Russia: European Court Rules For 'Andijon' Plaintiffs, Warns Against Extradition
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Russia in a case involving 13 Central Asian businessmen who are fighting to block their extradition to Uzbekistan, where their lawyer says they could face torture or even execution.
The Strasbourg court ordered Russian authorities to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to the 13 men, one of whom is Kyrgyz and 12 of whom are Uzbek nationals, because they violated their rights when they held them for as long as 20 months without trial. It also cautioned Russia against handing any of the plaintiffs over to Uzbek authorities.
Tashkent has alleged that the men helped finance a broad plot in 2005 that was aimed at freeing a handful of alleged Islamic extremists in Andijon, in eastern Uzbekistan, and destabilizing the central government. Officials responded to the unrest with a security crackdown in which eyewitnesses say hundreds of unarmed protesters were killed.
One of the Uzbek defendants, Shukrullah Sobirov, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on April 25 that the accusations against himself and his fellow defendants "are baseless and obviously fabricated by the officials."
He called allegations that he and his fellow defendants had received at least $200,000 to further the antigovernment cause "complete slander," adding, "Honestly, back then, we didn't even have enough money to pay our rent."
Fearing persecution in Uzbekistan, the men fled soon after the Andijon tragedy to Russia, where they sought asylum. Instead, they were arrested in June 2005 on the basis of the Uzbek warrants.
The group's lawyer appealed to the Strasbourg court, citing concerns over possible torture or execution if they were returned to their homeland.
On April 24, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay each of the men roughly $24,000 in damages and a combined $28,000 in legal fees.
The court also warned against extraditing the men to Uzbekistan, saying such a move would further breach the plaintiffs' rights because they would face imminent arrest and possibly torture.
Russia, a member of the Council of Europe, has three months to appeal the decision.
Uzbekistan has long been criticized by rights groups for alleged ill-treatment of prisoners.
Irina Sokolova, the defendants' Russian lawyer, says Uzbek authorities claim that the men continue to pose a threat.
"I would also like to point out that Uzbek law enforcement officials wrote in the men's criminal cases that they have been involved in extremist and terrorist activities on Russian territory," says Sokolova, who noted that Russian authorities have been unable to corroborate such claims. "After investigating the case at the request of the Russian prosecutor-general, the Russian side said that they could not find any proof or information to confirm those allegations."
The men say Russian human rights activists, including the Memorial group, have provided support by attracting media and politicians' attention to the case.
In May 2005, months of minor protests surrounding the trials of 23 businessmen accused of being members of the banned Islamic group Akramiya culminated in an attack on a jail and other public facilities in which many prisoners were freed. The next day, according to eyewitnesses, hundreds of unarmed residents were killed when security forces opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators who had gathered in central Andijon to criticize the government and demand better social conditions.
Tashkent has consistently rejected international calls to allow an independent probe into the events in Andijon.
Hundreds of Uzbeks fled Andijon for neighboring Kyrgyzstan in the days after the violence, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) eventually granted them refugee status and helped relocate them to third countries.
Under intense pressure from Tashkent, neighboring Kyrgyzstan has extradited five Uzbek nationals accused of involvement in the Andijon violence. The move sparked condemnations from human rights groups and the UNHCR, which described it as a violation of international law.
RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Oktambek Karimov contributed to this report
In Chornobyl Disaster's Wake, A Fading Legacy Of 'Green' Awareness
But then an odd thing happened. Environmental groups held public hearings, local residents were mobilized, and a letter-writing campaign to lawmakers was launched. Weeks later, the plan was dead.
It was a landmark victory for Kazakhstan's environmentalists -- a fledgling movement that traces its roots to the 1986 Chornobyl disaster.
It was a rare success, however. As the international community marks the 22nd anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident on April 26, vibrant Green movements that can influence environmental policy in the former Soviet Union remain few and far between.
The Chornobyl blast was caused by a massive power surge at the plant, located near Pripyat in Ukraine. It blew the 1,000-ton lid off a reactor and initially killed two people. Another 29 emergency workers died within the next three months. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that fallout from the disaster will account for no more than 4,000 deaths worldwide. But Greenpeace and other environmental groups say the total is in the hundreds of thousands.
Despite such dire predictions, authorities in the regions affected by Chornobyl have typically pushed ecological concerns far down on their agendas in favor of short-term economic or political gains. Nascent grassroots Green movements have also suffered from the emergence of authoritarian regimes in countries like Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan.
