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Serbia Heads for EU Entry Talks, Moldova’s Pols Sling Old Mud

Plus, Uzbekistan frees a celebrated writer after 14 years, and an opposition figure in Tajikistan is severely beaten.

by Barbara Frye, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Vladimir Matan 22 April 2013

1. Deal with Kosovo paves way for Serbia to start EU talks

 

Serbia is ready to start talks on joining the European Union, the European Commission announced today, three days after the country inked a historic deal with Kosovo.

 

The agreement comes after months of negotiations had ground to a halt over the status of Serbs in the northern part of Kosovo, where they make up a majority of the population. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton put the heat on both sides, helped by a mid-April deadline for the European Commission to decide whether or not to start accession talks with Serbia, which has officially been an EU candidate since March 2012.

 

Under the agreement municipalities in Kosovo where Serbs constitute the majority will form a community association to oversee economic development, education, health, and urban and rural planning. An ethnic Serb will be appointed by the central government as the police commander in the Serb-majority northern municipalities, and members of “other Serbian security structures” will be offered posts in the equivalent Kosovo security bodies.

 

That arrangement is meant to break the hold of alternative institutions in northern Kosovo that have been funded by Belgrade.

 

In addition, neither country will attempt to block the other’s way in joining the EU, but Belgrade continues to refuse a UN seat for Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 but which Serbia still claims as a province.

 

Both sides claimed a victory. Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said, “all demands of the Serbian side have been met,” Deutsche Welle writes. Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, said the agreement “will help us heal the wounds of the past if we have the wisdom and the knowledge to implement it in practice,” according to the BBC.

 

Speaking to reporters, Ashton called the agreement “a step away from the past and, for both of them, a step closer to Europe,” The New York Times reports.

 

Some analysts said the agreement is a positive step for the whole region. Andrea Lorenzo Capussela, a former finance official for the International Civilian Office in Kosovo, said, “The Kosovo-Serbia deal is a victory for the civic notion of statehood and citizenship, avoiding further risks of ethnic partitions. Also, it is a remarkable success for the EU, and a reason to be optimistic about its future.”

 

2. Moldovan mud-slinging incorporates Soviet-era misdeeds

 

Nicolae Timofti
Political infighting intensifies in Moldova, as a leading politician has demanded that President Nicolae Timofti resign after evidence emerged that as a Soviet-era judge Timofti signed an order to institutionalize a dissident. In response, Timofti says the politician tried to blackmail him with the information.

 

Radio Free Europe reports the story broke 5 April when the Moldovan daily Panorama revealed that in 1987 Timofti ordered prominent nationalist and dissident Gheorghe David confined to a psychiatric hospital in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, for what was then a diagnosis of psychosis. Timofti's order cited David's attempts to spread “the ideas of nationalism, aiming to provoke national hatred toward people of Russian nationality, and to discredit the nationalities policy of the Leninist Communist Party of the Soviet Union.”

 

As RFE reports, David protested against the Soviet occupation of Moldova and its invasions of Afghanistan and Czechoslovakia. David's sister, Maria Vulpe, said her brother was devastated by “their drugs, with beatings, with God knows what he had to endure [in the hospital],” although she also said she is ready to forgive Timofti.

 

Timofti said he had applied an “inhumane” law in the case against David. “As a judge, I have nothing to reproach myself for. But as a man, I can say I was wrong,” Timofti wrote in an open letter, and apologized to David's family, according to RFE.

 

However, Timofti also accused former acting President Mihai Ghimpu of threatening to go public with David's case if Timofti reappointed Vlad Filat, a rival of Ghimpu’s, as prime minister, according to Timpul. Moldova's government collapsed in March after a no-confidence vote against the pro-Western government led by Filat.

 

On 10 April, Timofti asked Filat to resume his former position

 

“Ghimpu threatened and blackmailed me. I don't think that it is manly to do politics in such a manner. … If Ghimpu knew about the case, he should have made it public already, not keep it as his trump card,” Timofti said 17 April on television, quoted by Timpul.    

