Plus, jailed Belarusian dissident Byalyatski wins major rights award and scientists say EU rules may be harmful to protected brown bear populations.by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Alexander Silady 1 October 2013
As the first census in 22 years begins today in Bosnia and Herzegovina, members of the country’s largest ethnic groups and some of its smallest are nervous about the outcome.
Bosnia’s population was 4.4 million in 1991, when the last census was held in the then-Yugoslav republic, AFP reports. Muslims (Bosniaks) made up 43.5 percent of the total, Serbs 31.2 percent, and Croats 17.4 percent. By 1995, when the Dayton peace accords brought peace to the ravaged country, about 100,000 people had been killed and an estimated half the prewar population displaced.
Some Muslim leaders fear the census will dilute their plurality, as citizens will have the option to identify themselves as Bosniaks, Muslims, or as non-ethnic “Bosnians.”
“The mixture of these three terms leads to confusion among Bosniaks” and could see the Bosniak community being “diluted into three groups,” sociologist Senadin Lavic said.
Reuters reports that the leader of a campaign for Muslims to check the Bosniak box, Sejfudin Tokic, said, "If there are more than 50 percent of us, Bosnia will be a national state of Bosniaks and we will dominate the other two peoples.”
A novelty in this census, the “Bosnian” category can be chosen by anyone, AFP writes, and many may do so as a protest against the strict ethnic dividing lines that have defined the country’s political and constitutional structure since the Dayton accords wrote them into law as a temporary peace-building measure.
But by doing so “Bosnians” will become official “Others,” along with constitutionally excluded communities such as Roma and Jews, and be excluded themselves from eligibility for many top government jobs or political posts open only to members of the three main constituencies: Bosniak, Serb, and Croat.
Other activists urge Bosnians to opt out of the three dominant groups in a protest against the country’s ethnic partitioning. One campaigner, Darko Brkan, said 20 percent of Bosnians consider themselves “Others,” according to Reuters.
Results of the census will be announced in January.
A law allowing Hungarian municipalities to regulate where the homeless can sleep is likely to bring domestic and perhaps European complaints as similar legal moves have in the past few years.
Parliament passed the law 30 September, AFP reports. It allows municipalities to designate certain areas as out of bounds for the homeless and to evict people living in makeshift housing.
The office of Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the law would benefit of the homeless by reducing their risk of freezing to death outdoors in the winter. But a homeless activist said there was not enough space in shelters to accommodate all homeless people and said the authorities should help the homeless find “dignified accommodation and work rather than punish them.”
An earlier law regulating rough sleeping was overturned by the country’s constitutional court, only for parliament to amend the constitution to allow such regulations, Politics.hu writes.
Before the vote, a member of parliament for the opposition Socialists said the law would allow the homeless to be “hunted, chased” from place to place and liable to be fined simply for being in a non-homeless area.
The legislator, Ildiko Lendvai, said more homeless shelters were needed. She said the government has not released the results of a headcount of homeless people and assessment of their needs that was supposed to be completed in May.
Ales Byalyatski, an imprisoned Belarusian human rights campaigner, has received the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize for his work against rights abuses and authoritarianism. Byalyatski’s wife, Natalia Pinchuk, accepted the award in his name at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg 30 September, Deutsche Welle reports.
The annual PACE human rights award was renamed this year in honor of the former Czech president and dissident Havel. The honor comes with a 60,000 euro ($81,000) cash prize.
Byalyatski heads one of Belarus’ best known rights pressure groups, Viasna. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in November 2011 on tax evasion charges that were denounced as politically motivated by European officials. The charges were related to Polish and Lithuanian bank accounts where Byalyatski deposited donations for Viasna, which had its state accreditation withdrawn in 2003, and which were exempt from taxation according to his lawyers.
International concern over the treatment of Byalyatski and other Belarusian dissidents rose last year on reports alleging harsh prison conditions for prisoners serving politically related charges.
The Georgian Young Lawyers Association and the Rights Defense Network, of China, were also nominated for the prize.
Croatia joined the EU in July and is obliged to change its bear-hunting regulations to conform to union standards. Current Croatian law allows for 10 to 15 percent of the overall bear population to be killed for sport each year. In practice, hunting associations operate a quota system that keeps the annual cull to about 8 percent.
Ironically, EU protection for brown bears has resulted in a greater proportion being killed annually in neighboring Slovenia, where legal bear hunting ended upon the country’s joining the EU in 2004, Science Daily writes. Researchers from Imperial College London and Zagreb University estimate that about 20 percent of Slovenia’s bears are shot every year as problem animals – as permitted by union regulations.
"There is strong evidence that Croatia's current system is beneficial for both local people and the bear population, and changing it could result in more tension between people and bears," Imperial College bear specialist E.J. Milner-Gulland said.
"We are not implying that trophy hunting is an appropriate management option for all brown bear populations. However, not every country is the same, and there needs to be regional variation in conservation policies so that people are able to manage their own populations of high priority species successfully."
In Romania, an EU member since 2007, the government began increasing the number of bear hunts allowed in 2012 after bears killed two people in the Carpathians. Critics said the government inflated the numbers in its estimate of Romania's bear population in order to justify selling the valuable hunting permits to foreign enthusiasts for as much as 20,000 euros ($27,000) apiece.
A new International Crisis Group briefing (pdf) warns of the risk of accidental war between Armenia and Azerbaijan unless the international community knocks heads together in Baku and Yerevan.
But the briefing “does not predict a second war is either imminent or more likely than not. It does suggest the near-term threats to stability are becoming more acute.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war in the early 1990s over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave located within Azerbaijan that is populated largely by ethnic Armenians. Fighting ended in 1994, but each side reports hundreds of cease-fire violations every month. In the past year the most serious incidents have been far from Nagorno-Karabakh, ICG writes.
Armenia and Azerbaijan spend heavily on military equipment, with Russia a major supplier to both sides.
“Baku has increasingly emphasized a military solution, publicly and privately. Strategic planners discuss this in much more specific terms than even a year ago,” the think tank writes.
“Armenia has pursued its own military buildup, increasing defense spending by over 25 percent in 2013. Though in real terms the $450 million total is far less than Azerbaijan’s, Moscow gives Yerevan heavy discounts on its weapons, partially compensating for the imbalance.”
The Armenian news agency PanArmenian.net rejects the ICG’s findings. While the report attributes terms such as “Blitzkrieg,’’ “pre-emptive strike,’’ and ‘‘total war” to planners on both sides, in truth, “the Armenian side does not engage in military rhetoric, the latter being Azerbaijan’s ‘privilege’ with the country’s leadership missing no chance to express their aggressive moods. Armenia’s ‘strident rhetoric’ is limited to mere expressions of readiness to resist Azeri attacks,” PanArmenian writes.
Addressing the UN General Assembly last week, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov called for international affirmation of his country’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh and declared, "Armenia's annexationist policy has absolutely no chance of success.”
The ICG briefing acknowledges the skepticism on both sides about the international conflict resolution effort, known as the Minsk Group, and calls on Russia to take a much more active role as mediator and to suspend arms sales to both countries.