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Russian Wikipedia Goes Dark, Romanian Court Upholds President’s Suspension

Plus, Azerbaijan’s first elected leader returns from exile and a Polish board game tries to make communism fun.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Joshua Boissevain, and Sofia Lotto Persio 10 July 2012

1. Romanian high court upholds suspension of president


The Romanian Constitutional Court 9 July upheld the parliament’s suspension of President Traian Basescu and confirmed Senate leader Crin Antonescu as interim president, the BBC reports. The government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta wants to hold a referendum 29 July on Basescu’s impeachment. The court was expected to rule 10 July whether a law adopted by parliament in June making it easier to impeach the head of state in a referendum was legal. The new law lowers the threshold for impeachment from approval by a majority of all registered voters to approval by a majority of those actually voting.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her support for Basescu in his power struggle with Ponta 9 July in a phone call to the Romanian president. In a statement, the German government said Merkel “views it as unacceptable that basic principles of the rule of law are violated in a European Union country.”


Commenting on the phone call, Ponta said, “I don’t think Mrs. Merkel will be the one voting in Romania in the referendum,” Bloomberg reports. Ponta, a Social Democrat who opposed the harsh budget cuts made by the previous government, also said Basescu and Merkel “are the only supporters of austerity in Europe.”


2. More volunteers needed in aftermath of Russian floods


Authorities in flood-stricken areas of southern Russia said volunteers are urgently needed to help in the rescue and cleanup efforts, The Moscow Times writes.


Additional volunteers will soon be sent to Krymsk, the town that suffered the brunt of the damage in the flash floods on the night of 6-7 July when a wall of water swept through the town. Authorities in the Krasnodar region say 172 people were killed and estimate the damage at $120 million.


Krymsk_flood350The aftermath of the flooding in Krymsk. Screen grab from a YouTube video by wertyrrr1


Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachyov put the mayor of Krymsk and the head of the Krymsk district on administrative leave, The Moscow Times writes, and the federal Emergency Ministry suggested local authorities were to blame for not giving sufficient warning of the flood danger as heavy rains fell last week.


Preliminary indications are that the disaster was “caused by natural phenomena,” Radio Free Europe quoted President Vladimir Putin as saying 9 July. However, Putin said more study was required to see if warning and flood-control systems had operated properly.


3. Russian Wikipedia protests ‘online censorship’ plans


Wikipedia’s Russian language site went offline 10 July in a 24-hour protest against an Internet bill being considered this week by the Russian parliament. The draft amendments to an information law call for a nationwide registry of websites containing child pornography or promoting substance abuse and suicide.


The bill is supported by all four parliamentary parties but activists and Internet providers say it imposes censorship on the Russian-language Internet, RIA Novosti writes.


Texts posted on the Russian Wikipedia site said, “Imagine a world without free knowledge” and complained that the bill could lead to extra-judicial Internet censorship and create a “Russian version of the Great Chinese firewall,” which allows authorities to filter websites and monitor web searches.


Large Internet companies active in Russia are also concerned by the bill. Google, the Russian-language Internet portal Yandex, and Mail.Ru have called for public debate, and Information Minister Nikolay Nikiforov expressed doubts over the law’s enforcement mechanism.




4. Azerbaijan’s first elected president returns from exile


Ayaz Mutalibov, first president of independent Azerbaijan, arrived in Baku 7 July, ending 20 years of exile in Russia.


Mutalibov’s return follows passage of a law in June granting immunity to heads of state for acts committed while in office, Radio Free Europe writes. Mutalibov had earlier said he would stay out of politics. He recently announced his withdrawal from the Social Democratic Party, a small opposition party he co-founded.


Mutalibov, 74, made the transition from head of the Azerbaijani Communist Party at the end of the Soviet era to elected president of the newly independent nation in 1991, but his political career crashed in 1992 as popular discontent mounted over the killings of hundreds of civilians by Armenian forces in the town of Khojaly during the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Mutalibov was forced from office in March 1992 and left the country for Moscow in May that year as Armenian forces cemented their occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh.


5. Waiting in line for bread was never so fun


A Polish board game that’s been dubbed the communist version of Monopoly is being released in a multilingual edition as its makers hope to capitalize on the game’s unexpected success in the domestic market.


The game, called Kolejka (Queue), was released last year by the Institute of National Remembrance, a sometimes controversial state office set up to document Nazi- and communist-era history and to prosecute crimes against opponents of those regimes. The game was developed as a tool to teach young people about the difficulties of life in the communist era.


The game has become a hit in Poland and abroad, selling out its initial 20,000 copies. Last week, the institute released another 25,000 copies in an international edition available in Russian, German, Spanish, English, Japanese, and Polish. The game comes with an educational booklet giving historical context and a sense of how difficult it was simply to shop for basic goods in the planned economy of 1980s Poland, Agence France Presse reports.


"Children don't always understand, say, an exhibit on a serious topic, which is why we brainstormed and came up with a way to educate not only adults but also the younger crowd," institute director Lukasz Kaminski said.


In the game, players must compete to buy everything on a personal shopping list. The challenge, though, is that they have to wait in line to buy goods and may find there is nothing left to buy once they reach the front of the line. Keeping with history, there’s even a black market where players can pay a premium for desired goods.


queue350Players try out the English version of “Queue” at the launch party for the new multilingual editions. Photo: Institute of National Remembrance

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