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Atrocities Probe Points to Top Figures in Kosovo, Russia Sanctions Bite Major Energy Companies

Plus, Hungary’s leader embraces ‘illiberal democracy’ and Central Asian countries are again named religion bullies.

by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, Piers Lawson, and Erin Murphy 30 July 2014

1. EU Kosovo probe finds evidence of atrocities sanctioned by top figures


A nearly three-year investigation into atrocities committed in Kosovo after 1998-1999 war will likely lead to indictments against former top figures in the Kosovo Liberation Army, some of whom have become the country’s most prominent politicians.


Hashim Thaci
The probe found evidence of “widespread or systematic” crimes against minorities, mainly Roma and Serbs, including “unlawful killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, illegal detentions in camps in Kosovo and Albania, sexual violence, other forms of inhumane treatment, forced displacements of individuals from their homes and communities, and desecration and destruction of churches and other religious sites,” according to a statement (pdf) by John Clint Williamson, a prosecutor who led the EU-appointed investigation.


Other targets of the “campaign of persecution” included ethnic Albanians suspected of having collaborated with Serbs during the war “or, more commonly, to have simply been political opponents of the KLA leadership,” the statement says.


The EU’s Special Investigative Task Force was set up in 2011 to probe accusations of organ trafficking and other atrocities in Kosovo that were made in 2010 by Dick Marty, a Swiss politician working as a rapporteur for the Council of Europe, an intergovernmental human rights organization. Unlike that report, the EU investigation was conducted with an eye to criminal prosecution.


Williamson said there were “compelling indications” that abductions and murders for the purpose of organ harvesting took place “on a very limited scale.”


Former top-level KLA figures will likely be indicted for crimes against humanity next year, Williamson said, once a special tribunal is established in Kosovo.


That could spell trouble for Hashim Thaci, Kosovo’s embattled prime minister and a former KLA commander who was named in the Marty report as leader of Kosovo’s pre-eminent organized crime group during and after the war. That report said Thaci and others, including former Transport Minister Fatmir Limaj, had been implicated in ordering or overseeing “assassinations, detentions, beatings, and interrogations in various parts of Kosovo and, of particular interest to our work, in the context of KLA-led operations on the territory of Albania, between 1998 and 2000.”


Both Marty and Williamson said widespread witness intimidation had hindered their probes.


2. Energy sanctions hit Western, Russian companies


Some of the largest energy companies are set to be shut out of Russia’s prodigious “untapped energy troves” as U.S. and EU sanctions mount against Russia, Bloomberg reports.


The EU is restricting exports of deep-sea drilling and shale-fracturing technologies. In addition, the United States is blocking the export of “specific goods and technologies exported to the Russian energy sector,” Bloomberg notes.


U.S. President Barack Obama said the restrictions “will make it more difficult for Russia to develop its oil resources over the long term,” according to Bloomberg.


Russia needs Western technology to “develop an estimated $7.58 trillion in oil and natural gas resources that sprawl across nine time zones,” Bloomberg says.


The measures have been implemented “to curtail Russia’s access to Western technology as it seeks to tap new Arctic, deep sea, and shale oil reserves,” The New York Times reports

In its analysis, Bloomberg says oilfield service companies such as Halliburton, Baker Hughes Inc., and Weatherford International Plc each generate 4 percent to 6 percent of their global sales from Russia.


But a U.S.-based analyst told Bloomberg the increased sanctions are not expected to drive the companies out of Russia.


The sanctions may have more impact on Russia’s older oil fields, where Bloomberg says production is “maintained only with the help of Western technology such as horizontal drilling.”


Likewise, energy giant Exxon is “under pressure” to shun Russia’s biggest crude producer, Rosneft, Alexander Nekipelov, Rosneft’s chairman, told Bloomberg.


Exxon “may be forced to quit offshore Arctic and Siberian shale projects budgeted to cost as much as $1 billion,” Bloomberg reports, citing Nekipelov.


Russia is the second-largest producer of dry natural gas and third-largest liquid fuels producer in the world, figures provided last year by the U.S. Energy Information Administration say.


Even before the recent sanctions were enacted, the Financial Times says, “European companies started to warn of a severe impact on their operations in Russia.” 


The newspaper notes that BP, the British oil company, owns nearly a fifth of Rosneft, and has warned that its profits could be hit.


Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, said the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine has “altered the nature of doing business in Russia.”


“Sometimes events occur that are unintended and change the course of history; this was one such event,” he is quoted as saying.


3. Hungary’s Orban moves away from Europe toward an ‘illiberal state


In a move that “distances him from values shared by most EU nations,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has announced that he wants to jettison liberal democracy and replace it with an “illiberal state,” Bloomberg reports.


