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Watch List: October 7, 1999

7 October 1999, Volume 1, Number 37

ON CHECHENS, MOSCOW DECLARES OPEN SEASON IN A CLOSED CITY. Moscow has become "a state within a state, fortress Moscow," as day after day, police officials force their way into apartments and raid markets and bus stations to round up, imprison, and deport dark-skinned non-Muscovites, many of them Chechens, "in flagrant, even boastful violation of Russia's human rights obligations as well as the Russian Constitution," Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch told an RFE/RL press breakfast on 5 October.

Officially, their "crime" is not having a residence permit, the prized "propiska," which only some of them possess. But the number of propiska holders has dropped since Mayor Yurii Luzhkov ordered the reregistration of all "guests" -- non-Muscovites -- following the spate of bombings in September. According to city authorities, 74,000 "guests" were reregistered and 20,000 were refused because they "could not adequately explain their business in Moscow." The Memorial Human Rights Center estimates that the number of non-registered individuals in Moscow is between 1 and 2 million.

According to Denber, Chechens are not being reregistered. "Several police officials declared unabashedly that they were ordered not to reregister Chechens," she said. "It is open season in a closed city."

A specialist in Russia and a frequent visitor to Moscow, Denber painted a picture of overt racism by officials there. Police checks on residence permits are "just a pretext," she said. "The objective is to get dark-skinned people to the police station." At best, detainees pay arbitrary fines that go into the pockets of the police and are warned to get out of Moscow, which only a few will do. At worst, they are badly beaten, some of them again and again, and then packed onto trains bound south where they may join the growing number of people displaced by the fighting in Chechnya or they may catch the next train back to Moscow.

Many of those who have money buy their way back to the capital and try their luck again, Denber said. She spoke about "a large population of non-Slavs" who have become the permanent prey to police extortion, and they pay bribes each time they are detained. She dismissed any suggestion that Luzhkov's "radical measures" have had anything to do with the declared anti-terrorist objective of the crackdown: to catch those responsible for the explosions wrecking apartment buildings and killing some 300 people last month. Though there is no evidence, city and then state authorities pointed to the Chechens as the terrorists responsible for the carnage.

Human Rights Watch has ascertained that on occasion the police planted gunpowder or fuses in the pockets of Chechens trying to reregister for the propiska, and then without any further legalistic ado entered their names in the computerized nationwide register on criminals. (The Memorial Human Rights Center adds reports that drugs have been planted on some people while having their papers checked.) But lately it appears that the name of any Chechen detained is promptly entered in that criminal register, which makes a person a marked man for the rest of his life. Many Moscow police officers, whom Denber describes as "having an insatiable appetite for bribes and violence," are proud of their role in "cleansing" the capital city.

Though the police receives its orders from Luzhkov, Denber said, the Interior Ministry's special forces known as OMON and the federal government are fully behind him. Moreover, other cities, such as St. Petersburg and Vladivostok, and the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions just north of Chechnya, have adopted the Moscow model. But what Denber found most depressing is that the reign of terror victimizing dark-skinned individuals is popular among some of the people who consider themselves the true Muscovites. She fears that if the explosions continue or if the Russian military suffers reverses in Chechnya, politicians may whip up communal violence directed against minorities, known as pogroms in that part of the world, and the state may set up special camps to contain those it arrests.

Denber was speaking on the sixth anniversary of the decree issued by Mayor Luzhkov to expel non-Muscovites from his city. She explained that the current dragnet "is not a spontaneous event" in response to the recent unsolved bombings, but "a long-standing policy" enforced by Luzhkov over the last six years with varying intensity. Under the original order in 1993, over 19,000 non-official Muscovites, particularly of Caucasian and non-European origins, were forced to leave Moscow. According to official statistics, in 1997, during the five months leading up to the city's celebration of its 850th anniversary, the police engaged in a massive operation checking 1,400,536 passports and inspecting 1.3 million apartments. They detected 737,561 violations and deported 16,456 people.

Denber condemned the propiska system which allows the police to deny residence to members of any minority, though the Russian Constitution is explicit in granting every citizen freedom of movement. She cited the recent ruling by Russian Constitutional Court Judge Gaddis Gadzhiev stating that as long as there is no emergency regime in place in the country, "any restrictions of citizens' rights and freedom is intolerable." Judge Gadzhiev also found internal deportations of citizens "illegal." Moscow authorities have responded that the capital city has the right to look after its own security.

Each new resident of Moscow must complete registration with the police within three days of arriving in the capital. Denber called the procedure "onerous" and "discriminatory," in addition to being "a full time job for several days." If granted permission to reside in Moscow, the "guest" receives a permit, known as "propiska," which originated under the czars--who wanted the peasants tied down to the land and feared that the desperately poor would crowd into Moscow.

According to Denber, Russia is receiving $10 million a year from the United States in foreign assistance to its law enforcement agencies, yet unlike other countries participating in the foreign aid program, Russia has not made a thorough accounting of this assistance.

