18 April 2001, Volume 2, Number 16
INTERNATIONALMINORITY ISSUES LEGISLATION RESOURCE. The MINELRES website now has a bilingual collection of minority-related national legislation for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Although some country pages are under construction, the collection already contains several hundred relevant legal texts. There are no texts from the Czech Republic, Albania, Yugoslavia, and Belarus. MINELRES is looking for more partners, along with its main sponsor the American Institute of Peace. (MINELRES, 14 April)
ALBANIAPRESIDENT RULES OUT ROUNDTABLE ON MACEDONIA. Albanian President Rexhep Meidani said at a press conference at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters on 10 April that he will not organize or participate in a roundtable of Albanian political leaders from his country, Macedonia, and Kosovo because of the risks of misinterpretation of such an action. Meidani said that such a meeting might have sent a positive message and promoted useful discussions, but he noted that the news media were likely to portray such a session as part of an effort to promote a "Greater Albania." (RFE/RL Press Release, 10 April)
BELARUSKGB SAYS PREPARATION OF ELECTION MONITORS MEANS 'RECRUITMENT.' Belarusian KGB chief Leanid Yeryn told journalists on 12 April that the OSCE's training of election monitors for Belarus's presidential elections is tantamount to the "recruitment" of agents, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Yeryn was commenting on Alyaksandr Lukashenka's repeated statements that the West is preparing "14,000 militants" intended to influence the election under the guise of election observers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
LUKASHENKA'S DECREE RESTRICTING FOREIGN AID GOES INTO EFFECT. Lukashenka's decree banning foreign financial assistance for election-related activities or even seminars in Belarus went into effect on 16 April, Belapan reported. The decree, which was issued on 12 March, bans foreign funds for "changing the constitutional system; seizing power or overthrowing the government; stirring up social, ethnic, or racial enmity; preparing and holding elections; recalling members of parliament; and organizing strikes, street demonstrations, seminars, and other forms of mass propaganda work among the population." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
BULGARIADIPLOMATS MEET DETAINED MEDICAL WORKERS IN LIBYA. Lyudmil Spassov, the Bulgarian ambassador to Libya, and the diplomatic staff of the embassy met in Tripoli on 14 April with the six Bulgarian medical workers charged by Libya with intentionally infecting 393 children with HIV, BTA reported. Their trial has been postponed several times and is scheduled to begin this summer. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
CZECH REPUBLICINTERIOR MINISTER: FIGHTING EXTREMISM WILL BE 'MAIN PRIORITY.' In the face of mounting criticism over police inaction at a 7 April concert near Prague attended by about 400 neo-Nazi skinheads, Interior Minister Stanislav Gross told CTK on 11 April that "the fight with extremists is becoming for me one of the main priorities." President Vaclav Havel said he was shocked by the indifferent approach of the police regarding such demonstrations of racism. "I hope that the role of the police will be investigated properly in this case," he said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April)
POLICE RESPONSE TO RACIST CONCERT 'SUFFICIENT.' One week after widespread criticism of police handling of a concert promoting racism, Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said that the police response to a similar concert held northeast of Prague on 14 April was "sufficiently resolute," CTK reported. About 150 skinheads gathered in the town of Strenice, near Mlada Boleslav, to take part in a graveyard ceremony and concert. Police detained 10 participants, who were later released, and deported a Slovak who had attended the previous weekend's concert in Senohraby. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
HUNGARYROMA TO RECEIVE MORE GOVERNMENT SUPPORT. The Hungarian Justice Ministry said on 12 April that the government will increase social spending in 2001 for Roma by nearly 33 percent, the daily "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Justice Ministry State Secretary Csaba Hende said the budget for Roma will be increased from 7.2 billion forints ($24 million) to 9.4 billion forints. He also said that 7,850 Romany students won scholarships for the 2000-2001 academic year, up from 785 four years ago. Florian Farkas, president of Hungary's National Roma Authority, welcomed the increased funds but said only careful monitoring of all expenditures will ensure that the money is properly spent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
