21 December 2000, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of (Un)civil Societies will appear on 3 January 2001.
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB PUBLICATIONS.
Three Armenian-language books were published by the Yerevan Press Club with the financial support of Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia: "Case-Law Concerning Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights," and "Saving Press Freedom the Safe Way. Media Ethics and Accountability Systems" and "Text Studies" plus five other journalism manuals. Before the end of 2000, two more editions will be published: "Media and Democracy," and "Journalists Against Terrorism and Violence". (Yerevan Press Club Newsletter, 15 December)COURSE FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTERS.
A training course for Armenian investigative reporters, was organized by Yerevan Press Club and Journalists Union of Armenia with the support of Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia. The classes were taught by Alexander Stanko, Professor of Department of Journalism of Rostov State University, and Armenak Manukian, Head of the Press Service of the Ministry of National Security. (Yerevan Press Club Newsletter, 15 December)NOYAN TAPAN MAY END TV BROADCASTS DUE TO STATE PRESSURE.
The Noyan Tapan news agency released a statement on 14 December saying that it may soon end its television broadcasts to prevent financial losses stemming from actions by government agencies. The government has demanded that the agency modify its antenna. The agency said that it considers the government actions to be "pressure on the free media masked under the camouflage of 'technical reasons.'" Power to Noyan Tapan's transmitter was cut off late on 30 October to prevent the broadcast of footage of the arrest earlier that evening of businessman Arkadii Vartanian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December)ARMENIAN ACADEMICS PROTESTS WAGE ARREARS.
The trade union organizations of 42 institutes and seven divisions of the Armenian Academy of Sciences organized a protest action in Yerevan on 15 December to demand payment of salaries arrears totaling 320 million drams ($580,000), Noyan Tapan reported. That sum was not included in a one-off payment of 8 billion drams allocated by the Ministry of Finance and Economy to pay wage arrears within the science sector. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December)
COURT REAFFIRMS DEPORTATION DECISION AGAINST POLISH PRIEST.
In the case of the Polish Catholic priest Zbigniew Karolak, the Brest regional court on 29 November overturned the revocation of his deportation from Belarus. Previously the same court had ruled in his favour. Karolak's lawyer complained that the latest hearing took place in secrecy and he had not even been informed, only learning of the hearing on 2 December. "Everything took place in accordance with the law," insisted Nikolai Shiz, a member of the regional court presidium who took part in the hearing. "Lawyers are allowed to attend initial hearings and appeal hearings, but are not allowed to attend review hearings," he told Keston on 15 December. (Keston News Service, 18 December)LUKASHENKA WANTS BELARUSIAN TV TO BE EQUAL TO RUSSIAN.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 13 December criticized the leadership of the State Broadcasting Company for poor-quality programs on Belarusian Television. Lukashenka ordered Belarusian Television journalists to meet the professional standards of their Russian colleagues. "One should pay attention not to the content of materials [on Russian channels], not to comments on events, but to the work of correspondents and cameramen, since our television is 10 to 20 times less skilful here," Interfax quoted Lukashenka as saying. The Belarusian president explained his close interest in national television by saying it is the main tool for promoting his ideology, Belapan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December)
'VOICE OF HOPE' DENIED LICENSE.
The State Telecommunications Commission on 2 November denied a license application from the "Voice Hope Ltd.," a broadcast company connected to the United Church of God which specializes in Christian programming. The official reason for the application denial was that it violates several provisions of the licensing provisions. The Bulgarian Tolerance Foundation believes that the actual reason may be that a nation-wide Protestant or Islamic radio station cannot go on the air before an Orthodox one. (MINELRES, 14 December)
"Forgotten Abkhazia: Anatomy of Post-Socialist Ethnic War," part of the Program on New Approaches to Russian Security, concludes "the return of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia cannot be an immediate goal, and from the beginning was a wrong policy priority. The real priority is the establishment of lawful authority capable of enforcing law and order. Since very little trust exists between Abkhazians and Georgians and the prospects for an effective state are remote, refugees will continue to suffer in exile. Long-term adaptation to exile may be a more humane approach." For the complete text see http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~ponars/POLICY%20MEMOS/Derluguian163.html (MINELRES, 18 December)
WORKERS MOVEMENT ACTIVIST ON HUNGER-STRIKE.
Sakhip Zhanabaeva, one of the leaders of the Workers Movement of Kazakhstan, declared a hunger-strike on 14 December after being sentenced to five days detention for participating in an unsanctioned demonstration on 30 November, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported, quoting Pokolenie Movement chairwoman Irina Savostina. Zhanabaeva had been detained and severely beaten by police on 12 December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December)
CRIMINAL CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST ACTIVISTS.
