19 October 2000, Volume 1, Number 23
INTERNATIONAL ISSUES, CONFERENCESSOROS EXCHANGE PROGRAM ANNOUNCED FOR KAZAKHSTAN. Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan and The Open Society Institute are accepting applications for the Undergraduate Exchange Program 2001. The Undergraduate Exchange is a one-year, non-degree program for second-year students enrolled in universities in Kazakhstan. Participants attend a university or college in the United States for one year. At the end of the year, they are expected to return home to complete their degrees. The application deadline is 1 December. For more information and to receive an application, contact Soros Foundation Educational Advising Center at firstname.lastname@example.org (Center for Civil Society International, 16 October)
INTERCONFERENCE PAGES ARE ONLINE. All the information on "All Different, All Equal: From Principles to Practice. European contributions to the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance" and the preceding NGO Forum from 10-13 October 2000, in Strasbourg, France, including country by country position papers, the draft report of the NGO Forum, and other documents from International NGOs, can be found at: www.icare.to/interconference/index.html (UNITED, 12 October)
BETWEEN NATIONALISM AND GLOBALISM CONFERENCE ANNOUNCED. The International Society for the Study of European Ideas announces its eighth international conference, to be held from 22-27 July 2002, in Aberystwyth, Wales. The conference topic is "European Culture in a Changing World: Between Nationalism and Globalism." The application deadline is 1 December 2001. For information, see www.aber.ac.uk/tfts/issei2002/. (RUS-NAT list, 16 October)
AZERBAIJANEMBATTLED EDITOR RESIGNS. Rauf Arifoglu, who was released from detention last week, has resigned as editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" to concentrate on campaigning for the 5 November parliamentary election, Turan reported on 10 October quoting "Azadlyg." Arifoglu, who faces trial on charges of attempted hijacking, illegal arms possession and planning a coup d'etat, is sixth on the Musavat party's list of candidates to contest the poll under the proportional system. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October)
OPPOSITION JOURNALIST ATTACKED. Elbai Gasanli, a correspondent of the largest opposition newspaper, "Yeni Musavat," was attacked on 13 October by a group of unknown assailants near Nekhram village in Nakhichevan. Shakhin Rzaev, of the Azerbaijan Human Rights Defense Center, said that police had witnessed the accident but did not attempt to intervene. The chairman of the Nekhram municipality demanded that the journalist immediately leave the territory of the republic. The journalist was sent out to Baku on cargo plane by local authorities. Gasanli was already arrested in February in Baku for criticizing the authorities of the autonomous republic in his articles. He was sent to Nakhichevan and sentenced to 15 days imprisonment but then released after three days of detention. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 16 October)
BELARUSOSCE SAYS ELECTIONS UNDEMOCRATIC... The OSCE Minsk mission on 16 October said the previous day's ballot to the Chamber of Representatives fell short of international standards for democratic elections, Reuters reported. "In particular, the minimum requirements were not met for the holding of free, fair, equal, accountable, and open elections," the mission said in a statement based on conclusions of the OSCE technical assessment team, which worked in Belarus. The European parliamentary troika -- the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the European Parliament, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe -- concurred with the OSCE mission's statement, Belapan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October)
...BUT MOSCOW DISAGREES. Meanwhile, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's spokesman said Russian President Vladimir Putin on 15 October congratulated the Belarusian president on "the successful holding of free and democratic parliamentary elections." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October)
CORRESPONDENT ATTACKED. Aleksandr Feduta, a "Moscow News" correspondent in Belarus, was beaten on 12 October by the unknown assailants at the entrance of his house in Minsk. Lyudmila Tyulen, the editor-in-chief of "Moscow News," said that the attack could be "an act of political intimidation" as Feduta was known for his criticism of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 14 October)
CZECH REPUBLICTENSIONS MOUNT OVER TEMELIN... A Czech government "ultimatum" to the Austrian authorities to act to lift the blockade by opponents of the Temelin nuclear power plant expired on 11 October, CTK reported. Prague had said that if Vienna failed to meet its demands, it would complain to the EU about Austria's breach of international obligations. Speaking on Czech television on 12 October, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan warned that he does not expect the union to act "immediately" on the Czech complaint and said the situation "must not be dramatized and unnecessarily turned into a confrontation." Earlier on 11 October, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel had rejected the demand and said Prague "cannot really expect us to resort to using police to get women, mothers, or alarmed citizens off the streets." He added that in Austria the right to freedom of expression is respected, according to CTK. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October)
