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U.S. Journalist Barred from Russia, Troops Clash on Kyrgyz-Tajik Border

Plus, a high-profile defection weakens Bulgaria’s ruling Socialists and a Minsk musical celebrates Hugo Chavez.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 14 January 2014

1. Cold War echoes as Russia bans U.S. journalist Satter


david satterDavid Satter
In what the Guardian calls the first expulsion of a U.S. journalist from Russia since the Cold War, reporter and author David Satter has been officially banned from entering the country.


Satter was informed of the decision last month when he traveled from Moscow to Kyiv to reapply for a Russian visa. According to the Guardian, a Russian diplomat read him a statement that said, “The competent organs have decided that your presence on the territory of the Russian Federation is not desirable. You are banned from entering Russia.”


In a statement quoted by the UK daily, Russia's foreign ministry accused Satter of “a flagrant violation” of migration rules – waiting five days before converting his initial entry visa into a multi-entry visa – and barred him from the country for five years.


The 66-year-old journalist had been working as an adviser and contributor to Radio Free Europe’s Russian service since September. A former Financial Times correspondent in Moscow and author of three books on modern Russia, he was also working on a new book.


He told the Guardian he didn’t know why he had been refused re-entry but suspected it may be connected with his 2003 book Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State, which was reprinted in Russia last year. The book supports the theory that Russian security forces carried out a string of deadly apartment bombings in 1999 and blamed them on Chechen terrorists to fire up support for a new invasion of Chechnya. Vladimir Putin ordered a new offensive against the de-facto independent Chechen republic soon after becoming president that year.


The U.S. Embassy in Moscow lodged a diplomatic protest against Satter’s expulsion, Radio Free Europe reports, citing Kevin Klose, the news service’s president. The U.S. Congress-funded organization stopped radio broadcasts in Russia two years ago to comply with a Russian law on the foreign ownership of radio broadcasters, and has since been available only on the Internet.


Satter, now in London, told the Guardian that the manner of his expulsion suggested the hand of Russian security services. “This is a formula used for spies,” he said. “To apply it to a journalist is something I have not seen in nearly four decades of writing and reporting on Russia. It is indicative that they consider me, for whatever crazy reasons, to be a security threat.”


2. Bishkek, Dushanbe trade accusations after Ferghana Valley border clash


Kyrgyzstani and Tajikistani authorities have been exchanging accusations over a recent clash at the volatile and poorly marked border between the two countries.


Tajikistan’s Foreign Ministry accused Kyrgyzstan of provoking the 11 January skirmish that left several border guards from both countries wounded, Asia-Plus reports. The ministry said the clash broke out when workers protected by border guards on the Kyrgyzstan side started work on a road that passes through Tajikistani territory.


Bishkek sought to pin the blame on the Tajiks, reports. On 12 January, according to an AKIpress story, Kyrgyzstan’s deputy prime minister, Tokon Mamytov, claimed the incident was planned by Tajikistan.


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ferghana Valley has been the scene of frequent confrontations over the existence of several enclaves belonging to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The part of the valley where the 11 January incident broke out resembles “a jumble of twisted and undefined borders shared by three post-Soviet successor states,” EurasiaNet writes. One local resident told the website in 2012, “We don’t have a border. Whoever is Kyrgyz is a citizen of Kyrgyzstan. Whoever is Tajik is a citizen of Tajikistan.”


The latest incident was unusual because troops from both sides were involved, EurasiaNet says. Tajikistan has so far not responded to Kyrgyzstani claims that it used mortars to attack a dam and an electricity substation during the clash.


3. Internal rivals deliver one-two punch to Bulgaria’s ruling Socialists


The defection of a prominent left-wing Bulgarian politician from the ruling Socialists may signal fissures in the party, EurActiv reports.


Georgi ParvanovGeorgi Parvanov
On 13 January, European Parliament member Ivailo Kalfin said he would step down as chairman of  the Socialists’ delegation in Brussels, amid reports he would join the revived party of former President Georgi Parvanov.


Kalfin, a former foreign minister and deputy prime minister, was a key figure in the run-up to Bulgaria’s EU accession in 2007 and lost a surprisingly close presidential election to Rosen Plevneliev in 2011, EurActiv writes.


The Socialists under Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev hold power thanks to a fragile coalition and the tacit support of the far-right Ataka (Attack) party. Kalfin wrote on his blog that this compromise was the main reason for his decision to leave the Socialist grouping, according to EurActiv. He is now expected to run under the banner of Parvanov’s party in May’s European elections.


