News from Central and Eastern Europe, Tuesday 28th May 2013

BULGARIA

Balkan Insight: Bulgaria’s Ex-PM Apologises for Nationalists’ ‘Insults’. ‘Former prime minister and head of the GERB party Boyko Borisov apologised to foreign diplomats for the behaviour of Bulgarian nationalist leader Volen Siderov.

“As a Bulgarian, I want to apologise for being in the same room with people who insulted you, and for having some members of the new parliament not standing up when the EU anthem was performed,” former premier Borisov told 22 ambassadors from the EU, the US and Turkey on Monday.

Last Tuesday, during parliament’s opening ceremony, Siderov delivered an abrasive speech that stunned some observers.

He turned towards the foreign ambassadors who were attending and said that diplomats should not “dictate” to the half a million Bulgarians who he said lived on 73 euro a month.

“Don’t come here well-fed and satisfied and dictate from Brussels how to make democracy in our country. Come here, come down to earth, down to the people and see how they live,” Siderov said.’

Novinite: Bulgaria’s Nationalist Ataka Boycotts Talks with PM Hopeful. ‘Bulgaria’s far-right, nationalist Ataka party and its leader Volen Siderov have boycotted Monday consultations with Plamen Oresharski, nominated for Prime Minister by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP.

Oresharski invited earlier for debates Ataka, the nationalist VMRO party, the right-wing Bulgaria for Citizens of former EU Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, and People’s Voice of rock musician Svetlio Vitkov, to discuss the priorities of the 2013 – 2017 government.

Except Ataka, all others attended their respective work meetings.

The parties that overcame the 4% threshold to win seats in the May 12 general elections are: the center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, GERB, party of former Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, the ethnic Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedoms, DPS, and their self-proclaimed arch enemies – Ataka (Attack).

According to the final count, DPS and BSP together have 120 seats in the 240-seat unicameral Parliament. Ataka, with 23 MPs, is said to be the kingmaker as GERB has 97 MPs.’

GREECE

Ekathimerini: As coalition leaders prepare to meet, Parliament committee says anti-racism bill not neededA parliamentary committee has said that Greece’s existing laws against discrimination suffice and there is no need for new anti-racism legislation, just hours ahead of a meeting between coalition leaders to discuss the issue.

The panel of MPs that deals with would-be legislation said that existing laws do enough to punish racial hatred and other forms of prejudice. The committee also said that any changes should be in the form of amendments rather than a new set of laws.

It should be noted that New Democracy has the most MPs on the committee, whose findings are in line with the conservative party’s position on the issue.

Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis has drawn up a bill introducing tougher penalties for racially-motivated crimes and seeking to ensure Greece is line with an EU directive on racism and xenophobia.

New Democracy, however, has expressed doubts about the proposed law.

Deputy Interior Minister Haralambos Athanasiou said on Monday that he felt there was no need for new legislation but some “interventions” and “additions”.’

New Democracy takes 1.8% lead over SYRIZA as 68% fear rise of Golden Dawn, poll shows‘A new opinion poll shows a rise in support for New Democracy, which has a 1.8 percent lead over main rival SYRIZA, which saw its backing drop over the last month.

The GPO poll, made public on Mega TV on Monday night, puts New Democracy on 21.3 percent, up 1 percent from last month. SYRIZA is in second on 19.5 percent, which is almost 1 percent lower than last month.

Golden Dawn is third with 10.1 percent, followed by PASOK on 6.7, Independent Greeks with 6.4, the Communist Party (KKE) with 5.8 and Democratic Left on 5 percent.

Almost 68 percent of respondents said they felt the rise of far right Golden Dawn, which increased its support by 1.1 percent over the last month, was a threat to democracy.

Of those, 53 percent said the best way to confront Golden Dawn was through a political or ideological confrontation. Just over 41 percent said that legislative changes were a better way to tackle the neoNazi party.’

HUNGARY

Video – Channel 4 News: On the streets with Hungary’s far-right. ‘The far-right Jobbik party is hoping to become Hungary’s second biggest political party at next year’s elections but their manifesto is filled with vitriolic references to gypsies and Jews.

Jobbik currently holds 43 seats in the Hungarian parliament and two in the European parliament. In Hungary it has become a legitimate political force – although its anti-Semitic message has raised concerns across the globe.

The party is allied with the BNP through the Alliance of European National Movements, but is considerably more successful. One key difference is its ties to vigilante militias – think English Defence League, but sober and in military uniforms.

The nationalist militias descend on gypsy towns to intimidate and sow division – when banned, they simply re-form with new names and similar structures.

At a Jobbik protest against “Zionism and communism” a few hundred metres from the World Jewish Congress, Channel 4 News watched Jobbik’s leader address a crowd containing uniformed members of the Magyar Nemzeti Garda and the more extreme Betyarsereg (Army of Outlaws). The groups took part in military-style drills, and members of Betyarsereg carried helmets and gas masks.’

KOSOVO

Balkan Insight: Kosovo Protests Over Ex-Guerrillas’ War Crimes Arrests. ‘Waving Kosovo flags and chanting slogans in support of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, several thousand protesters marched through the city to the government building, demanding the release of former security forces commander Sylejman Selimi and six other ex-fighters accused of war crimes against civilian prisoners.

They held up photographs of jailed ex-fighters and banners reading “Long live the KLA”, while chanting slogans like “Freedom for the liberators!” and “The whole of Kosovo is KLA!”

