4 December 2002, Volume
THE CASE OF THE NON-DEFECTING BELARUSIAN AMBASSADOR.
The contradictory behavior of former Belarusian Ambassador to Japan Pyotr Krauchanka stirred rumors of a government crisis this week, as first Belapan and foreign wire services reported on 1 December that Krauchanka was refusing to return home after his four-year term of service, then Russian journalists reported that he denied any attempt at defection in a press conference in Tokyo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2002 and "Belarus: Missing Ambassador To Japan To Return Home," rferl.org, 2 December 2002). Krauchanka, a former city Communist Party secretary, served as foreign minister of Belarus from 1990-94, and was elected to the Supreme Soviet in 1996, where he was described by opposition groups has having joined their ranks for a time, but then was said to reconcile with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who rewarded him with the posting to Japan in 1998.
Following an old Soviet tradition of sending influential political rivals to faraway foreign capitals as envoys to keep them from fomenting dissent at home, Lukashenka had thus removed Krauchanka from the domestic political scene. Then on 19 November, Lukashenka signed an order terminating Krauchanka's assignment, local media reported, but the ambassador did not immediately leave, ordering a ticket home for late December. In statements to the press, Belarusian government officials said Krauchanka's term was merely ending, and yet independent media pointed out that normal procedures were not being followed and a successor had not been named.
When pro-government media claimed 30 November that Krauchanka had allegedly absconded to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo with financial documents and an embassy stamp and keys, it seemed there was more to the story. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said on 1 December that they did not know his whereabouts; the U.S. Embassy immediately said he was not with them. Opposition sources figured he was the latest defector among those already unhappy with the regime. Former Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Sannikau commented in a statement on charter97.org on 1 December: "One hundred percent of the Foreign Ministry personnel dream of going as far away from Minsk as possible. It is impossible to work for an agency that operates as a propaganda rather than a diplomatic office."
Krauchanka then turned up on 2 December at the Japanese Foreign Ministry to say he had no intention of defecting, but was experiencing medical problems associated with high blood pressure, and was postponing his return to Minsk until the end of December upon doctors' orders. He said he had checked into a hospital earlier that day, but then left to speak to Japanese officials and reporters when he found he was at the center of a political scandal. "Talk about any attempt to obtain asylum is a political provocation," ITAR-TASS reported Krauchanka as telling them in a telephone interview cited by "Kommersant" on 3 December.
Meanwhile, Belarusian Foreign Ministry press secretary Pavel Latushka told "Kommersant" that Krauchanka had refused to turn over an embassy stamp, checkbook, and office keys after being dismissed, and had evidently continued to refuse to return home even after a visit the morning of 2 December to his Tokyo apartment by the third secretary of the Belarusian Embassy. By afternoon, evidently the wayward diplomat was persuaded to announce that he would return home, but his departure is still planned for late December.
To add to the drama, lenta.ru then reported ITAR-TASS as saying that Krauchanka was telling Russian journalists in Tokyo that he "did not rule out the possibility" of running for president against Lukashenka, adding that he had garnered top ratings among political figures in 1997, according to ntv.ru on 3 December, which described Krauchanka as an gifted orator, "able to convince any milkmaid of the victory of communism" when he served as Communist Party ideological secretary in the Soviet era. Krauchanka's tarry in Tokyo, which he claimed was due to the risk of a heart attack, has prompted some observers to connect the dots between recent Russian and Western pressure on Lukashenka and the need to come up with a charismatic alternative leader -- like Krauchanka. In an interview with charter97.org on 3 December, Sannikau described Krauchanka's story as a "bell-weather" for Belarusian politics. "It is a crisis of rule...Krauchanka is one of those who senses where power is. And he senses that the government in Belarus today is not going to come out of this crisis." Sannikau believes that because Krauchanka's family is in Minsk, authorities could have an opportunity to blackmail him.
Time will tell what kinds of pressures -- besides blood pressure -- are affecting Krauchanka's behavior, but past experience with such incidents suggests that he could be under some kind of threat, or (if the presidential aspirations are to be taken seriously) engaged in some other high-stakes maneuvering among various groupings within the government.
In the past, government officials who acquired a reputation for opposing Lukashenka's policies have sometimes unexpectedly fallen silent, and either wound up in embassies in remote capitals or in teaching positions at home or on very long business trips to neighboring Russia. Upon closer examination, they sometimes reveal privately that not only have they suffered intimidation themselves, but their family members have been threatened -- with dismissal from their jobs, with expulsion from university, or even with fabricated criminal charges.
A typical feature of the Lukashenka regime has been such harassment of the relatives of dissenting officials -- usually people uninvolved in political life who urge silence and inaction upon their family members as the best course for safety, thereby themselves abetting the most intimate brand of state persecution. Perhaps because Belarus is known for such vicious policies, few diplomats have defected, even by comparison to Russia or Central Asia in recent years. One Belarusian diplomat in the U.S. defected last year, and another has been rumored to follow. Other unhappy diplomats quietly segue out of their Foreign Ministry contracts into jobs at international agencies or universities, hoping they and their families will not face retaliation.
