Accessibility links

Breaking News

(Un)Civil Societies Report: February 14, 2001

14 February 2001, Volume 2, Number 7
OSCE CONCERNED BY POOR POLL PREPARATION. Gerard Stoudman, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said on 8 February that he is concerned by Albania's lack of progress in preparing for parliamentary elections in June, dpa reported. He said the Central Election Commission (CEC), which is paralyzed after the resignation of three of its members, needs to resume work immediately. Albanian political parties have been arguing bitterly over the composition of the CEC, voter lists, and election legislation. The opposition Democratic Party has threatened to boycott the elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

COURT EXTENDS BUSINESSMAN'S PRE-TRIAL DETENTION. A Yerevan court on 8 February extended for a further month the pre-trial detention of businessman Arkadii Vartanian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Vartanian was taken into custody on 30 October after a march by his supporters to the presidential palace in Yerevan, and later charged with calling for the overthrow of the Armenian leadership. He was hospitalized last month with heart problems. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES CALL FOR FAIR VERDICT IN KARABAKH TRIAL. To date, 68 Armenian parliament deputies have signed an appeal to Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, to ensure that the trial and verdict on 15 people charged with attempting to assassinate him last March is fair, according to Snark on 6 February as cited by Groong. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

COMMISSION UNVEILS PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO CONSTITUTION. The presidential commission for constitutional reform set up in July 1999 unveiled its proposals in Yerevan on 6 February, AFP and Noyan Tapan reported. Commission and Constitutional Court member Feliks Tokhian said that if adopted the proposals would bring almost half the articles of the present constitution into line with international standards. The proposed changes give greater independence to the government and the judiciary and guarantee neutrality of the armed forces. Tokhian said that as some political forces are likely to object to some proposed changes, it is unlikely that the amendments will be put to a nation-wide referendum before the end of the year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

COUNCIL OF EUROPE OBLIGATIONS 'IGNORED.' A week after joining the Council of Europe (CoE) on 25 January, Armenia sentenced Jehovah's Witness Karen Yegoyan to two years' imprisonment for refusing military service. Another four young Jehovah's Witness men have been arrested since then and are now awaiting trial. Despite Armenia's CoE pledge to free jailed conscientious objectors before a new law on alternative military service is adopted, 23 other Jehovah's Witnesses are still imprisoned. According to Armenian officials, the new law on alternative military service will be passed in the next 18 months. The imprisoned Jehovah's Witnesses and other imprisoned conscientious objectors will be freed only after the new law is adopted, thus violating Armenia�s commitments, claim CoE officials. (Keston News Service, 6 February)

WAR INVALIDS COMPLAIN AT LACK OF SUPPORT FROM RELIGIOUS LEADER. Representatives of Azerbaijan's Karabakh war invalids met on 8 February with the country's senior Muslim clergy, Turan reported. The invalids expressed displeasure that, unlike many opposition politicians and members of the Azerbaijani intelligentsia, the North Caucasus Religious Board failed to express its support for their protest action. The leader of Azerbaijan's Muslims, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, pointed out that Islamic law bans suicide. But he also condemned as "a great sin" Azerbaijan state television's biased coverage of the hunger strike. More hunger strikers abandoned their fast on 8 February, leaving some 60 continuing their protest in Baku. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

SOME WAR INVALIDS END HUNGER STRIKE. Most of the 2,000 veterans of the Karabakh war who joined a mass hunger strike in towns across Azerbaijan to demand an increase in their pensions have ended that protest, Turan reported on 8 February. The chairman of the society representing the invalids, Etimad Asadov, said that they interpret the 7 February statement by Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov that those allowances may be raised subject to an increase in budget revenues as a concession, and have ended the strike to avoid charges that they are pressuring the authorities. Some 60 invalids are, however, continuing their strike in the society's Baku headquarters to demand the creation of a commission to assess their demands. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

DISPLACED PERSONS STAGE PROTEST IN BAKU. Some 50-60 displaced persons from the Kelbadjar district of western Azerbaijan blocked traffic in one of Baku's main thoroughfares on 8 February to protest the cutoff of electricity four days earlier to the building where they are currently housed, Turan and ANS reported. The protesters clashed with police who tried to persuade them to disperse. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

OPPOSITION STILL UNDECIDED ON CANDIDATE. The Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces, which represents Belarus's four major opposition parties, has postponed the discussion of a single opposition candidate for two weeks, Belapan reported on 8 February. Viktar Ivashkevich told the agency that the council wants to prevent the establishment of several presidential election teams to challenge President Lukashenka. Ivashkevich noted the council prefer Syamyon Domash as a single candidate but there is a threat that Mikhail Chyhir and Uladzimir Hancharyk may choose to run without coordination, weakening the election chances of a democratic candidate. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

