2 October 2002, Volume 3, Number 40
IN FOCUSJUGGLING THE NUMBERS OF LIVING AND DEAD IN CHECHNYA. Salambek Maigov of the Chechen Antiwar Congress has claimed that 80,000 people have died in the second Chechen war, now heading into its fourth year, ntv.ru reported on 17 September, purporting to cite Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Memorial Society's Human Rights Center. The statement prompted Abdul-Hakim Sultygov, the new presidential human rights representative in Chechnya, to complain, "All the numbers which human rights organizations are coming out with now are subjective estimates, not having any relationship to the real situation," ntv.ru quoted him as saying on 18 September. Yet both human rights organizations have countered Maigov's claims, describing his figure of 80,000 as too high, and said Sultygov's concerns about "subjectivity" are misplaced.
HRW has said the figure of 80,000 is "unreliable." And in a report released on 1 October in Nazran and distributed via e-mail, Memorial said figures of both civilian and military deaths have been exaggerated and manipulated on all sides of the conflict for political purposes. A census is planned in the coming weeks, notes Memorial, yet even this exercise is unlikely to put to rest the constant speculation over the number of people who remain alive in the Chechen Republic, or the number killed in the current armed conflict, let alone the last one. "Three years ago in 1999, officials lowered by half the number of people living in Chechnya at the outbreak of the second Chechen war and today they are inflating the figure of the population by 150 percent," said Memorial.
The inflated numbers appear tied to Moscow's effort to portray the war as "finished" with only final skirmishes with Chechen rebels said to be entering the republic from neighboring Georgia, and to portray massive efforts to get refugees who had fled to nearby Ingushetia to return to their original homes in Chechnya. "The bureaucrats are not really concerned with living people, evidently; the news of their numbers is a political football and a lever for pumping financial aid to the region. As for those killed in the war, they prefer not to recall them at all," says Memorial.
Memorial points to the official estimate of the number of civilians killed made to them in meetings with General Valerii Manilov, the Russian Army's deputy chief of staff, in August 2002 and with Chechen Republic Prosecutor Nikolai Kostyuchenko. Those Russian federal officials said about 1,000 civilians were killed in the "counterrevolutionary operation," as it is officially designated.
Memorial believes General Manilov's figure of 1,000 to be substantially lower than the actual number killed. They note that HRW estimated about 6,500 to 10,500 civilians killed during the first nine months of the second war alone, a figure said to be derived from extrapolation from the sampling of 1,300 deaths for which detailed information was available. Memorial itself, since July 2000, has been maintaining a log of the killings called "Chronicle of Violence" distributed via e-mail and on their website in Russian at http://www.memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/northkavkaz.htm. By the spring of 2002, Memorial had tracked the circumstances of the killing of more than 1,000 civilians, yet they characterized their records as incomplete because they are only able to monitor about a quarter of Chechen territory. They believe the numbers to be much higher, but they report only what they have documented themselves, in many cases examining bodies in morgues or mass graves which they have helped to uncover.
Based on their experiences, they believe the figure of civilians killed in the current war to be "more than 10,000" but "clearly less than 20,000." Of this number, they and other human rights groups have detailed information about 2,500 civilians killed -- far more than the figure indicated by General Manilov but less than the one cited on Interfax of 80,000. Possibly, Memorial concedes, the general meant that there were at least 1,000 files open on deaths of civilians, and there was more than one death in each file.
Memorial is the first to admit that their figures cannot be accurate because they cannot get access to certain areas nor access to information. It is not known how -- or whether -- the Russian armed forces in Chechnya and political leaders in Moscow are counting the dead. In some other situations in the Soviet past, as in Nazi Germany, the state kept careful records of its plans for atrocities and its execution of them. In other situations, it deliberately avoided chronicling them or destroyed records to maintain plausible deniability. In the chaos of the Chechen conflict, it is difficult to know which factors are at work.
Memorial counts deliberate gunpoint executions of civilians, torture deaths in prison, killings caused by excessive use of force, i.e. artillery attacks from a helicopter in the sky against villagers walking down below. They do not attempt to count newborn babies or old people who die of malnutrition or disease induced by war and poverty, nor young or middle-aged people dying ahead of their time from stress, or all the prisoners in detention pits or jails who die of exhaustion. They cannot be expected to track the persecution or killings of people who were trying to reach them to tell them of others' murders and who might have suffered retaliation. Journalists have had a terribly difficult time functioning in the area particularly in the second war, with dozens of detentions and shootings by Russian soldiers and kidnappings and disappearances by Chechen fighters to deter them from practicing their profession freely or safely. The scant international presence in Chechnya is escorted by armed guard provided by the Russian federal government and it is doubtful that many Chechen citizens are willing to run that gauntlet to describe killings of civilians.
The demography of death is an admittedly imprecise science, and the only way to get a handle on the numbers would be to allow a combination of impartial and skilled international and domestic investigators total, untrammeled access to every kind of demographic information available in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia: birth and death certificates kept in hospitals or by local heads of administration, prison records, military records, passport records, etc. Such investigators would also have to be allowed to do all kinds of cross-checking of these documents, and to interview people freely, and be assured that their civilian sources or whistle-blowing officials in possession of damning information files were not harmed for telling the truth.
