News from Central and Eastern Europe, Monday 29th April 2013

BALKANS

Video – Press TV: Serbian president apologizes for Srebrenica massacre. ‘The apology is the first of its kind from Serbia regarding the massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim boys and men in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica back in the 1990s.’

Reuters: Don’t let referendum hold up Kosovo accord, EU tells Serbia. ‘The European Union cautioned Serbia on Friday not to delay implementing a landmark accord on Kosovo after Belgrade said it might hold a referendum on the deal, which is crucial to its hopes of starting EU membership talks.

The EU-brokered agreement between Serbia and its majority-Albanian former province won Belgrade a preliminary green light for accession talks this year, but the bloc wants progress on the ground before taking a final decision in late June.

The April 19 deal envisages an end to the partition of Kosovo between its ethnic Albanian majority and a small Serb pocket in the north, five years after the territory declared independence. Trying to mollify some 50,000 Serbs in the northern enclave, the Serbian government said on Thursday it might hold a referendum on the agreement.’

BOSNIA

BBC News: Bosnia court detains Bosniak-Croat President Zivko Budimir. ‘A Bosnian court has ordered the president of the autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation to be detained for a month on corruption charges.

Zivko Budimir was arrested on Friday along with at least 17 others.

On Sunday, prosecutors said Mr Budimir and four other officials had taken bribes to arrange pardons for convicts. They demanded his detention in case he tried to flee the country.’

BULGARIA

The Sofia Globe: Bulgarian protesters block border crossing with Greece twice at weekend, alleging discrimination by Greek police. ‘The protesters said that they would repeat the action on May 4 unless action was taken against the alleged discrimination, which they said involved arbitrary fines of Bulgarian motorists, penalties of up to 300 euro and confiscation of vehicle licence plates and driving licences until these fines were paid.

The blockades lasted about 30 minutes each, with protesters saying that their action was symbolic and not intended to cause serious prolonged disruption to traffic.’

GREECE

Ekathimerini: First man charged under Greece’s 1997 race crime lawThe 33-year-old was arrested on Thursday in the southern Athenian suburb of Nea Smyrni by police investigating claims that he and another two accomplices had attacked a Bangladeshi street peddler at least eight times.’

Greece’s Supreme Court rules 2 Kurds should not be extradited to Turkey. ‘The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that two Kurdish men wanted in Turkey for trial on terrorism charges should not be extradited by Greece.

Ankara first submitted a request for Zeki Gurbuz and Bulent Komert to be extradited in 2005.

The two men have sought asylum in Greece, claiming they are being pursued by Turkish authorities because of their political beliefs.’

Greek Reporter: Golden Dawn Blood Donation Draws Ire. ‘The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party’s ongoing blood drives with donations earmarked only for Greeks pitted it against protesters outside a hospital in Tripoli in which a man who was photographing the event said he was attacked by the extremists.

Tensions rose on April 27 at the Panarkadiko Hospital of Tripoli, Peloponnese, when Golden Dawners ordered the cameraman to delete video footage recorded on his mobile phone, arguing that their faces should not be identifiable.’

HUNGARY

BBC News: Hungary’s rawest nerve: Learning to love the Roma. ‘The relationship between the Roma minority and the non-Roma majority is a difficult one in many central European countries. There are frequently problems in Hungary, but could there also be examples of good practice?

“I am not asking you to love the Gypsies, but we all have to live together,” the police colonel told the hall packed with police cadets. “And for that, the police must show tolerance and trust, not hatred and exclusion.”

The hall falls very quiet. We are touching the rawest, most exposed nerve of Hungarian society. And it twitches. More often than not, it hurts.’

EurActiv: Council of Europe turns up the heat on Hungary.

Hungary is set to become the first EU country to be monitored by the Council of Europe, following recent changes to the country’s constitution.

The monitoring committee of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly announced last week (25 April) that it was recommending a formal procedure to monitor Hungary’s respecting of its obligations to the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe (CoE) is Europe’s oldest organization, specialising in human rights, and its Parliamentary Assembly is the oldest international parliamentary assembly, currently representing the parliaments of 47 countries.

When countries join the Council of Europe, the organisation automatically opens a monitoring procedure, which is lifted over time. Of all EU countries, only Bulgaria has been covered by a monitoring procedure, since it joined the CoE in 1992. But the CoE has never opened a monitoring procedure against an EU member.’

