News from Central and Eastern Europe, Monday 3rd June 2013

BALKANS

Balkan Insight: Macedonia Rescues Threatened Ministerial Summit. ‘Macedonia has salvaged a threatened regional ministerial conference after two countries at the heart of a diplomatic stand-off, Serbia and Kosovo, agreed to sit at the same table at the meeting.

The breakthrough occurred after host country Macedonia downgraded the meeting to an “informal” one.

Kosovo then said it would send its deputy Foreign Minister, Petrit Selimi, while Serbia will be represented by its Foreign Minister, Ivan Mrkic.

Earlier, Macedonia’s plans to host a summit of presidents of SEECP states ended in fiasco after most guests pulled out, prompting Macedonia’s President, Gjorge Ivanov, to call off the meeting.’

BULGARIA

Ria Novosti: EU Slams Bulgaria Minister’s Plan to Reinstate ‘Communist Agents’. ‘Members of the European Parliament have criticized Bulgarian Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin’s plans to reinstate agents of the former state security service in their diplomatic positions, the Sofia News Agency reported on Saturday.

Former Socialist MEP Kristian Vigenin, who assumed the post of foreign minister on Wednesday, said that many of the country’s diplomats, exposed as agents of the communist-era  State Security Service, DS, had suffered humiliation at the hands of the previous government of the center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party, GERB.

The former MEP’s colleagues said that the civilized world “pays respect and tribute to the victims of the totalitarian regimes, not to the officers of the secret police who participated in these repressions directly or indirectly,” the Focus news agency reported.

“The efforts to reinstate diplomats, agents of the former State Security are not a good signal for Bulgaria,” German MEPs Michael Galer and Elmar Brok said in a statement.’

The Sofia Globe: Protest in Sofia against ‘Oligarchski’ government. ‘Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia saw a protest on June 2 against the new socialist Plamen Oresharski government, dubbed “Oligarchski” by participants, who also hissed and booed the headquarters of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) and ultra-nationalists Ataka.

Oresharski was named Prime Minister in a government approved by Parliament on May 29 with the votes of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and MRF, at a sitting for which a quorum was made possible by the registration of Ataka leader Volen Siderov.

Organised on social networks, the protest began with about 400 people and peaked at about 1000, local media said.

The protesters crowded outside Parliament, along a route made traditional in the early 2013 protests that sparked the country’s political crisis that opened the way to early elections.

Protesters, who chanted “red rubbish” and “resignation” said that they represented no political parties and wanted thorough reform of the political system to introduce a majoritarian element. The protesters called for fresh elections.’

GEORGIA

The Moscow Times: Why Georgians Are Now Talking of Homophobia. ‘Thanks to the psychotic overreaction of the church two weeks ago, people are now talking openly about homosexuality and a corrupt, power-hungry church, two topics that had been strictly taboo. In a most eloquent 5,700-word sermon in the Tbilisi magazine Tabula,  Beka Mindiashvili takes on the sanctimony of the Georgian Orthodox Church and charges that ­Patriarch Illa II is guilty of the deadly sin of pride by allowing himself to be a “monumental idol before the Georgian people.”

The church overstepped itself when it decided to go secular and tell the government who it should and should not allow to exercise their democratic rights guaranteed by the constitution. It severely weakened itself by condoning the attacks as more Georgians are saying they deplore the violence and for the first time are saying they want to take back their church from the zealots that control it.’

GREECE

Ekathimerini: State Department terror report notes ‘small-scale’ hits in Greece. The US State Department’s terrorism report for 2012 referred to a series of «small-scale attacks» by self-styled anarchist groups, noting that the hits «did not aim to inflict bodily harm but rather sought to make a political statement.”

“Greece continued to experience small-scale attacks like targeted arson and improvised explosive device detonation by domestic anarchist groups,» the report said, adding that «many members of the two most active domestic terrorist groups, Revolutionary Struggle and Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, have been imprisoned since 2011.» The report referred to a «strong» cooperation between the Greek authorities and the US on counter-terrorism.’