...AS CZECHS, AUSTRIANS FAIL TO AGREE. Meeting in Vienna on 12 October, Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross and his Austrian counterpart, Ernst Strasser, failed to reach agreement on Prague's demand that Austria act to end the blockade of border crossing points by opponents of the Temelin nuclear power plant. Strasser said Vienna is not willing to encroach "by even a millimeter" on the right of demonstrators to freedom of assembly. Respect for this right, Gross countered, must not hinder the free movement of people and goods at borders. Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel the same day said his country will bring up the Temelin issue at the EU Biarritz summit. Schuessel dubbed Czech Premier Milos Zeman's claim that Prague is being penalized for having supported EU sanctions against Austria "a bizarre conspiracy theory." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October)
HAVEL OPENS FORUM 2000 IN PRAGUE. President Vaclav Havel on 15 October opened the fourth annual meeting of Forum 2000, an encounter of prominent personalities in the spheres of politics, political philosophy, culture, and religion, CTK reported. In his speech, paid tribute to the recent victims of the Middle East conflict and said that in an age of "global responsibility" it is necessary to "get rid of the pride of reason." Humbleness, he said, is one of the main conditions for people to be able to face joint responsibilities in the face of "the miracle of being and our realization that we know nothing." Among participants attending this year's gathering are the Dalai Lama, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Jordanian King Hassan, former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalev, and RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16-17 October)
ESTONIANON-ETHNIC ESTONIANS SAID LOYAL TO ESTONIA. Estonia's Population Affairs Minister Katrin Saks presented a new integration report on 10 October which suggests 84 percent of non-ethnic Estonians living in Estonia consider Estonia their home and 79.3 percent proclaim their loyalty to the Estonian state. Among ethnic Estonians, 86 percent of respondents say they believe that people of many nationalities can work and live together in one country and 75 percent believe that different languages and cultures enrich society. But 10 percent of the ethnic Estonians surveyed said they are not ready for a multicultural society in their country, BNS reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October)
GEORGIAITALIAN JOURNALIST FOUND DEAD. Antonio Russo, a correspondent for a radio station affiliated with Italy's Radical Party, was found dead with chest injuries in Kakheti, some 80 kilometers east of Tbilisi, on 16 October, AP and Caucasus Press reported. Russo had been in Tbilisi for a year, and had focused primarily on reporting on the war in Chechnya and its impact on Georgia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October)
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION CONCERNS COUNCIL OF EUROPE. Elene Tevdoradze, who chairs the Georgian parliament's commission on human rights, said in Tbilisi on 15 October that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is increasingly concerned over human rights abuses in Georgia, especially on the part of the police, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Tevdoradze quoted CE Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles as also expressing concern over inadequate employment opportunities and medical services and over the plight of displaced Georgians from Abkhazia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October)
KYRGYZSTANKYRGYZ JOURNALIST RECEIVES AWARD FOR COURAGE. Zamira Sadykova, editor of the opposition newspaper "Res Publica," was presented in New York on 10 October with the International Women's Media Foundation's Courage in Journalism prize, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Sadykova received an 18-month suspended sentence in 1995 for allegedly slandering Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev and was sentenced again libel in 1997 for reporting on corruption within a state-run gold-mining company. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October)
OPPOSITION PAPER PREPARES COUNTERSUIT. An official of the opposition "Asaba" newspaper told an RFE/RL correspondent in Bishkek today that the paper is preparing a counter-claim against parliamentary deputy Turdakun UsubAliyev and pro-governmental papers "Aalam," "Kyrgyz Tuusu," and "KTR-Obo." A trial against the paper, initiated by Usubaliev, has been under way in Bishkek since August. UsubAliyev accuses the paper of insulting him regularly over the last eight years and demands 50 million soms in compensation (about $1 million). The "Asaba" lawyer demanded that the court form a special linguistic commission to verify language of the articles about Usubaliev, published in "Asaba." (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, 12 October)