PRIME MINISTER WANTS TO ABOLISH RETIREMENT AGE. The government intends to reform and strengthen the state pension system and may abolish the mandatory retirement age, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungarian media on 14 April. Orban said everyone should have the right to decide when to retire, but noted that those who decide on early retirement will receive smaller pensions. He said that "we urge hundreds of thousands of people to return to the state-controlled system from the private pension schemes." Opposition Free Democrat parliamentary member Tamas Bauer accused the government of wanting to "destroy everything that it does not control." The idea of abolishing the mandatory retirement age only serves election campaign purposes, Bauer concluded. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
KYRGYZSTANOPPOSITION HOLDS PROTEST RALLY... Some 500 people attended a demonstration in Bishkek on 13 April organized by nine political parties and the editorial staff of the banned opposition newspaper "Asaba," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
...TRIGGERING LEGAL ACTION. On 16 April, acting Bishkek City Prosecutor Marat Koshoev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that police in the city's Pervomai district have launched an investigation into the demonstration, whose organizers are likely to face administrative charges punishable by fines of up to 6,000 soms ($120) or 15 days imprisonment. Koshoev also said on 16 April that the Bishkek municipal authorities will not grant permission for the rally that the opposition planned to convene on 1 May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
PROTEST PICKET IN JALAL-ABAD. About 20 bus drivers of the Suzak district of Jalal-Abad Province held a protest picket in front of the provincial administration building in Jalal-Abad on 16 April. The drivers claim that minivans from neighboring Uzbekistan are taking over their routes, leaving Kyrgyz drivers without work. ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 16 April)
ASSOCIATION OF LAWYERS GOES ONLINE. On 16 April, the independent Association of Kyrgyz Lawyers debuted on line with a weekly bulletin "Lex Legis." The association's email address is email@example.com. ("RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 16 April)
POLANDJARUZELSKI TO BE TRIED FOR 1970 KILLINGS. Poland's last communist leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, is to go on trial on 15 May for the deaths of 44 shipyard workers shot by the military in 1970, PAP reported on 12 April. The Warsaw Provincial Court rejected defense motions that General Jaruzelski, who was defense minister in 1970, be tried by the State Tribunal, which is empowered to try top officials. Jaruzelski is charged with ordering the military to shoot at workers protesting price increases. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
ANTI-SEMITIC ELEMENTS REMOVED FROM GDANSK EASTER DISPLAY. Banners that could be construed as anti-Semitic in an Easter display at the church of Father Henryk Jankowski were removed on 13 April at the order of senior Catholic clergymen, AP reported. Following a heated national debate over the responsibility of Poles in the Jedwabne pogrom of 1941, Jankowski, a priest well-known for his links to the 1980s Solidarity movement, included in his display on 12 April the passage: "Jews killed the Lord Jesus Christ and the Prophets and now they are persecuting us." Jankowski denied that the display had any anti-Semitic overtones, saying he'd merely quoted from the Bible. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
RUSSIAEU BACKS STRONG CHECHNYA RESOLUTION. Human Rights Watch hailed the European Union's introduction on 12 April of a resolution on the Chechnya region of the Russian Federation at the UN Commission on Human Rights, but called on other governments to strengthen the text and join as co-sponsors. The UN Rights Commission is meeting from 19 March through 27 April; it is scheduled to vote on the resolution on 18 April. At its session in April 2000, the commission passed a resolution expressing deep concern about human rights and humanitarian law violations in Chechnya and calling on all parties in the conflict to halt abuses and urged the Russian government to set up an independent national commission of inquiry to investigate violations, in its first censure of a UN Security Council permanent member. But one year later, the Russian government has defied the commission: there have been no effective domestic prosecutions and no national commission of inquiry. (Human Rights Watch Press Release, 12 April)
'IT MAKES YOUR BLOOD FREEZE.' Sergei Kovalyov, a Russian lawmaker and former human rights commissioner, said the  bodies found at the Zdorovye settlement was the largest human dumping ground found in Chechnya's ten-year struggle for independence from Russia, reported the "Washington Post" on 13 April. "It makes your blood freeze," said Kovalyov, now president of the Russian human rights group Memorial, which examined some of the corpses. Many of the victims had been dead three or four months, according to Memorial. Vsevolod Chernov, Russia's prosecutor for Chechnya, claimed rebels used Zdorovye as their own cemetery. He said many of the bodies were dressed in rebel-style camouflage, and some appeared to be foreign mercenaries. He did not say how the rebels could have transported 50 corpses without the notice of Russian soldiers at a nearby checkpoint or their heavily guarded camp at Khankala.