STANCE ON OSCE MISSION SOFTENED. Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou met on 6 February with Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, Belapan reported. According to a ministry press release, "the sides agreed that in the context of the OSCE Permanent Council's resolutions and the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group mandate regular consultations in search for mutually acceptable solutions represented an optimal way of further productive cooperation between Belarus and the OSCE." The meeting signals official Minsk's withdrawal from its policy of confrontation with the OSCE. Last month President Lukashenka accused the OSCE of training 14,000 terrorists to destabilize Belarus, while Belarusian TV called Wieck a "German spy" in its smear campaign in December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT TO EXAMINE TRADE UNION FEES. Constitutional Court Chairman Ryhor Vasilevich told journalists on 6 February that the Constitutional Court is going to look into the current procedure of collecting trade union membership fees, Interfax reported. According to the state media, "a doctor of the 10th hospital in Minsk" filed a complaint to the Constitutional Court claiming that the procedure contradicts the constitution. According to the independent media, the complaint was inspired by the authorities so as to deprive the trade union movement of funds from workers. After Trade Union Federation leader Uladzimir Hancharyk announced his intention to run in this year's presidential race, the state-controlled media launched a smear campaign against Hancharyk and his federation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

MILITARY INDUSTRY WORKERS DEMONSTRATE IN SOFIA. Some 4,000 workers in the military industry on 7 February demonstrated in Sofia against the government's neglect of the problems of that sector. They said the cabinet lacks a clear-cut plan to deal with the debt-ridden industry. The protesters also said wages have not been paid for several months. Most of the demonstrators work in the VMZ plant in Spot, some 150 kilometers east of Sofia. A local union leader cited by AP said the future of the whole area depends on the fate of the company. The government has slated the VMZ for sale in March 2000, but investors have shown little interest. The company has run up a 68 million leva ($32.7 million) debt to the state budget. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

GENERAL SUSPECTED OF WAR CRIMES IS 'ON THE RUN'... Croatian police have begun a nationwide search for retired General Mirko Norac, 34, the first general to be accused of war crimes in Croatia's 1991 war of independence, HINA news agency reported on 8 February. "He is on the run," said the judge investigating the case of the alleged massacre in the southern city of Gospic. Norac's close wartime aide, Milan Canic, was arrested on 7 February in Gospic, but Norac failed to turn himself in and was not at his home in Zagreb. He was one of 12 generals retired by President Stipe Mesic in September 2000 for criticizing his attempts to investigate war crimes committed by Croats. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

...AS PARLIAMENT, VETERANS LAUNCH PROTESTS. Opposition parties, including the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), and veterans' groups have reacted with indignation and protests against the war crimes accusations against Norac. "For us this is a political case and it is high time we do something radical," said Velimir Kvesic, head of one of the veterans' groups, dpa reported 8 February. HDZ has led calls for the matter to be discussed in parliament and for Prime Minister Racan to explain the decision to charge Norac with war crimes. According to the HINA news agency, Rakic urged all parties "to act in a responsible manner. This is a test for democratic and law-abiding Croatia and it is up to us to pass it successfully." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

COURT ORDERS WAR CRIMES RETRIAL. The Supreme Court ordered the Zagreb district court to hold a retrial of six Croats charged with the killings of several dozen ethnic Serbs in the Pakrac and Gospic areas in 1991, "Jutarnji list" reported. In 1999, the district court found four of the six not guilty and gave the other two short sentences. Critics at the time charged that the court ruling was the result of interference by the government of then-President Franjo Tudjman, which allegedly sought to cover up evidence of war crimes committed by Croats against Serbs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

NEW PROTEST AGAINST POWER OUTAGES. Hundreds of people staged a street protest in Tbilisi on 7 February against ongoing electricity shortages, calling on President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign if he is unable to guarantee uninterrupted power supplies, AP reported. Also on 7 February, the Russian-Georgian "Kavkasioni" power line that connects the two countries' power grids was blown up in Abkhazia's Kodori gorge, Caucasus Press reported. A spokesman for the Georgian Ministry of Fuel and Energy said the saboteurs are demanding a large sum of money from local officials in return for allowing engineers to repair the damage. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS BAN ON IDP VOTING IN LOCAL POLLS. After two days of deliberations, the Georgian Supreme Court on 21 December upheld legislation which bars internally displaced persons (IDPs) from voting in local elections. The Georgian Young Lawyers Association, in an 11 February press release, was critical of this decision, saying it "basically justified deprivation of the electoral rights from some hundreds of thousands IDPs displaced from conflict zones in Georgia." (Georgian Young Lawyers' Association, 11 February)

