|Monday, 11 December 2023|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 1, No. 171, 97-12-03
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 1, No. 171, 3 December 1997
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 OPERATION AGAINST TAJIK TERRORISTS CONTINUES...Tajik government security forces are continuing their operation against a terrorist group responsible for several kidnappings, despite the death of the group's leader, Rezvon Sadirov. The government wants to eliminate the group and free 12-15 hostages believed to be held by the outlaws. Authorities in Dushanbe believe that among the hostages are the two sons of the head mufti of Tajikistan, who were kidnapped in the summer. BP
 ...WHILE GOVERNMENT SAYS FOREIGNERS SAFETajik Deputy Prime Minister Abdurahmon Azimov on 2 December told diplomats and heads of international organizations that they need not worry for their or their co-workers' safety, ITAR-TASS reported. Azimov said there is now a "90 percent probability" that there will be no repetition of the recent hostage-taking incident in which one French woman was killed. Security Minister Saidamir Zuhurov, however, noted that "bandit groups" may be among repatriated United Tajik Opposition members and even representatives of Tajikistan's law enforcement agencies in Dushanbe. The next day, the UN observer mission in Tajikistan announced it is operating as normal. BP
 ONE AZAMAT LEADER FINED IN ALMATY...Murat Auezov, the co-chairman of Kazakhstan's Azamat movement, was fined 2,480 tenge ($33) by a district court on 2 December for "organizing and participating in an unauthorized rally," Interfax reported. Azamat called for the 30 November demonstration in front of the Kazakh parliament building to protest the government's "arbitrary rule " (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1997). BP
 ...WHILE ANOTHER BEATEN IN BISHKEKPeter Svoik, also a co-chairman of the Azamat movement, was beaten in a hotel room in the Kyrgyz capital on 1 December, RFE/RL corespondents in Bishkek and Almaty reported. Four masked men entered Svoik's room, hit the Kazakh politician on the head, and also injured his wife. Svoik was in Bishkek to attend a conference on "Democratic Changes in Central Asia." Several of Kazakhstan's opposition movements and parties have sent a protest letter to the Kyrgyz embassy in Kazakhstan. BP
 SHELL CHOSEN TO HEAD TURKMEN PIPELINE CONSORTIUMTurkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov met with Royal Dutch Shell President John Parsley on 2 December in Ashgabat, ITAR-TASS reported. Niyazov proposed that Parsley's company form a consortium to build a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran. The British-Dutch company's president agreed to head such a consortium. The results of France's Sofregaz company feasibility study on the project are expected to be made available by year's end. BP
 GEORGIAN WARLORD TO BOYCOTT TRIALDjaba Ioseliani, the leader of the banned Georgian paramilitary formation Mkhedrioni, has refused to attend further sessions of his trial on charges of terrorism and attempting to assassinate then parliamentary chairman Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995, Interfax reported on 2 December. In a letter addressed to the chairmen of the Supreme Court and the parliamentary Commission on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Ioseliani said the requirement that he and the other 14 defendants sit in steel cages during the court proceedings constitutes "arbitrary rule and a tragic farce." LF
 TBILISI-BATUMI TENSIONS INCREASEAdjar Supreme Soviet Chairman Aslan Abashidze has declared his intention to institute criminal proceedings against Rostom Dolidze, the chairman of the Georgian parliamentary committee on procedures, Caucasus Press reported on 3 December. In October, former Batumi Mayor Temur Kharrazi accused both Dolidze and parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, Dolidze of conspiring to oust Abashidze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 October 1997). But Anzor Tsutsunava, the chairman of the Georgian parliamentary commission created to investigate those accusations, told Caucasus Press that the Adjar Prosecutor's Office is not empowered to start proceedings against Dolizde and Zhvania. Dolidze complained on 2 December that the investigative commission has failed to demonstrate that Kharrazi's charges were fabricated. LF
 ESTONIAN, GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKERS MEETEstonian parliamentary speaker Toomas Savi and his Georgian counterpart, Zurab Zhvania, signed a cooperation agreement in Tbilisi on 2 December, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Savi told journalists later that Georgia has "great economic potential," adding that he is certain Georgia will soon become a member of the EU. Zhvania again charged that Georgia's relations with Russia are reverting to the level of a "Cold War" owing to Moscow's failure to expedite a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. He suggested that Georgia may reconsider its membership in the CIS, which, he said, has failed to bring "anything positive." LF
