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Brezhnev First in Hearts of Ex-Countrymen, Macedonia ‘Hides’ Hate Crimes

Plus, Ukraine’s prime minister threatens to bar journalists from meetings, and Baltic fracking won't be so cheap.
by Erik N. Nelson, Ioana Caloianu, and Vladimir Matan 23 May 2013

1. Russian poll finds Brezhnev more popular than Lenin


Leonid Brezhnev
In the latest exploration of Russians’ nostalgia about their Soviet superpower history, a poll has found that among 20th-century Russian leaders, Leonid Brezhnev’s star outshines that of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, RIA Novosti reports.


In a poll by the respected Levada Center in Moscow, 56 percent of 1,600 people queried across Russia regarded Brezhnev positively. Lenin was a close second, with 55 percent, while half said they thought well of Joseph Stalin.


In a possible indication of how the post-Soviet era itself is regarded, the reform-minded leader at the time of the Soviet Union’s demise, Mikhail Gorbachev, got a mere 21 percent favorable response, while the father of modern Russia, Boris Yeltsin, eked out a 22-percent approval rating.


Brezhnev ruled the Soviet Union and its satellites with an unyielding firmness from 1964 until 1982. He scrapped the liberalizing policies of his predecessor, Nikita Khrushchev, and ordered Warsaw Pact tanks to crush the Prague Spring uprising in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Under his leadership, Soviet influence is thought to have reached its apex, although his policies are also blamed for economic distress, and he chose to invade Afghanistan in 1979. These factors are widely seen as contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Union nine years after Brezhnev’s death in 1982.


2. Rights group accuses Macedonia of downplaying ethnic crimes


The number of crimes motivated by ethnic hatred and other discrimination has been underreported by Macedonian authorities through mislabeling the crimes, a survey commissioned by a Macedonian human rights group has found.


According to Balkan Insight’s Balkan Transitional Justice, the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights’ study showed that crimes motivated by religious or ethnic hatred have been “camouflaged” as other types of violence by Macedonian authorities. Committee head Uranija Pirovska said, “a tendency to concealment … paints a wrong picture of the situation.”


Macedonian courts have registered only 14 hate crimes in the past three years, and in some cases the perpetrators were convicted for generic “violence,” which entails a lighter punishment than a hate crime. In just the past two months, Balkan Insight writes, members of the public have reported at least 35 hate crimes.


Metamorphosis Foundation reports that in March, the Macedonian Helsinki Committee also launched an interactive website that allows users to report hate-motivated incidents. The site is part of the “Monitoring and Reporting Hate Crimes” initiative funded by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.


In March, Skopje became the scene of violent clashes  between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, who make up a quarter of the country’s population, over the appointment of an ethnic-Albanian defense minister.


3. Ukrainian journalists threatened with banishment


Mykola Azarov
Behave or you can’t attend press conferences. That was the message Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov sent to 12 journalists who staged a silent protest against alleged police inaction in the beatings of two journalists at an 18 May rally against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Reuters reports.


The journalists greeted Azarov with their backs, pinned with signs saying “Today it's a female journalist (beaten up), tomorrow – your wife, sister, daughter. Do something!”


The prime minister said during the meeting that the display was inappropriate.


“What kind of show is this? I’d like to ask you not to turn the Cabinet of Ministers meeting into a circus,” he said, according to Reuters. “Write down each of their names and revoke their accreditation.”


Azarov spokesman Vitaly Lukyanenko later tried to soften the premier’s stance, saying the government’s press department would review the incident, according to Reuters.


“How is the prime minister to blame [for the beating of reporters]? Why was he subjected to this slap in the face?” he said.


The attacked journalists were beaten up during a clash between opponents and supporters of Yanukovych. They say police did not come to their aid. Police are investigating the attack.


The line between journalism and activism has become somewhat blurred since Yanukovych came to power in 2010. Some journalists say that for three years, his government has been dismantling democracy and cracking down on media freedoms.


In the Reporters without Borders’ 2013 World Press Freedom Index, Ukraine ranked 39 places lower than in 2008, before Yanukovych came to power.


4. Baltic fracking won’t be as cheap as in U.S., EU official warns


While hydraulic fracturing to extract fossil fuels has revolutionized the energy picture of the United States, “fracking,” as the process is called, won’t be as cheap in the Baltic region as it is in North America, warned a European Commissioner, the BNS news agency reports.


“It's what all experts would say: It is more difficult geologically in Europe, many more people living in different spots. So for these reasons, the experts say, we will not have prices as low as in [the] United States,” Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said.


While the European Commission would not stand in the way of fracking, which is being considered for extracting natural gas across northeastern Europe, “it’s very important to look into the environmental aspect,” Hedegaard said, according to BNS. “What does fracking imply, what are the risks, chemicals, water contamination, ground water contamination, water resources – are they there? These are the very fundamental questions, which must of course be very carefully analyzed before you start doing it.”


Meanwhile, the feasibility of extracting crude oil from the Baltic Sea is being weighed in Latvia, The Baltic Times writes. One of the three companies that met in Riga on 20 May with Latvian President Andris Berzins expressed optimism that oil exploration would be fruitful, The Times reports. Mohammed al-Howqal, who represents Kuwait Energy, told journalists his company hoped to find oil off Latvia’s coast, although he did not say how much. In a joint venture with a Polish company, Kuwait Energy already has workers in place on a drilling platform.


5. ‘Love trains’ aim to transport hearts in Prague


Spiegel Online reports that the Prague subway system is planning to introduce special cars as a place for singles to meet one another.


Can these people find love on the Prague metro? Photo by Johnathan Lobel/flickr.


“This idea is just part of a new long-term campaign whose aim is to show what activities you can do on public transport that you cannot do inside your car,” explained Filip Drapal of Ropid, which operates the city’s three subway lines, each of which is to run the specialized cars later this year. In addition to meeting potential dates and mates, the transit authority will be promoting other things it would be inadvisable for drivers to do, such as read, play electronic games, or surf the World Wide Web.


But it’s more than just flogging the transit system: It seems the idea also aims to do a little social engineering in addition to social networking.


“We realize a negative trend of more and more people being single or not married,” Drapal told Spiegel Online. “So we would like to help these people and generally draw attention to this social phenomenon as well.”


This isn’t the first time transit aficionados have sought to call attention to the potential of rail systems to bring couples together. The classified advertising website Craigslist created the “Train Romance Index Score Total,” or TRIST, which attempts to measure how a mass transportation system’s seat layout and other attributes contribute to flirting. In 2011, it found that Chicago’s elevated train system was the most romantic in the United States.
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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