Plus, Turkmen schools drop former leader's spiritual guidance and no relief for Kyrgyz tourism.by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, Vladimir Matan and Sintija Treimane 7 August 2013
Four men were convicted in a Budapest court 6 August for the murders of six people in a year-long killing spree motivated by racial hatred, Politics.hu reports
The court sentenced brothers Arpad and Istvan Kiss, 42 and 33 respectively, and Zsolt Peto, 34, to life in prison for nine separate gun and firebomb attacks. The fourth defendant, Istvan Csontos, acted as a driver during two of the attacks. He received a sentence of 13 years imprisonment.
The victims in the string of assaults committed by the men in 2008 and 2009 were all from the country's Romani minority. In the most notorious of the attacks, the men set a house on fire in the village of Tatarszentgyorgy, then shot dead a father and his five-year-old son as they fled, the BBC reports.
The suspects had pleaded not guilty to murder but admitted they had carried out the attacks. Istvan Kiss said he and Peto took an interest in the nationalist Hungarian Guard but found them too soft and “ridiculous,” the BBC writes.
Prosecutors argue the men hoped the attacks would provoke further ethnic conflict, according to the BBC.
Judge Laszlo Miszori agreed, saying the men “believed that neither the police nor the Hungarian Guard were [efficiently] fighting Roma crime. They were getting guns to attack gypsies in places where gypsies committed crimes against Hungarians,” The Wall Street Journal writes.
The rise of the ultra-nationalist Jobbik Party has underlined the strength of anti-Roma sentiment in large sections of Hungarian society.
New data hint at harder times for the Georgian economy after years of robust growth, Vladimir Socor writes in the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor.
This follows a period when even the Russian invasion in 2008 failed to create more than a brief blip in the steady growth of GDP, Socor writes. Average growth rates of around 9 percent prior to 2008 slowed but remained at a healthy 7 percent level from 2010 until mid-2012.
Most analysts were expecting the lower growth figures, The Messenger Online writes, suggesting that the uncertain political situation, with a presidential election coming in the fall, may be a factor in potential investors' unwillingness to sink money into the economy now.
President Mikheil Saakashvili said he and other members of the opposition were ready to work with the government on an economic salvation plan, according to The Messenger. He also urged billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili to invest more of his own fortune in Georgia.
Ivanishvili's government is partly to blame for the economic situation, even though growth began to slow down under the previous administration, a prominent member of the governing coalition said.
Speaker of Parliament Davit Usupashvili, a member of the coalition's Republican Party, said the authorities “should bring more clarity to our economic plans,” Civil.ge reports.
“Another problem which I think we have is the slow pace of the decision-making process – both in the Parliament and in the government,” he said. This was partly inevitable, he suggested, because the more democratic procedures introduced by the new authorities were taking time to take root, whereas under the previous government headed by Saakashvili's party, “decisions were made by [a] narrow circle of people.”
The economic situation “is not alarming,” but would be addressed by lawmakers and the government's economic team soon, he said.
Another disappointing tourist season in Kyrgyzstan is being marked by the anxiety of workers in the industry and the government’s dwindling expectations for this season's revenues.
Tourism workers at Kyrgyzstan's top summer destination, Lake Issyk-Kul, began totting up the losses even before the end of the season, EurasiaNet.org reports. Many locals depend on earnings made in the three summer months.
Many in the tourist industry blame protests in the region and the general disorder in the country for the lack of tourist visits. According to government officials Kyrgyzstan counted 1,286 protests in 2012, EurasiaNet.org notes.
The biggest protest, over the environmental and social effects of the Kumtor gold mine, turned violent in May.
The government was hoping for an increase in tourist visits this year. Tourism Minister Sultan Rayev was quoted as expecting bigger revenue this year, according to Central Asia Online. By end of July the ministry had backtracked on its optimistic predictions, EurasiaNet reports.
In recent years, the tourist season has failed to meet expectations, Central Asia Online writes. The global economic recession from 2008 had a strong impact on the tourist industry.
Lake Issyk-Kul is a popular summer destination for tourists from Kazakhstan and Russia. However, the resort area itself is not immune from bad publicity, as 24.kg reports: Recently residents of a lakeside village broke the fence of a resort hotel, complaining it was preventing them getting to the beach.
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting this week talks with Azeri journalists about their new, free apartments.
Opening the 155-unit building in a Baku suburb 22 July, President Ilham Aliev said, "I am glad that Azerbaijan maintains its leadership in this area. We know that the profession of a journalist is a very difficult and demanding, but most of the media is often not able to buy an apartment."
The Turan news agency was the only media organization to refuse the government's offer of free flats, IWPR writes.
Mehman Aliev of Turan said the offer of free housing amounted to “basically buying journalists.” In any case, the problem persists since at least 1,000 journalists are unable to find affordable housing, he claimed.
Officials said 350 journalists had applied for apartments. Those chosen to receive one will be free to sell or rent it out. And not only reporters sympathetic to the government got lucky: according to IWPR, apartments were also allotted to about 15 journalists from opposition newspapers such as Azadliq, Yeni Musavat, and Bizim.
Aliev and his media critics agree that journalists are often poorly paid and housed.
A journalist with the pro-government paper Adalat told IWPR he was delighted with his new housing. A large part of his salary used to go on rent and utilities, he said.
International media watchdogs frequently cite the Azerbaijani government for trumped-up prosecutions of journalists and rights activists. On the other hand, opposition as well as pro-government media regularly accept money from the state budget. Some editors argue they depend on public money because the ad market is too small to support fully independent outlets.
The president said the government would build a second apartment building for journalists, IWPR writes.
A book of autobiographical and spiritual writings by former Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov has been removed from school curricula, where it used to figure prominently, according to RIA Novosti.
Written in 2001, the Ruhnama or “Book of the Spirit” was meant as a life guide for the citizens of the Central Asian republic. RIA writes that the book became central to Niyazov's personality cult and was made mandatory reading for schoolchildren, university students, and bureaucrats.
However, the book's role became less prominent after Niyazov's death in 2006, when current President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov took power and adopted a slightly more open attitude towards cultural practices. Niyazov's order to rename Saturday and the month of September “Ruhnama” was reversed.
But Berdymukhamedov promised changes in the education system were less than revolutionary. He extended mandatory and higher education, while marginalizing minorities and imposing travel restrictions on students attending universities abroad.
Still, the Ruhnama dropped out of university curricula in 2008. In a final blow to the book, an education official said on 1 August that it has been removed from the current education curriculum, which comes into effect on 1 September, but that it will remain part of university entrance exams.
Chronicles of Turkmenistan, a website by exiled opposition figures, writes that class time previously devoted to the study of Niyazov's writings has been replaced by newly-introduced subjects such as economics, environmental science, and Turkmen culture.