WOMEN PICKET IN JALAL-ABAD. Eight women picketed the regional administration of the Jalal-Abad Province in the town of Jalal-Abad on 16 October. They are relatives of the seven people together with Topchubek TurgunAliyev sentenced to long terms of imprisonment for allegedly having plotted to assassinate President Askar Akaev in May 1999. Opposition leader Topchubek TurgunAliyev was convicted of providing ideological leadership to the group. The women demanded the release of their relatives saying there was no attempt to assassinate Akayev and their relatives are innocent. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, 16 October)
IMPRISONED OPPOSITION LEADER BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE. Erkindik party leader Topchubek TurgunAliyev has begun a hunger strike in prison to protest the Central Electoral Commission's decision to allow incumbent President Akaev to contest the 29 October presidential poll but to exclude several opposition candidates, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Turgunaliaev was sentenced last month to 16 years imprisonment on charges of planning to assassinate Akaev. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October)
ROMANIASYNAGOGUE VANDALIZED IN ROMANIA. A 19th century synagogue in Timisoara was vandalized and several religious items stolen, AP reported on 11 October. Police said they are looking for the culprits, whom they believe were children. On several occasions in the past, Romanian police attributed to children various acts of vandalism against cemeteries and synagogues, but proof has never been produced. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October)
RUSSIABRIEFING: MEDIA FREEDOM UNDER PUTIN. RFE/RL invites everyone to a briefing by Sergei Grigoriants, chairman of Glasnost Public Foundation and director, Glasnost--North Caucasus Information Center on 23 October at RFE/RL in Washington D.C. Since coming to power at the beginning of this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly expressed support for media freedom, but his actions have called into question his commitment to this foundation stone of democracy. Indeed, some have suggested that he not only wants to rein in the press, but put it again under effective state control. Sergei Grigoriants will provide a report from the frontlines of the struggle for a free media in Russia. Please RSVP by 20 October to: email@example.com, by telephone to Melody Jones at (202) 457-6949, or by fax to (202) 457-6992.
KREMLIN MOVES TO CAPTURE INTERNET MEDIA. With little fanfare, the popular news portal vesti.ru has been taken over by Glev Pavlovsky's Kremlin-controlled Fund for Efficient Policy (FEP), internet.ru reported on 9 October. It had been run by Internet veteran Anton Nosik, but after Nosik criticized President Putin for his handling of the "Kursk" disaster, he and his entire editorial board were forced out. The new board, controlled by Pavlovsky, has announced that it will be devoted to patriotic themes, God, and "right-wing views." The FEP already controls -- in one way or another -- Russia's largest news sites: gazeta.ru, dealine.ru, strana.ru, and now vesti.ru. ("RFE/RL Security Watch," 16 October)
ANOTHER INDEPENDENT JUDGE LOSES HIS POST. On 11 October, Judge Sergei Pashin was stripped of his post by the Qualification Collegium of Judges for violating judicial ethics, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 16 October. However, Pashin says the real reason he lost his post was because of his independence, an appraisal with which Western human right organizations agree. Pashin was dismissed for criticizing the sentencing of a young man to prison for draft-dodging -- even though the Russian Constitution allows conscientious objection -- and for giving his personal telephone number to a listener in need of legal help during a radio show. Last June, the Qualifications Collegium stripped an arbitration court judge in Primorskii Krai, Tatyana Loktionova, from her office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2000). She frequently ran afoul of Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October)
BEREZOVSKII SETS UP TRUST TO MANAGE ORT... More than a dozen journalists signed an agreement on 16 October establishing a new company, Teletrust, to manage Boris Berezovskii's 49 percent stake in Russian Public Television (ORT). According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, among those signing the agreement were ORT journalists Sergei Dorenko and Vladimir Pozner, writer Vasilii Aksenov, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" editor Vasilii Tretyakov, "Obshchaya gazeta" editor Yegor Yakovlev, theater director Yurii Lyubimov, and former deputy head of the presidential administration Igor Shabdurasulov. Others who have been invited to join the company will have until 1 December to sign the agreement. According to Interfax, Berezovskii said that he will not refuse to give the government some or all of his stock in ORT, "if the shareholders of the new company make such a decision." Berezovskii also said that he has agreed to finance the new company. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October)
PUTIN VISITS ETHNIC RUSSIANS IN KAZAKHSTAN. Meeting in Astana on 10 October with the leaders of an association representing Kazakhstan's large Russian minority, President Vladimir Putin called for that community to be given opportunities to preserve and develop its language and culture, Interfax reported. The association's leader, Yurii Bunakov, said that Putin is the first Russian president to take an interest in his co-ethnics' plight, adding that Russians are emigrating from Kazakhstan as they are "losing hope." Bunakov noted that Russians account for more than 35 percent of the total population of Kazakhstan but occupy less than 8 percent of government posts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October)