These conditions simply do not pertain in Chechnya, nor are they ever likely to be secured in the future. Investigation of massacres in the world's other hellholes can encounter resistance, but there is a peculiar Soviet specialty in blocking the news and reporting of such grisly realities which was honed to a fine edge in the years of the Lenin- and Stalin-era massacres and regrettably is maintained to the present day in Russia, where the lack of developed civil society, travel and communication infrastructure, and foreign languages still impede transparency.
At the other end of the equation, concerned human rights activists and international officials try to count how many people remain alive in Chechnya today. It might seem a relatively simple affair first to calculate the prewar population, then count the existing people who remain, and finally arrive at some sensible -- yet indeed appalling -- figure of civilian war dead. And yet, with populations scattering into nearby republics, hiding from officials whom they view with suspicion, and the inability to obtain normal record keeping during armed conflict and refugee flight, this is not an easy task. Can a state which has tolerated so many civilian deaths with impunity be expected to conduct an honest census?
Memorial reports that Lord Judd of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) was recently told on a fact-finding mission by the Chechen administration that numerous persons previously displaced to Ingushetia had successfully returned, bringing the total figure of the Chechen population today up to 900,000. Memorial and other humanitarian groups have serious reasons to doubt this figure. They say that if the republic's population stood at 750,000 on the eve of the second war, and if the population did not really return in full, so that some 137,000 Chechen residents still remain in Ingushetia and about 10,000 in Daghestan (and 150,000 in other neighboring regions not originally counted) then there are more likely 600,000 in Chechnya today. Memorial notes that the Chechen administration has given this figure of 600,000 to the local Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Chechnya, but the higher figure of 900,000 to Lord Judd. The discrepancy could only be sorted out if war were to stop and reconstruction could truly begin. CAF
ARMENIAOPPOSITION THWARTS PARLIAMENTARY VOTE. Twenty-eight members of minor opposition factions on 24 September boycotted a parliament session, as a result of which the parliament failed for lack of a quorum to pass legislation on privatizing several dozen hospitals, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The same factions announced later on 24 September their intention to create an "unofficial union" that will coordinate their legislative activities and launch a "resolute struggle" against anticipated attempts by the present leadership to falsify the outcome of the upcoming local, presidential, and parliamentary elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)
PARLIAMENT PARTLY WRITES OFF CONSUMERS' DEBTS FOR WATER. In a move Yerevan observers linked to the upcoming local, presidential, and parliamentary elections, parliament on 25 September voted to write off 45 percent of households' unpaid debts for water supplies in 2000-01 provided they pay the remaining 55 percent, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Total outstanding debts for water supplies are estimated at 35 billion drams ($62.5 million). The government issued a decree earlier this year requiring all households to install water meters in a bid to enforce the widely disregarded billing system. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September)
AZERBAIJANOPPOSITION UNVEILS FINAL REFERENDUM REPORT. The four Azerbaijani opposition parties that jointly monitored the voting in the 24 August referendum on amendments to the country's constitution published on 25 September a statement detailing the final results of their observations, Turan reported. The four parties fielded observers at 2,814 of the total 4,997 polling stations, and calculated that only some 20.3 percent of registered voters participated in the plebiscite, rather than the 84 percent claimed by the Central Election Commission. Minimum participation of 50 percent was required for the referendum to be valid. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September)
COUNCIL OF EUROPE SLAMS FAILURE TO MEET COMMITMENTS. The ongoing PACE session on 26 September adopted a report criticizing Azerbaijan's failures to met its commitments in the spheres of human rights and democratization, Turan reported. PACE deputies rejected most amendments proposed by Azerbaijan's PACE delegation aimed at softening that criticism. The report, which Azerbaijan's PACE delegation head Ilham Aliyev termed "prejudiced in certain respects," noted the plight of political prisoners, 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 national referendum last month. Deputy Georges Clerfeyt rejected Azerbaijani criticism of Swiss rapporteur for Azerbaijan Andreas Gross, whom the Azerbaijani government has accused of pro-Armenian bias. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September)
BELARUSCOUNCIL OF EUROPE REMINDS MINSK OF CONDITIONS FOR ENDING SELF-ISOLATION... Luxembourg Foreign Minister Lydie Polfer, who chairs the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, told the ongoing PACE session in Strasbourg on 26 September that Belarus has thus far not shown any signs that it is ready to end its self-isolation, Belapan reported. According to Polfer, the first such sign could be the restoration of relations between Belarus and the OSCE. She said the Council of Europe would insist that the Belarusian government abolish the death penalty, give more powers to the legislature, establish the ombudsman's office, account for the disappearances of opposition figures, and adopt a new media law. Polfer also urged Belarus to ensure independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression as well as to end political persecution. Polfer added that the Council of Europe will expand contacts with Belarus's civil society, nongovernmental organizations, and nonstate media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September)
...AND MINSK LASHES OUT. Belarus's Foreign Ministry reacted angrily to the PACE 27 September resolution. "[PACE] has proved unable to depart from the Cold War-type line of behavior with regard to our country, which was imposed on [PACE] by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly," the ministry said in a statement. "While speaking about the deficit of democracy in the Republic of Belarus, which is not a member of he Council of Europe...PACE deliberately overlooks the situation in a number of countries [which are] members of the Council of Europe, where democratic and European standards are totally absent and which provide support for terrorism and shelter to terrorists," the ministry added. PACE suspended Belarus's special-guest status in 1997. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