Enet English: Alleged abduction of Turkish activist condemned. ‘Turkish activist Bulut Yayla was allegedly abducted from Solonos St in Exarchia on Thursday night and is now reported to be held by Istanbul’s anti-terrorism department. Syriza speaks of an ‘unprecedented, gangster-style abduction and extradition of a Turkish political refugee”

Greek Reporter: New Democracy Has Racism Bill Too! ‘After withdrawing its support from an anti-racism bill aimed at the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party – only to watch its coalition partners put it forth to Parliament anyway, at the same time the major opposition party SYRIZA was proposing another version – the ruling New Democracy Conservatives are proffering a third version.

All that comes in the face of criticism and derision from international activists and NGO’s, including the World Jewish Congress, decrying a lack of coordination in Greece over measures that would increase penalties for racist and anti-Semitic attacks.’

The Guardian: Golden Dawn: ‘Greece belongs to Greeks. Long live victory!’. ‘It wasn’t just that their symbols looked like swastikas. Or that thousands of Greek flags filled the marble square beneath the Acropolis. Or that they were marking the 560th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople.

It was that there were so many of them. Angry men and angry women furiously screaming “Greece belongs to Greeks” in the heart of ancient Athens, as tourists – some befuddled, some shocked – looked on or fled at the sight of neo-Nazis coming to town.

“Now we are in the thousands,” thundered Nikos Michaloliakos, the bespectacled mathematician who leads Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party. “Long live victory!”

Like the soldiers on whom they model themselves, the Greeks who subscribe to the ultra-nationalist, neo-fascist dogma of Golden Dawn are the first to say they are at war. This week, as Antonis Samaras’s coalition government struggled to contain an escalating crisis over efforts to curb the extremists, it was they who appeared to be winning that war.’

Comment – Open Democracy: The far right in Greece and the theory of the two extremes. ‘The rise of the far right in Greece is becoming a grave issue and is putting the country back on front pages – this time with Golden Dawn being reported as ”the mother of all far right movements in Europe”.

One after the other, the international organisations (Amnesty International, Council of Europe, European Parliament) have produced alarming reports on the implications of this new political phenomenon and ways to address the far right menace in Greece. Scholarly analyses and journalistic articles are discussing the dangers that the Golden Dawn poses to Greece’s democracy and to the stability of the political system. But beyond the much feared destabilisation of an already shaken and crisis-ridden parliamentary system, the violent and abrupt emergence of the far right brings yet another rift to Greek politics (alongside the dominant memorandum/anti-memorandum division) between right and left wing politics, where the two sides have adopted different discourses on the understanding of extremism and are advocating different ways of addressing it.’

JTA: Greek ruling party drops opposition to anti-racism law‘Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his conservative New Democracy party dropped their opposition to a new anti-racism bill that outlaws Holocaust denial.

The about-face on Thursday apparently was in response to widespread condemnation over the party’s stance from the European Union, as well as Greek and international Jewish groups that had urged Athens to take stronger steps against the ultranationalist, neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.

New Democracy had refused to back the bill sponsored by two smaller parties in the ruling coalition, saying that existing legislation was sufficient to deal with racist attacks that have been spawned by Golden Dawn.

The proposal would add stricter jail time and fines for inciting and carrying out racist attacks and, for the first time, makes “approving or belittling the seriousness of Nazi crimes, the Jewish Holocaust, and other genocides” a crime under Greek law.

Politicians or political parties with members convicted under the law would not be eligible for state funding, according to the bill. However, state bodies and the Greek Orthodox Church would be exempt.’

HUNGARY

Politics.hu: Council of Europe poised to decide on monitoring procedure against Hungary. ‘A final decision whether the Council of Europe (CoE) should launch a monitoring procedure against Hungary is to be made during the CoE’s parliamentary assembly scheduled for June, the Council’s press service said on Thursday.

The proposal on launching such a procedure against Hungary was supported in a tight vote of 21:20 in the CoE’s Monitoring Committee at its session in Strasbourg in April.

