Plus, ethnic violence picks up in Macedonia and Kazakhstan frees striking oil workers’ lawyer.by Barbara Frye and Ioana Caloianu 12 March 2012
Slovak voters have turned parliament over to the leftist Smer-Social Democracy Party. Led by former Prime Minister Robert Fico, Smer won a resounding 44 percent of the vote in elections on 10 March, to take 83 of the unicameral legislature’s 150 seats.
It is the first time since Slovakia’s independence that one party has gained enough seats to govern without having to form a coalition, according to The New York Times.
In the fall, Fico told Hospodarske noviny, a Czech daily, that he wanted to change Slovakia’s 19 percent flat-tax rate. He envisions a 25 percent rate for those earning more than 33,000 euros and a 22 percent income tax on firms with profits over approximately 50 million euros. Fico estimated that these and other tax measures would add 450 to 500 million euros to state coffers.
During his stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2010, Fico formed a coalition with nationalist parties and pushed through legislation that gives those who have been the subjects of media reports a right of reply even if the reports were accurate, if the reports damaged their “dignity.”
Elections were originally scheduled for 2014, but the governing coalition failed a confidence vote in October when a junior coalition partner refused to support the euro rescue fund. A corruption scandal involving high-profile figures from the Slovak political establishment further contributed to Smer’s success
The Russian Justice Ministry has effectively revoked the right of a legal advocacy group that helps Chechen human rights claimants to operate in the country.
The Russian Justice Initiative has secured about 10 million euros’ ($13 million) worth of judgments in the European Court of Human Rights against Russia’s government on behalf of residents of Chechnya, according to Kommersant.
The ministry said the group’s registration documents were out of order, but RJI Executive Director Vanessa Kogan told the newspaper that the rights group was never sent notification of the discrepancies and therefore missed the deadline for correcting them. According to Kogan, only after de-registering the group did the ministry cite problems with its legal address, passport information from RJI officials listed in its registration papers, and “ill-defined goals and objectives of the organization.”
The group will challenge the decision in court but could have to re-register as a different organization. In the meantime, its work on cases pending before the human rights court is frozen. Kogan said the group will also not be able to push the government to act on existing court orders. She said often officials pay the specified damages but do not, as ordered, conduct new investigations into cases.
The number of cases against Russia before the court has exploded (pdf), from 971 in 1999 to 13,666 in 2010.
Macedonia saw a spate of violence over the weekend that police say was ethnically motivated.
On March 9, a group set upon two young people in the Albanian-dominated town of Tetovo. There was a stabbing in Skopje the same day. March 10 saw another large group target two victims in an Albanian municipality of Skopje, and an elderly man was beaten with baseball bats in a Macedonian suburb of the city.
Relations between the country’s Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, who account for about 25 percent of the population, have been strained since revelers at a late-January carnival in the western town of Vevcani wore costumes perceived as mocking the Koran and women in burqas. A couple of days later, arsonists struck an Orthodox church.
A brief conflict between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians in 2001 ended with an agreement for protection of minority rights and guarantees for their political representation.
A lawyer who represented striking oil workers in the western Kazakh town of Zhanaozen has been freed from prison, Radio Free Europe reports.
Natalia Sokolova was convicted in August of inciting social discord and given a six-year sentence. The attorney told RFE that the country’s Supreme Court had changed that to a three-year suspended sentence with a ban on doing social work during that time.
Sokolova’s conviction prompted a protest from nearly three-dozen human rights and media and governance watchdogs in Kazakhstan. Her release comes weeks after human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis was freed from prison to coincide with Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov’s meetings with U.S. State Department officials in Washington.
However, it also comes less than two months after an opposition politician was charged with inciting unrest and a newspaper editor with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order in connection with a December clash between the striking oil workers and police that left 14 people dead.
Czech finance officials are going after two gambling firms they say have embezzled a combined 240 million crowns ($12.8 million) that they claimed to have given to charity, according to Czech Position, which cites a report by the Czech daily Hospodarske noviny.
Until this year, the Czech Republic’s many gambling firms did not have to pay corporate or gambling taxes but were required to donate to charities of their choice.
In criminal complaints, Finance Ministry officials say the Helvet Group and Merkur Casino operated a scam in which they sent the money to inactive organizations and then withdrew it in cash.
The companies are accused of funneling the money to groups with names like the Association for the Defense of Rights and Justice, the Association for the Support and Promotion of UNESCO World Heritage Monuments and Tree of Life, which Czech Position describes as “a Czechoslovak Society about which the only information available is that its registered address is near Prague’s main airport.”