In related news, Alyaksandr Kozulin, rector of Belarusian State University, received a coveted posting this week as Belarusian ambassador to the United Nations in New York, a move that aif.ru characterized on 3 December as a sort of "exile" for ostensibly poor ideological work during the presidential elections, after which the university, which had enjoyed more autonomy, was said to be subordinated to the Ministry of Education. Syarhey Ling, the previous ambassador and a former prime minister, was said to leave New York "due to family circumstances." CAF
TEN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES NOMINATED...
In addition to the incumbent President Robert Kocharian, since 26 November five more candidates have been formally nominated for the February 2003 Armenian presidential election, bringing the total to 10. The five most recent nominees are United Armenians Party Chairman Ruben Avagian, former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian, Democratic Party of Armenia Chairman Aram Sarkisian, National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian, and Garnik Markarian, deputy chairman of the Fatherland and Honor Party, Noyan Tapan reported on 29 November. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)...INCLUDING FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER...
In a 27 November statement confirming his intention to contest the presidential ballot, Hovannisian said he feels duty-bound to do so in order to rectify "the present chaotic socioeconomic and ethical state" of Armenia, Noyan Tapan reported. But observers anticipate that Hovannisian, who was born in the United States, will be denied registration on the grounds that he has not been a citizen of the Republic of Armenia for 10 years as stipulated by the constitution. He was granted Armenian citizenship only in August 2001. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)...BUT NOT FORMER PRESIDENT.
The former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) held its 13th congress in Yerevan on 28 November, but the 350 delegates failed to address the issue of nominating a presidential candidate, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. HHSh Chairman Alexander Arzumanian said the party has not decided whether to nominate its own candidate or endorse a candidate from another party. Observers surmised that former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, who attended the congress, has finally let it be known that he is not willing to run. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)
OPPOSITION DEMANDS PUBLICATION OF NEW DRAFT ELECTION LEGISLATION.
Opposition deputies aligned in the Democratic Bloc distributed a statement in parliament on 26 November demanding the Azerbaijani leadership make public the new draft election law, zerkalo.az reported on 27 November. The Azerbaijan National Independence, Democratic, and Musavat parties and the progressive wing of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party issued a similar demand earlier this month during talks with a visiting Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly delegation. The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights announced in October that it will launch a national discussion of the draft legislation at a roundtable discussion in Baku in early December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November)
GOVERNMENT SURVIVES TWO NO-CONFIDENCE VOTES...
With the votes of the ruling coalition of the National Movement Simeon II and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, parliament turned down two votes of no confidence in the government on 29 November, bnn reported. Both the opposition Socialist Party and the conservative United Democratic Forces (ODS) had accused the government of violating the constitution by flouting a parliamentary decision regarding the country's nuclear-power plant in Kozloduy. While the ODS underscored the legal reasons for their motion, the Socialists argued that the government has acted against national interests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 November 2002). "The government, which I head, has abided by and will abide by the Bulgarian Constitution and will continue to defend the national interests," Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)...AND PROMISES TO BUILD NEW NUCLEAR-POWER PLANT DESPITE PROTESTS.
During the debate over the vote of no confidence on 29 November, Saxecoburggotski repeated his promise to build a second nuclear-power plant near the Danube port of Belene, bnn reported. "Bulgaria is and will continue to develop as a regional energy leader not only with the Kozloduy [nuclear-power plant] but also with the Belene nuclear-power plant," the premier said. The construction of the Belene plant started under communist rule, but was halted in 1990 after protests by environmentalists. On 2 December, parties and trade unions staged a protest march in downtown Sofia in which they demanded that a referendum be held on the closure of blocks No. 3 and No. 4 of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant, novinite.bg reported. The protest was organized by the small Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) and the Civil Committee for the Protection of Kozloduy and was also supported by the opposition Socialist Party and the country's two largest trade-union organizations. "We want to make the government consider the will of the people, we want [a] referendum, we want the Council of Ministers to take serious, relevant measures to save the two units," VMRO leader Krasimir Karakachanov said. The government recently signed an agreement with the EU under which the blocks in question must be shut down by the end of 2006. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 December)
FORMER PREMIER WINS CSSD PRIMARY FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE.
Former Premier Milos Zeman was declared the winner of the Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) 29 November primary for the nomination of the party's presidential candidate, CTK and dpa reported. Zeman received 12,636 votes, just under half of the 25,994 votes cast. Former Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures finished second with 6,428 votes, followed by Ombudsman Otakar Motejl (5,323) and university professor Martin Potucek (1,400 votes). Zeman reiterated on 1 December that he will not be a candidate in the first round of voting, but is willing to run in the second round if the first fails to elect a president. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told the daily "Pravo" on 30 November that he has invited Zeman for talks and that if the former premier persists in refusing to run in the first round, the CSSD will have to rethink its strategy lest another party's candidate be elected. On 27 November, the Chamber of Deputies rejected two draft bills for direct presidential elections, and President Vaclav Havel's successor will therefore be elected at a joint session of the two chambers of parliament on 15 January. Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus on 28 November became the first officially registered candidate for the position. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)ULTRARIGHTIST LEADER MAKES POLITICAL COMEBACK...
