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Plus, Lithuania’s new government is finally ready work and Russians jump to report needed repairs to a new website.by Nirvana Bhatia, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, Jeremy Druker, and Nino Tsintsadze 13 December 2012
The Bosnian Serb Zdravko Tolimir received a sentence of life imprisonment on 12 December for his role in the Srebrenica massacre, the Associated Press reports. A three-judge panel from the Hague tribunal on Yugoslav war crimes found Tolimir guilty of helping Bosnian general Ratko Mladic to orchestrate the Srebrenica massacre.
"The accused not only had knowledge of genocidal intent of others but also possessed it himself," presiding judge Christoph Fluegge said, according to the AP. "He is therefore responsible for the crime of genocide."
The top Bosnian Serb intelligence officer during the Bosnian wars, Tolimir was identified by the court as Mladic’s “right hand.”
In the summer of 1995, more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica by Mladic-led units of the Republika Srpska army. A fugitive for 15 years until his arrest in May 2011, Mladic is on trial at the same tribunal.
Several relatives of the victims of Srebrenica who attended Tolimir's trial professed their relief at witnessing “a small bit of justice” in their lifetimes. “We are still searching for the bones of our sons,” said Munira Subasic, the leader of the organization Mothers of Srebrenica.
During the trial, Tolimir argued that the Srebrenica events did not represent genocide but a military operation against terrorists. Before the verdict, he expressed his wish that the “proceedings be concluded in accordance with God's will” but showed no emotion upon hearing the sentence of life imprisonment, AP reports.
This fall, SVT, the Swedish public television station, reported that TeliaSonera, a mobile operator primarily owned by the governments of Sweden and Finland, had paid $250 million in bribes in 2007 for operating licenses in Uzbekistan. According to the report, the company, in its quest to enter the Uzbek mobile market, had to transfer a sizeable sum to a shadowy firm located in Gibraltar and run by a close friend of Karimova, Gayane Avakyan.
The Swedish government and the senior management of TeliaSonera denied the allegations.
A new report, aired this week on SVT, outlined more details of the deal, backed up by interviews with two TeliaSonera executives. They spoke anonymously about how Karimova used businessman Bekhzod Akhmedov as a front man to negotiate the agreement. One of the executives said a deal with Karimova was “a prerequisite” to the negotiations moving forward.
Akhamedov also figures in an enormous money laundering investigation in Switzerland, which involves the freezing of more than $600 million in Uzbek assets, according to RFE.
Butkevicius presented a partial list of 12 proposed ministers to Grybauskaite for approval last week, without naming candidates for the remaining two posts. Although the Lithuanian constitution states that the cabinet must be approved as a whole, Grybauskaite authorized the incomplete government in order to avoid further delay in critical matters – notably, the 2013 budget bill.
A complete cabinet was finalized 12 December, when the Labor Party submitted revised names to lead the labor and education ministries.
Following allegations of fraud and other violations by the Labor Party during parliamentary elections in October, Grybauskaite initially intended to exclude its members from the government. The head of the Labor Party, Russian businessman Viktor Uspaskich, is also a controversial figure and is being investigated for tax evasion.
After rejecting several Labor nominations over a six-week impasse, however, she granted the party four of the 14 seats to uphold the coalition government’s majority in parliament.
The newly appointed cabinet also includes seven members of Butkevicius’ Social Democratic party, as well as representatives from impeached ex-President Rolandas Paksas’ Order and Justice party and from the Lithuanian Polish Election Action, which represents the country’s largest ethnic minority.
In preparation for Lithuania’s presidency of the European Union’s Council of Ministers in late 2013, Grybauskaite imposed strict criteria for selecting cabinet members. Besides demonstrating knowledge of the EU’s agenda, candidates also had to demonstrate proficiency in English, French, or German.
After struggling to coalesce the increasingly targeted Russian opposition movement, anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalny has launched a website to tap into public frustration over poor conditions in Russian apartment blocks. And after a month online, the site seems to be hitting a nerve, The New York Times reports.
Navalny’s project, Roszkh.ru, allows users to fill out and submit automatically generated legal complaints about problems in communal areas of apartment buildings. Those areas are supposed to be maintained by municipal authorities, for which Russians pay a substantial monthly fee, but rarely are.
The site features a large list of boxes to tick – from missing light bulbs to moldy walls – and lets users draft a request, citing applicable laws, to the local housing authority to fix the problem. Since its November launch, the site has seen some 46,000 complaints submitted, and about 2,600 of those have since been reported as “fixed,” The New York Times reports.
The website has been making waves on official levels as well. In response to the increased number of requests coming from the site, Russia’s chief housing inspector sent a letter to his employees telling them that even though the site is “a policy by the opposition to discredit all levels of the government,” the requests coming through the site should be addressed immediately, according to The New York Times.
Navalny, a former real estate lawyer, told the newspaper that he’s trying to get average Russians involved in anti-corruption efforts. “It’s clear that an ordinary person has a hard time helping us fight corruption at Gazprom,” he said. “But unfortunately in Russia, corruption surrounds a person everywhere. We are trying to create a mechanism for people to fight corruption themselves.”
The intersection of special interest groups and high-level politics has long been a stain on the Czech Republic’s post-1989 development, but recent revelations have put the extent of such corruption into even starker relief. On 13 December, the Czech daily Mlada fronta DNES published a two-page spread, mapping out the ties between Prague lobbyist Roman Janousek and key figures in the state administration, the media, the security services, and business.
The newspaper said its analysis had revealed not only already-known connections to Prague city hall, but “a wide-ranging clientelistic system, which served not only him, but that many people from politics and business participated in.” As part of its research, the paper contacted around 40 people in Janousek’s circle of contacts to ask about their relationship with the lobbyist. A few refused to comment, and others claimed they knew Janousek only through social functions or played sports with him.
The most interesting comments came from former Prime Minister Miroslav Topolanek, who said even he, as head of the government from 2006-2009, couldn’t match Janousek’s influence in Prague in his heyday. He also noted the lobbyist’s influence in various state-controlled institutions and ministries. “At the time, Janousek was simply everywhere you looked. And even for me, he was from the beginning someone whom I had to meet if I wanted to get anything done in Prague and with [then-Prague Mayor Pavel] Bem,” Topolanek said.
Those connections came to light earlier this year when Mlada fronta published a series of wire-tapped conversations from several years ago between Janousek and Prague city officials, including Bem. Despite Bem's assertions over the years that Janousek was only a friend with no special influence at City Hall, the transcripts illustrated that the lobbyist had a major role in key decisions.
Janousek’s response to the mapping of his networks was short and to the point. “I’m simply a political businessman. What else can I tell you?”
More new information could be on the way, as the newspaper promised a report on 14 December that claims to show how “Janousek’s system” worked in practice.
The fall of communism brought with it expectations of an unfettered press safeguarding the young democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. But for the region's media, the past quarter-century has turned out to be much less uplifting. From oligarch-controlled television stations to politically partisan newspapers, from woeful ethical standards to outright corruption, the media often fall far short of acting as independent watchdogs over their societies, despite the existence of some scrappy publications and feisty reporters willing to uncover official wrongdoing and expose poor governance. If that weren't enough, the region's press has been hit hard by the same trends transforming the media around the world, including an explosion of alternative forms of entertainment, the growth of social media, decreased advertising revenues associated with the rise of the Internet, and general economic malaise. Get your copy here.