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(Un)Civil Societies Report: September 25, 2002

25 September 2002, Volume 3, Number 39
GOVERNMENT DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY IN FLOODED NORTH. Heavy rainfall displaced thousands of families and cut off energy and drinking water in areas of northern Albania including Lac, Lezha, Shkodra, and Kukes, Western news agencies reported on 22 and 23 September. The government set up a coordination committee headed by Prime Minister Fatos Nano and ordered that special measures be taken to repair damaged infrastructure to keep rail and road networks open. The Albanian government is "contacting European natural-disaster aid bodies and friendly governments [that] have expressed readiness to help" mitigate the damage, Reuters reported on 24 September, citing government spokesman Aldrin Dalipi. Greece, Italy, and Turkey have already offered assistance, the news agency added. Prime Minister Nano meanwhile said 26,000 hectares of farmland and 7,500 houses were inundated, according to AP. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 25 September)

PRIME MINISTER ADVOCATES CRACKDOWN ON 'DANGEROUS SECTS.' Addressing the first session of a newly created government council on religious affairs, Andranik Markarian argued on 18 September that preventing the spread of "dangerous sects" that threaten national security should take priority over compliance with international human rights commitments, including those Armenia has made to the Council of Europe, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Mikael Grigorian similarly accused those sects that oppose compulsory military service of seeking the "disintegration and demoralization" of Armenia's armed forces. "Defense of the homeland is above everything," Grigorian affirmed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

OPPOSITION POSTPONES DISCUSSION OF JOINT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. Meeting in Yerevan on 19 September, representatives of the 16 aligned opposition parties decided to draft a joint election program based on proposals submitted by each of them but declined to discuss a program unveiled last week by National Accord Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian that he wants to serve as the basis for that common platform, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They also again failed to address the problem of selecting a single presidential candidate to run against incumbent Robert Kocharian in the February elections. "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" predicted on 19 September that the 16 parties will soon split into two opposition groups, one headed by Geghamian and the second by People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

POLICE DETAIN COMMUNITY LEADER... Hadji Djabrail Alizade, who is the chairman of the Union of Baku and Baku Villages, was detained at gunpoint in the village of Nardaran during the morning of 20 September by some 15 men in civilian clothes, Turan reported. The population of the village congregated on the village square to demand Alizade's release and planned to stage a demonstration later in the day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

...PROMPTING VILLAGERS TO LAUNCH OPEN-ENDED PROTEST. Residents of the village of Nardaran near Baku vowed to launch continuous protests until Djabrail Alizade and other detainees are released and their related demands are met, reported on 21 September. Those demands include improved social and economic conditions and the trial of those responsible for ordering police to open fire on villagers during a standoff in early June. Five residents who tried to gain access to Alizade were themselves detained on 21 September; two were released while the others remained in custody, Turan reported on 23 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)

PRESIDENT'S SON TERMS COUNCIL OF EUROPE REPORT 'PREJUDICED.' Turan on 20 September quoted Ilham Aliev, who heads Azerbaijan's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), as saying in an interview with the newspaper "Azerbaycan" that the recent report compiled by the PACE Monitoring Committee on Azerbaijan's compliance with its human rights commitments shows prejudice in several respects. That report notes a lack of progress in developing local self-government, failure to ensure the independence of the judiciary and the legislature, and failure to discuss with the OSCE the 39 constitutional amendments put to a nationwide referendum in August. It also expresses concern at reports of widespread procedural violations during that vote and challenges official claims that over 80 percent of the electorate participated in the referendum, of whom 90 percent endorsed the proposed changes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

PRESIDENT CO-OPTS TRADE UNIONS TO BUTTRESS STATE... The Belarusian Trade Union Federation (FPB) on 18-19 September held an extraordinary congress at which it changed its name to the Trade Union Federation of Belarus (FPB) and approved former deputy chief of the presidential administration Leanid Kozik as its head, Belarusian media reported. The congress was addressed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who defined the role of the FPB in Belarus. "I came to the conclusion that we need to [place our society] on three powerful pillars: the renewed trade unions, the powerful youth organization, and the [system of] soviets," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. He stressed that the unity of actions of the authorities and the trade unions is "very important." Lukashenka tackled the problem of "renewal" of the trade-union movement after the 2001 presidential election in which he was challenged by former FPB leader Uladzimir Hancharyk. Hancharyk resigned in 2001, while his successor, Frants Vitko, was forced to do the same in July 2002. The "powerful youth organization," the Belarusian National Youth Organization, was created earlier this month. The issue of soviets will apparently be addressed during next year's local elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

...AND SAYS SOCIETY NOT YET READY FOR POLITICAL PARTIES. President Lukashenka also suggested that some day the state may get a fourth pillar for its support: political parties. He noted, however, that society has shown that it has not yet "matured" enough to handle having political parties, Belarusian Television reported. "This is not a prop, this is something incomprehensible," Lukashenka said of the current political parties in Belarus. "We will do everything to introduce a civilized type of relations among political parties in Belarus," he promised. "If only I see -- provided that I am still your president -- or you let me know that such [comprehensible political parties] have crystallized themselves, we will make them the fourth pillar of our -- as it is trendy to say nowadays -- civic society," Lukashenka told the trade-union congress. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