“Major mistakes were made [by the Socialist Party leadership] recently,” Kalfin told EurActiv. He specified the nomination of controversial media magnate Delyan Peevski to head the national security agency and the “unclear relationship with Ataka.” These moves “eclipsed the major wrongdoings by GERB,” the center-right party that led the previous government, “and created morale problems for many center-left-minded people,” Kalfin said.


Influential Socialist lawmaker Maya Manolova called Kalfin’s decision a “betrayal” of party members who have endorsed him in past election campaigns and said the establishment of a rival center-left bloc would be “a blow for” the Socialists, Novinite reports.


Speaking to Bulgarian National Radio, Kalfin confirmed that Parvanov’s Alternative for Bulgarian Renaissance (ABV) Movement will back a slate of candidates in the European balloting, according to Novinite. The news service had previously reported that Parvanov would officially relaunch ABV in Sofia today, reversing his decision to freeze the new party so as not to weaken the Socialists.


Parvanov, a former Socialist Party leader, served as Bulgaria’s president from 2002 until 2012. He and Stanishev are longtime intraparty rivals, Novinite writes. After completing his second term as president, Parvanov sought to reclaim the party leadership last May but stepped aside in favor of Stanishev. 


4. Belarus plans musical tribute to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez


A musical dedicated to the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez will be performed at Minsk’s Belarusian State Academic Musical Theater this summer, Radio Free Europe reports.


The score for the Spanish-language production, In Memory of Hugo Chavez, is reportedly being written by Gerardo Estrada, a musician who serves as first secretary at Venezuela’s embassy in Minsk. The show will later travel to Caracas.


Chavez was a close ally of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The Venezuelan president visited Belarus five times as a guest of Lukashenka, and the countries have kept up their close ties since Chavez’s death from cancer in March 2013.


“Chavez's fierce anti-American rhetoric and melodramatic style earned him the admiration of the iron-fisted Lukashenka,” RFE writes in its Transmissions blog.


Diplomat-musician Estrada conducted the Academic Musical Theater’s production of The Nutcracker last fall, Minsk-Novosti writes. Belarusian artists will direct, sing, and dance ballet numbers for this first ever Spanish-language production at one of Belarusian capital’s most important cultural venues.


Lukashenka and ChavezHugo Chavez welcomes Alyaksandr Lukashenka to Caracas in June 2012. Photo:


5. Macedonian Orthodox Church plans new museum to safeguard icons at risk of theft


Macedonian museum director Saso Cvetkovski recently identified 21 icons stolen from his country among more than 1,000 pieces of religious and secular art Albanian police seized last fall, the Associated Press writes in a story on the devastating loss of Macedonia’s Orthodox religious heritage.


In the past 10 years more than 10,000 icons, frescoes, and other items have disappeared from the country’s churches, and not one has been returned, although the government is expected to formally ask Albania to return the icons found last fall, according to the AP. Such items can fetch tens of thousands of dollars on the black market.


In April, thieves ripped 30 icons from the altar screen in the church of Lazaropole village, including 23 by 19th-century painter Dico Zograf, one of Macedonia’s most famous artists. The remote village, like others favored by thieves, is in western Macedonia, where the country’s large ethnic Albanian minority is concentrated.


“Orthodox sites don’t resonate as much with the mostly Muslim Albanian minority,” the AP writes of possible reasons for the outbreak. “Authorities believe many of the thefts are masterminded in Albania, using an organized network of collaborators among minority regions.”


Milco Georgievski, a curator of an icon gallery in Ohrid, near the Albanian border, said, “The speculation is that most are sold on clandestine auctions in western Europe and end up in private collections, including those of Russian tycoons.”


In May, 19 people were arrested in Skopje – among them museum directors and an official from the state cultural heritage protection office – on charges of theft and illegal trafficking in religious and historical artifacts after a police operation uncovered more than 150 stolen items.


Cvetkovski, director of a museum in town of Struga on Lake Ohrid, told the AP more than 500 “priceless” icons have vanished from churches in western Macedonia in the past decade, the AP writes.


Macedonian Orthodox Bishop Timotej said the church has begun a project to document all icons in the west and hopes to open a new icon museum in Ohrid by the end of 2015. Dozens of the most valuable icons are already being held in a secret location, he said.

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Karlo Marinovic is a TOL editorial intern.
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