Miroslav Sladek, chairman of the far-right Republicans of Miroslav Sladek (RMS) party, was elected deputy mayor of Brno-Utechov in 1-2 November local elections, CTK reported on 25 November, citing the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes." Sladek ran on the local Independents-Safety and Prosperity lists and garnered almost 20 percent of the vote in Utechov, a small district in the Czech Republic's second-largest city, Brno. Sladek was the first chairman of the far-right Assembly for the Republic-Czechoslovak Republican Party (SPR-RSC), which won parliamentary representation in 1992 and 1996. The SPR-RSC failed to enter the legislature in the 1998 elections and was declared bankrupt in February 2001. In February 2002, Sladek was elected chairman of the newly established RMS, but the party took only 0.97 percent of the vote in the 2002 parliamentary elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November)...WHILE COMMUNISTS BECOME IMPORTANT PLAYERS IN NORTHERN MORAVIAN MUNICIPALITIES.
The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) has joined the municipal coalition in Havirov, CTK reported on 25 November, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." Havirov is the fifth town in northern Moravia where the KSCM is represented in the ruling municipal coalition following the 1-2 November local elections (after Ostrava, Karvina, Bruntal, and Frydek-Mistek). The ODS on 25 November called on its local party organizations that concluded coalition agreements with the KSCM after the local elections to invalidate them, according to CTK. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November)
MODERATES ELECT NEW LEADERS.
In Tallinn on 30 November, an extraordinary congress of the Moderates elected former Agriculture Minister Ivari Padar as the party's new chairman, BNS reported. He received 250 votes and parliament deputy Enn Tarto 33. Former Chairman Toomas Hendrik Ilves noted in his address to the congress that although the party fared as well or even better in many local-council elections in October, the public categorized the parties as winners and losers mainly on the basis of the results in Tallinn, where the Moderates failed to win any seats, taking 4.9 percent of the vote and failing to overcome the 5 percent barrier for parliamentary representation. The congress elected two deputy chairmen -- Katrin Saks with 108 votes and Ilves with 91 votes. It also approved its basic principles for the election campaign entitled "Working Estonia." It calls for introducing a progressive income tax, an annual tri-party national-income-policy agreement among the government, employers, and employees, as well as a 50,000-kroon ($3,200)-per-child childbirth payment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)
PARTIES APPROVE EU REFERENDUM DATE.
The parliamentary groups of the four parties represented in parliament on 28 November accepted Premier Peter Medgyessy's proposal to hold a referendum on Hungary's European Union accession on 12 April, Hungarian radio reported. The government earlier wanted to hold a referendum on 15 March, a national holiday, while the opposition said a referendum should only take place after the planned 16 April signing of the EU-accession treaty. In his address to parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs stressed the need for a national consensus on EU accession, pointing out that negotiations are not expected to close before the Copenhagen EU summit on 12-13 December. Kovacs stressed that the government is making efforts to ensure that Hungary does not pay out more money to the EU than it receives in its first year of membership. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)
OPPOSITION RESPONDS TO PRESIDENT'S PROPOSAL OF DIALOGUE.
In a statement posted on forumkz.org on 2 December, the opposition Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) and Forum of Democratic Forces of Kazakhstan (FDSK) set down two conditions for their participation in the new council proposed last month by President Nursultan Nazarbaev that is to discuss further democratization. The opposition is demanding that the primary interlocutors are Nazarbaev personally and representatives of the DVK and FDSK. It is also asking that the verdicts handed down in the "illegal and falsified trials" of former Energy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov; former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov; and former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin be annulled, and that the criminal charges against independent journalist Sergei Duvanov be dropped. In a separate statement, Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan board Chairman Amirzhan Qosanov interpreted Nazarbaev's proposal as an admission that a serious political opposition exists in Kazakhstan. He recalled that in the fall of 1999 Kazhegeldin was the first to propose a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition, forumkz.org reported. Qosanov too proposed that Nazarbaev alone should represent the authorities in any such dialogue, as the president is responsible for all political decisions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)
OFFICIALS RESPOND TO U.S. STATEMENT.
Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov, presidential aide Bolot Djanuzakov, and First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov held a press conference in Bishkek on 28 November to address issues raised in a statement released two days earlier by the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Interfax reported. The U.S. statement expressed support for the Kyrgyz people's right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and proposed a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition. Aitmatov stressed that the authorities have used exclusively constitutional methods to disperse protesters and maintain stability. Djanuzakov and Osmonov again accused the opposition of seeking to seize power at any price.("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)DISCUSSION OF CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS EXTENDED.
President Askar Akaev signed a decree on 29 November extending from 2 December until 2 January 2003 the public discussion of constitutional amendments proposed by the Constitutional Assembly in October, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Those proposals focus on the redistribution of power between the legislature and executive to grant greater powers to the former. A national referendum on the changes was tentatively planned for 22 December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)AUTONOMY DEMAND FOR SOUTH CONDEMNED.