REBUILT MOSQUE DESTROYED IN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA. UN and Bosnian Serb police reported that unidentified perpetrators blew up a recently rebuilt mosque in southern Bosnia on the evening of 18 September, local and international news agencies reported. No one was injured in the blast, which occurred at about 9 p.m. local time in the village of Kljuc, some 30 miles south of Sarajevo. One of around 600 mosques destroyed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, the Kljuc mosque's renewal was completed just three months ago. Explosives toppled the minaret of the structure, which was reconstructed with donations from Bosnian Muslims returning to their homes in the wake of the war, according to dpa. UN police are investigating the case along with local officers, AP reported. UN spokeswoman Kristin Haupt called it "the most serious incident in a long period in this area," according to the news agency, adding that Bosnian Serb authorities reacted quickly to the incident. Muslim-Croat federation Prime Minister Alija Behmen called this "latest terrorist action...a severe blow to the return of refugees and to the revival of unity in our country," Reuters reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

HAGUE TRIAL OF FORMER BOSNIAN SERB LEADER'S ALLIES DELAYED. Chief war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte said on 19 September that the trial of two of wartime leader Radovan Karadzic's closest allies will "probably start in January" rather than the proposed start date of November, Reuters reported. A spokeswoman was quoted as saying the delay was probably technical in nature. Former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic and ex-parliamentary speaker Momcilo Krajisnik -- the latter of whom remains in custody -- have been indicted for crimes that include genocide during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Del Ponte, who was speaking at Belgium's Liege University to accept an honorary doctorate, said she is "still pressuring the international community, especially NATO," to apprehend Karadzic. Del Ponte has expressed hopes of trying the three together in connection with their alleged efforts at ethnic cleansing. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

PRESIDENT DEMANDS REINFORCEMENT OF STATE INSTITUTIONS. Addressing an international conference in Sofia on 22 September on civil society and the reform of security systems in southeastern Europe, President Georgi Parvanov said increasing security and defeating crime and corruption can only be achieved when the state institutions act jointly and without rivalry, BTA reported. Parvanov said it is unacceptable that some of the secret services still operate in a legal vacuum. He demanded that legislation on money laundering and human trafficking be amended quickly. Parvanov added that the possibilities for the president, parliament, and political parties to control the security institutions remain unsatisfactory and that the control mechanisms for citizens, NGOs, and the media are minimal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)

GOVERNMENT 'BUYS TIME' OVER INDICTMENT OF WARTIME MILITARY LEADER... The Croatian government on 20 September rejected a UN court indictment of former Croatian military leader General Janko Bobetko for war crimes, citing technical shortcomings, AP and Reuters reported. The UN unsealed its indictment after Croatian officials reportedly sent it back because an accompanying letter addressed the prosecution rather than the Croatian government, according to Reuters on 20 September. An unidentified government source said the government believes it is "not formally obliged to do anything as a result," Reuters reported. "Basically, we have bought ourselves some time," the source added. The reformist government could face a severe domestic backlash if it acts against the man who calls himself "Europe's oldest antifascist" and who is viewed by many Croats as a hero of World War II and of the 1991-95 Croatian war. The document charges Bobetko, now 83, with five counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war in connection with more than 100 Serb deaths and the killing of captured or wounded soldiers in the so-called Medak Pocket in 1993, AP reported. He was army chief of staff at the time. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)

...THEN SIGNALS DEFIANCE OVER BOBETKO'S FATE. A senior official hinted that Zagreb will "enter a legal dispute" with The Hague tribunal over the charges against Bobetko. "The indictment is not in harmony with our constitution, and I will suggest that the government enter a legal dispute with the tribunal," Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic told Croatian television on 20 September, according to Reuters. Granic, who is responsible for his government's cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague, added that the indictment "in fact condemns the Croatian Army's legitimate action," according to AP. Granic added that Bobetko had acted out of "duty." The government is expected to take a formal position as early as 23 September on the Bobetko charges, which emerged last week. The president of Croatia's parliament, Zlatko Tomcic, was quoted by Hina as saying that he opposes the charges and the possible extradition of Bobetko. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)

POLICEMAN FOUND NOT GUILTY OF WAR CRIMES. The Karlovac County court ruled on 18 September that Mihajlo Hrastov acted in self-defense when he killed 13 Serbian military prisoners in 1991 and did not commit a war crime, dpa reported. He was found not guilty of the charges once before, but the county prosecutor demanded a new trial. In related news, the Justice Ministry confirmed that an investigation has been launched into charges that controversial Judge Slavko Lozina has hidden important evidence that could have been used in war crimes trials. The Split-based judge has made little secret of his right-wing views. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

PROTESTERS DEMAND RELEASE OF ARRESTED GEORGIAN POLICE CHIEF. Residents of Akhmeta in eastern Georgia have collected 2,500 signatures on a petition demanding the release from detention of police chief Avtandil Turkiashvili, Caucasus Press reported on 17 September. Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili ordered Turkiashvili's arrest on 14 September after a wounded Chechen apprehended during the ongoing anticrime operation in the Pankisi Gorge escaped from a local hospital. Turkiashvili's supporters claim that he was ordered by a senior official to remove the guards watching over the wounded man. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September)

