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(Un)Civil Societies Report: September 21, 2000

21 September 2000, Volume 1, Number 19
CONFERENCE ON MEDIA/MILITARY RELATIONS. How can the media provide accurate coverage of wars? This was one of the complex issues addressed at a Prague conference from 8-11 September. Organized by the Royal Institute of Strategic Studies, media and military representatives from former Warsaw Pact countries took part, while NATO representatives discussed informational aspects of the war in Kosova. ("Nezavisimaya gazeta," 14 September)

COUNCIL OF EUROPE MEDIA COOPERATION PROGRAMS. For information on the Council of Europe's media cooperation programs, visit: and click on "assistance programmes." Included in the site are 10 media seminars for many East and Central European countries planned for September. (Human Rights Council of Europe Press Release, 1 September)

CATHOLICOS PLEDGES ARMENIA WILL CONFORM TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE REQUIREMENTS ON RELIGION. Armenian Catholicos Garegin II told journalists in Echmiadzin on 12 September that Armenia will fulfill all requirements on freedom of conscience imposed by the Council of Europe as conditions for Armenia's acceptance into full membership in that organization, Noyan Tapan reported. He noted that under Armenian law, which he admitted is "not perfect but does work," all religious organizations are free to conduct activities in Armenia but the Armenian Apostolic Church enjoys supremacy. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)

NGO FORUM CALLS ON OIL COMPANIES FOR COOPERATION. The Forum of Non-Governmental Organizations (which has 230 member groups) has suggested that state oil company SOCAR and foreign oil companies in Azerbaijan set up a working group to increase cooperation, said Sabit Bagirov, chairman of the Forum's Expert Council, Entrepreneurship Development Foundation president, and former president of SOCAR. According to him, a survey conducted among 40 companies in the republic showed that 80 percent of their social service funds is directed to international organizations and only 20 percent to Azerbaijani NGOs. ("NGO News Digest," 30 August)

POLICE CONFISCATE NEWSPAPER URGING ELECTION BOYCOTT. Police on 13 September confiscated 112,000 copies of a special issue of the newspaper "Rabochy" (Worker), the organ of the Belarusian Free Trade Union, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Police officers said they seized the issue because it includes appeals to boycott the 15 October legislative elections. "Rabochy" chief editor Viktor Ivashkevich, the newspaper's legal adviser, and the owner of the printing house where the newspaper is printed are to stand trial on 18 September on charges of "propagandizing an election boycott." Ivashkevich dismisses the charges as groundless, saying the Electoral Code does not prohibit boycotting elections in Belarus. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September)

PRESIDENT PUNISHES OFFICIALS FOR FAILING TO PAY BACK WAGES. Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a decree punishing those officials who failed to pay wage arrears by 1 September, as he had earlier ordered, Belarusian Television reported on 14 September. Lukashenka fired 90 officials and ordered the Minsk Prosecutor's Office to bring to justice those officials who "deliberately provided incomplete or false information" about the payment of wage arrears. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September)

POLICE PLAN TOUGH BORDER CHECKS DURING IMF MEETING... Police announced on 13 September that strict border controls will be imposed during the annual meeting in Prague of the IMF and the World Bank on 26-28 September. Some 20,000 globalization opponents are expected to stage demonstrations during the meeting. A spokesman for the Initiative Against Economic Globalization group told CTK that three Dutch men and a U.S. citizen planning to take part in the demonstrations were denied permission to enter the country on 13 September. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Czech Republic's Greenpeace said a foreigner planning to take part in a demonstration on 15 September against the launching of Temelin was denied entry and a stamp put in his passport prohibiting him from entering the country before 30 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 14 September)

...AS CABINET ENDORSES POLICE MEASURES. The government on 13 September said it "fully supports" measures taken by the police ahead of the IMF/World Bank meeting. Prime Minister Milos Zeman said the cabinet "will certainly respect the right of demonstrators to express their views...but it will not respect any right to violent protest." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September)

REPORTEDLY LEAST CORRUPT COUNTRY IN EASTERN EUROPE. According to the annual Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International, Estonia scored 5.7 on a 10-point index (with 10 signifying virtually no corruption), coming in 27th out of 90 countries, BNS reported on 13 September. This was the highest placing of an East European country. Estonia came just ahead of Slovenia and Taiwan (5.5 points each), followed by Hungary (5.2) and the Czech Republic (4.3). Lithuania, Belarus, and Poland tied with El Salvador and Chile with 4.1 points in 43rd place, while Latvia scored 3.4 points in 57th place. Russia received 2.1 points in 82nd place, while Ukraine received 1.5 points and Yugoslavia came last among East European countries with 1.3 points. Finland topped the index with 10 points, while Nigeria was last with 1.2 points. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September)