PRESIDENT APPROVES STATE LANGUAGE PROGRAM. Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a new ten-year state program on language policy on 8 February, Interfax reported. The program defines strategic priorities and objectives and how they should be implemented. Although Kazakhs account for just 53.4 percent of the country's population, the current language law defines Kazakh as the state language, while Russian is accorded the status of an official language. The law requires official bodies to complete the majority of their documentation in Kazakh, and stipulates that at least 50 percent of all TV and radio broadcasting should be in Kazakh. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

DEPUTIES QUESTION FATE OF PHOSPHOROUS PLANTS. Parliament deputies representing southern Kazakhstan's Zhambyl Oblast have written to the prime minister asking him to clarify the situation of the region's phosphorous and chemical plants, RFE/RL reported. Since being privatized seven years ago, several enterprises have changed hands several times without sale conditions being made public. Some of those plants are bankrupt, and thousands of workers are owed back wages. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

OPPOSITION LEADERS CRITICIZE OSCE. Azamat Party Chairman Petr Svoik and National Congress Party Deputy Chairwoman Gulzhan Ergalieva held a joint press conference on 7 February in Almaty at which they criticized the OSCE mission for two roundtable discussions on the country's political situation, RFE/RL reported. They said the session on election laws was inconclusive and called for the resignation of the Central Electoral Commission chairwoman. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

NEW CRIMINAL CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST OPPOSITION POLITICIAN... Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service has brought further criminal charges against former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL reported on 7 February. Kulov is accused of abuse of his official position and financial mismanagement as governor of Chu Oblast in 1995. Those charges were previously brought against Kulov in 1997, but the Chu Oblast administration appealed to the Constitutional Court to drop them. Kulov was sentenced last month to seven years imprisonment on charges of abuse of his official position while serving as National Security Minister in 1997-1998. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

...WHO BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE IN CUSTODY... Jailed leader of the opposition Ar-Namys party Feliks Kulov began a protest hunger strike while in custody of the National Security Service in Bishkek on 9 February. Kulov's lawyer told RFE/RL that she was not allowed to meet Kulov on 9 February. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Report, 9 February)

...AS DEPUTIES INTERCEDE. Eight deputies to Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly (the upper chamber of the legislature) appealed on 6 February to the Supreme Military Court to release former Vice President Feliks Kulov until the appeal against his seven year sentence has been heard, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They also asked that Kulov be allowed to participate in a roundtable between members of the government, the opposition, the media and NGOs that is scheduled for later this month. Also on 6 February, some 20 Kulov supporters staged a picket in Bishkek to demand Kulov's acquittal and release. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST APPLIES FOR POLITICAL ASYLUM IN AUSTRIA. Albert Korgoldoev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 7 February that he applied for political asylum on his arrival in Austria the previous day. Korgoldoev said criminal charges of hooliganism have been filed against him in Kyrgyzstan in connection with his monitoring of demonstrations in Djalalabad Oblast in October-November 2000 to protest the falsification of the outcome of the 29 October presidential poll. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

COMPLAINTS REJECTED AGAINST PREMIER'S ALLIANCE. The Central Electoral Bureau (CEC) on 7 February rejected as "unfounded" complaints launched against the Braghis Alliance by Communist leader Vladimir Voronin, Party of Revival and Conciliation (PRAM) chairman Mircea Snegur and Democratic Party leader Dumitru Diacov, Infotag reported. The three leaders had asked the CEC to disqualify the Braghis Alliance from running in the elections. The commission ruled that the three leaders failed to produce "convincing evidence" that the alliance headed by the premier is using governmental resources in its electoral campaign. It ruled that the alliance has produced "convincing proof" that members of the cabinet engaged in the electoral campaign have been "temporarily suspended from official duties". It said that existing law does not require the premier to resign during the election campaign. (�RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

STEELWORKERS PROTEST JOB CUTS. Some 2,000 steelworkers demonstrated in Katowice on 8 February, protesting job cuts in their sector and demanding debt relief for their enterprises, PAP reported. "We will not allow this strategic sector to be ruined because of the incompetence and indifference of state clerks....We are ready to go to Warsaw to fight for the fulfillment of our demands," Solidarity activist Wladyslaw Molencki told the rally. Poland's steelworks and coke plants employed 147,000 people in 1990; in 2000 their number was cut to 38,000. Under restructuring plans, the number of steelworkers is to be reduced by an additional 30,000 in the next three years. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