MINERS END STRIKE. Employees of Chiatura Manganese Mine have ended the strike they began on 17 September to demand payment of 12 months' wage arrears after receiving an unspecified proportion of that backlog, Caucasus Press reported on 20 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)

PRESIDENT NAMES HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN. President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a decree on 20 September creating the post of ombudsman and named to that post 56-year-old Bolot Baykadamov, who served previously as secretary of the presidential human rights commission, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The ombudsman is required to monitor the observance of human rights nationwide but is not empowered to interfere with the work of either the police or the judicial system. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH CONCERNED BY 'DRAMATIC DISINTEGRATION OF BASIC FREEDOMS.' In a 19 September letter addressed to U.S. President George W. Bush, Human Rights Watch deplored what it termed the "dramatic disintegration of basic freedoms" in Kyrgyzstan. The letter noted that, "During the past year the Kyrgyz government has displayed growing intolerance for its political opposition, enacted draconian laws and used brutal methods to deprive citizens of their right to free assembly and expression, intensified the persecution of religious dissidents, and taken an aggressive stance against human rights defenders." It noted that the cooperation between the United States and Kyrgyzstan in the global antiterrorism campaign has not prevented a deterioration in the human rights situation in that country, and urges President Bush to address human rights violations during his upcoming meeting with visiting Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

PUBLIC COMMISSION ADVOCATES EXTENDING DEBATE ON CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS. A public commission on constitutional reform appealed on 19 September to President Akaev and the Constitutional Council to extend from 23 September to 25 October the ongoing discussion of proposed amendments to the country's constitution, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The commission also proposed co-opting more experts to the Constitutional Council, whose 40-plus members are mostly parliament deputies, political party leaders, or members of the Kyrgyz leadership. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO DEMOCRACY. In his 20 September address to the UN General Assembly in New York, President Akaev admitted that Kyrgyzstan has encountered "defeats" during its transition from authoritarianism but pledged that his country "will follow [the path of democracy] despite all difficulties and obstacles," Reuters and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In an apparent reference to those opposition factions who demand his resignation and the abolition of the presidency, Akaev criticized factions he said pretend to support democracy but interpret democracy as the destruction of existing institutions and the conduct of political experiments. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)

NEW PROTEST IN BISHKEK. Some 1,000 people attended a protest in Bishkek on 17 September convened by the opposition People's Congress, which comprises the Ar-Namys, Ata-Meken, People's, and Social-Democratic parties, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The participants demanded the arrest and trial of those responsible for authorizing police to open fire on demonstrators in Aksy in March, killing five people; the end of political oppression; and the release of former Vice President Feliks Kulov, who is serving a 10-year prison term on charges of embezzlement and abuse of his official position. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY CALLS FOR STRENGTHENING POWERS OF EXECUTIVE. At its seventh session on 17 September, the Constitutional Assembly discussed a proposal, which the majority of participants favored, to expand the powers of the executive, including by empowering the prime minister to appoint and dismiss local government officials, reported. They also discussed, but failed to reach a consensus on, proposals to prevent too-frequent changes of prime minister. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

MEDICAL WORKERS HOLD ANOTHER STRIKE. Dissatisfied with the results of its strikes in June and July, the Latvian Health and Social Care Employees Union conducted another one-day strike on 18 September, LETA reported. As part of the strike, 7,000 people, the majority of whom were medical workers, marched from the union's headquarters to a rally on Riga's Esplanade. A resolution was adopted calling for the government to designate health care a priority and to raise salaries for medical workers to 140 lats ($230) per month from the current 100 lats. After their regular weekly meeting that day, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Prime Minister Andris Berzins said the salaries of physicians and nurses will be raised in the near future. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

ELECTION LOSERS CHALLENGE RESULTS. The State Election Commission (DIK) has rejected numerous complaints against the election results that have been filed since the 15 September vote, Macedonian media reported on 19 September. The ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and one of its splinter groups, the "real" VMRO, have demanded a chemical analysis of the paper and the printing ink that were used to print the ballots. Other complaints refer to breaches of ballot secrecy, the data in the voters lists, and the counting of the votes, DIK spokesman Zoran Tanevski noted. He added, "That is why we will double-check the data included in the reports by the [regional] election commissions and in the report by the DIK." But hard-line Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski charged that 488,000 ballots were illegally burned in Prilep, suggesting that his VMRO-DPMNE was robbed of votes, dpa reported. Fifteen armed special police "stormed" the printing house where the ballots were burned. VMRO-DPMNE leader Ljubco Georgievski previously accepted the elections as fair. His party won 33 seats, while the Social Democrats took 60 out of 120 mandates. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

INTERIOR MINISTER TO FILE CHARGES BECAUSE OF ELECTION FRAUD... Interior Minister Boskovski told a press conference on 19 September that his VMRO-DPMNE party is to file charges with the Supreme Court, Makfax news agency reported. According to Boskovski, pens with disappearing ink were provided in ballot booths, presumably to facilitate subsequent falsification. Boskovski also claimed that a printing house in Prilep burned a huge number of ballots. "The election process was marred by forgery carried out in the most sophisticated way. [The Social Democratic Union and the ethnic Albanian Union for Democratic Integration] cheated us and made us concede defeat," Boskovski said, adding that he does not expect the charges to be processed soon, as he considers the State Election Commission and the Supreme Court to be biased against the VMRO-DPMNE. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