CHECHNYA BOOK NOW ONLINE. The full text online version of the book "Chechnya: the International Community and Strategies for Peace and Stability" is now available free of charge at http://www.ca-c.org/dataeng/bk02.00.cont.shtml. (Center for Civil Society International, 16 April)
BRUTALITY IN THE MILITARY FEARED. Nearly a quarter of all Russians say that their greatest fear about military service is that draftees will be subjected to brutalization by officers and fellow soldiers, according to the findings of a ROMIR poll reported by Interfax on 11 April. Meanwhile, the Duma on 12 April approved on first reading the reintroduction of military instructors in the country's secondary schools, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 April. The paper said that the idea is controversial and might not survive subsequent readings. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
CONTRACT KILLER OFFERS SERVICES ON THE INTERNET. A 21-year-old student at Samara's Aerocosmic Academy put an advertisement online announcing his availability as a contract killer for $500 a hit, "Izvestiya" reported on 12 April. The special high-technology crimes unit of the local police identified and caught him apparently before anyone took him up on his offer. Meanwhile, Ivan Kurnosov, the deputy head of the information department of the Communications Ministry, told Interfax that his agency seeks to have the government declare computer terrorism a crime. At present, he said, the legal status of such actions is unclear. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
PUTIN HANDS OUT AWARDS. Saying that he wants Russia to become "a genuinely worthy state of worthy and successful people," President Putin on 11 April presented awards to a large group of public figures, scholars, and cultural stars, Russian agencies reported. Among those receiving awards were former Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeev, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, new Unity leader in the Duma Vladimir Pekhtin, and LDPR head Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Zhirinovsky was the last to receive his award, but Putin noted that the noted Russian nationalist is "last on the list but not in importance." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April)
NGO LEADERS COMMENT ON HUMAN RIGHTS CONCEPT. Vladimir Kartashkin, the chairman of the presidential Human Rights Commission, hosted a group of NGO leaders on 11 April to discuss the government's human rights concept, Interfax reported. Ludmila Alekseeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that human rights groups should not take financial support from the state lest they become dependent on it. She also called for maintaining the institution of public defenders in courts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April)
SIBERIAN CIVIC INITIATIVES SUPPORT CENTER. The Siberian Civic Initiatives Support Center (SCISC) was founded in 1995 as an NGO resource center network. With headquarters in Novosibirsk, it has ten affiliate organizations in Tyumen, Tomsk, Omsk, Kemerovo, Irkutsk, and Chita oblasts, Krasnoyarsk and Altai krais, and the republics of Buryatia and Altai. Two years ago, the SCISC began to issue a journal; the complete Russian-language version plus selected articles in English are available on the SCISC website at http://www.cip.nsk.su.
SIBERIAN REGIONAL INFORMATION CENTER. The Regional Information Center (RIC) was opened on 1 November 2000 and hopes to provide informational, cultural, and civic links in the Siberian region. The website can be visited at http://www.sfo.ru.