TWO MAJOR COMPANIES TO AXE JOBS. Fiat Auto Poland, the country's biggest automaker, is planning to lay off 750 employees, PAP reported on 8 February, quoting an anonymous Solidarity activist. According to the activist, Fiat Auto Poland argues that the layoffs are necessitated by rapidly declining car sales on the Polish market. The company's two plants, in Bielsko- Biala and Tychy, made 292,500 cars last year. The company employs 7,500 people. Meanwhile, Polar SA, a maker of electric household appliances, said it plans to cut its staff by 560 people as part of a reorganization scheme. Polar SA, which has a 42 percent share in the Polish market of electric household appliances, is 84.37 percent owned by the French-Italian concern Brandt. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

SOLIDARITY SENATOR FOUND TO BE 'LUSTRATION LIAR.' The Lustration Court has ruled that 59-year-old Zygmunt Ropelewski, a senator of the Solidarity Electoral Action, is a "lustration liar" since he concealed the fact of his collaboration with the communist-era security services in his lustration statement, PAP reported on 6 February. Quoting documents from Ropelewski's file and testimony from a former secret service officer, the court said Ropelewski was a secret and intentional informer of the secret police in 1976-78. Ropelewski admitted that in 1976 he met twice with the officer testifying in his case but denied having been an agent. If the Lustration Court confirms its verdict on Ropelewski in the second instance, Ropelewski will lose his senatorial mandate and will not be allowed to hold public posts for 10 years. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

LOCAL PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION BILL TO UNDERGO CHANGES. The government on 8 February decided to amend the bill recently passed on local public administration, deleting from it the provision allowing prefects to dismiss mayors if a judicial case is underway against them. The bill is to be amended when the commission mediating differences between its Senate and Chamber of Deputies' versions meets. Also in connection with that bill, Greater Romania Party (PRM) chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, in an interview with Romanian Radio on 8 February, said President Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase "betrayed" Romania when they agreed to introduce into the bill the stipulation allowing the use of minority languages in localities where they make up 20 percent or more of the population. Tudor announced that PRM will move in the parliament a motion to debate that article in the law once more. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

PRESIDENT TO PROMULGATE CONTROVERSIAL LAW. President Ion Iliescu said on 7 February that he will promulgate the law on Local Public Administration once the parliament ends the approval process. He said the article in the law allowing national minorities to use their languages in localities where they make up 20 percent of the population "is correct from all points of view" and "in line with the spirit of the constitution." Members of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) parliamentary group in the Senate have voiced misgivings about the article, and the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) is opposed to approval of the law because it contains that provision. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST KILLED IN SAMARA. Aleksandr Solovykh, well-known activist in the city of Samara who worked with the ecologist movement Khranitli radugi (Keepers of the Rainbow), was found dead in his apartment, RFE/RL reported from Samara. Nikolai Elizarov, leader of Samara's branch of Amnesty International, told RFE/RL that Solovykh was engaged in many controversial ecological issues connected with the Volga River basin and a factory in Chapaevsk with destroys chemical weapons. Elizarov said that he fears that "in the case of Aleksandr Solovykh we may have one of the first political murders in Samara." Local law enforcement officers have so far refused to comment. (�RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 February)

PUTIN SAID STRIVING FOR ONE-PARTY STATE... An analysis in "Itogi," no. 5, said that the debate on the parties law is essentially irrelevant because President Putin is overseeing the restoration of "a single party system." ("Segodnya" suggested on 8 February that Putin is preparing the People's Deputy group as a "reserve party of power," should "Unity" falter.) Meanwhile, "Novaya gazeta," no. 8, suggested that the scandals around NTV and the media show that Russia has "an intelligence officer rather than a politician running the country." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

...AS CLANS SAID TO FIGHT OVER REORGANIZATION. "Segodnya" suggested on 8 February that two "clans" -- which it called "the liberals" and "the family members" -- are squabbling over government restructuring and new personnel assignments, even as the third clan, based in the force structures, stands aside, confident in its ability to run things through the Russian Security Council. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION APPOINTMENT CRITICIZED. Duma Security Committee Chairman (Yabloko) Yuri Shchekochikhin on 8 February sent a letter to President Putin sharply criticizing the appointment of Nazir Khapsirokov as an assistant to the head of the presidential administration, Interfax reported. Shchekochikhin said that this was "odious" and "an insult to public opinion" and that the Duma's organized crime committee has repeatedly asked the Audit Chamber and prosecutors for "complete information about N. Khapsirokov's activities." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

