Accessibility links

Breaking News

Watch List: December 2, 1999

2 December 1999, Volume 1, Number 45

WHITE FLAGS IN GROZNY. Terrified Chechens clutching white flags are fleeing the Chechen capital, Reuters reported on 26 November, because as a Russian lieutenant said, those without such flags of surrender will be shot. One Russian explained that Chechen civilians had been repeatedly told to leave the city but did not listen. "'Look," he said with a laugh. "They're listening now."

MOSCOW AUTHORITIES EXPEL CAUCASUS JEWS AS WELL. Scores of Jews from the Caucasus have been rounded up and expelled from the Russian capital as part of Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's efforts to drive out people from the Caucasus and other foreign-looking people from his city, Western Jewish and human rights groups report. Some of the Jews were subsequently able to prove that they had residence permits and employment in Moscow and then were allowed to return. Others have drifted back to Moscow, as have some of their Muslim neighbors. But a significant percentage, perhaps the majority, are still in Ingushetia where they were deported and other parts of the Caucasian mountains.

LUKASHENKA THREATENS POLAND. Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka implicitly threatened Warsaw by reminding Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski at the OSCE summit in Istanbul that "400,000 ethnic Poles" live under his rule, Robert Novak and Rowland Evans wrote in their 29 November syndicated column. Lukashenka "was signaling that Russian nationalism triggered by the war in Chechnya could infect Belarus and influence the way it treats its own ethnic minorities"--including these Poles--Evans and Novak suggested.

ASTANA DISMISSES RUSSIAN SEPARATISTS AS "CRIMINALS." President Nursultan Nazarbaev told ITAR-TASS on 22 November that 12 Russian citizens and 10 ethnic Russians who sought to promote a Russian entity in eastern Kazakhstan would be tried as criminals rather than treated as political activists. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the plotters should not be taken seriously. "In case something serious was going on in Kazakhstan, the Russian Federal Investigation Service would have learned about that immediately," RFE/RL's Kazakh service reported him as saying.

KOSOVA ELECTIONS DELAYED. Two technical problems delay elections in Kosova, according to London's Institute for War & Peace Report. On the one hand, ethnic Albanians lack identity documents, which were confiscated or destroyed by Serbian forces. On the other, there is the unresolved issue of the voting rights of the 500,000 ethnic Albanians who fled the province since 1990 and the 100,000 Serbs who have left over the past two years. In Kosova, Carl Bildt, UN special envoy, called for elections by 2001. Bernard Kouchner, head of the international administration, said that elections should be held in spring 2000. IWPR also reports that ethnic Albanian demands for independence and continuing revenge attacks on ethnic Serbs are undermining the morale of international organizations operating in Kosova. On 29 November, AP reported that hundreds of Kosovo Albanians celebrating Flag Day watched as a mob dragged a 62-year-old Serb, his wife, and mother-in-law from their car, beat them, and fatally shot the man. NATO Commander Klaus Reinhardt condemned the attack and expressed his horror that no one dared to intervene.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL DECRIES WTO NEGLECT OF HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES. "There is a worrying absence of any meaningful discussion on human rights safeguards at the World Trade Organization's negotiations in Seattle," Amnesty International said on 30 November. AI cautioned that no agreement on further investment liberalization should be formalized until its impact on human rights protection has been carried out. AI is concerned that the new trade and investment rules may conflict with the obligations of states to enforce crucial provisions of treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

OAS, OSCE, AND ARTICLE 19 CALL FOR CHANGING LAWS ON DEFAMATION. Meeting in London, three international organizations issued on 29 November a joint declaration defining the ways in which governments should move to guarantee freedom of expression, opinion, and information. The Organization of American States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the nongovernmental group Article 19 declared that an "independent and pluralistic media is essential to a free and open society and accountable government" and that laws restricting freedom of expression should be repealed.