Charges of hooliganism have been brought against Albert Korgoldoev, the Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee's representative in Djalalabad Oblast, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 12 December. Korgoldoev has gone into hiding to avoid arrest. Journalist Beken NazarAliyev and Cholpon Ergeshova of the Coalition of NGOs face similar charges. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December)NEW REGIONAL PAPER.
A new business-oriented newspaper "Bazaar-Tamir," was launched in the town of Naryn. In recent months, several new independent papers have appeared in this town. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Report, 15 December)NGO COALITION ASSEMBLY BEGINS.
A two-day general assembly, attended by some 130 delegates from around the country, of the Coalition of Non-Governmental Organizations "For Democracy and Civil Society" began in Bishkek on 16 December. According to its leader, the coalition is not an opposition organization, but works for the establishment of civil society and the rule of law. Founded on 16 December 1998, the coalition has criticized the Kyrgyzstan government for irregularities during the last parliamentary and presidential elections. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Report, 15 December)
An online database of NGOs is located at http://www.nisc.lt The database is a project of the Non-Governmental Information and Support Centre of Lithuania. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (Center for Civil Society International, 13 December)
DEPUTIES SEEK TO OUTLAW FASCIST, COMMUNIST PARTIES.
A group of deputies form the Popular Party Christian Democratic on 13 December submitted an amendment to the law on political parties that would outlaw formations and political organizations "of fascist, Nazi, or communist orientation," Flux reported the next day. The draft would also prohibit the display of fascist, Nazi, and communist symbols. The Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) is the largest group in the parliament. On 14 December, PCM leader Vladimir Voronin declined to step down as presidential candidate and negotiate with the other parliamentary groups on a joint candidate, as proposed by parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov two days earlier. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December)
NURSES BLOCK TRAINS, BORDER IN PROTEST OVER WAGES.
Some 400 nurses on 16 December blocked rail tracks in Konin, central Poland, on the main Moscow-Berlin route in an effort to force the government to discuss wage hikes. Nurses also blocked border crossings at Kostrzyn and Slubice on the Polish-German border and at Terespol on the Polish-Belarusian border. Meanwhile, on 18 December, some 400 nurses continued their sit-in at the Health Ministry for the seventh consecutive day, while thousands of nurses protested at hospitals throughout the country. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December)
WORLD BANK SAYS NEARLY HALF LIVE UNDER POVERTY LINE.
According to a World Bank report on Central and East European economic performance, 40 percent of Romanians live below the poverty line, Romanian Television reported on 12 December. The Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), which won the November elections, has announced it wants to negotiate with the IMF a new agreement, providing for a 4-4.5 percent deficit. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December)
ANOTHER JOURNALIST FROM 'NOVAYA GAZETA' BEATEN.
An investigative journalist for "Novaya gazeta," Oleg Lure, was severely beaten by five assailants on 17 December, who did not take either his money or valuables, even after Lure offered them to ward off the attack, "Segodnya" reported on 18 December. Deputy chief editor Yurii Shchekochikhin, who is also a State Duma deputy (Yabloko), told "Segodnya" that he is sure the attack was not "ordinary hooliganism" but "an attempt to intimidate, perhaps, to warn [Lure]." According to Shchekochikhin, Lure has written articles that directly affect the interests of such people as presidential chief of staff Voloshin and former Sibneft head and State Duma deputy (independent) Roman Abramovich. According to the International Press Institute, Lure, too, believes that the attack was related to his work. Most recently, he has investigated the case of alleged kickbacks to Kremlin officials by the Swiss firm Mabetex, which was recently closed by the Office of the Prosecutor-General. (RFE/RL Newsline, 19 December)TAX AUTHORITIES THREATEN TO SHUT DOWN NTV...
The Tax Inspectorate of the Central federal district filed suit in a Moscow court on 9 December requesting the liquidation of a number of Media-MOST companies, including NTV and the Seven Days publishing house, Interfax reported on 15 December. According to Prime-TASS, a hearing on the case will not be held until January. Media-MOST's press service responded to the move by declaring that the "Russian authorities have got down to what they think is the final stage of destroying media outlets" of the company. It continued that any "doubts about the political nature of the harassment of our companies have been shattered." NTV's Public Council, headed by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, issued a statement on 16 December saying that the attempt by the authorities to use the tax organs "could deal a blow not only to freedom of speech and the press but to free enterprise in Russia. The main achievements of the reforms of the last 15 years are under threat." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December)...AS VARIOUS POLITICAL FIGURES RALLY TO NTV'S DEFENSE...
