Plus, heads roll in Belarus over the teddy bear fiasco and an anti-Kremlin blogger faces new criminal charges.by Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, Sofia Lotto Persio, and Ernad Halilovic 1 August 2012
Journalists in Croatia say the HRT public broadcaster is firing or demoting around 40 senior editors, according to Balkan Insight, which cited the Vecernji List daily newspaper. Seven of the nine editors responsible for programming have already been replaced, the website says.
The cull of editors comes two weeks after the country’s ruling center-left Kukuriku coalition appointed a new interim director to lead HRT. Kukuriku came to power after ousting the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)-led coalition in December’s parliamentary elections. HDZ said the purge is unlawful and politically motivated, tportal.hr reports.
The personnel change is also strongly contested by HRT staff, who say they plan to take the station to court. They argue that all 40 editors could not be incompetent. The “dismissals are based on arbitrary conclusions and decisions,” Balkan Insight quoted an anonymous HRT employee as saying.
The head of the parliamentary Committee on Information, Computerization, and the Media, Branko Vuksic, has supported the staff changes, saying, “There are a bunch of people sitting idle” while receiving decent salaries at HRT, according to Net.hr His remarks echoed recent criticism by the minister of finance about the number of people employed by HRT. The broadcaster has a staff of 3,500 – the same number as Austrian ORF public television but with half the national population – Net.hr reports. Vuksic also criticized the commercialization of national television and the decay in its educational, information, and drama programming.
Navalny is accused of stealing timber from a state-owned company in the Kirov region, where he served as an unpaid government adviser in 2009. The case was already investigated and closed earlier this year, but it was reopened after investigators say they dug deeper and confirmed Navalny's participation.
The new charges, Navalny’s lawyer told RIA Novosti, seem to be aimed at “removing Navalny from the political scene.”
The blogger has been forbidden to leave Russia and could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
Navalny recently accused the director of the national Investigation Committee of fraud and holding secret assets in the Czech Republic.
Another Russian blogger, Maxim Yefimov, has also earned the authorities' ire. Yefimov, who fled the country in May after being charged with fostering hate against the Orthodox Church and being ordered for psychiatric testing, has been put on the international wanted list, RIA Novosti reports.
Yefimov, who was head of the local Youth Human Rights Group of Karelia, published a blog post titled “Karelia Tired of Priests” last December, criticizing the church for being nothing more than a “ruling party” interested in profit.
The charge of inciting hatred – which has gained Yefimov notoriety as “Karelia’s Pussy Riot” as a result of the case’s similarity to that of the jailed members of the feminist band – is punishable by up to two years in prison.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has dismissed two senior military officials for allowing a free-speech stunt to take place over Belarusian airspace earlier this month, Radio Free Europe reports. A statement from the presidential bureau on 31 July said the chairman of the State Border Committee, Major General Igor Rachkovsky, and Air Defense Commander Major General Dmitry Pakhmelkin were released “for not properly carrying out their duties in safeguarding Belarussian national security.”
On 4 July, a Swedish advertising agency sent a plane that flew into Belarus illegally and dropped almost 900 teddy bears containing human rights messages over Minsk. Although Lukashenka initially denied that the stunt had taken place, he later declared that Belarussian air defense had simply chosen not to act against it.
Al-Jazeera reports that the country's KGB has detained a 20-year-old journalism student, Anton Suryapin, for posting photos of the teddy bears on his photography website. Suryapin is being held for "organising illegal migration," a charge that carries a prison sentence of up to seven years. A real estate agent is facing the same charges after renting an apartment to the plane's pilots.
Mitt Romney is not the only American making headlines in Poland this week. The organizers of a 1 August concert by pop star Madonna are bracing for fierce protests by Catholic and veterans’ organizations, the BBC reports.
The date of the concert falls on the day Poles remember the estimated 200,000 people who died in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against Nazi occupation. A petition to cancel the concert, organized by Youth Crusade, a Catholic group, reads “We pay our respects to those who survived and those who perished in the uprising. We won't allow the desecration of our hallowed symbols.” The protesters also accuse the singer of sacrilegious use of religious symbols and of promoting pornography and sexual deviation.
According to the BBC, Youth Crusade says it has gathered more than 50,000 signatures for its Don't Go to See Madonna campaign.
In response to the criticism, the concert organizers have agreed to a request by city authorities to show a short, pre-concert clip commemorating the uprising.
Madonna’s public support of gay rights may cause her troubles in Russia, too. The singer promised in March to use her St. Petersburg performance, set for 9 August, to speak out in support of the gay community recently hit by various laws forbidding “gay propoganda.”
The lawmaker who authored the St. Petersburg law, Vitaly Minolov, claimed the pop star would face “the harsh laws of St. Petersburg” if she displayed indecent behavior, RIA Novosti reports. "I heard that at the concerts on this tour she pulled off her tights – we will not have the like here," he said.
According to The Moscow Times, the jailed members of the feminist band Pussy Riot and their fans hope that Madonna will also address their plight in her Russian gigs, in an attempt to keep up global attention on the trial, which started 30 July.
Montenegrins will head to the polls on 14 October – some six months earlier than expected – to vote in parliamentary elections, Reuters reports. President Filip Vujanovic announced the decision on 31 July, nearly a week after lawmakers dissolved parliament.
Officials in Vujanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which has governed Montenegro since 1991 and is the main party in the ruling collation, say they want a fresh mandate for participating in EU ascension talks. "We want the government and parliament to be at full capacity so that the negotiations with the EU that began last month are taken seriously," Miodrag Vukovic, the party’s vice president, told SETimes.
The country’s parliamentary elections were initially scheduled for spring 2013, and DPS is expected to come out on top again. "We cannot ask Europe to wait for us while we held the election and then go to the reforms," Vukovic said.
The opposition, however, has argued that the elections were moved up because the ruling parties are worried about losing support during what is expected to be an economically difficult winter, according to SETimes.
The EU opened accession negotiations with Podgorica in June. Montenegro is next in line behind Croatia for joining, but Brussels has been applying increased pressure for the country to deal with allegations of widespread corruption.