Gergely Prohle, the Hungarian foreign ministry’s deputy state secretary said at the time that only a half of the body’s members were present at the vote, before which one of the rapporteurs had resigned citing concerns for the report being biased.’

LATVIA

Ria Novosti: Thousands Hold Alternative Parliamentary Polls in Latvia. ‘Thousands of Latvian non-citizens took part in alternative parliamentary polls on Saturday, the Non-citizen Congress movement has said.

The polls are held on the same day as municipal elections in the country. All Latvian citizens can take part in the voting, to last until June 11, but only non-citizens can be elected to the alternative parliament.

“The turnout in the parliamentary elections for the ‘non-represented’ is high, thousands of ballots are being counted,” said a spokesman for the Congress, a movement defending the rights of minorities, that was founded in March.’

POLAND

JP: Polish prof. to be axed for anti-Semitic views. ‘Prof. Krzysztof Jasiewicz, from the Polish Academy of Sciences, who caused an international outrage after he blamed the Jews for participating in the killing of their own people during the Holocaust, will be dismissed from his position at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.

Jasiewicz, 61, the head of the Department of Analysis of Eastern studies and a well known expert on Polish-Jewish relations, revealed his anti-Semitic views during an interview he gave in April to a special edition of the popular Polish magazine Focus – published on the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.’

RUSSIA

Translated from Spanish – El Pais: Moscow holds one of the most powerful chiefs of Dagestan for murder. ‘Said Amirov, the powerful mayor of Makhachkala, the capital of the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder of a police investigator occurred two years ago. 

Amirov has been taken to Moscow, after an impressive operation that involved armored vehicles, helicopters and special forces of the Interior Ministry. The unusual step is interpreted by some observers, among which the specialist has Iula Caucasus Latynina, as a shift in the Kremlin’s policy toward the explosive region.’

Ria Novosti: Policeman Injured in Clash with Chechen Militants. ‘A police officer has been injured in a firefight with a group of gunmen in Chechnya, a source in the republic’s law enforcement agencies told RIA Novosti on Saturday.

The clash took place on Friday in a mountain forest in Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan district, he said, without providing any more details.’

At Least 14 Detained at Unsanctioned Rally in Moscow. ‘Police detained 14 people, including radical opposition leader Eduard Limonov, during an unsanctioned rally at a traditional Strategy-31 protest rally in Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square on Friday.

“A total of 14 people were taken to police from the Triumfalnaya Square for various offences,” a police spokesman said.
Another seven people were detained in Russia’s second largest city of St. Petersburg while chanting anti-government slogans during a parallel unsanctioned rally there, a local police spokesman said.’

RUVR: Dagestan bombing victims evacuated. ‘A Russian Emergencies Ministry plane has landed in the Dagestani capital Makhachkala to evacuate four people injured during Saturday’s suicide bombing that killed one person and wounding 14 others, including five police officers and two children.

Four people are in serious condition.
Police have already identified the suicide bomber as 25 year old Madina Aliyeva, formerly married to two earlier killed militants.’

Vestnik Kavkaza: Terrorist attack fails in Dagestan. ‘The special services have recently prevented a terrorist attack on a bar in the town of Ashagastal-Kazmalyar in Dagestan. The bomb found in the bar did not explode’

Bomb found at house entrance in Dagestan. ‘An improvised bomb was found on the gate of the house belonging to a member of the company distributing electricity in Kizlyar’

The Washington Post: Russian FSB describes its Tsarnaev letter to FBI. ‘Russian security officials told a congressional delegation this week that the Boston Marathon bombing could have been prevented if the United States had acted on information Moscow had provided, one of the congressmen said Friday.

The six congressmen met with senior Federal Security Service (FSB) and counterintelligence officials Thursday, Rep. William R. Keating (D-Mass.) said Friday, and saw a copy of a letter Russian officials said they sent to the FBI in March 2011 that provided details about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the bombing suspects.

The letter from the FSB, read to the delegation by a translator, suggested that Tsarnaev was far more committed to jihad than had been earlier reported. He became radicalized in Boston in 2010, the FSB said, and wanted to join Palestinian fighters, an idea he gave up because the language gave him too much trouble.