VISA REGIME INTRODUCED WITH RUSSIA. On 11 September, "Estonia introduced a full-visa regime at the Russian-Estonian border, ending the previous simplified regime for those living near the border. Russian officials were angered. Aleksandr Safronov, the Russian Federation's consul-general in Narva, complained that this action had a negative impact on divided families whose members will now have to apply for regular visas. But Estonian officials justified this action as a necessary step to bring Tallinn into compliance with the requirements of the agreement that allows the free movement of people within the European Union, a body Estonia hopes to join." RFE/RL Analysis from Washington, 13 September)

OPPOSITION DRAFTS NEW ABKHAZ PEACE PROPOSAL. Representatives of the Center for Democracy and Freedom, which unites 24 non-parliamentary opposition parties, told journalists in Tbilisi on 5 September that the center has drafted and sent to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan new proposals for resolving the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. Those proposals require the UN to define the 1992-1993 war as one not between Georgia and Abkhazia, but between Georgia and Russia, given that Russia supplied military aid to the Abkhaz. The opposition representative said that no progress can be made towards resolving the conflict until Russia is totally excluded from the mediation process and stripped of its veto right in the UN Security Council on issues referring to the Abkhaz conflict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)

PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CALLS FOR LAW RESTRICTING 'TOTALITARIAN SECTS.' Opening the fall parliamentary session in Tbilisi on 12 September, Zurab Zhvania urged deputies to draft a law that would restrict the activities of what he termed "totalitarian sects," while strengthening the Georgian Orthodox Church, which, he said, "is facing difficult competitive conditions," AP reported. He did not mention any religious group or sect by name. Zhvania suggested that the optimum approach would be to sign "a major agreement between the government and the Georgian Orthodox Church." A draft Concordat has been under discussion for almost one year. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 13 September)

TEACHERS STRIKE. Pedagogues in 60 schools in Georgia's Mtskheta-Mtianeti region have refused to resume teaching when the academic year begins on 18 September to protest the non-payment of their salaries over the past 10 months, Caucasus Press reported on 14 September. Also on 14 September, Caucasus Press reported that retired policemen will be given 5 kilograms of macaroni by the Union of Police Pensioners and Invalids to compensate for not having received their pensions for the past 10 months. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September)

NEW HUMAN RIGHTS WEBSITE. The new website will provide more data on the human rights situation in Georgia. The regularly updated page will have news on Independent Society "Human Rights in Georgia" (ISHRG) projects and reports on Georgia, plus news on other local or international NGO's active in the country.

OPPOSITIONIST TAKEN OFF FOR QUESTIONING... Karishal Assanov, a well known Kazakh dissident, was forced by policemen to leave his apartment in Almaty and go to the police department on 14 September, the RFE/RL Kazakh Service reported. His wife told RFE/RL that the police refused to explain why her husband had been summoned and did not show any documents. Alikhan Bektasov of the Almaty Interior Affairs Department's Press Service said his department had no information on Mr. Assanov's three-hour detention. ("RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 14 September)

...FOR ANTI-NAZARBAEV ARTICLE? Ermurat Bapi, editor-in-chief of "Soldat" newspaper, told RFE/RL that Karishal Assanov's detention might be due to his article critical of President Nursultan Nazarbayev in his paper earlier this year. Assanov later told the RFE/RL bureau in Astana he had spent over three hours at the police station where he was told that the Almaty City Interior Affairs Department planned to summon him as a witness on 20 September. Further questioning, according to Assanov, will concern his articles which then appeared on some Internet sites and local newspapers. Karishal Assanov told the policemen that he would participate in the investigations only if his lawyer were present. ("RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 14 September)

NEWSPAPER EDITOR ON TRIAL. Bigeldy Gabdullin, editor-in-chief of "21 VEK" newspaper, went on trial in Almaty on 13 September in a libel case brought by a private company for "publication of false data on its activities." This company is controlled by President Nursultan Nazarbayev's son-in-law Rakhat Aliev. (RFE/RL Kazakh Service, 13 September)