"Green movements are more developed in countries with stable regimes, where people are for the most part confident in their future, where they are provided for, where finding a piece of bread or life-supporting medication is not a problem," says Aleksandr Velikin, the head of the Chornobyl Union in Russia's Leningrad Oblast and a former "liquidator," one of the hundreds of thousands of people from across the Soviet Union who were brought in to clean up after the nuclear explosion at Chornobyl.
Rising Green Consciousness
Such luxuries have so far eluded the post-Soviet space, where environmentalists continue to face an uphill battle.
Russian activists, for example, failed in 2001 to prevent a nuclear waste-import scheme similar to the one that Kazakhstan's Greens blocked. Moscow also plans to build 40 new nuclear reactors by 2030, over the objections of the country's environmentalists. Belarus, which to this day screens milk and other agricultural products for radioactive contamination, is likewise planning to build a new nuclear plant.
It wasn't always this way. Many analysts describe the years between the Chornobyl disaster and the 1991 Soviet breakup as the high-water mark of environmental activism in the region.
"The Chornobyl catastrophe changed people's awareness and their attitude toward the environment; toward technical progress, which doesn't always bring good; and toward the fact that atomic energy must be handled very cautiously," says Vladimir Chuprov, the chief nuclear expert at Greenpeace-Russia.
Soon after the accident, physicists and other scientists lobbied for enhanced nuclear safety. Within a few years, as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika took root, even the general public began to press for more information.
"For those scientists who were aware of the immediate consequences of the Chornobyl accident, there was a very immediate reaction among a number of them to address the issues that the Chornobyl accident created," says Alan Flowers, an expert in radiology at London's Kingston University who has done extensive research on the effects of the Chornobyl disaster. "And this occurred directly in the period very soon after the accident in 1986, because many scientists were very aware of the fallout and of the very dramatic consequences on the population."
Flowers, who was expelled from Belarus in 2004 for unauthorized contacts with NGOs, says the scientists' concerns mushroomed into more broad-based political activism in the general public. He says the "large-scale" reaction that ensued included campaigns for the publication of information and maps about the Chornobyl fallout.
Observers say this gave a boost to environmental groups that were already forming in the increasingly open political atmosphere.
"In the Soviet Union, you couldn't criticize the system, the party, but ecology was one of the issues to which the Soviet leadership paid no attention. The ecological movement had already begun, and Chornobyl gave it a huge boost," says Chuprov.
In Ukraine, the new environmentalism dovetailed with an emerging independence movement. And in Belarus, as Flowers notes, it sparked the rise of the republic's first post-Soviet head of state, Stanislau Shushkevich, who led the republic's independence drive and served as chairman of the Supreme Soviet from 1991-94.
"In particular, Stanislau Shushkevich came to prominence because as a physicist, he was very aware of the true extent of fallout and the need to publicize and open up information to the public on the locations of the fallout," Chuprov says. "He became the people's champion on publicizing information on the Chornobyl accident in Belarus."
Kazakhstan, which was not directly affected by the Chornobyl fallout, nevertheless provided many of the liquidators who cleaned up after the explosion. When they returned home, some joined -- and helped publicize -- the emerging environmental movement there.
Today, Kazakhstan has one of the stronger environmental movements in the former Soviet Union. Analysts and activists say that this is because the environmental situation there is particularly dire, even by post-Soviet standards.
According to estimates cited in the media, nearly 10 percent of Kazakh citizens are suffering the aftereffects of hundreds of Soviet-era nuclear bomb tests at the Semipalatinsk testing site, which was closed in 1991. Falling rockets and debris from the Baikonur Cosmodrome have also caused ecological damage.
"Kazakhstan is a place where many international environmental problems are concentrated," Mels Eleusizov, leader of Kazakhstan's Tabighat (Nature) movement, tells RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. "Here we have Caspian problems -- a huge issue; the Aral Sea problem -- the whole world is talking about it and it has been affecting more and more aspects of life day after day; the Balkhash Sea issue -- the issue that has been getting similar to what we have in Aral region; Semey [Semipalatinsk nuclear test field] and many other test fields. Every single city in Kazakhstan has its own [ecological] challenges."
But the burst of ecological activism that followed Chornobyl lost its momentum after the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. The Soviet successor states quickly became more concerned with economic development than ecology.
