News from Central and Eastern Europe, Wednesday 24th April 2013

BALKANS

Balkan Insight: Serbian Paramilitary Describes Massacre of Kosovo Villagers. ‘Witness Zoran Raskovic, who was a member of the Jackals during the Kosovo war, gave vivid testimony at Belgrade special court about the brutal murders committed by his unit.

“It was early in the morning when we entered [the Kosovo village of] Ljubenic,” Raskovic told the court.

“It was a regular army action – we entered the village, forced villagers to leave their houses and gather at the centre of the village near the mosque,” he said.

“There were around 60 to 100 villagers gathered. They looked so scared. Like sheep before the slaughter. Then one Albanian stepped out of the group and said: ‘Why are you acting like bandits?’

“Then ‘Mrtvi’ [‘Dead’, the nickname for the former commander of the unit, Nebojsa Minic] just shot him and said: ‘Everyone who tries to offend the Serb police will end up like this,’” Raskovic continued.

After these initial shootings, the mass killings began, he said.’

B92: Serbia, Bosnia need stronger ties, leaders agree. ‘They agreed that the two countries should in the future share even stronger ties, adding that “the events from the 20th century must never be allowed to happen again.”

During a joint news conference, Izetbegović said that Serbia and Bosnia have the reasons and interests to work on the improvement of mutual relations.

The Serbian president said that the talks held so far are based on the further cooperation between Serbia and Bosnia, adding that he expects the two countries to share even stronger connections in the future.

As a guarantee of the Dayton Treaty, Serbia wishes Bosnia peace, stability and the best possible development in terms of economy and all other areas, Nikolić said and added that Serbia wants to help Bosnia on this path. Serbia is always there for Bosnia and it will provide assistance if need be, but we would like to see the two entities resolve their problems and cooperate on their own, Nikolić said.’

The Globe and Mail: ‘Face the truth’: Bosnian leader upbraids Serbian president. ‘Bosnian Muslim leader Bakir Izetbegovic publicly upbraided Serbia’s nationalist president on Tuesday, saying he must face the truth of Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo before the region can move on.

A disciple of the Greater Serbia ideology that fuelled the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, President Tomislav Nikolic’s interpretations of what happened then have raised hackles in the Western Balkans since he took power almost a year ago.

His remarks, including a denial that the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica amounted to genocide, have set back efforts to reconcile the ex-Yugoslav republics, a prerequisite of stability and economic co-operation as they each strive to join the European Union.

Addressing a joint news conference with Izetbegovic, Nikolic said Bosnia’s 1992-95 war had ended “long ago” and that wounds should heal.’

ARMENIA

RFE/RL: Armenia Commemorates Victims Of WWI-Era Mass Killings. ‘rmenia is holding a day of remembrance for the 1.5 million Armenians who were killed in World War I-era Ottoman Turkey.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, are scheduled to take part in ceremonies marking the event on April 24.

Some 5,000 people participated in a torchlight procession through Yerevan on April 23.

Armenia points to the tragedy as being the first example of genocide in modern history, predating the Holocaust committed against Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II.’

BELARUS

RFE/RL: Belarusian Youth Activist Jailed For Support Of Imprisoned Politician. ‘A court in Minsk has sentenced a youth activist to 12 days in jail for publicly supporting an imprisoned former presidential candidate.

The court found Paval Vinahradau guilty on April 23 of holding an illegal protest.

Vinahradau was detained earlier in the day after he unfolded a poster with a picture of Mikalay Statkevich and the banned Belarusian national flag near a Minsk subway station.

Statkevich is serving his six-year prison term for “organizing mass disturbances” following authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s reelection in December 2010.’

BULGARIA

The Sofia Globe: Bulgarian prosecutors indict four in eavesdropping investigation. ‘Four current and former employees of the operative and technical information specialised directorate of the Interior Ministry have been formally charged as a result of the prosecution office’s investigation into allegations of illegal eavesdropping, Bulgaria’s prosecutor’s office said on April 23.

During their investigation, prosecutors found that lax controls over police eavesdropping created an environment ripe for abuse. At a news conference on April 15, the prosecutors said that they also found evidence of an attempted cover-up.

The head of the operative and technical information specialised directorate of the Interior Ministry, Sergei Katsarov, has been charged with abuse of power that has caused major consequences (article 387, paragraph 2 of the Penal Code). His predecessors in office, Kamen Kostov and Tsvetan Ivanov, have been indicted on the same charge.

The trio failed in their duties to create the necessary guidelines for the use of surveillance equipment, prosecutors said earlier. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to prison terms ranging between one and eight years.’

GEORGIA

Vestnik Kavkaza: Georgia to bring Meskhetian Turks back. ‘Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said at a PACE session that Meskhetian Turks will be granted citizenship and will be able to return back to Georgia as fast as possible.

700 people Meskhetian Turks want to return to Georgia.

Commenting on ethnic minorities, Ivanishvili said that the government wanted to help them integrate. The problem was poor knowledge of the local language.

Georgia has been realizing the program to help Meskhetian Turks return for many years. They were deported to Middle Asia in 1944.’

GREECE

Ekathimerini: Bishop Seraphim turns against Golden DawnBishop Seraphim of Piraeus, who has courted controversy in the past with anti-Semitic comments, on Tuesday launched an unexpected attack on far-right Golden Dawn due to the party embracing paganism.

“It has been proved that this political group uses the disguise of nationalism to cover its neopaganistic ideology,” he said in a statement. The apparent rift between the bishop and Golden Dawn came as a surprise because Seraphim had been complimentary toward the party in the past and joined it in taking legal action against the staging of Terrence McNally’s “Corpus Christi” play in Athens.’