The coalition For Democracy and Civil Society issued a statement on 26 November condemning the resolution adopted at meetings the previous day by supporters of former Prime Minister Usen Sydykov, akipress.org reported. Sydykov's supporters warned they will demand autonomous status for the Batken, Osh, and Djalalabad oblasts unless Sydykov is permitted to contest a runoff by-election from which he was barred after polling 46 percent of the vote in the first round. The coalition called for pre-term parliamentary elections, which its members argue will put an end to the current political crisis that is undermining public confidence in the authorities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November)
LEADER OF RUSSIAN EXTREMISTS REPORTEDLY ASKS PUTIN FOR POLITICAL ASYLUM.
The Latvian Russian-language newspaper "Panorama Latvii" of 2 December wrote that Vladimir Linderman, chairman of the Latvian civic group Pobeda (Victory) -- which serves as a front for the Russian National Bolsheviks -- sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting political asylum, BNS reported. The letter was also signed by nine members of the Russian State Duma from the group Russian Regions and later received support from four deputies from the Russian Liberal Democratic Party, including leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii. Linderman, who is currently in Russia, has been charged along with three other Pobeda members with illegal possession of explosives and weapons. He denies the charges and claims they were fabricated to stop Pobeda's activities, such as defending the rights of noncitizens, protesting trials of former Soviet officials for war crimes, and demanding that a street in Riga named after former Chechen President Djokhar Dudaev be renamed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)
COURTS HAND OVER CASES TO THE HAGUE.
A Skopje city court and a court in Tetovo announced on 26 November that they will hand over five cases of alleged war crimes to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The cases date from last year's armed conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and Macedonian security forces. The cases involve the fighting in the village of Ljuboten, where security forces allegedly slaughtered ethnic Albanian civilians in August 2001, and war crimes allegedly committed by the UCK leadership. The courts withdrew arrest warrants for 35 persons, but two indicted ethnic Albanians remain in custody. The international community recently urged the Macedonian authorities to transfer the cases to The Hague. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November)ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTY WARNS OF RENEWED TENSIONS.
Agron Buxhaku, a spokesman for the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) led by former guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti, told a press conference in Skopje on 25 November that the recently launched demarcation of the border between Macedonia and Kosova should be stopped, dpa reported. Buxhaku argued that "the demarcation should be halted until Kosova's independence.... This process requires a wider political approach in order to avoid unnecessary tensions." Ethnic Albanians note that they were not party to the 2001 agreement, which poses problems for their communities on both sides of the border. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November)STRIKES CONTINUE, GOVERNMENT PLEDGES TO PAY WAGES.
Government spokesman Saso Colakovski announced on 2 December that the government decided to pay striking railway workers one month's wages, Makfax news agency reported. The workers went on strike last week, demanding that the government pay September and October wages. The strike halted all domestic and international rail traffic in the country. On 2 December, the workers also blocked railroad crossings. Hundreds of freight cars are blocked at the Greek-Macedonian border. The railroad workers were the last to join some 8,000 employees of state-owned companies who have been striking to demand the payment of unpaid wages. In other news, the government also pledged to pay the back wages of police reservists, who have not received their salaries for months. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)
PROTEST DEMONSTRATIONS RESUMED IN CHISINAU.
Defying freezing temperatures, some 3,000 protesters participated on 1 December in a rally organized by the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) in Chisinau coinciding with Romania's National Day, international agencies and Romanian Radio and Television reported. The demonstrators carried Moldovan and EU flags and banners reading "Democracy is in danger" and "Down with the communists," according to AP. They also chanted slogans denouncing the "Russification of the country," dpa reported. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca addressed the rally, which was described by its organizers as a "meeting with voters," calling on the authorities to stop infringing on the independence of the judiciary and to allow opposition access to state television. According to Romanian reports, participants approved several resolutions, among them one saluting NATO enlargement and calling for Moldova's eventual membership in that organization. A second resolution calls on Russia to "end its aggression against, and occupation of, Moldova" and unconditionally withdraw its forces from the Transdniester. An additional resolution calls on European democracies to mediate in the Transdniester conflict. The participants also approved a letter drawing the attention of U.S. President George W. Bush -- who will host President Vladimir Voronin at the White House later this month -- to infringements of democratic rights and said that if these do not end, they are ready to renew the "nonstop protest demonstrations" of early 2002. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)
ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TO URGE POLES TO VOTE IN EU REFERENDUM.
Gniezno Archbishop Stanislaw Muszynski on 29 November said Poland's Roman Catholic Church will appeal to Poles to vote in next year's EU-membership referendum, PAP reported. "The church has always urged people to take part in elections, which it considers a civic duty. If you really want the best for your country, you have to speak up in such matters. Those who stay away from the ballot will have no moral right to criticize it," Muszynski said. The archbishop declined to confirm whether the church will urge Poles to back EU membership in the referendum, saying that the church is not a side in the issue and will only "provide certain values and criteria" for voters. He added he believes the referendum will approve Poland's EU entry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)CENSUS FINDS POPULATION IS 38.3 MILLION.
The national census held in Poland from 21 May to 8 June 2002 found that there were 38.3 million people living in the country, 420,000 more than in 1988 when the previous census was conducted, PAP reported on 25 November, quoting President Aleksander Kwasniewski. Kwasniewski, who was addressing a demographic conference in Warsaw, added however that the country's population shrank over the past four years by 35,000. The census also revealed that more than 1 million Poles are currently living abroad. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November)MORE DEPUTIES LEAVE PARLIAMENTARY CAUCUS OF SELF-DEFENSE.
