported. Such data is already available at the Justice Ministry, which he said is responsible for registering religious organizations. Zorin noted that no religious confession -- except for the Orthodox Church -- has advocated including this question in the census, and it was not asked during the last few censuses conducted during the Soviet era. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August)
...AS TWO-THIRDS OF RUSSIANS PROFESS FAITH IN GOD. More than two-thirds of respondents to a recent survey by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) claimed to be adherents to one or another religious confession, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 August. According to the survey, 58 percent of respondents declared themselves Orthodox believers, while 5 percent said they were Muslims and less than 2 percent said they belonged to non-Orthodox Christian confessions. Thirty-one percent declared themselves atheists. Of those who said that they believe in God, 60 percent said that they had never read any biblical text. Of those who claimed to be Orthodox believers, 42 percent said that they had never been in an Orthodox church, while another 31 percent said that they went to church "not more than once a year." "The biggest difference between believers and nonbelievers is not how often they go to church, but whether or not they pray to God," said VTsIOM sociologist Aleksandr Golov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August)
MINISTER DEFENDS REFUSAL TO REGISTER LIBERAL RUSSIA. Justice Minister Yurii Chaika denied that there was any political motivation behind his agency's refusal to register the Liberal Russia political party, RosBalt reported on 27 August. Chaika said that Liberal Russia had significantly violated the law on political parties, and consequently the Justice Ministry was obliged to refuse to register it. He noted that a municipal court in Moscow recently sided with the Justice Ministry in the case and said that he is not concerned by statements from Liberal Russia leaders that they intend to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August)
NIZHNII COURT OKAYS REGISTRATION OF 'DOUBLES.' In a closed session on 27 August, a municipal court in Nizhnii Novgorod upheld a decision by the local election commission to register candidates for mayor who have the same names as other candidates, RTR reported. The use of so-called doubles is a widespread dirty trick in Russian regional elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). "This is a blow to elections as such," said Vita Vladimirova, lawyer for the plaintiff in the case, State Duma Deputy Vadim Bulavinov. Bulavinov is a leading candidate in the 15 September poll, and he filed the complaint after another candidate -- an unemployed local man who legally changed his name to Vadim Bulavinov in July -- was registered. The second Bulavinov has not been seen in public since he submitted his papers to the election commission and police have declared him missing and launched a search. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August)
3,500 NEW HIV/AIDS CASES REGISTERED EACH MONTH. A combined total of 3,500 new cases of HIV infection and AIDS are registered in Russia each month, NTV reported on 28 August, citing data from the State Statistics Committee. In June, there were 3,573 such cases, including 30 children under the age of 14. For the first half of the year, there were 24,550 registered cases, including 309 children. The highest incidence of registered HIV/AIDS cases is in St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, which account for 17.7 percent of the total. Moscow and Moscow Oblast are in second place with 10.6 percent, and Samara is third with 6.1 percent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August)
SERBIAGOVERNMENT TO TAKE NATION OFF DOWNERS. The Serbian authorities have begun a campaign to reduce consumption of antistress drugs, Reuters reported on 29 August. Health department officials said that in 2001, Serbs consumed "41 million tablets of Bensedin, 63 million of Bromazepam, and 40 million pills of Diazepam," adding that "it looked like the entire nation was high on drugs." The new measures ban over-the-counter sales of such drugs and require a doctor's prescription. It is not clear how difficult such prescriptions will be to obtain. One psychiatrist said that such drugs are highly addictive and that several months of expert medical supervision may be necessary to kick the habit. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)
PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SEEKS $100 BILLION IN DAMAGES. Velimir Bata Zivojinovic, an actor known for playing Partisan war heroes in World War II movies and now the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), told the Croatian weekly "Globus" that he will seek $100 billion from NATO countries for damages sustained by Serbia during the 1999 bombing campaign, dpa reported from Zagreb on 28 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October 2000). The Serbian presidential election will take place on 29 September. But AP reported from Belgrade on 29 August that the SPS is "in shambles" following former President Slobodan Milosevic's endorsement of Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj for the Serbian presidency and Milosevic's demand that Bogoljub Bjelica lead the SPS. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August)
NGO WARNS OF EXTREME NATIONALISTS. Human Rights Watch said in a statement issued in New York on 27 August that the Yugoslav authorities should take legal steps against extreme nationalists (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). The statement added that part of the problem is the current authorities' own reluctance to face the issue of Serbian crimes against non-Serbs. Elizabeth Andersen, who is the NGO's executive director of its Europe and Central Asia Division, said that "by failing to respond to this kind of harassment, the authorities essentially condone it." She was referring specifically to a recent incident in which nationalists dressed in T-shirts proclaiming "Radovan Karadzic -- Serbian hero" prevented the opening in Kragujevac of an exhibition by U.S. photographer Ron Haviv dealing with war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosova. Previously, there were similar incidents in Uzice and Cacak. In all three cases, the authorities did not enforce their own legislation on disturbing the peace. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August)
