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Journalists Protest at Kyiv Media Convention, Russian Duma May Expel Opposition Member

Plus, Serbia backtracks on opposition to sitting around the same table with Kosovo, and Kyrgyzstan’s major parties aim to form a new government in record time.

by Ky Krauthamer, Joshua Boissevain, and Nino Tsintsadze 4 September 2012

1. Russian Duma member: expulsion move is political retribution

 

Gennady Gudkov
Russia’s State Duma will decide whether to expel vocal opposition member Gennady Gudkov over charges he violated the widely ignored rule against members of parliament actively engaging in business. Prosecutors asked lawmakers to strip Gudkov of his legislative immunity so they could bring charges against him in connection with a controversial business deal in Bulgaria, according to RIA Novosti. The vote is scheduled for 12 September.

 

In response, Gudkov released documents to a parliamentary incomes and property committee 4 September that he says show he is not guilty of the accusations, also calling for a public apology.

 

Gudkov, a member of the opposition Just Russia party, has called the move political retribution. “This is a clear political order from the Kremlin,” Gudkov told RIA Novosti. “The authorities are ready to do anything to hang on to power.”

 

Gudkov, along with his son Dmitry, who is also a Just Russia representative in the State Duma, were active participants in the anti-government protests that began after December’s elections. The elder Gudkov is also one of the most visible critics of Putin in the Duma.

 

Other opposition members have charged Putin’s ruling United Russia party of applying the law selectively to rid the Duma of dissent and say other lawmakers are not punished for owning businesses, according to The New York Times.

 

2. Journalists versus Yanukovych at Kyiv media conference

 

About a dozen Ukrainian journalists displayed posters criticizing the government’s control over the media as President Viktor Yanukovych addressed a global audience of media executives at the World Newspaper Congress in Kyiv 3 September.

 

The Kyiv Post posted a video showing a presidential bodyguard tearing a poster reading “Stop Censorship” from the hands of the paper’s deputy editor in chief, Katya Gorchinskaya, as she stood next to Olena Prytula, chief editor of one of the government’s fiercest media critics, the newspaper Ukrainska Pravda.

 

 

In his speech, Jacob Mathew, president of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, which organizes the annual event, tried to deflect criticism of the choice of venue as he called on Ukrainian authorities to “regain freedoms that sustain democracy and human dignity,” the Associated Press reports.

 

Last week, Reporters Without Borders executive director Christian Mihr said press freedom had plummeted since Yanukovych came to power in 2010 and that pressure on journalists was growing ahead of parliamentary elections in October, Deutsche Welle writes.

 

The head of one of the few independent television stations in Ukraine, Mykola Kniazhytsky of TVi, said holding the conference in Ukraine might give a false impression that the country has a free press.

 

In July police accused Kniazhytsky of tax evasion, later closing the case for lack of evidence. Several cable operators have dropped TVi from their services.

 

A spokesman for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, Larry Kilman, told Deutsche Welle last week that calls for a boycott of the event seemed to reflect a misunderstanding of the association’s motives.

"We are coming to Ukraine in solidarity with the local independent press,” he said.

 

3. Three Kyrgyz parties form coalition, nominate premier

 

Kyrgyzstan could have a new government soon. Three major parties – the Social Democrats, Ar-Namys (Dignity), and Ata-Meken (Fatherland) – agreed 3 September to form a coalition, Radio Free Europe reports. All three were members of the previous government, which collapsed last month amid conflicts between then-Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov and other coalition members over his alleged corruption and economic mismanagement.

 

Kyrgyzstan adopted a parliamentary system, weakening presidential power, in 2010 after two uprisings in five years unseated widely unpopular presidents. The two governments since 2010 have been formed only after months of negotiations among the major parties, Business New Europe writes. This time, the apparently smooth transition may signal that the parliamentary system is taking root.

 

Zhantoro Satybaldiev

Babanov was often blamed for the country’s poor economic state, the paper writes, but the real causes may be problems in the gold mining industry – the only significant source of export earnings – combined with rising global food prices.

 

The new coalition nominated Zhantoro Satybaldiev, the chief of staff for President Almazbek Atambaev, as its candidate for prime minister. The three parties control 69 seats in the 120-member parliament.

 

4. Serbia-Kosovo: For want of an asterisk … 

 

Serbia has cleared the way for its officials to participate in regional meetings with their counterparts from Kosovo, although Belgrade will still not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

 

The Serbian government decided 2 September to loosen its interpretation of the convoluted deal agreed upon with Kosovo in EU-sponsored talks in March, EUbusiness reports.

 

"The instruction was adopted with an aim to diminish damage caused by the absence of the [Serbian] state officials from regional meetings," the government said in a statement.

 

Serbia insists that “Kosovo” be followed by an asterisk on name plates at meetings where both sides participate, with a footnote explaining that Serbia continues to abide by a 1999 UN Security Council resolution referring to the territorial integrity of the then-Yugoslavia. Serbia argues this resolution invalidated Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. Belgrade also demanded the full text of the footnote be shown on Kosovo’s name plate but has now agreed that the text need only appear at the first mention of Kosovo in all documents issued at the meeting, EUbusiness says.

Ivica Dacic

 

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said the decision was not a concession to Pristina, B92 reports, while admitting, “By failing to attend these meetings, Serbia does not achieve anything.” He blamed the previous, liberal government for making such “useless sacrifices” as the asterisk deal and a customs agreement with Kosovo.

 

5. Czech power major gets tough with Albanian customers

 

Czech power giant CEZ is taking the fight against nonpaying customers of its Albanian subsidiary straight to the top.

 

CEZ managers are threatening to cut off electricity to Albanian government-owned water management companies that have racked up more than 1 billion crowns ($51 million) in unpaid bills, the Prague Daily Monitor reports, citing Lidove noviny, a Czech newspaper.

 

State-owned CEZ is one of Central Europe’s most profitable companies, benefitting from high energy prices on the domestic market. It runs operations in a half-dozen countries, most in the Balkans and Caucasus, but the Albanian subsidiary, CEZ Shperndarje, has lost money. This summer Shperndarje began cutting off power to nonpayers, including whole villages, according to Lidove noviny and the website of Top Channel television.

 

After Shperndarje cut off electricity to parts of the city of Ballsh, about 150 people surrounded an electricity substation 29 August demanding that power be restored, Top Channel reported.

 

Illegal connections are another problem for CEZ. By July, the company had reported 1,700 illegal hookups to the authorities, according to Top Channel.

 

Lidove noviny reports that in spite of CEZ’s unpaid bills Albanian authorities have told the company it must pay 23 million euros ($29 million) in additional VAT and income taxes.
Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOLJoshua Boissevain is a TOL editorial assistant. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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