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Belarus Executes Bombers, Dissenter’s Play Staged in Almaty

Plus, Macedonians march against ethnic violence and a cover girl emerges as the newest star of the Russian opposition.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Joshua Boissevain 19 March 2012

1. Minsk confirms bombing executions


The two men convicted of the April 2011 bombing of a Minsk subway station have been put to death, according to the Associated Press. News that the two had been executed with a shot to the back of the head was confirmed by state television 17 March, drawing international condemnation. Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavalyou, two 26-year-old factory workers, were convicted in November of the bombing, which killed 15 and wounded 200.


EU and human rights activists’ response to the executions came quickly. The EU’s top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton, condemned the use of capital punishment in Belarus – the only country in Europe to use it – calling it “an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity.” Following news of the execution, Brussels suggested it might add more sanctions against Belarus, according to RIA Novosti.


ShushkevichStanislav Shushkevich
On 18 March in Belarus, former head of state Stanislav Shushkevich was pulled from a train headed for neighboring Lithuania, Radio Free Europe reports. In the early 1990s, Shushkevich helped lead Belarus through the post-Soviet transition and was the country’s first president. In 1994, he was booted from power following corruption charges levied by current President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, then head of the parliament’s anti-corruption commission. During the past few weeks several prominent journalists and opposition activists have been refused exit from Belarus. Shushkevich told RFE/RL that he was not given an explanation for being taken off the train and called it “sheer lawlessness.”


2. Macedonians march against communal violence


Peace activists, celebrities, and a few politicians staged a march through the Macedonian capital Skopje on 17 March calling on the country’s large ethnic groups to calm tensions.


Slavic-speakers and members of the Albanian minority have clashed recently in what has been called the worst communal violence since the Albanian uprising in 2001.


An estimated 2,000 people took part in the march. President Gjorge Ivanov also participated, according to the Balkan Transitional Justice website.


In a sign the tensions could spread beyond the country’s borders, the Macedonian embassy in Pristina, Kosovo was the target of a Molotov cocktail on the night of 16-17 March, Reuters reported. There were no injuries and little damage.


3. Kazakh authorities play good cop/bad cop with Zhanaozen suspects


Bolat_AtabaevBolat Atabaev
Kazakh authorities allowed dissident theater director Bolat Atabaev to stage a play last week even though it hints at the unrest in Zhanaozen for which the director may face trial.


As Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, the play, called Avalanche, is set in a mountain village where the local authorities suppress all aspects of life, from sex to laughter, on the pretext that too much activity could trigger a deadly avalanche.


The play was performed in Almaty on 14 March. Atabaev said all proceeds would be donated to the families of those killed in Zhanaozen when security forces opened fire on protesting oil workers in December, killing 17.


"In order to be able to protest, one should first kill fear," RFE quoted Atabaev as saying in reference to the play. "Without killing fear, we will never be able to loudly say what we want. We will continue to live whispering, just enjoying our meals, sleeping under our blankets.”


Atabaev has been charged with inciting social unrest in Zhanaozen, but has not been detained. Several oil workers and activists are in jail on the same charges. A lawyer for the workers, Natalia Sokolova, was released from jail on 7 March after being convicted on the same charge, but was barred from civic activity for three years.


Atabaev told a news conference that police confronted him with an “expert linguistic analysis” of comments he allegedly made in Zhanaozen, saying his words could be construed as attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.


4. EU entry will not speed up Croatian courts, justice minister says


European institutions have chided Croatia over its enormous backlog of court cases for years, and judicial reform was one of the toughest chapters of the country’s successful drive to become a full EU candidate country.


Croatia is expected to join the EU in 2013, but the backlog will remain, Justice Minister Orsat Miljenic said recently.


Nearly 23,000 cases older than 10 years were on the books of Croatian county and municipal courts as of the beginning of the year, almost all of them civil cases, Croatian Supreme Court General Secretary Zdravko Stojanovic told the Southeast European Times. One civil case pitting two stepbrothers against each other has dragged on for a Dickensian 38 years.


In 2008, more than 1 million cases awaited judgment, according to one report, and nearly 800,000 were still on the books two years later, the European Commission said.


Croatia met the European Commission’s requirements on pre-accession judicial reform in 2011, but France, Germany, and several other EU members called on the commission not to relax its monitoring of the country’s judiciary as it moves toward EU membership.


Miljenic said, "As far as unresolved cases go, entry to the EU will not change anything directly,” the SETimes reported. He said the courts will work on the backlog until EU entry and after.


5. Russian tabloid queen emerges as unlikely opposition supporter


The wave of protests against the outcome of Russia’s parliamentary and presidential elections brought to the public's attention several people previously known for their activities in fields other than social activism. After Irina Prokhorova, better known in literary circles before the involvement in her brother Mikhail Prokhorov's presidential campaign, it was the turn of Ksenia Sobchak, previously dubbed “the Russian Paris Hilton,” to emerge as an opposition supporter, The New York Times reports.


Sobchak recently hosted opposition figures on her new political talk show, broadcast online after being canceled by Russia's MTV. She also frequently criticizes Vladimir Putin, who won a third presidential term this month.


Sobchak's pre-opposition resume includes reality television, posing in men's magazines, and co-authoring a book on how to catch a millionaire husband. Now, she says, she has changed.


Ksenia_Sobchak_rallyKsenia Sobchak speaks at a rally in Moscow on 10 March. Photo: Bogomolov.PL/Wikimedia Commons


“I am sincere in what I am saying now, and I was absolutely sincere then … as a vulgar fool with pink bows in bright white hair emitting the most unbelievable rubbish,” she declared during a Ukrainian talk show in February, the Times writes.


The change appears even more bold and surprising in light of her family's allegiances: her late father was mayor of St. Petersburg and helped launch Putin's career, while her mother is a legislator in the upper house of parliament. Still, despite confronting officials such as Vasily Yakemenko, head of the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth movement, and hosting debates about civil society, her wealthy background continues to undermine her credibility. After a televised debate Sobchak hosted, Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the opposition Left Front movement, said he doubted her transformation was sincere, according to the Times.


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