Plus, a European court slams Hungary over placement of Roma students and Estonia presses on with a controversial new museum.by Nirvana Bhatia. Ioana Caloianu, Anna Novosad, Richard Parrish, and Nino Tsintsadze 31 January 2013
In another sign of deteriorating U.S.-Russia relations, Moscow has abandoned its cooperative agreement in law enforcement and drug control with the United States, saying the deal was no longer relevant, the BBC reports.
Under the agreement signed in September 2002, Washington has provided financial assistance to Russia for combating drug and human trafficking, money laundering, corruption, terrorism, and other criminal activity, Radio Free Europe notes.
In announcing the move on 30 January, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in an official statement that the country has received $12 million in U.S. assistance since the start of the deal but that the circumstances of funding and enforcement have changed since then. “Russia turned from being a recipient of Western help into a donor [to] similar programs, unfolding predominantly in the Central Asia states and Afghanistan,” the ministry said.
Alexey Pushkov, chair of Russia’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, characterized the scrapping of the decade-oldagreement as a reflection of Russia’s ability to handle its internal affairs without external help, according to Interfax. “Russia is reconsidering its ties with the U.S. It is the third canceled agreement within half a year. We are saying farewell to our dependence on ‘power no. 1,’ ” Pushkov wrote on his Twitter account on 29 January.
The U.S. State Department expressed disappointment with the move. “We obviously regret this decision because under our agreement we’ve had very fruitful cooperation with Russia on rule of law, counter-corruption efforts, preventing trafficking in persons, counter-narcotics, and strengthening our mutual legal assistance cooperation,” said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, as quoted by The Washington Post.
Despite Russian claims about outgrowing such assistance, various media have interpreted the decision as another retaliatory move against the U.S. Magnitsky act, which introduced travel and visa bans and froze U.S.-based assets for Russian officials suspected of human rights violations. Among other moves, the Russian Duma subsequently banned adoptions to the United States.
Uzbeks visiting the state-run broadcaster’s official website on 30 January got a surprise: a short message reading, “The news you spread are lies!” The proclamation was the product of hackers who disabled the site then posted the message, RFE reports.
A group calling itself “Clone Security” contacted the RFE/RL to take credit for the attack on the website of the National Television and Radio Company, which coincided with celebrations of President Islam Karimov’s 75th birthday that were covered by all state-run media. The group said termed the hack a political act “in response to false news spread by Uzbekistan's state-run television and radio.”
The extent of the Uzbek government’s control over the media was also highlighted in Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index for 2013, which was released on 29 January. Uzbekistan ranks 164th among 179 countries ranked, seven spots down from its 2012 place.
In an interview with RFE, Johann Bihr, head of the watchdog group’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said that Karimov has “tightened his grip on the Internet.” Bihr also reviewed the state of press freedom in the other Central Asian countries, noting the “worst trend” in Kazakhstan, where President Nursultan Nazarbaev was described as moving “closer and closer to the ultra-authoritarian rule of his Uzbek neighbor,” RFE/RL reports.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the placement of two Hungarian Roma in a school for the mentally disabled amounted to discrimination, the BBC reports. Judges at the Strasbourg court ruled that Istvan Horvath and Andras Kiss, from the town of Nyiregyhaza, were isolated from mainstream society because of their schooling.
Hungary was ordered to pay legal costs amounting to 4,500 euros ($6,100) for Kiss and Horvath, who were born in 1992 and 1994, respectively. The court also found deficiencies in tests administered by remedial schools for the assessment of mental abilities and drew attention to Hungarian authorities’ overall failure to “provide the necessary safeguards for a disadvantaged minority.”
Despite reforms initiated by the ruling Fidesz party aimed at improving the living standards of Roma, the community still struggles with unemployment and lack of access to proper education.
Hungary is far from the only country in Central Europe to be criticized for shunting Roma into remedial schools – or “special schools,” as they are known in the Czech Republic. In a landmark decision in November 2007, the European court ruled that the Czech Republic’s practice of segregating Roma students into special schools is a form of unlawful discrimination.
However, a report published in November 2012 by Amnesty International and the European Roma Rights Center concluded that very little progress had been made since the 2007 ruling. The two organizations said Roma were over-represented in schools and classes designed for children with mild disabilities (so-called practical schools).
Construction on the Estonian National Museum’s controversial new building is set to begin in March, Estonian Public Broadcasting reports.
A contract for 47.6 million euros ($64.6 million) was awarded to local firm Fund Ehitus on 29 January to erect “Memory Field,” a state-of-the-art building on the outskirts of the city of Tartu. The glass structure will be completed in late 2015, with a public opening scheduled for the following year.
First proposed in 2003, the project ran into a roadblock two years ago when the European Commission refused to foot half of the total budget of 63 million euros, saying the planned building was too large and expensive for an ethnographic collection. After potential developers said the building’s budget was vastly underestimated, the commission last year advised scrapping the project altogether.
The building’s location in Raadi, a neighborhood of Tartu, has also fueled criticism. The European Commission said the remote site would fail to attract enough visitors to generate revenue. Others have argued that the space insensitively highlights a difficult period in Estonia’s history.
The original National Museum, also located in Raadi, was destroyed during World War II. During the Soviet era the area was home to an airfield that caused Tartu to become a “closed city,” forbidden to outsiders. The 1-km-long former runway is a prominent feature in the design for the new museum by Paris firm Dorrell Ghotmeh Tane. According to the museum’s website, the architects aim to give “a new and hopeful meaning” to vestiges of the Soviet occupation.
“The Estonian National Museum is a meeting place of the old and the new, where history is the fuel that keeps the culture alive,” Tonis Lukas, the museum's director, said in a 29 January statement. “The new building will provide that opportunity.”
Tajikistan’s courts have found themselves at the center of an online firestorm, with bloggers and social media users expressing widespread anger over recent court cases, Global Voices reports.
On 29 January a Dushanbe district court ruled that Muhiddin Kabiri, leader of the opposition Islamic Revival Party, must apologize to the mayor of the capital city for critical comments he made in November about the municipal administration’s environmental record.
One Tajik blogger, Teocrat, described himself as desperate after reading the decision. “Should [Kabiri], as head of an opposition party, disregard Dushanbe's environmental problems and kiss the mayor's hands?,” he wrote, according to Global Voices. “Who has the right to criticize the government if an opposition politician doesn't have it?”
In another contentious case, the son of an influential Tajik official whose conviction and 10-year sentence in Russia for drug smuggling was recently reversed, is suing the newspaper ImruzNews. Rustam Khukumov, the son of the director of Tajik Railway, is seeking $10,000 from the newspaper for publishing an article in October that questioned his early release, News Tajikistan writes.
In a post that Global Voices published in English translation, a blogger who goes by the name Khasarov compared Tajik judges to prostitutes. “In cases which even indirectly touch upon the interests of political elites, judges rule as they are ordered to. In lower-profile cases, rulings are determined by money.” he wrote, as translated by Global Voices. “The judges are easy to sell and buy. This is not a secret to anyone.”
International organizations have often slammed Tajikistan’s judiciary as corrupt and vulnerable to influence from the country’s elite. Tajik judges are often pressured by the prosecutor’s office to deliver favorable rulings, and the judiciary system still faces multiple challenges despite a declared willingness to reform, according to Freedom House’s Nations in Transit 2012 report.