POLICE ARREST PRO-INDEPENDENCE DEMONSTRATORS. Police arrested five participants in an authorized rally in downtown Minsk on 29 September, Belapan reported. The rally was attended by some 100 activists of the Conservative Christian Party (KKhP) and the unregistered group called the Belarusian National Liberation Movement. KKhP leader Zyanon Paznyak, who is in exile in Poland, urged Belarusians in a letter read at the rally to form committees to defend Belarus from what he called Russia's aggression. Demonstrators held posters reading "No Union With Imperial Russia!" and "Russian Military Bases Out of Belarus!" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST HEADS PACE COMMISSION ON DISAPPEARANCES IN BELARUS. In Strasbourg on 24 September, Russian human rights advocate and Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev was appointed to head a commission on disappearances in Belarus that was formed within the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Belapan reported. The commission consists of 10 lawmakers from Belgium, Britain, Cyprus, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine. The mandate and authority of the commission will be discussed later this week during the ongoing PACE session. Kovalev told Belapan that he is almost 100 percent certain that the commission will not find those who ordered, organized, and perpetrated the kidnappings of politicians Viktar Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski in 1999-2000. He added, however, that the commission will document Belarusian authorities' reaction to "this bloody problem" and efforts to investigate the disappearances. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)
MORE THAN HALF OF BELARUSIANS WANT TO BE IN EU, ONE-THIRD IN RUSSIA. According to a poll of a representative sample of 1,509 adults conducted earlier this month by the Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI), 53.4 percent of respondents said they would support their country's accession to the European Union, Belapan reported on 26 September. Asked if they would vote for Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal to make Belarus a part of the Russian Federation, 32.3 percent said "yes" and 26.3 percent answered "no." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September)
BULGARIAREFUGEE AGENCY OFFICIAL CALLS FOR NEW FACILITIES. Speaking at a meeting of government and border police representatives, mass media, and the UN High commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the Black Sea resort of Sozopol on 29 September, Daniela Veleva of the State Refugee Agency said Bulgaria needs to build two transit centers for asylum seekers, BTA reported. The refugee centers would be built at the Sofia airport and the Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint on the Turkish-Bulgarian border to supplement existing facilities. UNHCR Representative in Bulgaria Luise Druke noted that over the first seven months of 2002 more than 2,000 foreigners applied for refugee status in Bulgaria. Most refugees came from Iraq, Iran, and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. Druke added that some 1,500 Bulgarian citizens, most of them Roma, received refugee status abroad over that time -- including 418 in Sweden, 219 in Norway, 269 in Switzerland, 129 in Canada, and 29 in the United States. Druke said that something is wrong when a country that is seeking EU membership has so many of its citizens asking for refugee status. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
CROATIAGOVERNMENT REFUSES TO HAND OVER WAR CRIMES SUSPECT. Prime Minister Ivica Racan on 23 September announced that his government is "not going to hand over" indicted General Janko Bobetko to The Hague war crimes tribunal, noting that the move risks "plunging" Croatia into international isolation, Hina and international news agencies reported. Responding to an amended indictment received on 23 September from the UN court that includes an arrest warrant and handover request, Racan said the government will officially respond to the tribunal later this week, AP reported. He said his government will ask the country's Constitutional Court to rule on the indictment, the news agency reported. The ongoing dispute over the fate of the former chief of Main Staff will provide a test of the country's constitutional law on cooperation with The Hague, Racan added, according to Hina. An unnamed "government source" told Reuters in Zagreb on 27 September that the authorities want to launch a legal challenge to The Hague indictment. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 24 and 30 September)
CZECH REPUBLICCOURT ACQUITS FORMER COMMUNIST OFFICIALS. A Prague court on 23 September acquitted Milos Jakes and Jozef Lenart, two former high-ranking Czechoslovak Communist Party officials, of conspiring with the Soviet Union after the August 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion that crushed the Prague Spring, CTK reported the same day. The prosecution charged that the two participated in negotiations at the Soviet Embassy on 22 August 1968 to form a pro-Moscow government and agreed to participate in the government. "Having assessed all available evidence, the court has concluded that the action being examined is not a criminal offense," Judge Hana Hrncirova said, according to CTK. The case took seven years to bring to court, and prosecutors said they plan to appeal the verdict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)
HUNGARYMECS CLAIMS 'PARTIAL SUCCESS.' Imre Mecs, chairman of the parliamentary commission that investigated government officials' secret-service pasts, on 26 September said that although the commission's final report did not specify any names, its work was "partially successful," AP reported. Mecs said that the commission has established that "in all [postcommunist] governments...there were people who collaborated" with the communist-era secret services and that this is "a historically and politically important conclusion." In the report submitted to the legislature, the commission said that much of the information about communist-era secret services' activities was difficult to find in the official archive or had been tampered with or destroyed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September)