NEARLY HALF OF ECONOMY IN THE SHADOWS. Vladimir Makarov, the deputy head of the Interior Ministry's economics crime department, said that up to 45 percent of the country's goods and services are part of the shadow economy, AP reported. He also said that more than 40 Moscow banks are currently involved in what he called "serious" shady deals, Interfax said. Makarov's comments were echoed by Duma Security Committee Chairman Aleksandr Kulikov, who told RIA-Novosti the same day that the treasury receives only 50 percent of taxes owed because of operations in the shadow economy. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

BANKERS URGE FIGHT AGAINST MONEY LAUNDERING. The Association of Russian Banks on 6 February sent a letter to President Putin calling on him to push for the passage of laws against money laundering, Interfax reported. They noted that "Russian banks have come across open and concealed discrimination on foreign markets" because Russia has not passed anti-money-laundering legislation or ratified the Council of Europe convention against such transactions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

MAYORS APPEAL TO PUTIN FOR HELP. The Union of Russian Cities and Congress of Municipal Organizations has appealed to President Putin for a meeting in February or March of this year, according to the website Khabarovsk Mayor Aleksandr Sokolov, who heads the organization, told reporters on 6 February that municipal authorities are responsible for resolving problems such as heat, transportation, water, but are given no funds to do this. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 7 February, the mayors made a similar appeal to Putin in June 2000. (RFE/RL Newsline, 7 February)

GOVERNMENT FINALIZING LAND CODE DRAFT. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 February that the government will consider on 9 February the basic principles of the land code. Prime Minister Kasyanov told his deputy prime ministers on 5 February, the paper said, that the draft code must be ready to submit to parliament by the end of February. In other comments to his deputies, Kasyanov said that the government will also focus on pension reforms and on taxation of enterprise profits. Meanwhile, People's Deputy group leader in the Duma Gennadii Raikov told Interfax on 8 February that President Putin told him the day before that the regions should be given the chance to decide land issues, including the highly sensitive issue of buying and selling land. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

TERRORIST ACTS INCREASE. Major General Valerii Beev, the chief of the main criminal police department of the Interior Ministry, said on 6 February that 135 acts of terrorism took place in Russia in 2000, 6.5 times more than during 1999, ITAR-TASS reported. But he added that the police prevented 318 other acts of terrorism, rendered harmless 26,450 explosive devices, and confiscated 11,188 tons of explosives during 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

METRO BOMB RENEWS QUESTIONS ON 1999 EXPLOSIONS. Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said on 7 February that terrorism is one of the possible explanations his officers were considering in their investigation of the bombing on 5 February of a Moscow metro station, Russian agencies reported. Police indicated that they had increased security throughout the metro system. But "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 February asked "why can't the police find the criminals responsible for bombings in Moscow?" and it pointed out that investigations into the August 1999 apartment blasts there for which the authorities blamed the Chechens have not resulted in any convictions yet. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

DUMA'S ROLE NOW SAID LESS THAN UNDER NICHOLAS II. Writing in "Segodnya" on 6 February, political observer Leonid Radzikhovskii said that "today the Duma plays a significantly smaller role than under [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin or Nicholas II." There is no opposition in the parliament or in the population, Radzikhovskii suggested, and as a result, "the Kremlin orders" and the Duma complies. Ivan Rodin made a similar point in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on the same day. He suggested that the current Duma differed from its predecessors in that it is not prepared to initiate legislation but merely acts on bills proposed by the Kremlin. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

DUMA GIVES PRELIMINARY APPROVAL TO PARTIES BILL. By a vote of 280 for and 109 against with four abstentions, the Duma on 7 February approved in the first reading the Kremlin's draft of the political parties bill that will require parties to have at least 10,000 members, at least 100 in each of more than half of Russia's regions, and to field candidates regularly, Russian and Western agencies reported. The measure must still pass two additional readings before being sent to the Federation Council and then President Vladimir Putin. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov led the opposition to the bill, and reformist groups also criticized the measure. The lay religious group, Union of Orthodox Christians, said it was opposed due to the bill's ban on parties based on religious or ethnic groups, ITAR-TASS reported. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 February, the Kremlin has not yet decided on which party it should rely. A poll reported by "Vremya MN" on the same day suggested that most Russians are largely indifferent to the issue: 23 percent prefer a one-party system, 22 percent want a two-party arrangement, 21 percent back three, and 15 percent support a large number of parties. The poll also showed, the paper said, that respondents believe that "political parties have not done Russia much good." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

DUMA MOVES TO BAN TOBACCO ADS. The Duma voted on 8 February 258 to 75 to ban tobacco advertising in the print media, on billboards, and in public transport. Legislators said they had voted to do so to promote public health and because many people find the ads irritating. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