SOLDIERS STEAL RADIOS, SELL THEM FOR SCRAP. Six soldiers of military unit 61993 in Almaty were arrested in early September for selling 70 radios worth about 14 million tenges to a private scrap metals company for 35,000 tenges. (RFE/RL Kazakh Service, 6 September)

TRIAL AGAINST RELIGIOUS PROPAGANDISTS. Jalal-Abad officials told an RFE/RL reporter in the province that investigations against nine people were completed on 14 September and their case files had been transferred to a court. They are accused of propaganda for the "Hisb-ud-Tahrir" religious party and will be charged with inspiring ethnic, racial, or religious hatred. In total, 22 people have been arrested in the province in the last three months. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, 14 September)

NEW LANGUAGE LAW ANALYZED. The Latvian Human Rights Committee's (LHRC) publication has devoted several issues (17, 18, 19) to the controversial new language law. The LHRC asserts that "The most painful of the new rules -- explicit prohibition for all state, municipal, and judicial institutions to accept and consider any applications or complaints from private persons if they are not written in the state language, except for very few emergency cases, was not in any way softened by the regulations." (MINELRES, 1 September)

NURSES THREATEN STRIKE OVER LOW WAGES. Some 1,000 nurses on 13 September picketed the parliamentary building to demand that the government grant them the wage increases it pledged last year following a wave of nurses' strikes in hospitals, Polish media reported. The National Trade Union of Nurses and Housewives said it will launch a strike in mid-October if the government fails to raise their wages by 2 percent above the inflation level, as promised. The government argues that it has no extra funds for the increase and advises the protesters to negotiate hikes with their employers -- regional health funds. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September)

KREMLIN'S TOP SECRET BUDGET FOR INFO WAR. Russian political figures have sharply criticized the classification of portions of the state budget concerning the government's media activities. According to "Kommersant" on 6 September, this classified section includes rubrics such as "information countering" and outlines expenditures of 200 million rubles ($7 million). These budgetary arrangements reflect decisions codified in the National Information Security Concept that President Vladimir Putin approved in June. That document, drafted by former KGB officers, identifies both external and internal media enemies and thus recalls the work of the Soviet-era KGB Fifth Directorate which worked against "ideological diversions." ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 11 September)

PUTIN SIGNS NEW INFORMATION SECURITY DOCTRINE. President Putin on 9 September signed a new information security doctrine drafted by the Security Council, Interfax reported on 12 September. Anatoly Streltsov, deputy head of the Information Security Department of the Security Council, said that the 46-page doctrine will be published in full on the council's website. According to Streltsov, the doctrine has four main components: the provision of constitutional rights and freedoms in the use of information, information support for state policy, the development of modern information technologies and the domestic information industry, and the protection of information from unauthorized access, ITAR-TASS reported. Streltsov said that one objective of the doctrine is to make a "more accurate formulation" of the status of foreign media groups and reporters operating in Russia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)

MEDIA LEGISLATION UP FOR REVISION... Commenting on the information security doctrine signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 12 September, Russian newspapers focused on the document's vagueness. "Kommersant-Daily" the next day argued that "it is possible to read almost anything into the doctrine: some of its articles seem to provide grounds for both protecting freedom of speech and significantly restricting it." Security Council Anatoly Streltsov told Russian Television on 12 September that implementing the doctrine may require changes to the law on the media and other federal legislation. In an interview with "The Moscow Times" on 14 September, Andrei Pikaev of the Moscow Carnegie Center said that the necessity of changing the media law, "the main achievement of [former President Boris]Yeltsin's reason for concern," since the amendments suggested by the council are unlikely to be liberal. The full text of the information security doctrine can be found at ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September)

MORE CRITICISM OF INFORMATION SECURITY DOCTRINE... A top official with the Union of Journalists slammed the Security Council's new information security doctrine, calling the document "a real and present danger to the country's information security," Interfax reported on 14 September. The union's general-secretary, Igor Yakovenko, objects to the apparent "conviction" of the doctrine's authors that Russia's state-owned media must be consolidated and expanded. He also questions a provision of the doctrine calling for the setting up of regional bodies to provide information security. He concludes that this provision "looks like a revival of censorship." Yevgeni Volk of the Heritage Foundation told Reuters the same day that the document's "general intent is quite clear--the authorities are trying to increase their control over all aspects of the mass media, including the Internet" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September). "In liberal countries," information is not regulated, while "totalitarian countries do not have an information policy." Russia proposes "information under government control, while 'observing constitutional rights.'" This approach, Russian website observed, is as hard to understand as "a regulated market." "The Moscow Times" reports that Anatoly Streltsov, an expert on radioelectronic security, can claim partial authorship, while those sections "suggesting more government control over the media," are "innovations of the Kremlin newcomers." Yet, even these portions hark back to 1981 and 1996 KGB anti-media campaigns, the paper notes. ("The Moscow Times," 14 September)

