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Croatia to Tax the Church, Protests Oust Kosovo Academic

Plus, a Russian nationalist faces charges for a gay-abuse video and Tajikistan’s clerics preach anti-gay sermons.

by Ioana Caloianu, Sarah Fluck, Barbara Frye, Aliona Kachkan, and Karlo Marinovic 10 February 2014

1. Deficit-cutting Croatia plans first-ever tax on church


Croatia will soon begin collecting taxes from the powerful Catholic Church, Southeast European Times reports.


A new law levies taxes on nonprofit organizations with annual income of at least 30,000 euros ($41,000) and requires all nonprofits to file regular financial reports to the Finance Ministry. Groups that take in more than 1.2 million euros per year will be required to submit audit reports.


Zagreb Cathedral. Photo by Suradnik13/Wikimedia Commons.


“If they are planning to introduce a tax to the church, then they should abolish all NGOs such as, for example, LGBT associations, or make them to pay taxes also,” a priest in Zagreb told reporters, according to SETimes.


Advocates for smaller organizations praised the measure but said requirements for them should be less onerous than for larger groups.


“The government is using small league players to stop big league players in their tracks and is putting everyone in the same basket. It seems that small NGOs, which are helpful, will pay the price,” Mirjana Kucar, director of a feminist organization called Domine, told Dalje, a Croatian daily.


Croatia, which joined the European Union last year, has been put on financial probation by Brussels. Over the next few years the country aims to cut its deficit from the current 6.4 percent of GDP – more than twice that allowed by EU criteria – to 2.4 percent. To do that, the government will reduce spending by about 3.6 billion kunas ($643 million) and raise an additional 4.7 billion kunas in new revenues.


Some 50,000 Croatian nonprofit organizations receive around 1.5 billion kuna [$267 million] from the state, according to Croatia Week, a news website.


2. Kosovo academic quits top university post in credentials flap


The rector of the University of Pristina in Kosovo has stepped down amid a dispute over the authenticity of his academic credentials that morphed into street protests, Radio Free Europe reports. Ibrahim Gashi announced his resignation on 8 February, a day after clashes between police and students who have been demanding his departure.


Ibrahim Gashi
The demonstrations were sparked by news reports alleging that Gashi and some professors claimed to have published research in questionable online journals, the news agency writes.


Police used tear gas and pepper spray against the protesters, who threw stones at them and tried to storm the rector’s office, according to RFE. At least five police officers and more than a dozen protesters were injured. Gashi, who was appointed by Kosovo’s governing coalition, said opposition political parties were behind the violence, according to the news agency. 


The students have announced that the protests will continue until the rest of the university’s staff agree to have their work evaluated by an independent body.


According to the Scholarly Open Access blog, which reviews open-access publishers, Gashi needed five articles published in international, peer-reviewed journals in order to be promoted to full professor. Three of the articles from the list he provided appeared in a journal that has a reputation for publishing bogus papers.


In response to the criticism, Gashi said he co-authored the articles and that it was up to the primary author, and not him, to check the publication’s bona fides.


Higher education in Kosovo has been in crisis for years. In 2009 the Education Ministry shut down two-thirds of the country’s universities for failing to meet accreditation requirements.


3. Russian nationalist held on extremism charges linked to gay-abuse video


A Russian court has ruled that the nationalist founder of a violent anti-gay movement must stay behind bars until at least 10 April as he awaits trial on extremism charges, Radio Free Europe reports.


Maksim Martsinkevich
Maksim Martsinkevich, founder of a group called Occupy Pedophilia, was extradited from Cuba on 27 January. He faces five years in prison if convicted, according to RFE.


Martsinkevich fled Russia in November, going first to Thailand, Gay Star News reported at the time. Ukrainian police were investigating a video that appeared to show him assaulting an Iraqi student in Ukraine, according to the LGBT news site.


