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Turkmen President Cruises to Election Victory; Cold Brings More Misery to Kosovo, Russia

Plus, a bride-kidnapping law falters in Kyrgyzstan and a Nobel winner assesses Hungary's turn to the right.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Joshua Boissevain 13 February 2012

1. Turkmen leader re-elected in unsurprising landslide


Turkmenistan's president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov,  was re-elected 12 February with a crushing majority. Election authorities said Berdymukhamedov received 97 percent of the vote, according to RIA Novosti. Turnout was more than 96 percent, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan reports.


Berdymukhamedov_100Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov
Seven other candidates took part in a campaign dominated by images and slogans of the incumbent. Berdymukhamedov was first elected in February 2007 following the death of the country’s dictatorial leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, winning 89 percent of the vote.


“A festive atmosphere reigned at the polling stations across the country where this important political action took place,” according to the State News Agency article, posted on the news and information site Turkmenistan: The Golden Age. “This day was especially memorable for young citizens who voted for the first time. They received flowers and souvenirs at the polling stations.”


2. Young girl only survivor in Kosovo avalanche disaster


An avalanche swept through the village of Restelica in southern Kosovo 11 February, killing at least nine members of a local family. A 10th person was reported missing. The only known survivor, a 5-year-old girl, was dug out from 10 meters of snow 12 February, Balkan Insight reports.


Eighteen houses were reported destroyed in the disaster, but only two were thought to be occupied, according to a BBC report. A NATO helicopter sent to the scene was unable to land in the blizzard. More than 200 rescuers searched through the weekend for survivors and the remaining victim, using only hand tools because no vehicles could reach the scene, according to Balkan Insight.


Several towns in Kosovo have declared a state of emergency as record cold and snow continue to batter southeastern Europe. Dozens of villages have reportedly lost electricity and water service because of heavy snow.


Kosovo_avalanche_11.02.2012Rescuers on the scene of the 11 February avalanche in Restelica, Kosovo. Source: YouTube

3. Extreme cold could mean trouble for Russian crops


The continuing deep freeze afflicting Eastern Europe is starting to worry many farmers in Russia, according to Radio Free Europe. With temperatures in some parts of the North Caucasus dropping to minus 35 Celsius, experts are predicting significant freezing for many of the nation’s crops, especially fruits and wheat.


The sustained low temperatures, combined with high winds and little snow, mean that farmers are expecting a dramatically reduced harvest this year. In Dagestan, for example, officials declared an emergency situation for 12 districts. One agricultural minister in the region called it a “catastrophe” bringing tens of millions of dollars in crop damage, RFE/RL reports. Analysts in other parts of the region predicted crop damage ranging from 10 percent of the harvest to a complete loss. 


The freezing weather has many of the top wine producers in southern Russia particularly worried, according to RIA Novosti. Viticulturists predicted losses of up to half this year’s grapes and said the severe freeze could damage the vines themselves, impacting production for years to come.


4. Failed bride-kidnapping law reveals gender divide in Kyrgyz legislature


Seizing women and forcing them into marriage, often as a way of avoiding the expense of a formal wedding, has become a serious problem in Central Asia and the Caucasus in recent years. Some estimates say that up to three-quarters of all marriages in Kyrgyzstan involve bride kidnapping, Radio Free Europe reported in 2011.


The failure of a bill designed to stem the practice in the Kyrgyz parliament shows that some male parliamentarians wish to preserve the practice of polygamy, another technically illegal but widely practiced custom, according to one woman legislator.


“[I]t is well known that unofficial polygamy exists in Kyrgyzstan. I think many [male] deputies voted to defend their private interests,” Asiya Sasykbayeva told EurasiaNet.


The bill would have barred imams from conducting Islamic wedding ceremonies unless the couple have officially registered the marriage. On 26 January the parliament voted not to adopt the bill, which had been sponsored by eight female deputies and one male colleague. The same provisions could have been used against men taking more than one wife, because such marriages cannot be legally registered.


Bride kidnapping in the past was sometimes employed by couples whose parents objected to the marriage, but nowadays women do not typically consent to the practice, says Venera Djumataeva, the head of Radio Free Europe’s Kyrgyz service.


Seventeen of the 26 women in the 120-member parliament voted to adopt the bill, with three opposed. However, only 26 male deputies supported the bill, according to EurasiaNet.

5. Hungarian Nobel winner says country “has never known democracy”

Hungary's support for Prime Minister Viktor Orban is part of a recurring pattern in the country's history, Nobel literature laureate Imre Kertesz declared in a 9 February interview with Le Monde.


Imre KerteszImre Kertesz
The 82-year-old novelist, who has been living in Berlin for the past 10 years, offered the country's totalitarian past as one of the possible explanations for Hungary's recent shift to the right: “I am not a historian, but Hungary is a country that has never known democracy – and by that I mean not a democratic political system, but an organic process which has mobilized the entire country’s society.” Hungary has shown a tendency of “going against Europe in the name of its national interests” as a sign of “return to sovereignty,” Kertesz added.


The writer’s critical stance toward his home country and, as he puts it, his refusal to "glorify Hungarian-ness” have drawn criticism in the past. When the Budapest City Council voted to make him an honorary citizen of the city after his Nobel Prize win, Laszlo Zsinka, a far-right council member, objected, saying Kertesz “does not belong to the Hungarian nation … this nation and Budapest mean nothing to him, so why should we give him an award?"


Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOL. Ioana Caloianu and Joshua Boissevain are TOL editorial assistants.
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