Accessibility links

Breaking News

(Un)Civil Societies Report: November 6, 2002

6 November 2002, Volume 3, Number 45
ANTI-CHECHEN BACKLASH IN WAKE OF HOSTAGE CRISIS. As the official death toll mounted to 119 following the 23-26 October hostage crisis in Moscow, fears of an anti-Chechen backlash in retaliation for the terrorist attack began to materialize with a series of incidents involving harassment of Chechens in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 29 October told Ekho Moskvy that he would like to tighten control over the influx of nonresidents to Moscow ( see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2002). Luzhkov said he regrets that the Soviet-era "propiska" system of restricting movement through registration with the police was abolished, and that 3 million arrive in the city everyday and it needs a way to protect itself.

Human Rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov expressed concern on 30 October about a likely increase in anti-Chechen sentiment and the subsequent activity of the military and security forces, Ekho Moskvy reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2002). "In Russia, there are enough ultra-patriots who are ready to defend the interests of Slavic people by exploding our country and casting it into the abyss of interethnic strife," Mironov said. He added that there are no legal grounds for expelling Chechens from Moscow or other regions and that the heightened security measures must not violate constitutional norms.

President Vladimir Putin was briefed on anti-Chechen incidents by the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB) on 30 October, RIA-Novosti reported. In a statement notable as the first of its kind, Putin said: "I have just been acquainted with the alarming information of the Interior Ministry about the increased threats against Chechens.... Under no circumstances can we allow this negative turn of events or give in to the provocations that are being pushed upon us. We do not have the right to permit injustice."

Meanwhile, local police precincts as well as some vandals appeared to be ignoring the presidential admonishment. A store belonging to a Chechen family in the Moscow Oblast town of Orekhovo-Zuevo was firebombed on 30 October, "Izvestiya" and reported on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 1 November 2002). No one was injured in the incident. According to municipal Prosecutor Yakov Shishigin, an unknown person threw a Molotov cocktail through a window of the shoe and clothing store during the night. Firefighters found the words "Chechens, we will kill you" written twice on nearby walls, and an arson investigation was opened.

This week, Civic Assistance, a Moscow-based group providing aid and legal defense to refugees and displaced person, reported a surge in victims of police action appealing to them for help (see Activists say that within hours of the storming of the music theater to rescue the hostages, police launched Operation Thunderstorm to sweep through the Chechen communities in Moscow and elsewhere to see if they had any link to the terrorist attack on the Dubrovka theater. Abdulla Khamzaev, a respected Chechen attorney living in Moscow, himself detained and questioned by police during the sweep, who has offered free legal services to the former hostages, has been busy defending Chechens wrongfully detained in Moscow and elsewhere.

NGOs report that Chechens appear to be seized only on the grounds of their ethnicity, and police are taking their fingerprints and questioning them in detail about the terrorist attack, sometimes by threatening them with expulsion from their apartments or from the city for improper documentation. One Chechen woman who herself happened to be a hostage in the theater was detained in the hospital while receiving medical treatment and ultimately released after authorities were satisfied that she had no connection to the women suicide bombers among the terrorists.

In several instances, lawyers have discovered that tactics used after the 1999 apartment explosions have been re-employed, as drugs are planted on people while they or their apartments are being searched, i.e. in the case of a 19-year-old boy who police claim was carrying a heroin packet inside his passport pages. When detainees asked why they have been hauled in for questioning, one investigator replied: "Haven't you been watching television? What other reason would be needed?" in reference to the nonstop coverage of the hostage crisis and its aftermath, largely favorable to the government, and the expressed need to round up Chechens as potential terrorist suspects. One family reported that their daughter's schoolteacher had announced to the class that she was Chechen, and other schoolchildren reported being blocked from school attendance while their registration was checked.

In Ingushetia, the chairman of the regional division of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, Imran Ezhiev, a respected community leader who has been arrested by federal troops in the past, was detained at his temporary dwelling in a refugee camp in the village of Yandar in Nazran Raion. At 5:30 a.m., a group of armed men wearing masks, broke into the camp, surrounded Ezhiev's home, and woke him at gunpoint. The unidentified intruders, evidently special forces, waved weapons at Ezhiev's family members, and then tried to take him away with them. A crowd gathered demanding that the masked men show their identification, and eventually they released Ezhiev and retreated, evidently not having a formal warrant to detain Ezhiev.

While discrimination against Chechens has galvanized the human rights groups attempting to uphold the Russian Constitution and defend their rights, the horror of the terrorism in the center of Moscow has prompted other groups to call for harsher security measures and the return of the death penalty. The Council of Atamans of the Don Cossacks called on 28 October for the reinstatement of the death penalty as a tool in combating international terrorism, Interfax reported on 29 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2002). The council unanimously adopted the resolution calling for the death penalty for those convicted of organizing or carrying out acts of terrorism and forwarded it to President Putin and both chambers of the legislature. According to First Deputy Ataman Dmitrii Rubanov, "Our society has not yet matured enough to be called a democracy." He said Russia should use the U.S. Constitution as a model, because it does not forbid the death penalty. CAF