...AS STATE ELECTION COMMISSION CHAIRWOMAN SAYS INTERIOR MINISTRY HAS TRIED TO INFLUENCE DECISIONS. State Election Commission (DIK) Chairwoman Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska told Makfax news agency on 19 September that high-ranking police officials as well as VMRO-DPMNE representatives have pressured the commission. Trajkovska said Interior Minister Boskovski and his party's campaign manager, Marjan Gjorcev, urged the commission for information about the burned ballots and the printed election material. The talks were also attended by Julian Peel Yates, the head of the OSCE Election Observation mission and Ambassador Craig Jenness, the head of the OSCE Spillover Monitoring Mission to Skopje. Trajkovska said she explained to Boskovski that he can file charges with the Supreme Court against the DIK's decision to turn down complaints regarding election irregularities. Meanwhile, a group of journalists and NGO representatives have announced that they will sue Boskovski for conspiring to influence the DIK's decisions, "Vest" reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

INVESTIGATOR NAMES NAMES IN STAROVOITOVA, MANEVICH CASES. Police have identified two suspects in the 1998 murder of State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Russian news agencies reported on 20 September. The head of the Interior Ministry's (MVD) Criminal Police, General Mikhail Nikoforov, said in St. Petersburg on 19 September that domestic and international arrest warrants have been issued for two Russian citizens that he identified only as Musin and Stekhovskii in connection with the case. He also said that "there is information" that two other Russians -- identified only as Kalyagin and Maksimov -- were involved in the 1997 murder of St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Mikhail Manevich. Other unidentified MVD officials with whom "Kommersant-Daily" spoke were completely surprised by Nikoforov's statements and said that he spoke prematurely. "By giving out this information, the general has, in the opinion of investigators, literally warned those who are wanted and now getting to them -- and, through them, to those who ordered the murder -- will be more difficult," the newspaper commented. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

KREMLIN SPEAKS OUT AGAINST DZERZHINSKII RESTORATION... A senior official in the Putin administration has spoken out against a proposal to return the monument to Soviet secret-police founder Feliks Dzerzhinskii to Moscow's Lubyanka Square, NTV reported on 19 September. Vladislav Surkov, deputy chief of staff of the presidential administration, said the proposal "is not good" and can only bring "unnecessary disruption to society." Russian Patriarch Aleksii II also spoke out against the proposal as being unnecessarily divisive, Interfax reported on 20 September. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that he supports the idea, RosBalt reported on 19 September. He noted that the monument is in excellent condition and that its restoration will not turn Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov "into a second Dzerzhinskii." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

...AS NEARLY HALF OF MUSCOVITES SUPPORT DZERZHINSKII RESTORATION... Forty-four percent of Muscovites favor restoring the Dzerzhinskii monument, which was dismantled in August 1991, reported on 23 September, citing a poll of 500 respondents by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM). Thirty-six percent of respondents oppose the proposal, which was put forward by Moscow Mayor Luzhkov on 13 September. A similar poll in 1998 found that just 27 percent supported restoring the statue and 56 percent were opposed. VTsIOM stressed, however, that the poll was conducted before Putin administration officials expressed their opposition to the initiative. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)

...AND WRITERS OPPOSE DZERZHINSKII RESTORATION. Nobel Prize laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn told "Izvestiya" on 17 September that the restoration of the Dzerzhinskii monument would be an outrage to the millions who perished in the concentration camps. "[Dzerzhinskii] was a Red henchman, and his figure is a symbol of the punitive organs of the USSR," said the writer, who documented his own time in the gulag in "Gulag Archipelago." Another well-known writer, Fazil Iskander, said he opposes the proposal because "this measure does not frighten embezzlers of public funds, brings nothing to ordinary people, and gives intellectuals reason for gloomy thoughts about the future of the country." Aleksandr Gelman told the daily that playing with symbols begets false fears in some and false hopes in others. He said that if the proposal was made in order to please President Putin then it is mistaken, because the move would simply prove to the world that the president is a creature of the secret services. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

DEPUTY PROPOSES A MONUMENT TO ANDROPOV. At its plenary session on 18 September, the Duma rejected a proposal by Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) to erect a monument to former KGB Chairman and former General Secretary of the CPSU Yurii Andropov on Lubyanka Square instead of restoring the Dzerzhinskii statue, and other Russian news agencies reported. Mitrofanov argued that Andropov is a much less controversial figure than Dzerzhinskii and noted that many people currently in the government and the security organs began their careers under Andropov. However, only 23 deputies voted in favor of the initiative. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

ACTIVISTS CLAIM TO HAVE UNEARTHED STALIN-ERA VICTIMS. The human rights group Memorial believes that it has identified a mass grave of Stalin-era terror victims near the Leningrad Oblast town of Toksovo, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 20 September. The group believes that as many as 30,000 victims might be buried in the grave, most of them killed in 1937-38. The grave is located on the territory of an army artillery range. Memorial has been looking for the grave for the last five years and unearthed the first remains last month. According to the group, the Federal Security Service -- successor to the Soviet-era NKVD and KGB -- refused to assist in its investigation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

