Plus, Belarusian censors erase evidence of presidential largess and Russian scientists find huge chunks of the famous meteor.by Erik N. Nelson, Ioana Caloianu, Alexander Silady, and Martha Tesema 17 October 2013
Prosecutors in Hungary have charged a 92-year-old former communist official with helping orchestrate the deadly suppression of the country’s 1956 revolt against Soviet control, Al Jazeera reports.
"The Budapest Prosecutor's Office has today submitted to the Budapest Court of Justice an indictment in the criminal proceedings launched against Bela Biszku for war crimes and other crimes," said a statement from Hungarian prosecutors released 16 October.
Bizsku’s charges derive from his membership in the Temporary Executive Committee, which directed the activities of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, politics.hu reports.
The committee created a police force that answered to committee members and is believed to be responsible for shooting protesters in the capital, Budapest, and the town of Salgotarjan, according to politics.hu and Al Jazeera.
Biszku served as Hungary’s interior minister from 1957 until 1961 and served on the Socialist Workers’ Party’s Political Committee, politics.hu writes.
Hungarian authorities placed Biszku under house arrest in 2012 but later allowed him to leave his home provided he remains within Budapest.
He could face life in prison if convicted of abetting the 1956-related crimes, Al Jazeera writes. His charges were made possible by a 2011 law, pushed by the ruling Fidesz party, that eliminates any statute of limitations on war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Biszku is also being prosecuted for illegal possession of weapons found in his home in September 2012.
Czech Social Democrats, who have been leading opinion polls ahead of the country's early elections, are putting business interests ahead of human rights, according to Reuters.
Speaking at a pre-election debate on 15 October, the Social Democrat party’s prospective finance minister, Jan Mladek, said the Czech Republic should not support authoritarian regimes such as China and Russia. But the country should take a pragmatic approach to dealing with them as “these are large, important countries,” and potential trading partners.
Mladek added that people who “evaluate the quality of democracy in Russia” or “the quality of human rights or territorial integrity of China” are actually depriving the Czech Republic of “tens of thousands of jobs.”
Reuters notes that exports represent 80 percent of the Czech GDP and the bulk of those goods, 78 percent, go to European Union member states. The combined exports to Russia and China amount to only 5 percent. In August, the Czech Republic emerged from a six-quarter recession, thanks to its increased trade with Germany and despite recent political instability.
Reuters notes that Mladek's remarks were in contrast to the Czech Republic's record of defending human rights. Former Communist dissident and late Czech President Vaclav Havel was an internationally recognized and influential proponent of freedom and democracy in countries such as China, Cuba, and Belarus.
The world’s leaders have often had to live down verbal gaffes. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan joked of starting World War III and a 1970s predecessor, Gerald Ford, argued that Romania and Poland were not controlled by the Soviet Union.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said earlier this month that his government would provide generous benefits, apparently to encourage mothers to have lots of children, Radio Free Europe reports.
"We are now thinking about how best to support women, how to support families,” he said. “A 'great family' project was suggested to me [envisaging] a government stipend of $10,000 for a first child, 20 for a second, and double that for a third. Furthermore, if you make a deposit of your own to this account, we'll double that amount as well."
But the broadcast musings suggested the president was seriously contemplating giving away $2 billion a year from a $63 billion economy, as tallied by the independent Nasha Niva newspaper.
Afterward, no state news sources carried the remarks, RFE writes, indicating that officials or even Lukashenka himself may have been concerned that citizens might have expected the government would actually be so generous.
Although the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago, Belarus, with its planned economy, suppressed media, intimate trade ties with Russia, and authoritarian bent, has been a throwback.
Russian scientists have recovered the biggest-yet chunk of a meteorite that made world headlines when it spectacularly exploded upon entering the earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk in February, RIA Novosti reports.
The meteor fragment was discovered at the bottom of Chebarkul Lake and is believed to weigh about 600 kilograms (1,323 pounds), although it cracked into three pieces while it was being recovered.
The two largest pieces are scale-busting on their own; the instrument used to weigh them topped out at 570 kilograms and then broke.
“This is the daddy of previously recovered pieces. … See this black crust? This is a visitor from space,” said Sergei Zamozdra, a Chelyabinsk State University astronomer who was at the scene.
The Chelyabinsk asteroid is believed to have weighed some 11,000 tons initially and exploded with the force of 440,000 tons of TNT, dozens of times greater than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
The force of the blast was felt across the region and its shockwave injured more than 1,000 people. Enterprising individuals sold small presumed meteor fragments they found on the roadside as souvenirs.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said soon after the Chelyabinsk strike that the incident was proof that the whole planet is vulnerable to space-borne disasters, and that an early detection system is needed.
Some of the fragments recovered earlier by the Russian government, composed mostly of the mineral olivine and meteoric iron, are to be given to gold medal winners during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the New York Daily News reports.
In what was seen as a move toward European Union membership, Moldova’s parliament resisted pressure from clerics and Communists to repeal a controversial “gay propaganda” ban.
Lawmakers backpedalled and abandoned legislation passed in June that forbid the circulation of information about homosexuality to minors, according to Radio Free Europe. Before the 11 October move, Orthodox priests and Communist lawmakers blocked entrances to the Moldovan parliament, but prevailing legislators entered through a back door.
“Today they are allowing this propaganda and tomorrow they will allow gay marriages,” priest Ghenadie Valuta told AFP.
Despite the opposition, legislators removed the clause that made information about “relationships [other] than those linked to marriage and the family” illegal, and kept equality laws backed by the EU intact.
The reversal comes just in time for Moldovan officials to initial a political association and free trade agreement with the EU at a November summit in Vilnius.