Plus, Hungary gets nationalization-happy and Putin shows birds how to migrate.by Jeremy Druker, Joshua Boissevain, and Nino Tsintsadze 6 September 2012
1. Polish government responds to allegations of CIA secret jails
The Polish government said on 5 September that it had met a deadline to provide information to the European Court of Human Rights about allegations that the country had hosted secret jails in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks, Reuters reports.
Human rights activists have long held that some countries, including Poland and Lithuania, allowed the CIA to set up “black sites” on their territories, where people suspected of terrorism links faced sometimes harsh forms of interrogation and even torture, without legal access. No government has publicly acknowledged the existence of such prisons, and Poland has denied that the CIA engaged in illegal activity there since the first articles on the topic appeared in 2005.
In a statement received by Reuters, the Polish Foreign Ministry also did not acknowledge any role this time, saying only that the country had “submitted its observation” to the Strasbourg-based court on the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Al-Nashiri had turned to the court, claiming the CIA had jailed him illegally in Poland. A Saudi national, he continues to be held in Guantanamo Bay, accused of planning the bombing of the USS Cole warship in Yemen in 2000 and one of the few people whom the CIA has admitted waterboarding.
It remains unclear if Poland’s comments on the case, a response to judges’ questions about the existence of the jails and the role of Polish officials, will be made public. Warsaw has requested restrictions on public access to the documents to avoid interfering with the investigation of the same claims in Poland.
Earlier this year, the human rights court began hearing a case against Macedonia over the alleged rendition of a German citizen who said he was kidnapped while in Macedonia in 2003 before being flown to Afghanistan.
2. Cross-chopping Femen activist flees Ukraine
An activist from Femen, a Ukrainian feminist group, has fled from Ukraine to France, RIA Novosti reports. The group announced on its website that Inna Shevchenko had been under increasing pressure from the security services and the Orthodox Church after she chopped down a wooden cross in Kyiv on 17 August to show solidarity with Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk band. That same day, three members of Pussy Riot were sentenced for anti-religious hooliganism by a Moscow court over an anti-Putin song they performed in a Moscow cathedral.
Femen described a dramatic nighttime “escape,” as Shevchenko climbed out of her apartment via the balcony, before taking a train to Warsaw. From there, she posted a video calling for supporters to redouble their efforts and chop down additional crosses, Polit.ru reports. She continued to Paris, where Femen plans to open an activist training center, according to RIA Novosti, citing an interview with a Femen representative that appeared on Ukraine’s 1+1 TV channel.
Despite one jailed member of Pussy Riot having expressed disapproval, a group in Russia cut down four crosses in August to protest the two-year sentences handed down to the band members. Another cross met the same fate a few weeks later, RIA Novosti reports.
The Economist’s Eastern Approaches blog questions Femen’s targeting of that cross, which didn’t generate much sympathy among the Ukrainian public. “The cross was a symbolic memorial to the victims of Stalinist repressions. It was erected during the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. It was not even an ‘Orthodox’ cross. … [I]t was raised by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (sometimes called Uniate), which is subject to the Pope,” the blog notes
Shevchenko was one of three activists from Femen who disappeared after their 19 December protest in front of KGB headquarters in Belarus. They re-emerged the next day in a village in southeastern Belarus, saying they had been kidnapped and abused by Belarusian security forces.
3. Hungary eyes more nationalizations
Hungary is adding another industry to the list it wants to nationalize. Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government announced plans to take over the country’s metal-recycling industry as a way to tackle theft and the black market, according to Euractiv.com. It is the second major nationalization announcement from Budapest in a month and comes as Brussels and the International Monetary Fund keep a watchful eye on the country.
In late August, Orban said the government would buy back gas operations from the Germany energy company E.ON, the biggest gas trader in Hungary. The move is part of a drive to turn the industry into what Orban called a “nonprofit activity.”
The country took over other assets in 2010, including pre-funded pension schemes.
The nationalization drive could give Fidesz, Orban’s populist-conservative party, a boost in the run up to the 2014 elections, Reuters reports. “The government wants to have the gas business in its own hands," an analyst for Erste told Reuters. “Once they have that, they can sit down to negotiate about cheaper gas for the new long-term gas deal with the Russians from 2015 onward, and that can win elections.”
But nationalizing key assets could worsen the already strained relations with the EU, writes Stratford. And the cost of taking back gas operations alone could reach $2.75 billion. Hungary has been criticized by the EU in recent months for democratic backsliding and came close to having 500 million euros ($630 million) in EU funding frozen in March over the country’s high deficits.
4. Putin scales new heights as he flies endangered birds to new habitat
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest macho stunt – leading a flock of cranes on their migratory path – has been mocked across the Russian Internet, The New York Times reports.
Putin’s press office announced 5 September that Putin had flown a motorized hang glider in the Arctic as part of a project aiming to protect endangered cranes. Pilots taking part in the project, dubbed the “Flight of Hope,” try to direct the birds, raised in captivity, toward their winter habitat.
After stopping off on his way to an APEC summit in Vladivostok, Putin took part in three flights and subsequently expressed relief that everything had ended successfully, according to Kommersant.
The Western media and Putin’s opponents at home ridiculed Putin’s adventure, the latest in a line of photo opportunities designed to make him look virile. Previous stunts have included driving a Harley-Davidson, “hunting” bears in Siberia, bare-chested fishing, and discovering artifacts while diving in the Black Sea’s Kerch Strait. The diving stunt, however, was later found to be staged, as archaeologists had placed the fragments underwater in preparation for the prime minister’s dive.
The New York Times writes, “While Mr. Putin recently has found some resistance to his stewardship at home, he found a more receptive crowd among his feathered followers.” The Times also quotes a tweet from Putin foe Aleksei Navalny: “About Stalin they said, ‘In the night a light will burn in the window.’ And of Putin they will say, ‘He flew over our homes with a flock of cranes.’ ”
5. Bosnian Serb party defiant over exclusion from Socialist International
The main Bosnian Serb party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) has expressed defiance after being kicked out of the Socialist International last week, Balkan Insight reports. The Socialist International is a membership organization composed of social democratic, socialist, and labor parties from around the world.
The Bosnian party’s executive secretary, Rajko Vasic, said the move was just another case of discrimination against Serbs and reflected the Socialist International’s decision to favor Bosnia’s mainly Bosniak Social Democratic Party, SDP. “We will not wear black because of that,” Vasic said.
Dodik made waves last month by repeating claims that Republika Srpska is already a state and suggesting that the 1995 Dayton peace accord, which divided Bosnia into the Republika Srpska and the Croat- and Muslim-dominated Federation, had failed.
The Socialist International’s decision was hardly a surprise: the SNSD’s membership had already been suspended in July 2011 for its alleged nationalist and extremist stances. Back in 2006, the party, however, had expressed pride at becoming one of only two parties that, at the time, had been admitted unanimously.