Plus Czechs get to elect their president and Polish prison guards beat one another up.by Jeremy Druker, Ioana Caloianu, and Joshua Boissevain 9 February 2012
A group claiming to be affiliated with Anonymous recently released hacked emails from leaders of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi that show the group was paying journalists and bloggers hundreds of thousands of dollars for positive coverage, according to The Guardian. The group reportedly also paid bloggers and Internet trolls to smear or leave negative comments about opposition leaders.
Among the leaked emails were price lists showing that some Internet users were paid more than $20,000 to bombard negative stories about Putin with comments. Many of these users apparently created dozens upon dozens of fake accounts to post from to boost the appearance of support.
As Luke Allnutt wrote on Radio Free Europe’s Tangled Web blog about this strategy: “Hard to pin exactly on the Kremlin (it’s the type of shady public-private partnership the Kremlin excels at), but entirely consistent with the Russian authorities’ approach to the Internet: less filtering, more narrative-shaping.”
Gazeta.ru recently published an interview (in Russian) with the group claiming responsibility for the hack. In it, a spokesman says that the emails were hacked as a protest against “government actions in the public sphere of the Internet and against the increasing number of botnets and paid commentators.” Botnets are networks of compromised computers that can be used to send email spam and launch denial-of-service attacks, among other things.
TOL profiled Nashi in 2007 in the wake of the group’s storming of the Estonian Embassy in Moscow to protest Estonia’s decision to move a monument to Soviet war dead from Tallinn’s city center to a military cemetery.
Seven officials in Kyrgyzstan are facing charges of importing radioactive coal into the country from Kazakhstan, The Associated Press reports. Almost 9,000 tons of coal were bought in September by a state energy company and was then distributed to schools and a nursing home.
The coal was first revealed to be radioactive in November when human rights activists in northern Kyrgyzstan raised the alarm, according to RFE. While it remains unclear how the coal – originally from Kazakhstan's Qulan mine – became radioactive, Kyrgyz scientists have said the levels are nonlethal, according to the AP. The Kazakh company that sold the coal has agreed to take it back.
However, the fallout from the sale has just come to the forefront of Kyrgyz politics. After the Prosecutor-General’s 8 February announcement that the seven officials were facing charges, Myktybek Abdyldaev, a lawmaker for the Ata-Jurt opposition party, said President Almazbek Atambaev and Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov should be questioned for their role in the purchase, according to RFE. In response, Babanov announced that he was ready to resign if an investigation found him to be involved.
The Czech public has its wish: citizens will be able to vote next year for the country’s president. On 8 February, the Senate narrowly passed a constitutional amendment allowing for direct elections, which was supported by 49 senators – a mere four votes more than the necessary three-fifths majority. Most of the votes came from the country’s largest parties on the right and left: the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats.
In the past, parliament has elected the president, and opaque, behind-the-scenes deals have marred the process. Yet some Czech political scientists argued vehemently against direct elections, saying a president elected by the people would gain additional ammunition in any battle with the government, disrupting the current, relatively balanced parliamentary system.
The position of the president is chiefly ceremonial yet retains some important powers, such as forming a government and appointing new governors to the central bank and new justices to the Constitutional Court.
News has emerged that a training exercise at a Polish prison in November got a little out of hand. According to Reuters, prison guards took part in a simulated riot, with a group of prisoners, played by one group of guards, locking themselves into a prison yard in the eastern city of Chelm. Other guards attempted to regain control, and when some of the “prisoners” did not back down quickly enough, their colleagues attacked them with batons and pepper spray “in an uncontrolled and unauthorized use of coercive measures,” said Jacek Zwierzchowski, an official who investigated the incident. Some guards were injured and had to be taken off duty for a few days.
“Both sides got a bit carried away in their roles. ... We will sensitize the guards not to get so emotionally involved in their roles in the future,” Zwierzchowski told Reuters.
The Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper said those playing the special task force were a heavily armed, experienced group from Lublin, while six young guards from the Chelm prison played the prisoners. The paper also quoted Pavel Moczydlowski, a former prisons chief, as saying that overcrowded prisons were taking a toll on the country’s guards, whom he called the most overworked in the EU. Moczydlowski said the situation was leading to heightened frustration, more irrational behavior, and inclinations toward aggression, while psychiatric tests for personnel took place only before guards entered the service but not on the job.
Romanian politicians have been moving quickly to form a new government after former Prime Minister Emil Boc stepped down earlier this week in the face of massive anti-government protests. Parliament approved the government of Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, the foreign intelligence chief whom President Traian Basescu chose as the next prime minister, today, one day after it was presented.
The approval appears to head off early elections, although the opposition Social Liberal Union would like to see elections in June instead of November, when they are scheduled. Otherwise, party leader Victor Ponta said, the year would only see “a parliamentary majority getting more fragile and continuous political negotiations,” resulting in “a wasted year for Romania, a year bringing instability and harmful political and economic consequences.”
The Cotidianul daily notes that the ministers nominated for the government have distinguished themselves either through “close relationships” with the ruling party, or “through outrageous statements and declarations of income.” For instance, Catalin Baba, who would be the new education minister, has been accused of nepotism and corruption by officials of Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj, and Razvan Mustea-Serban, the proposed communications minister, boasts a jewelry collection estimated at 60,000 pieces and a Porsche.