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Observers Blast Belarus Elections, Rights Court Raps Kyiv over Roma Killings

Plus, Medvedev and Putin kick sand at each other, and is another Iron Curtain drawing around Russia? by Barbara Frye, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 24 September 2012

1. Observers: Belarus poll rigged from the start

 

An international observer mission has determined that Belarus’ parliamentary elections did meet democratic standards.

 

“This election was not competitive from the start,” Matteo Mecacci, a coordinator of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission, said in a statement. “A free election depends on people being free to speak, organize, and run for office, and we didn’t see that in this campaign.”

 

Potential candidates were ruled out of the 23 September vote due to imprisonment or arbitrary rulings by elections officials, the OSCE said. Further, observers were not allowed to monitor the ballot counting in many polling stations.

 

No opposition politicians made it into parliament. Those results were virtually guaranteed, given the opposition’s mass boycott of the process in protest over political prisoners and a harsh crackdown on dissent in the past two years.

Opposition activists urged Belarusians to boycott the polls. Image from a video by AlgosysFx.

 

More contested are the turnout figures, as opposition activists had urged Belarusians to stay away from the polls. The government reported a figure of 74.3 percent, which the opposition disputes, Radio Free Europe reports. Politicians who advocated a boycott were not allowed the free air time given to their competitors.

 

The high turnout figure was likely inflated by early voting, according to the opposition and OSCE observers, the Voice of America reports. Last week brought reports that students at the State Agricultural Academy had been forced to participate in early voting.

 

2. Human rights court rebukes Ukraine in Roma arson attack

 

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered the Ukrainian government to compensate relatives of a family of five Roma killed in an arson attack 11 years ago.

 

According to the European Roma Rights Center, on 28 October 2001, three men from the central Kremenchug region set fire to the family’s home and barred the door of the house. Among the victims were three children. No one was prosecuted for the crime.

 

The two plaintiffs took their case to the European court the following year, arguing that a high-ranking police officer was among the perpetrators and that “the attack and the subsequent failure to investigate were linked to widespread discrimination against Roma in Ukraine,” according to the rights group.

 

In its 20 September ruling, the court found that investigators had wrongly ignored the possibility that the arson was a hate crime and called it “unacceptable” that an 11-year investigation “did not give rise to any serious action with a view to identifying or prosecuting the perpetrators.”

 

The court ordered Kyiv to pay the two plaintiffs a combined 36,000 euros ($46,000), the Kyiv Post reports.

 

3. Treason bill, foreign groups’ exits feel like a new Iron Curtain in Russia

 

Russian rights activists say a bill to redefine treason is part of a new “Iron Curtain” being drawn around the country.

 

On 21 September the lower house of the Russian parliament gave preliminary approval to the proposal to broaden the definition of high treason, now defined as engaging in espionage or helping another country to harm Russia’s security. The new measure adds threatening the country’s “constitutional order, sovereignty and territorial and state integrity,” the Associated Press reports.

 

According to News.ru, the newly defined offense would encompass financial or logistical aid or information provided by Russian citizens to international organizations and would carry a punishment of 12 to 20 years in prison.

 

Activist Lev Ponomarev told the Associated Press that the bill would be used against “civic activists, opposition politicians, and rights defenders.”

 

Last week, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced the termination of its activities in Russia on orders of the Kremlin. In addition, the U.S.-funded Moscow bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty will stop its radio transmissions on 10 November to comply with a Russian law on the foreign ownership of radio broadcasters. The service had been available only in Moscow, and now it will be heard solely online, according to the BBC’s foreign media monitoring service (no link available).

 

Rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina told Interfax she can “feel the ‘Iron Curtain’ that existed in my youth coming back,” BBC Monitoring reports. “We are losing our links with foreign states.”

 

4. More signs of a fissure in the Russian tandem

 

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has offered oblique criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s dealings with the country’s business leaders, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, Putin’s loyal legislature is moving to undo one of Medvedev’s most visible accomplishments in his term as president by setting the country’s clocks back in wintertime.

 

Taken together, the moves offer more material for the tea-leaf readers trying to divine the apparently strained relationship between the country’s top leaders.

 

Speaking to business leaders in Sochi last week, Medvedev lamented a threat Putin had made in 2008 to “send a doctor and a prosecutor” to the owner of a steel and coal company who could not attend a meeting due to illness.

 

According to Reuters, Medvedev said, “I think that in modern Russia, if we talk about business, unequivocal orders are being made in different ways, let’s say, in proposals to send a doctor in for a cure. Russian business knows what I mean. ... I wish we [would] start learning to live in a different way.”

 

Also last week, a measure was introduced in the State Duma to reinstate Russian wintertime, which Medvedev had scuttled in order to preserve daylight in the afternoon. The effect was darker mornings and, according to The Telegraph, many complaints from ordinary Russians. Putin said the change had perhaps not been “thought through.”

 

The new measure would have Russians turn back their clocks in the winter. It would also restore the country’s 11 time zones, which had been reduced to nine under Medvedev.

 

Though indirect, these barbs come on top of an episode this summer in which top generals accused Medvedev of bungling the first two days of the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, implying that the firm hand of Putin was lacking. In addition, Putin dressed down members of the Medvedev-led cabinet last week for not following through on his orders as they put together Russia’s latest budget proposal.

 

5. A dissenting voice in Prague over EU integration proposal

 

Vaclav Klaus
The famously euro skeptical Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, cautioned in an interview with The Telegraph that Europe is heading down a path that could lead to the “destruction” of democracy in the region.

 

Klaus criticized a recent proposal by several EU countries calling for an end to national vetoes regarding defense policy and said politicians should move away from the idea of a European federation.

 

“We need to think about how to restore our statehood and our sovereignty. That is impossible in a federation. The EU should move in an opposite direction,” he told the daily.

 

In a report issued last week, foreign ministers from 11 EU countries proposed wider political, diplomatic, and military integration within the union. Among the recommendations, the group called for a popularly elected head for the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch; more European control over national budgets; and the possible creation of a European army.

 

“They think they are finalizing the concept of Europe, but in my understanding they are destroying it,” Klaus said.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Joshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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