NEWS ON PHILANTHROPY. "Developing local philanthropy, a multi-faceted approach" presents information on the results of the SCISC grant program, recent efforts to develop a team of Siberian evaluation experts and the work of Siberian community foundations. Anyone interested in getting more information about recent civil society development activities and results in Siberia can contact Siberian Civic Initiatives Support Center (SCISC). (http://www.cip.nsk.su, 9 April)
NEW ATOMIC MINISTER WON'T CHANGE COURSE... Aleksandr Rumyantsev, who recently replaced Yevgenii Adamov as atomic energy minister, has more to do with cash flow than policy, "Vremya Novostei" reported on 9 April. The minister's first announcement was that he will transfer the assets of the ministry from Konversbank and MDM-Bank, which are controlled by oligarchs, to Sberbank, which is completely controlled by the government. Rumyantsev said that otherwise he will continue all the policies of his predecessor including advocating a law allowing for the importation and permanent storage of nuclear wastes from abroad. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 16 March)
...AS DUMA LIKELY TO ALLOW NUCLEAR WASTE IMPORTS. Despite ecological concerns and warnings that the process will not bring in as much money as promised, the Duma is currently leaning toward approval on second-reading legislation that will allow Moscow to import and permanently store nuclear wastes, RIA-Novosti reported on 11 April. Adding their voice to the argument, a group of nuclear physicists led by Academician Yevgenii Velikhov published an article in "Izvestiya" arguing that earnings from such imports will actually allow Russia to improve the environment. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 16 March)
CRIME, AIDS IN MOSCOW. Police officials in Moscow reported on 11 April that there were 304 murders in the Russian capital during the first quarter of 2001, Interfax-Moscow said. During the same period, the city registered a total of more than 26,800 crimes, many of which were extremely serious, the police said. Meanwhile, doctors said that the number of new HIV infections in the Russian capital fell by 38.1 percent during the first two months of 2001 in comparison to the same period in 2000. But doctors said that they expect the numbers to rise more rapidly in 2002 and 2003. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April)
STUDENTS PROTEST GOVERNMENT'S FAILURE TO PAY SUBSIDIES. Approximately 1000 students from 10 regions in the Volga federal district picketed the building of presidential envoy Kirienko and of the administration of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast on 12 April, to protest the oblast's failure to fulfill a cooperation agreement signed with a students' union, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to a student union official, the oblast has failed to pay up on an outstanding debt to a program for the social protection of students and to finance programs for students' assistance. According to the agency, students also expressed their disagreement with a new situation regarding the provision of stipends to undergraduate and graduate students and with changes in their deferment from army service while studying at a higher-level educational institution. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
EVIDENCE OF ILLEGAL ADOPTIONS FOUND IN VOLGOGRAD. New evidence of the illegal adoption of children from Volgograd Oblast by foreign families was recently made public, ITAR- TASS reported on 16 April. According to the agency, investigators established that in 24 incidents Volgograd district courts passed resolutions on the adoption of children by Italian families without their prospective parents being present. And in several incidents, directors of local orphanages accepted bribes from an Italian citizen who was arranging illegal adoptions. The agency reported that more than 600 children under the age of three were taken abroad from Volgograd Oblast between 1993 and 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
'DECISIVE' MEASURES URGED TO HALT DEMOGRAPHIC DECLINE. Aleksandr Pochinok, the labor and social protection minister, said on 13 April that Russia must take "very decisive measures" to prevent the population of Russia from continuing to decline. He said he favors providing more subsidies to children but not halting abortions. Meanwhile, on the same day, a Duma roundtable said that Moscow has not yet developed a clear-cut program for working with migrant children, ITAR- TASS reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF THE NORTH AT THE EDGE OF DISASTER� Sergei Kharyuchi, the president of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, told a congress of that association in Moscow on 12 April that the Russian government has not fulfilled any of three separate plans to help the approximately 200,000 members of these nationalities, Interfax reported. He said that over the last decade, life expectancy among these groups has fallen by 10 to 12 years, and that birth rates have dropped by 35 percent while death rates have risen by 42 percent. He offered the following comparison: A Chukchi in the U.S. state of Alaska lives an average of 72 years, but a Chukchi in Russia lives an average of 45 years. Kharyuchi concluded that Moscow's plans for the economic development of the regions in question will only further undermine the indigenous cultures and ways of life of these peoples. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