OPPOSITION LEADER DETAINED AND QUESTIONED. Immediately after leaving the U.S. Embassy in Minsk on 5 November, Anatol Lyabedzka, chairman of the opposition United Civic Party, was pushed into a car by several plainclothesmen and driven to the KGB for interrogation, reported the same day. Lyabedzka had gone to the embassy to receive an invitation to a conference in Washington about Belarus sponsored by the New Atlantic Initiative, a program of the American Enterprise Institute. Since the agents did not identify themselves, at first Lyabedzka did not realize where he was being taken but managed to call his party headquarters and report the license number of the car he was in. He was queried about his activities and writings and released after an hour. Earlier this year, an investigation was opened against Lyabedzka for allegedly slandering President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in an article published in 2001 in the independent newspaper "Narodnaya volya," in which he raised questions about the whereabouts of funds obtained from Belarus's reported arms sales to "rogue states" such as Iraq. Prosecutors have threatened him with four years in prison under the law. Recently the Belarusian government has escalated its repression of opposition figures and journalists covering sensitive topics, and several reporters have been tried and sentenced to corrective labor terms for their articles. CAF

PRESIDENT ENACTS CONTROVERSIAL LAW ON RELIGIONS. President Lukashenka on 31 October signed into law a controversial bill on religions that gives the Russian Orthodox Church a dominant role in Belarus, Belapan reported. The bill has been heavily criticized by minority denominations and human rights advocates as restrictive and discriminatory. The presidential press service said the law "creates no barriers that would prevent Belarusian citizens from determining their attitude toward religion independently and practicing any religion" and forms a "balanced legal basis for combining the freedom of each individual with the interests of society as a whole." The press service added that the law is aimed "at preventing religious expansion into the Republic of Belarus and the development of destructive cults and occultism." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

RESIGNATION AND DEFIANCE GREET REPRESSIVE RELIGION LAW. Minority religious communities, including Baptists, Pentecostals, Hindu, and Hare Krisha, as well as human rights groups and a few parliamentary deputies, have greeted the president's signature on the repressive new religion law with a mixture of resignation and defiance, Keston News Service found from a recent survey of opinion. The Russian Orthodox Church leadership has strongly backed the new law, but there are many priests and laypeople in the church who do not support its restrictive provisions. Keston has learned of one Orthodox priest who opposed the new law who was told during the summer by a more senior clergyman not to voice his dissatisfaction publicly as the Orthodox Church had put great efforts into having the law adopted. Catholic leaders have been reluctant to speak out against the law. The Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, whose church in the town of Pahranichny in Hrodna Oblast was recently bulldozed, have been vocally critical of the law. Among human rights groups opposing the law is the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, which says it fears many communities will lose their registration. (Keston News Service, 31 October)

ACTIVISTS HONOR VICTIMS OF POLITICAL REPRESSION. Some 50 representatives of the opposition United Civic Party and other public organizations formed a "chain of concerned people" in downtown Minsk on 30 October, the Day of Memory of Victims of Political Repression, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service and Belapan reported. Participants in this unauthorized demonstration held portraits of individuals persecuted for political reasons in the Soviet era as well as of Belarusian politicians who disappeared in 1999 and journalists recently sentenced to prison terms for slandering President Lukashenka. The same day, pickets and other events to pay tribute to victims of political repression were also held in Vitsebsk, Brest, and Kurapaty near Minsk (the execution and burial ground of victims of Stalin-era political repression). Police detained eight picketers in Vitsebsk. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October)

OSCE MISSION'S LAST INTERNATIONAL MEMBER LEAVES MINSK. Alina Josan, the last foreign staffer of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) in Minsk, crossed Belarus's border into Poland on the afternoon of 29 October, Belapan reported. Earlier the same day, the OSCE Portuguese chairmanship issued a statement calling Josan's departure a "de facto expulsion." "The fact that the Belarusian authorities have decided to continue expelling OSCE Mission members as the OSCE chairmanship makes new attempts to begin consultations and negotiations does not contribute to the desirable normalization of relations between Belarus and the OSCE. While Belarusian authorities have withdrawn all basic conditions for the AMG to function in a normal and adequate manner in Minsk, the AMG's mandate remains valid and the chairmanship will ensure the continuation of its activities from Vienna," the statement said. "It is absolutely obvious that without the OSCE, Belarus might surround itself with barbed wire," Belarusian Liberal Democratic Party leader Syarhey Haydukevich told Belapan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)

UPPER HOUSE DECLINES TO CONSIDER POLITICAL DISAPPEARANCES. Upon orders from Council of the Republic (upper house of parliament) Chairman Alyaksandr Vaytovich, the council's Permanent Commission on Legislation and State Construction has replied to a query from the Belarusian Helsinki Committee regarding the cases of disappeared opposition members, reported on 5 November. The Helsinki Committee asked the council to demand that police and KGB chiefs present their own reports as well as make full disclosure of all information about the results of the investigation into the involuntary disappearances of Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, Anatol Krasouski, and Dzmitry Zavadski, public figures associated with the opposition or independent journalism who were abducted in 1999 and 2000 and are claimed to have been murdered with the collusion of the Belarusian government. The Helsinki Committee also requested setting up a temporary commission in order to carry out a parliamentary investigation into the politically motivated disappearances. The Legislation Commission's chairwoman noted in her reply that the problem raised by the Helsinki Committee is "outside of the competence of the Council of the Republic." In November 2000, the UN Committee Against Torture reviewed the cases and urged the Belarusian government to form an impartial and credible national commission to investigate the disappearances; other international bodies such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have also called for an investigation. CAF

