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Plus, Bosnia gets set for pilot census and a watershed Council of Europe decision could make Azerbaijan nervous.by Jeremy Druker, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 8 October 2012
Russia and Tajikistan closed an agreement on 5 October extending the Russian lease of Tajik, Soviet-era military bases by another 30 years, according to the BBC. The defense ministers of the two countries signed the deal in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his counterpart Imomali Rahmon.
The agreement comes after two years of negotiations between the two countries that included exceedingly chilly relations in the wake of the Tajik authorities’ 2011 conviction of two pilots (one a Russian citizen) for smuggling. Russia has been pressing to keep its border guards in Tajikistan, partly because of anxieties over the security situation once U.S. troops pull out of Afghanistan in 2014. Afghanistan and Tajikistan share a 1,300 kilometer-long border, which, Russia fears, might be used to spread Islamist militancy and increase heroin trafficking in Central Asia.
RIA Novosti writes that the deal was accompanied by other agreements such as a Russian pledge to show more leniency in granting visa and work permits to Tajik migrant workers – something that should help Rahmon as he seeks re-election in 2013. The underdeveloped nation is heavily dependent on remittances, which constituted half of the Tajik gross domestic product, or $3 billion in 2011, Ushakov said.
A week after his stunning victory in the Georgian parliamentary elections, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of the winning Georgian Dream coalition and expected new prime minister, announced 13 of his 20 nominees for cabinet positions, Civil.ge reports. The billionaire said the proposed candidates have generally one thing in common: honesty. "We need to make a mental shift in Georgia,” he said, as quoted by Inter Press News. “The public services should return to servicing the people, they should better protect the rights of our citizens.”
The list contains few surprises. One of the names certain to generate discussion is that of Kakha Kaladze, a retired star soccer player and captain of the national team who joined the political fray only about a year ago. Kaladze will become the minister of regional development and infrastructure, as well as one of the deputy prime ministers. As expected, the new cabinet does not include any members from the outgoing United National Movement (UNM) government. The newly elected parliament must formally sign off on the cabinet choices, which President Mikheil Saakashvili must then approve.
The leader of the Republican Party, Davit Usupashvili, was named as the new parliamentary chairman.
Initial reactions to the nominees were varied. In an interview with the news agency For.ge, well-known journalist Mikheil Tavkhelidze, considered to be close to UNM, called the future government “eclectic” and lacking in the professional and human resources to successfully continue the reforms of the outgoing government. However, another generally pro-government analyst, the political scientist Soso Tsintsadze, acknowledged that the principles of honesty and professionalism did seem to have been taken into account during the selection process, according to the news portal Iveroni.
A leader of the UNM, David Darchiashvili, stayed clear of criticizing the cabinet choices and focused on stressing the importance of continuing down the road marked out by the UNM government. "At the moment, it's important to maintain what has been achieved during the governance of the former party in the areas of taxes, corruption, and so on,” he said in an interview with the PirWeli news agency. “[I]t is important to maintain the aspiration toward Euro-Atlantic integration. The dialogue with Russia should not be conducted at the expense of losing our Western orientation.”
Bosnia is gearing up for a pilot census in mid-October, a trial run for what would be a landmark first census since ethnic conflict ravaged the country and left hundreds of thousands displaced in the 1990s.
The census law was passed in February, but the process was far from easy. According to the Southeast European Times, it took five years of political haggling and international pressure before parliament approved the legislation, even though no census has been held since 1991 and such a law is a condition for eventual entry into the European Union. Civil society groups, however, complained that the authorities had ignored their input and included discriminatory questions intended to further entrench the domination of the country's three main ethnic groups (Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croatians).
Critics of the census are especially concerned about questions on ethnicity, religious belief, and mother tongue that they consider discriminatory because of the limited numbers of standard answers, Balkan Insight reported in June. Last month, faced with such strong feedback, the authorities relented, and the Statistical Agency adjusted the questions to allow more options, SE Times reports.
The pilot census will be held 15-29 October in 66 of the country's districts. Some remain worried that even if that test goes off well, Bosnia still won't be ready before the scheduled date of April 2013 to hold a real, nationwide poll – especially one that will, after more 20 years, show the true demographic state of the country. The European Commission and Council of Europe have, however, joined forces to create a monitoring group that will keep a close eye on developments and use the results of the pilot census to recommend to the Bosnian authorities whether they should push forward with next spring's plans or wait a little longer.
Without much fanfare and largely ignored by the international media, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) last week passed a resolution that could have far-reaching implications for rights abusers among its member states – with Azerbaijan perhaps first in line. On 3 October, PACE withstood a major lobbying effort by Baku and managed to pass a resolution that formally defines the term "political prisoner," Radio Free Europe reports.
RFE/RL quoted one parliamentarian who insisted that the level of pressure before the vote was unprecedented. "You couldn't take a single step in the cafeteria and within the building without seeing Azerbaijanis or members of Azerbaijan's lobbying groups," Viola von Cramon said. "There was heavy, heavy lobbying going on. This was something we had never faced on that scale."
Such activities were only part of a larger, long-running strategy to neuter the organization’s ability to investigate human-rights issues and the status of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, according to the European Stability Initiative (ESI), a Berlin-based research institution. Earlier this year, ESI published a report that described extensive gift-giving, multiple invitations to PACE members to visit Baku, and other practices.
The passage of the resolution sets the stage for a long-delayed visit to Azerbaijan by German parliamentarian Christoph Straesser, PACE's special rapporteur on political prisoners in the country. For three years, Baku has refused to grant a visa to Straesser, who pushed for the resolution, claiming that he could not investigate "political" prisoners when no formal definition existed. Straesser’s latest report names 89 alleged political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
Ukraine has become the host of the latest monument to Steve Jobs, the Times of India writes. The sculpture, said to be the second monument to the late co-founder of the software company Apple, was unveiled in Odessa 5 October, the first anniversary of Jobs’ death from cancer. The work of a local artist, Kirill Maximenko, the sculpture is titled Thanks, Steve! and was welded out of bits of scrap metal to resemble an open palm, with Apple's logo, an apple with a bite mark, cut through it.
The first monument to Jobs, a sculpture representing him holding an iPhone, was unveiled at a science park in Budapest in December 2011, according to Global Post. The statue was funded by the Hungarian software company Graphisoft, which, according to its founders, received financial and marketing support from Jobs in the company’s early days in the 1980s.
Russia also plans to honor Jobs with statues in Novosibirsk and St. Petersburg.
Now available! A new TOL e-book: "Crimea: The Anatomy of a Crisis" is a compilation of articles from TOL’s past coverage about Russia's annexation of Crimea, placed in the context of long-running disputes over the region. Find out also what's happened to Crimea and its people nearly a year after Russia's move shocked the international community.