Politics.hu: Orbán: Funding for ethnic Hungarian education abroad boosts national unity. ‘State borders separating Transcarpathian Hungarians from the European Union are becoming less and less relevant, the Hungarian premier said on Friday in western Ukraine, where he signed an education funding agreement.

Viktor Orban attended a ceremony to sign an agreement with the Ferenc Rakoczi II Hungarian College in Berehove near the Hungarian border in western Ukraine, which includes 500 million forints (EUR 1.7m) of financing for the college as part of a fund targeting Hungarian cultural and educational activities beyond the borders. Rakoczi College will be helped to launch high-level vocational training and new faculties while expanding research at of its three research institutes.’

RUSSIA

Comment – The Economist: Islamists in Russia. ‘Hours after the Boston bombers were identified as Chechens, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, called Barack Obama to offer help with his investigations. Mr Putin has long argued that Russia faces the same threat of radical Islam in the north Caucasus as the West does elsewhere. The Boston bombings seem to support him.

He is right in one respect. The war in Russia’s southern underbelly is no longer a separatist conflict. The nationalist cause that inspired Chechen fighters 20 years ago is now an Islamic one. Yet this mutation has as much do with Russia’s ruthless actions in the region as with the global spread of Islamist fundamentalism.

So far Russia, America and even the insurgents agree that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston bombers, acted on their own. The self-proclaimed Caucasus Emirate, a jihadist organisation, says it played no part. But America’s investigators still find it hard to understand how a regional conflict in Russia might resonate tragically in Boston.

Struggling to integrate in America (“I don’t have a single American friend,” Tamerlan, the older brother, once said), the Tsarnaev boys sought mental refuge in their native land. The internet and social networks that served as a channel created an illusion of engagement without experience or memory. The brothers never fought in the Chechen wars or lived in Chechnya for any length of time. Yet their lives and their sensibilities seem to have collided with its violent and tragic history.’

Comment – The Huffington Post: Contextualizing Religious Profiling in Dagestan: Tsarnaev and the Kotrova Mosque. ‘In the last 24 hours, several media agencies have reported that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had visited the Kotrova Mosque in Makhachkala. In Dagestan this mosque is known to be associated with radical Islam and Salafism. It was reported by the media that local sources, probably linked with the security services, have identified Tamerlan Tsarnaev, as a regular at the mosque in 2011 and 2012. According to these sources, the 26-year-old man was identified and put on a list of potential Salafists and supporters of the insurgency. Following this labeling as a potential threat for Dagestan’s security, the Federal Security Service apparently tipped off the American government and the FBI about Tsarnaev’s potential radicalization.

One has to take this analysis about Tsarnaev’s radicalization and his potential to engage in the insurgency with certain caution. It is well known by many who lived or studied in the North Caucasus and particularly in Dagestan, that the local security services list all the individuals that attend radical mosques (Salafi), such as the Kotrova Mosque. In other words, this religious profiling seeks to identify any individuals with potential ties to radical Islam in order to control them more efficiently. These lists are used by local police forces to conduct crackdowns and brutal interrogations following insurgent or terrorist attacks in Dagestan. However, being placed on the list is not proof that anyone is or is close to being involved with insurgent groups. To the contrary, this religious profiling has been abused by local forces in order to harass radical Muslims in Dagestan. As radical Islam, vaguely defined as Wahhabism by local authorities, has been outlawed in Dagestan after the Chechen invasion in 1999 and any potential signs linked to radical Islam (clothes, long beard, and a trimmed mustache) were used as an excuse by local police to stop and interrogate ordinary Muslims.’

The New York Times: Phone Calls Discussing Jihad Prompted Russian Warning on Tsarnaev. ‘The Russian warning to the United States government in 2011 about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of two brothers accused in the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, was based on two intercepted telephone calls discussing jihad, both involving his mother, a law enforcement official said on Saturday.’

The Moscow Times: 140 Suspected Islamic Extremists Detained. ‘Russian police and security agents detained 140 people at a mosque in Moscow on Friday on suspicion of involvement with Islamic extremism.

A statement from the Federal Security Service reported by Russian news agencies said that among those detained were 30 citizens of unspecified foreign countries.

The detentions come a week after the two suspects in the fatal Boston Marathon bombings were identified as Russian-born ethnic Chechens who sympathized with Islamic extremists.

There were no immediate reports of charges being filed. The security agency referred The Associated Press to a district office, where the telephone was not answered.’

RFE/RL: Russian Gay-Rights Activist Granted Spanish Asylum. ‘Prominent Russian gay rights activist Aleksei Kiselyov has reportedly been granted political asylum in Spain.