TAJIKISTANTACIS PROGRAM RELAUNCHED. The European Commission has given the go-ahead to relaunch its TACIS program in Tajikistan, Russian news agencies reported on 29 August. The program was halted in 1997 after two TACIS staff members were kidnapped, and one of them was subsequently killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November and 1 December 1997). The European Union will also fund several infrastructure and environmental-protection projects in Tajikistan, the head of the TACIS bureau in Dushanbe, Pierre-Paul Antounissens, said at a meeting with Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)
PLANS TO CREATE 41,000 NEW JOBS. The Tajik government plans to create 41,000 new jobs in 2003, an Economy Ministry official told Asia Plus-Blitz on 28 August. He estimated that the country's able-bodied population numbers 3.5 million of a total population of 6.6 million. He said 44,000 people, or 1.5 percent of the able-bodied population, are currently registered as unemployed, but admitted that the true figure could be as high as 25 percent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August)
UKRAINEOPPOSITION CALLS FOR PROTESTS TO OUST PRESIDENT. At a joint news conference in Kyiv on 2 September, the leaders of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party appealed to Ukrainians to take part on a massive scale in the open-ended nationwide protest campaign that is planned to begin on 16 September, the second anniversary of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Ukrainian media reported. Yuliya Tymoshenko, Petro Symonenko, and Oleksandr Moroz told journalists that the protest campaign will be continued until President Leonid Kuchma and "other representatives of Ukraine's top authorities" resign their posts, UNIAN reported. The three leaders also called for an early presidential election. "We cannot wait for another 2 1/2 years [for the regular presidential election in 2004] because then we will get Kuchma or his successor," Reuters quoted Tymoshenko as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September)
OUR UKRAINE SLAMS AUTHORITIES FOR DESTABILIZING COUNTRY... Our Ukraine on 29 August publicized an open letter to President Kuchma, warning him against a "systemic crisis of the authority that has hit all spheres of social life," Ukrainian media reported. According to Viktor Yushchenko's bloc, "actions by the authorities are threatening Ukraine's national interests, national security, the independence of the state, and are provoking civic confrontation." Our Ukraine reiterated its charge that the presidential administration created an "artificial majority" in the parliament by pressuring deputies in order "to give the parliamentary leadership to outsiders of the election race." "One has the impression that the parliament, the government, and the media have been leased to the head of the presidential administration [Viktor Medvedchuk] and his oligarchic clan," the letter noted. Our Ukraine also complained that the opposition has no access to the state-run media. According to the bloc, "the situation in the state has been heading toward unpredictability and uncontrollability." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)
...AND URGES KUCHMA TO REMOVE 'THREATS TO UKRAINE'S DEMOCRACY AND STATEHOOD.' Our Ukraine called on President Kuchma to make a choice between "democracy and dictatorship" and take urgent measures "to remove threats to Ukraine's democracy and statehood." In particular, the bloc demands that a democratic parliamentary majority be created around Our Ukraine and a coalition government be formed by this majority. Our Ukraine also postulates that the authorities secure equal access to the state media for all political forces, stop political persecution, and strengthen Ukraine's integration into "European and trans-Atlantic structures," while simultaneously abandoning talk of Ukraine's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union. "The inability of the authorities to stop the country's slide toward a social and economic catastrophe and the continuation of the policy oriented toward curbing democracy and constitutional civil rights and freedoms will force us to call on voters to stand in defense of democracy, national interests, and the independence of the Ukrainian state," the letter warned. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)
UZBEKISTANPROTESTERS CONFINED TO PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL. Two of the five persons forcibly detained by police in Tashkent on 27 August for staging a demonstration outside the Justice Ministry were taken to separate psychiatric hospitals on 28 August, AP reported. Both are women. One of them, Elena Urlaeva, was placed in a mental hospital for several months last year for her activities in defense of human rights. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August)
POLICE BREAK UP HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS' PROTEST. Men believed to be Uzbek security police on 27 August detained five members of the Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan who tried to stage a demonstration outside the Justice Ministry in Tashkent to protest alleged government corruption and human rights abuses by police, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. A similar demonstration one week earlier passed without incident. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August)
END NOTECAN TRADE UNIONS PROTECT UKRAINIAN MINERS' RIGHTS?