EDUCATION MINISTER ASKS CHURCHES TO HELP RESOLVE SCHOOL DISPUTE. Education Minister Balint Magyar on 23 September asked the country's leaders of the Roman Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, and Jewish faiths to help to end social exclusion and discrimination manifested in the opening of a tuition-based school in Jaszladany. Romany children are essentially barred from attending the school as a result of the high fees. Meanwhile, the mayors of four villages where residents had resisted the relocation to their communities of Romany families from the town of Paks concluded an agreement on mutual cooperation and reconciliation with Paks. The mayors of the four villages claim that local residents are not guided by ethnic bias in opposing the resettlement of the Roma, but that some Romany families continuously break laws, refuse to observe minimum norms of coexistence, and terrorize residents in neighboring communities, Hungarian radio reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)
KAZAKHSTANOPPOSITION, INTELLECTUALS APPEAL TO AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL. Thirty-six opposition political figures, journalists and intellectuals, including former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, signed an appeal on 19 September, subsequently posted on forumkz.org, to Amnesty International (AI) to declare former Economy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov and former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov political prisoners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2002). The two men, both leading members of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, were recently sentenced to six and seven years' imprisonment, respectively, on charges, widely believed to be unfounded, of abuse of their official position. In a report released on 28 August, "Concerns in Europe," AI described the two cases in Kazakhstan and the charges of abuse of office and financial crimes, and noted "reports that the charges were brought to punish them for their peaceful opposition activities." AI designates cases of "prisoners of conscience" (not "political prisoners") when their investigation confirms that charges are purely politically-motivated for peaceful exercise of human rights. In these cases, AI has not yet made this determination but has expressed concern about Zhaqiyanov's poor conditions in confinement, given his heart disease. The cases follow a widespread pattern throughout the region of the former Soviet Union, where current governments punish dissenting officials or former officials whom they view as rivals, exploiting corrupt and dysfunctional criminal justice systems in the process, and taking advantage of the fact that Western NGOs and officials are often unable to determine the validity of charges of financial crimes in transition economies. CAF
KYRGYZSTANPRESIDENT MEETS WITH U.S. OFFICIALS. Askar Akaev met in Washington on 23 September with U.S. President George W. Bush, whose approval he secured for an economic-recovery plan to be presented to prospective international donors next month, Reuters reported. In a joint statement issued after the talks, the United States affirmed its intention of continuing support for Kyrgyzstan aimed at strengthening that country's borders and improving the defense potential of its armed forces, akipress.org reported. The joint statement also stressed the importance of regional economic cooperation. Both Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell warned Akaev that Kyrgyzstan's active support for Operation Enduring Freedom does not absolve his leadership of its obligations to protect human rights and strengthen democratization, according to AP. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT ADDRESSES APPEALS COURT. In his final statement on 26 September to the Bishkek City Court that is considering his appeal against a sentence handed down in May, former Vice President Feliks Kulov said he is not guilty of the charges of which he was convicted, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said the charges were politically motivated. The court sentenced Kulov to 10 years in prison on charges of embezzlement dating from 1993-97 when he was governor of Chu Oblast. He will serve that sentence concurrently with one handed down last year on charges of abuse of his official position when he served as national security minister in 1997-98. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September)
PARLIAMENT APPROVES COMPENSATION FOR AKSY VICTIMS. The Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament) passed on 24 September a government-sponsored bill that will provide lifelong welfare payments to the relatives of the five people killed in clashes between police and demonstrators in Aksy Raion in March, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The government will also support victims' children until the age of 18, or 21 if they enter higher education. The minimum monthly payment will be 140 soms (about $3). The parliament approved the government draft rather than an alternative proposed by opposition parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov because the former was more specific and detailed, according to Interfax. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September)
MACEDONIAFINAL RESULTS OF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS ANNOUNCED. On 22 September, the State Election Commission announced the final results of the 15 September parliamentary elections, Makfax news agency reported. The strongest faction, with 59 of the 120 seats, will be that of the Together for Macedonia coalition, which is led by the Social Democratic Union (SDSM). A representative of Together for Macedonia announced that it will challenge the results before the Supreme Court because preliminary results indicated that the coalition would have 60 seats. The coalition led by Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) won 34 seats. The Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), led by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti, took 16 seats; the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), seven; the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), two; and the National Democratic Party (PDK) and the Socialist Party took one seat each (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 September 2002). Election Commission spokesman Zoran Tanevski said that new balloting must be conducted at two polling stations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)
