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Plus, northern Kosovo's Serbs tell the EU to get lost, and Uzbekistan turns kindergarten teachers into farm managers.by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Erin Murphy 18 April 2014
1. Georgian lawmakers give nod to broad anti-discrimination measure
Georgia’s parliament has given preliminary approval to a sweeping anti-discrimination law that controversially extends protection to homosexuals, Civil.ge reports.
The measure is among the requirements stipulated by the EU for the bloc to drop its visa requirements for travelers from Georgia, but conservative voices in the country say it violates Georgian values.
Passed unanimously in first reading, the bill prohibits discrimination based on “race, language, gender, age, nationality, place of residence, religion or belief, national, ethnic, or social origin, profession, marital status, health, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, expression of political or other opinions, or other features, the Trend news agency reports.
According to a 2011 household survey in Georgia by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers cited by local media, 87 percent of respondents said they did not approve of homosexuality.
The parliamentary debate suggests that lawmakers are trying to thread the needle between the EU’s requirements and conservative sentiment. The measure includes a proviso that it not be interpreted to interfere with “a constitutional agreement between the state and the Georgian Orthodox Church signed in 2002,” according to Civil.ge.
Lawmakers have also urged a constitutional commission to consider banning same-sex marriage in the constitution, and some have suggested that the list of protected classes be deleted altogether from the bill.
Various rights organizations, on the other hand, say the bill lacks real penalties. Victims must file a complaint with the public defender’s office, which will first attempt to mediate. If those efforts go nowhere the office can take a case to court, but only if the accused is an organization, not an individual.
The legislation is likely to be amended on second reading, Civil.ge reports.
2. Ukrainian judges investigated for expanding presidential powers
Ukraine's new government is going after the judiciary in a lustration process that some say walks the fine line between justice and political purge.
On 17 April, Ukraine's acting prosecutor-general announced an investigation against Constitutional Court judges who voted in 2010 to expand the powers of former President Viktor Yanukovych by approving a return to Ukraine's 1996 constitution, Radio Free Europe reports. Justice officials involved in prosecuting those who participated in the EuroMaidan protests are also under investigation.
The investigation is part of what Foreign Affairs recently called a troubling lustration process in Ukraine – "… weeding out (and denying future office to) the current judicial leadership."
This began right after Yanukovych's ouster in February. On 24 February, parliament voted to fire five Constitutional Court judges and urged the acting president and other top officials to sack seven more. All 12 judges voted for the 2010 constitutional change returning Ukraine to a presidential system.
Next, in April the government enforced a law to effectively purge the ordinary judiciary by sacking everyone from court secretaries to members of the judicial disciplinary body. It also instituted a review process to identify judges who limited citizens' rights to participate in the EuroMaidan protests, among other issues.
For some, Foreign Affairs points out, this is a healthy process to reinforce rule of law by ousting Yanukovych cronies. "For others, judicial lustration will represent victors' justice – a purge of Yanukovych appointees to make room for the new government's own political appointees."
3. EU mission ‘unwelcome,’ northern Kosovo Serbs say
The separatist, majority-Serb community in northern Kosovo has effectively banished the EU rule of law mission, known as EULEX.
On 16 April, leaders from the municipalities of Leposavic, Zubin Potok, Zvecan, and North Mitrovica decided to cease cooperation with EULEX, Radio Free Europe reports. The move followed the EULEX arrest this month of a 32-year-old Kosovo Serb man in connection with the 2011 shooting death of an ethnic Albanian Kosovo police officer in the north.
InSerbia News suggests the north is banishing EULEX because this type of arrest is becoming more common.
"The last operation in which our fellow citizen was practically kidnapped when he was setting out to work, and [the] more frequent practice of automatically placing all people arrested by EULEX in detention for 30 days obligate us to hear out the voice of the people and cut off cooperation with EULEX police and [declare] them unwelcome, …" the leaders said in a statement.
EULEX, which had not commented, has made several high-profile arrests in northern Kosovo recently. On 15 April, it detained a Kosovo Serb on murder charges linked to unrest in the north in 2000 that saw 10 Albanians killed, Balkan Insight reports.
The case is reportedly connected to the arrest earlier this year of a Kosovo Serb politician and retired police colonel for alleged war crimes during the 1998-99 conflict, as well as subsequent murders. Those arrests sparked protests in northern Kosovo.
In September 2013, a EULEX officer was shot dead in the north in the mission's first fatality since deploying in 2008.
4. As farmers give up, Uzbekistan presses educators into service
Uzbekistan’s government has long conscripted everyone from schoolchildren to doctors to work in the country’s cotton harvest each year, but now officials are forcing educators to become farm managers, as farmers bail out of the loss-making business, uznews.net reports.
The website says school principals, kindergarten directors, and public sector managers “are getting official stamps, opening accounts, and undersigning grain and cotton quotas that they have been made to promise to bring in at harvest time. ”
One local resident told the website that these new managers have no choice but to take on these duties, lest their schools or organizations be visited by inspectors, who would undoubtedly find some violations.
Uzbekistan is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of cotton, although the crop’s production and its share in the world market have been in decline since the breakup of the Soviet Union, according to an EU policy briefing published in September. Cotton generates about $1 billion in export revenues for the country each year, according to the Responsible Sourcing Network, which campaigns to stop forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest.
But farmers see little of that money. They are forced to sell their crops to the government at fixed prices, with deductions for “ginning, transportation, customs and certification costs, and taxes. The difference between domestic cotton prices and global market prices is significant,” the EU briefing states.
As a result, uznews.net writes, farmers are abandoning the field. “After having tried to meet ever stricter government production quotas, they find they are … barely making a living, instead ending up indebted to the government.”
The managers taking their place will be responsible for buying seeds and equipment, hiring and paying workers, “as well as solving numerous other problems associated with day-to-day farming operations,” uznews.net reports.
5. Charges dropped against U.S. music icon over Croatia remarks
Bob Dylan will not face trial in France for allegedly violating anti-discrimination laws by appearing to compare Croatians to Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, The Wall Street Journal reports.
In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Dylan, who grew up in a part of Minnesota with a sizeable Croatian population, said: "If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.
As The WSJ points out, Croats are sensitive to any Nazi comparison because of the slaughter of Serbs, Jews, and others by the Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia during World War II. A Croatian organization in France filed a complaint that Dylan's comments were tantamount to hate speech, banned in France and toxic in the Balkans given the legacy of the 1990s conflicts.
But French prosecutors dismissed the preliminary charges – filed last year – saying Dylan did not authorize the U.S. magazine to publish the interview in France. However, the publisher of Rolling Stone's French edition was charged and faces a fine and up to a year in prison.
Dylan's lawyer welcomed the ruling by saying his client "never wanted to insult anyone," The WSJ reports.