Viktor Orban
“I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations,” the prime minister said in a speech on 26 July.


The term illiberal democracy, coined in a 1997 Foreign Affairs article by Fareed Zakaria, refers to a system in which democratically elected governments ignore constitutional limits on power and deprive citizens of rights and liberties. Orban cited Russia, Turkey, and China as economically successful examples of such states. 


Orban, whose Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority in parliament, said the global financial crisis had shown that liberal democracies were no longer competitive. “Today, the world tries to understand systems which are not Western, not liberal, maybe not even democracies yet they are successful,” he said, according to EUobserver.


The prime minister, who has been the target of frequent criticism by nongovernmental groups, implied that civil society was an obstacle to establishing an illiberal state.


“We’re not dealing with civil society members but paid political activists who are trying to help foreign interests here,” Orban said, according to Bloomberg.


“After the government appointed Fidesz loyalists to lead public institutions and fostered a deferential media culture, many NGOs fear they may be the next target,” Reuters reported in June after government agents raided the offices of some grant-making groups. The government had accused the groups of funding a small, rival political party. The Norwegian government, which provided the funds, denied the allegations.


Orban has a track record of consolidating power and dismantling checks and balances in Hungary. He has considerably weakened the judiciary and made legislative end-runs around adverse high-court rulings.


4. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan on U.S. list of religion bullies


Two Central Asian countries were among those singled out for censure in this year’s edition of the U.S. State Department’s annual report on religious freedom around the world.


Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were designated “countries of particular concern,” a category reserved for countries whose governments have “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”


Telyashayakh Mosque in Uzbekistan. Photo by Giorgio Minguzzi /flickr.


Uzbekistan, a perennial on the list, is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country whose government tightly controls religious activity. Religious groups must be registered and proselytizing is illegal. The report notes that members of registered and unregistered groups were subjected to “jail terms, heavy fines, confiscation and destruction of religious literature, and in some cases police beatings for violations of these laws.”


Some prisoners suspected of extremism – a term loosely applied in Central Asia – died in custody and others endured “torture, beatings, denial of religious practice, and other harsh treatment,” according to the report. Nongovernment groups estimated that 10,000 to 12,000 people had been imprisoned on extremism charges, a figure the report notes could not be confirmed via government statistics.


Turkmenistan was added to the list this year. The country, closed to most outsiders and ruled by strongman President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, also requires religious groups to register and prohibits some from doing so. Jehovah’s Witnesses were particularly singled out for persecution, according to the report, because their religion requires them to request conscientious objector status instead of enlisting in the army.


Among other violations, the State Department cites “reports of beating and torture of persons detained for religious reasons.”


Though the country did not make the list of worst offenders, the report takes aim at Tajikistan (pdf) for being the only country in the world to bar those under 18 from participating in public religious practices, in an effort to thwart extremism. The report says that while the constitution is supposed to protect religious freedom, the government’s “respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom continued to be poor.” In addition to the prohibitions on children, the report notes that Tajikistani law “effectively” bars women from attending Muslim religious services.


Countries of particular concern are ultimately supposed to face economic sanctions if “non-economic policy options” by the U.S. government fail to bring about better behavior, according to the State Department.


5. Plans afoot to build second statue of Turkmenistan’s president


Turkmenistani President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov appears to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor Saparmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niazov’s cult of personality by graciously accepting plans to erect a second statue of himself in Ashgabat, Radio Free Europe reports.


Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov
Officials who have floated the idea point out to local media that the statue of the president will appear in the capital only because it is the popular will.


The first statue of the president – all in white, depicting him dressed as a traditional tribal chief riding a horse alongside a nearby dove –  appeared in March 2012.


Niazov started the post-Soviet tradition of having statues in honor of his presidency, Radio Free Europe says, although since his death in 2006 many have been demolished or shipped off to remote rural parts of the country.


Niazov took the cult of personality to new heights, even having a gold-plated statue of himself rotating with the sun built in the center of Ashgabat.


In addition he named months and days after himself and members of his family and ordered his book of moral teachings and alleged Turkmen folklore, the Rukhnama, to be read by students and workers.


Berdymukhamedov – who initially said he wanted to bring such practices to an end – seems to be growing keener on the idea. His ministers certainly are.


"The high level of development of our country, its successes and achievements, are inextricably linked to the name Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov," Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov recently told the president, according to RFE.


Kasymkuly Babaev, head of the president’s Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, was equally enthusiastic. “From all regions of the country, numerous requests are being received to set up a monument to … the president, …” he said.


For his part, Berdymukhamedov said, “The people must be consulted on such a question, because the desire of the people is sacred,” RFE reports.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Piers Lawson is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Erin Murphy is an outreach and development officer at TOL.

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