Plus, the EU and UN complain about Azerbaijan’s rights record before the election, and Russia keeps an anti-Putin protester in psychiatric custody.by Barbara Frye and Ioana Caloianu 7 October 2013
1. Officials address fears of a Romanian/Bulgarian tide
Officials in Western Europe are seeking to calm fears about a wave of immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania next year, using very different approaches.
Citizens of Bulgaria and Romania will be able to freely seek work in other EU countries starting 1 January.
In Germany, an EU official told Spiegel Online that the country’s growing economy needs more workers.
“I see only advantages to both sides,” Laszlo Andor, the EU’s commissioner for employment and social affairs, told the news site. Andor said the “vast majority of Romanians and Bulgarians [who migrate] work and contribute greatly to the growth of Germany” through taxes and social security contributions. He added that under EU regulations those who live on benefits are allowed to stay for only three months.
Andor was responding to statements by Hans-Peter Friedrich, Germany’s interior minister, that migrants who come only to collect benefits would be deported, and from municipal officials that a wave of newcomers without jobs or housing could lead to unrest.
Pressed by Spiegel about some German cities where Bulgarians and Romanians are already disproportionately represented on the welfare rolls, Andor said local and national officials need to better communicate to would-be migrants what to expect in Germany.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Home Secretary Teresa May was playing defense against claims by far-right UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage that the immigrants would spur a crime wave in Britain. May said on national television over the weekend that the amount of crime by migrants in London is in line with their numbers, the Guardian reports.
But instead of seeking to further calm fears, May – whose Conservative-led government is fending off a challenge from the right by Farage’s party – said the UK would get tough with migrants. A program that places immigration officers in London’s police stations will go nationwide, and about half of those facing deportation will be kicked out of the country before being given the right to appeal, she said.
The Guardian reports that a forthcoming assessment by police will say “there are 5,500 active organized crime groups in Britain. They are said to include 7,400 ‘high harm’ foreign criminals out of 37,000 gang members.”
Last week the director of Europol predicted there would be “no significant increase in the threat from Romanian criminal gangs when labor market restrictions in Britain on Romanians and Bulgarians are lifted in January,” the newspaper reports.
Bulgaria’s Socialist government, in power since May, is seeking to seal the records of top intelligence and defense officials who may have collaborated with the communist-era secret police, Novinite reports.
The move reverses a policy adopted by the previous, center-right government late last year. It would affect those “who have held senior positions at the civil and military intelligence services since 1991,” according to the website.
The Socialists say the move is necessary to ensure the safety of those involved and to protect national security, but opponents of the disclosure ban say the opening of those files last year included mechanisms to keep some records confidential in the case of a known threat.
"Twenty years after the transition, the senior staff of intelligence services must not contain people who were trained by the KGB,” said Krasimir Tsipov, a member of the GERB party, which lost elections to the Socialists in May.
In 2011, the GERB-led government recalled dozens of diplomats who were revealed to have been collaborators, over the objections of then-President Georgi Parvanov, a Socialist who was also shown to have cooperated with the secret police.
UN officials are asking the government of Azerbaijan to ease restrictions on civil rights as the 9 October presidential election approaches.
“We are very concerned about the challenging and restrictive environment which defenders and civil society currently face in the country,” the officials said in a statement last week. They cited steep new fines for unsanctioned public gatherings, intimidation and harassment of journalists, and new onerous paperwork requirements for civil society groups.
Their complaints echo concerns expressed last week in a statement from two top EU officials. Spokespersons for the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Commissioner Stefan Fuele noted “continued pressure on a number of opposition activists, civil society, and independent media, such as intimidations, arrests on dubious charges, detentions, and sentencing without proper respect for international standards and rights of the accused.”
A September report by Human Rights Watch decried “the arrest and imprisonment of several high-ranking members of opposition political parties, government critics with large followings on social media, and people who have frequently been involved in political protests.”
The election pits incumbent Ilham Aliev against nine challengers. Aliev, who succeeded his father, is virtually assured to win. Since regaining its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has never held a national election that met international standards for fairness.
On 4 October, a pro-government mob attacked a group of people at a rally for an opposition candidate, Radio Free Europe reports. Police officers “stood by idly at the scene and made no effort to disperse the attackers,” according to the news agency.
The international rights group says several witnesses at the scene, and the alleged victim, Alexander Kozmin, deny seeing Kosenko acting violently. In addition, the group says, a video recording of the incident doesn't show that Kosenko took part in it. The only evidence to support the charges comes from a police officer claiming he saw Kosenko “moving his hands in the direction of” Kozmin.
In 2001, Kosenko was diagnosed with “sluggishly progressing [i.e. mild] schizophrenia,” and he has been monitored by doctors and been on medication ever since, Human Rights Watch says. According to his sister, he has never shown signs of violence or required hospitalization.
However, in July 2012, an evaluation by the Serbsky Institute, Russia’s state psychiatric research center, diagnosed Kosenko with paranoid schizophrenia, which made him “a danger to himself and others.” A subsequent evaluation by an eminent psychiatrist called that diagnosis “deeply flawed,” according to HRW, because it did not take into account Kosenko’s peaceful case history. Requests that the Serbsky Institute perform another evaluation were turned down by a court.
“The case is emblematic of the use of psychiatry for political purposes,” the independent psychiatrist, Yuri Savenko, said. Earlier this year a labor union leader who exposed corruption in the Kremlin administration was sent to a psychiatric hospital for three weeks, RFE reported at the time, and the tactic has been used against journalists, human rights activists, and ordinary people involved in low-level disputes.
Latvia will introduce restrictions on a controversial program that gives foreigners a five-year EU residency in exchange for real estate investments, according to Radio Free Europe. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said the governing coalition has decided to put an annual cap on the number of permits issued, beginning next year. The exact number has not yet been announced, but RFE writes that the Latvian Economy Ministry recommended a quota of 900.
Launched in 2010 to attract investment, the program guarantees residency in the EU country for foreigners who plow at least 71,000 euros ($96,000) into Latvian real estate. It has been called a loophole that allows easy access to the Schengen area, a passport-free zone throughout much of Europe.
A foreigner can maintain Latvian residency by spending just one day every year in the country.
RFE writes that 98 percent of the requests for residency permits are approved and that 7,000 investors, most of whom are Russian, have used the program, which has added 600 million euros to Latvian government coffers.
Dinars Berzins, a manager at one of Latvia's largest real estate agencies, defended the program, saying some development projects aimed at foreigners are too pricey for locals.
But Roberts Zile, a Latvian member of the European Parliament, said the benefits of the program have diminished as investors “have set up shadowy ways to send the money back out of the country.”