WORKPLACE ACCIDENTS STRAINING INSURANCE SYSTEM. Mikhail Dmitriev, the first deputy economics minister, said that 6,000 Russians died in industrial accidents in 2000 and that 500,000 workers collected payments after injuries on the job, "Vremya MN" reported on 6 February. Because many of them receive sums "which exceed their working incomes," he said, the insurance funds are under enormous strain and their rules need to be changed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

MIDDLE CLASS UNLIKE ITS WESTERN COUNTERPART. Leonid Grigoriev of the Bureau of Economic Analysis was quoted in "Vremya MN" on 6 February as saying that a middle class now exists in Russia, but it is smaller (20-25 percent of all households), more recent (less than a decade old), and more insecure (many small firms are failing) than its Western counterparts. He added that the Russian income pyramid is more like that of Latin America, where income inequality is very high, than elsewhere in the West. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

MINERS WIN A CONTRACT. ITAR-TASS reported on 7 February that the Mining and Metallurgical Workers' Union has become the first labor union in Russia to negotiate an agreement with employers on "a minimum sectoral and social welfare standard." It also calls for increasing pay to miners. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

FAMILIES OF SERVICEMEN KILLED ON DUTY TO GET $5,000. The fund set up by 27 major Russian businesses at the urging of President Putin on 24 January will begin to distribute nearly $5,000 to the families of every serviceman killed on duty, and $2,000 to every wounded serviceman, Arkadii Volsky of the Russian Union of Businessmen and Entrepreneurs was quoted by "Segodnya" on 5 February as announcing. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

MILITARY FORCED TO PAY DAMAGES. For the first time and in a move that may become a precedent, the Russian military was forced to pay compensation for damages it inflicted in Chechnya during its military campaign there, "Vremya novostei" reported on 5 February. The paper said that the relatively small damage award -- 1.235 million rubles ($55,000) -- could be the first of many. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

EU SHOULD PRESS KREMLIN ON CHECHNYA. On the eve of a visit by European Union officials to Moscow, Human Rights Watch released a ten-page analysis, based on dozens of recent interviews with victims' relatives and on letters with the Russian procuracy. Only 12 of 35 investigations against servicemen relate to murder. Even a year after 130 civilians were killed in execution-style murders in Alkhan-Yurt, Staropromyslovski, and Aldi, no one has been held criminally accountable. No one has been charged with torture, despite hundreds of well-documented cases. Investigations into "disappearances" of those taken into Russian custody have stalled due to the military's lack of cooperation. Meanwhile, abuses continue. The report is at: (Human Rights Watch Press Release, 13 February)

OSCE TO RE-LAUNCH CHECHNYA MISSION. Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, also current OSCE chairman, met in Moscow on 7 February with his Russian counterpart Ivanov to discuss issues related to the OSCE, ITAR-TASS and Romanian media reported. Ivanov said Russia agrees to the renewal of the OSCE mission to Chechnya, as proposed by Geoana, but the mission will be able to return to the region only after a number of "technical problems" had been solved. The mission is to be headed by Romanian Ambassador Alexandru Cornea, who accompanied Geoana on his visit. Geoana said that the "consensus principle" has been and must remain the cornerstone of OSCE activity. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

MORE HAZING, DISCRIMINATION AGAINST NORTH CAUCASIANS. "Vremya novostei" reported on 5 February that conscripts from the North Caucasus have become targets for revenge while serving elsewhere in Russia. Meanwhile, "Argumenty i fakty" on 7 February noted that tensions between migrants from the Caucasus and local residents exist in most major Russian cities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

TATARSTAN'S LATINIZATION PLANS CRITICIZED. "Izvestiya" on 7 February noted that Tatarstan's plans to introduce a Latin-based script in place of the Cyrillic-based script could isolate that republic. The paper said that a Duma delegation which appeared to approve the idea when its members were in Kazan denounced it on their return to Moscow. The paper added that only 9.9 percent of Tatar parents want their children to study only the Tatar language. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

TRIAL OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES RESUMES. After a two-year break for investigations into the group's religious beliefs, the trial of Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow resumed on 6 February, AP reported. Moscow city prosecutors are attempting to outlaw the Moscow branch, even though branches of the denomination operate in more than 350 other Russian cities. John Burns, a Canadian human rights lawyer representing the Jehovah's Witnesses at the trial, said that "we're dealing here with a return to something that was in the Middle Ages," when one group was denounced as heretical by another and punished as a result. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

