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Poland Likes It Dirty, Romanian Pol Rewrites History

Plus, Georgian billionaire eyes prime minister’s office, and Belgrade Roma kicked out of shanty town.

by Ioana Caloianu, Angela Almeida, and Barbara Frye 9 March 2012

1. Poland resists EU proposal for lower carbon emissions


An EU initiative for deeper cuts in carbon emissions is meeting resistance in Poland, the BBC reports.


Denmark and Great Britain are pushing a plan to require a 25 percent reduction by 2020, instead of the original target of 20 percent. EU environment ministers will meet 9 March to discuss the proposal, but Poland's environment minister Marcin Korolec, has asked his counterparts to reject it. 


A smelting plant in Bukowno, Poland. Photo by Ufoizba/Wikimedia Commons


According to the World Coal Association, Poland is the 10th largest consumer of coal in the world and the second largest in the EU after Germany, with 90 percent of its electricity and heat being generated from coal.


Poland, which has been at odds with the EU over the issue due to the strain that such cuts would put on the country's coal-dependent economy, blocked an attempt in June to change the emissions targets. The Czech Republic and Romania, whose production of electricity is also dependent on coal, back Poland's position. 


A spokesman from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change told the BBC that the cuts were important for "reducing our dependence on imported energy, stimulating jobs and growth in green sectors, and delivering health benefits from reduced pollution." He said the current target “is simply not cost effective.”


2. Romanian senator accused of Holocaust denial


A Romanian senator came under fire from human rights groups after comments denying the Holocaust of Romanian Jews, Hotnews reports. Appearing on a talk show on 5 March, Dan Sova, a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party, denied the involvement of Romanian soldiers in a World War II pogrom in Iasi.


“Historical data show that 24 Romanians of Jewish origin were killed in Iasi by German soldiers. No Romanian soldiers took part in that, it is a historical fact,” Sova said.


The Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania said in a statement that Sova's declaration amounted to denying the Holocaust of Romanian Jews and the responsibility of the country’s wartime fascist government “for the death of more than 250,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews.”


According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia, Romania had about 980,000 Jews in 1933. By 1950, the number was around 280,000. Although Romania officially recognized the country's guilt in the killings of Jews and Roma during World War II and passed a law in 2002 that made Holocaust denial a crime, it remains a delicate subject.

In 2003, then-President Ion Iliescu, also a Social Democrat, provoked an outcry when he said the Holocaust had not happened in his country. The government swiftly did an about-face, establishing 9 October as Holocaust Remembrance Day and setting up a commission to establish a historical record of the Romanian Holocaust.


On 7 March, the Romani Criss Roma rights group and the Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism asked prosecutors to charge Sova with Holocaust denial.


Sova, who was ousted as spokesman for the Social Democrats after his remarks, expressed regret on his blog if his statements were misunderstood as a denial of Romanian responsibility. He said he had meant that “Romanians didn't want such things to happen. Such events were determined by Nazi politics and an unfortunate historical context.”


Victor Ponta, president of the Social Democrats, called Sova's remark as “an enormous blunder” and distanced the party from them. He said Sova will be sent on a trip to Washington “to educate himself at the Holocaust Museum.”


3. Billionaire in the running for Georgia prime minister


Bidzina Ivanishvili
Georgia’s richest man has his eye on the prime minister’s office, Forbes reports.


Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose $6 billion net worth amounts to half of Georgia’s GDP, is shaping up as a rival to President Mikheil Saakashvili.


“The country’s leadership [is] completely exhausted … and has become the main obstacle for society and state development,” Ivanishvili told a Tbilisi gathering in December when he launched the Georgian Dream movement, which he hopes to become a force in the country’s parliamentary elections this fall.


The billionaire also called for Saakashvili’s resignation at that meeting, according to Radio Free Europe. Last fall, Ivanishvili was stripped of his citizenship in Georgia, which does not allow multiple citizenship, because he also held passports from Russia and France. That move blocked him from starting a political party, which is permitted only to citizens. Since then, Ivanishvili and his wife have been working to knock down those obstacles. His wife’s citizenship was restored by a court, and Ivanishvili is giving up his other citizenships.


Georgia’s unemployment rate stands at 16 percent, and half of the country lives below the poverty line. Ivanishvili continues to fund philanthropic efforts, such as free medical care in his hometown of Chorvila. He further promises to build a democracy and independent courts within a year, Forbes reports.


“You have to jail one minister – two, max – to show everyone that there will be no forgiveness,” Ivanishvili told the magazine. “Show that there’s a political will up there, and it will all line up quickly.”


4. Roma evicted from Belgrade shanty town


The eviction of nearly three-dozen Roma families from a shanty town in Belgrade began on 7 March amid criticism that it violates international human rights standards.


While some families will be guaranteed new housing in other towns in Serbia, one refugee and minority rights watchdog group said 18 of the 33 displaced families will not be provided for, in violation of an international rights agreement, B92 reports.


The families who are not headed to the new housing are being labeled “voluntary returnees” to Kosovo and are scheduled for eviction on 16 March, in spite of the fact that some families fear for their safety if they return to Kosovo, Praxis legal counsel Danilo Curcic said.


The settlements where the other families will be moved were created in response to forced evictions in 2009 in Belgrade that left more than 200 Roma families homeless, according to Amnesty International.


In 2009, the Center for Ecology and Sustainable Development in Subotica and BankWatch, which monitors investments by international, public financial institutions, created a documentary series titled Bridging the Gap about Roma strife following evictions from an encampment under Belgrade’s Gazela Bridge.


5. New faces in Moscow politics could nurture the growth of liberalism


In discussions of where Russia’s next liberal leaders might come from, the usual suspects have been top party officials like Grigory Yavlinsky, or prominent protest leaders like Alexei Navalny or Sergei Udaltsov. But, as The New York Times reports, the next generation may come from the unheralded ranks of city governance.


That’s because more than 70 independent candidates were elected to district councils throughout Moscow in municipal elections last weekend, as part of a movement called Our City.


“I think what we are doing and what we are achieving – this small seizure of municipal councils – it is not a small thing, especially under the dictatorship that now exists,” Mikhail Velmakin, a founder of the Our City initiative, told The Times.


Reporter Michael Schwirtz notes that the power of a district council member – of whom there are 1,500 – pales compared with the sway of bureaucrats and the city’s appointed mayor, but these new, mostly young, local officials have contact with voters and potentially the ability to mobilize them.


“You can fantasize about achieving our goals with tanks and planes or through the principles of Gandhi,” Velmakin told The Times. “There are many possibilities, but there are a few tactical measures. We must speak to people and tell them what is going on now.”

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Angela Almeida is a TOL editorial intern. Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor.

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