...WHILE BALKARS IN NORTH CAUCASUS STILL AWAIT JUSTICE. The Institute of War and Peace Reporting Service said on 17 April that during three days in the summer of 1941, NKVD troops (KGB predecessor) shot 1,500 civilians in three Balkar villages in what is known as the "Cherekskaya Tragedy." Although the Balkars were officially rehabilitated in 1957, when they returned to Kabardino-Balkaria they found that many of their traditional areas had been taken over by Kabardinian and Russian settlers. In recent years, Balkar leaders have called on the Kremlin to officially recognize the Cherekskaya massacre and put those responsible on trial. So far, this effort has been unsuccessful. The Balkars -- 100,000 of whom live in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic in the North Caucasus -- were among those ethnic groups which Stalin arbitrarily accused of Nazi collaboration and ordered them deported en masse to Kazakhstan during World War II; thousands died of cold and hunger. (Institute for War and Peace Caucasus Reporting Service, 17 April)
AFRO-RUSSIAN CHILDREN FACE RACISM, DISCRIMINATION. The nearly 20,000 children of mixed Russian and African parentage living in the Russian Federation are subject to racist attitudes -- they are called, among other things, "AIDS-Spreaders" -- and police harassment, dpa reported on 11 April. The Afro-Russians are the legacy of a major educational project during the 1960s which brought some 60,000 Africans to the USSR to study. In many cases the mixed partnerships and marriages failed to span the cultural divide, leaving thousands of children to grow up with one or no parents or with grandparents. A single NGO in Moscow, Metis, provides about 300 children with food, medicine, and legal advice. It also serves as a place for these children to meet one another and provide mutual support. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April)
RABBI LAZAR SAYS ANTI-SEMITISM STILL A PROBLEM. Rabbi Berl Lazar said in an interview published in "Obshchaya gazeta" on 12 April that anti-Semitism remains a problem in Russia, especially in the area known as the "red belt." But he said that he believes the government understands the situation and that such attitudes will be gradually overcome. Lazar said the fact that he is one of two chief rabbis in Russia does not interfere with his work. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
SINCERITY OF LEADERS' RELIGIOSITY DOUBTED. Three Russians out of four believe that politicians who attend church services are dong so for political, rather than religious, motives, according to a poll taken by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 13 April. Only one Russian in seven believes that such actions are genuine. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
PATRIARCH HOPES FOR SLAVIC UNITY. In an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 14 April, Patriarch Aleksii II said that he hopes "for the rebirth of unity of the three fraternal Slavic peoples." He said that many people around the world will try to keep Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians apart, but that their spiritual unity will eventually triumph. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ABROAD'S UPHILL STRUGGLE FOR REGISTRATION. According to the Russian Ministry of Justice's recent figures, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) has 37 re-registered parishes within the Russian Federation. Keston News Service has learned, however, over 60 other parishes are operating without full legal rights. Obstacles to registration are said to include that the ROC center is outside Russia and that it has not existed inside Russia for the required 15 years. Despite the church's "privileged" position as a traditional faith given precedence under Russian law, in St. Petersburg a church leader has been told that "telephone orders" have come down not to register the ROC. Opposition to ROC registration has also reportedly come from the Moscow Patriarchate. (Keston News Service, 17 April)
RUSSIAN LEADERS, PEOPLE MARK EASTER. President Putin greeted all Christians, Russian Orthodox and non-Russian Orthodox alike, on Easter, Russian agencies reported on 15 April. He stressed that "Orthodoxy played a special role in the history of Russia, in the establishment and strengthening of the state." Putin attended Easter services where he was greeted by Patriarch Aleksii II. Among others speaking out on Easter were Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, who reminded Russians of the dangers that are present when "the slogans of the defense of freedom cover selfish interests of party, financial, and other groups," Interfax reported on 15 April, and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who hailed the patriarch for his contributions to Russia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
MOSCOW PENTECOSTALS EVICTED FROM THEATRE. The Tsaritsyno Moscow Regional Children's Theatre has been forbidden to lease its auditorium to the Moscow Church of God of Christians of Evangelical Faith, Keston News Service has learned. This follows a television broadcast in which the church -- which has official registration and is one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in Russia -- was described as "a sect bringing an alien culture." There are fears that the eviction signals a change in state policy on religious organizations. (Keston News Service, 12 April)
