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Russia Makes Plans for the Moon, Macedonia’s Doctors Threaten Strike

Plus, Latvia may allow dual citizenship for some and what are the ramifications of the new revelations about the Katyn massacre?

by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 12 September 2012

1. Deputy prime minister: Russia should target the moon


A top Russian official says the country needs an ambitious new project to spur its scientific and research efforts.


Dmitry Rogozin
Specifically, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the defense and space industries, said the country should aim to build a base on the moon, RIA Novosti reports.


The project “would enable the country to escape from the morass of problems, which have kept us captive for the past 20 years,” Rogozin told the Vesti FM radio station, according to Reuters.


While the Soviet Union was a leader in space exploration, Russia’s program has been beset by woes, Reuters notes. The space industry has felt the pain of budget cuts and a lack of top scientists. An embarrassing rocket failure earlier this year resulted in huge financial losses for Russia and Indonesia, whose satellite was on board.


Rogozin said the moon-base effort would be “big, prestigious and political.”


A Russian Proton rocket lifts the first component of the International Space Station into space in 1998. Photo from


Only six months ago, Rogozin said Russia’s goal should not be the moon but exploration of planets Venus and Mars and research into the sun, the Voice of America notes.


Reuters said the changing goals may be the result of Russia’s humbling recent experiences in the space industry.


2. Macedonian doctors reject carrot-and-stick approach to pay


Macedonian doctors are threatening to strike if the government goes through with a plan to base their pay on the number of patients they see per month, SETimes reports.


Skopje wants to give a 20 percent pay boost to doctors who meet a monthly patient quota and a 20 percent pay cut to those who don’t.


Dejan Stavric, the president of the doctors’ union, told SETimes the changes would be illegal. He added, “Our work cannot be treated [like that of] someone who works in a factory. We believe that there should be a payment [based on] performance and rewarding with additionally provided money, [but] not to change the basic salary."


Some doctors are threatening to walk off the job on 24 September if the provision is not scrapped.


The proposal seems designed to root out a culture in which workloads are spread unevenly. A hospital worker and a patient told SETimes that there are too many doctors who shirk their responsibilities and let their colleagues take up the slack.


But one doctor said a quota system will not work in the medical profession. “My colleague and I [do not] have the same number [of patients] because they all have different difficulty.”


Last year, doctors in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic won raises after going on strike.


3. Latvia’s new dual citizenship offer has notable exceptions


Latvia is moving forward with legislation to make it easier for Latvians abroad to claim citizenship, according to the Latvians Online website.


The country’s parliament has given preliminary approval to a measure that would re-open the possibility of dual citizenship for Latvian exiles or to citizens of the European Union, NATO countries, or the four members of the European Free Trade Association – Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein, and Iceland.


Until 1995, the country offered dual citizenship to Latvians who had gone abroad and their descendants. The current bill would essentially resurrect the policy.


The exclusion of some countries from the offer has rankled the Harmony Center party, which has a large ethnic Russian base.


“Harmony Center believes that all citizens – all citizens – are needed by Latvia and it would not be right to lock out those whom fate dropped into countries that do not belong to elite clubs,” said legislator and party member Valerijs Agesins, Latvians Online reports.


But Dzintars Abikis of the center-right Unity party said the dual citizenship offer should only be made to those living in countries with which Latvia has “friendly relations, about which we do not have to wonder if they acknowledge our independence, about which we do not have to wonder if they will invade the territory of our friendly states.” Abikis said some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s past remarks seem to lament Latvia’s independence. 


About 300,000 “non-Latvians” live in Latvia, accounting for about 13 percent of the population. They are primarily Russian speakers who moved there or whose ancestors moved there during the Soviet era. They must undergo a naturalization process that includes a language test in order to become citizens. The exclusion of Russia and some other countries of the former Soviet Union from the new dual-citizenship measure would presumably most affect that population.


4. New Katyn documents could have political, diplomatic implications


Revelations that the United States had early and clear evidence that the Soviets, not the Nazis, committed the 1940 Katyn massacre of more than 20,000 Polish army officers and intellectuals could affect diplomatic relations or the politics of the countries involved, one scholar told Radio Free Europe recently.


A mass grave at Katyn in 1943. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.


Newly declassified documents from the U.S. National Archives show that American prisoners held by the Nazis were taken to the massacre site near Smolensk and sent coded messages to Washington about what they saw. For the sake of maintaining its wartime alliance with the Soviet Union, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration suppressed the intelligence. Meanwhile, the Soviets blamed the Nazis for the atrocity.


Since the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev, Moscow has made more records available about the incident and acknowledged Soviet guilt, but, as George Sanford, an expert on the Katyn massacre, told RFE, there is a gap between what scholars know of the massacre and what the public knows, which the new documents could help close.


Sanford said Moscow will be embarrassed by the new revelations because “the Putin administration has slightly backtracked on some of the moves originally taken after the fall of communism, certainly by Gorbachev and Yeltsin, to reveal the whole truth about Stalin's crimes.”


Russia’s high school history curriculum has been revised in the past several years to argue that some of Stalin’s crimes were necessary, understandable, or exaggerated.


Sanford said the Russian opposition could use the new evidence to further its case that an accounting of Stalin-era crimes has not happened. The revelations could also give ammunition to the opposition in Poland, which wants the government to take a harder line against Russia.


5. Growing number of Czech deaths linked to poisoned alcohol


Ten people have died and more than 20 have been hospitalized in the Czech Republic for alcohol poisoning caused by drinking bootleg liquor that contained methanol.


According to Czech Radio, the first case was registered on 6 September in the northeastern Moravia-Silesia region. Most cases have been reported in Moravia, with two occurring in Central Bohemia and three across the border in Poland. A senior police officer said the cases are most likely connected, the Associated Press reports.


Methanol is a nonpotable and highly toxic type of alcohol used in industry and for automotive purposes. Ingesting it can induce blindness, coma, and respiratory failure.


Although the Czech police confiscated some suspect bottles carrying the label of the Drak spirits producer and arrested a suspect on 8 September, the source of the contaminated liquor has not been determined. For that purpose, the Czech authorities have started a nationwide inspection of marketplaces, cafeterias, and street vendors. Prime Minister Petr Necas has ordered the ministers of health, interior, and agriculture to come up with steps to ensure public safety, according to the Associated Press.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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