They also demanded that the government end the mandate of the EU rule of law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, which is responsible for investigating and potentially prosecuting the suspects.

The protest came after Selimi, together with the mayor of Skenderaj/Srbice mayor, Sami Lushtaku, and five other ex-KLA fighters known as the ‘Drenica Group’ were put under house arrest for 30 days at a court hearing on Saturday.’

RUSSIA

RAPSI: Government commission backs harsher punishments for extremism. ‘A government commission has approved a Justice Ministry sponsored bill increasing punishment for extremist activity and religious organizations, reads a statement on the Governments website.

The Justice Ministry has proposed to extend prison terms and forced labor for individuals who promote extremist activities and incite hatred publicly with the use of the media, or make offensive statements on gender, race, ethnicity, language, religion or social background.

Tougher punishment will also face those who organize or join extremist groups or public and religious organizations banned by the courts.  The bill is aimed at neutralizing national security threats which stem from the destructive activity of certain religious groups in Russia.

The current maximum punishments listed in the Criminal Code for the offences mentioned range from up to three to up to 10 years in prison as well as fines of up to 300,000 ($9,500) and 500,000 rubles ($16,000), depending on the nature of the crime. The statement did not specify the new punishments proposed.

Previously introduced “anti-extremism legislation” in Russia has been criticized by human rights advocates, who claim it has often been used to clamp down on dissent rather than real threats to public order, and say the definition of extremist is subject to the interpretation of prosecutors and investigators.’

Ria Novosti: Russian Lawmaker Proposes Anti-Corruption Classes. ‘Special classes on “anti-corruption behavior” should be introduced in higher educational establishments that train future state and municipal officials, Irina Yarovaya, head of the State Duma Security and Anticorruption Committee, said on Monday.

“Our education system, particularly in programs teaching state and municipal management, currently needs classes in anti-corruption behavior,” Yarovaya told RIA Novosti.

The lawmaker said it was also important to preserve competitive selection in hiring for state service jobs so that state officials are appointed based “not on favoritism, but on [their] high level of competence and personal characteristics.”

Izvestia daily reported on Monday that lawmakers from the Russian parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, are preparing a list of amendments to the current anti-corruption legislature, with one of the amendments seeking to oblige state officials to undergo an “anti-corruption test” on a lie detector.’

Russia, China to Hold Antiterror Drills in August. ‘Russia and China will conduct joint antiterrorism exercises in Russia’s Urals region in the first two weeks of August, a spokesman for the Central Military District said.

“An international antiterrorism exercise with the units of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) at the Chebarkul military training area in the Chelyabinsk region is scheduled for August 1-15,” Col. Yaroslav Roshchupkin told RIA Novosti on Monday.
The official said the drills will involve 600 personnel from each country.

Russia and China have held a number of joint military exercises since 2005 within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Founded in 2001, the SCO comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The organization consolidates efforts to counter terrorism and radicalization among member countries, and coordinates work in other areas such as politics and trade.’

Dagestan Police Uncover Huge Ammonium Nitrate Cache. ‘Police in Russia’s turbulent region of Dagestan have discovered a cache with 100 kilograms of ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound that can be used in making explosives, local police said on Monday.

The massive cache, which also contained parts of metal tubes, was uncovered by police in the republic’s town of Buynaksk last week, police said in a statement.

Police said another cache with 13 grenades, 35 detonating devices, over 700 rounds of ammunition and explosives was found in the Stavropol region, in the North Caucasian Federal District.’

RFE/RL: Two Imams In Siberia Sentenced For Extremism. ‘Two Muslim leaders in the Russian city of Novosibirsk in western Siberia have received suspended sentences for propagating extremist views.

The court on May 27 sentenced university professor Ilkhom Merazhov and Imam Komil Odilov to one year in jail each.

The two went on trial in February after they had been charged with spreading the ideas of the Turkish cleric Said Nursi, the founder of the banned Nurcular movement.

The movement was banned in Russia in 2007.

Authorities say it propagates the idea of creating an Islamic state on lands where indigenous peoples speak Turkic languages.’

Vestnik Kavkaza: Chechen leader wants to discuss territorial disputes with Ingushetia from beginning. ‘Chechen Leader Ramzan Kadyrov wants to start discussions of the territorial dispute with Ingushetia from the very beginning and prevent any escalation of the conflict, RIA Novosti reports.

He noted that the dispute was started by Ingushetia. The issue was never raised until the land survey carried out by Ingushetia.’

UKRAINE

Kyiv Post: Anti-Semitic mindsets. ‘The US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2012 points to evidence from other countries about a “worldwide rise in anti-Semitism.” But this is not the case in Ukraine, and it is frustrating to see a different impression created by media publications, all of them citing the US State Department report.

When statements about a worrying increase in anti-semitism are backed with examples, such as the desecration of graves or memorials in Ukraine, the conclusion seems obvious.

But such conclusions are wrong. In that same period of 2012, Viacheslav Likhachev, who has been monitoring anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine for the past 10 years, reported a decrease in anti-Semitism. Driven by public statements in response to repugnant but isolated remarks by certain rightwing Svoboda Party members, Likhachev made a point of showing trends over the last 10 years. These were clearly downward.

It should be stressed that Likhachev’s report in no way speaks of bigotry and prejudice having been overcome, quite the contrary. However concentration on anti-Semitism misses the point and obscures the large number of victims of xenophobic or discriminatory treatment. both from certain members of the public and, unfortunately, from the authorities.’

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