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Brussels Raps Moldova Over Power Grab, Fighters From Kyrgyzstan Head to Syria

Plus, who gets the blame for letting thousands of Czech convicts free and a poor Latvian town looks to Rothko for a boost. by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, and Connor Zickgraf 6 May 2013

1. Legislative overreach imperils Moldova’s EU course

 

EU officials have warned the Moldovan government that a recent move to allow parliament to fire Constitutional Court judges jeopardizes closer ties to the bloc, Reuters reports.

 

Vlad Filat
Legislators in Chisinau approved the measure on 3 May, almost three weeks after the Constitutional Court declared that former Prime Minster Vlad Filat could not seek to get his old job back. The court cited suspicions of corruption by Filat that led to his government losing a confidence vote in March.

 

In addition to the new power over the court, lawmakers moved to hike the percentage of votes a party would need to enter parliament, which could hurt the small Liberal Party, a former member of the country’s governing coalition that is now at odds with Filat and his Liberal Democrats.

 

The passage of the bills “follows a worrying new pattern of decision-making in Moldova, reflected also in other recent legislative moves, where the institutions of the state have been used in the interest of a few,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and commissioner for enlargement Stefan Fuele said in a joint statement. “We reiterate our concern that these measures, carried out without proper preparation and consultation, could constitute a threat to the independence of key national institutions and an obstacle to Moldova’s further democratic development and stable rule of law.”

 

The governing crisis in Moldova stems from a December hunting trip by top officials in which a man was accidentally shot and killed. Filat accused the country’s chief prosecutor of trying to cover up the tragedy and suggested the prosecutor was controlled by another party in the ruling coalition. Rival lawmakers shot back with their own accusations of corruption against Filat, leading to the March

 

The measures, which have not yet been signed by President Nicolae Timofti, come as Moldova tries to negotiate an agreement on free trade and other cooperation with the European Union.

 

2. Are men in Kyrgyzstan being recruited to fight in Syria?

 

Some families in the Kyrgyz city of Kyzyl-Kiya fear their sons are being recruited to fight for the Syrian opposition, Radio Free Europe reports. Poverty and a lack of opportunities lead many men in the town in southeastern Kyrgyzstan to seek work in Russia, but some of their relatives say they are instead secretly going to Turkey and then to Syria.

 

Citing an official in the Kyrgyz government’s Commission on Religious Affairs, RFE writes that only “seven men in Syria aged 18 to 36 have been identified as Kyrgyz,” but the issue has gained enough prominence that a list of such families has recently been presented to parliament and the religion office is investigating.

 

Among those on the list is the son of Sulaiman Mamatov, who told RFE, “[My son] had said he was going to Russia. Whether they managed to get [to Syria] or if someone helped them to get there, I have no idea.”

 

The leaders of a nationalist party blamed mosques for recruiting the men, but a top official in the country’s Muslim authority said, “I think it is inaccurate to say that they went [to Syria] through mosques. Here, in [Kyrgyzstan], there hasn't been any call on Muslims to go to Syria.” 

 

Of 5,500 foreign fighters in Syria identified in a recent study by the Center for the Study of Radicalization in London, none was Kyrgyzstani, according to RFE.

 

3. Fallout from huge amnesty continues to roil Czech government

 

Who wrote a controversial presidential amnesty that granted freedom to around 6,500 prisoners in the Czech Republic and halted some prosecutions in corruption cases?

 

Charges and counter-charges are flying, and a legal adviser to former President Vaclav Klaus, who issued the pardons early this year, has given evidence to Klaus’ successor that he says identifies the culprit, according to the Czech Press Agency.

 

The Klaus adviser, Pavel Hasenkopf, had been named by the head of President Milos Zeman’s office as one of the amnesty’s authors. Hasenkopf said that if Zeman does not apologize to him and reveal the true author’s identity, he will disclose it.

 

Hasenkopf has accused officials in the Justice Ministry of penning the amnesty. They have denied involvement and are questioning the authenticity of Hasenkopf’s evidence, which he said included “complete transcripts of e-mails on the amnesty and its various drafts, including the numbers of computers on which the drafts were written that could reveal the author,” according to the Czech Press Agency.

 

Justice Minister Pavel Blazek has threatened to sue Hasenkopf over the allegation. One commentator in the Czech media said a court case might be the only way for the public to learn the truth.

 

Klaus has offered no apology for the amnesty, for which the Senate impeached him on charges of treason in March. The country’s Constitutional Court threw out the case on the grounds that Klaus could not be tried after he left office on 7 March.

 

4. Poor Latvian city looks for a boost from Rothko museum

 

Latvian officials hope the opening of a Mark Rothko museum in a provincial town will boost the local economy and tourism, according to AFP. The Mark Rothko Art Center, which opened in the artist’s birthplace of Daugavpils in April, contains pieces in his trademark abstract expressionist style, as well as figurative works from his early days.

 

An announcement of a panel discussion on the Mark Rothko Art Center, which opened last month. Photo from the center's Facebook page.

 

Inna Steinbuka, chief of the European Commission representation in Latvia, said the museum will offer Daugavpils “visibility and its own brand” and could give it the cultural boost the Guggenheim Museum gave the Spanish city of Bilbao.

 

The Rothko museum came with a price tag of 5.7 million euros ($7.5 million), of which 85 percent was funded by the European Union. Armands Slokenbergs, director of the Latvian tourism development agency, said the museum will take the spotlight in 2014 when Riga serves as a European capital of culture along with the Swedish city of Umea.

 

Locals hope the new attraction will spur road repairs and the modernization of the Daugavpils airport.

 

Although Latvia had the highest GDP growth in the EU in 2012 and officially applied for euro zone membership in February, Daugavpils is located in one of the union’s poorest regions.

 

5. Stigma continues to hinder HIV prevention programs in Central Asia

 

From the official figures, you might not think HIV infection is much of a threat for certain populations in Central Asia. But in fact Eastern Europe/Central Asia “is the only region where HIV prevalence clearly remains on the rise,” according to the United Nations' office on AIDS. “The number of people living with HIV [in the region] has almost tripled since 2000 and reached an estimated total of 1.4 million in 2009.”

 

Although the UN says the rise has been fueled by intravenous drug users, recent research has again focused on the dearth of information in the conservative countries on men who have sex with men, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Alisher Latypov, a researcher with Columbia University’s Global Health Research Center of Central Asia, said in an interview with RFE that while reporting is getting better, the official share of HIV cases attributed to men who have sex with men are strikingly low: 1.5 percent in Dushanbe, 6.8 percent in Tashkent, 1 percent throughout Kazakhstan. “In Turkmenistan, the government basically is reporting zero HIV infections overall,” he said.

 

Latypov called those numbers “misleading,” citing the fierce stigma against homosexuality, which is even illegal in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. He said the few organizations working on the issue have difficulty getting access to men who have sex with men (MSM). “In terms of those MSM who speak about these issues, there are many reports which show that police harassment is a major issue, very often involving physical and sexual violence,” he said.

 

In addition, data collection tends to be scattershot and sometimes poorly funded, problems that hinder the development of programs to fight the spread of the infection, the researcher said.
Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Connor Zickgraf is a TOL editorial intern.
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