In addition to the New York-based Human Rights Watch which has written to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin deploring "the overt racism" in reregistering "non-registered residents," Russian human rights groups, such as Civic Assistance and the Memorial Human Rights Center, have protested the violation of human rights and privacy by the police and other government officials. But, Denber said, the best NGOs can do at this point is document the abuses and provide some help in individual cases. For these abuses to end, Denber concluded, the Russians must hear that the world condemns what Moscow and state authorities are doing.

10,000 CHECHENS A DAY FLEE WAR; MOSCOW SPURNS OUTSIDE AID FOR THEM. As of 7 October, Ingush authorities reported that since Russia resumed the Chechnya war, a total of 124,000 refugees, a number that approximates half of the Ingush republic's own population, have crossed the border into Ingushetia. Most of the refugees are Chechens fleeing the bombardments, but some local Russians and Ingush are included as well. According to the Center for Peacemaking and Community Development in Moscow, with the borders closed all around Chechnya, impoverished Ingushetia is the only place to which Chechens can flee. Up to 10,000 refugees a day are streaming across the border, mainly women, children, and old people, the Center reports, but Russia is "unable, or unwilling, to cope with the humanitarian catastrophe." The Russian leadership has repeatedly stated that no international humanitarian aid is needed in the North Caucasus. An Agence France Presse dispatch on 5 October quoted Russian sources saying that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin decided to move Chechen refugees to the one-third of Chechnya "liberated" by Russian forces. The same day, Human Rights Watch urged Putin to "cease all plans to move displaced persons to areas that are part of the conflict zone or that may become the sites of military engagement." Observers have pointed out that sections of Chechnya now held by the Russian military have large concentrations of Cossacks, many of them known for extremist Russian nationalist views.

MORE RUSSIANS FEEL FREE TO HAVE RACIST VIEWS, POLL SHOWS. Almost two-thirds of Russians approve of the expulsion of Chechens as a measure to prevent more terrorist actions and three-fourths endorse "military actions against terrorists in Chechen territory," according to a recent poll by the Moscow-based institute VTSIOM released at the end of September. The polls reveal a new form of the traditional Russian xenophobia, VTSIOM sociologist Aleksei Levinson told RFE/RL's Moscow correspondent Sophie Lambroschini. Levinson theorized that anti-Caucasian sentiment -- anchored in the defeats in Afghanistan and Chechnya and linked to the loss of Russia's world power status -- has largely replaced anti-Semitism. The tolerant part of society is still the majority, Levinson contended, but it is keeping silent. However, he added, "Violent opinions have received a kind of official sanction. Racist verdicts that were expressed before as a private view can now be voiced without the feeling of violating morality."

RUSSIAN MUFTI APPEALS TO MEDIA TO STOP STEREOTYPING MUSLIMS. Leaders of Russia's Muslim community said they supported the government's policy on the Chechen rebels, whom they condemned as traitors to Islam for using religion as a cover for military and political objectives, according to a Reuters report from Moscow on 1 October. Reuters quoted Ravil Gainutdin, head of the Council of Muftis, who appealed to the Russian media through a statement to the Russian news agency Interfax, not to describe the guerrillas as Muslims. The mufti noted that Islam taught peace, brotherly love, and the sanctity of human life.

RUSSIAN PRESS SPLIT ON WAR AGAINST CHECHNYA. On the right and the left, Russian press commentaries on the war against Chechnya have reverted to the rhetoric of the not-so-distant past. "The Russian troops' morale is higher than ever before, and the overwhelming majority of soldiers are not just ready but eager to fight to avenge their fallen comrades and country," suggested nationalist weekly "Zavtra" on 1 October. "To many, this war is a stimulus to realizing that they are part of this nation and that Russians have a historic mission in the world." On 29 September Viktor Linnik, editor-in-chief of the neo-communist daily "Pravda," published his views on page one: "Today, after the vilest of terrorist acts in Russian cities, most Russians understand and sympathize with the government as it is preparing for war against Chechnya. Anyone brave enough to assume responsibility and wipe bandits off the face of the earth will become a national hero. Obviously, Prime Minister a number one candidate." But human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov strikes a different tone in reformist "Vremya-MN" on 1 October: "Most likely, the Chechens are responsible for blowing up apartment buildings in Russian cities recently. But this is only a guess. If so, aren't our air raids a strike against a rebel territory which insists on sovereignty over our will? This looks more like punishing the rebels than fighting terrorists. We refer to NATO, which we criticized so much when it bombed Serbia. But that was not an anti-terrorist operation. NATO was fighting against the Serbian army, which was responsible for genocide and ethnic cleansing. What we, in effect, are trying to do now is combine NATO's methods with Milosevic's philosophy. That is very dangerous."