Media Minister Mikhail Lesin said that while he believes the tax authorities' request to dissolve Media-MOST is "absolutely legitimate," he nevertheless promised to hold urgent consultations with the tax service's leadership to make sure that its decision "does not have a negative effect on the activities of NTV and other [Media-MOST-owned] media." Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Union of Rightist Forces' faction, and Sergei Ivanenko, deputy head of the Yabloko faction, both condemned the tax authorities' actions. According to Ivanenko, Media-MOST was singled out of millions of debt ridden companies, many of which owe much more money in overdue taxes. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov took a different point of view, saying on 16 December that he does not believe the tax authorities' move was politically motivated. However, the Central Council of Luzhkov's Fatherland movement released a statement the same day urging Putin to adopt urgent measures to protect the media. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December)...WHILE PUTIN BACKS PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE.
When asked to comment on the case against Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii, President Putin said in Cuba on 15 December that "I don't think Gusinskii is dangerous but I don't think it is necessary to doubt the action of the Prosecutor-General's Office." He added that there are businessmen who "want to become shadow politicians or influence decision making." Such phenomena will be "gradually removed strictly within the limits of the law," he continued. He did not mention the tax authorities' separate effort against Media-MOST. In an interview with Canadian television journalists on 14 December, Putin said that " if what I sometimes see on television screens and read in newspapers is not opposition, what is it? It must be just hooliganism. But I don't want to use such terms with regard to the people who disagree with what I do, so let us say that this is not hooliganism, but opposition. Though not always civilized opposition, in my view." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December)...AND FSB "WINS" SUIT AGAINST MOST-MEDIA.
A Moscow court has ordered Media-MOST holdings and its "Segodnya" newspaper to publish retractions of their statements that the FSB put pressure on the justice system concerning holdings of owner Vladimir Gusinsky. The verdict came in an FSB suit claiming that "Segodnya" was "undermining the professional reputation" of the Russian intelligence service and demanded that "Segodnya" acknowledge that this claim is "false." (RFE/RL Security Watch, 18 December)GUSINSKII EXTRADITION PROCESS COULD TAKE MONTHS...
The Office of Russia's Prosecutor-General announced on 13 December that it has forwarded all documents required for Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii's extradition from Spain to Russia, ITAR- TASS reported. If extradited, Gusinskii will face embezzlement charges, Interfax reported. Gusinskii can be held for up to 40 days, during which time Spain's Supreme Court must decide whether to extradite him, Russian prosecutors told the agency. However, Reuters reported that other extradition cases in Spain have taken up to nine months. The Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko faction leaders have sent an appeal to President Putin asking him to personally intercede in the case against Gusinskii, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. According to the appeal, "recent events convincingly demonstrate that the Prosecutor-General's Office has been increasingly used as a weapon of political pressure and property re-distribution." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December)...AS INTERNATIONAL VOICES RAISED ON HIS BEHALF...
The appeal continued: "Only a few in the world would doubt that there is but one thing behind the whole streak of bombastic accusations: the desire to take under full political control the last national television channel independent of state officials." A U.S. State Department official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that "the case against Mr. Gusinskii and other instances of official pressure against journalists and the press pose a threat to media independence in Russia." Spain's "El Pais" reported that Gusinskii told Spanish policemen as he was being arrested that they were "making a big mistake": "You don't know who I am, I'm a friend of [U.S. President] Bill Clinton's," he reportedly said. Early next week, Israeli parliamentary speaker Avraham Berg and the secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) plan to head to Spain to ask for Gusinskii's release, Reuters reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December)... WHILE NEMSTOV DEEMS CASE "POLITICAL" AND "PERSONAL"
Leading Russian liberal politician Boris Nemtsov, said in a radio interview that "the charges against Gusinskiy have no basis in reality... These proceedings are purely political and serve a dual purpose: first they are part of a bid to impose state control at NTV through the sale of 25 per cent of shares plus one -- the Kremlin itself wants to buy these shares through affiliated commercial structures -- and second there is the extreme, almost physiological, level of hostility felt by president [Putin] towards Gusinskii. (Ekho Moskvy, 13 December).PUTIN DEFENDS HIS RECORD ON PRESS FREEDOM.
When asked about charges that his government is trying to limit press freedom, Putin said such criticism of his policies in Russia testifies to existence of free speech. Putin explained: "I don't see any restrictions because those who complain about various restrictions continue to criticize the president and the government in the harshest manner. And that's the main indicator...that the government is not restricting the press in any way." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December)BROADCASTING REFORM TO CUT REGIONAL ROLE?