 

3. In unexpected turnaround, noted Uzbek writer goes free

 

Officials in Uzbekistan have freed writer Mamadali Mahmudov after he spent 14 years locked away, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Mahmudov was convicted in 1999 of threatening the constitutional order, organizing banned public or religious organizations, and organizing a criminal enterprise, according to a blog post by a prominent Uzbek human rights campaigner in France.

 

His release was unexpected. Just as Mahmudov finished his prison term last month, prosecutors asked that the 72-year-old writer continue to be detained for violating prison rules.

 

There was no explanation offered for the 19 April release, but RFE notes that it came days before U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake’s visit to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Blake will meet this week with government officials in Tashkent as well as representatives from business and civil society, according to his office.

 

Mahmudov’s works include The Eternal Mountain, a novel about Russia's occupation of Central Asia in the late 1800s for which he received the Cholpan award, established in memory of Stalin’s victims. He has also been awarded a Hellman-Hammett grant, given to writers who are victims of political persecution.

 

Mahmudov attempted to run for president in Uzbekistan in 1991 but his candidacy was rejected by elections officials, RFE writes.

 

“The real test for the Uzbek government will be whether it allows someone like Mamadali Mahmudov or other political prisoners that are released from prison to actually return to civil society and speak freely and speak critically about their concerns in Uzbekistan,” Human Rights Watch Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow told RFE.

 

4. Tajik opposition leader hospitalized after attack

 

An opposition leader in Tajikistan was attacked and hospitalized in Dushanbe on 19 April, Reuters reports.

 

Khikmatullo Saifullozoda, a spokesman for the Islamic Revival Party, Tajikistan’s biggest opposition party, said leader Mukhamadal Khayit was severely beaten and kicked outside his home by several unknown attackers. Saifullozoda cited Khayit’s politics as the motive for the attack.

 

Members of Tajikistan's Islamic Revival Party showed a photo of a battered Mukhamadal Khayit at a press conference after the attack. Photo from the party's website.

 

Political tensions are on the rise as Tajikistan prepares for a presidential election in November. The country has been ruled by strongman Imomali Rahmon since 1992.

 

Khayit is not the first member of the party to be targeted by thugs. In 2011, Saifullozoda, the party’s political council press secretary and editor of its newspaper, suffered serious injuries in a beating.

 

Also last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry submitted the State Department’s annual report on human rights around the world, in which he reaffirmed Tajikistan’s status as an “authoritarian state” marked by problems including “torture and abuse of detainees and other persons by security forces, restrictions on freedoms of expression and the free flow of information, ... the erosion of religious freedom; and violence and discrimination against women.”

 

5. Poland’s strength helps reverse the flow of migration

 

Shortly after joining the European Union, Poland saw a huge exodus of workers to richer countries in the bloc. But these days, it’s becoming an increasingly popular destination for highly skilled work migrants coming from recession-hit southern European countries, according to the Financial Times. Official statistics estimate the number of EU immigrants at around 7,000 a year, although the actual number might differ because the migrants are not required to register with Polish authorities. Krystyna Iglicka, a demographer with Warsaw’s Center for International Relations, described the trend as an “invisible flow based on anecdotal evidence,” adding that, although the number of immigrants is expected to increase, “it does not compare in size to the outflow of Poles.” 

 

Poland joined the EU in 2004 and emigration more than doubled shortly afterward, from 18,416 in 2005 to 41,221 in 2006 before easing somewhat the following year.

 

Many foreigners find jobs in Poland’s outsourcing industry, which is expected to grow by 20 percent this year. Young Italian and Spanish professionals interviewed by the Financial Times said they came to Poland because they could not find work at home and because the Polish economy is stable. “In Spain there is 50 percent unemployment for people like that, while here they can get work immediately – and the ability to speak Spanish is in demand as well,” said Przemyslaw Berendt, vice president of a software company.

Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. Joshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Vladimir Matan is a TOL editorial intern.
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