SHOWDOWN LOOMS OVER ROSTOV MOSQUE? A court in Rostov Oblast ruled on 5 March that Muslims in the city of Taganrog must demolish their partially built mosque, Keston News Service reported on 10 April. The city of Taganrog claims that the oblast's Muslim Spiritual Administration acted illegally by starting to build the mosque before it had received permission to do so. However, Mufti Jafar Bikmaev says he has in his possession a decree with 15 signatures -- including that of the city's mayor -- allowing for the construction. Bikmaev told the agency on 2 April that he will not demolish the mosque, but Taganrog Deputy Mayor Nikolai Savchenko said that court bailiffs will force the Spiritual Administration to carry out the court order. Vladimir Takhtamyshev, an expert on religious organization with the oblast administration, told Keston News Service that city authorities are afraid of the penetration of Islam in extremist forms. Another source of anxiety, according to Takhtamyshev, is that there are Russian families who regularly attend Muslim services. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April)
MUSLIM ORGANISATIONS OFFICIALLY LIQUIDATED; JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES APPEAL. District courts in the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria have officially disbanded 37 Muslim religious organizations, which failed to submit re-registration documents to the justice authorities by 31 December 2000, Keston News Service has learned. The groups continue to function, without registration. Yelena Uzbiyeva, the official supervising the registration of religious organizations at the Kabardino-Balkaria Ministry of Justice, told Keston on 12 March that all of the Ministry of Justice's court actions to close down Muslim religious organizations had been successful and they had all been disbanded, adding that all the actions "were agreed with the Muslim Spiritual Administration." (Keston News Service, 11 April)
ENGLISH PRINCE TO FUND MEMORIAL WHERE TSAR WAS MURDERED. Prince Michael of Kent said that he is prepared to help fund the construction of a memorial chapel on the site in Yekaterinburg where the Bolsheviks murdered the last tsar and other members of the Imperial family, "Vremya MN" reported on 12 April. The prince said he plans to visit that city this summer. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
SERBIAREFUGEE TALLY. Preliminary results of a new survey show that there are some 420,000 refugees from Bosnia or Croatia in Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 11 April. Some 360,000 of them have formal refugee status. The rest have either become Yugoslav citizens, are Yugoslav army personnel from former Yugoslav republics, or have not requested any special status. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April)
NATIONALISM OR HUMAN RIGHTS? The human rights situation in 2000 stems from the legacy of the past ten years, daily "Danas" wrote, quoting the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights annual report, presented to the public on 27 March. While the nationalist project has been defeated, the defeat itself has not been accepted, the Helsinki Committee argued. The Helsinki Committee concludes in its report on human rights in Serbia by reporting that the new authorities "have not made a clear break with the past policies which would in turn prove that a break with the former regime is being established." ("ANEM Weekly Media Update," 24-30 March)
TAJIKISTANIMPLEMENTATION OF ANTIPOVERTY PROGRAM REVIEWED. The IMF's Executive Board on 12 April reviewed compliance by the Tajikistan government with the three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Program agreed in 1998, according to the IMF website. The fund has already disbursed some $84 million under that program, and following the review Dushanbe will be able to draw a further $8 million. Commenting on the state of the Tajik economy, Deputy Managing Director Eduardo Aninat noted strong growth last year, but also rising inflation and unspecified "significant policy slippages" that threatened temporarily to derail the program. He warned that the Tajik government must place greater emphasis on strengthening the fiscal system and ensuring tax collection, and that "effective and extensive structural reforms in agriculture, the general business environment, and governance will be crucial" in ensuring economic stabilization and sustained growth. He also called for using part of the proceeds from privatization to reduce the country's external debt. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April)
TURKMENISTANCOURT UPHOLDS CONFISCATION OF PENTECOSTAL CHURCH. The Ashgabat City Court on 4 April upheld a 14 March decision by the Kopetdag District Court that the home of Pentecostal Pastor Viktor Makrousov, which is used as a Pentecostal church, be confiscated without compensation, Keston News Service reported on 12 April. In January, the Ashgabat City Court had ordered the district court to review its initial ruling on the issue, terming it "flawed". Makrousov told Keston News Service on 12 April that he plans to appeal the City Court ruling in Turkmenistan's Supreme Court. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April)
UKRAINECATHOLICS DENIED EASTER CELEBRATION IN OWN CHURCH. The authorities in the Crimean city of Sevastopol have denied a Roman Catholic community permission to conduct Easter services in the Catholic church, which is used as a cinema, the community's priest, told Keston on 10 April. The community has been battling for the last five years for the building's return. Sevastopol's Orthodox clergy are divided over the return of the church. (Keston News Service, 12 April)
