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Latvia Gets Euro Nod, Anti-Gay Sentiment on Rise in Russia

Plus, Slovenia’s former prime minister gets jail time, and a Kazakhstani court convicts would-be Syrian rebels.

by Erik N. Nelson, Ioana Caloianu, Vladimir Matan, and Molly Jane Zuckerman 6 June 2013

1. Euro decision-makers agree to let Latvia join


The European Commission has recommended that Latvia be admitted to the euro zone on 1 January 2014, pending review by the European Parliament and European Union political leaders. On 9 July, EU finance ministers are expected to formally approve Latvia’s inclusion, Reuters reports.


The long-anticipated decision follows Latvia’s heralded economic recovery to the point where it meets all of the requirements for membership in the euro currency zone. Inflation sits at less than 2 percent and the public debt is around 40 percent of gross domestic product, Deutsche Welle reports.

A sand sculpture in Riga symbolizes Latvian officials' longstanding desire to join the euro zone. Photo by Pablo Andrés Rivero/Flickr.


The Baltic nation’s currency, the lat, has long been linked to the euro in preparation for Latvia’s eventual entry into the euro zone, according to The New York Times.


While adopting the euro is a fait accompli, opinion polls show that fewer than two in five Latvians support their country’s transition to the euro, Reuters notes.


Olli Rehn, the European Union’s commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said in a statement that the move is a good sign for the single currency. The euro zone has been troubled as a string of its members face economic collapse and subsequent bailouts by more stable euro members like Germany.


“Latvia’s desire to adopt the euro is a sign of confidence in our common currency and further evidence that those who predicted the disintegration of the euro area were wrong,” said Rehn, reported by The Times.


Latvia is regarded as one of the few countries to successfully navigate a 2008 banking crisis due to a large reduction in government spending.


The European Central Bank expressed reservations about the stability of the Latvian banking system to due to high foreign investment – mostly from Russia – and recent inflation swings, Reuters reports.


2. Russians very developing-world in their view of gays, survey says


A new survey finds that Russians’ attitudes toward homosexuality are so negative that they are on par with ultraconservative developing nations in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, RIA Novosti reports.


Seventy-four percent of respondents believed homosexuality is not acceptable, the news agency reports. The survey was conducted in March by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center on a sample of 996 Russian adults.


That figure shows a sharp increase in homophobic attitudes over the past decade: 60 percent of Russians voiced their stance against gays in 2002, followed by 64 percent in 2007, according to RIA Novosti.


Juliana Horowitz, a senior researcher at Pew and author of the report, said the results were surprising because researchers could see no correlation between the anti-gay views and other sociological indicators.


Neither the age nor the religious views of the respondents could explain such conservative views, given that the respondents were not older than participants in other countries and that Russians scored low on the survey’s religiosity scale.


The survey showed that gays appear to be more accepted in other European countries, “even Greece and Eastern bloc countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, where the results are more mixed but certainly not negative,” Horowitz said.


In contrast, African countries showed a high percentage of anti-gay sentiment, with Nigeria ranking last with 98 percent of people believing homosexuality is unacceptable.


In 2012, St. Petersburg and other Russian cities adopted laws banning “homosexual propaganda among minors,” which, according to gay right activists, could be applied to any positive mention of homosexuality. Russian lawmakers and TV programs have frequently spoken about gays in a way that likened them to child molesters since the passing of the law. 




3. Former prime minister vows defiance after Slovenian court gives him two years


Janez Jansa
A court in Slovenia has handed former Prime Minister Janez Jansa almost two years in prison for corruption. The district court in Ljubljana sentenced him on 5 June after finding that he took bribes in a 2006 arms deal, Reuters reports.


Jansa was convicted with two others for seeking a $2.6 million bribe to secure a $364 million deal to buy 135 armored vehicles from the Finnish firm Patria, according to the Associated Press. The court sentenced all three defendants to 22 months in jail and ordered each to pay a fine of $48,400.


The former premier said he was innocent and that the verdict was politically motivated, The Slovenia Times writes. “This ruling will never hold,” he said, calling the verdict “a slap in the face of all those who after all believed Slovenia had a kind of rule of law where politically motivated trials are not possible anymore. Unfortunately, we were wrong.”


Jansa vowed to fight the court decision with all legal and political means.


An Austrian court has already convicted one of its nationals in the same Patria deal, which was never concluded. A court in Finland, whose government owns a majority stake in Patria, is prosecuting six people in the case as well, Reuters writes.


Jansa’s conviction, analysts told Reuters, indicates that Slovenia is making a credible anti-corruption effort.


“If upheld, I guess this sends a message that the courts are acting to address these issues (of elite corruption) that seem to have run deep through the ruling establishment in Slovenia,” said Timothy Ash of Standard Bank.


4. Court sentences Kazakhs for on terrorism charges


A court in western Kazakhstan has sentenced seven men, who a judge said intended to go to Syria to fight with the rebels, to prison on terrorism charges, Radio Free Europe reports.


The court found the men guilty of murder, terrorism, kidnapping, car theft, burglary, and illegally possessing and distributing weapons. They received prison terms ranging from 18 to 23 years.


The court gave a one-year suspended sentence to an eighth defendant for failing to report the activities of the seven would-be rebels.


RFE writes that Judge Gulnar Kazhenova said the seven had sought to go to Syria to take part in the bloody civil war that began in March 2011 during the string of uprisings across the Middle East known as the Arab Spring. Russia is known to be supporting the Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad, while Western and Arab nations have provided some support to rebels.  


Kazakhstan suffered its first suicide bombing in 2011, and other attacks have followed. Security forces have conducted several raids, arresting or killing suspects.


Other cases have surfaced this year of Central Asians suspected of being recruited in the effort to overthrow Syria’s government. Some families in Kyrgyzstan reported that their sons were going off to Russia, then Turkey, then Syria to fight with rebels, who are aided by an estimated 5,500 foreigners, according to the Center for the Study of Radicalization in London.


5. Russian authorities uncover underground city for illegals


Police in Moscow have discovered a subterranean community where 200 illegal workers had beds, a café, a movie theater, a casino, and a chicken coop, Radio Free Europe reports. The workers were apparently prisoners in the complex, which also included sewing machines that the apparently Asian workers operated.


The raid was captured on a video, which shows a frightened worker being rousted out of bed and a long line of arrested workers being led along a railway and across a street at night. It also shows bunk beds, a machine with numbered pingpong balls of the type used for lottery number selection, work stations with skeins of fabric, and a brood of disheveled-looking chickens.




Russian authorities have carried out a number of such raids recently, with a raid on 4 June netting 450 Vietnamese workers living and working in an airplane hangar. During the previous week, authorities detained 952 illegal labor suspects, most of them from Central Asia, RFE reports.


In a YouTube video uploaded on 30 May, curious residents of Reutov, a Moscow suburb, watched as police led a long column of prisoners, each with a hand on the shoulder of the next prisoner, through the streets. The sight prompted a blogger on the LiveJournal website to comment, “Prisoner guest workers in Moscow’s Reutov are being convoyed, hands up, faces frightened. This reminds me of German war prisoners” being marched by the Red Army during World War II, reports.


Erik N. Nelson is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Vladimir Matan and Molly Jane Zuckerman are TOL editorial interns.
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