"Segodnya," which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-MOST Group, reported on 9 December that the Media Ministry's plans to create a joint-stock company based on the transmission networks of All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) will seriously impact on how television and radio companies function in Russian regions. According to the daily, under the plan, to which President Putin has given his preliminary okay, there will be only 11 regional TV and radio companies rather than 89--in other words, one company per time zone rather than one company per region. The daily concludes that the government needs these measures in order to counter the influence of regional leaders and elites and strengthen the "power vertical." ("RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 December)MEDIA MINISTRY, UNION OF JOURNALISTS DO BATTLE.
The Union of Journalists has appealed to the Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to examine whether Media Minister Mikhail Lesin should be held criminally responsible for hindering journalists' professional activities, Interfax reported on 14 December. The authors of the appeal accuse Lesin of interference in the activities of the mass media during the mayoral campaign in Sochi, which resulted in the closure of the private television channel Maks-TV. In response to the appeal, the Ministry's press service said that the attempt by the union's leadership to "force the ministry to stop its work" is "irresponsible and destructive." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December)MEDIA MINISTRY ORDERS LOCAL INDEPENDENT TV STATION CLOSED.
On orders from the federal Media Ministry, the independent privately-owned MAKS-TV in Sochi was closed on 8 December, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported the next day. According to the ministry, the station had violated both the law on advertising, by running a commercial for Ararat cognac in September, and the law on elections in early December, RFE/RL's Sochi correspondent reported. On one program, "Political meetings" on 1 December, the host of the program discussed with Fatherland political council member Konstantin Zatulin the possible link between a local newspaper and a candidate in city's upcoming mayoral election, Vadim Boiko. The city election commission decided that the show represented illegal campaign activity, because it defamed Boiko's reputation and honor. In response, the TV station offered Boiko free time to respond, an opportunity that he turned down. As it happens, Boiko is acquainted with Media Minister Mikhail Lesin. Lesin participated in the founding of the Fund for the Reconstruction of Sochi, which was set up by Boiko in September 2000. Lesin told RFE/RL that there is nothing strange in the fact that a federal bureaucrat participated in the establishment of a non-commercial public organization such as the fund. He added that "We have done everything legal, perhaps, a little bit at the wrong time." The mayoral elections were held on 3 December. Boiko won the largest share of the votes with 27.17 percent and will compete against Yuri Medvedev, a deputy of the Krasnodar Krai's legislative assembly, according to ITAR-TASS. The run-off election will take place on 17 December. ("RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 December)BEREZOVSKII EXPANDS CHARITABLE WORK.
Boris Berezovskii announced on 18 December that he is establishing an international fund for civil liberties, which will promote the development of civil society in Russia, Interfax reported on 18 December. According to the agency, he will channel some $25 million to foundation activities over the next five years. "The fund will offer public financial and legal information and organizational resources to protect human rights," Berezovskii declared. The fund will also provide protection to the most vulnerable groups in Russia's regions, such as prisoners, conscripts, ethnic minorities, journalists and the media. Last month, Berezovskii donated $3 million to the Sakharov Foundation to prevent the closure of its museum in Moscow. Also on 18 December, Berezovskii revealed he is holding talks on the sale of his 49 percent stake in Russian Public Television. He said a deal will likely be concluded in several months. (�RFE/RL Newsline,� 19 December)PUTIN APPEARS TO SHARE FSB'S VIEW OF DISPUTES WITH ENVIRONMENTALISTS.
When asked about the arrests and trials of environmentalists in Russia, Putin stated that "there are quite a lot of detentions of ecological movement activists not only in Russia, but also in other countries." He also stressed that former military officers collecting and passing information to foreign nationals working for environmental organizations is not quite the same as protecting the environment. He added that the question as to whether one piece of information or another "is classified and whether it is time to declassify it is a question to be decided by the courts." On the issue of people facing trial for such offenses, Putin noted that "a normal process is under way." These people, according to Putin, "have the opportunity and the right to a defense." Last month, the military board of the Russian Supreme Court sent back for retrial the case of former military reporter Grigorii Pasko, who has been accused of treason for passing information to a Japanese television station about the Russian navy's environmentally hazardous handling of nuclear waste. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December)PATRIARCH SAYS THERE ARE "MILLIONS OF VAGABOND CHILDREN."
Patriarch Aleksi II has asked President Putin to support the church in protecting family values, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 December. Addressing an assembly of Moscow clergy, the patriarch said family ties have been threatened. "Unbridled propaganda of violence and debauchery in the media, has lead to adultery, divorces, infanticide, deserted children, juvenile crime and drug addiction," the patriarch said. According to official information, as many as 46,000 families have been stripped of parental rights. There are between two and five million vagabond children in Russia and up to one third of the children in orphanages have only one parent. According to the patriarch, the breakup of families was "a result of a long policy imposed by the state ideological machine" and he held the government responsible for lack of a timely family strategy.HOW MANY RELIGIOUS GROUPS TO LOSE LEGAL STATUS?
