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Kazakh Human Rights Defender to Walk Free, Eastern Europe Hit by Deadly Cold

Plus, ethnic tensions flare in Macedonia and a lost account of a Nazi purge in Krakow surfaces.

by Barbara Frye and Ioana Caloianu 1 February 2012

1. Ahead of meeting with Clinton, Astana frees Zhovtis


Yevgeny Zhovtis
Human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis will be released from a Kazakhstan prison in two weeks, according to the Associated Press. The news service cites reports by the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights, which Zhovtis founded.


Zhovtis was sentenced in September 2009 to four years in prison for manslaughter in connection with a July 2009 traffic accident. His trial lasted two days and the judge did not allow his lawyer to submit important evidence.


The news came during a visit to the United States by Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov. He was scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton today.


Kazakhstan has not met its stated goal to open up its political system and “to uphold human rights and democratic principles,” a top-ranking State Department official told a conference in Washington attended by Kazykhanov, according to Radio Free Europe.


2. Cold snap kills dozens in Eastern and Central Europe


Dozens of people have died in Eastern and Central Europe as a wave of sub-freezing temperatures interrupted what had been a relatively mild winter.


This screen grab from an al Jazeera video shows the frozen Vistula river in Poland.


In Ukraine, almost 24,000 people have crowded into about 1,600 shelters, the BBC reports, with more than 600 being treated for frostbite or hypothermia.


About 60 people have died from the cold in the past few days, about half of them in Ukraine, the news agency writes.


Radio Free Europe reports that some regions in Ukraine registered temperatures of minus 33 degrees Celsius.


In addition to Ukraine, the cold is being blamed for deaths in Serbia, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Poland, most of them of homeless people.


3. Strife, arson mar ethnic relations in southwestern Macedonia


Tensions between Christians and Muslims in southwestern Macedonia escalated after the night of 30 January when arsonists set fire to an Orthodox church in the village of Struga, Balkan Insight reports.


The area’s Albanian Muslim majority took offense at an annual carnival held in nearby Vevcani, where ethnic Macedonians wore costumes perceived as mocking the Koran and women in burqas. After a peaceful protest on 27 January, the weekend saw an attack on another church and the defacing of the Macedonian flag outside Struga’s town hall. Firefighters managed to extinguish the fire, which partly destroyed the roof of the 200-year-old Sveti Nikola but didn’t damage the interior. 


Ramiz Merko, the ethnic-Albanian mayor of Struga, took part in the 27 January protest. “I participated because the feelings of the Muslim populations were offended,” he said. “I would do the same and support the Orthodox population if they ever felt offended over something.”


Macedonia saw a brief conflict between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, who make up about one-fourth of the country’s population, in 2001. It ended with agreements for protection of minority rights and guarantees for their political representation.


4. Journal offers new, firsthand account of Nazi purge of Krakow academics


A hitherto-unknown, firsthand account of the Nazis’ 1939 purge of Krakow intellectuals has surfaced.


“The memoir of Zygmunt Starachowicz lay unread in a sealed envelope for 70 years until it was shared with the archive department at the university by his great-granddaughter Katarzyna,” the Krakow Post reports.


Starachowicz was a student accidentally caught in the roundup of more than 180 professors at Jagiellonian University. They were deported to the Oranienburg Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. Twenty died but the rest were later released.


After his release he joined underground Flying Universities, which defied the Nazis with continued classes and lectures “and formulated early plans to keep ‘Polishness’ alive shortly after the country was occupied in 1939,” the newspaper writes, citing the work of historian Ryszard Czekajowski.


Starachowicz’s account of deportation and internment, written after his release, includes drawings and profiles of his fellow prisoners. He was re-arrested in 1944 and died in unknown circumstances.


5. Kyiv goes after another opposition figure


First it was former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her interior minister, Yuri Lutsenko. Then it was Tymoshenko’s husband. Now prosecutors in Kyiv are after a regional director of her political party on abuse of office charges, Radio Free Europe reports.


Arsen Avakov, a former governor of Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region, is accused of being involved in illegal land privatization. Prosecutors say they have issued “an international wanted notice” for him.


RFE cites local media reports that Avakov left the country last year and could be in Italy.


The growing list of people connected with Tymoshenko and the political opposition is hardly likely to smooth relations between Ukraine and the EU, which has put on hold a broad free-trade agreement over concerns that the prosecution of Tymoshenko is politically motivated.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is TOL's editorial assistant. 
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