Plus, new polls spell trouble for Poland’s center-right government, and a long-delayed dam hangs over a Georgian village.by Barbara Frye, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Vladimir Matan 20 May 2013
A video showing Russian orphans being brutally beaten by their teenage caretakers has gone viral on the Internet and led Russian authorities to launch a criminal case, according to RIA Novosti. The video, which was posted on a social networking site on 16 May, shows a teenager in an orphanage in the Far Eastern Amur region beating and shoving seven boys, ages 7 to 9.
Local police have launched an investigation on charges of torture against three girls, ages 15 to 17. They face up to seven years in prison if found guilty. The involvement of a fourth girl, who shot the video with her mobile phone and posted it online, is under investigation.
Three teachers and the orphanage’s director have been suspended.
RIA Novosti, citing information posted on the local prosecutor’s website, reports that 10 children from the orphanage say they were beaten repeatedly. A medical investigation of the children revealed “injuries consistent with beating – scratches and bruises,” a district prosecutor told the news agency.
An unnamed employee from the orphanage told news site Amur.info that all workers there were probably aware of the abuse. The employee said she repeatedly tried to talk to the institution’s director about the violence and also raised the issue with one of the alleged perpetrators, who reportedly responded, “I was beaten, and so I will beat others.”
The scandal brought renewed attention to poor conditions at Russian orphanages, and comes months after enactment of a politically motivated law banning adoptions to the United States. Supporters of that measure said it was aimed at preventing abuse of Russian orphans.
Gay-rights advocates in Tbilisi were forced to flee in buses when large crowds of counter-protesters broke up an event to mark the International Day Against Homophobia on 17 May. More than 20,000 anti-gay demonstrators, including priests and people throwing rocks, broke police barricades and crashed the small gay-rights rally, leaving some 14 injured, The New York Times reports.
A similar scene took place on the same day in St. Petersburg, where anti-gay protesters threw smoke bombs over police barriers to disrupt the first government-sanctioned gay rally in Russia since St. Petersburg banned “homosexual propaganda” last spring. Reuters reports that the gay-rights contingent, which according to various media numbered 60 to 100, left the scene only minutes after the start of the rally.
And in Moldova, a gay-rights march held in Chisinau 19 May was cut short after just 10 minutes when authorities advised the group not to continue to their destination, according to Adaverul. Ambassadors from Sweden and the United States were in attendance, as was EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele.
The Moscow mayor’s office has refused to authorize a gay pride parade in the Russian capital on May 25, according to RIA Novosti, but The Guardian reports that activists in Ukraine are going ahead with plans for a pride parade in Kyiv that day, despite sustained violence and threats directed at the country’s gay community. Lack of police protection forced organizers to cancel the event last year.
In a report released last week, Amnesty International decried what it called “endemic discrimination” against sexual minorities in Ukraine and called on officials to work harder to tackle the problem. One organization reported it had been notified of 29 incidents of violence and 36 threats against Ukraine’s gay community, and Amnesty cited one death.
New polls show Poland’s ruling Civic Platform party losing ground to the opposition Law and Justice party as the economy stays stuck in low gear.
Another poll showed Law and Justice leading Civic Platform by 36 to 32 percent, the Warsaw Business Journal reports.
Civic Platform is a center-right liberal party headed by Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Law and Justice is a conservative, populist party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a former prime minister and twin brother of the late President Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, in 2010.
Poland has avoided a recession, but its economy grew by only 0.4 percent in the first quarter of the year, Reuters reports.
The fortunes of Civic Platform will probably be watched closely in Brussels: when Law and Justice led the government in the mid-2000s Poland clashed with the EU’s power players over the influence of the bloc’s newer, generally poorer members.
The Warsaw Business Journal notes that a cabinet reshuffle is expected this summer, while elections are not due until 2015.
Although Georgia’s government decided last month to postpone construction of a controversial dam in the northwestern Svaneti region, a top official in the Energy Ministry says it’s time to fish or cut bait, Georgia Times reports.
The idea for the Khudoni hydropower plant took root during the Soviet era. The project, abandoned during the breakup of the USSR but revived in the mid-2000s, is opposed by green activists who say it will damage the local environment. Another source of controversy is that the resulting reservoir will flood the village of Khaishi and displace about 3,000 people.
Construction was to begin in late 2011 or early 2012 but was held up by requirements that a new environmental impact assessment – replacing one that was several years old – be conducted after the government signed a deal with a contractor for the project, according to Democracy and Freedom Watch.
Deputy Energy Minister Ilya Eloshvili said recently, “I think the population is tired of uncertainty. They want to know whether the station is to be built or not. Mentally it is very difficult for the Svani residents to stay in standby mode and guess what to expect,” according to Georgia Times.
The Khudoni plant is slated to be Georgia’s second-largest hydropower facility, generating 1.4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, which amounts to about 20 percent of the country’s annual electricity consumption. The country has a network of dams that have helped it become an energy exporter during the summer months.
Gaining independence from Russian energy imports was a priority for the previous government, especially after Russia and Georgia briefly went to war in August 2008.
Meanwhile, Georgia Times reports that villagers are taking sacred vows to defend the land, which includes a church and cemetery. “For us the flooding of the graves of our ancestors is unimaginable and unacceptable. We will not allow it. We have sworn on the icon, so we have stopped talking. The rest is … action,” one villager told the news website.
A new destination on the Czech tourist map will teach visitors about the Cold War and the U.S.-Soviet arms race. A Soviet-built missile shelter outside the small village of Misov where dozens of nuclear warheads were kept is set to reopen as a museum this summer, Reuters reports.
The underground bunker was constructed in the 1960s in a forested area about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the German border. It is believed to be the only such shelter among three in the former Czechoslovakia and the 12 in Warsaw Pact countries that is still intact, Reuters says.
“This was the most secret place in Czechoslovakia. No Czechs had access there,” said Vaclav Vitovec, head of the Iron Curtain Foundation, which is preparing to open the museum in August.
The missiles could be fired to “clear the path” in the event the Czechoslovak army invaded Germany, Reuters reports. A special unit under direct command from Moscow was employed there until the fall of communism in 1991, according to the news agency.
Afterward the bunker became a storage place for obsolete banknotes and the remains of World War II German soldiers.