 ARMENIA'S MANUKYAN SAYS DEMOCRACY KEY TO KARABAKH CONFLICTNational Democratic Union chairman and former presidential candidate Vazgen Manukyan told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 2 December that democratization and public trust in the government, together with a strong army, will help Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to secure a "just solution" to the Karabakh conflict. Speaking about his recent visit to South America (where an estimated 100,000 ethnic Armenians live), Manukyan said he was primarily interested in those countries' peaceful transition to democracy after decades of military rule. He said their experience is very useful for Armenia, which "has retreated from democracy since 1991." LF
 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION REJECTS PRESIDENT'S CRITICISMSpokesmen for Azerbaijan's three leading opposition parties have taken issue with President Heidar Aliev's statements at a 29 November meeting, Turan reported three days later. Aliev accused the opposition of "hostility" and called for the "normalization" of relations between the leadership and the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1997). Azerbaijan Popular Front Deputy Chairman Mirmahmud Fattaev noted that Abulfaz Elchibey, the front's chairman, recently called for establishing "civil peace" in Azerbaijan. Fattaev said the present Azerbaijani leadership is a "guarantee not of democracy but its suffocation." Party of National Independence Secretary-General Elshad Musaev said it is "abnormal" that the Azerbaijani leadership is ready for talks with Armenia but not with its own opposition. And Musavat Party secretary Sulhaddin Akper charged that, contrary to Aliev's assertion, it is the leadership, not the opposition, that demonstrates hostility. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 MILUTINOVIC REMAINS FIRM ON "SERB JERUSALEM."Serbian presidential candidate and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic said in Pec on 2 December that Serbia will never give up Kosovo. "Kosovo is the Jerusalem of all Serbs, who will never be a minority in their own country. The [Albanian] separatists had better understand this. We will never allow anybody to interfere in the Kosovo issue or in our internal affairs. Kosovo is our land and will not be the subject of bargaining with anybody." Milutinovic is the candidate of a coalition led by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. France and Germany recently called upon Serbia to grant autonomy to the mainly ethnic Albanian province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 December 1997). PM
 SESELJ FEARS ELECTORAL FRAUDVojislav Seselj, the presidential candidate of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, said in Kosovska Mitrovica on 2 December that he expects to beat Milutinovic "without any problem." Seselj added, however, that he fears vote rigging in the 7 December vote, BETA news agency reported. He charged that the absence of a central body to coordinate voting lists has enabled some people to register in more than one place and that there are consequently 500,000 more names on the voting rolls than there should be. Seselj narrowly defeated Milosevic's candidate Zoran Lilic in the 21 September presidential vote, which was declared invalid because of insufficient turnout. PM
 KOSOVO KIDNAPPING NOT POLITICAL?The recent kidnapping of a high-ranking Serbian police official in Kosovo was the work of Serbian criminals who wanted to hold their victim for a large ransom, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 2 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1997). The criminals released their victim in Belgrade once they realized that he was not the man they had wanted to kidnap. Many observers had assumed the kidnapping was the work of ethnic Albanian guerrillas, who have claimed responsibility for an increasing number of acts of violence against Serbian officials and pro- Serbian Albanians this year. PM
 WEU WANTS NEW BOSNIA FORCEThe parliamentary assembly of the West European Union on 2 December called on WEU officials to set up a new peacekeeping force for Bosnia when SFOR's mandate runs out in June 1998. The legislators argued that the new force should have a mandate of at least three to five years and work together with U.S. and Russian peacekeepers, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. The assembly also called on the WEU to set up a police force for Bosnia on the model of European police units that have served in Mostar and Albania. The legislators suggested that the WEU police unit could eventually replace the UN police currently serving in Bosnia. PM
 MUSLIMS, CROATS AGREE ON REFUGEE RETURNTop officials of the mainly Muslim and Croat federation agreed in Sarajevo on 2 December that some 120,000 Muslim and Croat refugees may return to 156 villages in central Bosnia under the control of the other nationality. The federal government will make $3 million available for the project, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo. In Mostar, a UN police spokesman said that Croatian authorities the previous week sacked three Croatian government officials who are married to Muslims. One of the three has since returned to work after proving that a close relative of his died fighting the Muslims in the Croatian army during the 1993 Croatian-Muslim war, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Mostar. PM