...AS NEWSPAPER CLAIMS ORT ALREADY UNDER KREMLIN CONTROL. "Vedomosti" reported on 14 September, citing an unidentified presidential administration official, that the Kremlin believes it has for the most part managed to wrest control of Russian Public Television from Boris Berezovsky. According to the source, the news department is no longer controlled by Berezovsky's cronies and is now headed by new official Sergei Goryachev. Anchorman Sergei Dorenko has been taken off the air, and general director Konstantin Ernst has been wooed over to the Kremlin's side. Only Badri Patarkatsishvili, ORT executive director, remains loyal to Berezovsky, as well as some members of ORT's board of directors. According to the daily, the Kremlin also plans to cleanse NTV of its more "political" figures, such as General-Director Yevgeny Kiselev. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September)

...BUT PUTIN SAYS NTV WON'T BE NATIONALIZED. After a meeting with President Putin on 13 September, Union of Rightist Forces faction leader Boris Nemtsov said that Putin had said that independent NTV will not be nationalized. The same day, "Literaturnaya gazeta" published an interview with Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov in which he said that the investigation into the activities of Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinsky continues. He explained that the court did not rule that Gusinsky had been arrested illegally. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September)

SWAPPING TWO TVS FOR A SHORTWAVE RADIO? A joke making the rounds in Russia: "Someone wrote an offer on a wall: 'If Putin is successful in his reforms, I will swap two TVs for one good shortwave radio.'" (Center for Journalism In Extreme Situations, 31 August)

BEREZOVSKY OFFER SPARKS ETHICS DEBATE. Berezovsky, as an oligarch and Kremlin wheeler-dealer, an RFE/RL report noted on 12 September, "he is often considered more a manipulator of the press than a defender of it." While some journalists say those who sit on ORT's board "could act as watchdogs, bringing greater transparency to the station," and "because ORT would remain majority state-owned, the Russian taxpayer has a right to that sort of information." "Other journalists say they see working for wealthy oligarchs only as the "lesser of two evils." They say that in Russia today the only alternative to oligarch-controlled media is state-controlled media -- and therefore they prefer the oligarchs." In contrast, sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky told RFE/RL that "lesser-evil" logic is typical of Russian journalists who have lived through the transition from Soviet censorship to the present. Kagarlitsky believes "compromising with the oligarchs is counterproductive because he says the tycoons endorse the prevailing system instead of fighting it."

GENERAL PLANS HIS OWN NEWSPAPER... General Shamanov, commander of the 58th army, announced on 3 September the birth of his own medium, the "Motherland Defender" newspaper. The general seems to have forgotten about the severe budget problem, inasmuch as officers and soldiers have not received wages for months. ("Glasnost -- Severny Kavkaz," 14 September)

...WHILE SPIES GET OWN WEBSITE. Spies continue to be fascinating to many and so Russian reporter Andrei Soldatov -- along with his dad Aleksei, who is the head of the Relcom Internet service provider -- started a portal on the subject at:, the "Moscow Times" reported on 14 September.

RFE/RL ISSUES "MEDIA EMPIRES VI." This RFE/RL report concludes that "the Kremlin is trying to assert control over Russia's main nationwide networks -- ORT, RTR, and NTV -- and formulate the ideology of a new state with their support...It is sending a powerful signal that only media supporting 'state interests' will be tolerated and supported." The report is available at:

CIVILIAN SATELLITE PROGRAM IN TROUBLE... Russian space official Vladimir Umnikov told ITAR-TASS that 34 of Russia's 43 socio-economic and scientific satellites have used up their resources and will no longer be able to supply data unless new funds are found. If this situation continues, he said, Russia will lose its satellite capabilities in the areas of communications, weather forecasting, and natural resources and will be forced to turn to more expensive foreign sources for those services. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August)