Dorota Kwasniewska, Waclaw Klukowski, and Wojciech Mojzesowicz have left the parliamentary caucus of the radical farmers union Self-Defense led by Andrzej Lepper, PAP reported on 2 December. The Self-Defense caucus, which initially had 53 lawmakers, thus has shrunk to 44 deputies.("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)FORMER WORKERS FROM CABLE FACTORY CLASH WITH POLICE.
Police and security guards used force on 26 November to unblock a road leading to a liquidated cable factory in Ozarow near Warsaw, PAP reported. The road has been blocked by former workers for the past 200 days in protest against the closure of the factory and the removal of machines and equipment. The plant, owned by Tele-Fonika Kable SA, Poland's largest cable producer, was closed down because of low profits. More than 900 people lost their jobs. Later on 26 November, the Mining and Power Solidarity Trade Union demanded the immediate dismissal of Prime Minister Leszek Miller's government. The unionists blame the government for the "shameful" police action at the Ozarow factory and its "incompetent" policies toward their sector. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November)
UDMR OPPOSITION WING TO BOYCOTT ELECTIONS IN HUNGARIAN ORGANIZATION.
The Reform Bloc in the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) on 1 December decided to boycott elections for the UDMR leading bodies scheduled for January 2003, Mediafax reported. They said they made the decision because current UDMR Chairman Bela Marko has refused for the last 10 years to conduct internal elections in accord with UDMR statutes. Reform Bloc leader Tibor Toro said he is personally opposed to the decision, which will prevent the bloc from presenting its proposals for amending the statutes. On 30 December, representatives of the bloc meeting in Cluj approved 300 proposals for amending the statutes and decided that at the January congress the bloc will propose a candidate of its own to replace Marko at the head of the UDMR. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)
INTERIOR MINISTER ENDORSES PARTY MEMBERSHIP FOR MINISTERS...
Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, who was recently elected chairman of the High Council of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, said on 29 November that he believes government ministers should be allowed to be members of political parties, Interfax reported the same day. "In such cases, the responsibility of public officials would be increased -- [responsibility] before the party and, that means, before society as well," Gryzlov said, speaking to a Moscow conference of regional journalists sponsored by Unified Russia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)...AND PRIME MINISTER SAYS DEMOCRACY IS HERE TO STAY.
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said at a German-Russian forum in Berlin that "Russia will never return to its totalitarian past," RosBalt reported, citing the government's press service. According to Kasyanov, democratic principles have taken root in Russia and have been fully manifested in the constitution and in "the repeated conduct of freely democratic elections." He also said that in the immediate future, the Duma is expected to pass a law on information openness and public access to state decision-making processes. "This will be yet one more crucially important step in the construction of a civil society in Russia," Kasyanov said. However, he cautioned as well that the country has not yet recovered from "totalitarian syndrome." "Although democratic mechanisms work well at the highest levels of government, they nonetheless still need work at the lower levels, particularly at the level of local self-government," Kasyanov said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)AIDS CASES NEAR 1 MILLION MARK.
There are about 220,500 officially registered cases of HIV infection in Russia, newsru.com reported on 1 December, citing the head of the Federal Center for Preventing and Combating AIDS, Vadim Pokrovskii. However, he added, the real number of HIV cases in Russia is likely to be nearly 1 million. "In such circumstances, the issue of preventing the further spread of the disease becomes extremely important," Pokrovskii said. "The epidemic can be stopped only by educating the public about safe practices." Pokrovskii marked International AIDS Day on 1 December by urging the government to devote more resources to combating the disease, noting that at present the state spends about 6 million rubles ($194,000) a year on AIDS treatment and diagnostics. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)PEOPLE'S PARTY CALLS FOR DEATH PENALTY, CRIMINALIZING HOMOSEXUALITY.
Speaking to the founding congress of the People's Party of the Russian Federation (NPRF) in Moscow on 30 November, party leader and Duma Deputy Gennadii Raikov (People's Deputy) said the NPRF will call for the recriminalization of homosexuality, newsru.com reported the same day. He added, however, that the party's focus will be on revitalizing family and spiritual values. Raikov also said that, although it is desirable to ban the death penalty in countries where murder is an extraordinary thing, Russia needs it because there are more than 100,000 murders there each year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)MOSCOW MAYOR AGAIN CALLS FOR 'PROPISKA' SYSTEM.
Yurii Luzhkov has said that Moscow and other large Russian cities "must have" a mandatory residence-registration system -- such as the Soviet-era propiska system -- in order to ensure security and prevent terrorist acts, Russian news agencies reported on 26 November. Luzhkov also called for municipal authorities to be granted more control over private automobiles. He said that officials have no right to remove cars that they consider abandoned or suspicious. "Of course, we are removing them anyway in violation of the law, but this situation must be corrected," Luzhkov said. Independent commentators noted, however, that Luzhkov's long-standing adherence to rigid Soviet-style administrative measures has never increased security in the capital but has instead led to human rights violations and corruption. Moscow's residence-permit rules are used to discriminate against all nonresidents, particularly those from the North Caucasus. They do not, critics contend, prevent criminals from penetrating Moscow, but simply compel them to pay large bribes to corrupt officials for permission to remain in the capital. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November)DUMA WANTS REPORT ON NON-PRISON CRIMINAL PUNISHMENTS.