GOVERNMENT PREPARED TO EXTRADITE BOBETKO. In the first such statement by a member of the Croatian government, Interior Minister Sime Lucin said in Zagreb on 31 October that police will arrest former General Janko Bobetko if they receive an arrest warrant from a court, dpa reported. Bobetko has been indicted for war crimes by The Hague tribunal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

JUSTICE MINISTRY TO BAN FASCIST SYMBOLS? Justice Minister Ingrid Anticevic-Marinovic said in Zagreb on 31 October that the government will soon introduce a wide-ranging package of new legislation covering topics ranging from terrorism to marijuana possession, local and international media reported. One measure would legalize the possession of marijuana, and another would make "libeling the president" a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. Murder, war crimes, hijackings, and terrorism would be punishable by life imprisonment instead of the present 40 years' incarceration. Another measure would impose sentences of between three months and three years for displaying symbols of the World War II Ustashe regime and other fascist movements. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

SKINHEADS ATTACK BLACK SOCCER PLAYER. Seventeen-year-old Louis Arcanga Ramos Colon from Honduras told "Jutarnji List" of 30 October that an unspecified number of "skinheads broke a bottle against my head and hit me several times. I'm afraid and I don't want to be here in Zagreb any longer," dpa reported. The young man has been playing with Dinamo Zagreb, which is one of Croatia's leading teams, for seven months. The incident allegedly took place as he was boarding a tram. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

RIGHT-WING OPPOSITION PARTY EMERGES AS WINNER IN LOCAL ELECTIONS. In the local elections held on 1-2 November, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) garnered the strongest voter support, winning 25.23 percent of the ballots cast, CTK and international news agencies reported. The Social Democratic Party was second with 15.58 percent, while the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia placed third with 14.49 percent. Turnout was 43.38 percent, higher than in the accompanying senatorial contest. In Prague, the ODS gained 30 of 70 municipal council seats on 35.54 percent of the vote. CTK reported on 3 November that ODS's candidate for the post, Prague 6 district Mayor Pavel Bem, has a strong chance to be the city's next lord mayor. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November)

FARMERS PROTEST EU SUBSIDIES DECISION, DEMAND STATE COMPENSATION. Several thousand farmers marched on 30 October in central Prague demanding state compensation for damages stemming from natural catastrophes and the negotiation of a better deal on farm subsidies than that offered by the EU, AP reported. The farmers say bad weather and the August floods caused them losses of 15.5 billion crowns ($492 million) and want the state to pay at least 5 billion crowns in compensation. They are also opposed to the decision by the EU to offer its 10 anticipated new members agricultural subsidies initially amounting to only 25 percent of the subsidies paid to current members. Those subsidies are to be gradually increased and become equal for all EU members only by 2013. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October)

COURT FINDS FORMER SOVIET AGENT GUILTY OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY. A Tallinn city court on 31 October convicted former KGB agent Yurii Karpov of crimes against humanity for rounding up dozens of people deemed enemies of the communist regime in 1949, BNS reported. The court opted for a light fine and an eight-year sentence that was suspended in light of Karpov's advanced age, 81. Karpov was indicted in March on charges of deporting 41 residents of the Harjumaa region to Siberia in March 1949, where at least some of them died under harsh conditions. He was accused of drawing up reports for apprehending the individuals -- including children -- detaining them, and handing them over for deportation. Karpov denied the charges, saying he was not involved in the deportations and his work was simply to identify "illegals" (people with no Soviet identification papers) and spies. Karpov is the fifth former KGB official convicted of involvement in the 1949 deportations, during which an estimated 20,000 people were deported from Estonian territory. He has vowed to appeal the verdict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

OPPOSITION REMAINS DIVIDED OVER PRESIDENT'S IMPEACHMENT. Several prominent Georgian opposition parties have declined to support the Revival Union's campaign to impeach President Eduard Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 October 2002). The Labor Party expressed support for the initiative on 30 October, Caucasus Press reported. But "Alia" on 31 October quoted Socialist Party leader Vakhtang Rcheulishvili as saying he will not do so, as Shevardnadze is the only person who can solve Georgia's current problems. Giorgi Baramidze, one of the leaders of the United Democrats, similarly told Caucasus Press that that party views both Shevardnadze and Revival Union leader Aslan Abashidze as posing an equal threat to political stability in Georgia. On 1 November, Caucasus Press cited "Rezonansi" as reporting that Abashidze is currently in Tbilisi holding meetings with other opposition parties in a bid to drum up support for Shevardnadze's impeachment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