FOREIGN TOURISTS LIKE MOSCOW, BUT NOT ITS SKINHEADS... At a press conference in Moscow on 18 September, Georgii Muradov, director of the city government's international-relations department, released the results of a study of how foreigners view Moscow, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 September. The majority of those surveyed said they believe Moscow's main architectural monuments have been well preserved and the city has many beautiful new structures, but they would hesitate to call the city "European." They particularly like the metro but prefer to ride in private cars, although they do not consider Muscovites good drivers. The survey also showed that foreigners would like to become better acquainted with city residents, who appear friendly although they "rarely speak English." According to a representative of the ROMIR agency, which conducted the research, one survey respondent complained about witnessing a group of adolescent skinheads assaulting a Jewish boy. However, Muradov said that he believes neither in the existence of the skinheads nor that the boy was Jewish. "He certainly didn't cry out in Hebrew," he commented. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

...AS MORE 'FOREIGNERS' ATTACKED IN MOSCOW METRO. Moscow police detained five men for allegedly beating up "foreigners" in the Moscow subway, RIA-Novosti reported on 19 September. Two 20-year-old Muscovites reportedly beat up two Chinese citizens and a resident of the Republic of Buryatia -- which is part of the Russian Federation -- on the metro the previous day. Around the same time, three other men between the ages of 18 and 28 beat up an Indian national in the metro. The men are being charged with "hooliganism." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

DEATH TOLL FROM SOUTHERN FLOODING FINALIZED, AS LOCAL OFFICIALS GET LION'S SHARE OF BLAME. Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev reported on 19 September that 167 people were killed in the flooding that hit his district in August according to official statistics, RIA-Novosti reported. Some 280,000 people were affected and 16 billion rubles ($516 million) in damages was sustained. Kazantsev commented that the reasons for what happened are now completely understood: The heads of raion administrations showed themselves to be incapable of acting under emergency conditions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

POLLS REVEAL MANY RESENT THE WEALTHY. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 September that an opinion poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) found that 25 percent of Unified Russia supporters feel hatred toward the wealthy compared with 44 percent of Communist Party supporters. The daily concluded that this trend explains why the Communist Party has maintained its position as Russia's most popular party in recent polls. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

EIGHT HUNDRED PRISONERS DECLARE HUNGER STRIKE. Nearly 800 prisoners in a pretrial detention center in Astrakhan declared a hunger strike on 19 September to protest "unbearable conditions" at the facility, reported. President Putin's human rights ombudsman, Oleg Mironov, told Ekho Moskvy that he considers conditions in the 285-year-old facility to be "satisfactory." He said that he visited the jail in August and it has been improved considerably over the last two years. "I saw the repaired cells and they are in good condition. They have hot and cold running water, toilets, and walls painted in light colors," Mironov said. According to ITAR-TASS, a commission from the Astrakhan Oblast administration is currently investigating the prisoners' complaints. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

WOMEN, INTELLECTUALS LOSE UNDER PUTIN... In an article in "Vremya MN" on 18 September, sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya characterizes the chief differences between the country's ruling elite under President Putin and those that existed under former President Boris Yeltsin and Soviet leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Leonid Brezhnev. According to Kryshtanovskaya, the proportion of intellectuals and women in the elite has decreased, while the numbers coming from the regions and the military have increased. For example, at the deputy-minister level, almost 35 percent of those appointed in 2000-02 were former military or intelligence officials. And a number of these officials have landed in economic ministries: There are four former military officials working as deputy ministers at the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, three at the Communications Ministry, and two each at the Transport, Media, Property Relations, Justice, and Tax ministries. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

...AS POWER 'HORIZONTAL' FORMED AT LOWER LEVELS OF FEDERAL MINISTRIES. Kryshtanovskaya in the same article writes that "between 2000-02 the new authorities worked hard to create not only an administrative vertical but also an administrative horizontal, as the highest officers in the second and third tiers in the power structure form the country's basic cadre reserve at all levels of political and economic administration." She also notes that the role of the military and intelligence services in forming not only President Putin's team but also a support group has been "extraordinary." Putin "has managed not only to strengthen the center, but also to create a group of bureaucrats committed to him personally." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

CONCERN OVER VIOLENCE AGAINST ARMENIANS IN KRASNODAR. The Armenian leadership is "very concerned" at renewed acts of violence against the Armenian community in Russia's Krasnodar Krai, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 17 September. Arminfo, as cited by Groong, reported on 16 September that some 300 mostly teenaged residents of the town of Slavyansk-na-Kubani went on a rampage on the evening of 14 September, vandalizing Armenian-owned businesses and beating individual Armenians. More than a dozen Armenians were hospitalized with serious injuries. Viktor Stepanian, deputy editor of Krasnodar Krai's Armenian-language newspaper "Yerkramas," told RFE/RL that local police did nothing to halt the violence. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September)