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION BLEAK IN MANY REGIONS. Lyudmila Alekseeva, leader of the Moscow Helsinki Group, declared on 5 October that there is not a single region in Russia where the observance of human rights would meet international requirements, Interfax reported. According to the report, the situation regarding human rights is worst in Bashkortostan and Kalmykia. In Bashkortostan, for example, "torture practiced by law enforcement agencies and the lack of efficient mechanisms to control such abuses pose a serious problem" (see www.fsumonitor.com/MHG_99/RegionalReports.shtml) In Kalmykia, local governments were formed not by direct ballots but at so-called public meetings in violation of federal law. Some of the republic's prosecutors have lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of these government, but even in districts "where the local governments have been declared illegitimate, they continue their activity." ("RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 11 October)
DOMESTIC CENTRAL MEDIA IGNORE REGIONS. In its issue No. 40, "Vek" argues that the RFE/RL Russian Service's weekly program "Korrespondentskii chas" offers "more information about real life in the regions than a week's worth of broadcasts from Russian Public Television and Media-MOST." According to the publication, most television and radio stations are preoccupied with interpreting events in Moscow and are interested in what is happening in the regions only to the extent that developments in the regions reflect on the distribution of political power in the capital. Regarding coverage of the President Putin's federation reforms, the article notes that the "independent" media "did not so much as comment on his initiative establishing seven federal districts as compromise the opponents of this transformation, while the state channels could provide full explanation of the reforms." ("RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 11 October)
ENVIRONMENTALISTS FIGHT IMPORT OF NUCLEAR WASTE. A Russian government project to import spent nuclear fuel had led to a clash with environmentalists that could be decided by a national referendum. According to calculations by Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry, importing 20,000 tons of waste from the West and Asia could add as much as $21 billion to the cash-strapped Russian budget. The ministry says that spent fuel would be reprocessed to isolate uranium and plutonium for future use, and the leftover waste put into protective storage. Russian environmentalists say that Russia does not even have enough secure storage space for its own nuclear waste, not to mention imports. Article 50 in the country's law on the "protection of the environment" clearly prohibits the import of dangerous waste material. But last month, the State Duma's ecological committee approved amendments to the article that in effect would overturn an absolute prohibition on importing nuclear waste. The full Duma is expected to vote on the issue next month. On 9 October, Greenpeace Russia and local environmental groups from radioactivity-contaminated districts in the Urals -- like the village of Muslumovo, infamous for its high number of cancers and birth defects -- poured contaminated soil onto the Duma steps in protest. Aleksei Yablokov, one of Russia's most respected specialists on the ecological effects of nuclear energy and an adviser to former President Boris Yeltsin, recently told RFE/RL that he strongly disagrees with the idea of Russia importing nuclear waste. He said that the long-term effects of radioactive waste have not been sufficiently studied. Yablokov also says that reprocessing nuclear fuel to isolate plutonium and uranium itself generates new waste. He says the government's main aim is to make a lot of money and to use the plutonium in an ambitious program to expand the use of nuclear energy. The possibility of Article 50 being amended by a Kremlin-friendly Duma has led to a new counterattack by environmentalists, who are now seeking to organize a national referendum to block the government's project. ("RFE/RL Weekday Magazine," 11 October)
PROTESTING TEACHERS END HIGHWAY BLOCKADE BUT NOT STRIKE... Teachers in Altai Republic protesting unpaid wages have ended their blockade of a highway leading to Mongolia, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 October. However, the teachers said they will continue their strike, which began on 2 October. Altai President Semen Zyubakin has promised to repay some of the teachers' wages in the short term but has asked for more time to make good on the entire seven-month backlog. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October)
...AS HEALTH-CARE WORKERS STILL HAVEN'T RECEIVED THEIR WAGES. Fifty-one regions of Russia owe health-care workers back wages totaling 584.7 million rubles ($20.9 million), ITAR- TASS reported on 12 October, citing the Ministry of Health. According to the ministry, the largest backlogs are in the Far East, which owes some 166.6 million rubles, and Western Siberia, where some 109.2 million rubles in wages have not been paid. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October)