RFE did not specify why Russian authorities charged Martsinkevich, but Gay Star News reported that the Russian Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, a research body, examined the Ukraine video and “found it to have ‘elements of racial and ethnic enmity and hatred’ which they believed breached Russia’s laws against ‘extremism.’ ” reported in November that Martsinkevich had posted pictures of documents indicating Russian authorities had opened a criminal case against him in connection with the video.


RFE reports that Martsinkevich was picked up by authorities in Cuba in mid-January for overstaying his visa and was extradited 10 days later, although RIA Novosti reported last month that he had been arrested under an international warrant.


Martsinkevich, who goes by the nickname “Tesak” (Machete), has denied the extremism accusations, saying they were “orchestrated by Russia’s ‘pedo-lobby,’ ” RIA wrote, citing a Russian news agency it says has links to the security services.


Occupy Pedophilia and a sister group, Occupy Gerontophilia, launched to “cure” older and young men involved in gay sex, are assumed to be responsible for numerous online videos in which gay people are humiliated and beaten.


Martsinkevich served a prison term from 2007 to 2010 on extremism charges stemming from his chanting “Sieg Heil” during a political debate and staging a mock execution of a Central Asian man, according to BuzzFeed.


4. Tajikistan’s clerics preach against gays


At the prodding of a government committee, Islamic clerics across Tajikistan used the occasion of Friday prayers on 7 February to condemn homosexuals, Radio Free Europe reports.


Saidmukarram Abdukodirzoda, the leader of the Tajik council of Islamic clerics, told worshipers at the Grand Mosque in Dushanbe that gays “will face ‘awful punishment’ on Judgment Day,” according to RFE.


The news agency reports that a government committee that oversees religious activity had asked clerics to discuss “nontraditional sexual relations” in their sermons.


Although Tajikistan decriminalized homosexuality in 1998, it remains unacceptable in conservative Tajik society. An official with the Health Ministry called homosexuality “contrary to nature” in 2012.


In a 2013 discussion of attitudes toward gays in Tajikistan, the Global Voices blogging platform quoted blogger Drugoi as writing:


“Do you know what it means to be gay in Tajikistan? Nothing worse that this can be imagined! ... It means being doomed to loneliness and indifference toward you, even from your own family and friends; [it means] their scorn and pity about you being the way you are. [It means] their attempts to convince you, or convince themselves, that this is just a disease and that it should be treated as soon as possible. It means PAIN, SUFFERING, INSULTS, LONELINESS, HUMILIATION.”


Last fall, legislators in Kazakhstan called for measures to criminalize homosexuality and so-called homosexual propaganda, reported at the time. A recent report by Human Rights Watch chronicled a range of abuses committed against gay people by the police in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, including arbitrary detention, threats, extortion, beating, and sexual abuse.


5. Uzbekistan test kids’ genes for future Olympians


Researchers in Uzbekistan have announced that they will begin testing the genes of children as young as 10 next year to try to find future sporting champions, Radio Free Europe reports.


Rustam Muhamedov, director of a national genetics laboratory, told RFE the program would start in early 2015, with the cooperation of the country’s Olympics Committee and some sports federations.


After two years of genetic research on Uzbekistan’s standout athletes, Muhamedov’s team will be ready next year “to publish a panel presentation on a specific set of 50 genes that he claims will identify future champions,” according to RFE.


Blood samples will be taken from children and those 50 genes examined. "Their parents will be told what sports they are best suited for,” the director said.


The International Olympic Committee does not ban such genetic testing, but the World Anti-Doping Agency strongly discourages it, according to RFE.


Journalist David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, told RFE that given how little we know about the function of genes, a far more reliable way to predict athletic success would be to watch a child’s current performance.


Sporting success can take on an outsize importance in countries like Uzbekistan that rarely catch the world spotlight, and training a class of super-athletes is an idea with roots in the Soviet era.


Uzbekistan won a gold and a bronze medal in wrestling and bronzes in boxing and judo at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Sarah FluckAliona Kachkan, and Karlo Marinovic are TOL editorial interns.
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