 CRACKDOWN ON MUSLIM EXTREMISTS IN BOSNIAA UN police spokesman said in Sarajevo on 2 December that federal police arrested "a number" of people in central Bosnia the previous week. He added, however, that the purpose and scope of the apparent crackdown are unclear. Local media reported recently that the arrests are part of a crackdown on foreign and Bosnian Islamic militants allegedly responsible for several armed incidents against local Croats in recent months. Western news agencies added that police found two arms caches and are investigating possible links between the extremists and senior Bosnian government officials. PM
 SLOVENIA, EU LAUNCH $20 MILLION PROJECTRepresentatives of the EU and Slovenia announced in Brussels on 2 December a $20 million program to help integrate Slovenia into the EU. The EU feels that Slovenia has made rapid progress in its transition to a market economy and no longer needs assistance to promote privatization or restructuring. The new project will focus on bringing Slovenian laws into line with EU standards as well as on promoting investments in small businesses and in environmental protection. Meanwhile in Ljubljana, electoral officials confirmed that President Milan Kucan was re-elected in the 23 November election with 55.5 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1997). PM
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLEDPremier Victor Ciorbea on 2 December replaced one-third of the cabinet's members, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Daniel Daianu, chief economist of the National Bank, took over the Finance Ministry from Mircea Ciumara, who is now minister of industry and commerce. Valentin Ionescu, a former presidential counselor, is head of the newly established Privatization Ministry, while Ilie Serbanescu, a well known journalist specializing in economic affairs and a frequent contributor to RFE/RL's programs, is minister of reform. Andrei Marga, the dean of Cluj university, takes over the education portfolio. MS
 ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER WARNS NEW GOVERNMENTAlso on 2 December, Ciorbea told journalists in Bucharest that from now on, cabinet members will have to stop "acting like stars." He said differences of opinion must be solved within the government and not in the press, with ministers criticizing one another publicly. He added that those displaying "political infantilism" will either "find themselves out of the government" or he will submit his resignation, bringing down the entire cabinet. The failure to act as a unified team was one of the main reasons for the difficulties encountered by the government until now, Ciorbea commented. The premier noted that although he is not required to do so by the law, he will ask the parliament to approve the cabinet reshuffle on 4 December.
 UKRAINIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO TRANSDNIESTER?A Ukrainian peacekeeping unit will soon be stationed in the Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 2 December, citing the Russian- language pro-governmental daily "Nezavisimaya Moldova." The daily said that Russia, which previously opposed the stationing of the Ukrainian troops, has changed its position following the recent visit to Chisinau and Tiraspol of Russian Minister for CIS Affairs Anatolii Adamishin. The newspaper also commented that separatist leader Igor Smirnov hopes that the presence of the Ukrainian peace-keepers will result in a competition for influence in the Transdniester between Moscow and Kyiv. Moldovan presidential adviser Anatol Taranu, who heads the Chisinau team in the parleys with Tiraspol, said Moldova is ready to accept the Ukrainian contingent in order to "once more demonstrate its good will and readiness to accept a compromise." MS
 BULGARIAN PREMIER SEEKS CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGEIvan Kostov on 2 December said the constitution should be amended to make judges and prosecutors more accountable, Reuters reported. Under the present system, they are immune from prosecution and discipline even if they fail to fulfill their duties. Moreover, their appointment cannot be revoked. Kostov suggested that constitution be amended to make it possible for the Supreme Judicial Council to discipline magistrates if necessary. MS
[C] END NOTE
 MISUSE OF MEDIA LAWS IN POST SOVIET STATESby Yasha Lange
The countries of the former Soviet Union have all adopted constitutions that contain such pious phrases as "everyone is guaranteed the right to free expression of one's own views and ideas." In reality, media freedom remains a distant prospect in some of those countries. Laws alone cannot change that state of affairs. Worse, laws sometimes limit, rather than safeguard, freedom of expression.