A fellow gay rights activist based in Moscow, Nikolai Alekseyev, said that Spain gave Kiselyov asylum and a five-year permanent resident permit.

Kiselyov participated in a protest against the reelection of President Vladimir Putin on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square in May 2012 that was violently dispersed by police.

Several activists who took part in the protest have been charged with organizing mass disorders.

Kiselyov told the group GayRussia on April 26 that he would return to Russia “only after Putin’s dictatorship regime is gone.”‘

President Again Denies Georgia Co-Opted Chechen Fighters. ‘Georgian President Mikheil Saakashavili has again denied that the previous Georgian government recruited and trained a group of Chechens with the aim of infiltrating them into the Russian Federation. Saakashvili was responding to what he termed “irresponsible” and “extremely dangerous” comments made by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili in an April 26 interview with the TV channel Rustavi-2.

Referring to the annual study of the human rights situation in Georgia presented to parliament on April 1 by Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili, Ivanishvili said in that interview the ongoing probe into the circumstances of a shootout in August in eastern Georgia between Chechens and Georgian troops and Interior Ministry special forces may yield “shocking” results that corroborate Nanuashvili’s conclusion that the previous government recruited, trained and equipped Chechens living in exile in Europe to join the North Caucasus insurgency.’

Ria Novosti: Two Soldiers Die in Roadside Blast in Chechnya. ‘Two soldiers died in the Shatoi district in the North Caucasus Republic of Chechnya after hitting an unidentified explosive device, the local police said on Sunday.’

UPI: Three Dagestan militants killed in police vehicle search‘Three suspected militants in Russia’s republic of Dagestan have been killed in an attack on police officers, the republic’s Interior Ministry said Saturday.

Police had stopped their vehicle in an overnight search operation and the men were killed when they opened fire on the officers’

Vestnik Kavkaza: Ingush-Chechen territorial dispute should be settled as soon as possible, Ingush leader says. ‘The Ingush-Chechen territorial dispute concerning two districts of the Ingush republic should be settled as soon as possible, Ingush leader Yunus-bek Yevkurov said today.

Yevkurov also warned against Chechen provocations and recalled the recent fight between Chechen and Ingush police officers in the settlement of Arshty.

According to Yevkurov, the Chechen authorities are trying to boost the conflict and intimidate residents of Ingush villages.’

TURKEY

Reuters: Turkey warns opposition against sabotaging Kurdish peace moves. ‘The Turkish government welcomed a planned withdrawal by Kurdish militants as significant progress towards ending three decades of conflict on Friday, and it warned its nationalist opponents not to sabotage the peace process.

The main nationalist party, however, was quick to reiterate its opposition to any dealings with the militants.

Rebel field commander Murat Karayilan on Thursday ordered his fighters to begin leaving Turkey on May 8 for the mountains of northern Iraq, in a step to halt a war that has killed more than 40,000 and scarred the nation.’

Vestnik Kavkaza: Interpol approves Turkey’s counter-terrorism efforts. ‘Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble praised Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to stop financing of terrorism.

The UN expressed support of Erdogan’s efforts earlier.

Turkey has 190 people cooperating with the Interpol, carry out operations to stop illegal trade that finances terrorism.

Erdogan called for prevention of terrorism financing at the Global Congress for Combating Counterfeiting and Piracy.’

UKRAINE

JTA: Ukrainian Jews worry that rise of Svoboda party will bring anti-Semitism back into vogue. ‘In the days after this April 6 melee, Svoboda denied that the provocateurs at the rally were their men. Yuriy Syrotiuk, a Svoboda parliamentarian, called the men criminals and complained that police were not responding to an act of incitement, Interfax reported. Some suggested the men were anti-Svoboda activists seeking to tarnish its image.

But denials notwithstanding, the incident has raised anxieties among Ukrainian Jews fearful of rising xenophobia and racially motivated violence they say is inspired by Svoboda, a party with neo-Nazi roots and a penchant for thuggery.

“Svoboda lifted the lid from the sewer of anti-Semitism in Ukraine and it’s spilling out,” said Joel Rubinfeld, co-chair of the European Jewish Parliament.

A U.S. State Department report this month singled out Ukraine, along with Hungary and Greece, as places of “concern” because of growing anti-Semitic parties. But open anti-Semitism is still rare in Ukraine. Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry documented just 15 cases of anti-Semitic violence in 2012. In France, the number was 200.’

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