MECIAR'S PARTY WINS BALLOT, LOSES CHANCE TO FORM GOVERNMENT. Preliminary results of the Slovak parliamentary elections held on 20-21 September indicated that although the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) will be the largest party in the new parliament, former Premier Vladimir Meciar's party will be unable to form a coalition, TASR and international agencies reported. Final results showed that the HZDS won 19.5 percent, SDKU 15.09 percent, Smer 13.46 percent, SMK 11.16 percent, KDH 8.25 percent, ANO party 8.01 percent, and the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) 6.32 percent of votes. The unreformed KSS thus surpassed the parliamentary threshold for the first time in the country's postcommunist history. Translated into parliamentary seats, the results gave HZDS 36, SDKU 28, Smer 25, SMK 20, KDH and ANO 15 each, and the KSS 11 in the 150-seat chamber. Turnout was high at 70.07 percent. Observers expect a center-right coalition to be formed by the SDKU, the SMK, the KDH, and ANO, which would have an eight-seat majority with 78 deputies. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 September)

ROMANY ORGANIZATION SAYS JUSTICE MINISTRY VIOLATING LAW. Hana Pucikova, a representative of the People Against Racism organization, on 18 September told TASR that the Justice Ministry is violating the law by publicizing the ethnic origins of convicted criminals. Pucikova said that on the ministry's website there is a special separate column on crimes committed by members of the Romany community, adding that this violates the Constitution and international agreements. A ministry official refused to comment but said the column has been taken off the web page. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

COURTS IN KYIV PUNISH ARRESTED PROTESTERS... Kyiv-based courts have punished the 64 people arrested after the dismantling of a tent camp that was set up near the presidential administration building on 17 September, UNIAN reported on 18 September, quoting an Interior Ministry official. Fifty-one demonstrators were jailed for terms of one to 10 days, while the others were fined or given warnings. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

...AS AUTHORITIES RELEASE DEMONSTRATORS... Ukrainian authorities released the last nine protesters jailed after riot police broke up their tent camp outside the president's office on 17 September but ordered them not to leave their home cities pending the conclusion of criminal investigations, Ukrainian media reported. "[We] decided not to apply extreme measures of punishment against them but to take more humane measures," the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office said in a joint statement. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)

...AND POLICE BREAK UP TENT CAMP IN KHARKIV. Before dawn on 22 September, police dismantled four tents pitched by activists of the "Rise Up, Ukraine!" protest campaign in downtown Kharkiv the previous day, UNIAN reported. Several opposition activists remain at the site and are collecting signatures under an appeal demanding the ouster of President Kuchma and Kharkiv Oblast administration head Yevhen Kushnyarov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST SENTENCED. A Tashkent court on 17 September sentenced Yuldash Rasulov, a member of the Human Rights Movement of Uzbekistan, to seven years' imprisonment on charges of disseminating antigovernment propaganda and recruiting members for the banned Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, AP reported. Rasulov's sister Khakima said that, on the contrary, he had persuaded several Hizb members to leave that organization. Fellow human rights activist Surat Ikramov said that the prosecution produced no evidence during the trial, which began on 3 September, to substantiate the charges against Rasulov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)

SERBIA URGES UN MISSION TO HELP SERBS RETURN TO KOSOVA. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic sent an urgent letter to Steiner on 19 September as some 40,000 displaced Serbs threatened protest actions if their requests to return to their homes in Kosova were ignored, AP reported. Covic's letter urged the UN mission to accelerate the return of the displaced Serbs "before we are no longer able to control the situation." Steiner has cautioned against a mass return by Serbs, saying that the Serbs should only return when their security can be guaranteed. Simon Haselock, a spokesman for the UN mission in Kosova, said: "This is a political gesture motivated by people who don't have the best interests of the displaced people in mind. Mass returns threaten the return process...dumping vulnerable people into places that have not been properly prepared." Covic rejected claims that the Serbian government was organizing the protest. He added that displaced Serbs are disillusioned with the slow pace of returns thus far and said that only some 5,000 Serbs have been able to return in the past three years. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

SERB REFUGEES TURNED BACK AT KOSOVAR BORDER. UN peacekeepers turned back several dozen Serbian refugees attempting a symbolic return to Kosova on 21 September, Reuters reported. The refugees had a brief standoff with police near the Serbian village of Merdare before returning peacefully to Serbia proper. They were the last remaining protestors from a larger group that had threatened to block the crossing and stage a mass return to Kosova. Serbian military and police officials on 20 September persuaded the refugees to call off the mass protest. Miroslav Solevic, a representative for the refugees, said: "We are giving up the protest for now. We were told by police and army generals that groups of ethnic Albanians would shoot at us if we try to return to Kosovo." He added, "No one is ready to take responsibility for possible casualties." Only a small proportion of displaced Serbs -- an estimated 5,000 -- have returned to Kosova since many tens of thousands fled the province in 1999. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)

AMBASSADOR SAYS U.S. SUPPORTS RETURNS. U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia William Montgomery said in Nis on 20 September that the United States fully supports all refugees and displaced persons who wish to return to Kosova, Tanjug reported. Montgomery said confrontations will not achieve results but that patiently working with government officials is the only effective approach. Montgomery said he is dismayed by the rather small number of displaced Kosovar Serbs who have expressed a desire to return to Kosova and said the refugees should never stop thinking about returning to the province. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September)

OSCE HUMAN RIGHTS CONFERENCE CALLS FOR REDOUBLED EFFORTS TO STOP HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE. The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the OSCE, attended by a record 700 government officials, NGO activists, and experts, finished 22 September after two weeks of deliberations and issued a summary statement. In a statement published on the OSCE's website, Ambassador Gerard Stoudmann, outgoing director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said, "True democracy is more than just organizing elections once in a while." He added: "Too often, we see mere appearances of democracy, through elections or adopting new laws, while the fundamental understanding -- that democracy actually means credible checks and balances, social and ethnic inclusiveness, a truly independent judiciary and an active and participatory civil society -- is still missing." Stoudmann said fighting terrorism requires a functioning and fair system of rule of law. He also said that much more needs to be done to combat discrimination against ethnic or religious minorities, migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons as well as women. Issues raised at the NGO-sponsored side events of the conference included a wave of violent anti-Semitism in Europe; racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism in Russia; failure to provide remedies for torture throughout the region and the need to support the "UN Draft Optional Protocol on Torture" to arrange a system of prison inspections, ongoing efforts to combat discrimination against Roma and Sinti, and work to abolish the death penalty. A special session was held on ways to protect the rights of those vulnerable to trafficking schemes. Indicative of the complex and difficult portfolio carried by the ODIHR chief was continued uncertainty about who would be appointed to succeed him. CAF

MANY STILL MISSING AFTER BALKAN CONFLICTS. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced in Geneva on 17 September that some 23,339 individuals remain unaccounted for as a result of the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova in the 1990s, Reuters reported. The total includes 2,543 from the Croatian conflict, 17,087 from Bosnia, and 3,709 from Kosova. The cases of an additional 8,202 people have been resolved, but most of them were found to have been killed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September)


By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

With Russian President Vladimir Putin's renewed calls for a federation-style Russia-Belarus Union under the Russian Constitution preoccupying both Belarusian officialdom and the opposition, elections to the local soviets, or town councils, in Belarus next year seem remote. The drama of the nebulous Russia-Belarus Union, the antics of President Lukashenka and his scuffles with Putin, and Lukashenka's renewed crackdown on leading journalists and youth activists (several of whom are now facing jail terms) have all tended to obscure what the rest of society is doing. How might trends for change eventually evolve in Belarus, apart from Russian-Belarusian relations and traditional opposition politics?

One as-yet-untapped constituency comprises women -- the majority of Lukashenka's voters. Women in Belarus make up approximately 53 percent of the population, yet they account for 66 percent of all voters. "The opposition just can't understand that," Ludmila Petina, chairwoman of the Women's Independent Democratic Movement and a campaigner on women's issues in Belarus, told "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies" recently in an interview in New York. It was mainly women who delivered President Lukashenka's landslide victory in the 2001 presidential election, following their voting patterns of 1994. While last year's ballot was widely condemned by international and domestic observers as manipulated and falsified, most opposition activists concede that Lukashenka would still enjoy substantial support, particularly among women, irrespective of fraud.

Opportunities seem to have been lost. "Opposition parties are happy to have women serve as election observers or party agitators but begrudge women leadership positions," Petina said. The question is how to reach this large electorate, spread over rural and urban areas and over age groups and walks of life -- and encourage risk-taking. Most women in Belarus want change if it means improvement in their living standards, but the Western feminist movement's issues of equality and lifestyle choices seem a luxury in their situation, and in any event difficult to push in authoritarian Belarus. "They are most concerned with unemployment, health, and a simple lack of groceries," said Petina. "In little towns, even staples are in short supply, and medical care is very poor." Rather than focus on reproductive rights, or equality or lifestyle issues, Belarusian women care more about finding jobs, avoiding Chornobyl radiation, and dodging domestic violence; and after these issues come a lack of equal work for equal pay, labor safety, and lack of political representation.

Reflecting on the ill-fated campaign of Uladzimir Hancharyk, former chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus and the united opposition candidate in the 2001 presidential elections, Petina said that while Hancharyk had the union background that would seem to indicate bread-and-butter economic concerns and while he had the support of Nadeya, a women's party, "He didn't play the women's card." His supporters campaigned on issues "that weren't interesting to people's daily lives," said Petina. Such issues apparently included the disappearances of four political-opposition figures, whose wives have campaigned vigorously for an investigation into the abductions and presumed murders of their husbands -- cases that go to the very heart of the problem of authoritarian misrule in Belarus. Yet unlike such popular women's struggles for the disappeared in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, demonstrations for the disappeared in Belarus remain exoticism and are simply too risky for most women, even those who read independent newspapers.

Some consolidating idea is needed to galvanize such dependent and disaffected people, yet Petina and other opposition moderates do not feel that the "national idea" will serve that function. Recent perceived encroachments on Belarusian sovereignty by Russia in continued disputes over the nature of a putative Russia-Belarus Union could change that. Democracy could serve as such a unifying idea, Petina said, "but it needs teachers of universal human rights and enormous amounts of detailed and painstaking work with people."