The Duma will ask Justice Minister Yurii Chaika to appear at its 15 January session to report on proposals for criminal punishment that do not involve serving time in prison, polit.ru reported on 27 November. The invitation comes at the initiative of Liberal Russia party co-Chairman Viktor Pokhmelkin, who noted that the 1997 Criminal Code mandated the introduction of "probation, movement restrictions, and required labor" as punishment for minor offenses by 2001, but that this has not yet been done. He said that people in Russia continue to be sentenced to prison terms for crimes such as stealing a piece of fruit. In a commentary for politcom.ru on 22 November, human rights activist Valerii Abramkin wrote that Russian prisons are "crime factories" and "factories for the marginalization of the population." Abramkin writes that it is virtually impossible for anyone who has gone through the prison system to be reintegrated into the legal economy. Deputy Justice Minister Yurii Kalinin reported on 26 November that more than half of all prison inmates -- nearly 500,000 people -- are suffering from serious illnesses, RosBalt reported. Some 150,000 suffer from tuberculosis; 37,000 are HIV positive; and 38,000 have venereal diseases. Kalinin added, though, that TB infection rates have fallen by 13 percent over the last five years thanks to increased funding to combat the illness. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)MAJORITY HAS A MIDDLE-CLASS STATE OF MIND.
More than 50 percent of Russian citizens consider themselves middle class, although experts taking income and education levels into account would apply that label to only 14 percent of the population, "Vedomosti" reported on 29 November, citing a study by sociologists from the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Philosophy. Dr. Lyudmila Belyaeva explained that respondents who identify themselves as middle class consider themselves to be living no worse than the people around them. "Vedomosti" noted that according to the research firm Premier-TGI, the middle class comprises 19 percent of the Russian population. That study analyzed incomes, professional status, education, and spending on non-essential goods and services such as travel abroad or a second automobile. Another recent study estimated that 7 percent of Russians belong to the middle class, and a further 12 percent have certain middle-class characteristics. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)LABOR MINISTRY DEFINING BOUNDARIES OF ALTERNATIVE SERVICE.
At least 100 types of civilian jobs will qualify as alternative service for young men wishing to avoid the military, Labor and Social Development Minister Aleksandr Pochinok announced on 27 November, "Gazeta" reported the next day. The ministry is preparing a list of occupations that may be considered alternative service -- including lumberjack, hospital janitor, firefighter, and polar-station worker -- based on proposals from ministries, departments, and regions of the Russian Federation. The law on alternative service will go into effect on 1 January 2004. Education and special skills will be considered in assigning jobs to those who request alternative service, but draft boards will not be required to take the petitioners' preferences into account, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 November. The Labor Ministry's list is expected to be ready for consideration by the government in February 2003. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)FORMER HOSTAGES SUE MOSCOW GOVERNMENT.
Eight people who were taken hostage during the 23-26 October crisis in which Chechen fighters took more than 700 hostages at a Moscow theater have filed a $7.5 million lawsuit against the Moscow city government demanding compensation for psychological damage, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported on 3 December. According to Igor Trunov, a lawyer for the former hostages, the suit is based on a provision in the law on combating terrorism that allows victims of terrorist acts to claim compensation from the authorities of the region where the act occurred. Trunov said he will argue that the negligence of city authorities made the hostage taking possible. He added that the purpose of the suit is to discipline the responsible officials. Sergei Tsoi, a spokesman for the city administration, said Mayor Luzhkov considers the suit unjustified and unsubstantiated, since the problem of Chechnya and its consequences are not within the city's jurisdiction. The court is expected to begin hearing the case on 24 December, strana.ru reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)FORCED REPATRIATION TO CHECHNYA CONDEMNED.
The EU and international human rights organizations have expressed concern over reports that the Chechen and Ingush authorities plan to expedite the closure of displaced-persons camps in Ingushetia and send all Chechen refugees back to their home republic by early 2003, Interfax reported on 28 and 29 November. In Grozny, a spokeswoman for Chechen Prime Minister Mikhail Babich told Interfax on 28 November that no one will be forced to return and that those who do so will receive a daily allowance of 20 rubles ($0.66). But Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev said that until the Chechen authorities succeed in establishing close cooperation with the Russian forces to prevent reprisals by the latter against the civilian population, it will prove difficult to persuade Chechen displaced persons to return from Ingushetia, Interfax reported on 25 November. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)CHECHEN ENVOY RELEASED.
