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Putin Idolizes Workers, Accused Ukrainian Lawmaker Returns Home

Plus, Hungary’s homelessness law comes under further scrutiny and a Siberian city where no one gets in without an invitation.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 12 December 2012

1. Protected from prosecution, opposition lawmaker returns to Ukraine


Arsen Avakov
After living outside Ukraine for more than a year to escape a charge of abuse of office, former Kharkiv region governor Arsen Avakov flew to Kyiv from Rome 11 December, the Kyiv Post reports. In October, Avakov was elected to parliament for the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and his parliamentary status gives him immunity from prosecution.


Kharkiv prosecutors filed charges and issued an international arrest warrant for Avakov in January relating to the illegal distribution of 55 hectares of public land in 2009, according to the Post. An appeals court in Rome rejected Ukraine’s request to extradite him. Avakov has said the charges against him are political.


Lawmakers can be stripped of immunity by a majority vote in parliament following a request by the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Kyiv paper writes.


2. Hungarian homelessness ban under attack at home and abroad


International rights monitors are urging the Hungarian government to abide by a court ruling that overturned a controversial law criminalizing homelessness.


Two UN experts on poverty and housing, Magdalena Sepulveda and Raquel Rolnik, criticized the criminal sanctions the law had imposed as “an infringement on the basic rights of homeless persons to liberty, privacy, personal security and protection of the family,” an 11 December press release said.


Human Rights Watch issued a similar statement last week.


Hungary’s Constitutional Court in November struck down the provision of the 2011 law that made living on the street an offense punishable by a fine or imprisonment. However, the European association of homeless-aid groups FEANTSA and The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog claimed last week that Prime Minister Viktor Orban may try to write a new law or change the constitution to permit the imprisonment of homeless people.


3. Putin suggests bringing back Soviet workers’ medal


Vladimer Putin
The “Hero of Labor” award popular in Soviet times should be revived, Russian President Vladimir Putin told supporters 10 December, The New York Times reports.


Then called the Hero of Socialist Labor, the award – a ribbon and a medal depicting Vladimir Lenin – was given to workers who contributed to “the growth of the might and glory of the USSR.” The first recipient of the award was Joseph Stalin in 1939, writes.


“Of course, I think that it would be good for us to revive the Hero of Labor award, only we need to think — we shouldn’t make a complete copy of it from the Soviet times,” Putin said, according to The Times


In the same speech, Putin rejected the notion of moving Lenin’s embalmed corpse from central Moscow. He compared Lenin’s mausoleum on Red Square to pilgrimage sites where Christians flock to view the relics of saints, Britain’s Telegraph reports.


4. BBC program criticized for low estimate of Chernobyl deaths


The true death toll as a result of radiation after the Chernobyl nuclear accident remains a controversial topic more than a quarter-century after the Ukrainian reactor exploded, releasing a cloud of radiation over much of Europe. After numerous complaints about a 2011 BBC documentary that concluded only 122 people died from radiation exposure, the governing body of the broadcaster said 11 December that the show breached accuracy guidelines.


Chernobyl, UkraineThe Chernobyl nuclear power station.


The estimate of 122 deaths on the “Bang Goes the Theory” program on nuclear power was “defensible as an estimate,” the BBC’s editorial complaints unit found. However, the figure “was presented as definitive when there is general agreement that estimates in this area are uncertain.”


Much of the debate stems from the difficulty of estimating how many cancers can be attributed to exposure to radiation. A report several years ago by the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international agencies concluded, “It is impossible to assess reliably, with any precision, numbers of fatal cancers caused by radiation exposure due to [the] Chernobyl accident. Further, radiation-induced cancers are at present indistinguishable from those due to other causes.”


The report said the “possible increase in cancer mortality” among the 600,000 “liquidators” who cleaned up the site after the explosion and other local people “might be” up to 4,000 additional deaths in time.


Other estimates are higher, including one of 90,000 fatal cancers by Greenpeace in 2006.


Meanwhile, Czech veterinarians say wild boars shot in parts of Sumava National Park, more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from Chernobyl, continue to have dangerously high levels of Chernobyl-sourced radioactive cesium in their bodies. However, boars from other areas of the park are not affected, the park director said.


5. ‘Idle people’ not wanted in Siberian boom town


Those who want to visit Novy Urengoi in the gas fields of the Russian Arctic must now obtain special permits, Radio Free Europe writes.


Authorities introduced the rules last week to stem an influx of migrants and rising crime in the city of 100,000, where residents enjoy a high standard of living thanks to nearby gas facilities. Visitors must now show an invitation from a local company or a family member living in the city, and then wait up to four weeks if they are Russians and eight weeks if they are foreigners, according to RFE.


"We are limiting the entry of unsanctioned visitors, people who come here without an invitation, a work permit, or proof they are on a business trip," the deputy head of the city administration said.


"The goal is to regulate the presence of idle people who come to our area without any purpose, especially since this is a strategic region where oil and gas is extracted."


There are about four dozen other “closed settlements” in Russia that restrict access because of military or nuclear activity, writes.


Novy Urengoi authorities say the main reason behind the entry restrictions is overpopulation and the resulting stress on health care, schools, and other infrastructure, says. In addition, the anti-extremism center of Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region is concerned about increased local activity by banned Islamist groups such as the Caucasus Emirate and Hizb-ut-Tahrir.


Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOLIoana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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