"MOSCOW TIMES" URGES IMF TO CUT OFF LOANS TO 'PUTIN'S WAR.' In an editorial on 5 October, the English-language "Moscow Times" went a step further than other anti-war commentaries in calling on the International Monetary Fund to cut off funding for Russia's war against Chechnya: "The logical response to Russia spending hundreds of millions of dollars to blast apart the lives and homes of civilians in Chechnya is to cut off all those millions that happen to be coming from the West. If the Kremlin wants to serve up a war not in Russia's national interests -- a visceral revenge campaign designed to jack up Vladimir Putin's poll ratings with the ritual sacrifice of an entire ethnic group -- then at least let the Kremlin pay for this out of its own pocket." The editorial dismisses as "twisted logic" the IMF's defense -- that not giving Russia a few hundred million dollars would be turning "our backs on Russia now." The paper recommends that the West turn its back on "a regime willing to kill hundreds -- will it reach thousands? tens of thousands? -- just to gain a slight edge in the 2000 succession race. There are always different rules for Russia, however. And that should change."

"RUSSIANS WILL CHOKE ON U.S.," CHECHEN GUERRILLA LEADER WARNS. Interviewed by BBC's Russian Service on 29 September, Chechen guerrilla leader Shamil Basaev denied Chechen involvement in the explosions in Russia and accused Moscow of stage-managing the tragedies for its own political ends. The Russians, Basaev said, "want to sacrifice our people for the sake of the elections, but they will choke on our people." He acknowledged that "some women" have cursed him since the fighting in Daghestan. But, he argued, "Daghestan is just a pretext for the Russians to attack us," and charged that Russia was engaged in "ethnic cleansing of Chechens."


by Charles Fenyvesi

The press in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia must end its "shameful silence" and take up the issue of Serbian crimes against humanity and the responsibility of the leaders, says Milka Tadic, editor of the independent Montenegrin weekly "Monitor." The reason is that the Serbian nation needs to be made aware of "what was done in its name in Kosova." Otherwise, she argues, there can be no progress toward democratization.

A leading journalist in the region once comprising Yugoslavia, Tadic minced no words in an interview last week with "RFE/RL Watchlist." Early in a wide-ranging conversation she offered the phrase "denazification" to sum up what she believes must happen, starting with the conviction of those responsible for war crimes. She drew parallels with the process that took place in West Germany after 1945.

"I know we did horrible things," she said, "beginning in the late 1980s when Serbia launched its propaganda war against Slovenes, Croatians, Bosnian Muslims, and ethnic Albanians. When I spoke to some of my neighbors, I didn't recognize them." She was reminded of what she read about the racist hysteria in Hitler's Germany in the 1930s, before he started the war.

Tadic deplores "the hatred for others" that she said many, perhaps even the majority of Montenegrins along with Serbs throughout Yugoslavia, developed in the early 1990s. That hatred was accompanied by the mindless worship of the leader, President Slobodan Milosevic, she added. She believes that the mood has changed since then, and now no more than 20 percent of Montenegrins -- though a higher percentage of Serbs in Serbia -- persist in their views. But, she added, unfortunately many now opposed to Milosevic are critical of him only because he lost four wars -- and not because he started them.

Tadic said she believes that in her native Montenegro the process of denazification already began last spring when President Milo Djukanovic rebuffed his erstwhile ally, Milosevic, and declared Montenegro's neutrality in Serbia's war with NATO. Another sign she sees that the process is under way is "the friendly reception" given to Kosovar Albanian refugees by many, if not most, Montenegrins. She thinks it matters that "we helped others who were in trouble" who were clearly "not our kind." She would like to see the process continue with Montenegro formally apologizing to its neighbor Croatia for joining Serbia's war after Zagreb's declaration of independence.

She is confident that sooner or later, one way or another, "Montenegro will go its own way. You can't negotiate with Milosevic. He thinks he is the only one to make decisions. To run away from such a man and such a state is what we learned in the past 10 years that we have to do. For us, there is no other way. We will have to make new connections with Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia."

Asked whether Milosevic might respond to Montenegro's declaration of independence with yet another war, she pursed her lips and sighed. Much depends on how strong his opposition will be in Serbia, she said, and whether he will be afraid of them. But on the other hand, in the past Milosevic started wars whenever he was in trouble on his own home ground. "He is unpredictable," she said with a shrug.

In Montenegro, the human rights situation is definitely improving, Tadic said. "It's much better than two and a half years ago," she said. Minorities are not abused, and the independent press and the opposition are much freer. Her weekly, which she describes as her country's first independent paper, was bombed twice earlier in the decade, she said. But that was when Djukanovic was on Milosevic's team. During the Kosova war, "Monitor" refused military censorship, and the Serbian military stationed in Montenegro responded by threatening to draft the journalists. One of the founding editors was convicted for violating the press regulations of Belgrade's martial law, she said, and he fled the country. But now he is back. She concluded, with a smile: "We learned in the past 10 years how to fight them."

Tadic's clarity of vision and deep-felt convictions are signs of a radical rejection of Milosevic's genocidal wars and gross violations of human rights. Her words offer encouragement to former friends of the former Yugoslavia that the alternative to Milosevic is not another Milosevic.