KUZBASS INFANTS PLAGUED BY POOR HEALTH. Local doctors in Kemerovo Oblast believe that only 7 percent of new births in the area can be considered healthy and that the number of infants born with defects is growing, RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" reported on 7 October. According to the oblast's bureau of medical statistics, the number of premature births from 1997 to 1999 accounted for 3 percent of the total births, compared with more than 9 percent during the first eight months of 2000. Of the babies weighing less than 1 kilogram, only 16 percent survive; of that figure, 64 percent die during their first week. Part of the problem is that hospitals do not have incubators. In addition to lacking the proper equipment, hospitals also have to care for abandoned babies, the majority of which are not adopted because they have neurological disorders. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October)
SERBIAINDEPENDENT SERBIAN JOURNALIST FREED. On 10 October, a military court in Nis freed from prison Miroslav Filipovic, who is serving a 10-year sentence on espionage charges. The court ordered a retrial, claiming "irregularities" in the original trial. Filipovic has always maintained that he is innocent. He has argued that the real reason he was jailed was because of his reporting of Serbian atrocities in Kosova in 1999. In recent days, the new government freed two British, two Canadian, and four Dutch nationals, whom the Yugoslav authorities arrested as part of Milosevic's pre-election xenophobic propaganda campaign. Kostunica has not issued a general amnesty but said that he "wants politics out of the courtroom," "The New York Times" reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October)
SUPREME MILITARY COURT OVERTURNS FILIPOVIC SENTENCE. The Association of Independent Electronic Media saluted the decision made on 10 October by the Supreme Military Court to overturn the seven-year prison sentence passed on Kraljevo journalist Miroslav Filipovic earlier this year. While supporting the decision of the Supreme Military Court, ANEM expressed its concern with the fact that the indictment against Filipovic was still valid and called on the Military Prosecutor in Nis to withdraw the indictment in accordance with his authorization. In its press release, ANEM thanked all individuals and organizations who have joined the campaign for Filipovic to be released. (ANEM Press Release, 10 October)
ANEM URGES RE-EXAMINATION OF LICENSING PROCEDURES. The Association of Independent Electronic Media has called for an urgent revision of the procedures for granting of radio and television frequency licenses. The Association has protested on numerous occasions against the non-transparent and non-democratic manner in which frequency licenses have been granted in this country and emphasized the defective legislation whose only purpose was to provide technical justifications for the previous regime to ban independent electronic media or bar them access to frequencies. At the same time, pro-regime media were being granted frequencies without meeting even the minimum technical and programming criteria. In the light of claims by certain radio and television stations close to the previous regime that foreign investors are interested in them, ANEM calls for urgent revision of all procedures conducted under political pressure and demands that frequencies, which are a national resource, and which some radio and television stations obtained under unequal or non-democratic conditions, not be allowed to fall into foreign ownership. ANEM called on the new Yugoslav authorities to clearly point out to frequency users and potential foreign investors that proprietorship of national resources allocated under political rather than legal criteria will not be permitted. (ANEM Press Release, 14 October)
SERBIAN COURT STALLS ON RE-TRIAL OF KOSOVO ACTIVIST. A Serbian judge in Nis has postponed until December the re- trial of Flora Brovina, whom is serving a 12-year prison sentence for "terrorism," Reuters reported on 12 October. Rajko Danilovic, who is one of her lawyers, said that the judges "are avoiding this trial. In our future democratic society, there will be no room for the sort of judges who are scared when their boss is gone." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October)
UZBEKISTANSYNAGOGUE DAMAGED BY FIRE IN UZBEK CAPITAL. One of Tashkent's four synagogues was badly damaged by fire late on 9 October, shortly after Yom Kippur services ended, AP reported. Several Torah scrolls were destroyed in the blaze. Rabbi Abe David Gurevich said that although the cause of the fire is not yet clear, he plans to request police protection for other synagogues and for a Jewish school. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October)
RECENT PUBLICATIONS, NEW WEBSITESPRACTICAL STRATEGIES FOR LOCAL HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS. The Center for Sustainable Human Rights Action (CeSHRA) announces the publication of a new manual, Practical Strategies for Local Human Rights Groups, in both Spanish and English. Translations in French and Arabic are expected. This handbook shares strategies used by human rights organizations and activists for survival in hostile environments, dealing with obstacles such as harassment, threats and violence. Visit the website at: www.ceshra.org or contact CeSHRA at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on this edition. (Center for Sustainable Human Rights Action, 14 October)
END NOTEA NEW THREAT TO RELIGIOUS MINORITIES?