Across Russia, many hundreds of Muslim groups, Protestant churches and Russian Orthodox parishes are threatened with loss of such rights as holding services in public places, distributing literature, owning property or inviting foreign guests if they do not re-register with state authorities by the end of this year. A presidential administration official in charge of relations with religious organizations said on 15 December that a little over half of the "17,500 organizations registered under a 1991 law on religion had been re-registered by July under a stricter 1997 law," the "Moscow Times" reported. Religious rights lawyer Anatoly Pchelintsev said in remote areas religious organizations either "ignored the requirements or waited too long or faced resistance on the part of local authorities and had to spend months fighting in court. ("The Moscow Times," 16 December)PRESSURE ON PENZA PENTECOSTALS INTENSIFIES.
Regional authorities have stepped up pressure on the Living Faith Pentecostal church in the town of Penza. Distribution of the church's newspaper is being disrupted, establishments that work with the Pentecostals have been forced to withdraw from joint projects, and pressure has been put on the local cinema, where the church holds services, not to renew the lease. (Keston News Service, 15 December)MOSCOW SAYS EUROPE MUST STOP FOCUSING ON CHECHNYA.
Unless its mandate in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is restored, Russia will not cooperate with the Council, Dmitrii Rogozin, the head of the Duma Commission for International Relations, told RIA-novosti on 12 December. He said that since last January when Russia's membership was suspended for human rights violations in Chechnya, there had been "considerable improvement of Russian policy in the republic." He concluded that those PACE members who continue to criticize Moscow's approach in Chechnya are "suffering from the spirit of the Cold War." (�RFE/RL Security Watch,� 18 December)CEC CHAIRMAN ON DRAFT POLITICAL PARTY LAW.
Central Electoral Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, described the draft law on political parties in "Kommersant." As chairman of the draft law working group, he said the draft will be submitted to the State Duma "by year's end." Under the draft, he said, a political party is defined as "an organization that has at least 10,000 members" with "divisions with at least 100 members each in half of the  Russian Federation constituent units." He said the Russian government will give annual appropriations "only to those parties that passed the two-percent barrier" in State Duma elections. As to why the Russian government should get involved in political party funding, Veshnyakov responded, "If we keep nothing but contributions by citizens and legal persons, the parties may become criminalized. But when the state takes on these expenses, that makes it possible to be protected against the intergrowth of the political oligarchy with the financial one, which is pursuing interests that are far from social or state interests." Veshnyakov said they were discussing "but not insisting" that in order to enter the State Duma, political parties will have to gain not the current "five, but seven percent" of the vote. As for financial disclosures required of election candidates, Veshnyakov said the draft law removes the reporting requirement for income and property of family members -- except for spouses. (�Kommersant,� 15 December)PROCURACY CLOSES 'MABETEX' CASE.
"Ekho Moskvy" noted that Senior Investigator Ruslan Tamayev clearly understands the role he is supposed to play, noting that his closing of the case -- because he could find no confirmation of charges against former Kremlin property chief Pavel Borodin and bribery accusations against Boris Yeltsin, his wife and daughters -- coincided with his promotion to head one of the most prestigious procuracy departments. (�RFE/RL Security Watch,� 18 December)MASS DEFECTIONS REPORTED AT PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE.
Investigative journalists Aleksandr Khinstein and others reported in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 15 December that more than one third of the investigators of the major crimes division at the Office of the Prosecutor-General have resigned within the past six months. Nikolai Volkov, who headed the Aeroflot investigation, is perhaps the best known, but a number of other well-respected investigators have quit recently, according to the daily, in which Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group is a major shareholder. State Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Viktor Pokhmelkin speculated that "the really competent investigators sense that someone is using the prosecutor's office for their own purposes." Also on 15 December, Geneva's chief prosecutor, Bernard Bertossa, told Reuters that the recent decision by the Prosecutor- General's Office to drop the Mabetex case was political "beyond a shadow of a doubt." Bertossa added that his own investigation of the case will be complicated by Moscow's move. (�RFE/RL Newsline,� 19 December)"KURSK" MOTHER PROTESTS AGAIN.
Nadezhda Tylik -- apparently forcibly injected with a sedative during her public protest in August -- made another public outburst after a 12 December public awards ceremony for the relatives of the 118 "Kursk" submariners, NTV International reported. After saying the Kursk sailors had died due to "negligence, bungling and indifference of the powers-that-be," Tylik went on to accuse the Russian authorities of bugging the phones and reading the letters of the "Kursk" relatives. Another bereaved woman said that they "all agreed" with Tylik's accusations. Military representatives "gathered all the press in another room, without cameras and cassette recorders present, and pleaded with [journalists] not to show Tylik's statement in reports, describing her as sick." (NTV International, 12 December)MIKHAILOV GOES UNPUNISHED FOR ANTI-SEMITIC REMARKS...
