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Russia’s ‘Foreign Agent’ Bill Slammed, Mladic Hospitalized

Plus, Moldova bans totalitarian symbols and Lithuanian spy nabbed in Belarus? by S. Adam Cardais and Sofia Lotto Persio 13 July 2012

1. Russian bill ‘belongs to the past,’ European human rights chief says


Europe's top human rights body sees echoes of Stalinism in a proposed Russian law that would force independent civic groups that receive international funding to label themselves "foreign agents," RIA Novosti reports.


"The wording is a problem," Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland told RIA Novosti. " 'Foreign agents' sounds very bad to me and also, I think, to many others abroad and in Russia. Some of those executed during the Stalin era were called foreign agents."


Dissidents in Stalinist Russia were called "foreign agents," Jagland added, while modern day authoritarian regimes also use the term.


"This is unfair, it's inappropriate, and it shouldn't be used in modern lawmaking – it belongs to the past, and it does not belong to a democratic society," he said.


Under the measure, civic and watchdog groups would also face yearly audits and be forced to publish twice-annual financial statements. Violators could face fines of up to 1 million rubles (roughly $30,000) or a maximum of four years in prison.


Russia's lower house of parliament was expected to approve the bill 13 July, at which point it would have to pass the upper house. If approved in the legislature, President Vladimir Putin has final say and has already voiced his support.


The bill could become law as early as the fall, according to RIA Novosti, citing a Kremlin source.


2. Moldovan legislators ban hammer and sickle, other totalitarian symbols


Over the objection of communist members of parliament, Moldovan legislators passed amendments 12 July to ban political parties from using the symbols of totalitarian regimes, especially the hammer and sickle associated with communism, RIA Novosti reports.


Ruling deputies also adopted a decree on evaluating the totalitarian communist regime in Moldova. The measure condemns crimes against humanity by the regime and its collaborators, RIA Novosti reports.


Demonstrators at a February protest wave the banner of the Communist Party, which would have to jettison the hammer and sickle under the new law. Photo from the party's website.


The Communist Party of Moldova, which must now replace the hammer and sickle with a new emblem, won the most seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections but went into opposition. The party had ruled Moldova during the first post-Soviet decade.


The communists, who boycotted the vote, plan to challenge the law at the Constitutional Court, Radio Free Europe reports.


3. Mladic rushed to hospital after requesting a break during Hague proceedings


Ratko Mladic was hospitalized 12 July after asking for a break during the fourth day of his trial at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Reuters reports.


Ratko Mladic
The 70-year-old former Bosnian Serb military commander was rushed to a Dutch hospital after "slumping with his head in his hands," according to Reuters. Mladic claims to suffer from the residuals of a stroke and has insisted he's too sick to stand trial. He suffered three strokes before being apprehended last year, B92 reports.


Mladic "complained he was feeling unwell during the hearing, so the hearing was adjourned," Reuters quotes a tribunal spokeswoman as saying.


Mladic stands accused of 11 counts of genocide and war crimes during the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict, including for his alleged role in the Srebrenica massacre. He had been on the run for more than 15 years before being captured in northern Serbia in May 2011.


Reuters points out that prosecutors and relatives of victims of the Bosnian conflict fear that Mladic, who maintains innocence, will die before the trial concludes, as did former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.


4. Minsk: Lithuanian military officer, conspirators arrested for spying


Belarusian authorities say they have arrested a Lithuanian military intelligence officer and "several of his informants" for espionage, Radio Free Europe reports.


According to an online statement by the Belarusian security agency, or KGB, "Mr. F" and the other alleged spies were apprehended for trying to steal "secret information in the military sphere," according to RFE.


Though the KGB statement does not specify the nationalities of the other accused spies, they are presumably Belarusian, as they face charges of treason that carry a maximum of 15 years in prison.


Lithuania's Foreign Ministry reportedly denied the charges.


5. Court ruling restricts Vojvodina autonomy and divides political opinion


The Serbian Constitutional Court has struck down some provisions of a law granting autonomy to the northern province of Vojvodina.


Like Kosovo, the multiethnic region of Vojvodina enjoyed autonomous status until Slobodan Milosevic abolished it in 1989. The Vojvodina assembly adopted a law on autonomy in December 2009, which was promptly validated by then-President Boris Tadic.


Under the court’s decision, Novi Sad can no longer be considered the province’s capital. Further, Vojvodina’s offices in Brussels must close down and it will lose its jurisdiction over agricultural, environmental, and rural development policies.


The 10 July ruling reveals a split in Serbian politics, according to Balkan Insight. Tadic’s Liberal Democratic Party of Serbia criticized the decision, while Vojislav Kostunica, leader of the nationalist Democratic Party, called it “a historic decision that will prevent further dissolution,” of Serbia, B92 reports.


The League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina has urged the provincial government to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, noting that it strips Vojvodina of some powers still granted to other regions.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Sofia Lotto Persio is a TOL editorial intern.
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