GEORGIAN OPPOSITIONISTS IN FIGHT AT CEC HQ. Some 50 members of the opposition New National Movement (AEM) headed by former Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili, some of them reportedly armed, on 1 November forced their way into the building housing the Central Election Commission to protest that body's delay in announcing the results of the recount of votes cast in Tbilisi in the 2 June local elections, Caucasus Press reported. On 31 October, Saakashvili told the independent television station Rustavi-2 that the leaders of the Adjar Autonomous Republic had paid a huge bribe to unnamed CEC members. They engaged in a fight with guards employed by the Abkhaz parliament-in-exile, which has its premises in the same building, causing considerable material damage. The military prosecutor's office has opened a criminal case in connection with the fracas. On 2 November, Kote Kemularia, who is a member of the AEM leadership, blamed the guards -- who he claimed were drunk -- for trying to prevent the AEM delegation from entering the building although they had passes permitting them to do so. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November)

PROTESTS IN SOUTH GATHER MOMENTUM. Support is increasing in Osh Oblast for former Deputy Prime Minister and Agrarian-Labor Party Chairman Usen Sydykov, whom an Osh court barred four days ago from contesting a 3 November runoff by-election in Kara-Kuldja, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2002). Some 1,000 people congregated on 30 October in front of the local administration building in Uzgen to demand Sydykov's reinstatement, while 1,200 more gathered in Kara-Suu with the same demand. Some 200 residents of Kara-Kuldja, including village administrator Rustam Anarbotoev, began a protest march to Osh. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October)

KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST FINED. A court in Chu Oblast fined Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov 1,000 soms (about $22) on 30 October for participating in an unsanctioned meeting, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akunov was one of some 100 participants in a march on 29 October to mark the 54th birthday of jailed former Vice President Feliks Kulov. Also on 30 October, First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov told Interfax that a special committee has been established to promote Kyrgyzstan's new image as a country that protects the human rights of its citizens. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October)

MORE PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES JOIN PRO-CHECHEN GROUP. Apparently reacting to recent events in Moscow, eight deputies joined a parliamentary group for interparliamentary relations with the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria on 31 October, BNS reported. They include Conservatives Arvydas Vidziunas and Rasa Jukneviciene, former Foreign Minister and Christian Democrat Algirdas Saudargas, Social Democrat Kestutis Krisciunas, and deputies from the Social Liberals and Modern Christian Democrats. This increased the number of deputies in the group to 19, as Social Democrat Juozas Raistenskis left the group two days earlier. Several members of the group announced at a press conference that they were handing a letter to the Danish Embassy expressing regret that Denmark "was unable to resist Russia's pressure" when it detained Chechen Vice Premier Akhmed Zakaev and calling for his release. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER CALLS FOR END TO OPPOSITION BOYCOTT. Parliamentary speaker Nikola Popovski called on the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) to rethink its decision to boycott the parliament until the end of the year, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 1 November. The VMRO-DPMNE, which is led by former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, staged a walkout during the plenary session on 31 October to protest the election of ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration members as ministers. Popovski called on VMRO-DPMNE legislators to rethink what he called "an ill-considered" decision. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November)

ETHNIC ALBANIAN POLITICAL LEADER ARRESTED. Police spokesman Voislav Zafirovski said in Skopje on 3 November that police arrested Xhevat Ademi, a leading politician of a small nationalist party, at a border crossing with Albania, dpa reported. Zafirovski stressed that Ademi is wanted for terrorism and is not covered by the amnesty that was part of the overall peace settlement in 2001. Ademi told AP by telephone, "This was a deliberate act by the Interior Ministry [and] is not a good start for the new government," which has pledged to respect the peace settlement. Since 1998, the Interior Ministry has been a stronghold of Macedonian hard-liners led by former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski of the VMRO-DPMNE. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November)

EDUCATION MINISTRY DISTRIBUTES 'HISTORY OF MOLDOVA' TO SCHOOL LIBRARIES. The Education Ministry has begun distributing the "History of Moldova" textbook to Moldovan school libraries, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The distribution is taking place despite the fact that the ministry has revoked its decision to change the curriculum by replacing the teaching of the "History of Romanians" with the "History of Moldova." The textbook is authored by Vasile Stati, a former parliamentary deputy from the Party of Moldovan Communists and one of the chief promoters of "Moldovianism." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November)

PARLIAMENT BEGINS DEBATES ON RESTRICTING PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY. Parliament on 31 October approved the first reading of a constitutional amendment that would drastically reduce its members' immunity from prosecution, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. According to the amendment, members of parliament will enjoy immunity only for "political opinions" expressed in the parliament itself. Opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca harshly criticized the proposed amendment, saying one can "well imagine" what would have happened to members of parliament who participated in protest demonstrations earlier this year if the amendment had been in force at that time. Rosca also criticized a government-submitted amendment that would reduce the independence of judges. He also alleged that the government is attempting to reduce the judicial hierarchy of tribunals to which plaintiffs can appeal a lower court's decision. Finally, parliament also began debating an amendment to the constitution that would legalize dual citizenship. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

DEATH TOLL OF FORMER HOSTAGES REACHES 119... Andrei Selkovskii, head of the Moscow City Health Department, announced on 30 October that the number of former hostages involved in the 23-26 October hostage drama who have died has reached 119, reported. All but two of them died from the effects of the sleeping gas used by Russian special forces in the operation to end the standoff. However, reported that according to confidential information collected by the Health Ministry from Moscow hospitals, the actual number of dead is 140. The authorities will delay making the true figures public for as long as possible in order to avoid negative public-relations consequences, commented. A number of hostages who were released from the hospital have returned complaining of dizziness and other ailments. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)