MOLDOVAPACE SAYS HALF-EMPTY GLASS MUST BE FILLED. PACE on 26 September approved a resolution saying that "not all commitments" made by Moldova after PACE made its April recommendations have been met, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The resolution said that while three recommendations have been fulfilled -- namely, the registration of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, the ending of harassment targeting opposition deputies, and a moratorium on introducing compulsory Russian-language and "History of Moldova" classes in schools -- other recommendations have been met only in part or not at all. The PACE resolution calls for the Moldovan authorities to amend the law on transforming Teleradio Moldova into a public company to make the company genuinely free of government controls, and to refrain from infringing on the freedoms of press, religion, and association. In interviews with RFE/RL, Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca said the resolution marks a victory for his party, while Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary group leader Vladimir Stepaniuc called the resolution "a compromise." PACE decided on 27 September to continue monitoring Moldova with permanent representation in Chisinau, Romanian Radio reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 September)
POLANDSOLIDARITY ELECTS NEW LEADER. A congress of the Solidarity trade union in Gdansk on 27 September elected 47-year-old Janusz Sniadek as the chairman of Solidarity, Polish media reported. Sniadek was elected after the previous Solidarity leader, Marian Krzaklewski, withdrew from the ballot following four abortive election rounds. Sniadek, a Solidarity member since 1981, was Krzaklewski's deputy and the head of the Solidarity Gdansk region. "The most important thing now is to change the face of the union, to take off its political face," Sniadek told journalists after his election. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
ROMANIANGOS PROTEST DRAFT LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES. At a 23 September press conference in Bucharest, leaders of four NGOs protested against the draft law on political parties, arguing that it infringes on citizens' right to organize political organizations, as stipulated by the constitution, Mediafax reported. Pro Democracy Association Chairman Cristian Parvulescu said the stipulation in the bill requiring 50,000 members for establishing political parties is "unacceptable and against all democratic principles." The NGOs proposed a version that would allow groups of as few as three people to establish parties. The organizations will ask President Ion Iliescu not to promulgate the law and are determined to appeal to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg. As parliament's two houses have adopted different versions of the bill, the final version is to be voted on in a common session. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)
RUSSIAWHOM DO THEY TRUST? Russians are most likely to trust their relatives, according to a survey released on 30 September by monitoring.ru. Sixty-two percent of respondents said that they trust their relatives, and 54 percent said that they trust their friends. President Vladimir Putin came in third place with the confidence of 28 percent of respondents. Only 8 percent trust the Russian Orthodox Church or other religious organizations, while 5 percent trust their bosses and 4 percent trust organized-crime bosses. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
SIBERIAN OFFICIALS ANNUL RECENT ELECTION RESULT... Krasnoyarsk Krai's election commission voted on 29 September to annul the results of the 22 September gubernatorial election of which Aleksandr Khloponin had been declared the winner, Russian news agencies reported. According to the krai's commission, the cancellation was necessary because of numerous election-law violations such as the distribution of leaflets that warned krai voters to stay away from the polls because of possible terrorist acts and other incidents at polling stations, ITAR-TASS reported. Some leaflets reportedly claimed that voters would have to pay to vote. The commission set 2 March 2003 as the date for a new gubernatorial election. One member of the krai's commission, Svetlana Goryacheva, who voted against canceling the election, said that such violations take place in any election campaign. In addition, she said many of the allegations haven't been proven. The head of the krai's elections commission, Georgii Kostrykin, was reportedly hospitalized on 29 September after suffering a heart attack, AP reported. Kostrykin was scheduled to appear before the krai's legislature on 30 September to explain his commission's action. Krasnoyarsk Krai First Deputy Governor Nikolai Ashlapov will continue as acting governor until the controversy is resolved or new elections are held. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
...AS NIZHNII VOTE ALSO MIRED IN CONTROVERSY. A local court in Nizhnii Novgorod has sealed the ballots in the second round of mayoral elections there, making it impossible for election officials to complete the vote count and certify the results, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 30 September. According to RTR, officials succeeded in counting more than 97 percent of the ballots before the court ruling and State Duma Deputy Vadim Bulavinov had a razor-thin lead with 34.97 percent of the vote. Incumbent Mayor Yurii Lebedev had 34.59 percent. Twenty-nine percent of voters voted "against all." The decision to seal the ballots was the first such ruling in the history of post-Soviet Russian elections and came as a result of an appeal filed by Bulavinov that expressed doubt as to the accuracy of the count. The ballots will remain sealed until Bulavinov's case is heard. Lebedev described the ruling as "political terrorism." Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that the situation in Nizhnii Novgorod will be resolved in the next few days and within the framework of the law. He compared the situation to that which evolved in Florida during the 2000 U.S. presidential race. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
LATEST SURVEY RANKS POLITICIANS, PARTIES. The All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) has presented the results of its latest survey asking respondents to rate the performance of leading political figures, polit.ru reported on 27 September. Seventy-seven percent of respondents approve of President Putin's performance, while 20 percent disapprove. Fifty-one percent approve of their local governors, while 41 percent disapprove. Thirty-nine percent approve of the presidential envoys to the federal districts, while 45 percent disapprove. Asked which politicians they trust most, 53 percent named Putin, 22 percent named Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, 15 percent named Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov, and 12 percent named Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov was named by 10 percent of respondents, which represents a 300 percent increase in his popularity compared to a similar survey taken in the spring. Among political parties, the Communists ranked first with 31 percent support, while Unified Russia came in second with 28 percent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September)
