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Ireland Abandons Magnitsky Bill, Jewish Leaders Confront Ugly Side of Hungary

Plus, Belarusian ‘press freedom’ means release from jail and Kazakhs hand down terror plot sentences. by Erik N. Nelson, Ioana Caloianu and Vladimir Matan 3 May 2013

1. Russian orphans, human rights suspects still welcome in Ireland

Backing down from imposing sanctions against Russian officials implicated in the death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, Irish lawmakers have decided to issue a statement of concern about Magnitsky’s death, according to the BBC.

The Irish parliament was initially considering a U.S.-style blacklist of Russian officials connected to Magnitsky's death but decided to register a complaint instead after the Russian ambassador to Dublin, Maxim Peshkov, sent a letter to the Irish parliament saying that such a move “will not enrich bilateral Russian-Irish relations,” and could imperil an adoption agreement being negotiated between the two countries.  


orphans_magnitsky_350Concern about a threat to ban on adoptions of Russian orphans has caused Irish members of parliament to reject sanctions against Russian authorites involved in the mysterious death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. Photo of Russian orphans by Robert Dann/flickr.

Senator Jim Walsh, who proposed the bill, said that although he was disappointed about the final decision, “politics is about achieving compromise.” Several senators said they had been contacted by Irish citizens wanting to adopt Russian children, according to The Irish Times. Senator David Norris explained that the revision of the proposed bill had to do with “realpolitik,” or being realistic “if you want to get things done.”

The United States is the first country to impose travel restrictions on Russian officials accused of human rights violations. Dubbed the Magnitsky Bill, the measure sparked anger in Moscow and prompted an openly retaliatory Russian adoption ban on U.S. families that went into effect in December.

Magnitsky was a tax attorney in Moscow who said he uncovered a scheme to use an unwitting Western investment fund to recover a massive, fraudulent tax refund from the government. Instead of investigating the allegations, authorities arrested him and he died in prison in 2009 after suffering a beating by guards and having a serious illness left untended.

2. Jewish leaders face their fears in Hungary

On 28 April 28, six days before the launch of the first World Jewish Congress in Budapest, the head of the Raoul Wallenberg Association was at a football match in Budapest’s Puskas stadium, listening to fans chanting the Nazi salute, “sieg heil!”

Ferenc Orosz said he asked them to stop and was called a “Jewish communist.” As he was leaving the stadium, he got his nose broken by spectators who reiterated, “It is ‘sieg heil,’ even so,” according to

It was in this atmosphere that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban issued a ban on anti-Semitic protests scheduled on 4 May, the start of the congress, which brings Jewish leaders from around the world and is normally held in Jerusalem, according to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency article on the congress’ website.

The extreme right-wing Jobbik party had apparently timed the demonstrations, called “anti-Bolshevik and anti-Zionist people's gatherings,” to coincide with the congress’ attempt to show solidarity with Eastern Europe’s largest post-Holocaust Jewish community, the agency wrote.

The congress will host 500 delegates from 100 countries for three days, European Jewish Press writes. “The fact that the WJC is holding its plenary assembly in Budapest is a symbol of solidarity with our Jewish community, which has been faced with growing anti-Semitism in recent years,” Peter Feldmajer, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Hungary, told the EJP.

The Jobbik party won 43 of 386 seats
(17 percent) in 2010 parliamentary elections. Observers worry that such extreme politics are even seeping into the ruling conservative coalition, especially with the Christian Democratic People’s Party, which is in a governing coalition with Orban’s leading Fidesz party.

According to Der Spiegel, some Fidesz party members engage in “hero worship” of Miklos Horthy, a Hungarian leader who allied the country with Nazi Germany during World War II, and have shown admiration for writers linked to the country’s fascist past.

Orban, who has referred to his nation as one of the last “strongholds of Christianity,” is scheduled to address the World Jewish Congress’ opening dinner 4 May.

3. Belarus sentences reporters on eve of Press Freedom Day

Today is the 20th World Press Freedom Day. In Belarus, two journalists can celebrate their “freedom” after being released from jail following their convictions 29 April by a court in Minsk for refusing to follow police instructions, Radio Free Europe reports.

Alyaksandr Yarashevich and Henadz Barbarych were arrested 26 April while covering the Chernobyl Path march in Minsk, held every year in memory of victims of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in neighboring Ukraine, which spewed a massive cloud of radioactive particles that blew across Belarus and large parts of northeastern Europe.


Two journalists were jailed for covering the Chernobyl Path march in memory of victims of the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster. Wikipedia photo.


Even though the march was approved by the municipality, police arrested four opposition activists, whom the court convicted of hooliganism and failure to comply with police instructions, as well as convicting the two journalists, according to RFE.

The journalists received three-day jail sentences but were freed by the court, as they had already been in jail for three days by the time of their sentencing, RFE writes. The arrests were condemned by Reporters Without Borders, an international journalists’ advocacy group.

“The media are once again the collateral victims of the (Belarusian President Alexander) Lukashenko regime’s zero tolerance for civil society and the opposition,” the group posted on its website. “The Radio Racyja journalists were doing their job by covering an event of general interest and the police had no reason to intervene.”


4. Slovakia does EU economy proud


Slovakia’s economic policymakers could maybe teach the rest of the European Union a thing or two.


As soon as this year, the country is projected by the European Commission to satisfy EU limits on its budget deficit, Bloomberg reports. That means that Slovakia will bring its deficit down to 3 percent of its gross domestic product, the commission projected.


According to the Slovak Spectator, April saw the Slovak Statistics Office’s measure of economic confidence rise 2.2 points to 92.6 percent at the end of the month. That was mirrored by a one-point increase in confidence in the industrial sector, boosted by expectations that demand for industrial products would increase over the following three months.


This comes at a time when the European Commission projects that the rest of the euro zone’s economy is expected to decline worse than previously anticipated while its attempts to curtail national budget deficits will likely slow, Reuters reports.


Bloomberg says the government of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is shooting for a deficit of 2.9 percent of the country’s GDP in 2013, even as the Slovak economy is slowing.


One other bright speck in the forecast is Greece, whose economy is expected to contract by only 4.2 percent in 2013, as opposed to the 4.4 percent that was projected in February.


5. Kazakhstan court sentences two in terror case, cooperates on Boston bombing


Two men found guilty of “calling for jihad” have been sentenced to four- and five-year prison sentences by a court in northwestern Kazakhstan, Radio Free Europe reports.


The court in Aqtobe City sentenced 28-year-old Aibek Tanatarov to five years for advocating a “war against infidels” while Eltai Eleuov, 22, received four years of prison time for possessing an illegal weapon.


The town is significant, RFE writes, as it was the home of the perpetrator of Kazakhstan’s first-ever suicide bombing in 2011. In the wake of that attack, security operations and prosecutions of people accused of promulgating radical Islam have been carried out in the country’s west, RFE reports.


Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry also declared on 2 May that it was cooperating with the U.S. investigation into the Boston Marathon bombing, including with the arrest two of Kazakh men on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for allegedly getting rid of a backpack and laptop they found in the dormitory room of Dzkokhar Tsarnaev, charged in the actual bombing, The Boston Globe reports.


“As we have repeatedly stressed, Kazakhstan strongly condemns any form of terrorism,” the statement read. “The Kazakhstan side is cooperating with the U.S. law enforcement bodies in their investigation.”


On the other hand, the government of Kazakhstan has used flimsy charges of extremism to ban independent media and opposition parties.

Erik N. Nelson is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Vladimir Matan is a TOL editorial intern.  
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