People have trouble applying the threat to Belarusian independence to their own lives, Petina said. "Russia has lost its attractive image for youth," she said. "Young people are more attracted to the West." And indeed, significant numbers are leaving Belarus to try their luck in Europe or North America. There are lots of common problems between Russian and Belarus, but as Petina starkly noted: "Russia doesn't have democracy, either. Most people think that in our own independent state, we'll have more success in solving our own problems -- without Russia." Although she believes ordinary people shy away from what they perceive as extreme nationalist leaders like Zenon Pazniak, "People think independence is a boon, that's what the Baltics have: They're on their way to Europe, and they have a market economy. A movement that could combine the issues of national identity and independence in one bundle with democracy and economic reform could be successful." Her remarks suggest that there is support outside traditional nationalist parties for an independent Belarus and a disenchantment with reform failures in Russia that could be tapped in future elections -- if the right approach is found for those Belarusians who speak Russian in daily life, watch Russian television, have relatives in Russia, and who are oriented toward Russia rather than Poland or the Baltics but who still do not want to send their sons to Chechnya or face life with unpaid back wages.

Not all the women active in alternative movements in Belarus see women's rights or a women's movement as a priority until basic human rights are secured. Ludmila Gryaznova -- an economist specializing in women's labor issues, a deputy of the 13th Supreme Soviet, and an activist in the civic group Charter 97 -- has focused more on human rights for both men and women than feminism, although she and a colleague presented an alternative report to a UN women's rights committee when Belarusian compliance with the women's rights treaty was reviewed in 2000.

Asked to account for the high percentage of women who vote for Lukashenka, especially in rural areas, Gryaznova said: "They vote for Lukashenka not because they are women but because they are uneducated." She questioned whether a campaign targeting women voters would succeed. Belarusian government statistics submitted to the UN indicate that 641 in 1,000 women in 1989 had not completed secondary or higher education. How to educate women in civics? "Through a lot of painstaking grassroots contacts and better dissemination of the independent media," said Gryaznova, noting that opposition newspapers are so expensive that most people cannot afford them, even if they are interested in reading them. The state subsidizes the press it controls, and tariffs, punitive fines for libel, and other costs that have increased recently for the independent commercial press have further limited its ability to reach its target audience. "Russian television reaches a lot of people, but it is increasingly also not truthful, like Belarusian TV has been for some time," Gryaznova said.

Unlike Gryaznova, Petina believes the opposition made a big mistake in boycotting the 2000 parliamentary elections. The fact is, conditions are going to be even poorer for local elections in 2003 than they were in 1999. The same problems that have plagued all recent elections in Belarus are likely to prevail next year, but this time without the involvement of a local OSCE mission, as its Western members have all been forced to leave this year amid controversy about its mandate.

Nevertheless, Petina advocated special outreach to women during campaigns, commenting frankly, "I believe more in women's possibility than men's." She contrasted her impressions of the bright, expectant faces of women she lectures in the provinces who "manage to find work even when they are losing a job" with the "drunken, dissipated mugs" of the men. Alcoholism is epidemic in Belarus and largely contributes heavily to a lack of productivity and domestic violence. She blamed the state for this misery, since "the government has no policy to fight alcoholism" and a large portion of state income is generated from liquor sales. Naturally, male opposition leaders, human rights activists, and independent journalists -- many of them of course nonviolent, sober, and productive -- resent this type of negative characterization, especially by women's rights activists, who are universally viewed in the current opposition stereotype as more apt to take a trip abroad to attend a workshop with pampered Western feminists than to roll up their sleeves and work at home.

Undaunted, Petina and other women activists believe they are already working hard on two fronts: 1) striving for democratization through active participation in elections and grassroots civic education and 2) lobbying the government on women's issues, primarily for jobs and remedies to domestic violence. They believe that is how they will reach the crucial turnaround electorate in the next ballot.

Gryaznova conceded that women could play an important role in the next elections but cited the campaign of Natalya Masherova, daughter of the well-known Communist Party leader Pyotr Masherov, as a cautionary tale. Masherova likely attracted support due to her father's reputation and nostalgia for the Soviet era, although the fact she was a woman and seen as sympathetic was a plus, said Gryaznova. In the pre-election period, depending on which pollster one consulted, Masherova was running either second or third behind Lukashenka. But although Masherova was loyal to the regime and pro-Russian, Gryaznova believes she began to be seen as a threat and was coerced into canceling her campaign. Reports began to surface from the opposition that pressure was brought on her family, and her children were allegedly dismissed from their jobs. Russian sources discounted these rumors (see's 10 July 2001 commentary), saying her withdrawal was more likely explained by the loss of Moscow's backing and the realization that Russia would not challenge Lukashenka. Masherova herself did not comment in detail on her reasons for withdrawing but told Belapan on 5 July 2001, "Many provisions of electoral legislation prevent the election process from being fair."

In other countries undergoing transition, noted Gryaznova, "There have been cases of women taking a leadership role and mounting sufficient pressure for change, for example [Kazimira] Prunskiene in Lithuania and [Yuliya] Tymoshenko in Ukraine, as well as women in Pakistan and the Philippines, but usually in tandem with strong democracy movements supported by men."