The oblast Prosecutor-General's Office has decided not to bring charges against Governor Aleksandr Mikhailov for anti-Semitic comments he made during an interview published in the Moscow press shortly after his election victory. Those comments, according to the prosecutor-general, "cannot be regarded as inciting national, racial, or religious hatred." Moreover, they were of a "one-off nature" and "had no consequences." Mikhailov had maintained that both he and President Vladimir Putin were united in seeking to rid Russia of all Jewish "scum." He had also referred disparagingly to the Jewish origins of his predecessor, Aleksandr Rutskoi, who had been barred from seeking re-election in October, reportedly on the initiative of the Kremlin. ("RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 December)...AND AMERICAN FASCIST RESURFACES IN RUSSIA.
At a 13 December press conference in Moscow, former KKK leader David Duke accused Jews of trying to put Russia into an "electronic concentration camp." He appeared at the invitation of the Union of Writers of Russia, some of whose members are well known for their antisemitic beliefs. The emcee of the event was Boris Mironov, a former Yeltsin press minister with strong ties to neo-Nazi groups. Duke is reportedly on an extended book tour in Russia to promote the sale of a Russian translation of his new book "The Jewish Question Through the Eyes of an American." This is his third known trip to Russia in the past two years. (Union of Councils for Soviet Jews Press Release, 14 December)
THREE MEDIA OUTLETS RECEIVE BOMB THREATS.
A popular Serbian investigative magazine, "Reporter," has been threatened with bombing and assaults in a series of anonymous telephone calls, ANEM reports. Police in Banja Luka advised the magazine's management to ask the telephone authorities to trace the call, but the phone company said it is "against its policy" to reveal callers' identities. Last month, television Novi Sad was threatened over a guest appearance by the director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, Natasa Kandic. Police have made no statement about any progress in that case. In September, Television Montenegro twice received anonymous calls warning of bombs in its Podgorica premises. ANEM warns that such threats "must not be taken lightly," citing the case of Zeljko Kopanja, editor of an independent paper in Banja Luka, who lost both legs when a bomb under his car exploded in October 1999. (ANEM Press Release, 14 December)COURT RETURNS CONFISCATED BOOKS TO WRITER...
Satirist Boban Miletic was summoned to court on 7 December and told that all copies of his confiscated book "Weep, Mother Serbia, Weep" would be returned to him. Bapsi had been sentenced to five months in prison in June 2000 for his public comments in late 1999 which were said to libel former president Milosevic; he was free pending appeal when the Milosevic government was overthrown in October. Court officials reportedly returned 25 of the 31 copies of the book that had been seized by police. Bapsi told the press "I will relinquish the remaining six books to the police for the sake of their education." (Writers in Prison Committee, 13 December)�AND EQUIPMENT TO BE RETURNED TO MEDIA?
The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) "saluted" the decision of the Federal Telecommunications Minister Boris Tadic to return equipment confiscated from independent media" under the Milosevic regime. Until a new frequency distribution system is established, the minister has also announced a moratorium on setting up new radio and television stations and of granting temporary licenses to broadcasters whose applications are pending. (ANEM Press Release, 17 December)KOSTUNICA PROMISES MINORITIES NEW LAW.
Kostunica said in Belgrade on 13 December that the authorities will soon propose new legislation aimed at clarifying the rights of the country's ethnic minorities, "Danas" reported. He stressed that Yugoslavia is "the most multi-ethnic of all the former Yugoslav republics." The new law will include provisions for regional and local autonomy, as well as for voting rights. Previous policies aimed at discrimination and assimilation will stop, he told the OSCE's visiting ethnic minority affairs representative, Max van der Stoel. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December)
'MEIN KAMPF' TRANSLATION PUBLISHED.
The first Slovak translation of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" has gone on sale in Slovakia, CTK reported on 14 December. Unlike the Czech version, whose publisher was recently sentenced for dissemination of racist views and propaganda, the Slovak translation is accompanied by a 30-page commentary by translator and psychologist Roman Vyskocil, who stresses the book's racist, anti-Semitic, and violent nature. Agnes Burdova, head of the ARA publishing house, has already asked a lawyer to defend her in the event that legal proceedings are launched. Vyskocil said he is "not worried" about being prosecuted, commenting that "I am too old and nobody will scare me." A total of 5,000 copies have been printed. The Slovak Jewish Community and Pal Csaky, deputy premier in charge of human rights, have strongly criticized the publication of the book. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December)
DISSIDENTS REPENT, ON ROAD TO AMNESTY?