PAKISTANI OFFICIAL DISMISSES UZBEK CLAIM. At a briefing on the rise of Islamic radicalism in Central Asia at the National Press Club in Washington on 30 November, Uzbek Ambassador Sodyq Safaev said that "hundreds of young Uzbeks" had gone through military training along with indoctrination in Islamic radicalism in special camps in Pakistan. Naeem Khan, a counselor at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington who was in the audience, issued a categorical denial of the claim. Khan said that his government, also troubled by extremist violence, had thoroughly investigated Uzbekistan's allegation but found not a shred of evidence to support it.

** UPDATE ON BELARUSIAN DISAPPEARANCES ** It has been 236 days since the disappearance of former Central Bank President Tamara Vinnikova, 207 days since the disappearance of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, and 75 days since the disappearance of Viktar Ganchar, deputy chairman of the legitimate Belarusian parliament known as the Supreme Soviet, and his businessman friend Anatol Krasovsky. Prior to their disappearances, all four had been under police surveillance. Since the disappearances, the police investigation has failed to come up with any clues about the whereabouts of the four.

BRIEFS: KOSOVA. On 30 November, Amnesty International called for additional international civilian police to enforce law and order and to prevent revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians against Serbs, Roma, and moderate Albanians. While the number of these attacks has decreased in recent weeks, AI noted, the 1,717 civilian police so far deployed--out of the 4,718 requested by the UN secretary-general--is insufficient. KYRGYZSTAN. On 1 December, interior ministers and national security directors of the Shanghai Five--China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Russia--called for closer coordination to fight terrorism, separatism, and Muslim extremism, AFP reported. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said that the Bishkek summit allowed professionals a first-time opportunity "to look into each others' eyes and discuss in a five-sided format the most vitally important problems facing our societies." RUSSIA. A Moscow court sentenced two men to 21-year prison terms for killing opposition newspaper editor Larisa Yudina in the southern Republic of Kalmykia last year, AP reported on 30 November. Prosecutors called it a contract murder, but no one has been charged with ordering the hit. AP described Yudina, editor of Kalmykia's only opposition paper, "Sovetskaya Kalmykia," as "zeroing in" on a corruption scandal involving President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. According to human rights groups, the case illustrates the challenges Russian reformers face in confronting corruption. REPUBLIKA SRPSKA. The London-based organization Index on Censorship gave its 1999 Freedom of the Press award to the independent newspaper "Nezavisne Novine" of Banja Luka. Zeljko Kopanja, the daily's owner and editor, lost both legs in a car bomb attack on 22 October which has been linked to the publication of a series of articles on war crimes committed by Serbs during the Bosnian conflict. SLOVAKIA. Following the example of other Nordic countries, Denmark has reintroduced visas for Slovak nationals to stem an influx of asylum seekers, the BBC reports. More than one thousand Slovak citizens, most of them Roma, have entered Denmark this year, but their asylum applications have been rejected. YUGOSLAVIA. After seven years of legal proceedings, the Supreme Court on 25 November confirmed Dr. Sefket Krcic's three-year prison sentence. Krcic was convicted because of his articles critical of President Slobodan Milosevic published in the magazine "Sandzak" in 1992 and 1993. The Belgrade-based Association of Independent Electronic Media expressed solidarity with Krcic and protested the criminal persecution of journalists for publicly stating their opinions. ... The Serbian Renewal Movement, which left the ruling coalition during the Kosova conflict, has released the evidence behind its claim that the Serbian State Security Service was involved in an attempt to assassinate party leader Vuk Draskovic. The incident took place on 3 October when a truck plowed into a two-car motorcade carrying Draskovic, killing four people and leaving alive only one traveler, Draskovic.


By Charles Fenyvesi

Three repressive regimes are applying different tactics to rein in journalists who defiantly practice freedom of the press. The most subtle has been the Russian government, though the latest twist in Belarus deserves credit for innovation. Brutal candor remains Serbia's hallmark.