LOCAL COURT JOINS CAMPAIGN OF PRESSURE AGAINST POLITICAL OPPOSITION IN KALMYKIA. Registration of candidates for 20 October presidential elections in the Republic of Kalmykia has closed, and nine candidates have been registered, strana.ru reported on 23 September. Among them are current President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Natalya Manzhikova, the head of the local branch of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). According to "Vremya MN" on 21 September, a municipal court in Elista, the republic's capital, has ordered the SPS branch to accept 150 new members. SPS has been resisting doing so because they believe that the sudden petition of 150 people to join the party is a ploy by local authorities to overwhelm the small organization with its own people and elect new leaders for the branch. Earlier, the party's press service reported that members of the local political elite had allegedly been pressuring local SPS members to accept alternative leadership with threats against their lives and livelihoods (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"31 July 2002). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)
LIBERAL WEEKLY ALLEGES LINKS BETWEEN WALKING TOGETHER AND SKINHEADS. "Novaya gazeta," No. 70, reported on alleged links between the pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together and Moscow skinhead groups. According to the weekly, the head of the northeast section of the Moscow chapter of Walking Together, Aleksei Mitryushin, was formally the head of a skinhead group called the Rabid Stallions, which the paper says "particularly distinguished itself" during the June soccer riots in downtown Moscow. Mitryushin is quoted in the article as admitting his past connection with the Rabid Stallions and said that his colleagues at Walking Together are aware of it. The weekly also quoted an unidentified police source describing a Walking Together demonstration on 9 May. "Confident columns approach Red Square. The teens take off their armbands with swastikas, unpin their 'White Power' badges, and hide their brown leather jackets in bags. They pull on T-shirts with the face [of President Putin] and the slogan 'Together on one path!' And they march on," the source said. Finally, the weekly quoted an unidentified alleged member of a skinhead group called United Brigade-88. "Walking Together approached us.... They use us, but we have our own interest -- financial. Back then a meeting was called to defend NTV at Ostankino, and we were ordered to break it up. We were given a certain sum of money," the source was quoted as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)
ROLE OF HANDICAPPED IN RUSSIA REVIEWED. An international film festival devoted to the problems of handicapped people will run in Moscow from 26-29 September, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Some 140 art films and documentaries from around the world featuring themes such as discrimination against the handicapped will be screened. Sergei Miroshnichenko, documentary film director and chairman of the festival, explained that he hopes the festival will help explain how WWII veterans, many of whom are disabled, had to learn to readapt to Russian society. "My father returned from World War II blind," Miroshnichenko said. "And I remember very well his stories about the huge number of handicapped in our country; that is, people without hands, noses...They were called 'samovars.' These people were simply thrown away. In our country for some reason, everywhere health, strength, and courage are honored -- even at the House of Cinematography." He explained that the festival could not be held at that prestigious venue because it is not handicapped accessible. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September)
REGIONAL COURTS TO BE READY FOR JURY TRIALS BY NOVEMBER. Russia's Supreme Court officials believe that most oblast- and okrug-level courts will be technically ready to introduce jury trials by November, "Vremya MN" reported on 27 September. First Deputy General Director of the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court Vladimir Maksimov has reported that 55 of 102 Russian courts are already prepared and that the remaining work that needs to be done, such as remodeling the physical layout of the courtrooms, will be completed by the end of the year. According to the daily, Russian courts will be set up in the same fashion as courts in the United States and in the Canadian province of Ontario. For example, each juror has been allotted up to 1 cubic meter. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
EDUCATION MINISTER SAYS WAGE ARREARS TO TEACHERS AT LOWEST LEVEL IN 10 YEARS. Education Minister Vladimir Filippov said on 27 September that the level of unpaid wages owed to teachers is currently about 200 million rubles ($6.5 million), which is the lowest level in the past 10 years, RosBalt reported. At the same time, he said there are several regions -- such as Koryak Autonomous Okrug and Irkutsk Oblast -- where some educational workers have not been paid for two-three months. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 September, Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin said that "a very serious situation" has developed in 10 regions where the government has taken over the collection of tobacco-excise payments. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
STATE SECTOR KEEPS GROWING? Unemployment in Russia has dropped for the ninth consecutive month, but the number of new jobs created was higher in the "stagnant state sector" than in private business, "Vedomosti" reported on 20 September. According to the State Statistics Committee, the number of unemployed fell in August to its lowest level since April 1994. Yevgenii Gavrilenkov, chief economist at the Troika Dialog brokerage, pointed out that although labor productivity in the state sector has not increased, the government has raised wages for state-sector workers. According to data from June, the number of jobs in industry, construction, agriculture, and transportation declined, while jobs in the financial, arts and culture, health-care, and trade sectors rose. However, Brunswick UBS Warburg co-Chairman Denis Rodionov suggested that official statistics understate the creation of new jobs among small and medium-sized enterprises. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September)