...WHILE SIX MILLION RUSSIANS WAIT FOR TELEPHONES. Over six million Russians are still waiting for telephones, requiring a $6 billion investment, according to Tom Adshead of the Moscow investment bank Troika Dialog. To digitalize phone lines for the Internet, another $9 billion is needed. And over $6 billion must be spent if Russia is to modernize its long-distance telephone lines. As of now, Russia spends a total of $500 million annually on its telephone systems. ("The Economist," 8 September)

NEW INTERNET NAVIGATOR. The Russian Academy of Sciences has issued a new publication, "Russian Internet Navigator." It is a series of constantly updated brochures, each with some 1,000 annotated Internet addresses. According to "Navigator" editor Yuri Polyak, there is a boom in the Russian Internet; the Russian search engine Yandex, for example, has about 22 million webpages. "Navigator" focuses on information sources, education, medicine and health, computer games, science, technology, and media. For more information, see (RFE/RL Russian Service, 22 August)

WHO IS NOT GETTING PAID? The State Statistics Committee reported in mid-August that the national level of wage arrears rose in July to 40.5 billion rubles ($1.5 billion) from 39.4 billion in June. In other words, millions of Russian doctors, police, teachers, postal workers -- those workers who still are supposed to be paid by the state -- may not have received their salaries for months.

HOW MANY ARE UNEMPLOYED? Some nine million Russians -- or 12 percent of the workforce -- are officially unemployed, according to the International Labor Organization. Furthermore, a Swedish report claims that "according to recent findings, around 11 million Russians of working age are 'missing' from statistics," which would mean that "around 20 million are unemployed." Since 1991, the Swedish researchers report, "official unemployment figures have shown a fourfold increase" and do not seem to be decreasing.

GEOGRAPHIC UNEMPLOYMENT PATTERNS. Russians are out of work for longer and more young people cannot find jobs, Swedish researchers report. Unemployment is also concentrated in certain areas of the country the northwest, along the Volga, the northern Caucasus, northern Siberia, and the Russian Far East, where rates "range from 15 to 40 percent." (A PlanEcon study cited in the "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report" shows that Kalmykia has the highest official unemployment rate at 16 percent). Far fewer people are out of work in cities west of the Urals, "3 percent are unemployed in Moscow and 6 percent in St. Petersburg" and so people try to migrate to these cities in search of work.

JEWISH POPULATION PROJECTED TO CONTINUE DROPPING. Russia may have no Jewish population by 2080 if current emigration and demographic trends persist, according to an annual report of the American Jewish Committee, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 September. The news agency said that the total number of Jews on the territory of the former Soviet Union has declined from 1.5 million in 1989 to 440,000 in 2000. Within 10 years, the number of Jews on that territory might decline to 160,000 if the current rate of emigration and live births does not change. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September)

COSSACK ATAMAN APPEALS TO PUTIN FOR DIRECT RULE... The Ataman of the Don Cossacks in the Tsaritsynsk okrug in Volgograd Oblast, Vladimir Melikhov, has appealed to President Vladimir Putin to introduce direct presidential rule in his region, "Izvestiya" reported on 6 September. Melikhov told reporters the previous day that Putin's intervention is needed in order to protect the ethnic Russian and Cossack population from terrorist acts committed by immigrants from the Caucasus. Melikhov also complained about "genocide," citing the view of "specialists" that ethnic Russians will be a minority in the oblast within 15-20 years because of the growing numbers of Asian and Caucasian peoples. The leader of the Don Cossacks Volgograd okrug, Aleksandr Biryukov, said that many Cossack leaders in our other okrugs were surprised by Melikhov's appeal, noting that he had not advised them of his plans. Valerii Napalkov, chief federal inspector of the Southern District for Volgograd and Astrakhan Oblasts and the Kalmykia Republic, told the daily with gubernatorial elections approaching, certain local politicians have started gathering votes and Melikov has "entered into these games." Napalkov called Melikhov's actions "intolerable and alarming" since the region currently needs a "delicate" and "competent" approach to interethnic relations. ("RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 September)