In speeches aired on Turkmen State Television on 15 December, two imprisoned regime critics, Nurberdy Nurmamedov, 57, and Doctor Pirimguli Tangrykuliev, acknowledged their wrong-doing and swore allegiance to the motherland and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Observers believe that their statements were aired to lay the groundwork for their release in a planned amnesty. President Sapurmurat Niyazov has pledged to amnesty 10,000 convicts on the Muslim holy night of Kadir (22-23 December), when magnanimity is traditionally shown in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Nurmamedov was a leader of Agzybirlik, a pro-democratic group that the Turkmen authorities refused to register after it emerged in 1989 and has been serving a 5-year prison term on charges of hooliganism and conspiracy to commit murder since January 5, 1999. Nurmamedov was arrested shortly after he made public statements in the run up to parliamentary elections that Turkmenistan's post-Soviet constitution granted the president too much power. Tangrykuliev has been in jail since July 1998, serving an 8-year prison term for misappropriating state funds and property. He was detained after he wrote to President Niyazov complaining about the country's health-care system and after he told representatives of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe that he planned to run for parliament. (RFE/RL Turkmen Report, 16 December)
DEMONSTRATORS IN KYIV DEMAND PRESIDENT'S OUSTER.
Some 500 people held a rally on Independence Square in Kyiv on 15 December, demanding an independent investigation into the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and the resignation of President Leonid Kuchma, Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and Security Service chief Leonid Derkach, Interfax reported. A group of demonstrators later pitched a tent on the square to continue the protest, which was launched by several political parties, including the Socialists and nationalists, under the slogan "Ukraine Without Kuchma." The organizers are appealing to Kyiv residents to take part in a protest march on 19 December. The recently publicized audio and video tapes in Ukraine blame Kuchma and his power ministers for the disappearance of Gongadze and for other illegal actions with regard to independent media and opposition politicians. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December)ANTI-KUCHMA PROTESTERS AT CHORNOBYL CEREMONY ATTACKED.
The "Find Gongadze!" Citizen Action Group staged a demonstration on December 15 during the official closing ceremony for the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. More than 30 protestors distributed English-language press releases on the Gongadze case. Police threatened to "lock up" demonstrators, complaining that since they could not read the English-language signs, they are illegal. The police also claimed that storeowners had filed complaints that the flags and signs were "harmful for business." Several young men in civilian clothes attacked the demonstrators who were holding English-language signs; four protestors sustained minor injuries. Contact email@example.com . (Media Monitoring Agency, 18 December)PRESIDENT CHARGED WITH BOMBING OPPONENT, FALSIFYING VOTES.
Ukraine's scandal implicating President Leonid Kuchma and several top officials in criminal conspiracies took on even larger proportions on 14 December, when lawmakers in the parliament were shown a second videotape featuring former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko. Melnychenko accused Kuchma of organizing a grenade attack on Natalya Vitrenko on 2 October 1999 to prevent her from running in last year's presidential ballot. Melnychenko also alleged that Kuchma ordered falsification of the results of last year's presidential elections and this year's constitutional referendum. Melnychenko confirmed his previous allegation that journalist Heorhiy Gongadze was kidnapped by an Interior Ministry special task force, on Kuchma's instruction to Interior Ministry Yuriy Kravchenko. Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko, for his part, told the parliament that the tapes featuring the interviews with Melnychenko are fabrications. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December)
SOUTH CAUCASUS JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION FORMED.
On December 9-10 in Gudauri, a founding conference for the International Association of Journalists "South Caucasus" was held. Journalists associations of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Mountainous Karabagh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were represented. The conference was organized through the OSCE Mission in Georgia with the financial support of the Government of Sweden. The Association is a non-governmental organization, for journalists, publishers, and journalists associations for the promotion of regional peace, co-operation and stability, integration, democratic processes, civil society; the Association will contribute to the development of democratic media, creation of conditions for social and legal protection of journalists. The International Association of Journalists "South Caucasus" is expected to be registered in the beginning of year 2001 in one of the European countries. (Yerevan Press Club Newsletter, 15 December)ALBANIANS AS MAJORITIES AND MINORITIES.
The Project on Ethnic Relations (PER) sponsored a conference which brought together more than a hundred participants and observers. The meeting, held outside Athens on December 1-2, 2000, was entitled "Albanians as Majorities and Minorities: A Regional Dialogue" with the assistance of the Greek Foreign Ministry. In addition to the presidents of Albanian political parties from Tirana, Prishtina, Tetovo, Podgorica, and Presevo, some fifty senior government officials from across the region and beyond took part. For more information, contact Alex Grigor'ev, Program Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.netcom.com/~ethnic/per.html (MINELRES, 16 December)
NEW BOOK ON INTERNATIONAL CIVIC MOVEMENTS.