Denmark has set free Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakaev after rejecting a Moscow request to have the separatist activist extradited to Russia on terrorism charges (see "Chechnya: Zakaev Set Free In Denmark," rferl.org, 3 December 2002). The Danish Justice Ministry said in a statement on 3 December that it has not received sufficient evidence from Russia to extradite Zakaev, who has served as an aide to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Zakaev was arrested on 30 October in Copenhagen at Moscow's request after a legal meeting of rebels and human rights activists. Russia claims he is linked to attacks on civilians in connection with the Chechen conflict. Local human rights groups have questioned Denmark's handling of Zakaev's case after his request was denied to have a lawyer of his choice assigned to his defense. The Danish newspaper "Politiken" also revealed on 27 November that the police-appointed interpreter who had translated all of Zakaev's conversations and court documents was close to the Russian Embassy and therefore his defense was compromised. The translator's wife is employed by the Russian Center for Science and Culture, financed by the Russian government, whose director serves also as the first secretary of the Russian Embassy in Copenhagen. Three days before Zakaev's arrest, "Politiken" discovered, a fax protesting the anticipated World Congress of Chechens was sent to the Danish Foreign Minister on the cultural center's fax machine. The interpreter was subsequently fired, although he claimed that he kept his professional matters confidential. CAF
FORMER PREMIER DRNOVSEK WINS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.
According to preliminary results, former Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek won the 1 December presidential-election runoff, Hina reported. More than 56 percent of the voters cast their ballots in favor of Drnovsek, while former Justice Minister Barbara Brezigar took nearly 44 percent. Voter turnout was approximately 63 percent. "Now we are going together into a challenging future, and as president, I will work for this future to be as bright and secure as possible," Drnovsek said after the elections. Brezigar said that despite her defeat she was satisfied with the results, which she said indicate a positive trend in Slovenian politics. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)
GOVERNMENT DEPLORES ITS CITIZENS' DEPORTATION FROM RUSSIA.
Many of the Tajiks forcibly deported from Russia last week were law-abiding citizens in possession of the necessary work permits, which Russian police deliberately destroyed, Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattarov told journalists in Dushanbe on 29 November, according to Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz. He characterized the deportation as "an unfriendly act" that violated legal agreements between the two countries. He also expressed concern at the "tendentious and humiliating" coverage of the deportations in the Russian press. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)
MORE ARRESTS REPORTED FOLLOWING ASSASSINATION BID.
The number of people arrested in connection with the 25 November failed attempt to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov has topped 100, including relatives of former Deputy Agriculture Minister Sapar Iklymov, according to an Amnesty International (AI) press release of 26 November. AI called on the Turkmen authorities "to ensure that those detained have access to legal counsel promptly...and that they are not subjected to torture or ill-treatment." Meanwhile Iklymov, one of four former officials whom Niyazov has accused of masterminding the attempt on his life, was quoted on 26 November by "Eurasia View" as saying he believes Niyazov himself staged the assault in order to create a pretext to crack down on suspected political opponents. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November)OPPOSITION LEADER CONDEMNS BID TO ASSASSINATE PRESIDENT.
In a statement posted on gundogar.org on 27 November and signed by former Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, the opposition Temporary Executive Council of the People's Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan condemned the reported attempt to assassinate Niyazov two days earlier, asserting that violence cannot resolve political crises. The statement warned that Niyazov's unpredictable policies and extreme cruelty will inevitably trigger an outburst of popular anger at some point. It said Niyazov blamed the attempt to kill him on the opposition precisely because the opposition poses a threat to his political survival. The statement called on the OSCE to take steps to prevent mass arrests of innocent people in the wake of the assassination attempt. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO AGREE ON NEW UNION...
Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for foreign and security policy, announced on 28 November that the leaders of Serbia and Montenegro have agreed on the Constitutional Charter of the future union between the two countries, "The Balkan Times" reported. After meeting with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, and Montenegrin Prime Minister-designate Milo Djukanovic, Solana said a "total consensus" had been reached. During the talks, the disagreement over the election of the future joint parliament was ironed out, according to RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service. It is expected that the new constitutional charter will be signed on 3 December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)...WHICH DOES NOT MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY.
Representatives of the Montenegrin opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) announced on 28 November that they will not support the Constitutional Charter in the Yugoslav parliament, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The SNP is opposed to the provision in the draft charter under which lawmakers in the future joint parliament are to be elected by the parliaments of the two member republics rather than in a direct vote. In other news, the SNP decided to boycott the Montenegrin presidential elections slated for 22 December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December)
OUTSPOKEN CHECHEN MAYOR WHO SAID 'NO' TO ATROCITIES IS MURDERED
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Malika Umazheva, a prominent Chechen woman leader and chief of administration (or "mayor") of the village of Alkhan-Kala, was murdered in her yard by masked intruders late on 29 November, chechenpress.org and Russian and foreign wire services reported on 30 November. Memorial Society Human Rights Center, a Russian monitoring group with an office in Nazran, questioned reports from Russian and Chechen law enforcement agencies and pro-Kremlin media that described Umazheva's murder "as the latest act of intimidation by the bandits." They indicated that her outspoken exposure of Russian military atrocities in her village made Russian soldiers more likely the culprits.
Neighbors and other villagers interviewed by Memorial workers said that the Russian federal troops who had surrounded and searched Umazheva's home the evening of her murder were responsible for summarily executing her in her shed with three shots to the head after an illegal search of her home. Memorial said immediate relatives at first refused to talk to their monitors, criticizing both human rights activists and journalists as failing to protect Umazheva from retaliation, even as they reported on her harsh criticism of Russian mistreatment of villagers.
