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Anti-Migrant Violence in Moscow, Anti-EU Rhetoric in Armenia

Plus, Czechs get prison sentences in a case linked to a 1990s privatization, and Romania’s plan to kill strays sets off protests.

by Barbara Frye and Ioana Caloianu 14 October 2013

1. Police haul in hundreds after anti-migrant riot in Moscow

 

Hundreds of people were detained overnight 13 October after a night of anti-migrant violence in southern Moscow, RIA Novosti reports. More than two dozen people needed medical attention, the news agency writes.

 

 

The rioting broke out this weekend after reports that a man was stabbed to death 10 October by someone the police described as “not a Russian citizen,” according to RIA Novosti.

 

Citing local media, the news agency says about 1,000 people took part in the protest, including local residents, soccer fans, and nationalists. Shops were damaged, cars were overturned, and produce was smashed at a nearby market. Such markets often employ migrants from Central Asia.

 

“Bottles and stones were flying from all sides, people were prepared,” one injured police officer told a Russian news website, RIA Novosti reports.

 

Migrants from Central Asia and Russia’s North Caucasus region are frequently accused of widespread criminality in Russian cities, and that rhetoric often makes little distinction between those in the country legally or illegally, or even between those who are Russian citizens and those who are not.

 

In this year’s Moscow mayoral race, incumbent Sergei Sobyanin took a hard line on migrants, saying those who do not speak Russian fluently or who come from a different culture should go home.

 

Most of the 380 people detained this weekend will be released without charge, police said. Seventy will face “administrative charges” and will have to appear in court, while two will face criminal charges, according to RIA Novosti.

 

2. Critics say Armenia’s gender-equality law imports depravity from West

 

A campaign against a new law in Armenia banning gender discrimination has taken on an anti-European cast in the wake of Yerevan’s decision to join a Russia-led economic bloc instead of entering into a free-trade agreement with the EU, EurasiaNet.org reports.

 

Passed in May, the measure aims to ensure gender equality, a controversial enough concept in conservative, patriarchal Armenia. But the law’s definition of gender as the “acquired and socially fixed behavior of persons of different sexes” gave rise to accusations that it aimed to protect homosexuality and would undermine traditional families, IWPR wrote at the time.

 

Now critics of the law are blasting it as an attempt to impose decadent Western values on Armenia. They use claims that some European countries allow incest and pedophilia, according to EurasiaNet.org. A prominent clergy member warned of campaigns on behalf of those and other immoral practices.

 

Such thinking makes Russia, with its laws banning homosexual “propaganda,” seem a better fit for Armenia.

 

“The strength of the backlash has prompted some political observers to believe it is being artificially stoked in order to build popular support for Yerevan’s decision last month to seek membership in the Russia-led Customs Union at the expense of closer ties with the European Union,” EurasiaNet.org writes.

 

One pro-Western politician called the recent charges “a carefully planned campaign” to discredit Europe, a claim dismissed as “absurd” by an official in the ruling Republican Party.

 

3. Czechs convicted by Swiss court in shady mining privatization

 

A Swiss court has convicted five Czech businessmen of fraud and money-laundering in a case that reaches back to the 1990s era of shady privatizations, The Prague Post reports.

 

The men were managers of Mostecka uhelna spolecnost (MUS), a mining company. Prosecutors said they took more than 3 billion crowns ($160 million) from the firm to buy shares in it. Swiss police started investigating the case in 2005, on suspicion that some of the money was laundered through Swiss banks, the Czech Press Agency reports.

 

The five received prison sentences ranging from 37 to 52 months, according to The Prague Post.

 

The case is especially controversial in the Czech Republic because the shares were allegedly sold at a fraction of their value and because once evidence of improper dealing came to light, police and prosecutors were lax in pursuing it.

 

The Swiss verdict estimates the damage to the Czech Republic at 2 billion crowns, but getting any compensation will be a challenge. According to the Czech Press Agency, Swiss officials announced two years ago that the Czechs had forfeited any claims to compensation. The Swiss repeatedly asked Prague if it wanted to join the legal proceedings and “the Czech authorities did not react in time,” the news agency writes.

 

Czech officials are now investigating the men and will prosecute if the charges are different from those for which they were convicted in Switzerland, Supreme State Attorney Pavel Zeman said on television this weekend. Zeman said another investigation, into why the Czech Republic did not join the Swiss prosecution, will be completed in the next six months, according to the Czech Press Agency.

 

Reports say the Swiss verdict will go before an appeals court, which could take another two years to make a ruling.

 

4. Romania’s plan to kill strays raises protests

 

A new law in Romania that permits the killing of stray dogs that are not adopted within 14 days has sparked worldwide protest, the Los Angeles Times writes. Passed on 25 September and upheld by the Romanian Constitutional Court, the measure is deemed “ineffective and inhumane” by animal rights advocates, who have been staging rallies in Bucharest and other cities in Europe and the United States.

 

Romania's strays are in the crosshairs. Photo by brimborion/flickr.

 

Romania’s towns and cities are overrun with stray dogs, and a 4-year-old boy was killed by a pack in the capital in early September. Statistics from the Matei Bals Institute for Infectious Diseases in Bucharest show that more than 16,000 people were attacked by stray dogs in the city last year, and the number for the first six months in 2013 was roughly 8,600, Ziare.com writes.

 

The new law allows, but does not require, dogs to be killed after spending 14 days in a shelter waiting for adoption. Previously, they could be put down only if incurably ill or dangerous.

 

After signing the measure, Romanian President Traian Basescu said castrating the animals, an approach advocated by activists, would not render them harmless, as it doesn't also “remove their teeth,” according to Ziare.com. “Dogs that don't get adopted need to be euthanized, since we cannot put the safety of dogs before that of people,” Basescu said.

 

Romanian investigative journalism project RISE has written that efforts to control the problem have been hindered by corruption. It says city halls in Timisoara, Constanta, and Iasi have tolerated shady deals including money laundering, and have signed contracts with people convicted of fraud. One city paid more than 500,000 euros ($677,000) for an unusable shelter, the journalists write.

 

In Bucharest, Mayor Sorin Oprescu has said the city will cancel a planned referendum on the issue now that the law had been passed, Hotnews writes, although officials have already spent 6 million lei ($182,000) – or one-third of the 2013 budget allocated for stray dogs – on preparations for the vote.

 

5. Albanian police swoop on alleged artifact traffickers

 

Albanian police have recovered more than 1,000 artifacts stolen from the Balkan country and neighboring Macedonia, according to the Associated Press. In addition, police arrested two men suspected of planning to sell the items abroad.

 

The cache of 1,077 artifacts includes icons and frescoes believed to date from as far back as the 15th century.

 

The artworks were retrieved from two houses in Tirana after a four-month investigation. They are being kept at the National Arts Gallery in the Albanian capital, where specialists will restore any damaged pieces, AP reports.

 

Prime Minister Edi Rama, who has an arts background, stressed the need to protect the country's badly plundered artistic heritage. “What little we have we must protect. If we lose this wealth, our history will vanish with it,” Rama said, according to AP.

 

For more than 2,000 years, the territory that is now Albania has been part of several empires, including Greece and Rome, and its poorly protected archeological sites have yielded finds dating to antiquity. Those sites and the country’s museums suffered in the chaos that followed the collapse of the Albanian dictatorship in 1991, which enabled the plundering of antiquities and their trafficking to the West, sometimes with the assistance of well-known auction houses.

Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant.
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