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Medvedev the Maverick, Astana Taps UN in Probe of Deadly Unrest

Plus, Bosnian Serb held in war camp questioning, and the former USSR 20 years on

by S. Adam Cardais and Natasha Kirshina 23 December 2011

1. Medvedev calls for radical reform


Dmitry Medvedev
In his final State of the Nation Address 22 December, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for broad domestic political reforms, including direct elections for regional governors, RIA Novosti reports. In response, lawmakers said the president's remarks were not inspired by the protests that have swept Russia recently.


"It is very important [to understand] that these proposals to reform the political system have been nurtured by the president for a long time, and they have repeatedly been discussed," said Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house of parliament, according to RIA Novosti.


Medvedev, who steps down next year in a planned job swap with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, also suggested simplifying the procedures for political party registration and new electoral rules for the lower house of parliament. He did not say when the changes might be implemented.


The speech follows weeks of demonstrations in Moscow against alleged voter fraud by Putin's United Russia party in the 4 December parliamentary polls. A rally scheduled for 24 December is expected to draw tens of thousands of protesters.


Russia's president from 2000 to 2008, Putin will run for a third term next year. If elected, he plans to appoint Medvedev premier.


2. Kazakhstan wants UN to join investigation into recent violence


The prosecutor-general of Kazakhstan has asked the United Nations to participate in the investigation of violence that erupted last week in a western Kazakh town, Radio Free Europe reports.



Law enforcement officials say 15 people were killed in Zhanaozen 16 December in clashes between striking oil workers and police. Kazakh Prosecutor-General Askhat Daulbaev asked the UN to take part in the government probe at a meeting in Astana 22 December.


The unrest began after police began to shoot at oil workers who had been staging a six-month strike in a central square over a wage dispute. Evidently, some of the strikers thought authorities wanted to evict them from the square, and police say they opened fire only after the demonstrators began to throw stones and Molotov cocktails. The violence spread to the nearby city of Shetpe a day later, and western Kazakhstan saw mass protests earlier this week.


Though President Nursultan Nazarbaev blamed "hooligans" for the Zhanaozen violence after imposing a state of emergency there, U.S. officials say videos on the Internet show police shooting at fleeing protesters, according to RFE.


3. Bosnian Serb woman arrested on war crimes charges


Authorities have detained a Bosnian Serb woman accused of committing war crimes as a prison guard during the 1992-1995 conflict in Bosnia, Balkan Insight reports. Arrested 20 December, Monika Ilic has been handed over to police in Bosnia's northern Brcko District for questioning in connection with alleged abuse of Bosnian Muslims and Croats in 1992 at the Luka prison camp in Brcko.


During the war Ilic (formerly Simonovic) was romantically involved with Goran "Adolf" Jelisic, whom the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague sentenced to 40 years behind bars in 1999 for crimes in Luka. Camp survivors say Ilic was brutal, despite her relative youth at the time.


Amir Didic told The Hague in 1999 that Ilic and Jelisic beat him daily, according to Balkan Insight.


4. The former Soviet Union: Transition in retrospective


EurasiaNet has published an interesting multimedia package to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union. "Now and Then: 20 Years After the Soviet Collapse" includes photo essays, interviews with former Soviet leaders like Eduard Shevardnadze, and analysis by regional experts.


In a piece full of interesting anecdotes and insight, Lawrence Scott Sheets of the International Crisis Group argues that the West had naïve, simplistic expectations about the path to democracy in the Caucasus, "where locals had wildly varying expectations of what democracy meant and how long it would take to achieve even a degree of it."


After quoting a friend who called post-Soviet Georgia "chaos," Sheets notes that 1 million people left the country in 1999. The population drain in Armenia is even worse, he suggests, and foreign aid and influence have done little to improve the democratic deficit that has so many throwing up their hands and, simply, walking away.


"Yes, even the army of diplomats that descended on the region, billions of dollars in foreign aid, and well-financed ‘civil society’ programs have not been able to solve any of the major regional conflagrations or instill wholly stable state systems," he writes. "Corruption in many areas remains rife. Social security nets are shaky. There is every reason to be cynical. It is wholly unsurprising that over these two turbulent decades, the word 'democracy' has lost some of its luster."


5. Russia’s six-decade love affair with hockey


Russia marked 65 years of professional hockey play on 22 December.


On that date in 1946, the first Russian championships began, RIA Novosti reports. Eight years later, the national team would win the World Cup, with a 7-2 victory over Canada in the final.


Soviet teams were among those dominating tournament play for years, but the Russian hockey powerhouse faltered in the 1990s.


Alexander Kozhevnikov, a two-time Olympic champion, predicted that in five or six years, the sport would rebound. “The Russian ice hockey tradition is being gradually restored. The country is sparing no efforts or money to develop amateur ice hockey like in the past, he told the Voice of Russia.  


In a congratulatory telegram to Vladislav Tretyak, president of the Russian Hockey Federation, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, "We are proud of the triumphant pages [of Russia's hockey history], and recall the legendary names of masters and coaches. Our hockey has received deserved international recognition, and its alumni have long been part of the elite of world sport."


At a ceremony in Moscow to mark the occasion, Tretyak noted that Russia has produced 122 Olympic champions and taken 25 world championships and eight Olympic gold medals in the sport.


The festivities were overshadowed by the September plane crash that wiped out the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team. The club is being rebuilt mainly with rookies from its youth school and older players sent to the club by other Russian teams, the Voice of Russia reports.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Natasha Kirshina is a TOL editorial intern.
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