NEWSPAPER CLAIMS CHANGING ETHNIC BALANCE IMPERILS REGION. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony" on 5 September, during the last 10 years the ethnic balance in the region has shifted dramatically, causing tension. It also predicts that in 30 years, Russians will be an ethnic minority in the oblast. According to the semi-monthly, the number of non-Russians has increased more than three times during the last 10 years and today totals some 350,000 people. Among this group, the "largest and strongest" ethnic communities are the Chechens and Azerbaijanis. The Chechens number no fewer than 70,000 and, according to some specialists, constitute the largest "diaspora" in all Russia. The publication claims that the Chechens control the oblast's "entire oil business" as well as a significant part of the retail trade, meat processing, and other revenue-producing businesses. The Azerbaijani diaspora numbers some 75,000-80,000, the Armenian community 30,000-35,000, and the Kazakh community 40,000-50,000. The newspaper notes that "with each year the number of light-haired students in the first year of grade schools becomes fewer," while oblast "authorities prefer not to comment" on the "obvious nationality problem." When "reminded of its existence, they employ the formula that since time immemorial the territory has been multiethnic and will somehow survive." ("RFE/RL Federation Report," 13 September)

JOURNALIST MISSING IN KOSOVA. The organization of independent Serbian broadcasters, ANEM, said on 12 September that Marijan Melonasi, a journalist with the Serbian-language program on RTV Kosova, disappeared in Prishtina on 9 September. He previously worked for multiethnic Radio Kontakt. The statement appealed to the UN administration and KFOR to create secure working conditions for journalists. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September)

KFOR DENIES CHURCH CHARGES. The chief spokesman for KFOR,the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosova, has denied Serbian Orthodox allegations that troops of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) under KFOR command took any part in attacks on Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosova. Lt.-Col. Patrick Poulain told Keston that such allegations were"completely wrong," although he confirmed that he relies solely on reports from UAE troops. (Keston News Service, 14 September 2000)

'DAY OF SILENCE' FOR ALBANIAN MEDIA. Kosova's seven Albanian-language dailies did not appear on 15 September to protest the recent violence against journalists, Reuters reported. Radio stations played music instead of carrying news programs. Meanwhile in central Prishtina, a spokesman for UN police said that unknown gunmen the previous day killed an elderly Albanian, who worked for the police before Milosevic purged ethnic Albanians from government service in 1989, AP reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September)

BROADCAST LICENSES TO BE ISSUED. The Ukrainian government is planning to convene a national meeting in October with the country's TV and radio companies to initiate licensing procedures, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 13 September. This plan was announced on the same day by Boris Kholod after a joint session of the National Council and the Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information. The necessary documents for this procedure have already been prepared by the National Council, according to Kholod. For more information, see

CHERNIHOV HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE. The Chernihov Public Committee of Human Rights Protection, formed in 1998, is officially registered as a public non-governmental organization. The 27 committee members include lawyers, teachers, psychologists, and economists and is financed by member's and sponsor's fees. The purpose of our organization's activity is protecting civil, political, personal, and other rights, including free legal consultations, legal casework, human rights monitoring, conducting educational and media work. The committee also cooperates with other human rights groups in Ukraine and particularly in Russia and Poland. For more information contact Aleksei Tarasov, chairman; email: (Center for Civil Society International, 30 August)

UZBEK PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR STRENGTHENING OF NATIONAL UNITY. Lawmakers on 31 August adopted an appeal to the country's population to close ranks in order to counter the threat posed to Uzbekistan's security by "international terrorist groups," meaning militants from the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September)

HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS ON SITUATION IN CENTRAL ASIA. Leaders of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights made a statement from Vienna calling leaders of the Central Asian states to negotiate with the opposition, especially with political leaders of the rebels, who have invaded Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. According to Aaron Rhodes and Ramazan Dyryldaev, the main cause of instability in Central Asia is human rights abuses by authorities and persecution of any opposition. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, 14 September)

TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL REPORT RANKS CIS COUNTRIES. Transparency International released on 13 September its annual world report on corruption, surveying 99 countries. Kyrgyzstan occupies 87th place with Pakistan and Uganda. Only Uzbekistan (the 94th) and Azerbaijan (the 96th) of the former soviet republics are more corrupt than Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were not surveyed. Russia occupies the 82nd place along with Ecuador; Kazakhstan, with Albania and Georgia, share the 84th ranking. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, 14 September)


By Liz Fuller

Georgians have traditionally prided themselves on their tolerance towards people of other races and other creeds. But they have not always lived up to that perception of themselves. In the late 1980s Zviad Gamsakhurdia promulgated a vision of "Georgia for Georgians" that was enthusiastically espoused by his supporters and impelled many non-Georgians to flee the republic in fear or reprisals or retribution. More recently, religious minorities, in particular Jehovah's Witnesses, have been the target of violence.