UZBEKISTANDISSIDENT COMMITTED TO PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL. In a move described as "a throwback to the ugliest Soviet repression against the dissident movement of the 1970s," the Uzbek authorities incarcerated Elena Urlaeva, a member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, in a locked ward at Tashkent's main psychiatric hospital on 7 April, according to a 12 April Human Rights Watch press release. A physician who examined Urlaeva on 8 April pronounced her mentally sound. Urlaeva was detained while leaving her home in Tashkent the previous day. She had criticized the Uzbek government at a seminar in Warsaw last fall organized by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and has twice been detained by police since the beginning of this year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April)
REGIONALFUNDS ALLOCATED TO COMBAT DRUG SMUGGLING IN CENTRAL ASIA. The EU plans to allocate 3 million euros ($2.66 million) to fund a two-year program to prevent the transport of drugs to Western Europe via Central Asia, a European Commission member told journalists in Almaty on 11 April, according to Interfax. The program calls for closer cooperation between the interior ministries of the five Central Asian states and intensified controls in the cities of Almaty, Ashgabat, Bishkek, and Tashkent, along with the seaports of Turkmenbashi, Aktau, and Atyrau. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April)
WEBSITE FOR SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN NGOS. A website to promote civic dialogue in the Balkans can be found at http://www.cyclacadeur.org. (MINELRES, 14 April)
END NOTEDOING WITHOUT A FREE MEDIA
By Paul Goble
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the American Declaration of Independence, observed two centuries ago that a free press would lead to a free parliament but that a free parliament might not lead to a free press.
Jefferson's point springs to mind as the world watches the Russian government and groups allied with it move against independent media outlets, such as NTV. Indeed, several Moscow observers pointed out this week that Russia now has only one independent domestic media outlet -- the Ekho Moskvy radio station -- capable of reaching the entire country.
Not surprisingly, many Russians and even more Western observers have begun to ask whether Russia can become a democracy if its government cannot tolerate the existence of an independent press. They are also questioning whether the suppression of a free press will in fact lead directly and immediately to the suppression of all other freedoms.
For supporters of democracy, it is an article of faith that without a completely free press, no country can have a genuinely free democracy and even more no country which hopes to become a democracy can do so without that kind of media. There are three obvious reasons for such a belief.
First, in the absence of a vigorous and free press, governments and others with power can do things out of the sight of the people. And they can even structure the opinions of the population about what they are doing through the management of the press. Thus, in Russia today, polls show that most people accept the government's line that the transfer of control over NTV was a question of business and debt rather than one of freedom and democracy.
Second, without such media outlets, political competition is reduced to little more than shadowboxing, with the government rather than the population deciding the issues and the candidates and then presenting the results as being "democratic" when in fact they are simply managed in ways intended to appear that way.
And third, without such a press, the population itself is disempowered, demobilized, and increasingly alienated. Citizens are reduced to consumers of goods and entertainment rather than elevated to the status of people who can make choices for themselves and their society.
Despite these obvious benefits to society as a whole and to the democratic prospect, both rulers and ruled in many countries have often decided that they can dispense with a free press and still maintain a free society. Leaders who resent any criticism have sought to rein in the media. Moreover, people without much experience with democracy may resent the press for what they see as its overly critical attitude about their own government and society.
And because of this, rulers sometimes can count on popular support for or at least popular indifference to their moves against the press. They can act knowing that some members of the elite will object but that such people will be few in number and easily overridden. Indeed, once the rulers control some of the media, they can portray these elite spokesmen as little more than the handmaidens of the enemies of the country.
Thus, in the short term, rulers may actually gain popular support by acting to do without a free press. They may be able to manipulate many of their citizens through the media they control. And they may conclude that they can dispense with a free press.
But both they and especially their own populations will discover what others already have: doing without a free press ultimately will force the rulers and ruled into a blind alley from which the rulers will try to escape by using force and the ruled by withdrawing from society and developing alternative means of communication.
That is what happened in communist and other authoritarian regimes in the past. But that lesson, articulated so well by Jefferson two centuries ago, is one that many people think they can ignore but that they and their fellow citizens can ignore only at their peril.