...AS PUBLIC STANDS BEHIND THE PRESIDENT... Despite the continuing controversy over the use of sleeping gas by security forces to resolve the hostage standoff, President Vladimir Putin's popularity rating remains extremely strong, Russian news agencies reported on 30 October. According to a poll of 1,600 respondents conducted by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) between 25-28 October, 85 percent of Russians support the president's actions during the Moscow hostage crisis. Eighty-two percent said they judge the actions of the security services as "very good" or "good." Just 10 percent judged them as "poor." Likewise, 76 percent gave the mass media high marks during the crisis, while 18 percent said the media performed "poorly." Nine percent of the 1,600 respondents expressed "sympathy and understanding" for the actions of the hostage takers and 1 percent said they "respect" them. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)

...AND BACKS HARSH REACTION. According to the same poll, 54 percent of respondents answered affirmatively when asked if Russia should respond to the hostage incident by taking "decisive measures against Chechen fighters similar to those undertaken [in Afghanistan] by the United States following 11 September 2001." Thirty-six percent answered negatively. Forty-six percent of poll respondents said Russia should continue the war in Chechnya, but 44 percent called for the initiation of peace talks to end the fighting. At the same time, 49 percent agreed that federal forces in Chechnya are acting "not firmly enough," while just 9 percent agreed that they are acting "too firmly." Eighteen percent said the only way to end the conflict in Chechnya is to "wall Russia off from Chechnya and give the republic its independence." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)

CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S ENVOY DETAINED IN DENMARK... Chechen Vice Premier Akhmed Zakaev, who is President Aslan Maskhadov's personal envoy, has been arrested in Copenhagen, where he attended the World Chechen Congress on 28-29 October, and remanded in custody for 13 days, Reuters and dpa quoted Danish officials as saying on 30 October. The arrest was reportedly made at the request of the Russian government, which has asked that Zakaev be extradited to Russia, where he might face charges of complicity in last week's hostage taking by Chechen militants at a Moscow theater. Zakaev has repeatedly denied that Maskhadov or members of his government played any role in, or had any prior knowledge of, that assault. Speaking in Grozny, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov expressed satisfaction at Zakaev's reported detention, adding that Danish authorities should have also arrested all other participants in the congress, reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)

...AS DUMA PRESSES FOR HIS EXTRADITION. The State Duma will demand Vice Premier Zakaev's speedy extradition, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told journalists on 30 October, according to Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov said the legal basis for the extradition is sound and accused Zakaev of "armed insurrection, organizing illegal armed formations, and assaults on the lives of state officials." ITAR-TASS on 28 October reported that Moscow had presented Danish authorities with dossiers on 77 Chechens who took part in the World Chechen Congress and whom the Kremlin accuses of involvement in terrorism. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)

DUMA BANS RETURNING BODIES OF KILLED 'TERRORISTS.' The Duma on 1 November passed in all three readings an amendment to the law on terrorism that authorizes the government to refuse to return the bodies of those killed during antiterrorism operations to their families, and other Russian news agencies. The amendment also allows the government to refuse to divulge to relatives where those killed have been buried. Corresponding amendments to the law on interment and burial were also adopted. If passed by the Federation Council and endorsed by the president, the amendments will apply to the Chechen fighters killed during last month's hostage crisis in Moscow.("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

HEALTH MINISTER DENIES NEGLIGENCE IN TREATING FORMER HOSTAGES. Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 30 October, Yurii Shevchenko said the gas used during the 26 October storming of the Moscow theater where Chechen fighters were holding more than 800 hostages was an opiate derivative based on fentanyl, and other Russian news agencies reported. Shevchenko did not provide the precise name of the gas. The minister denied accusations that his ministry was negligent and failed to coordinate its activities with those of the security forces in order to provide prompt and effective treatment to the former hostages. He said he had been warned in advance about the impending use of the anesthetic, and the Health Ministry had prepared 1,000 doses of antidote. Nonetheless, the high number of casualties stemmed from the poor condition of the oxygen-starved former hostages after more than 50 hours of stressful captivity with extremely limited food, water, and movement. German doctors in Munich alleged after conducting blood tests on one former hostage that the gas was halothane, RIA-Novosti reported, citing Munich coroner Professor Ludwig von Meyer. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October)

OLIGARCHS UNION, GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE AID TO FORMER HOSTAGES AND THEIR FAMILIES. The Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) will donate 30 million rubles ($1 million) to the victims of the 23-26 October hostage crisis in Moscow, RosBalt reported on 30 October. RSPP President Arkadii Volskii called on the Russian business community to join in the effort to provide aid. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said at a cabinet meeting on 31 October that the federal government and the Moscow municipal government are preparing a package of "psychological, material, and social" support for victims of the hostage taking and their families, and other Russian news agencies reported. "Such measures are the government's debt to those who died," Kasyanov said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October)