MALE TEENAGERS CLASH AGAIN WITH ETHNIC ARMENIAN YOUTHS. In Rostov Oblast, 37 male teenagers were arrested on 27 September for participating in a rumble in a local park around 10:00 p.m., Interfax-AVN reported the next day. A group of ethnic Armenians clashed with a "brigade of Russian National Unity," an ultranationalist group, and police were only able to subdue the combatants after additional police officers were called in. Meanwhile, two youths were detained on 28 September for beating up a citizen of Tajikistan on the Moscow metro, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
SLOVAKIAPLURALITY OF SLOVAKS SATISFIED WITH VOTE. Some 45 percent of Slovaks are fully or partly satisfied with the outcome of the general election, TASR reported on 24 September, citing a poll conducted by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). According to a telephone poll of 500 people conducted on 22-23 September, 30.4 percent said they are not satisfied with the election results, 17.2 percent took a neutral position, and 7 percent did not respond. Middle-aged and older voters, those with a higher education, and residents of large cities were most satisfied with the results. Younger voters, those with less education, and rural residents were less satisfied. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)
SMER, COMMUNISTS TO BE IN OPPOSITION. Smer leader Robert Fico said on 24 September that his party will be in opposition for the next four years, TASR reported the same day. Fico said Smer has turned down a request from Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia to enter talks to try and form a coalition government. "Everything is over for us, we are in opposition," he said, adding that his party will support all European Union and NATO integration-related legislation. Meanwhile, The Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) says it will accept whichever new government is formed but not whatever program it adopts, KSS Chairman Jozef Sevc said on 24 September, TASR reported. The KSS exceeded expectations in the 20-21 September elections, garnering 6.32 percent to secure its first parliamentary berth for 13 years. Sevc expressed fears over the proposed ruling coalition of four center-right parties led by current Premier Mikulas Dzurinda and predicted that the new government will be in crisis by January or February. "We want to be a constructive opposition," Sevc said. The KSS backs Slovakia's integration into the European Union and favors a strong social welfare state, Sevc said ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)
UKRAINELAWMAKERS OCCUPY PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION BUILDING, FORCE KUCHMA TO MEET WITH THEM. Fifty lawmakers from the Communist Party (19), Socialist Party (12), Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (11), and Our Ukraine (eight) entered the presidential administration building on 24 September with the intention of handing President Leonid Kuchma the resolution of the 16 September protest rally demanding his resignation, Ukrainian media reported. The deputies' action took place after a 5,000-strong crowd of anti-Kuchma demonstrators moved from the rally in front of the parliamentary building to the square in front of the presidential office. Following Kuchma's refusal to meet them, the deputies declared a hunger strike and spent the night in the presidential building, which was blocked by special-task troops. Kuchma commented on 24 September that the occupation of his office by lawmakers is a "manifestation of Bolshevism," UNIAN reported. He added that he would not meet with them because he sees no specific proposals from their side. However, Kuchma changed his mind and met with Communist Party head Petro Symonenko, Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz, Yuliya Tymoshenko, and Yuriy Orobets (Our Ukraine) in the morning of 25 September. The three opposition leaders told journalists after the meeting that Kuchma refused to step down. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)
OPPOSITION LEADERS CALL ON PARLIAMENT TO IMPEACH KUCHMA... While the 5,000-strong crowd picketed the parliamentary building on 24 September, lawmakers were engaged in a heated debate, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. Tymoshenko, Symonenko, and Moroz appealed to the Verkhovna Rada to put aside previously scheduled legislative issues and to urgently discuss the current political situation in Ukraine as well as Kuchma's impeachment and early presidential elections. Tymoshenko said her caucus will boycott the parliamentary session as long as these issues are not properly addressed. Moroz proposed to hold an emergency parliamentary session devoted Ukraine's arms trade. "The state budget has not received a single kopek from arms sales, while nearly 3 billion hryvnyas ($560 million) filled the pockets of the head of state and his adherents," Moroz added. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko also called on lawmakers "to stop talking nonsense about laws and budget" and to address the current political crisis. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)
...AS INTERIOR MINISTER APPEALS TO BUILD 'DEMOCRATIC STATE.' Interior Minister Yuriy Smyrnov on 24 September reported to the Verkhovna Rada on police behavior during the 16 September antipresidential rally in Kyiv and appealed to lawmakers to show "exemplary respect for the law" and "make a step toward building a democratic state," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. Smyrnov said police have evidence that people were paid money to participate in the 16 September rally. Tymoshenko immediately denied this allegation. The interior minister also accused some lawmakers, including Tymoshenko, of assaulting police officers when they dismantled an opposition tent camp near the presidential office on 17 September. According to Smyrnov, only some 15,000 people -- not 30,000, as reported by some media -- took part in the 16 September demonstration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September)
PRESIDENT REFUSES TO STEP DOWN... Leonid Kuchma addressed the nation on the ICTV television channel on 28 September and accused the opposition of resorting to violence to unseat him. "It is one thing to express one's dissatisfaction but another thing to [try to] force a violent change of the power and social system," the president said. Kuchma called for an end to opposition protests, saying that previous demonstrations have damaged Ukraine's image and stall social progress. "[Opposition leaders] must think about whether to discharge the responsibilities for which they were elected by some 50 million citizens during the elections, or to execute the demands of close to 50,000 people who participated in nationwide demonstrations," he noted, adding that "I refuse categorically to resign...because I was elected by the people as the head of state and I feel fully responsible for all that happens in the country." Kuchma did not mention the allegations that Ukraine may have illegally sold a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