"We gave a lot of recommendations to the government. But the government has made it clear that it doesn't need them," Eleusizov says. "The government is focusing on economic issues now -- it cares mainly about oil and other mineral resources. Meanwhile, ecological issues seem to be on the second level of interest. But I can tell you, at some point it will be too late for anybody to take care of the ecology."
Many post-Soviet governments in recent years have become increasingly authoritarian, leaving little room for independent environmental movements. The most glaring example, of course, is Belarus, the country most affected by the Chornobyl disaster and where President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime ruthlessly suppresses any form of public dissent, including environmental activism.
"Discussion of grassroots activism is pretty much a barren territory in Belarus, insofar as any nongovernmental activism is very closely scrutinized and has been for very nearly a decade in Belarus," Flowers says.
True to form, Belarusian authorities are widely expected to break up a march by the country's liquidators, which is scheduled for April 26 to mark the Chornobyl anniversary.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Belarus Service, Katsyaryna Gancharova, a member of the country's Ekadom environmental group, says that despite the numerous bureaucratic and political obstacles placed in its path, the Green movement is determined to persevere.
"The registration process is complex. On the whole, civic organizations are barely surviving because the very unfavorable situation in the country doesn't allow them to function as they should," Gancharova says. "But the Green movement is nonetheless developing, people are interested in ecology. This question is becoming increasingly topical."
RFE/RL's Belarus, Kazakh, and Ukrainian services contributed to this report
Commentary: Why Does Monica Lovinescu Matter?
(Monica Lovinescu, a Paris-based literary critic and journalist who
encouraged intellectual resistance to Romania's communist regime from
the microphone of Radio Free Europe from 1964-92, passed away on April
21 at the age of 85.
The daughter of influential interwar academic Eugen Lovinescu, and a mother who was to die in a communist prison, Monica Lovinescu enjoyed tremendous prestige and influence in her native Romania. She was considered a chief ideologue in arguing that communist crimes were equal to those of the Nazis, and her work angered dictator Nicolae Ceausescu to the point that he ordered the beating in 1977 that left her in a coma. She recovered to return to her seat behind the microphone, where she observed the downfall of Ceausescu's regime in 1989.)
Monica Lovinescu matters because she was one of the most important voices of the Eastern and Central European antitotalitarian thought. Her passing away is a major loss for all the friends of an open society. My personal indebtedness to her -- like that of many Romanian intellectuals -- is immense. As a member of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania (which I chaired), Lovinescu participated, even during the most painful moments of physical suffering, in the condemnation of communist totalitarianism. Her solidarity was unswerving, both morally and intellectually.
Lovinescu's crucial impact on Romania's culture is inextricably linked to her major role as a cultural commentator for Radio Free Europe (RFE). There is no exaggeration in saying that no other RFE broadcast was more execrated, abhorred, and feared by Ceausescu and the communist nomenklatura than those undertaken by Lovinescu and her husband, Virgil Ierunca.
For decades, Lovinescu fought against terrorist collectivisms, the regimentation of the mind, and moral capitulation. Her patriotism was enlightened and generous. Thanks to her, Romanian intellectuals were able to internalize the great messages from the writings of Camus, Arendt, Kolakowski, Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, Koestler, Cioran, Milosz, Revel, Aron, and the list is fatally too short. A spirit totally dedicated to modernity, open to the crucial polemics of the 20th century, Lovinescu wrote poignant essays on the what American critic Lionel Trilling called "the bloody crossroads, where literature and politics meet."
For years, her outspoken positions in defense of dissident writers and moral resistance to totalitarianism provoked the ire of the party hacks and their Securitate associates. Starting in 1967 and continuing today, publications associated with the most vicious, ultranationalist, and anti-Semitic circles among Romania's Stalinists have targeted Monica Lovinescu. On several occasions, in the 1970s-80s, attempts were made on her life.
For Ceausescu and his sycophants (many of whom are still thriving in the Social Democratic and Romania Mare parties), Lovinescu symbolizes all they love to hate: pluralism, tolerance, hostility to xenophobia, compassion for victims of both totalitarianisms (fascist and communist), and a commitment to what we can call an "ethics of forgetlessness." On the other hand, democratic intellectuals (Gabriel Liiceanu, Andrei Plesu, N. Manolescu, H.R. Patapievici, Andrei Cornea, Dorin Tudoran, Cristian Teodorescu, Sorin Alexandrescu, Mircea Mihaies, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, to name just a few) learned from her that "memory is indispensable to freedom."