"The Third Force: The Rise of Transnational Civil Society," published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is an analysis of the role of transnational civil society networks--the emerging third force in global politics. The authors conclude that the power of transnational civil society is growing and sustainable, with limits, but argues that civil society groups need to boost their own legitimacy and accountability adopting measures of transparency, similar to what they have asked of governments, international organizations, and corporations. Visit http://www.ceip.org/publications. (Center for Civil Society International, 14 December)NGO GUIDE FOR EUROPEAN UNION WORK.
The Open Society Institute-Brussels has issued a "Guide to Funding and Participation in European Union Programs for NGOs in Central and Eastern Europe and Newly Independent States." See http://www.osi.hu/brussels/guide2000/funding_index.html (Center for Civil Society International, 13 December)NEW BOOK ON ORTHODOXY AND DEMOCRACY.
"Emperors and Elections: Reconciling the Orthodox Tradition with Modern Politics"tackles the issue of whether Orthodox Christianity can play a role in stabilizing democratic and republican traditions in the states that comprise the traditional heartland of Eastern Orthodoxy. For more information, e-mail Novascience@earthlink.net.
The Days of the Chekists
By Paul Goble
December 20th is the 83rd anniversary of the formation of the Soviet secret police. How Moscow celebrates that event may provide important clues as to the direction the Russian government is heading.
Six weeks after the October 1917 revolution, Vladimir Lenin created the first Soviet secret police, the Extraordinary Commission or Cheka. Under Joseph Stalin, that day became a holiday called "the Day of the Chekist." And throughout the Soviet period, officers in Moscow's variously named intelligence agencies proudly called themselves "Chekists" in honor of that first name.
But after the fall of the Soviet Union, fewer people did so openly and officials did little or nothing to mark that anniversary -- until last year, when then-Prime Minister and now President Vladimir Putin took part, telling the Chekists they should be proud of their work. Later, he went even further and said that no government, let alone his own, could get along without secret agents.
Since last year's commemoration of the creation of an institution Lenin said was bound by no law except the defense of the revolution, Putin, himself a former KGB intelligence officer, has chosen many people with intelligence backgrounds to work for him as aides, as representatives to the regions, and as his preferred candidates for governorships and other senior positions.
Indeed, Putin's suggestion that his own promotion reflected "a successful penetration operation" of the Russian government by the country's security services frightened many Russian democrats and others involved in the defense of human rights in that country.
Such groups have been particularly concerned because of their conviction that Putin has selected precisely those former intelligence officers who at the end of the Soviet period worked to stifle dissent and human rights.
Writing in the current issue of the "Moscow Times," sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky argues that the interaction between the KGB at the end of the Soviet period and democrats who failed to understand the distinction between necessary intelligence functions and security activities that threaten society has left Russia with "a security apparatus that is worse than the one [Russia] had under Brezhnev."
Kagarlitsky suggests that the antipathy between the intelligence operatives and the democrats led not to the depoliticization of an agency that advertised itself as "the sword and shield" of the Communist Party but rather to the proliferation of special security services public and private most of which remain the tools of the powerful and are unconstrained by legal regulation.
With the KGB itself in shambles at the end of Mikhail Gorbachev's reign in office, "every agency of government felt the need to create its own armed security organization," Kagarlitsky says. "It became a status symbol." At the same time, he notes, "former KGB officers opened a host of private security agencies, most of which then formed their own close ties with various parts of the state structure."
These two developments combined with the intense hostility of many democratic reformers to any intelligence operation to produce a disaster. Because "the generation of KGB agents who experienced Gorbachev's reforms moved to the private sector," Kagarlitsky says, "their places were filled by newcomers" who lacked the experiences of the reform period and had no one to guide them in their work.
As a result, he argues, "the 'psychological type' of this newcomer is closer to the NKVD standard of the 1930s than to the Western image of an intelligence professional," a pattern that by itself invites the kinds of abuses that post-Stalinist leaders worked so hard to contain lest they themselves fall victim to them."
If Russia had "a political structure or any working democratic institutions," Kagarlitsky continues, they might prove "capable of controlling the secret police [and] protecting society from political repression." But in the absence of such structures and institutions, he insists, Russian society and Russia's fragile democracy remain at risk on this "Day of the Chekist" as on other such days in the past.
Given the restoration of other Soviet-era symbols in recent weeks, how the Russian government marks this holiday is likely to serve as a litmus test for the prospects of democracy and freedom in a country where the Cheka in the past regularly worked to suppress both.