BELGRADE URGED TO SEND MILOSEVIC TO THE HAGUE. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana -- who served as NATO secretary general during the alliance's bombing campaign of Yugoslavia -- met with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and other government officials in Belgrade on 8 February, Reuters reported.Solana was accompanied on the trip by Chris Patten, the EU's commissioner for external relations, and Anna Lindh, the foreign minister of Sweden, the current EU president. Patten said the EU officials reiterated the importance of Yugoslavia cooperating with the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, AP reported. Kostunica has expressed strong opposition to sending Milosevic to The Hague, though some government officials have expressed support for doing so. Lindh said "we don't believe it will happen tomorrow, but it is important to have quick results." Patten added that between November 2000 and the end of this year the EU will have provided Belgrade with $420 million in aid. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

CALL FOR EU TO LINK AID TO HAGUE COOPERATION. Holly Cartner, an executive director of Human Rights Watch, said on 7 February that "there can be little hope of a clean break with the past unless the indicted architects of ethnic cleansing are brought to justice," Reuters reported from Belgrade. Human Rights Watch called on the EU delegation arriving in Belgrade on 8 February to link assistance to Serbia to cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Upon arrival, the delegation, led by EU foreign affairs coordinator and former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, was met with anti-Solana protests by nationalist supporters of the former regime. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

BELGRADE RULES OUT AUTONOMY FOR PRESEVO. The much-discussed Serbian government plan for a peaceful reduction of tensions in the Presevo region explicitly rules out any autonomy, AP reported on 7 February. "Any solutions that include any kind of autonomy [and a] special status of change of borders of Serbia and Yugoslavia [with Kosova] are unacceptable," the government said in a statement. Among the many grievances of the local Albanians is the parliamentary voting system that effectively prevents their parties from sending deputies to the national legislature. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)

PARLIAMENT BEGINS DEBATES ON AMENDING CONSTITUTION. The parliament on 6 February began debating constitutional amendments, such as increasing judicial independence and creating the position of ombudsman, aimed at the goal of EU membership, AP reported. All four parties in the coalition headed by Mikulas Dzurinda said they will support the amendments. The coalition has a majority of 91 in the 150-seat parliament; the amendments need the backing of 90 lawmakers for approval. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

NGO 'SOCIETY AND LAW.' This NGO focuses on legal information and civic education plus NGO legislation, such as two draft laws, "On non-commercial organizations" and "On charity and charitable organizations." The NGO also plans to create the Tajik Information and Legal Aid Center for Refugees, Asylum Seekers and IDPs (internally displaced persons) for the thousands of Afghan refugees currently in Tajikistan. For more information, contact Muatar Khaidarova at: or or (Center for Civil Society International, 5 February)

BAPTIST PRISONER TREATED WITH PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS... Reportedly near death, Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov, 38, father of five, is being now treated in labor camp with psychotropic drugs (Thorazin and Prometazin) according to an appeal from his family passed to Keston News Service by the US-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries. The prisoner, who has served half of his four-year camp sentence on trumped-up charges of fraud, has been urged by prison authorities to request a presidential pardon, thereby admitting "guilt." After refusing to do so, Atakov was sentenced to three days in solitary confinement and his Bible was confiscated. The international diplomatic community is being urged to step up calls for Atakov's immediate release. On February 9, Amnesty International issued an urgent action call on Atakov's behalf. (Keston News Service, 8 February)

...AND OSCE REQUESTS PRISON HOSPITAL VISIT WITH HIM. Ambassador Istvan Venczel, the head of the Ashgabad mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation, has requested permission from the Turkmenstan authorities to visit ailing Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov in the prison hospital in the town of Mary, to which he has been transferred. The request was made on 12 February but has received no response so far. (Keston News Service, 13 February)

ANTI-KUCHMA PROTESTERS DECLARE READINESS FOR TALKS. Yuriy Lutsenko, a coordinator of the Ukraine Without Kuchma protests, told journalists on 8 February that the protesters are ready to begin talks with the authorities about the conditions on which President Leonid Kuchma would be prepared to resign, Interfax reported. Lutsenko added that Kuchma has so far not responded to the proposal to discuss his exit. "Our positive program [includes] the building of a democratic European state with parliamentary democracy, freedom of expression, and guarantees of all human rights," Volodymyr Chemerys, another anti-Kuchma protest leader, told journalists. Meanwhile, a founding group of the "Forum of National Salvation" public initiative begun discussing the state of Ukrainian democracy in the parliamentary building on 9 February. The group includes a number of lawmakers and Ukraine Without Kuchma protest activists. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February)

LUTHERANS DENIED RENTAL OF THEIR OWN CHURCH. Registered in 1994, the Lutheran parish in the Crimean town of Sudak is comprised of Germans who returned to Ukraine after their Stalin-era deportation. Since 1994, the Lutheran parish has fought to regain ownership of its church building confiscated in 1930. On Christmas Eve, Lutheran Pastor Gennady Freier was told that his parish is no longer allowed to rent the building, along with an Evangelical Christian/Baptist congregation; neither group infringed its rental agreement. (Keston News Service, 7 February)

NEW NGO SITE. aims to bring together various global communities; NGOs; funding agencies and departments. The new non-profit site features NGO news, programs and conferences, notices, news on social movements; and funding opportunities. Contact Sanket Mhaskar.