On 30 August, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau moderated a discussion between the Georgian National Library Director Levan Berdzenishvili and sociologist Emzar Djgerenaia, who sought to identify the origins of the myth of Georgian tolerance and to suggest how society can progress from that false conviction to a true understanding and practice of tolerance.

Berdzenishvili concurred with the opening suggestion by moderator David Paichadze that Georgians tend to be blinded by their self-image of themselves as tolerant. That image is traditionally substantiated, as Paichadze pointed out, by reference to the fact that within a very small area in Tbilisi you can find a synagogue, a mosque and a Georgian Orthodox church. Berdzenishvili bewailed his fellow countrymen's disinclination to question whether that stereotype of tolerance can still be applied to Georgians en masse. He linked that reluctance to the broader failure to embark on a fundamental reevaluation of Georgia's history, suggesting that both those failings reflect a low level of political culture.

Berdzenishvili pointed to a tendency among Georgians to see the world in black and white, in absolutes, as a result of which "anyone who disagrees with you is automatically considered an enemy." That tendency is reinforced, Berdzenishvili said, by the absence of any prominent individual in Georgian society who either serves as a model for religious tolerance or whose views on that subject are universally accepted. He voiced the fear that "we are witnessing the birth of fanaticism, and possibly even fascism."

Nor is intolerance confined to religious belief, Berdzenishvili continued, it also extends to interethnic relations and to what could be termed local patriotism on the micro-level. He noted that Georgians consider themselves superior to other ethnic groups to the point that, "as any family will confirm," it is considered "a tragedy" if a daughter marries an Armenian, or a son marries a Jewish girl.

That sense of superiority, he said, is extended to an individual's immediate geographical milieu, giving rise to animosity between the population of various districts: for example, a resident of the Tbilisi district of Veri will tell you in all seriousness that it is impossible to find a single decent human being in the Tbilisi suburb of Vake.

Berdzenishvili suggested that the most disturbing thing is that there has been no attempt by either the present Georgian leadership or the Georgian Orthodox Church to counter this way of thinking or offer an alternative. "To affirm that Georgia today is a tolerant society," he said, "is to close one's eyes to the way people treat Zviadists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Methodists, Baptists and unmarried mothers [...] Georgia is an intolerant society and it is our so-called intelligentsia, which is a bastion of intolerance, that sets the tone in this respect."

Djgerenaia for his part rejected the idea that Georgians historically were more tolerant than they are today as a myth that has never been proven. He argued that tolerance is a luxury that only a strong state can afford, and historically Georgia has never been a strong state for an extended period of time. He suggested that Georgians adduce the "myth" of their tolerance in order to avoid facing up to tensions in inter-ethnic relations or between various creeds. He also implied that some prominent figures within the Georgian Orthodox Church may bear some measure of responsibility for growing religious tolerance as a result of the emphasis they place on the role of the Georgian church in Georgian history as contrasted with other faiths.

Developing the theme of the role and responsibility of the state in promoting tolerance, Berdzenishvili made the point that tolerance is not purely a national trait, and that it is impossible to affirm that simply by virtue of being Georgian, a Georgian is more tolerant than, say, an Armenian or a Chinese. How tolerant a Georgian, or an Armenian, or a Chinese is, Berdzenishvili continued, depends also on the nature of the state in which he lives and whether that state actively promotes the concept of tolerance, which the present Georgian leadership does only when it is politically expedient to do so -- for example, in the runup to an election in an attempt not to alienate non-Georgian voters. In that context he noted that the very fact that a politician may have an Armenian mother is enough to lose him votes. That road, Berdzenishvili warned, ultimately leads to Gserman-style fascism.

In an attempt to pinpoint the origins of growing intolerance, Djgerenaia pointed to the way Georgian history is taught in Georgian schools. That approach invariably portrays other nationalities as enemies or traitors, never as playing a positive role. Djgerenaia concluded gloomily that "we create and nourish these myths [of tolerance], and then they return to haunt us and poison our existence." He agrees with Berdzenishvili that the solution to the problem lies in the creation of a strong state that will minimize Georgians' collective insecurity complex, and in the emergence of a new, younger leadership that will actively promote the concept of tolerance. ("RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 7 September)