By Boris Dodonov
Coal has been extracted in Ukraine for about 150 years. The tragically high number of coal miners' deaths in recent years means attention to peoples' lives has not improved since the 19th century. About 3,700 coal miners have been killed since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991; 190 have died so far this year. While mining accidents with large numbers of casualties have receded into history in the developed world, for Ukraine, they are in today's news. This week, four more were killed in two separate mine accidents, reported AP on 2 September.
Not only do miners face abysmal safety conditions, they have less jobs. Since 1990, coal production has been cut by about 50 percent. On the one hand, there is a shrinking demand for metallurgy and fossil-fuel power plants, and on the other hand, Ukrainian coal is difficult to extract and of low quality. It makes Ukrainian coal noncompetitive, and it also makes it extremely inefficient due to the very high labor intensity needed for the production. According to the World Bank, in 1995 production costs of about 40 percent of all coking coal- and 35 percent of all steam coal-producing mines were higher than those of comparable imports.
A major factor working against improvement in the miners' lives is the price at which coal is sold in Ukraine. It does not cover the costs of extraction, and therefore the production is subsidized; the planned state budget subsidies are 5 and 7 percent of the state budget's total expenditures in 2001 and 2002, respectively. Are such subsidies in the miners' interests? In fact, it is a vicious circle. Generally, subsidies do not create any incentives to improve production efficiency, and in fact have ruined the finances of the better-performing mines. Production subsidies in turn result in very high labor intensity, and both coal miners and managers have found they have a common interest in blocking restructuring and cutting corners.
Before the break-up of the Soviet Union, coking coal and coke were delivered according to state purchasing orders. After 1991, the situation changed significantly. Today, a few firms acting as intermediaries control virtually 100 percent of the market. Intermediaries gave commodity credits in the form of equipment to the coal mines when the mines were cash-strapped due to nonpayment for the coal supplied and nonpayment of the government's planned subsidies from the budget. Now the coal mines must deliver coal to the intermediaries to pay for the credits.
There was no transparency in granting these credit, nor any open tenders in order to obtain the necessary equipment. Unions and parliamentary opposition were not strong enough to demand such conditions. As a result, the value of the credits could be substantially exaggerated. Widespread corruption within this system, and an exploitative relationship to the mines and the workers become the most urgent problems.
The State Oversight and Review Department has revealed that the state subsidies given to the coal industry are not spent for the stated purpose. The Audit Commission has accused the government of misappropriating World Bank loans for coal industry restructuring. The World Bank's loan of $300 million approved in 1996 was supposed to go towards implementing mine closures and social and environmental mitigation. There was one key problem: lack of transparency, especially regarding the social funds, still being investigated. Open books are not the only issue. The actual accounting procedures are questionable: investments in the coal mine's development are not included in the balance sheet before profit/loss estimation, and actual social costs are not shown against profits, but reported separately or under-reported.
Like other large industrial enterprises inherited from the Soviet era, coal mines finance wages and pensions, but also day care, hospitals, schooling, apartments, stadiums, health centers, and so on. The companies try to shift these costs to local government, but not always successfully; the life of the whole town depends on the mines.