NEW REPORT ON XENOPHOBIA IN RUSSIA'S REGIONS. The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ) issued on 9 February its second annual report on anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and religious persecution in 74 of Russia's regions. Copies are available at (Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, 9 February)

BELARUS TRADE UNION MOVEMENT. A new trade union Internet resource "Prafsayuzny Rukh Belarusi" appeared in January 2001. The site is organized by an editorial board of editors of four trade union newspapers in Belarus; featuring news in Belarusian, Russian, and English. The site is at or e-mail: (Center for Civil Society International, 6 February)

NEW HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH/MOSCOW ADDRESSES: Diederik Lohman:, Alexander (Sasha) Petrov:, and Lyudmila Belova: (Human Rights Watch, 13 February)


By Paul Goble

An international conference in Sweden this week condemned prejudice against Muslims and called on governments to combat it just as they often have committed themselves to fighting racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia.

The 50 countries attending the Stockholm International Forum on Combatting Intolerance on Tuesday adopted a declaration denouncing intolerance in all its forms, something the international community has done many times. But the Stockholm declaration added Islamophobia to the traditional list.

Muslim governments have long sought that addition. In 1994, Jordan's then-Crown Prince and now King Hassan called on the United Nations General Assembly to commit itself to fighting "anti-Muslim sentiments and other manifestations of Islamophobia." But until this week, most governments had been reluctant to put that form of intolerance on the same level as anti-Semitism or racism.

In addition, Muslims living in non-Islamic countries have made similar appeals. This week, a Russian Muslim suggested that press coverage of Islam in his country was contributing to prejudice and mistreatment of his co-religionists. And Muslims living in the United States have organized groups modelled on those put together by blacks and Jews to defend themselves and their community against attack.

One of the reasons for the reluctance of the international community to go on record on this issue is that the citizens of many European countries which often take the lead in authoring international declarations against prejudice have become increasingly unhappy with the influx of Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. And governments there have not wanted to put themselves at odds with their own citizens.

As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the Stockholm meeting, "the impression is being created that because of popular resentment toward immigrants, some governments are taking approaches which are not in strict conformity with the 1951 Geneva Convention [on the treatment of refugees] and with international law."

In other comments, Annan made it clear that he was speaking precisely about Europe. "As we move forward," the UN leader said: "Europe is going to need more and more immigrants to sustain its own economic development and I think it is right that we have the right approaches and the right policy and the right understanding of the role immigrants play in society."

Yet another reason for past failures to condemn Islamophobia is the widespread view, often propagated by these and other governments, that Islam, at least in its fundamentalist form, represents a threat to democracy and civil society. Many who hold this view often make statements which blacken the reputation of Islam as a whole, regardless of whether that is their intention.

Sometimes it clearly is. Nationalist politicians in Europe and the Russian Federation have often done so in the expectation that attacking Muslims is politically useful. Indeed, Russian officials have sometimes made comments about Muslims that border on the racist, and these officials all too often been have been rewarded with political support rather than condemned for promoting prejudice.

But sometimes comments about Islam that are not intended by their authors to be derogatory are used by others with fewer scruples. Thus, some who find it politically useful to demonize Islam have exploited the ideas of Harvard University's Samuel Huntington, the author of the widely acclaimed book "The Clash of Civilizations" about his predictions concerning conflicts between Christianity and Islam.

The Stockholm declaration this week commits its signatories to fighting anti-Muslim prejudices not only among countries but within them. It urges governments to develop educational programs for young people to overcome this form of bigotry. And it calls on them as well to work to limit the use of the Internet to propagate this form of hatred, just as the international community has fought anti-Semitism and racism there.

Obviously, a single meeting, even one that attracted so many governments, is not going to overcome a form of prejudice as widespread as anti-Muslim attitudes now are. But the Stockholm session nonetheless represents a major step forward. That is because it gives this prejudice a name -- Islamophobia -- and the experience of other groups which have been subject to similar attitudes in the past have in every case gained ground when they secured official recognition of the name of the prejudices directed against them.