...AND ACCUSES OPPOSITION OF SABOTAGING LEGISLATIVE WORK... Kuchma also charged that opposition lawmakers are sabotaging the ongoing parliamentary session by refusing to participate in voting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 September 2002). He castigated them for failing last week to support a law on money laundering, and suggested that Ukraine's international image may be severely damaged and international organizations may impose sanctions against Ukraine because of this failure. He also lashed out at opposition legislators for not voting on a bill that would provide assistance to the families of handicapped persons. Kuchma praised the recent effort of nine pro-presidential groups to create a parliamentary majority numbering 226 deputies. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
...AS WELL AS OF UNDERMINING ECONOMY. Speaking in Chernihiv on 28 September, President Kuchma said the recent opposition protests negatively affected the economy, UNIAN reported. "[Only] 15,000 people took to the streets in Kyiv and the same amount in other cities, but this has already caused enterprises to work worse. We have seen [the consequences] in tax [collection]," Kuchma noted. "Every...entrepreneur asks himself: What will happen tomorrow? It is natural that entrepreneurs are afraid that [Communist Party leader Petro] Symonenko or [Socialist Party leader Oleksandr] Moroz will come [to power] and abolish private ownership," the president added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
UZBEKISTANIHF CONDEMNS TWO DEATHS FROM TORTURE IN PRISON. In a press statement released on their website (http://www.ihf-hr.org) on 26 September, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) condemned two deaths in prison from torture in Uzbekistan at the Jazlyk prison, a camp situated in a former chemical-weapons-testing area. The bodies of Husnidin Alimov and Muzafar Avazov were returned to their relatives last August with apparent signs of torture. Both men had been imprisoned on charges related to their religious activity. Torture and ill-treatment are virtually routine measures in Uzbek police stations and prisons, says IHF. IHF believes the response from Uzbek authorities to requests for impartial investigation from various local and international groups has been inadequate, as officials claim the prisoners died from injuries sustained from fighting, and not from torture. IHF says Avazov's body clearly showed signs of burns on the legs, buttocks, lower back, and arms. Sixty to seventy percent of the body was burned, apparently from immersion in boiling water, the group said, citing photographs of the injuries. The prosecutor also warned the family of Avazov, a 35-year-old father of four, against giving information about the case to the media or others, and the police hindered people from attending the funeral. Moreover, authorities reportedly restricted the viewing of Alimov's body, with the police accompanying the corpse and being present during the funeral. CAF
YUGOSLAVIAKOSTUNICA AND LABUS TO FACE EACH OTHER IN SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF... About 55 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in a field of 11 candidates in the Serbian presidential race on 29 September, international and Serbian media reported. Many observers had feared that voter apathy and heavy rain could have led to less than 50 percent of the eligible voters going to the polls, which would have made the vote invalid. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) led with 31.3 percent, according to early projections. His main rival, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, received 27.7 percent and will face Kostunica in a runoff on 13 October. Labus is backed by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and many of his allies in the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition. Vojislav Seselj of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) made a surprisingly strong showing by taking 22.6 percent of the vote to finish third. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
...WITH KOSTUNICA THE FAVORITE. Seselj's strength in the 29 September Serbian presidential elections came from hard-line nationalists and persons opposed to market-oriented economic reforms, many international and Serbian media noted. Some commentators expressed shock that he did so well, while others stressed that he is now out of the race. He led the balloting in southern Serbia, while Kostunica polled first in the central Serbian heartland, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. Labus took pride of place in Vojvodina, which many observers consider the most European-oriented part of Serbia. Kostunica had hoped for a first-ballot victory, and many observers had expected him to have a wider lead over Labus than he did. But Kostunica seems likely to pick up most of Seselj's voters in the second round, which makes the Yugoslav president a clear favorite. For his part, Labus told AP in Belgrade: "I started from zero, and I collected 1 million votes. The game is not over. This was only the first half." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September)
ULTRANATIONALIST PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DENIED ENTRY INTO KOSOVA. UN police prevented Vojislav Seselj from entering Kosova on 26 September, Reuters reported. Seselj was slated to attend an election rally in the divided city of Mitrovica, which is populated by ethnic Albanians in the south and Serbs in the north. UN officials cited security concerns as the reason for denying entry to Seselj, the leader of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party and former President Slobodan Milosevic's choice for president. Kosovar Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic said UN officials "don't want to have a conflict with Albanian political leaders." Ivanovic said he expects a high turnout among the roughly 65,000 Serbs in Kosova who are eligible to vote at some 292 polling places being set up by Serbian authorities. Serbs who fled Kosova and live in other parts of Serbia are eligible to cast their votes where they currently live. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September)