Russia

This Week in European Conflict… March 3rd-10th, 2012.

  • The European Union pulled a TV ad from circulation and apologized after many considered it racist. The ad featured several non-Western martial artists who confront a white brunette (symbolizing Europe) with weaponry and ends with her surrounding them.
  • President Lukashenka of Belarus lashed out at the European Union for expanding sanctions against his country last week, specifically at the openly homosexual German Foreign Minister, reportedly saying it is “better to be a dictator than to be gay”. Prison authorities reportedly prevented a pastor from visiting jailed opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka in a bid to persuade him to end his hunger strike on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the leader of the opposition United Civic Party was reportedly blocked by officials from coring into neighbouring Lithuania.
  • Sweden has reportedly been secretly helping Saudi Arabia plan the construction of an arms factory to produce anti-tank missiles since 2005.
  • President Sarkozy said on Tuesday that there are too many immigrants in France, defending his re-election campaign promise to cut the number of new arrivals by half. On Thursday, Sarkozy promised Armenians he will eventually secure the adoption of a law that would make it a crime to deny the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. On Friday, authorities said they wanted the Basque separatist group ETA to completely disarm and would continue to work with the Spanish government to end the last major guerrilla conflict on the continent.
  • The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England tried to ambush the PM’s attempt to legalize same-sex marriage when he launched his “no” campaign from the pulpit on the weekend. The British government is planning to launch a formal consultation document on allowing homosexual couples to marry. Some disturbing statistics were revealed on Friday, citing that more than half of young black men available for work in the country are now unemployed and that women are being disproportionately affected by government funding cuts.
  • The President of Armenia accused leaders in neighbouring Azerbaijan of seeking to block progress on resolving the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday. Armenia is set to engage in its first ever joint military exercises with the United States.
  • Three police officers and one gunman were killed in Dagestan on Sunday as unknown gunmen reportedly attacked them near a polling station for the Russian Presidential elections. On Tuesday, a female suicide bomber killed five police officers during an attack on a police station. On Friday, Russian forces reportedly used helicopters and artillery fire to pursue a group of 15 suspected terrorists in the Dagestan region.
  • Around 3,000 coal miners blocked a major road in southwestern Romania on Thursday, demanding a pay raise that was promised to them by the previous government.
  • Slovakia held its Parliamentary elections amid widespread public anger over a major corruption scandal on Saturday.  Exit polls suggested that a leftist opposition party appeared to be winning.
  • Voters in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia held their Parliamentary elections on Sunday, despite Georgia not recognizing them as valid.
  • The Parliament of Moldova voted to legalize chemical castration for convicted pedophiles and some rapists on Tuesday. The law will also apply to foreign nationals. On Wednesday, the acting President set the Presidential elections for March 16th, as the Parliament had failed to agree on a candidate amid prolonged disagreements between political factions.
  • Vladimir Putin won a third term as President in Russia, amid reports of voting irregularities and fraud during Sunday’s vote, though the ruling United Russia party said the elections should serve as “a model for other countries” in terms of transparency. On Monday, the United States urged the Russian government to conduct “an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations” from the Presidential vote, after international elections monitors say the election was clearly skewed in favour of Putin; riot police detained opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny during an anti-government rally; while thousands of Russians joined a mass protest against Putin’s return to the Kremlin, resulting in the detention of hundreds. Two of the members of the feminist band “Pussy Riot” who were arrested on the weekend started a hunger strike in protest. On Tuesday, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said he was troubled by Putin’s claiming victory and called for a discussion on whether to hold a new election. On Wednesday, authorities granted permission to opposition activists to gather up to 50,000 people on the weekend to protest Putin’s win; while the Russian League of Voters condemned the Presidential election as an “insult to civil society”. On Thursday, wives of retired military officers marked International Women’s Day by staging a protest and a hunger strike outside the defense ministry to demand better housing for their families; Putin announced plans to start consultations immediately on the composition of a new government; while NATO’s Secretary-General phoned Putin to congratulate him on his victory and agreed to meet in the “not-too-distant future”. On Friday, police in Moscow announced they will take any necessary measures in the instance of violations at a critical opposition rally on Saturday; the Kremlin said they had dismissed Russia’s ambassador to Qatar in the wake of an altercation between the ambassador and airport authorities; a group of major Russian human rights organizations criticised US Secretary of State Clinton over her response calling Putin the “clear winner” in the Presidential election;  while American President Obama called Putin, in the first conversation between the two men since Putin won his controversial third term. On Saturday, about a dozen protesters were arrested by police as several thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators rallied to denounce the elections.
  • A bomb exploded near the Prime Ministry building in Ankara, Turkey, lightly injuring one person on Monday; while the Turkish authorities were reportedly exploring paths to end the Kurdish conflict. On Friday, authorities expelled members of a Ukrainian feminist group from the country after they staged a topless protest to mark International Women’s Day; while state prosecutors sought permission from the PM to question spy chiefs over their secret contacts with Kurdish militants, challenging the government’s move to cub the investigation.
  • The interior minister of Macedonia condemned a recent wave of ethnically motivated violence, including a series of attacks over the week that left nearly a dozen people injured.
  • Prosecutors at the UN’s Yugoslav war crimes court asked for a 28-year sentence for Vojislave Seselj of Serbia on Wednesday, accusing him of incitement to commit atrocities in the 1990s Balkan wars; while mayors of ethnic Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo said they had received assurances from the Serbian Parliament speaker that local and Parliamentary elections will be held in Kosovo as well. Former Bosnia politician and warlord Fikret Abdic was released from prison after serving two-thirds of his sentence for crimes against Muslims during the 1992-5 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday and was met by some 3,000 supporters.
  • The Parliament of Croatia unanimously ratified a treaty on the country’s entry into the European Union on Friday.
  • The European Union announced that Hungary had not answered all the questions raised by the bloc about its respect for democratic rights and freedoms, with the EU threatening legal actions on Wednesday.
  • The President of the Ukraine ordered the government to work on a series of new reforms that he says are aimed at improving social welfare and public trust in the government on Wednesday during a televised cabinet meeting.
Advertisements

This Week in European Conflict… February 25th-March 3, 2012.

  • European Union leaders confirmed that Herman Van Rompuy will serve a second term as President of the European Council on Thursday. Van Rompuy has served as the President since December 2009.
  • A remote-controlled bomb injured 15 police officers and one civilian on Thursday in Istanbul, Turkey targeting a police bus close to the headquarters of the ruling AK Party. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
  • A controversial system of mobile euthanasia units were started on Thursday in the Netherlands. The scheme will send teams of specifically trained doctors and nurses to the homes of people whose own doctors have refused to carry out patients’ requests to end their lives.
  • The government of Ireland passed into law controversial copyright legislation that Internet freedom groups called a new form of censorship.
  • Serbia took a large step towards integrating with mainstream Europe on Monday as European Union foreign ministers called for the country to be made a candidate for union membership; while the European Union mission in Kosovo said six suspected operatives of Serbia’s Interior Ministry were arrested in Kosovo and five of them ordered held for 30 days. On Thursday, EU leaders formally endorsed Serbia as a candidate for membership into the bloc.
  • Hundreds of angry protesters forced President Sarkozy to take refuge in a cafe during his campaigning in France’s Basque country. Sarkozy denounced the “violence of a minority and their unacceptable behaviour”.
  • Senior EU officials agreed on fresh sanctions against Belarus on Monday in response to the President’s continued repression of his political opponents. On Tuesday, jailed hunger-striking opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka received a visit from his wife at the detention centre, who said he looked “half-alive”; while EU members announced they would recall their ambassadors to Minsk—a move Belarus said was “escalating tensions”— after Belarus asked the ambassadors to leave and recalled its own envoys “for consultations” in a tit-for-tat response to an expansion of sanctions. On Friday, EU officials expressed their “serious” concern over the “deterioration of the situation” in the country, as the European Council adopted a statement endorsing the recent EU sanctions and called on the bloc to continue work on “further measures”.
  • Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Russia on Sunday, wearing white scarves and ribbons or carrying white balloons or flowers, and lined the Garden ring holding hands to form a human chain to protest the likely return of Putin to the Presidency. On Monday, the opposition accused the Kremlin of playing up a purported assassination attempt against PM Putin to boost his popularity ahead of the Presidential elections; while an activist in the opposition Solidarity movement was reportedly arrested and sent to a psychiatric clinic for alleged antigovernment action. On Tuesday, authorities announced their plans to modernize the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle to include detachable equipment, such as an optical sight and a lamp. On Wednesday, PM Putin said his enemies were planning dirty tricks including ballot stuffing and even murder to tarnish the elections; opposition political blogger Aleksei Navalny said that he and other opposition protesters would not recognize the results of the March 4th Presidential election if Putin wins; while the Legislative Assembly in St. Petersburg passed a bill banning propaganda to minors about homosexuality or pedophilia, angering critics by tying sexual violence against children to homosexuality. On Thursday, Putin said he had not yet decided whether he wants to stay in power beyond 2018, when the Presidential mandate he is expected to win expires, showing his confidence in an upcoming win; the top investigative body says it launched an investigation into several video clips allegedly containing fake evidence of vote-rigging; authorities accused the US of trying to influence its election process by funding opposition groups; while Human Rights Watch says authorities are cracking down on critics during the protests. On Friday, the Guardian ran an article suggesting that although anti-Putin protests are rampant in Moscow, outside the capital, his support is much greater; election monitors complained of harassment and revealed alleged plans for mass fraud, prompting the opposition to plan protests no matter the results on Monday; Russia expressed a willingness to restore diplomatic relations with neighbouring Georgia, after the Georgian President offered to established visa-free travel to Georgia for Russians; Putin said that protests made him a stronger candidate; while the Russian Interior Ministry announced it plans to send 6,300 police officers from central Russia to Moscow for the election and subsequent days.
  • Police and protesters fought in the streets of Barcelona, Spain on Wednesday as more than 30,000 people joined students in demonstrations against cuts in education spending.
  • Police in London, England announced they arrested 20 people in an operation to dismantle the Occupy protest camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday. The protesters were refused permission to appeal against a High Court decision to allow their eviction to proceed.
  • Two dozen Azerbaijani and Turkish protesters gathered outside the Armenian Mission near the UN on Monday to mark the 20th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and to demand an apology for what Baku calls“genocide” in the village of Khojaly. On Tuesday, France’s Constitutional Council ruled that the recent law concerning the mass killings of Armenians a century ago violates the country’s constitution, a move Turkey welcomed.
  • An inactivated explosive device was discovered on an empty subway train at an Athens metro station in Greece on Saturday. Police say they believe the device was likely linked to a far-left group.  
  • A former interior minister and close ally of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko in the Ukraine was sentenced to four years in jail for embezzlement and abuse of office. Critics dismissed the charges as politically motivated. On Monday, the EU criticized the court decision, saying the verdict casts doubt on the independence of the judiciary.

This Week in European Conflict… February 18th-25th, 2012.

  • The former foreign secretary of the EU Jack Straw announced that the European Parliament should be abolished after failing to achieve its purpose of bridging the divide between the European people and EU. Straw argued that the body has a “major democratic deficit”  as a poll shows 78% believe their voice doesn’t count in the EU.
  • Tens of thousands reportedly rallied across Russia on Saturday in support of Vladimir Putin. Hundreds of cars circled central Moscow on Sunday to demand PM Putin allows free elections in the country; President Medvedev announced his intention to meet with some of the heads of the opposition protest movement; while PM Putin outlined plans for military reform and rearmament that would see the government spending 23 trillion rubles (around $770 billion) over a ten year period.  On Monday, a rare meeting between the President and opposition leaders produced talk of political reform but no sign of concessions strong enough to halt protests posing a challenge to Putin; a new poll predicts that Putin will be elected President in the first round of March’s election; while PM Putin announced that the country needs a stronger military to protect it against foreign attempts to stoke conflict around its borders. On Tuesday, Putin allegedly sought to bolster his authority ahead of the Presidential election by promising police in Moscow to pay hefty pay raises; the President of the southern republic of Tatarstan endorsed Putin, claiming Russia needs a “tsar” rather than a manager as head of state; while early voting began in remote areas ahead of the March 4th Presidential election. On Thursday, tens of thousands gathered in a central Moscow stadium to hear Putin, as he spouted nationalistic rhetoric and warned of the dangers of foreign influence, reportedly reminiscent of Soviet times. On Friday, Radio Free Europe ran an article detailing how a new protest movement, organized largely through social media, is rolling through the country; while Putin announced that he sees no new chill in ties with the Americans, but warned that he would not let the US gain nuclear supremacy and had no intention of playing “yes man” to the West on global issues.
  • An opposition activist in Belarus was sentenced to 10 days in jail on Wednesday for holding an unsanctioned “toy protest” in Minsk, and announced he will go on a hunger strike in protest. On Thursday, another toy protest activist was reportedly jailed, while both men announced the start of a hunger strike to protest their imprisonment.
  • A wave of execution-style shootings and a police station bombing have rocked Sweden’s third largest city, sparking fears of gangster violence taking hold of the country, once seen as the world’s safest places.
  • Police announced on Saturday that at least seventeen police and seven insurgents were reportedly killed in four days of fighting on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan. Another 24 police and security troops were also wounded in the fighting.
  • EU officials announced that a new round of talks in Brussels between Serbia and Kosovo was to be postponed to February 22nd after Pristina representatives failed to show up on time because their flight had been cancelled.  On Wednesday, Serbia announced its plans to open its first shelter for gays and lesbians in a southern city. On Thursday, the German Foreign Minister announced that Germany firmly supports Serbia’s bid to join the EU and would like to see it given candidate status at the upcoming week’s EU summit; while former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic slammed the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal as a puppet of NATO, calling it biased against him and other Serbs. On Friday, the EU Enlargement Commissioner announced that Serbia and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership reached a deal on border issues and Kosovo’s participation in Balkan regional meetings; while the Bosnian Education Minister has reportedly resigned and fled the country after receiving death threats for his decision to remove mandated religious classes from primary school.
  • Macedonia reportedly urged NATO to accept it as a member when the alliance holds a summit in May, despite Greek opposition due to a long-running dispute over its name.
  • The government of Germany and two main opposition parties agreed to jointly nominate a former East German human rights activist as the next President, following the resignation of the former President on Friday.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people protested across Spain on Sunday against reforms to the labour market, in fears it will destroy workers’ rights and the welfare state. The protests took place in some 57 towns and cities across the country. Thousands of students took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against alleged police violence, a day after security forces arrested 25 protesters and injured 4 at a demonstration against spending cuts in education.
  • Nearly 75 percent of voters in Latvia rejected the plan to change the constitution and introduce Russian as an official second language in the country on Saturday, a move praised by neighbouring Lithuania. Russia however, criticized the country for rejecting their language, calling the vote biased because it excluded so many Russian-speaking “non-citizens” from voting.
  • The Guardian ran an article outlining the six key elements of the deal for the bailout of Greece by the eurozone finance ministers. On Wednesday, trade unions promised a popular revolt over the bailout.
  • Emergency services in London, England began practising their response in the event of an attack during the summer Olympic Games, set to be staged in the capital this year.
  •  The European Court of Human Rights ordered Italy to pay thousands of dollars to 24 Somali and Eritrean migrants who fled Libya in 2009, but were subsequently returned. The court ruled that the migrants risked ill-treatment in Libya where such migrants were systematically detained.
  • President Saakashvili of Georgia challenged his political opponents to disclose their views on relations with Russia, while also underlining his commitment to strengthening the country’s ties with NATO and the EU.

This Week in European Conflict… February 11th-18th, 2012.