EMBATTLED OLIGARCH TO AID ARRESTED CHECHEN. The Civil Liberties Foundation, a nongovernmental organization funded by self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, will provide legal counsel to Chechen Vice Premier Zakaev, who faces possible extradition to Russia, and other Russian news agencies reported. Usman Ferzauli, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative in Denmark, said Zakaev will seek political asylum in that country, reported. Danish Justice Minister Lene Espersen said in televised remarks on 2 November that Russia has not yet provided convincing proof that Zakaev has committed any crimes and that if such evidence is not provided by 30 November, Zakaev will be released. Berezovskii told Ekho Moskvy on 4 November that he considers the case against Zakaev "fabricated" and said "a team of Dutch and English lawyers has been formed to defend him." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November)

NEW LAW ON FOREIGNERS TAKES EFFECT. A new law defining the legal status of foreign citizens in Russia, according to which all nonresidents must carry immigration cards, came into force on 1 November, Russian news agencies reported. According to the law, foreigners intending to stay in Russia for more than three months must purchase the $100 cards. The law bans temporary- and permanent-residence status for drug addicts, people who are HIV positive, people with serious criminal records in their home countries, people who were previously expelled from Russia, or those testing positive for dangerous infectious diseases. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

DUMA REDUCES LEGAL MARRIAGE AGE. Deputies on 30 October also unanimously approved in its third and final reading an amendment to the Family Code that would reduce the legal marriage age from 16 to 14 with the permission of the local executive branch. Although the amendment requires mayors to consider the opinions of the parents of prospective newlyweds, it does not obligate them to heed those opinions. The amendments must now be adopted by the Federation Council and signed by President Putin. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October)

PRIEST JOINS DRAFT BOARD IN OREL. A regional draft board in Orel has received permission from the Defense Ministry to include in its composition a Russian Orthodox priest who will evaluate draftees' petitions to be considered conscientious objectors, "Izvestiya" reported on 31 October. According to an unidentified source on the board, the priest's role will be "to expose scoundrels who try to hide behind faith in order to escape army service." A local church spokesman noted that most of the conscripts who claim to be conscientious objectors claim to belong to non-Orthodox sects. Therefore, the church chose a priest with "experience and practice in comparative religion." "Many young people try to avoid service without really adhering to any idea. In these cases, Father Mikhail tries to convince them to do their duty," the spokesman said. "Since a [priest] appeared on the commission, there hasn't been a single case when a conscript refused to serve," said Vladimir Margarid, military commissar for the Soviet Raion of Orel. Vladimir Pershin, deputy oblast military commissar in Tula, told the daily that including an Orthodox priest on draft boards is illegal and violates common sense. He urged the Duma to clarify the law on alternative service, which currently requires conscripts "to prove" their convictions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

CIVIL PROCEDURE CODE PASSES UPPER HOUSE. The Federation Council on 30 October unanimously approved the new Civil Procedure Code, and other Russian news agencies reported. The code was passed by the Duma on 23 October. The new code, which regulates labor and family disputes, is considered a landmark in Russian legal reform and strictly limits the role of prosecutors in civil disputes. It also establishes strict deadlines for each phase of a civil dispute, a move that is intended to prevent long, drawn-out cases. If signed by the president as expected, the new code will take effect on 1 February. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October)

CZECH DAILY ALLEGES GOVERNMENT IMPLEMENTS ANTI-ROMA POLICIES. The daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 31 October wrote that a decision by the Slovak government one day earlier to limit family allowances to 10,500 crowns ($249) is presented as an austerity measure but in fact is one aimed at reducing growing birthrates within the Romany minority, CTK reported. The daily wrote that the government is in fact implementing the policies of Smer (Direction) leader Robert Fico, who alleged that Roma find it profitable to have large families because of the allowances and that if this practice is not cut, the Romany population in Slovakia will eventually number 1 million people. While Fico has been accused of racism, the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda has adopted measures that discourage large Romany families even as it claims to support the Romany minority, the paper wrote. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

POLITICIANS PLAY HOT POTATO WITH ROMANY AFFAIRS. Deputy Premier Pal Csaky at a meeting on 29 October with President Rudolf Schuster discussed the planned transfer of responsibilities for handling Romany affairs (of which Csaky was in charge in the previous cabinet) to the Culture Ministry and the intention to set up a special Romany Affairs Office in Kosice, TASR reported. The office will coordinate its activity with the governmental commissioner on Romany affairs and has been allocated 20 million crowns ($483,000) from the state budget. Human rights activists in Slovakia criticized the government's decision to have Romany affairs handled by a single ministry, CTK reported the same day. New Culture Minister Rudolf Chmel said on 29 October that his Alliance for New Citizens is preparing a conceptual framework that will outline which Romany issues are to be handled by his ministry and which will be transferred to the Interior Ministry or the Social Affairs Ministry. Chmel also said he believes Csaky should continue to coordinate Romany issues in the cabinet. Culture Ministry State Secretary Jozef Kvardy said his ministry does not have the necessary instruments to solve such Romany problems as unemployment, education, or low living standards. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS, EXILES MEET IN RUSSIA. Human rights advocates and exiled members of Turkmen opposition groups met near Moscow on 3-4 November to exchange information and consider ways to improve the human rights and security situation and support civil society initiatives, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) said in a statement released on 5 November. The meeting was the second such gathering organized by the IHF, together with Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow, and followed trips by some of the activists to Washington and Prague to draw attention to worsening conditions in Turkmenistan. The groups discussed cases of imprisonment, torture, and summary execution of opponents of the regime of President Saparmurat Niyazov, and also assessed claims of widespread drug use and alleged official complicity in drug trafficking. Despite these problems and other human rights violations such as abusive child labor and reports of widespread youth illiteracy, Turkmenistan has not attracted the attention of the international community, the activists said, which has evidently muted its concerns in favor of maintaining good relations for continued business in the extractive industries. Opposition leaders have been meeting regularly in attempt to unify disparate groups around a common platform of basic principles of human rights and democracy. A proposal was discussed to establish a Turkmen Helsinki Group, a nonpartisan monitoring organization. Further information about a recent roundtable at RFE/RL headquarters with the Turkmen opposition can be found at CAF

OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS KUCHMA'S INTERNATIONAL ISOLATION IS 'OBVIOUS.' Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko told journalists on 1 November that NATO's decision not to invite President Leonid Kuchma to its summit in Prague is a "dramatic page in Ukraine's modern history [and] an obvious sign of international isolation," UNIAN reported. Yushchenko said Ukraine's current international situation is another argument for a political dialogue between Ukrainian authorities and rival social and political forces. Yushchenko also said Our Ukraine continues to conduct talks with the Labor Ukraine and Ukraine's Regions parliamentary caucuses on the creation of a democratic parliamentary majority. He admitted, however, that it has recently become "more and more difficult" for these forces to talk with one another. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November)

MONTENEGRIN PARTY ANNOUNCES LEGISLATIVE BOYCOTT. Officials of the Liberal Alliance, the big loser in the 20 October Montenegrin parliamentary elections, announced in Podgorica on 1 November that the party will boycott the legislature, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2002). The Liberal Alliance maintains that President Milo Djukanovic bought some votes, but international observers called the elections generally free and fair. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November)

KOSOVAR PRESIDENT'S PARTY WINS IN LOCAL VOTE. The Democratic League of Kosova of President Ibrahim Rugova won in 30 municipalities in the recent local elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 3 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2002). Supporters of former guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci and his Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) finished second. A coalition of five Serbian parties won in five municipalities. In related news, Michael Steiner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), discussed the future of local government in northern Mitrovica with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica on 2 November. Local Serbs there boycotted the vote. And in a village near Vushtrri, 20 Serbs attacked an international police patrol, seriously injuring one police officer and injuring several more. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November)

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER PRAISES POLICE, WHOM HRW ACCUSES OF USING TORTURE. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic praised recent steps by police to solve the case of police General Bosko Buha's murder earlier this year, AP reported from Belgrade on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 October 2002). Djindjic said the conspiracy involved "a combination of mafia and other figures seeking to shape a political system to their liking." The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement in New York on 31 October that there is evidence that some of the suspects held by police in conjunction with the Buha case were beaten and tortured. HRW noted that it has no information about who killed Buha or committed other crimes, but stressed, "Even if the allegations are true, they don't justify torture or ill treatment." Painter Dragan Malesevic Tapi, arrested on 29 October in connection with the Buha murder, died in a police station on the same day under unclear circumstances. HRW added in its statement that it fears the use of torture may be on the rise. The statement concluded: "Human Rights Watch called for prompt and effective investigation of allegations of torture and for oversight by the defense and security committee of the Serbian parliament." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November)

HAGUE PROSECUTOR SLAMS YUGOSLAVIA AS OBSTRUCTIONIST. Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, told the UN Security Council on 30 October that Yugoslav authorities are deliberately obstructing the tribunal's work, RFE/RL reported. She noted that archives are closed, access to witnesses is blocked, and that the only major extradition of an indicted war criminal -- that of Slobodan Milosevic -- "is the sole credit of the Serbian government and was carried out despite the opposition of the [Yugoslav] authorities." Del Ponte noted that a "revealing remark was made recently by...President [Vojislav Kostunica] that 'cooperation with the [tribunal] has already gone too far.'" She stressed: "This behavior is calculated. It cannot merely be explained away by saying that the political situation is difficult at the moment. Of course it is difficult. That is to be expected in any country in the aftermath of armed conflict and political upheaval." Turning to Bosnia, she suggested that SFOR form a special unit to catch indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October)


By Yuri Dzhibladze

Russian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have emerged in the last decade throughout the country, growing far beyond the handfuls of dissident groups of the Soviet era, and working on many issues besides the basic civil rights and liberties required by all to function. Yet in the last two years, the Russian NGO sector has increasingly encountered obstacles as it struggles to interact with the stronger, more authoritarian state established by President Vladimir Putin -- a state seemingly impermeable to public influence, as witnessed by the indifferent response to public criticism of the government's handling of the recent hostage crisis in Moscow. While groups protesting the war in Chechnya are particularly visible for the West now, even activists avoiding such controversial issues are experiencing difficulties in operating outside direct state control and avoiding co-optation or marginalization.

