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Watch List: April 22, 1999

22 April 1999, Volume 1, Number 15

MINSK SYNAGOGUE ATTACKED. On April 12, Jews in Minsk discovered that the entrance to their main synagogue had been destroyed, that the slogan "Kill Jews, Save Russia!" had been spraypainted on its walls, and that its first floor had been severely damaged before firefighters put out the flames. "A sign of rising anti-Semitism in Belarus," commented Yakov Basin, head of the Belarus-American Bureau of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews. UCSJ's national director, Micah Naftalin, expressed concern that "given the Belarusian government's authoritarian character and indifference towards attacks on the Jewish community, this arson will go unpunished."

MOSCOW REFUSES TO REGISTER JESUITS. Russia's Ministry of Justice refused to register the Russian branch of the Jesuits as a religious organization on April 1, Keston News Service reports. But on April 16 the Jesuits sent another request countering the claims of the Ministry of Justice and including additional documents, including one signed by Tsar Paul I, confirming the presence of the order in Russia for 200 years. Keston obtained the rejection letter, signed by V. Tomarovsky, which asserts that "foreign religious organizations are not given the right to found religious organizations" in Russia and that "a centralized religious organization" must have at least three "local religious organizations."

THE MASSACRE AT BELA CRKVA CONFIRMED. Serbian forces executed 62 ethnic Albanian men in the village of Bela Crkva about 12 hours after NATO bombing began on March 24, according to the testimony of five refugee witnesses interviewed separately by Human Rights Watch researchers in Kukes, Albania. Confirmation came from a sixth witness speaking to the Paris daily "Le Monde." Serbian forces set the village on fire shortly before 4 a.m., which forced the villagers to flee. A few hours later, Serbian forces found them and shot 12 members of two families. Then they killed a doctor who pleaded for the lives of the rest. Next, the Serbs separated the men and the boys, told them to undress, and ransacked their clothes for money and valuables. The women and children were ordered to leave. But they heard the automatic weapons open fire on the men and the boys. Later they returned to the site and buried the bodies. "The massacre in Bela Crkva reveals a pattern of mass killings along a seven-mile stretch of villages on the Djakovica-Prizren road between March 25 and March 27," Human Rights Watch reports.

KOSOVA MASS GRAVES PHOTOGRAPHED. On April 18 NATO announced it had aerial photographs showing 43 freshly dug mass burial sites in Kosova. Italian Air Force Brig. Gen. Giuseppe Marani also cited "numerous refugee reports of the Serbian police assembling Kosovo Albanians into gravedigging chain gangs." The same day, ambassador David Scheffer, the State Department's chief war-crimes investigator, estimated that Serbs might have killed as many as 100,00 young ethnic Albanian men. On the U.S. television program "Meet the Press," Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic dismissed reports of killings and rapes, and claimed that all citizens of Yugoslavia are "safe, free, and equal."

RUSSIAN COMMISSION SAYS SOVIETS KILLED 2,000 WRITERS. More than 2,000 writers and poets perished in purges between the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and Josef Stalin's 1953 death, Aleksandr Yakovlev, head of the presidential commission on the exoneration of victims of political repression, told the press on April 1 in Moscow. Most of these writers and poets either starved to death in prison camps or were executed, he explained. In the recent past Russian officials said that more than 20 million people fell victim to purges before Stalin's death, and more than 10 million of them died. The figure 2,000 for writers is "reasonable," according to Arizona Profossor John Garrard, a leading expert on the Soviet Writers Union, as long as the figure encompasses only published writers.

KAZAKHSTAN GOVERNMENT RESTRICTS RETURN OF KAZAKHS. Between 1991 and 1998, 40,000 Kazakh families returned to Kazakhstan, mostly from Mongolia, Iran, Turkey, China, and Afghanistan, as well as from states of the former Soviet Union, reports the British magazine "The Economist." But citing the country's economic problems, the government set a quota this year of only 540 families, even though the government welcomes ex-expatriates who have helped push the Kazakh share in the population to over 50 percent. "The urge to return is not stimulated only by the desire to live in a Kazakh state," the weekly writes. "Kazakhs in China are increasingly subject to that country's fierce assimilation policy, which threatens any desire to preserve a different culture or language." "The Economist" says Kazakhs number 1.5 million in China and 740,000 in Russia.

BEIJING VIOLATING HUMAN RIGHTS IN XINJIANG. Amnesty International has released a 92-page report documenting "gross and systematic human rights violations" in China's Uighur Autonomous Region in Xinjiang. AI traces "a pattern of arbitrary and summary executions, torture, arbitrary detetention, and unfair political trials." The victims are mainly Uighurs, the majority ethnic group among the region's mostly Muslim population. Since January 1997, AI says, there have been at least 190 executions. The report notes that Beijing's drive against "ethnic separatists" launched in 1996 imposed new curbs on religious and cultural rights while increasingly resorting to show trials and executions "to silence real and suspected opponents." AI called on China's government to establish a commission to investigate human rights violations and to provide a forum for individuals to voice grievances. When queried by Reuters, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said that "a lot of media reports are baseless fabrications aimed at damaging China's image and destroying domestic stability and unity.''

CHINESE DEMOCRATS JOIN FORCES WITH TIBETANS, TAIWANESE, UIGHURS. In a demonstration in Toronto on April 16 timed to correspond with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji�s visit to Canada, some 500 Canadian-based Tibetans, Taiwanese, and Chinese marched together, carrying placards such as "Free Tibet," "Independent Taiwan," and "China, Hands off Dissidents." Their various organizations rallied behind what they described as the first joint statement of the three nationalities protesting the illegal occupation of Tibet, the military threats against Taiwan, and Beijing's suppression of human rights. Several Uighurs also joined the demonstration. The protesters said they wished "to send a loud and determined message that trading with China does not mean bartering away human and environmental rights."

END NOTE: FIGHTING ANTI-SEMITISM A TEST FOR RUSSIA. Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), who chairs the Senate's Subcommittee on European Affairs, told an RFE/RL seminar on Capitol Hill on April 15 that Moscow's willingness to combat a rising tide of anti-Semitism will play a major role in defining Washington's efforts to engage Russia.

Smith, whose subcommittee recently held hearings on this issue, noted that the tendency of some in Russia to "blame their problems on the Jews, the Jehovah's Witnesses or other minorities... is a barometer that tells us much." While Smith said that he and his colleagues remain hopeful about Russia's future development, "the recent rise of anti-Semitism raises questions about that possibility."

Other speakers at the seminar included Mark Levin, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, David Satter, a distinguished journalist and author with long experience in Russia, and Paul Goble, RFE/RL's director of communications and a longtime student of ethnic and religious issues in the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet states.

Levin said that since the August 1998 economic collapse in Russia he has been tracking the reemergence of what he calls "political anti-Semitism," the active use of anti-Jewish themes by extremist groups seeking to win popular support. Especially frightening, Levin said, was the success these groups seemed to be having in recruiting young people.

Satter suggested that the first signs of a reemergence of anti-Semitism in Russia were visible in late 1992 when many Russians lost their savings as a result of hyperinflation. "As the economic situation became worse and worse, the high profile of Jewish businessmen" made public accusations by extremist elements against Jews seem "plausible" to some, Satter argued. If economic conditions continue to deteriorate, he said, there may be more anti-Semitic outrages in the future.

Goble, in turn, noted that anti-Semitism has been "privatized" in the post-Soviet states and that the authorities often cannot control it--as Soviet officials once did--even if they want to. But he suggested that the latest rise in anti-Semitism in these countries reflects their experiences under communism, experiences that undermine their ability to understand the nature of moral choices and personal responsibility.