Instead, as a native Russian speaker, his focus turned to Dagestan, the FSB letter said, a Muslim region in southern Russia troubled by violent conflict. His mother, whom the FSB also described as radicalized, came from Dagestan and his father from neighboring Chechnya.

Keating said the letter gave Tsarnaev’s date of birth, his cellphone number, information about his boxing career, weight and Golden Gloves matches. It talked about his wife and mother, giving the mother’s Skype number. The up-close look at Tsarnaev’s life raised questions, which went unanswered, about how the FSB had accumulated so much information about a family in Boston.’

Russian forces arrest mayor of Dagestan city where Tsarnaev lived. ‘The mayor of Dagestan’s largest city, who has survived 15 assassination attempts and employs a large security force to protect him, was arrested on murder charges Saturday by heavily armed forces in armored personnel carriers and helicopters, Russian officials said.

Said Amirov, the 59-year-old mayor of Makhachkala, has been in a wheelchair since 1993, when one attempt on his life severed his spine. His southern Russian city is known for frequent bombings and shootouts among police, criminal gangs and Islamic fighters. For six months last year it was home to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the accused Boston Marathon bombers. His parents live there now.’

TURKEY

Video – Al Jazeera: Turkey suffers worst night of  rioting. ‘Muammer Guler, the interior minister, told the Hurriyet newspaper that there had been more than 200 demonstrations in 67 cities.

Hundreds of injuries have been reported. Erdogan on Sunday renewed his calls for an end to the disturbances, saying: “If you love this country, if you love Istanbul, do not fall for these games.”

He blamed the main secular opposition party of inciting the crowds, whom he called “a few looters”, and said the redevelopment would go ahead.

Turkey is due to hold local and presidential elections next year in which Erdogan is expected to stand, followed by parliamentary polls in 2015.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) denied orchestrating the unrest, blaming Erdogan’s policies.’

RUVR: Turkey PM admits ‘extreme’ police action in Istanbul protests. ‘Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said there had been cases of “extreme” police action against demonstrators protesting against a redevelopment project in an Istanbul park.

“It is true that there have been some mistakes, extremism in police response,” Erdogan said after a second day of violent protests left dozens injured.

The interior ministry said in a statement that legal action would be taken against police officers acting “disproportionately.”‘

UKRAINE

Al Jazeera: Ukraine’s gays fear coming out of the closet. ‘This year, organisers had arranged for the parade to take place in the centre of the capital, but due to the clash with Kiev Day, a “family-orientated” series of cultural events across the city, and the multitude of planned protests from anti-LGBT groups, the authorities banned any demonstration from taking place downtown. The new location was kept a closely guarded secret until the last minute.

On Saturday, journalists arrived to witness ranks of riot police and special forces surrounding a group of around 50 LGBT activists, keeping a vocal mob of Orthodox Christian protesters at bay, as they gathered in the shadow of the monument to famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. The Orthodox protesters waved banners with expressions such as “Kiev is not Sodom” and “Gays bring AIDS to Ukraine”.

The parade was intermittently interrupted when some religious protesters disguised as press lunged at activists, attempting to rip banners and placards. According to the police, 13 arrests were made. After one hour, activists were evacuated from the area, changing their clothes and switching modes of transport multiple times to avoid any revenge attacks.’

Interfax: Ukraine opposition leader calls govt “regular fascists”. ‘Ukraine’s government has been called “regular fascists” by a speaker during an opposition rally in Donetsk on Friday.

Life expectancy is 67 years in the regions of Donetsk and 72 in the regions of Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk, Oleh Tiahnybok, leader of the Svoboda nationalist party, told the rally.

“They are regular fascists, because they are annihilating people,” he said.

In closing the meeting, Arseniy Yatseniuk, parliamentary leader of the Fatherland (Batkivschyna) party, proposed that those present sing the national anthem, but accidentally a recording of a Soviet-era song was put on. It ran for 10 seconds before it was switched off and replaced by the anthem tune.’

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