Lovinescu matters because she knew how to maintain the unity between ethics and aesthetics. In 1963, she wrote: "We live in an age in which impostures abound. They should not conceal however the other voices -- those of the victims." Her RFE broadcasts were precisely an antidote to the official mendacity, a voice of truth speaking for those condemned to silence.
Especially during the watershed year 1968, Lovinescu paid close attention to the ideological crisis of world communism and the importance of disenchantment among ex-Marxist intellectuals. At a historical juncture when Ceausescu masqueraded as a de-Stalinizer, Lovinescu exposed the tyrant's imposture and appealed to Romanian writers to emulate the ethical audacity of Czech and Slovak intellectuals such as Ludvik Vaculik, Vaclav Havel, Ivan Svitak, Ladislav Mnacko, Eduard Goldstuecker, Antonin Liehm, Pavel Kohout, and Ivan Klima. Thanks to Radio Free Europe and to Monica Lovinescu, Romanians had direct access to the iconoclastic pages of "Literarny listy."
At a time when many thought disparagingly about anything smacking of neo-Marxism, Lovinescu and her husband Ierunca highlighted the significance of revisionism for the destruction of communist pseudo-legitimacy. She wrote extensively about the importance of apostasy, which she described as the "voie royale" toward the awakening from what Immanuel Kant coined "the dogmatic sleep." Furthermore, while emphasizing the need for Romanian culture to avoid autarky, she proposed remarkable guidelines that decisively influenced the intellectual cannon in the country.
Lovinescu's writings have come out after 1990 from the prestigious publishing house Humanitas. A few weeks before her passing away, I reread her essays from 1968. They strike me as extraordinarily timely, insightful, and prescient. She understood before many others that communism was irretrievably sick, and she insisted on the role of intellectuals in the insurrectionary saga of Eastern Europe's opposition to Sovietism.
After 1990, Lovinescu and Ierunca saw many of their predictions (including the dire ones) come true. The legacies of national-Stalinism continue to haunt Romania's fragile pluralism. The lackeys of the ancien regime made it politically and financially. Dissidents were exhausted, marginalized, slandered.
Things changed, however, after 1996 and especially after 2004. The initiation by Traian Basescu of the Presidential Commission unleashed a national conversation along the lines of historical truth and moral justice. Immediately after President Basescu's condemnation of the communist regime as illegitimate and criminal, on December 18, 2006, I called from Bucharest and told Monica Lovinescu what happened. I mentioned the hysterical sabotaging of the president's speech by Romania Mare leader, and former Ceausescu bootlicker, Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Her answer was short and encapsulated the meaning of an exemplary intellectual and moral itinerary: "The noise doesn't matter. Truth was said. We won!"
Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at the University of Maryland, chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania, and author of numerous books including "Stalinism For All Seasons: A Political History Of Romanian Communism" [University of California Press]. Since 1983, he has been a regular contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Russia: Will Political Satire Survive Kremlin Hit List?
His March 2 election -- which critics say was merely a prearranged transfer of power -- has prompted a flurry of jokes about the future president.
Most revolve around his boyish appearance, diminutive stature, and reputation as a puppet of President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to become prime minister after stepping down in May.
What is "nanotechnology" in Russian politics? goes one joke. Answer: When each new leader is shorter than his predecessor.
In another, Putin takes Medvedev out for dinner. Putin orders a steak. "What about the vegetable?" the waiter asks him. "The vegetable will have a steak, too," answers Putin.
Perhaps the most popular gag so far is a video that lampoons the cult Soviet film "Kavkazskaya Plennitsa," or "Caucasus Prisoner." The clip has been viewed more than 1 million times on the video-sharing website YouTube.
In the original scene, a local tricks a naive Russian tourist into kidnapping a young woman by persuading him that abductions are a local tradition. In the overdubbed spoof version, the tourist is Medvedev and he's being asked to snatch not the woman but the Russian presidency.
"So what's my role?" asks Medvedev. "Collect signatures, put forward your candidacy," the local tells him. "My candidacy?! That's also part of the tradition? Brilliant!" exclaims an enthusiastic Medvedev.
The local then explains that things must look "natural" even if the vote is bogus. "The candidates will resist, kick, even bite, call for observers, shout that they're going to complain to the United Nations," he says. "But don't pay attention -- it's all part of a beautiful old tradition!"
No Laughing Matter
The Kremlin, if aware of the clip, is unlikely to be amused.