Censorship and Self-Censorship Russian journalists covering the war in Chechnya toe the Russian government's line for a mix of reasons including censorship, self-censorship which obliges them to obey Moscow's "rules of the game" when they go anywhere near the fighting and, perhaps even more important, their own patriotic feelings, Latvian journalist Atis Klimovics told the "Baltic Times." The propaganda campaign has persuaded most Russians that the war is against terrorism, Klimovics said, and they ignore the fact that there is no proof of Chechen involvement in the bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow. He also pointed out that unlike in the previous war on Chechnya, this time Russian authorities carefully avoid provoking anti-war sentiments by not sending to the front line conscripts from Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Klimovics's own story shows Russian inventiveness. As a correspondent for the Latvian daily "Diena," Klimovics covered the fighting in Bosnia, Russia's first war in Chechnya, and, most recently, the conflict in Kosova. This fall, after numerous rejections for a permission to cover the war in Chechnya, he entered Russia on a tourist visa. In late October, he managed to sneak into Grozny and reported the horrors of life in a city under siege. But the Russian propaganda machinery was able to take advantage of one of his photographs that showed one market stall selling various weapons. After the rocket attack on the Grozny market which killed more than a hundred people, the Russians used Klimovics's photo as evidence that their attack wiped out a terrorist base and that "detonated ammunition" caused the casualties.

Since then, the Russian Federal Security Service warned Klimovics against returning to Chechnya because vengeful Chechens might kidnap him.

Nevertheless, Klimovics has not changed his views. He told "The Baltic Times" that the war is "the mass extermination of the Chechen nation. There is no other way to describe it."

Decontaminating the Media Slobodan Milosevic's regime has been exploiting the conflict in Kosova to root out what is left of the independent news media in the country. Though the war is over, the national emergency declared at the beginning of the NATO bombings is not. To the contrary, official statements suggest a deepening of repression.

On 24 November, the Yugoslav Left, a partner in Serbia's government coalition, called for "a decontamination of the field of public communication" and described the news media as a "fifth column," "used and financially encouraged in extended aggression" against Yugoslavia. The statement, released after a meeting chaired by party boss Mirjana Markovic, Milosevic's wife, went on to declare that "no one may declare themselves neutral where the defense of the country is concerned, nor may they jeopardize the country's ability to survive by calling on the right to criticize objectively."

Signing an Agreement is One Thing, Honoring it is Another Negotiations between the Belarusian government and the opposition led to a signed agreement which gave the opposition access to state-controlled media, government spokesman Vladimir Gloushakov.told a press conference in Minsk on 8 November. According to the agreement, the opposition parties are authorized to publish two articles a week totalling 250 lines in each of the five major state-controlled dailies. On radio, the government allowed the opposition five minutes of broadcast time each day and one and a half minute on TV. Not a great deal of newspaper space or air time, but a concession that would please OSCE.

But on 15 November, Hans-Peter Kleiner, deputy head of the OSCE monitoring group in Belarus, informed the opposition that the government wished "to correct" the conditions concerning the opposition's access to the media. Kleiner quoted Alyaksandr Lukashenka's aide, Mikhail Sazonov, as saying that "difficulties have arisen in the implementation of agreements relating to opposition's access to the government-controlled media." OSCE said that consultations would continue, after the government prsented its case upon the return of its delegation from the OSCE summit in Istanbul.

Lukashenka himself spoke next. In a 16 November press conference in Minsk, he accused the opposition of trying to impose censorship. He said that although "freedom of expression and human rights are of the highest importance" to the Belarusian leadership, he "will not allow these issues to become a reason for interfering with Belarus's internal affairs." He expressed his distaste for "an OSCE representative coming to a foreign state and teaching how things should be done."

Nevertheless, the OSCE-sanctioned negotiations between the government and the opposition will continue even though the Lukashenka regime is unlikely to honor its signature on any agreement granting the opposition the right to publish two typewritten pages, double-spaced, each week. Lukashenka seems to have learned his lesson from Vladimir Lenin: Making a concession in principle is one thing; implementation is quite another.