In fact, throughout the 1990s, most Russian NGOs focused not on civil and political liberties but almost exclusively on provision of social services to vulnerable groups. Many of them became quite professional and often filled the gaps in the areas where the state could not or would not respond to the difficulties of transition to the market. In fact, these groups, constituting 80 percent of all Russian NGOs, resisted the efforts of a minority of NGOs -- primarily human rights and environmental groups -- to engage them in advocacy campaigns and other forms of public-policy participation. The main argument of these social NGOs was "do not involve us in politics, we are social organizations and do not want to become political."

As they witnessed the growing weakness and inefficiency of the Yeltsin administration, however, and saw how infected it was by widespread corruption, most active social NGOs came to realize the importance of becoming involved in the policy-making process, attempting to influence the drafting and enforcement of legislation directly affecting the interests of their clients or the public at large. Starting in 1999 at the end of the Yeltsin era, they began to consolidate themselves and formed cross-sectoral nationwide and regional coalitions and networks, and grew more willing to lobby the government. Today, Russian NGO activists have acquired the skills needed for policy analysis, public relations, campaigning, and negotiations, strengthening both their public role and their democratic participation in the state.

Meanwhile, the state itself has changed dramatically under Vladimir Putin since 2000, growing much more centralized and authoritarian, in the name of the ambitious goal of quickly modernizing the Russian economy. To govern effectively, Putin's administration is establishing the so-called "verticals of authority," essentially establishing direct control over the parliament, regional governments, political parties, media, business associations, and so on, and making the decision-making process much more insulated from any public influence. The term "controlled democracy" is used by the Kremlin administration itself to characterize this system, leading some to call it a "corporate state." Putin and his allies are true believers in the central role of the state and see autonomy and diversity in politics as a threat rather than a necessary condition for a healthy and dynamic society. As pragmatic politicians, they see the NGO sector as a resource to be tapped for their own political interests, to mobilize public support for the president as he makes painful reforms in the areas of housing, energy, health care, and so on.

The Kremlin's original intention last November was to orchestrate a major expression of support by NGOs for the president and his chosen course at a Civic Forum, a single plenary meeting of 5,000 participants at the Kremlin Palace of Congresses. At this event, Putin and his advisers had hoped to create, via elections, a quasi-legitimate body, a sort of a national NGO council, that would "represent" the NGO sector in a dialogue with the president and other authorities. Fortunately, NGOs successfully resisted these attempts at co-optation, insisting that forum itself be converted to an actual experiment in recognizing NGOs as partners and establishing a dialogue with officialdom. From a government-sponsored rally of docile NGOs, the forum was converted by activists to a more substantive debate, involving 21 thematic discussions on issues ranging from the Chechen conflict to legal reform to the education system, and resulting in a more genuine dialogue between citizens and state -- a real achievement in a country known for its paternalistic and authoritarian traditions.

The follow-up has been mixed, however, and has been thrown into serious jeopardy by the aftermath to the October hostage crisis in Moscow. Earlier this year, after a special cabinet meeting analyzing the Civic Forum's results, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a decree creating more than a dozen permanent joint NGO-ministerial working groups, and ordered all ministries to report to him quarterly about their cooperation with NGOs. Regrettably, most of these top-down arranged dialogues became mere formalities, and the NGOs began to feel as if they were being exploited for political gain. Few federal officials genuinely see the benefit of cooperating with NGOs and addressing topics like stopping the war in Chechnya and the impunity for atrocities there, changing migration policy, reducing NGO taxation, combating racism and xenophobia, changing environmental policy, reforming local-government reform, and so on.

It would be one thing if the government merely ignored NGOs, but in a number of Russia's regions they have moved to frontal attack, denying groups registration or closing them on technicalities. Tax agents or police have stormed NGO offices, sometimes beating and detaining people, and some activists have been convicted on administrative or even criminal charges. In a few cases, there have been assassinations of civic leaders which have never been properly investigated.

A new law on combating extremism as well as recent changes to the press law will easily enable the state to close any NGO in disfavor. It is quite easy to characterize as "a threat to security" such activities as protests against the war in Chechnya, calls for more official accountability and an end to impunity of police officers engaged in torture in detention centers, or demands to stop corruption and speed up reform of the Russian Army.

Another new restrictive law on political parties, increased restrictions on media coverage of candidates, a flawed new law on alternative civil service to the army, as well as limits on religious groups, trade unions, and ethnic minority organizations have created a rather gloomy climate for activists. Meanwhile, all the positive legislation they have promoted, such as improved laws for demonstrations, freedom of information, and outside public oversight of the prisons, have been stalled in the Duma for years.

For some NGOs, the situation is so bad they will simply not survive before they can make any difference in Russia. Still, a significant number have not lost hope, and realize they are addressing the inertia of centuries and as well as the decades of Soviet tradition and understand that great persistence and patience are needed to change the mentality of public officials and affect the political process in Russia. Most Russian NGOs are torn between defeat and hope, struggling with the debate over establishing a strong civic sector versus a strong state, but continue to work hard for the public interest in Russia, and will continue to require the assistance of the West for some time to come.

Yuri Dzhibladze is president of the Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights in Moscow. An account of his 10 October talk at RFE/RL's corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C., can be found at