Such jokes are a far cry from the reverent portrayal of Medvedev and Putin in Russia's state-controlled media.
Yuly Gusman, humorist and head of the Russian Film Academy, says the Kremlin has become particularly intolerant of political satire under Putin's tenure.
"It's disappearing from the social sphere and from television debates. It's gone, and I think it will be gone for a long time. I think this began under Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin]," he says. "[Former President Boris] Yeltsin can be reproached for many things, but he attached great value to freedom of speech and of the press, which attacked him, bit him. He ground his teeth but bore it all."
Gusman knows this from firsthand experience.
The television station covering the Nika film awards ceremony -- Russia's equivalent of the Oscars -- in Moscow last month cut out part of his speech, in which he made a tongue-in-cheek remark about the Putin-Medvedev power tandem.
"Traditionally we have a message from the Russian president," he told the star-studded audience. "Since clearly no one knows who our president is, you can consider it coming from me."
A spoof film sequence shown to Nika guests in which Putin and Medvedev were portrayed as a tsar and his son was also skipped over in the television report.
The Kremlin, however, has tolerated -- sometimes even encouraged -- mild political satire.
As Russians cast their ballots on March 2, national television broadcast images of Medvedev attending KVN, a hugely popular student humor show dating back to Soviet times. Medvedev was shown smiling good-naturedly as some of the performers poked gentle fun at his sudden rise to power.
"It's meant to show that we supposedly have democrats in our country, freedom of speech, not like under Comrade Stalin," says Gusman. "It's approved humor; it's very pleasant, but that's all."
The more scalding satire that flourished in the 1990s following the Soviet collapse has all but vanished. "Kukly," a satirical puppet show, was one of the first television programs axed after Putin became president in 2000.
"Kukly" showed Putin in a variety of guises, from an indecisive leader struggling to choose a new prime minister to an impotent young king on his wedding night.
One of the most caustic episodes was based on "Little Zaches Called Zinnober," a tale by 19th-century German author E.T.A. Hoffmann in which a wicked dwarf bewitches a city, tricking its residents into worshiping him as a great ruler.
The show depicted Putin as the wicked, foul-mouthed dwarf, and oligarch Boris Berezovsky -- the former Kremlin kingmaker who eventually fell out with Putin -- as the magic fairy helping him put the nation under his spell.
"In the outhouse, waste them all! Waste everyone in the outhouse!" screams the Putin puppet at the start of the episode, in which he is still a baby in his crib -- a reference to Putin's famous statement about Chechen separatist rebels.
"Lie still, boy. Now we'll make a human being out of you," says the Berezovsky-fairy.
The episode enraged Putin's supporters, a handful of whom published an open letter calling for the show's authors to be prosecuted.
The man behind "Kukly," the well-known humorist Viktor Shenderovich, was not dragged to court. But he left the show in 2001 after the television station broadcasting it was taken over by a state-controlled company. A significantly tamer version of "Kukly," without the Putin puppet, was finally ditched in 2003.
Since then, says Shenderovich, political satire has been driven underground.
"It's not the 'Kukly' program that disappeared, it's the country in which the 'Kukly' program existed that disappeared," he says. "Beyond the realm of the Internet, we've returned to a Soviet model. Biting personal satire, the kind that goes for the most sensitive spots, is absolutely impossible in the federal framework. It escaped entirely to the Internet; it escaped entirely to folklore."
Russia has a rich tradition of political satire. For centuries, sharp-tongued "chastushki" -- short, rhymed folk songs -- were devised to ridicule the country's rulers.
Russians also used "lubki," hand-colored folk prints, to poke fun at the elite. Peter the Great, whose drive to secularize and Europeanize the country earned him many foes, was a favorite target of lubok artists. Famous lubki portray him as a cat or a crocodile.
While biting satire has long been an inherent part of political life in Western countries, Russia's history of despotic regimes means this type of humor has almost always been confined to the private realm.
Precisely because it is so deeply entrenched in the Russian psyche, the Kremlin is unlikely to ever succeed in uprooting political satire.
"In Russia, mocking authorities is an exclusively oral, folkloric tradition," says Shenderovich. "There were jokes about Stalin under Stalin's rule; there have always been jokes about leaders, there have always been harsh chastushki, there has always been an entire world of satire -- including satire that is foul-mouthed, popular, vulgar, but incredibly talented. This has always existed, and will always exist."