Greek Reporter: Immigrants in Greece Into the Fire. ‘Into the Fire is an investigative documentary directed by Guy Smallman and Kate Mara, which raises the problem of refugees and immigrants in Greece who are facing strict austerity measures as well as growing racism.

“The refugees abandoned their homes, seeking safety in Greece, a country which, due to its geographical borders with Turkey, makes it one of the main gateways in Europe,” the creators of the film noted.

“However, when entering Europe, European legislation itself prevents them from moving to other European countries. Nevertheless, in Greece, the treatment of refugees in asylum procedure is atrocious, as much as their detention in or from the country, as well as the living conditions.”’

HUNGARY

Politics.hu: Court suspends Roma school-segregation lawsuit to give dialogue a chance. ‘A court in Hungary’s north-east has suspended the case of a church-run school in Nyiregyhaza that allegedly segregated Roma children.

The six-month suspension offers parties the chance to resolve their differences so that the school is run to “meet social expectations, legal requirements, and religious laws,” Karoly Czifra, the legal representative of the Greek Orthodox Church, which operates the school, said on Tuesday.

Before suspending proceedings, the court summoned the Human Resources Minister Zoltan Balog as a witness in the case, which was lodged by the Chance for Children Foundation.

The foundation claimed the school, transferred to the church by the local council, segregates Roma children and “prevents local Roma from integrating in society”.’

POLAND

JTA: Polish government drafts regulations to allow ritual slaughter. ‘The Polish government has drafted regulations to reduce animals’ suffering but still allow ritual slaughter.

In a statement Tuesday, Polish Prime Minster Donald Tusk said the new regulations, which must be passed in parliament, may require the introduction of rotating cages in which the animal is placed before its throat is cut, according to a report by Polskie Radio.

Poland’s Agriculture Ministry has said it will work to enshrine ritual slaughter in Polish legislation designed to streamline the way that Polish procedures correspond with European Union rules that went into effect in January. The EU has said individual countries will have discretion on whether to allow or ban ritual slaughter — kosher slaughter is known as shechitah.

Last year, on a motion from animal rights groups, a special court said that regulations allowing slaughter without prior stunning – as is required in the Muslim and Jewish faiths — were unconstitutional.’

ROMANIA

Balkan Insight: Romania Jails Ex-Senator For Corruption. ‘Romania’s Supreme Court late on Monday handed a seven-year jail sentence to former Senator Catalin Voicu for accepting money from two businessmen in exchange for intervening on their behalf at the High Court of Justice.

Voicu intervened to secure a favourable ruling in a case concerning a company in which one of the businessmen was an associate.

In 2010, Voicu was the first Romanian MP to be stripped of his parliamentary immunity in an unprecedented move in the country’s post-Communist history.

A former judge, Florin Costiniu, was given nine years’ probation in the same case. The Supreme Court also upheld an original four-year jail sentence against businessman Marius Locic and the four-year suspended sentence for Costel Casuneanu, adding nine years of probation.’

RUSSIA

RAPSI: State Duma adopts law on parliamentary control. ‘On Tuesday the lower house adopted in the final reading the law on streamlining and expanding the State Duma and Federation Council’s powers of parliamentary control.

The bill was submitted by a group of MPs from both houses.

Parliamentary control includes annual reports from the government, a no confidence motion against the government, monitoring of budgetary relations, consideration of the Central Bank’s reports and the so-called Government Hours when the government reports on its performance. Other measures of parliamentary control are the appointment and dismissal of officials who are accountable to parliament, for example the chairs and auditors of the Audit Chamber.

The parliament houses will be able to invite members of government not only to their plenary meetings, but also to the meetings of their committees and commissions. The government will be obliged to inform parliament about progress in drafting statutes and regulations necessary for implementing laws. It will also be possible to include MPs in government commissions investigating emergencies.’

TURKEY

Translated from Dutch – Volkskrant: Hope of freedom journalists in Turkish cell. ‘In Turkey, hoping Friday 26 Kurdish journalists are released that more than a year in prison. Grows Such a decision by the court is expected as part of the peace process in Turkey is going on between the Kurdish armed group PKK and the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.’

UKRAINE

The Moscow Times: Ukraine PM: No Pardon for Tymoshenko. ‘Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has indicated that the country’s president will not consider pardoning imprisoned former premier Yulia Tymoshenko any time soon.

The West has called the jailing of Tymoshenko, the country’s main opposition leader, politically motivated. The EU warns it will not sign a key association agreement with Kiev until the Tymoshenko case is resolved.

Earlier this month, Yanukovych pardoned a top Tymoshenko ally, Yuri Lutsenko, on humanitarian grounds after the former interior minister served more than half of his term on corruption charges and his health deteriorated in jail.’

RAPSI: Ukraine strengthens border security with Russia following Belgorod shooting. ‘Ukraine has strengthened security on its border with Russia in connection with the ongoing hunt for the man suspected of shooting six people in Belgorod on Monday, RIA Novosti reported, citing the press office of the state border service.

Security has been strengthened along the entire Russian border and border guards are in close touch with both Ukrainian and Russian law enforcement agencies.

Six people died and one wounded in a shootout in Belgorod, a city in southwest Russia not far from the Ukrainian border. A 14-year-old girl was among the dead, five of whom died at the scene of the attack. A sixth victim died shortly after in hospital.

According to local police, a man driving a dark BMW stopped at a specialist hunting and fishing shop at around 2 p.m. Moscow time on April 22, stepped out and began shooting at people on the street before entering the shop.

The suspect, Sergei Pomazun, 31, has a long criminal record, including a four-year sentence for theft and for attacking a policeman. The reasons for the crime are unclear. According to earlier reports, the shootout took place during an armed assault at the gun store.’

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