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Slavery Plagues Former Soviet Union, Tymoshenko to Leave Jail for Treatment

Plus, Tajikistanis are angered by a well-connected teen’s fatal crash, and a jubilant Bosnia looks to the World Cup.

by Erik N. Nelson, Ioana Caloianu, Barbara Frye, and Alexander Silady 18 October 2013

1. Former Soviet countries bedeviled by slavery


About 500,000 people live as slaves in Russia, according to a new report. That is the sixth-highest number for all 162 countries in the Global Slavery Index 2013, reflecting Russia’s large economy and its status as a magnet for migrants from other parts of the former Soviet Union.


It is the much-smaller Moldova, however, that leads TOL’s coverage area in the prevalence of slavery by population, according to the Global Slavery Index 2013. Arguably the poorest country in Europe, Moldova is primarily a source country for slaves, many of whom leave for work abroad. The report estimates that 32,000 to 35,000 Moldovans are enslaved, from a population of under 3.6 million.


Citing statistics from the International Organization for Migration, the reports says in 2012 “Moldovan men, women, and children were exploited primarily in Ukraine, but also in Russia, the UAE, Turkey, and Kosovo.”


In Ukraine, most of the Moldovan victims who received assistance from the IOM were men trafficked there as unpaid labor. In Russia, 37 percent of the victims, men and women, were used for labor while 24 percent were sexually exploited. In the other countries, all the victims were women who were trafficked for the sex trade, according to the report.


Uzbekistan had the second-highest prevalence of slavery in TOL’s regions. The report estimates that 160,000 to 180,000 citizens of Uzbekistan, from a population of 30 million, live in slavery, but the government’s policy of forcing up to 1 million people to work the in annual cotton harvest “means that for two months of the year, Uzbekistan is the country with the second-highest prevalence of modern slavery (after Mauritania) in the world,” the report notes.


Researchers from the Walk Free Foundation in Australia looked at the prevalence of practices such as debt bondage, forced marriage, the sale or exploitation of children, human trafficking, and forced labor around the world in compiling the index.


“There are ‘29.6 million people in the world in slavery. And that's important because we need to know how many people are in slavery and where they are in order to address the problem,’ ” co-author Kevin Bales told Radio Free Europe.


2. Ukraine’s Tymoshenko to be freed for treatment


Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has acquiesced to European Union demands for the release of his imprisoned political rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, for medical reasons, Reuters reports.


Yulia Tymoshenko
Yanukovych said he would sign a bill now in the Ukrainian parliament, authored by his own Party of Regions, that would allow Tymoshenko to leave the country for medical treatment. According to RIA Novosti, former European parliament President Pat Cox and former Polish President Aleksander Kwasnieski helped convince the president to sign the legislation.


Neither Yanukovych nor any lawmakers made mention of a full pardon, which would be necessary for Tymoshenko to run for office again, as her supporters would like. The president “appeared to imply that she would be expected to return to prison in Ukraine after any treatment in Berlin, something that would rule out any political aspirations,” Reuters writes.


Tymoshenko was given a seven-year prison sentence on abuse of office charges in 2011, which observers characterized as politically motivated.


The EU had made Tymoshenko’s freedom a condition of Ukraine’s trade agreement with the EU, due to be signed at a Vilnius summit in late November.


EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said on 15 October that he was confident the former prime minister would be released before the summit.


Tymoshenko is being treated for chronic spinal problems by German doctors in Kharkiv, where she was visited on 16 October by U.S. and EU ambassadors who wanted to discuss the looming trade agreement. She is expected to fly to Berlin once released.


3. Fortunate son’s deadly car crash riles Tajikistanis


A 16-year-old in a new BMW would appear to be a recipe for trouble anywhere; when the youth is the son of a top Tajikistani official, it can open national fault lines.


