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Judge in Hungary Calls Roma a ‘Lifestyle,’ Russia Eyes Crimean Port for Tanker Yard

Plus, Kazakhstan puts a dollar value on corruption in  education and Moscow’s new citizenship law could mean fewer Armenians.

by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, Annabel Lau, and Erin Murphy 1 May 2014

1. Hungarian judge rules for paramilitary accused of anti-Roma violence

 

A Hungarian judge has ruled against dissolving a paramilitary group targeting Roma on the grounds that being Roma is a lifestyle rather than a racial category, according to Politics.hu, which quotes Hungarian press sources.

 

Prosecutors had sought to disband the Szebb Jovot vigilante group, allegedly linked to the banned paramilitary Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard), “on the grounds that their ideology is against Hungary’s constitution, they offend the human dignity of the Roma population, and they differentiate between people on a racial basis,” the website reports.

 

The group was accused of promoting a climate of fear in the northern Hungarian village of Gyongyospata, the scene of violent clashes in 2011 between Roma and non-Roma who had set up a vigilante training camp there. Judge Erika Mucsi ruled that claims about Szebb Jovot’s activities at that time could not be substantiated, given the presence of other paramilitary groups in the area.

 

Mucsi also said other violent acts that Szebb Jovot stands accused of, such as throwing stones in the town of Devecser in western Hungary in August 2012, were meant only to raise the public’s awareness of certain issues, Politics.hu reports.

 

Most controversially, the judge wrote that Roma is not an ethnicity but a lifestyle “characterized by the avoidance of work and the disrespect of private property and the norms of living together,” according Politics.hu.

 

Several human rights and Roma rights activists have contested the decision. Erika Muhi, head of the Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities in Budapest, said the verdict seems to legitimize Szebb Jovot’s activities, while Tamas Fazekas, lawyer for the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, said the judge’s willful ignorance of facts sheds doubt upon her competence.

 

Politics.hu notes that the prosecution has already appealed the verdict.

 

2. Kremlin plans for Crimean economy could include shipyard in Kerch

 

Russia could start making some of its Arctic supertankers in Crimea, RIA Novosti reports.

 

In what is likely part of the Kremlin’s economic development plans for the newly annexed territory, Crimea’s port of Kerch would join shipyards in St. Petersburg and the Far East in making tankers to carry Arctic oil and gas, according to the news agency.

 

The port of Kerch in Crimea. Photo by Alexx Malev/flickr.

 

Kerch is the only shipyard “in Russia” with facilities to build “supertankers and gas carriers with a deadweight of over 150,000 tons,” according to Alexei Kravchenko, a spokesman for Russia's United Shipbuilding Corporation.

 

RIA Novosti does not say how many ships could be launched from Kerch.

 

In addition to increased shipbuilding, the Kremlin will pour $7 billion into Crimea next year for infrastructure and other development projects, RT reported last week, and it plans to create a gambling mecca on the territory.

 

3. Kazakh official says higher-ed corruption worth $100 million a year

 

Corruption in Kazakhstan’s universities sucks in about $100 million per year, according to estimates by the country’s Education Ministry, Tengrinews reports.

 

Education is among the three most corrupt institutions in Kazakhstan, Deputy Education Minister Takir Balykbaev said 29 April, according to Tengrinews. He estimated a university exam costs at least $300. He did not name the other two most corrupt institutions.

 

With a few exceptions, university faculty in Kazakhstan are poorly paid and professors often solicit bribes from students, who pay an average of 50,000 tenge ($275) in “unofficial fees” at the end of each semester in order to pass their exams, EurasiaNet.org reports, also citing Balykbaev.

 

The deputy minister said the “corruption hot points” were enrollment, university accreditation, exams, procurement, and awarding of degrees.

 

Corruption is a problem in education throughout much of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, where schools are starved for funding and teachers are woefully underpaid.

 

Balykbaev said his ministry would create an anti-corruption committee and the Kazakhstan branch of Transparency International has launched an effort with the country’s financial police to train students to fight corruption in higher education institutions, EurasiaNet.org reports.

 

4. Could Russia’s fast-track citizenship law further hollow out Armenia?

 

Demographers in Armenia are warning that a new law making it easier for Russian speakers to get Russian citizenship will speed up the country's already alarming population decline, EurasiaNet.org reports.

 

The fast-track citizenship law covers those who formerly lived in pre-revolutionary Russia or the Soviet Union and would require applicants to give up their current citizenship, according to ArmeniaNow.com.

 

That could spell trouble in Armenia, which lost nearly 200,000 people between 2003 and 2013, and where the economy is heavily dependent on money sent home by migrant laborers abroad, most of whom work in Russia. Those remittances amounted to 81 percent of the $99.5 million worth of financial transfers Armenians received in January, according to EurasiaNet.org.

 

More than 200,000 of the country’s 3 million people hold dual Russian and Armenian citizenship, according to ArmeniaNow.com.

 

In a 2010-2012 Gallup Poll of former Soviet countries, nearly 40 percent of Armenian respondents said they would like to leave the country permanently, EurasiaNet.org reported in April 2013.

 

Sociologists say Armenians are disillusioned by persistent economic hardship and corruption. The average monthly wage in Armenia in the first quarter of this year was 157,345 drams ($380). In January the country’s unemployment rate stood above 16 percent. Armenian officials, who are in talks to enter the Russia-led Customs Union, have been hesitant to publicly voice concern about the national economy. 

 

When asked about the possibility of thousands of Armenians renouncing citizenship, Parliamentary Speaker Galust Sahakian said, “We all are citizens of Planet Earth, and everyone is free to live wherever they want,” according to ArmenianNow.com.

 

5. Bulgarian mogul still on EP shortlist despite opposition from Brussels

 

Some politicians in Brussels have lost a fight to keep a controversial Bulgarian media tycoon from running for the European Parliament later this month, EurActiv reports.

 

Delyan Peevski
Delyan Peevski, 33, will run as part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) grouping in the EP. A lawmaker in Bulgaria’s predominantly Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms party, he is widely unpopular and his appointment to lead his country’s National Security Agency last year triggered protests that nearly brought down the government.

 

Citing sources in ALDE, EurActiv reports that the group’s president, Guy Verhofstadt, had tried to convince leaders of the Bulgarian party not to send Peevski to Brussels. Peevski appears second on the party’s list, virtually guaranteeing him a spot in the EP, according to the website.

 

Two other members of ALDE, however, denied that Verhofstadt had made such an effort.

 

Peevski is the son of Irena Krasteva, a former director of the Bulgarian lottery who controls much of the country’s media. Until recently, he denied having a role in her media empire, and Bulgarian law does not require the disclosure of press ownership.

 

“In Bulgaria, Peevski is considered a symbol of the shady power brokerage that has impoverished Bulgarians, and ruined the country's reputation,” EurActiv writes.

 

If elected, Peevski would not be given any prominent role in the EP, the source told EurActiv.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Annabel Lau is a TOL editorial intern. Erin Murphy is an outreach and development officer at TOL. 
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