Into this bleak and challenging landscape step the four main trade unions in the coal-mining industry now: the Trade Union of Coal Industry Workers (PRVP) which is a member of Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (which inherited the Soviet trade unions); the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPHU), a member of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Ukraine; the Independent Union of Miners of Donbass (NPHD); and the Trade Union of Technical Staff and Employees of the Coal Industry. Once powerful enough to force the dismissal of the president and the parliament in 1994, these unions can no longer protect workers' interests for several reasons.
The government learned its lessons, too, from the strike era of 1993 and 1996-97 and is striking back itself. First, state-controlled prosecutors launched criminal cases against the strike leaders of 1996, pronounced some guilty and conditionally sentenced them to several years of jail. Second, the government has also resorted to intimidating workers' leaders before strikes, and some of their protest actions were stopped through police force and violence, leading to several miners' hospitalizations. And third, the state has used the well-tested principle of "divide and conquer." The government will give financial support to a trade union to prevent it from joining another's strikes. For example, the government transferred about $1.1 to the PRVP for buying gifts for the coal miners killed, and the Ministry of Fuel and Energy issued an order calling for the transfer of part of the revenue from the sale of coal to PRVP to finance coal miners' vacations in sanatoria. As a result, the PRVP is negotiating with the government about wage arrears and providing political support, in exchange for some benefits.
The NPHU is the most active defender of coal miners' rights among the trade unions. Its leader, Mychaylo Volynetz, constantly accuses government authorities and the managers of coal mines of neglecting safety standards in pursuit of profit. Although he does attract a certain amount of attention to the deplorable state of the coal industry, the ability of the union to actually affect change in the industry is rather dubious. First, such union leaders have little opportunity to inform the public at large about the troubles in the coal industry because the major mass media, owned or controlled by state or business groups, are silent about these issues. Second, the mines' managers are appointed by the Ministry of Fuel and Energy. Their mission is to exploit the mines, and they do not feel responsible to their employees, simply ignoring union requirements about safety conditions, payment of arrears, wage increases, and so on. It is very difficult for coal miners to find other jobs in the depressed Donbass region in case of lay-off and they are forced to work under these poor conditions.
The NPHU was the first trade union that started linking political to economic demands, and Volynetz has long defended coal-miners' rights. Currently, he is a member of the parliamentary faction of Yuliya Tymoshenko, who is in strong opposition to President Leonid Kuchma and his government. Tymoshenko was the deputy prime minister responsible for the energy sector in the Yushchenko government for a year and had some success in cleaning up the energy industries but was unable to get at the coal industry, which she called the most corrupt sector. Ultimately, she faced prosecution herself, which she battled and now faced again in August 2002 as the government tries to suppress her political challenge. Another union leader, Yuriy Pivovarov, leader of the Solidarnost trade union, was accused of stealing money and found guilty. His lawyer say the charges are based on unlawfully obtained evidence, because his arrest came within days of his leading of a demonstration of 10,000 people urging the resignation of the head of the Donetsk state administration.
In sum, the depressed economy, the misappropriation of funds, and the absence of public oversight -- all issues which trade unions alone cannot battle -- lead to poor safety conditions, which in turn lead to accidents and large numbers of deaths among miners. The situation in the coal industry reflects the economy as a whole, as other sectors are declining as well. Without deep political reform and an end to repression, it is extremely difficult for trade unions to protect the labor and human rights of the coal miners. State and mine managers to do not feel any responsibility for the miners, and safety rules are neglected in pursuit of profits.
The newly created trade unions represent workers' interests in better fashion than the old Soviet unions, but they constantly struggle against various state agencies and employers, on the one hand, and against the Confederation of Trade Unions on the other. The confederation inherited all the property of the old Soviet unions, and they treat the new unions as competitors, although the Ukrainian Constitution does establish equal rights for all trade unions. The legislative framework needs to be improved, however, to enable them to more effectively protect workers' rights.
The subsidies to coal industry should be transparent and follow a schedule as well as be a subject to public control. Trade unions can play a role, and an end to government harassment of them and the political forces they rely on in parliament is crucial. Credits from international financial organizations like World Bank can mitigate the social consequences of industry restructuring and closing coal mines. However, as Ukrainian experience has shown, a portion of them might be spent on other purposes or simply stolen. Therefore, their distribution must also be subject to government and public oversight.
Boris Dodonov is a research associate in the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting Department of Structural Reforms in Kyiv.