At 2:30 a.m. 9 October in the capital, Dushanbe, the young man’s speeding car crashed into another vehicle, killing its driver and two passengers, Radio Free Europe reports. Thanks to social media, accounts and photos of the incident’s aftermath are now common knowledge in Tajikistan.


Tajikistani Interior Ministry sources confirmed that the driver was the son of Amonulloh Hukumov, head of the national railways agency, who has close family connections to President Imomali Rahmon.


Now there are reports that the youth has left the country and Tajikistanis are expressing outrage online at the seeming lack of justice for the victims of the crash.


The blowback could spell trouble for Rahmon, who is running for re-election on 6 November, in a country that then-U.S. Ambassador Richard Hoagland confidentially described in 2005 as rife with corruption.


“From the president down to the policeman on the street, government is characterized by cronyism and corruption,” he said in a message released by WikiLeaks in 2010.


Now newspapers have followed social media in publishing photographs and accounts of the crash, along with features about the youth, the victims, and their lives, RFE writes.


Among the material are pictures of the youth brandishing a pistol at the crash site, along with images of him exhaling smoke from a water pipe, gun close at hand.


4. Some see Bosnia united in World Cup fever


Some hope the outpouring of national pride after Bosnia’s qualifying for next year’s World Cup may help to soften ethnic divisions in the strife-tattered nation, the Guardian writes.


Tens of thousands of people celebrated across the country after the national team’s 1-0 victory over Lithuania on 15 October.



Politicians hastened to use the win as an example of unity. “We can be successful if we work together,” said parliament speaker Denis Becirevic, while Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagmudzija called the football players "the best role models for future generations in Bosnia and Herzegovina."


The Guardian reports that the biggest celebrations took place in Muslim-dominated Sarajevo, while those in the Serb-majority regions were more restrained. Still, Serbian journalist Goran Obradovic told the newspaper, “compared to the past, we can see a trend of more and more Serbs cheering on the Bosnian national team."


But Aleksandra Letic, a human rights activist who, like Obradovic, lives in the predominantly Serb city of Banja Luka, said the regions where most of Bosnia’s Serbs lived had largely ignored the celebrations. People there have tended to root instead for Serbia’s national team, according to the Guardian.


“Cheering Bosnia now is not a sports thing, it is a political issue, an issue of national and ethnic identity," Letic said.


As TOL columnist Boyko Vassilev noted in 2010, Bosnia is not the only country where people pick their sides in soccer according to political affinities. Soccer-loving Bulgarians also tend to show solidarity with other Balkan or smaller countries playing the game.


5. Georgia Man or just man? Skull cracks theory


A skull found at an archeological dig in Georgia has set the world of human evolutionary research on fire, casting doubt on previous theories about the ancestors of modern humans, National Geographic reports.


What Skull No. 5 shows, according to Georgian National Museum anthropologist David Lordkipanidze, is that several different species of early humans – before modern Homo sapiens – may actually be variants of a single species, Homo erectus.


That’s because the small brain case seen in Homo habilis, the large teeth found on Homo rudolfensis and the long face from other Homo erectus skulls were all characteristics of Skull No. 5.


Lordkipanidze and his fellow researchers published a paper on their finds since 2000 in the journal Science on 17 October. They have discovered five nearly complete skulls of early humans at their excavation in Dmanisi, a medieval village southwest of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, Radio Free Europe reports.


The skulls are believed to have been found in the lair of a prehistoric meat-eating mammal that likely made a meal of the humans, the Los Angeles Times writes.


The different features ascribed to the same skull, as well as the differences in other skulls found at the site, represent the same level of variation found in modern humans and chimpanzees, the researchers argue.


That could mean that species discovered by paleoanthropologists in Africa, Homo rudolfensis and Homo habilis, may not be distinct species at all, according to the Times. Part of the credibility of the new theory is that it’s based on complete skulls, whereas the older species classifications were based on far less intact skulls.

Erik N. Nelson is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Alexander Silady is a TOL editorial intern.
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