In a report published on 2 December, "The Moscow Times" cited various hypotheses regarding Umazheva's killers. ORT said she had repeatedly been threatened by Chechen fighters despite her dissent because she was part of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration cooperating with the Russian military to pacify the region. Ekho Moskvy alternatively cited a Chechen rebel website that accused federal troops of involvement in the killing, in retaliation for her protest of a brutal sweep of her village last April. "The Moscow Times" noted she was at least the third mayor of Alkhan-Kala, just southwest of Grozny, to be killed in the past two years, according to lenta.ru.
Based on interviews with neighbors, Memorial reported on 3 December in a statement published at memo.ru that on the night of 29-30 November, four Russian military men in camouflage burst into Umazheva's home armed with snipers' rifles and silencers, shouting "Where are the Wahhabis?" Umazheva, her son, and two young nieces for whom she had cared since childhood were at home. The intruders told them to lie on the floor while they searched the house, saying they were looking for someone. The soldiers then asked Umazheva to come with them out to the shed. The girls began shouting "Don't kill Mama!" as Umazheva struggled to console them. One of the soldiers said, "I give you my word that she will return." Umazheva grabbed a flashlight and followed the soldiers out to the shed; those inside the house then heard shots ring out, and neighbors rushed to the scene to find her dead body. They also reported that her house was surrounded by soldiers, and that parked at an old factory near her yard were armored personnel carriers and a jeep. Other witnesses reported that military vehicles continued to patrol the village throughout the night.
Several days before her murder, according to her nieces, Russian soldiers had come to the house and asked Umazheva to help them identify several "Wahhabites" who had allegedly been detained in Alkhan-Kala. She refused to go along with them because in fact, she was no longer serving as mayor, having been terminated by Grozny officials on 9 September for "systematic nonperformance of official duties." Reports indicate that she was supposedly going to resume the position on 1 December -- the day after her death.
Umazheva came to the job of mayor in June 2001 from a previous position in an informal council of elders, and was nominated by the village residents themselves. She accepted the dangerous post at a difficult time when the village was repeatedly subjected to Russian searches for Chechen fighters.
The "Los Angeles Times" featured her in a story titled "Chechens Report Abuses Despite Safeguards" on 24 April, about enhanced rules known as Order No. 80, issued by a Russian commander to stop the military's own abuses such as beatings, looting, and torture, following local and international protests. "I was very hopeful about Order 80, but my hopes were short-lived," the "Los Angeles Times" quoted Umazheva, then 54, as saying. Umazheva complained that contrary to specific guidelines in the order, she and other representatives of the administration and the council of elders were not allowed to accompany soldiers on their sweep of the village. Furthermore, she was forced by soldiers to sign a statement that no human rights violations had occurred, after which the situation worsened, and two residents were shot and killed in a sweep which began on 11 April.
For her courage in standing up to the Russian military, Umazheva was also profiled by award-winning Russian war correspondent Anna Politkovskaya in a piece in "Novaya gazeta," (translated into English by the Jamestown Foundation's "Chechnya Weekly," 24 July 2002). Politkovskaya described Umazheva as "pro-Moscow" although she was ultimately barred from entering the government complex in Grozny after she kept pressing complaints about lack of follow-up on commitments for social services and reconstruction.
The "final straw," came, writes Politkovskaya, when "after the nth 'cleansing operation' had been completed, she looked directly into the eyes of General Igor Bronitskii (he has been directing all the 'cleansing operations' in recent months) and simply said, 'No!'" When a prosecutor for the North Caucasus Military Prosecutor, Aleksandr Ferlevskii, intervened to support the general and claimed no human rights were violated, although executions had taken place at "filtration points," Umazheva shouted at Ferlevskii, "You are a scoundrel!" said Politkovskaya. Next Umazheva found herself denounced on state television by General Anatolii Kvashnin, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, who claimed $600,000 along with gold and diamonds had been found in her home, Memorial reported, citing strana.ru on 30 April. Finding the allegations absurd, Memorial researchers pressed Chechen prosecutors about the case, and received a reply on 4 September of this year that no information or evidence of the dollars and diamonds had been discovered, and that Umazheva was not detained on suspicion of any crime during 2000-02.
Earlier this year, Politkovskaya reported in "Novaya gazeta," federal forces murdered Umazheva's brother. First, they tortured him with electric shock, next they dumped him back at home in a weakened state, and then finally returned the next day in military vehicles to execute him.
Memorial workers and Russian journalists believe Umazheva's protests over the bloody April sweeps brought heavy pressure on her and her family. Soldiers riding in carriers without license plates broke into her home a number of times, said Memorial, and failed to identify themselves, and even fired a shot into the house. Then a more formal search followed by an investigator with a warrant, but Umazheva said he claimed nothing "illegal" was discovered. Reviewing her case over the last year, Memorial concluded that "the murder of Umazheva was the latest act of terror unleashed by the power ministries of the Russian Federation against the civilians of the Chechen Republic." Local police are continuing to investigate the crime.