By Paul Goble
New Russian government efforts to enlist the Orthodox Church in Moscow's fight against religious minorities, who some Russian officials say threaten Russia, could endanger religious liberty in that country.
Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said in Volgograd last week that the Russian police and religious leaders should combine forces to oppose cults and sects that "aim to undermine statehood in Russia." Those remarks represent the Russian government's clearest response so far to the Russian Orthodox Church's requests for a special relationship with the state and to the court-imposed limitations on government controls over religious groups.
Since the collapse of Soviet power, Russian Orthodox hierarchs have sought to enlist the government in opposing the missionary activities of various non-indigenous religious groups, denominations that the Orthodox often describe as "foreign." Responding to this effort, the Russian government drafted and passed a law that not only underscored the special relationship between the state and Orthodoxy but also set the stage for Russian government moves against religious competitors.
But last year, Russia's Constitutional Court struck down several provisions of that law after a group of Jehovah's Witnesses argued that the legislation violated the principle of freedom of conscience as enshrined in the 1993 Russian Constitution.
Rushailo's proposed alliance between state and Church thus appears to be an effort to circumvent this ruling. On the one hand, it could open the way for the state to use the Church to fight some of its battles.
On the other, it might suggest to Orthodox and others that at least some in the Church are prepared to play the kind of intelligence and control function that some priests and hierarchs played during Soviet times.
The timing of Rushailo's suggestion makes it likely that his remarks will be especially troubling both to followers of minority denominations and to those concerned about religious and human rights. Recently, the U.S. State Department publicly condemned attacks on a Jewish school in Ryazan on 17 September and on assemblies of Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons in Volgograd--where Rushailo made his remarks--on 20 August.
The State Department called on the Russian authorities to "conduct full and thorough investigations on an urgent basis" and said that "those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent under Russian law." The U.S. statement also provided details of all three attacks. In Ryazan, it said, a group of youths had broken into a Jewish Saturday school, shouted anti-Semitic slogans, and intimidated the local principal into denying the Jews further use of the school.
Local officials have told the media that they are investigating the case. But they have made no arrests, and at least one Ryazan official dismissed the event as simple hooliganism with no broader meaning.
In Volgograd, the State Department noted, other groups of extremists burst into the services of the two Christian denominations and beat worshipers, directly threatening several Mormon missionaries from the U.S. In addition, the statement pointed out, officials close to President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and regional officials whom the Kremlin actively supports have made openly anti-Semitic remarks. Such actions and remarks, the State Department said, "undermine efforts to create a tolerant society under the rule of law. "It added that "all Russian citizens must be afforded the greatest possible protection of their religious and hard-won democratic freedoms."
At least some Russians who view religious minorities as a threat may read Rushailo's words as Moscow's response to the U.S. on this point and thus see his words as a kind of official blessing for attacks on religious minorities�even if that was not his intention. If that should happen, then the tragic events of Ryazan and Volgograd may very well be repeated elsewhere, a development that could threaten not only the followers of minority religions in Russia but the very possibility of religious freedom in the country.