  • On Friday, France and Britain agreed to jointly work to develop next-generation unmanned drones as part of their military cooperation.
  • The Guardian ran a set of interesting articles detailing Scotland Yard’s investigation into Britain’s MI5 instances of torture, murder and rendition.
  • Nicolas Sarkozy formally declared that he will be running for a second term as President of France this spring.
  • The chief editor of the leading liberal radio station in Russia announced that a surprise management reshuffle at the station is aimed at dictating the station’s coverage ahead of the March 4th Presidential elections on Tuesday; while it was released that the country came close to a nuclear disaster last December when a blaze engulfed a nuclear-powered submarine carrying atomic weapons. On Wednesday, a fake video showing Vladimir Putin in a courtroom cage in what seemed to be a real trial for terrorism went viral on the internet; while the white ribbon protest gained steam, especially among those fashion-conscious Russians. On Thursday, the European Parliament expressed concern over the disputed Russian State Duma elections in December, but stopped short of called for their annulment; while an official responsible for foreign arms sales says the country set a weapons export record in 2011, selling $13.2 billion in arms to foreign clients, with India, Algeria and Vietnam accounting for half of all exports.
  • Serbs in northern Kosovo began voting on Monday in a referendum asking whether or not they accept the authority of ethnic Albanian rulers. The referendum has no legal weight, but is likely to further complicate the EU-sponsored dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and Serbia’s efforts to eventually join the EU. By Thursday, 99.74% of Serbs who voted rejected Albanian rule; and European Union-brokered talks were set to resume between Serbia and Kosovo.
  • At least three Russian police officers were reportedly killed and six others injured on Monday in a gun battle with suspected militants along the Chechen-Dagestan border.  On Tuesday, Russian security forces allegedly killed the leader of a rebel group, Ibragimkhalil Daudov in Dagestan.
  • Veterans of the Afghan-Soviet war in the Ukraine snubbed the President by turning their backs on him at a ceremony on Wednesday to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The daughter of former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko said that her mother has been subjected to poor medical care and abusive conditions in prison during an interview.
  • On Saturday, the people of Latvia voted in a referendum on whether or not to make Russian the second official language of the country.
  • On Sunday night, tens of thousands of people in Greece reportedly tried to demonstrate peacefully in front of the parliament building, but were almost immediately met with teargas, and then took to rioting—setting fire to banks, stores and cafes. On Monday, the country announced it will hold general elections in April, only hours after Parliament voted through tough new austerity measures aimed at saving the country from bankruptcy.
  • The European Parliament President announced he is “appalled” by the deteriorating situation in Belarus regarding human rights and political freedoms on Tuesday and called upon authorities to release opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka and all other political prisoners. On Friday, another prominent Belarusian human rights activist who was sentenced to 4 ½ years in jail for tax evasion was transferred from a detention centre in Minsk to a labour camp in Babruysk.
  • Two international watchdogs condemned recent attacks on a Turkish newspaper office in Germany and France allegedly carried out by Kurdish activists. On Friday, the German President was forced into a humiliating resignation, after being caught up in an alleged corruption scandal and misguided attempt to muzzle the press.

This Week in European Conflict… February 4th-11th, 2012.

  • Tens of thousands of people took part in rallies across Europe on Saturday to protest against an international anti-piracy agreement they fear will curb their freedom to download movies and music for free and encourage internet surveillance.
  • Pro-Europe politician Sauli Niinisto won the Presidency in Finland on Sunday to keep the country in the euro zone with a 63 percent majority.
  • The PM and his cabinet in Romania resigned on Monday after weeks of protests over widespread corruption and austerity measures, naming the foreign intelligence chief Mihai Razvan Ungureanu as the new PM-designate. Emil Boc said he was quitting to “release the tension in the country’s political and social situation”. On Thursday, the Parliament approved the new government headed by designated new PM Mihai Razvan Ungureanu.
  • A group calling itself the Russian arm of Anonymous reportedly hacked private emails that show that a pro-Kremlin group in Russia allegedly runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of PM Putin and is set to hatch plans to discredit opposition activists and media. PM Putin said on Wednesday that the world faced a growing “cult of violence” and warned of outside interference from the West; while officials announced that nearly 40 soldiers in one unit were hospitalized and one died from pneumonia in Siberia that critics charge is due to insufficient uniforms for the extremely cold temperature. On Thursday, the Defense Ministry said that two of their strategic bombers returned to their base in Siberia following a 16-hour training patrol over international waters north of Japan, a move that prompted the air forces of Japan and South Korea to send F-15 and F-16 fighters to monitor the mission; Eurasianet ran an article suggesting that Putin’s nationalist philosophy may lead to a redrawing of Russian borders; a federal judge in New York upheld the conviction of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout after rejecting his motion to have his conviction dismissed; while former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev again said that Vladimir Putin has exhausted himself as Russia’s leader. On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters again gathered in the capital to challenge PM Putin’s grip on power. On Tuesday, President Medvedev ordered the top security service to “detect and curb provocations” by extremists ahead of elections. On Friday, authorities in the Serbian city of Barnaul declared it now illegal to organize antigovernment demonstrations by using toy collections, unless advance permissions are granted; Defense Minister Serdyukov announced that the Navy will get two new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines this summer; the Federal Security Service (FSB) said that a military officer was jailed for 13 years for passing missile secrets to the American CIA; and President Medvedev dismissed the police chief of St. Petersburg after a 15-year-old boy died after allegedly being beaten in police custody. On Saturday, a group of European vote monitors say they have been denied a meeting with Putin because of his busy schedule; while pro-democracy protests continued despite the freezing temperatures. The Atlantic ran an article about the viral music video that is become a sensation in Russia that suggests Putin was sent to the country by God, and at just the right time.
  • A 24-hour general strike took place on Tuesday this week in Greece, as workers protested austerity measures from being imposed to prevent the country from going bankrupt. On Friday, at least four members of the coalition government are reported to have resigned over austerity cuts. On Sunday, Parliament approved a deeply unpopular austerity bill to secure a second bailout from the EU and IMF and avoid a messy default; while thousands protested against the bailout, pushing the country on to edge of a precipice.
  • Serbia and Kosovo reportedly resumed dialogue after a three-month break, helping to ease some of the tensions between the two. Serbian authorities reported two high-profile, convicted professional killers attempted to escape from a high-security prison in Belgrade on Tuesday.
  • The Parliament in Bosnia voted in a new central government, formally ending a 16-month political crisis that followed the October 2010 elections. The nine portfolios in the new government will be divided among six parties—two Bosnian Serb, two Bosnian Croat, the main Muslim SDA party and the multi-ethnic Social Democrats.
  • The Supreme Court in Spain disbarred Judge Baltasar Garzon for 11 years on Thursday for illegally recording defence lawyers’ conversations with clients, without any chance of appeal. Garzon is also charged in two other cases, one for allegedly abusing his authority by ordering an inquiry into the murder and forced disappearance of more than 100,000 people by forces loyal to late dictator Franco and violating the 1977 amnesty law.
  • A former senior official in Croatia has plead not guilty to charges that he ordered torture and killing of Serbian civilians during the 1991-5 war. Former Deputy Interior Minister Tomislav Mercep has begun his war crimes trial for allegedly ordering the killing, illegal detention, inhuman treatment and looting of property of 52 ethnic Serbs.
  • A former opposition candidate for the de facto Presidency of South Ossetia is reportedly in “serious but stable” condition after being taken to the hospital for a hypertensive crisis. She allegedly suffered the attack while being questioned during a police raid of her headquarters.
  • Some 13 militants and one soldier were reportedly killed in a series of operations in southeastern Turkey on Thursday between security forces and Kurdish PKK fighters; while the national intelligence agency rebuffed a demand from state prosecutors that it answer questions about secret talks it allegedly held with Kurdish rebels.
  • The radical feminist group FEMEN in the Ukraine hosted a topless protest to draw attention to the poor human rights record in Belarus that was recently chosen as the host of the 2014 Hockey World Cup. On Wednesday, the Ukrainian Parliament rejected to bills that would have freed former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, who was sentenced to prison in a process that rights groups and foreign governments have condemned; while President Yankovych fired the Defense Minister without citing a reason for the dismissal.
  • The Interior Minister of France, who is also in charge of immigration, said he is standing by his remarks that not all civilizations are equal, even as critics denounced his comments as dangerous and xenophobic.

This Week in European Conflict… January 25th-February 4th, 2012.

  • The Council of Europe Commission for Human Rights warned this week of rising racism and xenophobia in Europe amid the current economic crisis, with austerity budgets undermining social rights and putting vulnerable groups at greater risk.  On Wednesday, British PM Cameron accused the European court of human rights of having a “corrosive effect” on people’s support for civil liberties; highlighting controversial rulings undermine the public confidence in the rights court.
  • A group known as the Global Zero NATO-Russia Commission urged the US and Russia to start preparatory talks immediately to remove tactical nuclear weapons from combat bases in Europe as a step towards comprehensive nuclear disarmament. The group stated that nuclear weaponry has “virtually no military utility, incur significant financial costs and security risks, including terrorist capture, and create political friction between NATO and Russia”.
  • On Monday, twenty-five of the EU’s twenty-seven member states agreed to join into a fiscal treaty to help overcome the financial crisis and enforce budget discipline. The Czech Republic and the UK refused to sign, citing “constitutional reasons” and “legal concerns” about the use of the EU institutions in enforcement as reasons.
  • Nearly two dozen aligned opposition groups in Armenia decided to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections jointly, angry at the system of proportional representation.  The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) re-stated its intention to bring down the current President.
  • On Sunday, Greece dismissed a German plan to install an EU budget commissioner with oversight of its economy and veto powers as “laughable”. Under the plan, European institutions would have direct control over Greece’s budget decisions in what would amount to an extraordinary depletion of a member state’s independence in conducting its own affairs.
  • On Sunday, thousands took to the streets in Spain to protest the charges against “superjudge” Baltasar Garzon, who controversially investigated the mass killings by the Francoist dictatorship and corruption in the ruling People’s Party in violation of a 1977 amnesty law.
  • Five centre-right parties in Slovenia formally named conservative Janez Jansa as PM-designate on Wednesday; almost two months after a snap election ousted the Social Democrats from power but produced no outright winner. Jansa was confirmed as PM on Saturday.
  • The government in the Netherlands announced plans to ban Muslim face veils such as burqas and other forms of clothing that cover the face starting next year. A government coalition has agreed to submit a new law to parliament next week that would charge offenders fines of up to 390 Euros ($510 USD).
  • Around sixty-seven percent voted to join the European Union in a referendum vote on Sunday afternoon in Croatia. Less than half the voting population was said to have turned out for the vote, prompting an anti-EU group to say the vote was invalidated.
  • The PM in Turkey was angered over the possible passing of the Armenian genocide denial bill in France, saying that they “murdered freedom of thought” and warned the French President of retaliatory measures if it is implemented. The bill was passed late last Monday, with Armenian blessing. On Friday, security forces reportedly killed five Kurdish insurgents after discovering them hiding in a cave in the southeastern province of Batman; while prominent journalists charged with involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the government were denied released from custody in a controversial trial on media freedom.
  • The President of Georgia denied opposition claims on Tuesday that he wants to stay in power as the PM when his term expires next year, saying his country “can have no Putin”.
  • The UN refugee agency voiced their concern this week over the plight of asylum-seekers, including some minors, held in two detention centres in Ukraine. More than 100 people are reportedly challenging their detention or have complained that they were denied the right to apply for asylum.
  • The PM of Romania fired his foreign minister last Monday allegedly for calling anti-government protesters “inept violent slum-dwellers” after more than a week of sometimes violent demonstrations. On Tuesday, a new foreign minister was sworn in amid continued protests; while the PM called for unity on that the country’s national Day of Unity. On Wednesday, the constitutional court overturned a government plan to hold local and parliamentary elections on the same day, further unsettling the current centrist government. On Saturday, hundreds protested against a plan to set up Europe’s biggest open-cast gold mine, saying it would destroy ancient Roman gold mines and villages and be environmentally damaging. On Monday, the Supreme Court sentenced former PM Adrian Nastase to two years in prison for corruption, though Nastase denies any wrongdoing; while the main opposition group were winning in opinion polls around the country, as protests continued to rock the ruling PDL party.
  • Thousands of angry demonstrators took to the streets of Bratislava and several other towns in Slovakia on Friday in protest at a major corruption scandal ahead of the March elections. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
  • On Friday, Norway apologized for the arrest and deportation of Jews during the Second World War on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some 772 Norwegian Jews and refugees were deported to Germany during the war with only around 34 survivors.
  • Four former Yugoslav soldiers were sentenced to up to four years in Montenegro for war crimes committed against ethnic Croatian prisoners of war during the 1991-5 Croatian conflict. The four were charged with torturing prisoners in a makeshift prisoner camp. Meanwhile Bosnia-Herzegovina’s war crimes court upheld a 31-year prison sentence against Radomir Vukovic, a former Bosnian Serb police officer convicted on genocide charges in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
  • Occupy London protesters in the United Kingdom marked 100 days since beginning last Monday, but were forced into retreat in a new office building. On Friday, Occupy activists attempted to disrupt a debate in Davos for the World Economic Forum, calling on delegates to leave the stage and join them in protest; while Occupy protesters in London were evicted by police from the vacant property they had occupied earlier in the week.
  • PM Putin of Russia warned last Monday of the damage of ethnic tensions in the country and vowed he would toughen migration rules and keep a tight rein on Russia’s regions. On Tuesday, the government purchased 60 Iveco armored vehicles from Italy, with plans to spend some $30 billion on new military equipment, including 120 helicopters. On Wednesday, the Central Election Commission registered Mikhail Prokhorov as a Presidential candidate; while current President Medvedev announced he might run for President again following Putin’s anticipated return to the Presidency. On Friday, election authorities formally disqualified the founder of the liberal opposition Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, from running in the March 4th Presidential election. On Saturday, some 15,000 people reportedly attended a rally in the Russian Urals in support of PM Putin’s bid for the Presidency. On Sunday, the Yabloko opposition party said that the office of a regional newspaper that it publishes have been destroyed in an attack with a Molotov cocktail; while “For Fair Elections” demonstrators displaying a white ribbon or other symbols on their vehicles circled around the Garden Ring in Moscow in protest of the flawed parliamentary vote. On Tuesday, the opposition drafted their protest demands, including the annulment of the December 2011 parliamentary elections and the dismissal of the chief election official. On Thursday, activists say they have come under pressure and scare tactics from police and security services ahead of their next big protest against Putin’s likely return to the presidency; the Russian state-run arms exported Rosoboronesksport reported $11 billion in sales from the 2011 year, despite billions in lost sales from the UN embargo on Libya; and the Deputy PM expressed his wish to see the country’s children play with toy guns and tanks made in Russia rather than the West, giving a “command” for manufacturers to create toy versions of Russian weapons and military equipment. On Saturday, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in Moscow shouting “Russia without Putin” and calling for a rerun of disputed parliamentary elections; while an international commission has developed a new proposal that would allow NATO and Russia to share data from radars and satellites about missile attacks to try and allay fears of the planned US missile shield in Europe neutralizing Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
  • At least 8 alleged Islamist militants, four Russian servicemen and possibly a civilian were killed in three separate incidents in the North Caucasus region on Tuesday; while five suspected Islamist rebels and four Russian servicemen were killed in a clash in the Republic of Dagestan. On Friday, Russian security forces allegedly killed three militants, including the regional leader of an insurgent group, in a shootout in a private home in the village of Ekazhevo; while other reports claimed that Russian security forces and militants killed some 12 people.
  • Police in Belarus have reportedly arrested well-known human rights activist Aleh Vouchak and charged him with hooliganism on Tuesday.

This Week in European Conflict… December 11th-17th, 2011.

  • The EU is set to restrict the sale of the main active substances needed for lethal injections to the United States. By Friday, the export of sodium thiopental will only be possible with special permission.
  • French President Sarkozy said that there are now clearly “two Europes” following a summit last week where the UK vetoed EU treaty changes, while former Belgian PM Verhofstadt called upon a boycott of the English language within the EU. European leaders agreed in Brussels to plans for deeper economic integration among the countries that use the euro currency and to impose sanctions on states that go over an agreed budget deficit limit.
  • On Monday, a package bomb thought to have been sent from Italy was sent to the Greek Embassy in Paris, France, but was disabled before it could cause any injuries or damage. Former PM Dominique de Villepin announced he is running for President as an independent candidate on French television. On Thursday, former President Jacques Chirac was convicted by a French court of embezzling public funds and gave him a two-year suspended prison sentence on corruption charges.
  • Rumours that the Swedish-owned Swedbank was facing liquidity and legal problems prompted more than 10,000 Latvians to withdraw their deposits on Sunday. The police have launched an investigation into the source of the rumours, as spreading false rumours that threaten the stability of the banking system is a criminal offence in the country.
  • On Thursday, a gang of seven people were arrested in Slovakia on suspicion of trying to smuggle radioactive material to sell in the Czech Republic. The material was set to arrive from the former Soviet Union and be worth an estimated 500,000 Euros.
  • The President of the breakaway region of Transdniester called upon the election to be scrapped because of numerous violations in voting, after he failed to even qualify for an expected runoff. The Electoral Commission received many complaints from voters and candidates alike. On Friday, the election commission announced it will hold a Presidential runoff on December 25th, after throwing out incumbent Smirnov’s complaints of election irregularities.
  • A Deputy Interior Minister in Belarus was arrested on Monday for possible abuses of office. The man is best known for his leading role in dispersing opposition gatherings and protests and arresting activists. On Friday, two leading activists were charged with verbally insulting police, in an action seen to be taken to prevent their participation in an upcoming party congress; authorities in the eastern city of Vitseksk warned activists of possible consequences should they hold an unsanctioned mass gathering; while the EU imposed sanctions on two officials involved in the trial of human rights activists Ales Byalyatski who was sentenced to prison for tax evasion in November.
  • The Parliament of Moldova has failed to select a new President this week, after he failed to receive the required two-thirds of the vote because of a Communist party boycott. The only Presidential candidate Marian Lupu, alleged that three Communist deputies who recently defected and might have helped him get elected were locked away somewhere by the Communist party. A new ballot will be held in January, and if undecided, will result in the dissolution of Parliament.
  • The founder of a newspaper critical of the authorities of Dagestan died after being gunned down outside his office on Friday. Staff at the newspaper said he was deliberately killed in front of the newspaper office to scare the staff, while other rights activists have stated that his death is payback for his work in the North Caucasus.
  • The mayor of a village in Armenia has resigned in protest at a government decision to transfer large patches of communal land to a German-owned mining company, claiming it would result in an ecological disaster that would lead to a mass exodus of the population, effectively destroying his village. The company plans to extend its open-pit mining operations in the area.
  • After 18 years of negotiations, the World Trade Organization has decided to accept Russia as a member, after the last country to block its bid– Georgia– lifted its objections.  Over the weekend, President Medvedev issued instructions for the government to investigate allegations of electoral fraud during the December 4th parliamentary vote, though claimed he disagreed with demands for a re-vote; while tens of thousands rallied in the streets in the largest anti-government protests in the country’s post-Soviet history. On Monday, one of the richest men in Russia, Mikhail Prokhorov announced that he will run in next year’s Presidential election against PM Putin. On Tuesday, two senior managers of the respected Kommersant publishing group were fired over their coverage of alleged violations during the elections process; while the Director General submitted his resignation in protest; and President Medvedev announced that the first session of the newly elected Parliament would be held on December 21st.  On Wednesday, a Putin loyalist who served as the speaker of Parliament resigned from his position in a move that appeared to be a governmental effort to stem public anger. On Thursday, PM Putin dismissed and mocked the anti-government protesters and claimed that they were “paid agents of the West” on a television program, though he also claimed that they have the right to protest, as long as it is within the law; while DOS attacks on liberal websites and blacklisting of “undesirables” from state television continued.
  • Five people were killed and three wounded in the North Caucasus region in two separate incidences on Wednesday, including four suspected rebel fighters shot dead by Russian soldiers and a senior police investigator who was caught in a road ambush. Three army engineers were injured by a remote-controlled bomb in Ingushetia.
  • On Wednesday, the UN Security Council decided to extend the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus until July 2012 and called upon the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to accelerate reunification talks. The force has been in place since 1964.
  • On Tuesday, a man killed four people and wounded another 122 in Belgium after he lobbed three hand grenades and opened fire at a crowded bus stop before killing himself. The following day, police found the body of another woman, suspected of being Nordine Amrani’s cleaner, while searching the attacker’s garage. Amrani’s lawyer said that he was afraid of being questioned regarding sexual crimes and going back to jail.
  • A lone gunman went on a shooting spree in Florence, Italy on Tuesday, killing two Senegalese street vendors and wounding three others before he turned the gun on himself. The man was described as a far-right personality with a strong anti-immigration stance. Around 300 Africans marched in protest, demanding to see the gunman’s corpse.
  • Security forces in Turkey reportedly killed eight Kurdish militants in fighting in the east on Thursday after helicopter gunships were dispatched to a camp thought to be a winter compound for the PKK. Five of the militants killed were women. The Turkish government has also reportedly threatened to recall its French ambassador and freeze all ties with France if the French parliament passes a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide, considering it a “dishonor” to their country.
  • On Tuesday, demonstrators supporting former PM Tymoshenko of the Ukraine battled police outside a court hearing her appeal against a seven-year prison sentence; while the offices of the opposition Ukraine’s Future party were vandalized and robbed in what party officials claim to be a politically motivated attack.
  • On Tuesday, international envoys in Bosnia extended their mandate to oversee the strategic district of Brcko in between two feuding regions, contrary to the advice of the International Crisis Group who claimed that ongoing supervision only encourages local leaders to shirk responsibility. The envoys were to end their mandate two years ago, but stayed in place due to the threats of seccession.
  • On Tuesday, some 25 Russian trucks were refused entry by the EU mission in Kosovo (Eulex), with Eulex saying the convoy must accept its escort or enter through a crossing run by Pristina authorities, which Russia does not recognize as a legitimate body, since Russia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence declaration. The Russian ambassador to Serbia accused Eulex of blocking aid, which Eulex claims is not destined for the general Serbian population but for those manning roadblocks in resistance to the government in Pristina.

This Week in European Conflict… December 4th-10th, 2011.

  • The top military commander in the US announced that he believes the eurozone is at great risk and warned that any breakup of the bloc could have serious consequences for the Pentagon. He warned of the potential for civil unrest after 26 of the 27 EU countries agreed to forge a tighter fiscal union.
  • On Sunday, opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov was arrested by plainclothes police in Russia on his way to a protest calling on Russians to boycott the day’s problematic elections processes. The ruling United Russia party garnered just fewer than 50% of the votes, amid allegations of people being bused from polling station to polling station, vote rigging, fraud and other problems, including  the shutdown of several websites that provide independent election data by suspected hackers intent on silencing allegations of violations in the vote. Hundreds were arrested in a protest in central Moscow on Tuesday, including opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, journalists, several other human rights leaders, bloggers and opposition activists; while an election observer in the republic of Tatarstan says she witnessed several cases of vote rigging in the elections and several other international election observers complained of violations tilted in favour of the ruling United Russia party. PM Putin responded to the allegations and protests by promising to reshuffle the government next year, amid warnings from his spokesman that any unsanctioned rallies would be stopped. On Wednesday, ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urged authorities to annul the parliamentary vote results and hold a new election as protests and instability increased while police blocked any new protest attempts. Though as many as 800 protesters were arrested in less than 24 hours, opposition groups began calling upon daily protests. President Medvedev posted an insulting post on his Twitter feed against the opposition that was later blamed upon an unidentified official who interfered with the feed. On Thursday, Putin accused US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton of encouraging the Russian protests and giving “the signal” to opposition leaders to protest; while more than 35,000 demonstrators took to the streets with Russians flooding Facebook and Twitter to organize. On Friday, the founder and director general of a Russian online social network was summoned to the prosecutor’s office in Saint Petersburg after he announced they would not comply with an order from the Federal Security Service to block seven groups calling for demonstrations.
  • On Tuesday, three people were charged with a plot to murder a cartoonist in Sweden who depicted the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) in a newspaper in 2005.
  • Serbs in Kosovo started to dismantle roadblocks on Monday that had caused clashes with NATO peacekeepers. A local Serb leader said the removal was part of an agreement with the peacekeeping mission (KFOR).  On Tuesday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the resumption of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo to adopt border controls.
  • Croatia went to the polling stations in its general elections on Sunday, electing a new centre-left government. On Friday, the country was embraced as the 28th member of the European Union, formally joining on July 1, 2013.
  • A letter bomb addressed to Deutsche Bank Chief Josef Ackermann was intercepted in Frankfurt, Germany on Wednesday. No group has yet claimed responsibility.
  • A letter bomb exploded at a tax collection agency office in Italy on Friday, wounding the organization’s director. The Italian group, Informal Anarchist Federation, claimed responsibility.
  • Several Greenpeace activists stormed into the grounds of a nuclear power plant in France trying to show the vulnerability of atomic sites in the country. Seven of the nine intruders were detained.
  • On Monday, politicians in Belgium finally agreed to form a government after almost 18 months after the last elections. The government will be headed by Elio Di Rupo, an openly gay francophone from the Wallonia region.
  • On Wednesday, the coalition government in Greece passed an austerity budget aimed at shrinking its debt amid clashes between police and protesters outside of Parliament. Police fired teargas at protesters, who reportedly hurled petrol bombs; broken pavement slabs, and sticks at them, causing over two dozen injuries and 38 arrests.
  • Hundreds of farmers protested in Sofia, Bulgaria on Tuesday against subsidy cuts due next year, calling upon the finance and agricultural ministers to resign.
  • The opposition leader in South Ossetia announced that a deal with former de facto President Eduard Kokoity to end protests had been violated, calling upon her supporters to demonstrate in the capital.  Dzhioyeva said that just prior to quitting his post as President, Kokoity created a Constitutional Court and made dozens of appointments.
  • On Saturday, at least 15,000 supporters of the Communist Party in Moldova demonstrated to demand the resignation of the government, which they say is run from Brussels, the US and Bucharest. Presidential elections are set to be held on December 16th.
  • The European commissioner for human rights warned that any attempt by the government to overhaul human rights laws in the UK would have a damaging effect on global democracy, after the PM expressed his desire to replace the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights. The convention was drawn up after the Second World War and ratified in 1950.
  • Twelve of the some 30 hunger strikers in Kyiv, Ukraine protesting social benefits cuts for Chernobyl cleanup veterans have switched to a so-called dry hunger strike in an attempt to intensify the protest.
  • On Sunday, Parliamentary elections in Slovenia saw a narrow victory for the centre-left mayor of the capital, Ljubljana. The Positive Slovenia party won some 28.5% of the votes (or 28 seats), the Slovenian Democratic Party garnered 26.3% and the Social Democrats got 10.5%.
  • An opposition activist in Belarus reportedly disappeared after reporting to police for questioning in the eastern part of the country. Dzmitry Toustsik has been missing since December 6th.

 

This week in conflict… October 2nd- 8th, 2010.

World

  • The UN called upon governments to expand their efforts to ensure the protection for the world’s 43 million forcibly displaced people in the face of  “never-ending” conflicts that are creating new semi-permanent refugee populations. More than 5.5 million refugees are stuck in protracted situations.
  • China began hosting its first UN climate conference this week aimed at building momentum and finding areas of agreement ahead of the annual summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Climate change is said to highly affect global conflicts. China said at the conference that rich nations must vow greater cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and warned of lost trust in talks, while rich countries accused China of undercutting progress.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a report on Friday calling for equal participation by women in post-conflict peacebuilding. He laid out a seven-point action plan aimed at changing practices among all actors and improving outcomes on the ground.

Africa

  • At least nine civilians were killed after al-Shabab fighters in Mogadishu, Somalia attacked an African Union’s peacekeeping position on Saturday and another eight were killed on Sunday. On Wednesday it was announced that over 30 people had been killed in the past three days and at least 51 wounded in this continued fighting. Uganda announced it could raise an entire 20,000 troop force for the African Union to defeat Somalia’s Islamist rebels and pacify the country in a statement released on Monday. Uganda’s President has been urging greater urgency in regional and international efforts to stabilize Somalia since the twin bomb blasts that rocked Uganda’s capital in July that were led by the al-Shabab militia. Uganda is also the site for the new UN regional peacekeeping hub for the Great-Lakes region.
  • The UN Security Council traveled to Sudan this week to discuss the scheduled referenda on self-determination. Southern Sudan will vote on whether to secede from the rest of the country on January 9th, while the central area of Abyei will vote on whether to be part of the north or south. Sudanese officials announced on Tuesday that the long-awaited timetable for the referendum has been released, but that unforeseen circumstances could still delay the vote. Voter registration is to start in mid-November, with the final voter list ready by December 31st, leaving just 8 days before the January 9th deadline for the vote. Armed men abducted a civilian peacekeeper in Darfur on Thursday.
  • Ethiopia’s best-known opposition leader was released after five years in jail for treason related to the 2005 election dispute on Wednesday. The move was seen as a placatory gesture by the newly sworn in Prime Minister, who had refused to let her out for the parliamentary elections, in which the ruling party won 99.6% of the seats.
  • Nigeria’s government admitted it was warned of the parade attack last week that killed at least 12 people by foreign agencies and did the best it could to secure the area. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) also suggested that it gave the security forces five days notice of the attacks. South African police invaded the Johannesburg home of the leader of MEND on Saturday, apparently acting on the request of Nigerian authorities who claimed he was stockpiling weapons and re-arming fighters in the Niger Delta region. No weapons were found after a 10 hour search. Nigeria’s secret service detained an aid to one of President Goodluck Jonathan’s election rivals on Monday in connection to the bomb attacks, raising concern over violence in next year’s election polls. The former MEND leader announced that he received a phone call from a “close associate” of Goodluck Jonathan urging him to tell MEND to retract its claim of the bombings, so that they could blame them on northerners who are opposing the President. The next day, the former leader was being described as the main suspect in the bombings. On Wednesday, the Northern Political Leaders Forum declared that President Jonathan should immediately resign from office or they will take take steps to impeach him because he has proved he is incapable of leading the nation justly and fairly, amid another bomb scare. On Friday, inmates at a prison in northeastern Nigeria torched a part of the building, raising fears that a radical Islamic sect, who has many members incarcerated in the jail, are attempting a comeback. The sect previously staged an uprising that resulted in the deaths of hundreds.
  • Guinea’s already postponed runoff presidential elections may be delayed even further due to technical issues such as production and supply of voters’ cards. The originally scheduled September 19th election was delayed because of election violence. On Wednesday, the government announced it will hold the delayed second round on October 24th. On Wednesday, the first place winner of the first round of elections insisted that a run off could only be possible if the “controversial” election commissioner is changed and threatened to boycott the elections if he was not.
  • Suspected al-Qaeda militants killed five Algerian soldiers and wounded another 10 in an attack on their convoy on Saturday. Around 200,000 people have died in the country since violence broke out in the early 1990s between Islamist rebels and government forces.
  • According to a leading survey, governance standards have improved significantly in Angola, Liberia and Togo over the past four years but have decline in Eritrea and Madagascar. Mauritius was revealed as Africa’s best-governed country, while Somalia was listed as the worst-governed nation.
  • The Egyptian Journalists’ Union has accused the government of cracking down on media that is critical of the authorities in advance of an upcoming November parliamentary election. Two popular talk shows were recently closed down.
  • UN peacekeepers say they have captured the rebel commander they accuse of being behind the rape of hundreds of villagers in eastern DR Congo in August on Tuesday. The UN peacekeeping force was largely criticized for failing to prevent the mass rape of over 300 people, which took place just 20 miles from their base. Recent budget cuts to the newly scaled back MONUSCO peacekeeping mission, mean that the mission lacks sufficient helicopter strength to operate effectively in the country’s unstable east. The UN announced that the crisis in the DRC is beyond their capacity. ICC appeals judges ruled on Friday that Thomas Lubanga, accused of war crimes, should not be released and ordered that his trial resume following a two month stay after the prosecutor failed to comply with the trial chamber’s orders.
  • The first of 500 additional UN peacekeeping troops arrived in Cote D’Ivoire on Thursday in advance of the October 31st election. The UN is distributing voter and identity cards across the country.
  • Recent attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has shown that the group has extended its reach to vulnerable communities in the Central African Republic. Four LRA rebels are said to have been killed in a clash on Monday with the UDFR.

Asia

  • Two suspected US missile strikes into northwest Pakistan reportedly killed at least 12 militants on Saturday and another five militants of German nationality were thought to have been killed in drone strikes on Tuesday. On Monday, gunmen attacked seven more fuel tankers in revenge for last week’s NATO incursions into the country, and on Tuesday at least 20 trucks were targeted, resulting in the deaths of at least 3 people. Two Pakistani troops were said to have been killed in the incursion. The attacks continued, with another dozen tankers attacked on Wednesday, resulting in the death of at least one man. On Thursday, two suspected suicide bombers hit a crowded Muslim shrine in Karachi, killing at least 7 people. At least four people were said to have been killed in more NATO drone attacks on Thursday, bringing the death toll from drone attacks to over 150 in the past month alone. On Friday, three drone missiles killed at least five suspected militants, and two soldiers were killed in a roadside blast in the northwest. NATO’s Secretary-General has spoken out against the continued blockage of the main NATO supply routes into Afghanistan by Pakistan, saying that the incursion was “obviously… unintended”. Meanwhile, former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf has decided to form a new political party in an effort to “introduce a new democratic political culture” to his people. An ironic choice of words from a man who led a coup in 1999 to overthrow an elected civilian government because he was fired.
  • Eight private security firms have been disbanded and hundreds of weapons confiscated in Afghanistan as the government moves towards taking full responsibility for the country’s security. Afghanistan is set to take over security from foreign troops by 2014. At least 3 Afghan civilians were killed alongside 17 insurgents in a NATO air strike targeting senior Taliban commanders in the south on Sunday. The US military later apologized for the civilian deaths. At least eight people were killed after two explosions rocked Kandahar on Monday. On Tuesday, an Afghan soldier fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a French and Afghan outpost, but missed the target. The soldier has fled and has yet to be caught. Following the barrage of complaints of election fraud, a provincial head of the Independent Election Commission was arrested on Monday. The officer was accused by candidates and observers of taking bribes in exchange for important election posts. Peace talks were supposedly underway between Taliban reps, Afghan officials and a Pakistani government delegation in Kabul this week aimed at setting the ground for negotiations on ending the Afghan war, although participants denied that the talks involved Afghan and Pakistani officials meeting with the Taliban, calling them instead “brainstorming sessions”.  NATO claimed that a Taliban leader and seven of his associates were killed in an air strike and ground operation on Wednesday, and that the Taliban “shadow governor” of a northwestern province was killed in a separate operation on the same day. On Thursday, a German soldier was killed in a suicide attack in a northern province. On Friday, a British soldier was killed in an explosion in the southern Helmand province and at least 15 people were killed in a separate bomb blast in a mosque in a northern town. Also on Friday, two other ISAF soldiers were killed in two separate incidents in the south; Taliban insurgents burned eight NATO supply trucks and killed six Afghan guards; one senior Taliban commander was captured with four others and one insurgent was killed in Kabul; and Afghan forces killed four suspects in a firefight in Kabul.
  • Police in Bangladesh arrested three militants from the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in their continuing crackdown on militancy. Police claim that LeT followers have regrouped and are trying to launch fresh attacks.
  • Fiji’s former prime minister Chaudry was arrested on Friday for allegedly violating public emergency regulations that outlawed holding public meetings. Chaudry is thought to be a real contender to overthrow the current military government in the next election. The current President, who seized power in a 2006 coup, imposed the ban and scrapped plans for an election after saying conditions were not right.
  • Three Thai soldiers were killed after an ambush by suspected Muslim separatists in south Thailand on Sunday. The soldiers were said to be patrolling a road near the Malaysian border when gunmen opened fired from a nearby hill. On Tuesday, at least three people were killed after an explosion hit a residential building north of Bangkok. On Wednesday at least four people were said to have been killed in drive-by shootings by separatist rebels in the south.
  • Government troops continued their operations against militants in eastern Tajikistan resulting in the death of four soldiers, a police officer and two insurgents. Meanwhile, official press centres in the area are virtually closed and communication lines remain blocked making it extremely difficult for media representatives to get any information about the ongoing events. In retaliation, Tajik troops killed at least 5 rebels between Monday and Tuesday. On Thursday, a land mine blast killed six soldiers in an operation on the Afghan borders.
  • Police in Sri Lanka have been ordered to arrest activists who put up posters that criticize the President’s backing of a prison term for a former army chief who ran against him. The former army chief, once a national hero, was ordered to serve 30 months for corruption charges. Police have claimed that the order was intended to prevent posters from being placed in prohibited areas.
  • Authorities in Indian Kashmir began scaling down security as part of its efforts to defuse tensions. More than 100 people have been killed since June. Kashmiris remain angry about the widely-hated security law that gives the military sweeping powers to search, arrest or shoot protesters that are still in place.
  • Disturbing pictures of Nepali police carting off ballot boxes in Nepal, following the primary election held among some 80,000 Tibetan exiles to pick candidates for polls for a new parliament-in-exile and prime minister next year, have raised concern of continued repression of political activities by the Chinese. China objects to the election for a government in exile which it does not recognize.
  • The offices of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party in Kyrgyzstan were attacked on Wednesday after some 100 members of two local movements forced their way into the offices. The two movements had staged a protest in Bishkek’s central square early that day. Kyrgyzstan is scheduled to hold an election on Sunday amid fears of increasing violence.
  • South Korea’s defense minister announced that his military would initiate a new and expanded propaganda war if provoked by the North and has reinstalled 11 sets of psychological warfare loudspeakers along the border. The North has warned that if undertaken, it will fire across the border and destroy the loudspeakers. The South also suggested that the North’s nuclear programme has reached an “alarming level” and poses a serious threat to the South. North Korea confirmed on Friday that Kim Jong-Un, Kim Jong-Il’s youngest son will succeed him as the next leader.
  • The announcement of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner angered the Chinese authorities, who see Liu Xiaobo as a criminal. Liu Xiaobo is currently serving time in a Chinese prison for “incitement to subvert state power” and co-authoring Charter 08, a call for democratic reforms in the country. The Chinese warned that awarding Liu the prize would damage Sino-Norwegian relations. Liu is a long-time activist for human rights and democracy.

Central and North America

  • An armed gang kidnapped at least 20 tourists in Mexico on Saturday near the resort city of Acapulco, in what is thought to be the latest bout of drug related violence in the country. On Saturday, assailants tossed a live grenade into a square in Monterrey, injuring 12 people.
  • The controversial and notorious security contractor Blackwater (now renamed Xe) is said to have received a new contract in the $10 billion range. Two former Blackwater employees are currently on trial in the US for murdering civilians in Afghanistan, and in 2008, give Blackwater guards were charged with the deaths of 17 Iraqis civilians, which were ultimately dismissed. The group also has been charged with weapons export violations. The first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee was delayed on Wednesday after the judge told prosecutors they could not call their star witness, because they had learned of his identity only through harsh interrogation at a secret CIA camp.
  • The controversial and much protested “Ground Zero mosque” scheduled to be built in New York City turns out not to be a mosque after all, but a multi-faith community centre that includes a gym, playground and childcare area. It’s Muslim prayer area does not even satisfy the stringent requirements for a sanctified mosque.
  • The US State Department issued a travel alert to Europe on Sunday following the threats of a possible terrorist plot in several European countries.
  • The US midterm elections are to become the most expensive in history, and nearly five times as much as the last Presidential election, at an estimated $5 billion. This is the first year in which all donation limits were removed, allowing corporations to get involved.
  • A Canadian army captain convicted of shooting an unarmed Taliban fighter in Afghanistan after a battle avoided a jail term this week and instead will be kicked out of the Canadian forces. The killing has been dubbed a “mercy killing”, citing that the Captain only shot the gravely wounded enemy to end his suffering as he believed he was not going to receive treatment from Afghan forces. Mercy killing is not a defense in Canada. The Supreme Court in Canada ruled on Friday that suspects in serious crimes do not have a right to consult their lawyer during a police interrogation, essentially reversing the Canadian Charter’s right to counsel in specific cases.

South America

  • Ecuador’s President Correa vowed to punish and purge his enemies after last week’s police rebellion. He suggested the axe would also swing towards opposition politicians whom he accused of attempting a coup. Days later, the government agreed to raise the pay of its police and armed forces by $35 million annually, calling the announcement a “coincidence”. Debate has been ensuing over whether the police tried to kill the President during the riots or were simply protesting against pay cuts and conditions. On Wednesday it was announced that at least 46 police officers were detained for their alleged participation in the revolt.
  • Former guerrilla Dilma Rousseff won the first-round Presidential election in the Brazilian  polling with 46.7% of the votes, and will do battle in the October 31st runoff against Social Democrat Jose Serra who won just under 33% of the votes. Green party activist Marina Silva gained far higher than pollsters had expected with 19% of the vote.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales is said to have kneed a political opponent in the groin during a friendly football match of political rivals. A bodyguard of Morales tried to arrest the kneed opponent after the match, but he was quickly ordered to be released by the opposition leader.

Middle East

  • The Palestinian leadership confirmed that it will not return to direct peace negotiations with the Israelis without an extension to the now-expired freeze on settlement construction, a move endorsed by the Arab League. The Israelis have begun deflecting blame for the breakdown of talks, with expectations of the Palestinians “to show some flexibility”. The Syrian President said that the peace talks were only aimed at “bolstering domestic support” for Obama during a meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Two Israeli soldiers were convicted on Sunday of using a nine-year old Palestinian boy as a human shield during the three-week Gaza war in 2008-9. The soldiers will face prison sentences of up to three years. Israeli paramilitary border police killed a Palestinian on Sunday after he entered East Jerusalem from the occupied West Bank without a permit. On Monday, arsonists, suspected to be radical Israeli settlers, damaged part of a Palestinian mosque in the West Bank, scrawling the word “revenge” in Hebrew on a wall. On Monday, a video of an Israeli soldier dancing around a blindfolded, bound prisoner provoked more anger from Palestinians. The Israeli army condemned the video, calling it an “isolated incident” and opened a criminal investigation on the matter on Tuesday. Many see this as the continued degrading treatment and mentality of the occupier in the country, remembering the degrading photos from an Israeli guard that surfaced on facebook in early August, among others. On Wednesday, Israeli PM Netanyahu announced he would push for legislation requiring all those who want to become Israeli citizens to pledge a loyalty oath to the “nation-state of the Jewish people” in an attempt to win back angry settlers. On Thursday, the Israeli military said it had carried out an air strike in the Gaza Strip against Palestinian militants planning an attack in Israel. Witnesses say the strike targeted a car traveling in the central Gaza Strip. The ICC is being urged to prosecute members of the Israeli defense force for its role in the Gaza flotilla killings, however, Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute, meaning it can only be possible after a reference from the UN Security Council.  On Friday Israel signed a deal with the US to buy $2.75 billion worth of radar-evading Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets. The F-35 is said to be the most-advanced fighter in the world.
  • Hamas announced on Wednesday that it would retaliate against the Western-backed Palestinian Authority if it continued to take actions against their members in the West Bank. The PA has recently been cracking down on Islamist activists, with Hamas claiming that nearly 750 of its activists have been arrested since August 31st. On Friday, Israeli forces killed two senior Hamas militants in the West Bank.
  • Iran has detained several western “spies” it claims were behind the recent cyber attacks on its nuclear programme. The number of jailed students in Iran has been reported to be the highest in decades with over 73 students currently being held in jails over their activism. Student opposition to the government report that the government has been using a new militarization strategy on campuses to stop opposition political activism there. On Thursday, at least four police officers and one bystander were killed after a gunman opened fire on a police patrol in Iran’s Kurdish region. On Friday, Iranian security forces killed two people suspected in Thursday’s attack.
  • Britain’s deputy ambassador to Yemen and her colleagues survived a rocket propelled grenade attack on their car on Wednesday. It is thought that the attack was carried out by al-Qaeda.
  • Tensions have increased in Lebanon and Syria after Syria issued arrest warrants for more than 30 people accused of misleading the investigation into the assassination of Lebanon’s former PM in 2005. Syria’s wanted list includes senior Lebanese judges, politicians and journalists who are said to have been “false witnesses”.
  • Iraq postponed its first full census in more than two decades until December on Sunday to avoid triggering open conflict between Arabs and Kurds locked in a fight over oil-rich land in the north. The survey is crucial because it will determine who has the greatest percentage of the total population in the region, and can therefore claim it as its own under the constitution. Two senior security officials in the north were arrested in connection with a plot to bomb the provincial government building on Sunday. Also on Sunday, gunmen using silenced weapons– increasingly the weapon of choice of insurgents–opened fire on a police checkpoint, killing one policeman in Falluja. At least one person was killed in Baghdad in a roadside bombing that targeted a deputy minister in the Iraqi government on Monday, at least one other person was killed in a separate bombing within the city and at least three people were killed in a bomb attack in Jalawlah. On Wednesday a civilian was wounded in a rocket attack in Kirkuk, while a roadside bomb targeting police patrol in a northern city wounded two policemen. On Friday, armed men in two boats wounded seven security guards when they attacked a prison in Basra, causing a riot in the prison. Also on Friday, a policeman was killed by a sniper in Baghdad.

Europe

  • Russian forces killed as many as five people as they besieged two housing blocks in Daghestan on Saturday in a counterterrorism raid.
  • The leader of Russia’s opposition Yabloko party was detained along with several environmental activists after protesting in the North Caucasus. The protesters were later released by police without charge. Russia announced on Thursday that it had successfully tested a long-range missile seen as a mainstay of its nuclear forces, after a series of failures which had raised doubts about its viability.
  • Roma and other migrants leaving France will soon be required to be fingerprinted, in an attempt to discourage them from coming back to France after being expelled. The fingerprinting is scheduled to begin October 15th, and will include anyone over the age of 12. Nearly a million protesters demonstrated on Saturday, pressing President Sarkozy to drop plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. This was the third day of protests in a month. A French blogger who filmed himself burning a Qur’an and urinating on it to put out the flames will face charges of incitement to religious hatred on Tuesday. He faces up to five years in jail. France’s highest court has approved the law banning full-facial veils in public. In six months time, women wearing the veil will face arrest and a $195 fine or “citizenship lessons”, while a man who forces a woman to wear the veil will be fined $42,000 and serve up to a year in prison.
  • The far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders has gone on trial this week on charges of inciting anti-Muslim hatred. Wilders released a short film in 2008 that denounced the Qur’an as a fascist book, urging Muslims to tear out “hate-filled” passages. Wilders is appealing to have the case dismissed invoking freedom of speech.
  • Bosnians went to the polls on Sunday to vote in general elections. Voters complained that the elections were dominated by issues of nationalism and ethnicity instead of the economy and necessary political reforms. Preliminary election results indicated that the current tripartite government is likely to remain deadlocked over Bosnia’s future, with two of the leaders advocating unity and a third pushing for the country’s breakup. The Bosnian state prosecutor indicted four Bosnian Serb police officers on Thursday on charges of mass killing, detention and torture during the 1992-5 war.
  • Teachers in an eastern Ukrainian city complained this week that the ruling Party of Regions is putting pressure on them, and that it is no longer possible for any to become a school director and not be a member. Many parents of students complain that the Party has started using secondary schools for its election campaign with pictures of the local Party candidate on display.
  • England and France may soon find themselves cooperating defensively on everything from nuclear warheads to transport aircraft, helicopters and aircraft carriers. The two countries are set to hold a summit in three weeks to discuss collaboration.

This week in conflict… September 25th-October 1st, 2010

World

  • Kazakhstan addressed the UN General Assembly on Saturday to repeat its idea of the creation of a global currency under UN control that would significantly decrease the odds of a future financial crisis. The Minister said he believed “all the world’s economic problems are rooted in the inefficiency of the existing world monetary system, which no one controls and is not democratic.”
  • The World Bank (WB) recently released it much anticipated report on farmland grabbing, which has been in controversy since 2008 because it threatens global food security. Governments and corporations are accused of buying up mass amounts of farmland (often illegally) in other countries to grow their own food or simply to make money. Critics have denounced the report as flawed and corrupted by the fact that the Bank’s commercial investment arm is a major investor in numerous private equity firms that are buying up rights to farmland while its Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency is providing land grab projects with political risk insurance.
  • The UN refugee agency announced on Friday that they would be revising their policies to protect people fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Recent surveys highlighted the dangers and prejudice faced by lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, and intersex asylum-seekers and refugees.

Africa

  • A moderate Islamist group that signed a power sharing deal with Somalia’s government earlier this year has walked out of the Somali government. The group has accused the administration of planning to abolish the power sharing deal signed in March. On Sunday, an unidentified helicopter fired on houses of al-Shabab commanders. In an unprecedented agreement Somaliland and Puntland, once-warring territories in northern Somalia, have agreed in principle to work together to tackle common security threats. Gunmen killed one man and kidnapped three others in Somaliland on Wednesday, while another 11 (mostly civilians) were killed in an artillery battle in the main Bakara Market by Somali government backed by AU forces in Mogadishu.
  • Political violence in Ghana has increased this past week, as riots and minor clashes rock the country following Parliamentary by-elections. Political analysts are concerned for the upcoming 2012 elections.
  • Sudan’s vice president urged UN member states to forgive their debts in an effort to strengthen prospects for peace. The IMF has said that Sudan has nearly $38 billion in external debts. Sudanese officials from both the north and the south accused each other of deploying troops along their joint border amidst mounting tensions in the build-up to a referendum on southern independence. Both sides dismissed the other’s allegations. South Sudan has said they will provide community militia groups with weapons to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army, as the mainstream armed forces are already stretched to thin. North Sudan’s dominant party has threatened to reject the results of a southern Independence referendum unless the south withdraws its troops from disputed areas and allows free campaigning in the vote. A central Sudanese tribe has also warned it would fight anyone who prevented its member from voting in the referendum. Darfur rebels accused Sudan’s army of killing 27 people in a week-long campaign of air and ground assaults this week, although the Sudanese army dismissed the accusation.
  • 15 children were hijacked on a school bus in Nigeria by gunmen on Tuesday. The kidnappers are demanding a ransom from the school in the amount of 20 million naira. The children were said to have been released on Friday, with no ransom paid and no physical injuries. Also on Friday, the 50th anniversary of Nigerian Independence from Britain, three bombs killed at least eight people. The attackers sent emails threats about the devices approximately an hour before they were detonated.
  • There has been increasing violence in Zimbabwe during community meetings leading up to the constitutional referendum, including new arrests of civil society activists. The violence and intimidation has been mainly done by supporters of the ZANU-PF, the former sole ruling party.
  • Eritrea criticized the UN General Assembly for continuing to ignore Ethiopia’s failure to comply with the international commission ruling that delineated the border between the two countries following the 1998-2000 war.
  • The UN Security Council deployed 500 additional troops to Cote D’Ivoire in advance of the end of October elections. The elections had been repeatedly delayed in the past. Concerns over election violence have been elevated in the past several weeks, after several militia leaders have spoken out against demobilization payments made to former rebels, claiming that their members, who fought to protect the government deserve equal treatment and even taking over a government building to demand the same demobilization payment as the rebels. The UN mission in Cote D’Ivoire has asked the Security Council to lift the arms embargo on the country so that crowd control equipment can be bought for the upcoming elections. The opposition is concerned of how this equipment will be used.
  • The UN Security Council lifted its 12 year arms embargo and other sanctions imposed on Sierra Leone on Wednesday. The Council also decided to extend their mandate of the Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) for another year until September 15, 2011.
  • The Tunisian government ratified the international treaty banning cluster munitions on Tuesday, becoming the first country in the Middle East or North Africa to do so. Tunisia is the 42nd country to ratify the convention which prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions.
  • Uganda has warned that the UN report implicating it, and several other countries’ armies in war crimes in the DRC, jeopardizes its commitment to regional peace missions and demanded that it not be published. Rwanda had previously warned the UN about its possible withdrawal from peacekeeping missions if the report was not changed, and later announced that it had the right to review future engagements with the UN.  The report was released on Friday amid much criticism from some of the implicated countries.

Asia

  • Two NATO soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Saturday, and another two on Sunday, while 70 insurgents died in separate clashes with coalition troops. Local residents complained that civilians were among the victims. A suicide attack on Tuesday killed a provincial deputy governor and five others in the east of the country. A NATO raid in the east killed four children and wounded three adults on Wednesday. A suicide bomber reportedly targeted a NATO military convoy near Kandahar, killing and injuring several civilians on Thursday. Four Georgian soldiers were said to be killed in the attack. Afghan and NATO forces began attacking Taliban strongholds on Saturday in Kandahar in a bid to bolster control of the area. Afghani election officials have ordered a partial recount of votes from seven of the country’s 34 provinces following countless complaints of fraud during last week’s elections. A former top-ranking UN official called upon the UN to investigate into alleged war crimes happening in Afghanistan to identify and prosecute individuals responsible. Three former Australian soldiers will be charged with manslaughter over the deaths of six civilians during a military operation in Afghanistan last year. On Monday, A US court began its trial of American soldiers accused of murder during an Afghani killing spree. Afghan President has announced the formation of a 70-member negotiation council that will push for peace with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, which the Taliban subsequently rejected.
  • The Indian government decided on a major policy shift in Kashmir on Saturday, calling for the release of jailed student protesters, easing security strictures in major cities, reopening schools and universities, and offering financial compensation to the families of more than 100 civilians killed in protests in June. They were hoping the concerns would address the concerns of the protesting Kashmiris, however, the separatist leaders later rejected the shift. On Wednesday, authorities in Indian Kashmir said they will free jailed protesters and reduce the number of checkpoints in the main city, but put off a decision over whether to limit the scope of a hated security law used by the Indian military in the Muslim-majority region to curb the persistent unrest. Indian security forces killed 8 militants on Friday in two separate gunbattles.
  • Pakistan’s minister for defense production has resigned after the PM summoned him to explain why he criticized Pakistan’s military. The move comes just after the PM had canceled its trip to Europe amid media speculation about a possible change of government. There is speculation that the military could remove the civilian government. On Friday, Pakistan’s army chief handed a list of corrupt or allegedly incompetent ministers to the President, demanding their removal. An Internet video showing men in Pakistani military uniforms executing six young men in civilian clothing has heightened concerns about unlawful killings by Pakistan soldiers. The Pakistani military said it was faked by militants, although CIA intelligence suggests otherwise. Pakistan was furious with NATO-led troops upon learning that US helicopters had crossed into its territory from Afghanistan to attack militants. Pakistan’s foreign ministry called the incursions a “clear violation and breach of the UN mandate” and suggested that Pakistan may consider response options. At least 30 militants were killed in the attack. On Thursday, Pakistan blocked a vital supply route for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and on Friday suspected militants set fire to more than two dozen tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in retaliation.
  • North Korea’s Kim Jong-il has promoted his youngest son to military general, which analysts are calling a clear sign that he is in line to succeed his father as the country’s leader. The ruling Workers’ Party held a rare meeting on Tuesday stating that a new supreme leadership body would be elected. The two Koreas held military talks on Thursday, which ended without progress as the North rejected the South’s demands for an apology over the sinking of a South Korean ship. North Korea also vowed to bolster its nuclear deterrent in response to the threat posed by the US, but promised to never use its atomic arsenal to attack or threaten any nation.
  • New Delhi, India has cleared out the city’s poor in an effort to ensure visitors to the upcoming Commonwealth Games remember the games and not the poverty surrounding it. Three Indian judges ruled on Thursday that the disputed religious site in Ayodhya, claimed by both Muslims and Hindus, should be shared by both communities. Authorities have ramped up security measures over the week for fear of escalating violence over the decision, although it appears to have been taken relatively peacefully in the Hindu community and with non-violent rallies among the Muslim community.
  • Indonesia sent an army battalion and hundreds of paramilitary police into Borneo on Wednesday to quell an ethnic clash in an eastern province that has killed at least three people. Offices in the area have been closed, and some houses burned as local people armed with machetes and spears searched for an immigrant ethnic group. An international film festival celebrating gay cinema was targeted by masked Islamic hardliners in Jakarta on Tuesday. The protesters chanted homophobic slogans and accused organizers of blasphemy, threatening to burn down the venue if the screenings were not halted.
  • Thailand has lifted its state of emergency in some parts of the country, with the exception of the capital. The laws included bans on public gatherings of more than 5 people and gave security forces the right to detain suspects for 30 days without charge and were introduced in April amid mass anti-government rallies by the “Red Shirt” movement.
  • A bomb blast rocked a rural Myanmar/Burmese election commission office on Friday, stirring fears of violence during the first election to be run in two decades. The election is to happen next month and is largely criticized as a “sham” to create a military-dominated system run by generals and their proxies with little change in the status quo.

Central and North America

  • A mayor in a small Mexican town was found stoned to death on Monday in the third attack on a public official in less than a week. It was not made clear whether the killings were yet related to drug violence.
  • More than one in four US veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars say they have suffered service-related head injuries and two-thirds reported depression. Experts assert that real numbers may be significantly higher as many are afraid to admit suffering PTSD because they are afraid it would keep them from their families or hurt their careers.
  • The Obama administration is said to be drafting a bill that would require online communications services to be “technically capable of complying” with a wiretap order. The bill is said to make it easier for the US government to spy on Internet communications. The US has also announced unprecedented economic sanctions on Iran, aimed at punishing 8 Iranian officials for human rights abuses in the country. The sanctions ban Americans from doing business with certain officials, and freezes and US assets held by them. The Pentagon has also announced that the US are going to be resuming military contacts with China that were cut off earlier this year.
  • Canada’s House of Commons ruled on Wednesday that Iraqi war resisters from the US will not be allowed shelter in Canada. More than three dozen Americans moved to Canada to avoid military duty in Iraq and sought to stay on humanitarian grounds.

South America

  • Unrest erupted in Ecuador on Thursday as soldiers took control of the main airport, police protested in the streets and looting the capital while the President considered dissolving a deadlocked Congress. The President denounced what he called “a coup attempt”, and was allegedly hospitalized due to the effect of tear gas. He was later said to being held hostage there by police. The following day, the President vowed to punish protesters who rebelled saying there would be ‘no forgiving nor forgetting’.  The police chief quit his post on Friday after failing to stop the rebellion by his officers.

Middle East

  • The winner of Iraq’s March elections has ruled out participating in any new government that would be led by the current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad has come under an intensifying barrage of rocket attacks in recent weeks. A senior American military commander suggested that Iranian-backed militias were responsible. Officials say three police officers were killed in late night attacks in two northern Iraqi cities, and that a car bomb on Tuesday night killed another 2 officers. An American serviceman is being held in Iraq in connection with the shooting of two soldiers last week. A roadside bomb near Baghdad on Friday killed 3 people and wounded another seven at a checkpoint.
  • Israel announced on Monday it would not extend the 10-month moratorium on new settler homes in the West Bank to the disappointment of world leaders. The Palestinians who previously vowed to quit peace talks if the moratorium was not extended have expressed desire to remain in the talks. An Israeli strike in Gaza strip on Monday killed 3 gunmen belong to an Islamic Jihad group. The Israeli navy boarded a yacht carrying 10 Jewish activists who were attempting to break the sea blockade of Gaza and forcibly diverted the vessel to the nearby port of Ashdod. Five of the activists were released from police custody on Wednesday, and five others are set to be deported. The Israeli PM has distanced himself from the foreign minister’s speech at the UN this week after the minister told the General Assembly that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would take decades and dismissed the current talks as unrealistic. The UN Human Rights Council endorsed last week’s critical report on Israel’s raid of the May aid flotilla, but stopped short of pressing for an international criminal inquiry. The report also highlighted that US citizen Furkan Dogan and five other Turkish citizens were murdered execution-style by Israeli commandos in the raid.
  • Two Iranian doctors were mysteriously killed outside their workplaces this month. Critics suspect that at least one was linked to a politically motivated cover-up of prisoner abuses last summer following Iran’s disputed presidential elections. President Ahmadinejad’s closest aide has called for more rights for Iran’s “oppressed” women in an interview with the semi-official ILNA news agency, in a move thought likely to fuel controversy.
  • Syria has said it is willing to resume peace talks with Israel if they are geared towards Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights this week. Israel has said it will not enter into any talks with Syria that have pre-conditions.
  • Yemen has stepped up a crackdown on the media that is said to have created the worst climate for press freedom in decades. Some new legislative proposals would set prohibitive financial barriers for broadcast and online news outlets, expand the definition of criminal defamation to include virtually any form of criticism of the President and increase prison terms.

Europe

  • At least 2 Islamist insurgents were killed and 42 injured after a suicide bomber blew himself up in Daghestan on Saturday. Russian security forces said they killed 15 suspected rebels in clashes on Wednesday, and another 17 policemen are said to have been injured after explosives rocked their convoy. Russia claimed to have found and defused a car bomb on Thursday in the North Caucasus.
  • Angry protesters took to the streets in Iceland’s capital on Friday, forcing MPs to run away from those they represent. The protests were sparked due to renewed anger about the impact of the financial crisis. Demonstrations also happened in Greece, Portugal, Slovenia and Lithuania.
  • The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey extended its unilateral ceasefire by one more month on Thursday. The militants’ jailed leader has been in talks with Turkish officials and encouraged the group to continue the ceasefire.
  • The UK has awarded 12 million pounds in “special payments” including compensation to asylum seekers who were traumatized after being locked up in detention centres in the UK. Asylum seekers are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 14, and the European Union’s Charter article 63 CE.
  • France is now seeking to crack down on the Cirque Romanes, or the “Gypsy Circus” in the latest case of Roma discrimination. French authorities have refused to validate work permits for musicians crucial to the performances. The European Commission ordered France to comply with an EU directive on the free movement of European Union citizens or face legal action over its expulsion of thousands of Roma on Wednesday.
  • The UN Refugee Agency has expressed concern over the growing number of deportations of Iraqi asylum-seekers from Western Europe over the last two months. The deportations are in contravention of UNHCR guidelines for handling Iraqi asylum applications.
  • Eta, the Basque separatist group has said it is willing to declare a permanent, verifiable ceasefire with the Spanish government in a bid to settle its long-running conflict. The group did not specify its conditions.
  • The President of Kosovo resigned on Monday after a court ruled he cannot serve as head of state as well as leader of a political party. Analysts are concerned that the resignation could delay peace talks with Serbia, which are expected to start in October.
  • Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sacked Moscow’s longtime mayor Yuri Luzhkov on Tuesday, citing a lack of presidential confidence. The two had been feuding for some time, with the Russian government commissioning a series of negative TV documentaries about Luzhkov. Luzhkov retaliated by accusing the President of promoting a climate of repression and censorship reminiscent of the Stalin era and is said to be ready to challenge the dismissal.
  • US, UK, French and German intelligence agencies claim to have foiled a plot to launch “commando-style” attacks on Britain, France and Germany through done attacks on militants based in Pakistan. One has to wonder whether this claim would help “justify” the controversial attacks on Pakistan, which have been increasingly protested.
  • Workers from around Europe held rallies and strikes this week to protest the tight austerity programs being implemented by several EU countries. Marches in Belgium were relatively peaceful, whereas the Spanish general strike erupted into clashes between strikers, non-strikers and police. In Ireland, a man was arrested after ramming a cement truck into the gates of Irish Parliament in protest of an expensive bank bailout. Protests in Germany over the Stuttgart 21 rail project also turned violent with more than 100 injuries after their attempts to protect trees were broken up by police with water cannons and teargas.
  • A Croatian parliament deputy who fled Bosnia last year was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Bosnian court for war crimes. Branimir Glavas was the first senior Croatian official convicted of war crimes committed against the Serbs.
  • Serbia has announced it will end conscription to the military starting January 1st next year. The move is part of a 2004 strategy aimed at a gradual introduction of a professional army capable of tackling insurgencies and peacekeeping missions abroad.

Part I: Summary of Human Rights Watch- World Report 2010

Human Rights Watch recently released their latest Human Rights Watch Report  for 2010.

As I read through the list of countries profiled in the report, I found myself disappointed that Canada, the UK, Australia or any Western European countries had not made the list. I have read reports of almost all of these governments committing human rights violations  or allowing their companies to do so and the populations of these nations do still experience routine violations against human rights. In fact, considering these countries have signed numerous conventions and incorporated human rights laws more thoroughly into domestic laws than most of the rest of the world, their breach of them is all the more abhorrent and worthy of reporting. I thoroughly respect the work that organizations like Human Rights Watch do and I understand that Human Rights Watch is limited in their scope and resources as indicated in the end of the first report; so in no way do I mean to undermine the work that has been done to compile this report. I simply wish that it would cover the entire world and not just pieces of it.

The main violations of concern in the report this year are described in four sections followed by individual country reports. These sections are as follows:

1) The Abusers’ Reaction: Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions

2) Civilian Protection and Middle East Armed Groups: In Search of Authoritative Local Voices

3) Abusing Patients: Health Providers’ Complicity in Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment

4) In the Migration Trap: Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Europe.

I will cover the details of the report over the next little while in a series of posts. The first post will address the first section of the report.

Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions.

Putting a spotlight on human rights violations can be risky, and often those who defend human rights face extreme abuse, imprisonment, harassment, intense intimidation and even death. Organizations fighting this fight have been suppressed, denied funding, shut down and worse. Russia received a great deal of attention for its attacks on human rights defenders. Many victims reported cases of arson, arbitrary detention, disappearances of loved ones, torture, and brutal executions in Chechnya and other parts of the country. Also specifically mentioned in this section was Kenya, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Malaysia, India, and Uzbekistan. Several states were also listed as completely closed or restricted for activism. At the top of this list are Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. Burma and Iran bar international human rights groups completely. Saudi Arabia will not acknowledge NGO supporting human rights promotion and clamps down tightly on any who speak out. Danger in Somalia makes human rights monitoring essentially impossible. Libya allows international visits but completely suppresses any independent civil society. Syria will not license any human rights groups and prosecutes those who push for registration. Indonesia prohibits international human rights groups to visit to certain areas of the country, as has Israel into the Gaza strip. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam all refuse to allow access to UN special procedures, including on torture and human rights defenders. As does Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Zimbabwe and Russia have also prevented the special rapporteur on torture from entering their respective countries. Sudan has shut down human rights organizations and expelled several international humanitarian NGOs working in Darfur. China closed the Open Constitution Initiative (a legal aid organization) because of controversy over Tibetan protests and melamine-poisoned milk that sickened hundreds of thousands of children.

Other governments have been accused of openly harassing, detaining or attacking human rights defenders including Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, Syria, and Yemen. The governments of Columbia, DR Congo, Sri Lanka, and Nicaragua have been accused of using threats of violence to deter or punish human rights defenders. Russia, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Jordan, Uganda, Turkmenistan, Libya, Venezuela, Peru, Cambodia, Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan and Egypt have all been accused of creating restrictive laws on NGOs and associations in an attempt to restrict the monitoring of human rights. China, Iran and Syria have all disbarred lawyers, refusing to renew their professional licenses to prevent them from representing victims of human rights abuses. China, Uzbekistan, Rwanda, Iran, Morocco, Serbia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have been accused of trumping up criminal charges to silence human rights defenders.

The report then details the efforts made by some leaders to silence or curtail the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC). After the ICC issued an arrest warrant for sitting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the African Union (AU) adopted a resolution urging African states to not cooperate with the arrest proceedings. The AU accused the court of unfairly targeting Africans, even though no objections were raised when the court indicted several warlords and the African governments themselves had requested the court to open the investigations. The ICC has also been hampered by the lack of ratification in the areas it is most needed, namely Sri Lanka, Iraq, Gaza, and Chechnya and a seeming double-standard that allows major Western powers and their allies to escape impunity.

The UN Human Rights Council is also described as problematic. The report demonstrates the bias and subjective nature of inquiries into human rights violations. Regional solidarity reigns in voting procedures over human rights principles, with members convinced to ignore their domestic principles for their allegiances to repressive neighbouring governments. Repressive leaders at the Council seemed determined to silence voices of dissent whenever possible. Similar problems have occurred within the UN NGO Committee, who has the power to decide which NGOs are able to gain “consultative status” and the right to speak before UN bodies. Several governments who are extremely restrictive towards NGOs seem to actively seek membership within the Committee to ensure that certain voices are silenced. For example, a Christian group from China was rejected for refusing to provide a list of its Chinese members, an action that would have severely endangered the lives of those involved. Another group, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, was denied the right to speak because it had not complied with Ethiopia’s new stringent civil society laws.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeated issued rulings against Russia (more than 100) for the abduction, torture, and execution of the people in Chechnya, and failing to properly investigate the crimes. Russia has refused to implement structural reforms ordered by the Court, as well as share relevant documents with the court in over 40 cases. The Russian government continually postpones visits by the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on human rights situations in the North Caucasus and has so far faced little consequence.

The ASEAN Commission on Human Rights was highlighted as a potentially positive new institutional development in the eastern world. Launched in late 2009, the 10-member Association vowed to adopt a “constructive”, “non-confrontational” and “evolutionary” approach to human rights, however, its non-interference policy ensures that member states cannot be monitored and investigated properly, giving each state the right of veto. Engagement with civil society remained repressive as each state was allowed to chose the civil society organization it wished to be part of an “interface meeting” on human rights.

More vigorous governmental defense of human rights activists and institutions is necessary, even in the face of abuse by allies. The attack on those who would defend human rights is an attempt to silence. The world cannot sit silent in the face of abuse. Voices must be heard. Human rights is a relatively new concept on the earth, but is one that must be vehemently defended if our rights and freedoms are to be respected.

Please read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Is there anything written there that you wouldn’t want for you and your family?

Bookmark       and Share

An End to Foreign Rule and Other Ideologies of the Taliban Movement

“I start in the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate…” –voice of an anonymous Taliban fighter (Smith, 2008).
This quote seemed the most fitting way to start understanding the mind of a Taliban fighter since it was echoed at the start of almost every filmed Taliban interview and video. The image of the Taliban as a hard-line, ultra-fanatical religious movement has often cast individual Taliban fighters as uneducated, brainwashed religious nuts who are innately violent and destructive. Although the Taliban have an extremely strict and anti-modern ideology based on Islamic Shariah law, many of the fighters are not strict religious adherents and believe indiscriminate violence is wrong.
These Taliban fighters do strive for Islamic rule for the nearly ninety-nine percent majority Muslim population of Afghanistan, but they also strive to stop the occupation and invasion of their country, to restore the security situation of their land, regain economic security for themselves and their families, and to reclaim the territory lost to the Durand Line on the Pakistani border, among other things. The people that make up the Taliban live in an area that has been almost continuously occupied and invaded by several different factions for centuries (amidst incredible local resistance), and which has recently been devastated by almost thirty years of war. The individual reasons for Taliban fighters to join and support a so-called “terrorist” or human-rights violating organization are complex, but are most often rooted in socio-economic, political, historical and cultural reasons and not solely in blind religious fanaticism.
Afghanistan has experienced almost constant restrictive occupation for the last thirty years; first by the Soviets, then by the Taliban, and currently by the Americans since 2001. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, a conflict which has often been referred to as one of the proxy wars of the Cold war. This war lasted until the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, after the Soviet Union had begun to crumble and were no longer able or willing to support the effort. The US government, through the CIA and with the help of Pakistan’s secret police (ISI), channeled money to groups of mujahid warriors in Afghanistan (who included Osama bin Laden) to fight off the communist threat of the Soviets and gain an important strategic foothold in the Central Asian region. The extremist mujahid warriors (along with ethnic separatists) were seen as the best option to oppose the Soviets, not because they could form a stable government, but because it was hoped that they in fact, could not (Kakar, 1995: 147-9; 156).
The lack of local government along with the plethora of scattered, ‘tribal’ leaders left religious scholars with an important role in Afghanistan against foreign invasion and dominance. During the Soviet invasion a decree stating “Now is the time to free your country and wage your holy war against the Russian invader!” (The Final Call, 2001) was declared by many religious scholars, prompting the masses to take up arms and enjoy martyrdom if killed in battle. After defeating the Russians, these religious scholars went back into religious schools and mosques while some of the mujahid warriors began to fight each other for control of Kabul and other resources. For four years the scholars saw fighting, chaos and anarchy with traditional society and culture effectively uprooted, and thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring Pakistan. In the communist controlled areas, the traditional “feudal” culture had been completely disrupted and replaced with “productive” urbanization, with Kabul swelling to over three million people (Kakar, 1995: 279).
It was in this climate that the Taliban really began to emerge. The term ‘Taliban’ comes from the Pashtu (and Arabic) word for ‘student’, and is used to describe a militant student movement group that grew out of hard-line religious schools in Pakistan in the early 1990s (Reuters AlertNet, Afghan Turmoil: 2008). In the late 1970s and 80s, Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia (a strict religious sect) began joining the mujahid warriors and heavily funding these religious schools (madrassas) to support the many “Afghani Jihad” orphans. These students, most of who were Afghani refugees living in camps on the Pakistani border, were offered free schooling and often even given a meal if they attended classes (Khan, 2003). They were schooled in the evils of non-Muslims, how to resist the Russians and any other occupation, and taught strict Islamic guidelines based upon Qur’anic verses. The Taliban brought possibilities to these students of education, work, much needed money, solidarity with others, and an actual role to play in society to make them feel useful again. It also brought hope for a future (even if only in heaven), something that is very hard for many refugees living in camps to imagine.
The Taliban shifted from these humble beginnings to rule most of the Afghan region from 1996 until their overthrow by US and NATO forces in 2001. They ruled with tremendous religious rigidity, and were condemned by human rights organizations who claimed they implemented the most brutal and strict interpretation of Shariah law ever seen in the Islamic world, which saw the closure of all girls’ schools, the ban of women from leaving their house without male familial accompaniment, as well as the ban of every conceivable kind of entertainment (Rashid, 2000: 2-3). This interpretation is informed by Shariah law combined with ancient Pashtu tribal codes (the Pashtunwali) that stress the right to revenge and to avenge injustice in equal proportion, as well as ideals of hospitality towards guests, asylum, honor and the protecting of Pashtu culture (Mardsen, 1998: 85).
Incessant fighting of competing Mujahidin warlords during the late 80s and early 90s, paved the way for the Taliban to overthrow the government in 1996, a move that was welcomed by many in the Pashtu majority who were happy to again see Pashtu political power in the country and an end to indiscriminate roving violence (Khan, 2003). In fact, Afghanistan’s former Ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, was reported as saying in 2000 that the Taliban had developed “out of public demand” to put an end to the anarchy and chaos and to disarm the unscrupulous militias of mujahidin struggling to fill the power vacuum created by the departure of the Soviets (Global Security, 2000). Under this auspice, many Afghanis joined the cause.
The Taliban ruled until US and Coalition forces invaded in 2001, supposedly in search of Osama bin Laden. The Taliban, using Pashtunwali codes of asylum and hospitality towards guests as their guide, refused to hand over bin Laden without evidence proving his guilt. They actually agreed on several occasions, if evidence was submitted, to capture bin Laden and bring him to justice along with three other alternative options for justice. The US would not accept this offer. Many argue that in fact the US only turned against the Taliban after they refused to sign an oil pipeline deal through Afghanistan, instead offering the deal to an Argentine consortium (Margolis, 2008). The truth lies under much propaganda, and is incredibly difficult to ascertain. The Taliban and much of the Afghani public viewed this new infidel invasion much as they had the previous invasions, believing all Afghanistan’s problems would be solved if foreign interference were to stop immediately. Development projects were seen as a controlling mechanism of the non-Muslims, and were criticized for their wasteful spending. The Taliban also suggested that some UN and international projects were not sincere in their goals of helping the Afghani people, and were exaggerating the situation to continue their financial support and missions (Global Security, 2000).
The Taliban’s original goal, according to Zaeef and Ambassador Abdul Hakeem Mujahid (a Taliban representative to the UN in 2001), was to ensure peace and security in the country. They claim to have tried to solve all issues and disputes “through understanding and peaceful means”, even extending ‘”to the opposition an invitation for peace in an effort to stop further bloodshed in Afghanistan” (Global Security, 2000; and The Final Call, 2001). The main goals after restoring order were national unity for Afghanistan (which included restoring territory lost to Pakistan with the Durand Line in the 1920s); to disarm all the warlords and build a strong central government built on Islamic values. The Taliban claimed they would return to the mosques and schools once this had been attained (The Final Call, 2001).
To the Taliban, western “extremist” visions of their rule as human-rights abusing were unjustified. As repeated in mantra-like form, the Taliban has restored security and justice, along with the idea that education is not a right, but an obligation. Within Islamic-Pushtun principles this obligation means no-coeducation, with females separately educated for their own modesty and to prevent impure thoughts among the males. For the leaders of the Taliban, questions regarding the education of women were defended by showing the hypocrisy of the world for not criticizing the UN and Soviets who did not offer non-coeducational schools, limiting much of the Afghani population from attending. It was seen as offensive by the Taliban to force women into coeducational experiences that would dishonor their culture, and they claim many women who were able to enjoy education under Taliban rule missed out on education under the Soviet and UN systems (The Final Call, 2001).
The Taliban also take offence to the claim of indiscriminate killings and arbitrary violence. Taliban leaders, along with fighters stressed the fact that they were to avoid civilian deaths as much as possible. Certain statistics would seem to back this up. Taliban suicide bombers in Afghanistan are more prone to hit “hard” military targets than civilians with nearly half (43%) of all bombings causing no civilian fatalities. This “low accuracy” rate was attributed to the “amateur” abilities of the Taliban by Coalition troops. The Taliban affirms that this is a calculated decision to avoid killing innocents and inciting anti-Taliban sentiment in the country, a tactic that has proven effective in demonizing the Coalition among the locals for their indiscriminate bombings that have killed scores of innocent civilians (Williams,2007).
Controversy over the makeup of the Taliban is clouded by mass propaganda (American, Russian and local), conflicting accounts and faked reports. The Taliban’s strict ban on entertainment makes video, radio, or local newspaper accounts and debate almost non-existent. Interviews of the Taliban were highly tense situations, evidenced in the fact that every single Taliban member being interviewed other than top officials giving declarations hid their face from the camera with part of their turbans, perhaps in fear of revealing their identities and being punished. The responses were formulaic and expected. Mantras were common among the interviews of Taliban leaders, spokesmen, and fighters, suggesting some level of “brain-washing” or at least preparation and indoctrination before interviews. There seemed to be standard answers for standard questions. Phrases such as “puppets of the Americans” or “slaves of the non-Muslims” were repeated ad naseum (Smith, 2008. Also see list of Taliban interviews in the Bibliography). The difficulty in assessing the validity and motives of the speakers from these accounts is compounded by the fact that most were dubbed into English, and not subtitled, leaving little room for objectivity and verification of translation.
So who is the Taliban really? One side, namely that of Marc Sageman describes the Taliban as conscious actors, who are politically and religiously motivated and do not need brainwashing to take up the Taliban cause (Sageman, 2004: 99-137). He also suggests that they are not uneducated or lower-class individuals, but in fact are represented by many educational and class levels. These types of reports have been contrasted with the more common perception of Taliban fighters as lower-class people who have been seduced, bribed, tricked, manipulated or coerced into blowing themselves up as “weapons of God”. The National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghanis intelligence service, has reported apprehending bombers who were deranged, mentally and physically retarded, unstable or on drugs. Several of the bombers caught by the NDS were supposedly carrying mind altering hallucinogens or sedatives to calm their nerves before death. Media and think-tank reports also mention cases of physically disabled suicide bombers, including a blind man, an amputee, and a disabled man whose only motive was to make money for his family (Williams, 2007). Although there are clearly some educated and upper-class Taliban members, the evidence and choice of interviewees seems to corroborate the latter view for the majority of its fighters. All of the interviews of former Taliban members described their motivations to be mostly economic or through coercion (sometimes by force).
Most of the fighters interviewed were former blue collar workers, who took up arms in solidarity with the Taliban against the non-Muslim infidels and their servants (the current Afghani government). High levels of unemployment (as high as 60% country-wide); lead many young men to join the Taliban for pocket money, a mobile phone, or other financial incentives. Where the government is failing to provide basic services for its citizens, the Taliban seems to be jumping in to fill the gap with radical alternatives (IATT, 2008).
Many of those interviewed were former farmers who had been kicked off their land in poppy raids by the current government. They had family and friends who had been killed by invaders, had lost their homes and livelihood to violence and were unable to leave the country. A definite link between the eradication of poppy and the growth of the Taliban in rural areas can be determined (Smith, 2008). The Taliban offered these often lonely, marginalized men a chance to bring security, money, and medical care to their families. It also offered them a chance to belong, and feel like productive members and agents in their own future.
The poppy-Taliban connection is an interesting one, especially when one considers that the cultivation of the poppy for narcotics purposes is strictly prohibited by the Qur’an. All of the Taliban respondents interviewed about poppy cultivation openly admitted this fact, but stated they had been in cultivation for financial reasons. The Taliban seemed to help these former farmers finance their basic human needs after they were stripped of their livelihood. This suggests that Sageman’s proposal that Taliban fighters are mostly religiously motivated is flawed, since so many informants clearly disobey Islamic rules in full knowledge of their own wrong-doings.
Whatever the motivations of individual Taliban members to join, it seems that local sympathies and recruitment for the Taliban are in fact increasing and spreading across the Islamic world. The continued presence of foreign invaders who disrespect local cultures and values jeopardizes the possibilities for peace in the future. Almost all of the Taliban interviewed say they will continue their fight to the last man standing, as long as any infidels reside in and control their territory. A newly signed pipeline deal brokered by the Americans solidifies the “need” for continued American “pipe-line protection troops” in the region for many years to come (Foster, 2008). This means that this war will inevitably continue, and perhaps even intensify in the future.
The Taliban’s negative image has been widely broadcast in North American media. Clearly, the Taliban is guilty of many human rights abuses and atrocities, but theirs are not the only hands with blood on them. Many of the individual Taliban fighters are victims of massive cultural, structural and direct violence that shapes their worldview and in a sense, “legitimizes” their continual struggle against repressive foreign invasion. They are “justified” in continuing their struggle because they see injustice in their lives brought about by foreign powers. More objective research into the mind of the Taliban fighters, their individual backgrounds, daily lives and mindsets would be the first step towards achieving peace in the region, since the root causes of the fight have yet to even truly begin to be addressed. Any justice in the region must be all-encompassing, and include solutions to local structural injustices, as well as the injustices created and continued by American invasion. The foreigners must be reigned in, basic structures rebuilt, local cultures revitalized and reconciliation processes enacted. The Taliban strive for recognition of their values, and until they receive this recognition, they will continue their fight to the death, in the name of Allah.

Bibliography
Foster, John. (June 19, 2008). A pipeline through a troubled land: Afghanistan, Canada, and the new great energy game. Foreign Policy Series. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Vol. 3, No. 1.

Global Security. (November 8, 2000). IRIN interview with Taliban Ambassador. Globalsecurity.org. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2000/11/war-001109-saafg.htm.

Internet Anthropologist Think Tank (IATT). (February 28, 2008). Afghan youth join Taliban to escape poverty. War Intel Blog Spot. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://warintel.blogspot.com/2008/02/join-taliban-to-escape-poverty.html.

Kakar, M. Hassan. (1995). The Soviet invasion and the Afghan response, 1979-1982. University of California Press.

Khan, Feroz Hassan. (January 10, 2003). Strategic insight. Rough neighbors: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Center for Contemporary Conflict. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.ccc.nps.navy.mil/rsepResources/si/jan03/southAsia.asp#references.

Mardsen, Peter. (1998).Taliban: war, religion, and the new order in Afghanistan. Zed Publishers, New York.

Margolis, Eric. (July 30, 2008). Let’s speak the truth about Afghanistan. Huffington Post. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-margolis/lets-speak-the-truth-abou_b_115591.html.

Rashid, Ahmed. (2002). Taliban: Islam, oil and the new great game in Central Asia. I.B. Tarius Publishers, New York.

Reuters AlertNet. (January 8, 2008). Afghan turmoil. Reuters Foundation. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from http://www.alertnet.org/db/crisisprofiles/AF_REC.htm?v=in_detail.

Sageman, Marc. (2004). Understanding terror networks. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

Smith, Graeme. (March 22, 2008). Talking to the Taliban. Globe and Mail, CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc., Canada. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/talkingtothetaliban.

The Final Call. (January 1, 2001). Who are the Taliban? The Final Call On-line Edition. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from http://www.finalcall.com/perspectives/interviews/taliban01-09-2001.htm.

Williams, Brian Glyn. (July 19, 2007). The Taliban Fedayeen: The world’s worst suicide bombers? Global Terrorism Analysis: Terrorism Monitor. Vol. 5, No. 14. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/article.php?issue_id=4183.

SELECTED YOU TUBE TALIBAN INTERVIEWS:









Bookmark and Share

International Intervention without Cultural Specificity: The Problems of Aid and Intervention to Russian Health Care

Distributing international aid can prove to be a problematic process if background situations and local considerations are not thoroughly regarded. International intervention within the post-socialist Russian health care system was fraught with difficulties stemming from misconceptions, flawed perceptions and a lack of coordination between locals, international NGO workers and the state. The legacy of the socialist period cast itself on the future of development assistance, as public prejudices regarding expectations were transferred from communism’s failure to the failure of capitalism. How has international intervention and aid to the Russian health care system shaped the relationships between citizens, civil society, and the state; and how has this changing shape been affected by the socialist legacy? How have the concepts of public and private spheres in the socialist context affected the way aid is being received? What are the problems facing international health care aid to this region and what is the best way to overcome these problems?

This paper will explore the transformation of health care services in Russia from the Soviet period to the post-socialist era, detailing the realities of the health care situation on the ground. It will attempt to describe the changing perceptions of public and private space and the expectations that coincide with these spaces, recounting the growing dominance of one space over the other under socialism, and later its repackaged continuance under capitalism. It will then turn to the emergence of international intervention (in the form of NGOs and development assistance) that were focused on transforming the socialist state into a market democracy, and how this assistance was misinterpreted and perceived by many as insulting, damaging the possibilities for overall success. The difficulties facing the depoliticizing of aid are explored, as well as the misconceptions precipitated by the Cold War ideologies. Pro-natalist agendas are discussed as shifting the perceptions and institutionalizing moral responsibilities, a practice that was continued in the delivery of international assistance. The devaluation of Russian skills and knowledge (by Westerners) as a mechanism for change is explored, as well as the disregard and disrespect for Russian input which resulted in the marginalization of the local. The paper will then describe Western attempts at ‘democratizing’ the health care system from the ground up, and how this was limited because of vertical hierarchies in existence. It then details how the perceptions of the socialist state cast themselves on the perception of international aid and intervention, and prevented it from succeeding. The example of Uryupinsk is then described as a type of home-grown “civil society” that is able to meet the needs of its population, followed by recommendations for strengthening the health care system and ensuring aid is better received in the future.

Health Care in Russia

During the socialist period in Russia, there were two phases of health care, the first taking place during the 1920s. This first period was dominated by the Marxist perception that illness within society was primarily the product of sickness (inequality and capitalism) in society and that the “cure” to problems such as alcoholism, drug abuse and prostitution would be socialism. This phase deemphasized the value of scientific and clinical approaches to health care and instead narrowed in on socio-economic factors. Beginning in the next decade, the second phase saw more scientific approaches to care exhibiting a belief that work force capacity was dependent on the health of its workers (Bar and Field, 1996). Poorly managed and poorly funded programs that left physicians without pay, resulted in fees-for-service, extending hospital stays and providing unnecessary treatments as money-making ventures (Rivkin-Fish, 2005:86). After the fall of socialism, a third phase occurred and involved reigning in already minimal payments by the government to the healthcare system and reducing the hospitalization rates and lengths of stay of patients as a means of limiting spending and becoming more “cost-effective” and “efficient” (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 89).

During the Soviet period, education, healthcare and child care were to be provided by the state at no cost to the citizenry. The health services in particular however, were often under-resourced and segregated based on the person’s position within the Communist Party, their access to extensive personal networks and their ability to pay the increasingly expected fees and tips for supposedly free services. The government publicly prioritized the training and recruitment of doctors and provided large numbers of hospital beds, but often neglected the quality of the personnel or facilities being offered as the percentage of GDP spent on healthcare services plummeted (Bar and Field, 1996).

Professional associations for physicians were outlawed during the Soviet period. This resulted in the removal of an important system for monitoring the quality of care and the chance for physicians to lobby for better working conditions and rights. Claims of bribery, corruption and network favoritism cast shadows on the admission and graduation processes of many physicians, causing their skills to be considered extremely sub-par or non-existent by Western standards. Doctor’s wages came last among state spending, many receiving lower salaries than factory workers, leaving them with little choice but to charge their patients fees in order to survive. Pharmaceuticals and supply shortages lead to a reliance on gray and black markets for the provision of basic materials. Many hospitals lacked even adequate plumbing or sanitation systems, and electricity or the equipment necessary to run basic tests (Bar and Field, 1996). Patients were asked in some cases to provide their own bed sheets, nourishment and even blood for transfusions brought from home if having an operation while in the hospital (Rivkin-Fish, 2005:87) The dissolution of the state after the fall of communism led to a further erosion of these already abysmal services (Hemment, 2004, Spring). The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) restructured loan payments with the government, and advocated for the state to eliminate promises of universally free healthcare and to reign in their health spending, exacerbating the underlying problems and compromising patient care (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 87-9).

The Changing Relationships between the State, Civil Society and the Individual

Radical economic and social reforms enacted by the new governments, who were under World Bank and IMF pressure, failed to install more equitable socio-economic structures. Rising unemployment, withheld wages, and hyperinflation forced the already poor and desperate to rely on personal networks in order to obtain the social security that the government was failing to provide (Hemment, 2004, Spring). Janine Wedel (1998:3) comments that many Westerners were and still are “naïve to the realities of the Eastern world and the political skills it took just to survive” on a daily basis. The changing relationships between the individual and the state and the growing institutionalization of the private sphere exacerbated the citizen’s distrust for the state. This distrust was later projected from the state onto Western aid and interventions (which will be discussed in a later section).

The public sphere is traditionally regarded as an inclusive space where private individuals could come together as a public to debate issues of public authority such as governance. The private sphere complemented this sphere as an area traditionally outside of the reach of the government or public institutions (Habermas, 1989:27). Civil society was seen to occupy the space between the state, the market and the private; and conventionally consisted of NGOs, associations, community groups, trade unions and social movements (Centre for Civil Society, 2004). The public, private and civil society spheres have been referred to as the legs on a “three-legged stool”, with a separate but equal balance existing between all three legs. In reality, the situation is slightly more complicated as balance is not necessarily equitable, and the legs are not entirely separate. A common neoliberal assumption asserts that there should be a distinct separation between the private, civil society and the state. This assumption neglects to realize that the boundaries between these entities are not always clear (Drue, 2002: 187-200).

Modern housing made available after the fall of communism allowed many citizens their first access to a truly “private” sphere, a location reserved specifically for families that could be closed to neighbours and other uninvited visitors previously forced onto the private sphere by institutionalized situations such as communal apartments during the Soviet era. The “official” or “public” sphere (that being controlled by the Communist party) became increasingly dominant in daily life under socialism, as housing was communalized, and a wide array of topics became too dangerous to be discussed in “public” spaces, which were now extended to sometimes include areas within people’s own homes such as shared kitchens, hallways and bathrooms (Oswald and Voronkov, 2004).

The state privileged the public over the private sphere. Increasing productive and reproductive duties were nationalized and incorporated as individual moral responsibilities making once private issues public concern (Einhorn, 1993:31-3). This private and public tension was further exacerbated by the secularization process undertaken by the state during socialism that strove to limit private influence in the public sphere (Richardson, unpublished, 2008). Destined for disaster, the state increasingly took on more responsibility by broadening its political reach into the private realms, overburdening and overstretching its already thin capacity. The state lacked equitable distribution capabilities, dooming it to be resented by the people whose needs were increasingly being ignored. The increasing control of the private sphere where individual responsibilities became public responsibilities only intensified the already deep resentment towards the state for its distributional failures. The fact that the state lacked the structural capabilities to fulfill its existing promises without taking on increasing responsibilities, made these private intrusions all the more hated (Oswald and Voronkov, 2004).

Gal and Kligman (2000: 39) suggest that the private and public spheres are not mutually exclusive and are more like a nested set of ideologies that are overlapping and malleable, sometimes permitting the private within the public and vice versa. The exact distinction between public and private is completely relative to the interactional situation to which it is applied. Civil society often appears as a sort of public within the private sphere, or as a private interaction between individuals and the state existing usually in public space. During the Soviet era, “civil society” in the western sense was almost non-existent, as its functions were being primarily met or excluded by the state. Thus civil society came to be known as anything not being determined or offered by the Communist Party (Hemment, 2004 Spring). International foundations in the post-socialist context presented civil society as the antidote to the state, which was characterized as corrupt and obsolete in Russia even though the state was needed for these NGOs to gain recognition, practice legally and distribute resources (Drue, 2002: 183).

The growing distrust for all things public, stemming mostly from a lack of adequate resource distribution, favoritism and corruption amongst unequal hierarchies, increased estrangement from the state or public sphere and induced a withdrawal of many citizens from the routinization, institutionalization and standardization that socialism was providing. The boundary between public and private was blurred and permeated by the resource-attaining practice of blat, a collection of personal networks that transcended the private sphere while attempting to obtain public goods (Oswald and Voronkov, 2004). Public space became increasingly masculinized after the fall of communism, as competition for jobs forced many women from public roles and back into the home, leaving little space for female involvement outside the private sphere. These women, barred from the traditional public sphere, often became increasingly active within civil society, organizing associations and NGOs and leading to a feminization of the civil society sector (Hemment, 2004, Spring).

International NGOs Combating Communism

International aid and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) entered the former USSR upon its collapse, with the original intention of combating communism and transforming the state from communism to capitalism (Wedel, 1998). Expanding civil society was seen as instrumental to the development of free markets and democratic ideals (Hemment, 2004, Spring). The main categories of aid and NGO work being supplied internationally to Russia were interested in privatizing former state services, developing the private sector (including private property reform), democratization and basic humanitarian assistance such as health care. A disconnect between the West and the East facilitated by the Cold War ideologies however, prevented this work from being fully effective (Wedel, 1998: 4). NGOs were painted in opposition to the state, as inherently “good” and representing everything the state could not provide in a less bureaucratized, and more efficient manner that was able to reach local populations more effectively than centralized resource distribution (Fisher, 1997).

The West was originally regarded with suspicion, but also lauded as a potential savior whose eventual assistance was never really in question since it was perceived as fully capable of distributing resources. The East considered the West as a kind of rich Soviet Union able to furnish the vast array of products and services not being supplied under communist rule (Wedel, 1998: 22). The West lumped most of the former states of the USSR into the category of “undeveloped”, akin to the Third World, as they began providing aid, NGOs and development schemes to ease the transition from communism to capitalism in the region. This was interpreted by Russians as insulting since many saw themselves as being more or equally “civilized” and “cultured” as the West, needing institutional and social changes instead of economic growth and handouts (Wedel, 1998: 20). The problems in the post-socialist era were difficult to address as Hemment (2004) explains in her example of a highly educated woman with graduate degrees, who lives in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with no hot water, her family of five and her in-laws. The socialist situation was comprised of a highly educated population living in extreme poverty, with few rights and unable to make a living, and differed greatly from the Third World situations.

International anti-communist, pro-natalists intent on transitioning Russia towards capitalism after 1989, were accused by Russians of working to strategically depopulate the country due to their push for abstinence and individual moral changes in the face of existing East-West tensions, perceptions and suspicions (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 215). Applying pre-existing and inappropriate models of aid in the Russian context had the reverse effect of transference to capitalism by solidifying support for the socialist parties and strengthening “mafia-style” networks that were clinging to resource possibilities and the power vacuum created upon the state’s retreat. The lack of transparency along the aid-distribution channels intensified the connection between the realities of the former socialist state and the realities of capitalism, as Western aid, untracked, was assumed to be in the pockets of the elites, much as under socialism. Many Western aid officials were assumed to be spies sent by the West to evaluate the potential competition of the Eastern producers, with as much as two-thirds of the Russian population believing that the US had a calculated anti-Russian foreign policy (Wedel and Creed, 1997).

Depoliticizing the Political

Perceptions can shape the success or failure of any aid mission, and to be most successful aid must be apolitical, not operating within the standard political debate (Creed and Wedel, 1997). The depoliticization of aid became nearly impossible in Eastern Europe as the socialist legacy ensured the economy was completely controlled by the political apparatus. Personalistic connections were required for the NGOs and associations to distribute, arrange and acquire resources, lending legitimacy to the existing inequalities and undermining attempts at institutional and social reform. Many sectors, such as health care and agriculture were highly politicized. Collectivized farms, for example, were seen as the biggest threat to capitalism, with Communist support being saturated mostly in rural areas. Attempts to decollectivize were promoted as the best way to defeat the remaining Communist influence that was primarily in control of the collective farms, essentially restricting the possibility of production to non-collective means, eliminating a way of life for many and hailing capitalist production as the only possible way (Creed and Wedel, 1997).

In health care during the socialist period, the state largely ignored its purported responsibilities to its citizenry by blaming “low levels of culture” (Rivkin-Fish, 2005:91) and an “underdeveloped sense of individual character” for ill health. It began targeting the individual for moral transformations instead of examining the possibility of structural or policy reforms. This essentially privatized perceptions and shifted the blame from state to individual. The widespread use of abortion during the socialist period offers a prime example of this politicization. The Soviet pro-natalist and state-production agenda originally passed restrictions on abortion, focusing on the size and quality of the population as being most important to national production and essentially making the issue one of national security (Rivkin-Fish, 2005:4-5).

Abortion was later institutionalized as the most accessible means of fertility control with all other choices being almost non-existent. As a result, abortion rates more than doubled the live-birth rate and the population began to decline. Official policies institutionalized the focus onto the individual as potentially antisocial and degenerate, changing health education to conform to standards of ‘proper’ hygiene and sexual restraint and making the problems individual moral problems as opposed to state structural ones such as growing inequality, poverty and the decline in universal services (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 93-4).

Reinforcing Social Inequalities and Hierarchies

International aid officials decided they had seen the problems of the Russian health care system before and applied inappropriate and existing models from the Third World to ‘fix’ them. They were critiqued as not listening to Russian input or promoting cooperation and sharing of ideas between the East and the West; instead lecturing and devaluing the professionals in existence even though they claimed to be working in a democratic fashion in collaboration with the locals. They assumed total Russian ignorance and ignored the scientific and research opportunities in the socialist context that gave many Russians knowledge and abilities equal to or surpassing Western knowledge and abilities. Aid officials attempted to make appeals to change more receptive to the Russian audience by entirely disregarding their knowledge and former modes of care (Creed and Wedel, 1997). Westerners also completely ignored Russian priorities while claiming to be promoting them. Russian officials in the early nineties placed low priority on the health care system instead focusing on socio-economic and ecological causes of disease, while the WHO (professing to be following the priorities of the Russians) prioritized sanitation and maternal and infant health as the most pressing issue (Bar and Field, 1996).

An anthropologist noted the disrespect offered by many international organizations to local organizations at local-run events. This disrespect was evidenced in their sending low level workers with little decision-making capability that “dressed in blue jeans”, “appeared bored” and were unable to comprehend the language or situation at hand (Drue, 2002: 192). Drue (2002: 205) also illustrated the marginalization of local groups who had to account for their lives and convince sponsors of their social worth in order to receive funding or acknowledgement. This was compounded further by a complete lack of attention from the government and media even after receiving extensive NGO training in media and governmental relations by international parties and attempting to implement this generic training in the Russian context.

Convinced that the Russian health care system was akin to medical practices in the West in the 1960s and 70s, the international community emphasized the Russian’s problems as being “familiar” or “behavioural” and not technological or induced by systemic poverty. They moved away from the original focus of maternal mortality to narrow in on issues such as changing the practice of separating mother and child at birth, promoting breastfeeding over scheduled feedings; allowing companionship during birth, removing the “dehumanized” nature of practices and changing the emphasis from institutional demands to consumer wants and needs. This characterization of “dehumanized care” led the World Health Organization (WHO) to promote the reorganization of post-natal care from concentrating on biomedical expertise to the individual needs and demands of the patients. This essentially recontextualized the original issue of maternal health into a women’s social issue that ignored the local cultural norms and standards. It blamed the physicians while ignoring the role of the state attempting to be apolitical. What the aid officials didn’t realize is that the political was already thoroughly intertwined in the health care system through the unequal hierarchies (where physicians received low status against the powerful state), and the blurred boundaries that existed between public and private spaces that allowed for state control on almost all levels (Rivkin-Fish, 2000: 79-80).

‘Democratizing’ Clinical Practices

The Russian physicians blamed their problems on a lack of proper supplies, equipment, communication and financing from national sources, and placed little value on the institutionalized and medicalized nature of their health system. The WHO’s focus on eliminating embarrassing (by Western standards) procedures such as the forced provision of enemas and pubic shaving, routine in Russian birthing practices, reflected a lack of local cultural understanding of the body and its care in this region as Russians saw this to be an unimportant issue. Westerners assumed the medicalization of health care practices during childbirth equated to the subordination of women as a need for physicians to assert their power, much as doctors had in the West in the 1960s and 70s (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 60-90).

International bodies assumed that the Russian physicians’ resistance to change was induced by a self-interested quest for power, much as in the West, due to their prestige and position as a physician and the lack of knowledge of their patients. They neglected to realize however, that physicians in Russia were not afforded the same status as in the West. In fact, the deep investment in the ideology of biomedicine, which stressed technology, knowledge and research in medical practices, was rooted in the need for physicians to achieve professional efficacy in a hopeless socio-political environment. Little chance for advancement of material or symbolic power due to low wages and poor status as a physician resulted in many clinging to their knowledge over their patients as a way to express their social dominance and experience social power that was otherwise missing from their lives. In fact, the feminization of the position was seen as caused by declining wages and low political socio-economic status, resulting in more than seventy percent of doctors in Russia being female. The West’s assumption that the Russian present was the same as their past neglected to address the low status to which doctors were afforded in Russia, and prevented the Russians from heeding the advice to individualize and humanize care (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 60-72).

The international aid community failed to acknowledge the undemocratic position that physicians were accorded due to their limited access to state communication, policy direction and financing. Instead, they plowed along promoting a ‘democratic’ clinic setting hoping it would vertically transcend the hierarchies in existence, but not realizing the physicians didn’t have the technical, political or financial means to make it happen. By “throwing out ideas” at the individual level and hoping that they “plant seeds” into larger structures, the international community essentially commoditized these ideas, making them “seemingly available for any individual to choose according to their desire and whim” and un-attaching them from the structural positions in which they are embedded (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 61).

Transferring Perceptions

The perception of international aid as being able to actually distribute resources and make changes quickly faded, casting it in much the same light as the former Communist state that was also unable to equitably distribute. The promises of change and lack of actual structural transformations brought about by the promises, only further isolated the population from the hierarchal structures of aid, and made them continue to be reliant on their own networks for survival. Individual blame and expectations of personal change as a way of achieving democracy, with no demands on institutional or structural changes, angered the population into resistance and reminded them of the public intrusions by the state into their personal affairs. The lacking levels of transparency and use of blat networks to distribute resources also painted international assistance in much the same light as the state. These perceptions and associations determined the fate of international intervention and prevented it from being a true success.

Hope for the Future

Is it possible for international aid and intervention into this region to be successful? Is international intervention even necessary and what can be done to ensure that this intervention is not reinforcing current hierarchies? The example of Uryupinsk, a city in the Volgograd region, demonstrates the ability of the community to strengthen itself without international intervention.

Uryupinsk has an incredibly active population with a strong sense of community and incredibly proud citizenry whose needs are being primarily met through local initiatives. The local cell of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) has taken on the role of civil society within the community and has been able to provide quality services for its citizenry. Since the KPRF is no longer the party in charge, it is able to play the role of intermediary between the population and the state. Zhensovets (women’s councils), trade unions and street committees are extremely active and powerful and are being fully promoted and funded by the KPRF.

The street committees are the most power organization at the grassroots level, and are able to deal with about half of the problems, conflicts, sanitary and welfare conditions of its population without using any state judicial or structural authority, literally reaching everyone in the community. They have also been described however, as the political machine of the mayor, as they use his access to networks and resources to negotiate supplying the population with their needs and desires in return for votes in the elections. The people who lead the street committees are actually neither directly imposed on from the state or criminal groups, and are able to use negotiation with these groups to provide for the welfare of their community. Their primary responsibility remains to the population (Kurilla, 2002).

If this is the case, it would seem a local form of ‘democratic’ structure has taken root here, sprung from the communist remains. The politicians are providing the citizens with their needs in return for votes. If the politicians failed to meet their promises, the citizenry could choose to change their votes in the next election, and find other ways to meet their needs. This example shows that the Russians are able to meet the needs of their population by themselves and use the existing networks to negotiate change. It is not without difficulties and problems, but shows that collaborative efforts created specifically for the Russian context by Russians have the ability to work and need to be encouraged.

International intervention would best be served as a two-way, collaborative effort between East and West as opposed to an imposition directly led by the West. Russians should direct their own priorities and be given the voice to strengthen their own structures. The international community would be best to address the issues of socio-economic inequality in the light of structural hierarchies that exist instead of focusing on individual changes to achieve democracy. The Russians have the ability, knowledge and passion to change their own future, but are being denied this possibility because of structural and institutional problems. Changing the role of the state sphere so that it doesn’t interfere into personal freedoms would be the first step for the Russians to attain balance and respect within their own system. International financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF should promote the strengthening of certain state structures, such as the health care and education systems, so that they are functional on at least a basic level instead of trying to privatize all enterprises, to ensure the population is able to be productive and thus pay back their loans.

The governments need to prioritize their spending so that the basic needs of their citizens are being met, and restructure their system to allow for public input and opposition. The individuals need to be empowered by the state to take on this role, so that they are directing the services and in charge of their own future. The state must be supported by the international community in its efforts to be more transparent and accountable to its population. Specific sanctioning and provision of aid given on the conditionality of being as transparent as possible could help push the state towards this goal and help to ensure that aid is being received where it is needed. Investment into proper facilities, wages and equipment within the health care system is necessary for adequate levels of care. The encouragement of physician’s associations who can lobby for better conditions, education and services by the state and international officials, could help to strengthen the health care services and provide the physicians back their sense of pride and status. Most importantly, the Russians should decide how their systems should run, and all initiatives should be on a thoroughly collaborative, Russian-directed and specific basis.

Conclusions

This paper has demonstrated the state’s intrusion into the private sphere under socialism and how this intrusion led to resentment and withdrawal by the citizenry. It has shown that Western intervention and aid was received in this context, using these structures and reinforcing them in the way it structured and provided its assistance. It described the attempts of international officials to remain apolitical in a highly politicized environment and how this reinforced the structural hierarchies and prevented success. It detailed the crumbling health care system in Russia and how the undemocratic structure within the system left physicians with little power to make change. International intervention placed their emphasis for change upon these individual physicians while ignoring the larger structural problems that were preventing actual change. The need for a balancing of public, private and civil society was addressed as well as the importance of cultural specificity in the design, implementation and delivery of aid.

The Russians are fully capable of directing their own systems, and are in the most appropriate position to design programs that will exact positive change within their region. Aid supplied in non-specific, and unaccountable ways will only further exacerbate the underlying problems and provide temporary solutions to short-term needs. The international community would be best to provide assistance in the form of knowledge sharing, technological transfers, promoting localized solutions to problems and the restructuring of the state so that it is able to meet the needs of its population. It cannot do this without transparency in the face of clouded cultural perceptions. The international community needs to learn to work in collaboration with populations, governments and local organizations, in a more secondary or assistive and not authoritative and superior manner.

References Cited
Bar, Donald and Field, Mark.
1996, March. The Current State of Health Care in the Former Soviet Union: Implications for Health Care Policy and Reform. American Journal of Public Health, 86(3):307.

Centre for Civil Society.
2004-03-01. What is Civil Society? London School of Economics. Retrieved March 10, 2008, from

Creed, Gerald and Wedel, Janine.
1997 Second Thoughts from the Second World: Interpreting Aid in Post-Communist Eastern Europe. Human Organization, Society for Applied Anthropology, 56(3): 253-264.

Einhorn, Barbara.
2002 Retreat to the household? Gendered Domains in Postsocialist Poland. In Cinderella Goes to Market: Citizenship, Gender, and Women’s Movements in East Central Europe. Pp 17-38. New York, Verso.

Fisher, William F.
1997 Doing Good? The Politics and Anti-politics of NGO Practices. Annual Review of Anthropology, 26: 439-464.

Gal, Susan and Kligman, Gail.
2000. The Politics of Gender. New Jersey, Princeton University Press.

Habermas, Jurgen.
1989 (English Translation, published in German 1962). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press.

Hemment, Julie.
2004, Spring. The Riddle of the Third Sector: Civil Society, International Aid, and NGOs in Russia. Anthropology Quarterly, 77(2): 215-241.

Kurilla, Ivan.
2002, summer. Civil Activism without NGOs: The Communist Party as a Civil Society Substitute. Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, 10(3): 392-400.

Oswald, Ingrid; and Voronkov, Viktor.
2004, March. The ‘public-private’ sphere in Soviet and Post-Soviet Society. European Societies, 6( 1): 97-117.

Phillips, Sarah Drue.
2002 ‘Civil’ Societies and ‘Evil’ States: Ambiguities of Women’s NGO Organizing and Patriarchy in Post-Soviet Ukraine. PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Richardson, Tanya.
2008, February 4. Gendered Transformations: Three Meanings of Private. Lecture Notes for class AN345: Anthropology of Post-socialism, Wilfrid Laurier University, Unpublished.

Rivkin-Fish, Michele.
2000 Health Development Meets the End of State Socialism: Visions of Democratization, Women’s Health and Social Well-Being for Contemporary Russia. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 24:77-100.

Rivkin-Fish, Michele.
2005 Women’s Health in Post-Soviet Russia: The Politics of Intervention. Bloomington, Indiana, Indiana University Press.

Wedel, Janine.
1998 Collision and Collusion: The Strange Case of Western Aid to Eastern Europe. New York, St. Martin’s Press.


Bookmark and Share

The “ethnic” side of conflict in the Caucaus.

 

This summer brought to light complicated global hostilities and the probability of continued conflict in the Caucasus region. Russia has sent a clear message to the West, who has been trying to lure away countries on Russia’s western border and turn them democratic and market-oriented, that it will not tolerate excessive signs of independence from its neighbours.

 

For many months preceding the war, Russia imposed heavy sanctions on Georgia and rounded up Georgians in Moscow for deportation. In revenge for Kosovo’s independence, Prime Minister Putin established legal ties with the governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on Georgia’s northern borders, two regions who have broken away from the Georgian territory. In early July, Russia staged a massive military exercise on the border with South Ossetia, and many Russian jets flew over the region, increasing tensions. In August, Georgia and South Ossetian separatists exchanged fire and explosive attacks. Expected peace talks were halted, after the Russia diplomat in charge of facilitating the process blew off the meetings. Russia then claimed that Georgia broke the unilateral ceasefire by ordering a massive “ethnic cleansing” offensive in South Ossetian villages. According to Georgia, the ceasefire was broken by the South Ossetians. Georgia then began to shell and invade South Ossetia, leaving the Russian army (who was conveniently nearby after its military exercises) to move in to “protect” the South Ossetians.

 

Blood is clearly on all hands. Civilians are caught in the cross-fire. Thousands have been displaced, hundreds have died, and although a ceasefire has been signed, peace is far from a reality.

 

The region has been struggling to rebuild itself for the past twenty years. Nationalism flourished after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and began dividing the region ethnically and ideologically. Factions that lived in relative peace for centuries, were suddenly ideological enemies, and displaced to their new ethnically fixed territorial regions. Conflicting histories plague the peace process as claims to land are ‘legitimized’ by different regional versions. Massive ethnic cleansing of regions (including forced displacement and relocation) has left pockets of clashing ethnicities eager to slit each others’ throats.

 

The tendency since the Cold War to describe all conflicts as “ethnic” conflicts has left many wondering if these are in fact “ethnic” conflicts at all. If the tensions are a product of ancient ethnic hatreds, then this would assume that there is something inherently conflictual about ethnicity, making conflict increasingly inevitable since we live in such an ethnically diverse world. We often forget that ethnicities are not some homogenous group, but are in fact constantly changing and fluid. The problems have more to do with access to raw materials and political choices that have pitted one group against another.

Separating ethnicities into homogenous enclaves is a dangerous game.

 

Academics claim that the more ethnically diverse a society, the less its propensity towards conflict. In fact the chance for conflict increases the more ethnically singular an area is, especially if the society is ranked. Ethnicities need to be recognized and the rights of all peoples, regardless of religion, ethnicity, race, background, etc. need to be enforced.

 

Violent conflict is always avoidable. There are many ways to transform conflict through non-violent means. Diplomacy must begin to work, and to do this we must demand it work. Our governments must sanction aggressors to the full extent, and ensure that the do not get away with violence. We must write letters, stage protests, and make our voices heard. Violence has no need to continue, but the only way it will ever stop is if we make it stop through international sanctioning, pressures and peace building initiatives. We can transform war into peace, but only through intense solidified effort. We must all work together.


Bookmark and Share