Laws on defamation--or "harming the reputation of citizens"--are such examples. In addition, there are the provisions of the press law itself (on the obligations of journalists), of the civil code (on the protection of the dignity and reputation of citizens), and/or of the criminal code (on punishment for insulting officials or for slander).
Azerbaijan has a special law "on the honor and dignity of the president," which provides for the punishment of those damaging the reputation of the head of state. The Ukrainian law "on the protection of the dignity and business reputation" of legal entities and individuals allows those subjects to appeal to a court to demand the retraction of, or compensation for, allegedly defamatory or inaccurate information.
While adequate libel laws are clearly necessary, no country needs overly broad legislation protecting the reputation of officials or the head of state. On the contrary, the European Court for Human Rights has ruled that public figures (meaning politicians, among others) cannot expect the same protection as the public at large and will inevitably come under greater scrutiny.
In the former Soviet Union, however, legislation on defamation has all too often been used by state bodies, officials, and individuals to sue local media outlets. Those outlets have regularly had to pay very high fines. Recent findings shows that the majority of legal proceedings against the media in the former Soviet republics are for defamation.
Then there are legal provisions that place restrictions on the media in order to ensure the country's security. Such provisions typically state that the media are forbidden to disclose state secrets, to call for the overthrow of the existing state, or to propagate war or racial, national, or religious intolerance. True, the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 10.2) also curtails the activities of the media in the interests of national security. However, those restrictions are not nearly as far- reaching as some in the former Soviet Union.
Belarus, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, for example, have a special law on classified materials. The Ukrainian law states that all information pertaining to defense, the economy, foreign relations, national security, and the safekeeping of law and order constitutes a state secret. That law also lists various subjects that must remain classified in order not to endanger Ukraine's vital interests. In Azerbaijan, two decrees "on temporary military censorship" and a parliamentary resolution provide a long list of materials deemed to contain state and military secrets.
In those four countries, as well as in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, such provisions have been subject to opportunistic interpretation and have resulted in hefty fines for some media outlets. Control has also been imposed over media output.
At the same time, one law is conspicuously absent in the countries of the former Soviet Union, except for Moldova, Ukraine, and the Baltics: namely, one governing the electronic media, in particular, licensing procedures and frequency distribution. For want of such a law, some governments (including Russia's) have issued decrees on the licensing of private broadcasting outlets and the transmission of their programs. However, the lack of a sound regulatory framework remains an obstacle to the development of independent broadcasting in many post Soviet states.
Independent media oversight bodies could play an important role, but as yet, they are markedly absent throughout the region. The relevant authorities are directly subordinated either to the president or the government, while the executive branch reserves for itself major decision-making powers over media issues. Regime loyalists are appointed to positions of power in ministries, on committees, and within the state-owned media. There are virtually no non-political appointments.
An independent judiciary could also play a valuable role. However, most legal proceedings involving journalists or media outlets are libel cases in which the press is the defendant. Rarely do journalists or media outlets appeal administrative decisions (such as not to grant a license), undue interference by the authorities, or insufficient access to information. That state of affairs indicates a lack of confidence in the effectiveness and independence of the judiciary. It also suggests that most journalists in the former Soviet Union do not believe it is possible to successfully sue government officials or challenge their decisions.
The author is project manager for the East-West Cooperation Program of the European Institute for the Media in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty