war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Politics and human rights

Whose crisis?

I don’t know if dentists consider their profession to be dangerous however the instinct to lash out when in pain or discomfort is no secret to any of us.  Those who wish to manipulate our behaviour are just as well aware. The instinct is most often played upon when the age-old “who is to blame?” needs to be deftly steered away from the issue of personal liability, and even more urgently, from questions of what should be done to rectify the situation. 

Instead we hear: “Who is to blame?” – Everybody.  “What needs to be done?” Everything – so toot your horn at 12.00 on Monday!  (People are being asked on 22 December to toot their horns to demonstrate that they’ve had enough)

The difference between reaction by Ukraine’s leaders to the financial crisis and that of most other countries’ leaders is dramatic. For two or three weeks in autumn the world markets appeared in free fall, and a very large number of people in most European countries and the USA believed the banks holding their money might go bankrupt (a few did).  The situation remains critical, with businesses folding, people losing their jobs and their homes which they can’t pay the loans on.  It could have been worse and during those weeks, the tension was dreadful, particularly over the vote on a bail-out plan for the American economy. Despite the US presidential race and the British ruling party’s weak standing, it was simply inconceivable that politicians at the highest level would not show unity. We can argue about whether the leaders were themselves capable of putting aside their battles for political points, or whether they knew that the voters would turn away in droves but who cares?  During time of war party differences lose any meaning since the issue is one of survival. The stakes in those autumn weeks were simply too high to play for political points. In Ukraine they are probably even higher.

There was indeed mass speculation on the volatile share market leading to panic, short selling, for example.  In other countries the culprits were private individuals.  The accusations being hurled about in Ukraine do not only concern commercial banks and must be investigated. However given the present threat to the economy the first priority must be to take action aimed at stopping such speculation. Once again we are hearing mutual recriminations without any sign of specific – and transparent – measures.

Another significant difference in other countries has been the response to the fact that the blame for the financial mess lies at least partially with the banks. Judging by emails to media outlets, blogs, etc, people in the US and in European countries have been less than understanding where the boards of banks demonstrate absolutely no inclination to reduce their own and top employees’ fat salaries and bonuses. Where governments effectively bailed out a specific bank, they had some leverages, however political leaders seem to have mellowed their demands. They know that in a global market the bankers can go elsewhere and any more instability could send the markets reeling once again.

What this does to our sense of justice must, unfortunately, also be left to better times, purely I would stress so that the latter arrive as soon as possible.

I don’t know whether the latest accusations alleging culpability for the terrifying fall in the hryvnia’s value against the dollar are warranted. If there is evidence, would it not be better to present it so that those of us without an economic education could fathom what exactly it proves?  When the British Government introduced measures against short selling, the reasons were publicly given, and the slowest beginner could find it explained in words of almost one syllable in all newspapers. I fear that in Ukraine at present conclusions drawn will depend largely on previously-formed political preferences or who presents their point of view most persuasively.

It is difficult not to feel suspicious when the same accusations are being re-hashed to indict the same fearful villains despite the apparent change in theme.  I am still more wary when even if the accusations are 1) true and 2) acted upon the problem will in no way be resolved. In a time of deep crisis when people have seen their salaries halved, where many people are not being paid at all, or have lost their jobs, any calls to impeach the President or sack the Prime-Minister are simply inconceivable, and suggest that those in power have totally lost grip of reality. 

  That is, of course, if we assume that they believe their own words. Yet if they don’t, then why go on about them in the middle of a crisis of this magnitude?  During an election campaign, it is standard for the opposition to criticize all aspects of the government’s or President’s performance. However any election is far off and besides which in the present situation the question of who represents the opposition is also exceedingly problematical.

  Yes, we’ve all had it, that’s for sure. However tooting our horns, animated discussion about why X behaved this way, why now, what he or she is trying to achieve, as well as who must be sacked, impeached, arrested or worse, are all mere distraction and Ukraine cannot afford such a luxury.

It is vital that the media, civic organizations and the public as a whole refuse to allow themselves to be sent running this way and that in search of the nasty person who made them feel bad. The situation is much too dangerous.

Politicians in other countries managed to understand that there could be no winners, by definition, if they did not stand united. Ukraine’s leaders bear full responsibility for their inability and unwillingness to comprehend this simple truth whatever fine words they use to mask their contempt for their own citizens.

60 years in the wilderness: Why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t work

Speech by renowned human rights defender and Head of the Russian “Memorial” Society, Sergei Kovalev to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 2008

The 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a disturbing anniversary. Why is this the case? Does it celebrate the recognition of a great idea, with difficulty, and slowly, yet unwaveringly transforming the world? Or is it the anniversary of a groundless, unattainable dream, pitifully masking everyday harsh reality?  In fact, hypocrisy, deceit, expansion, secrecy, national selfishness and so forth were traditional methods of so-called “Realpolitik” for centuries. They were considered inevitable, and therefore tolerable. That was why neither Stalin’s millions of victims, nor the rise of Hitler, nor the shame of Mussolini –  were not perceived in the world as a mortal threat to civilization, as a challenge demanding an immediate and stern response.

Nonetheless, in the middle of the XX century it seriously seemed as though the bloody nightmare of two world wars, chemical and even more so, nuclear weapons, the Holocaust and other forms of genocide such as Stalin’s deportation of whole nations, had finally convinced the world community of the vital need to build another political construct of the world, based on a new political paradigm. And therefore the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights seemed at that time like a clear and sharp turning point in the world political reality, an irreversible beginning of the moral transformation of the world. It was not to be.

If we recall that at the very beginning of the war against Nazism, the allies already declared their aim to be to defend freedom and humanity, rights – those same values which were soon to be called universal. It was asserted that these values are the highest aim of politics. Yet not only the aim, but also the main instrument of a safe and just world. Try to reconcile that blanket, and soon nuclear bombing of peaceful cities, half of Europe, handed over into the slavery of Stalin’s tyranny, hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war handed over to Stalin to the camps and to their death.

And then the epoch-making event – the Nuremberg Trials, for the first time in history declaring to the world that state power bore criminal liability for crimes committed under its auspices. Just one example: The Tribunal for three whole days considered the episode of the accusations against the Nazis over the murder of Polish prisoners of war at Katyń. Thank goodness they didn’t consider this episode proven, seemingly, as a result of bargaining. Yet everybody, to the last participant in the trial, knew exactly who had killed the thousands of Polish officers, and when. At Nuremberg one cannibal tried another cannibal for cannibalism. Nuremberg vividly pushed fine declarations into the realm of political rhetoric.

“Realpolitik” hypocritically uses news phrases, however is not capable of embodying a new political paradigm. They are incompatible. The maxim “the law is outside of and above politics” did not come off, the age-old chain of political hypocrisy drags on to this day, turning solemn promises into tacky clichés, devoid of meaning.

I am convinced that we are experiencing a global moral and political crisis.  Ambitions and “countries’ geopolitical interests” are at the centre of the modern political construct of the world  If anybody could put aside ritual phases and make a current list of universal values, they would have to begin it more or less in this way: “oil, gas, political correctness”. That is the peaceful comfort of international bureaucrats.

The following are the most speaking examples from Russian practice.

We have state terror in Chechnya, including abduction of people, extrajudicial executions, torture and culminating finally in the appointment of a Chechen President from among former bandits. Fundamental constitutional norms consciously trampled. There is no independent justice system, no division of power. There isn’t a glimmer any more of transparent political competition at the so-called elections. Instead there’s an obedient parliament and untrammelled lying by the top people in the state. Ritual lying accompanying us at each moment. . The regime in Russia is illegitimate if only because it is self-appointed, and also because it is consciously and deliberately distorting the Constitution of the country, turning it into a Stalinist type, not intended for being implemented. The Constitution is a mere imitation of democracy.  In total accordance with this are important decisions taken by the regime in critical circumstances when the lives of hostages in terrorist attacks count for nothing. They are at any rate not the first priority of the authorities. If we recall the blowing up of blocks of apartments in the autumn of 1999 played an important electoral role in Mr Putin’s triumph. I am not asserting that these explosions were carried out by the Security Service, there is no proof of that, however the version is highly probably and has not at any rate been refuted by the authorities via the only possible means – an open and transparent investigation specifically of that version in the first instant. And the public are not only entitled, but obliged to express their suspicions of this nature, since our history reminds us of many brutal crimes against the people.

There is no need to prove that this situation in the world is not only immoral and threatens individual human fates, but is mortally dangerous on a global scale. .One cannot endless maintain relative security only through the fear of nuclear destruction – these weapons will slip around and could easily fall into the hands of terrorists. There will always be reckless gamblers prepared to resort to nuclear blackmail. A small, inter-connected world, polluted with our waste, is spending incredible effort and means on arms, armies, spying, protection of secrets etc. This is while any important challenges and problems (social, environmental, climate, running out of resources, and so forth) demand grandiose and solely global solutions, which are at present impossible because of national selfishness, treachery and distrust among countries.  Globalization must not simply be economic, but first of all moral and law-based. Politics, concentrated solely on the struggle of ambitions and interests must be subordinated to values excluding this game without rules. This revolution cannot be achieved by the pressure through force of powerful countries, but only through the strength of the enticing example of prosperity. Is such an incredible development of a political construct of the world achievable? I don’t know. I do know that another line of development will be tragic both for us and those who come after us.

There is no trace of determination in the international community to seriously address these problems. Let’s be honest: at present we are in the power of Realpolitik, affirming customs and traditions, which can only in external appearance be considered democratic procedures. Just two examples.  Take, let’s say, the Council of Europe. A structure specially formed for one single purpose – interference in the matters of member states when there are problems there with human rights. Yet, creating this structure, the founders kindly bestowed upon each other the extremely convenient right of veto. The main body of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, resolves important issues by means of consensus.  How then can one punish an offending state? There is virtually the same power of veto in the OSCE. Now there is a rule of consensus, minus one. There are daring souls who even speak of “consensus minus two”, however that doesn’t change matters. Worst of all, the same principle applies in the UN. Five permanent members of the Security Council – that’s the main body of the UN. Among them are Russia and China which have remained enemies of democracy. And all five have the power of veto.

However it is clear that it’s not so easy to change the foundations somehow or other propping up the entire building for several hundred years. Try immediately rejecting the age-old reality of traditional politics. That would mean chaos and catastrophe. We face a slow and extremely difficult path. It would seem that this will last the whole of the XXI century. Yet a strictly formulated final goal of this path must stubbornly and openly dominated in political everyday life. In both major and trivial ongoing decisions. Otherwise it will be lost.

As “managed” or “sovereign” democracy is in no way democracy, so is political correctness anything but correct. We need to understand that when congratulate over self-appointees with their “election”, we encourage frauds and future tyrants. And concluding with them agreement about the rights of the individual, filled with high-sounding rhetoric instead of strict measures of control, we doom many to shameless arbitrary rule. They’re frightened of a renewal of the Cold War. What can you say, the prospect is indeed depressing.

Let’s remember, however, that this war was won, and we are still speaking freely here thanks to that victory.

The very emergence of the European Union, the direction of its slow and difficult evolution is some source of hope.

The great President Jimmie Carter once said: “I can’t send a marine fleet to free Soviet prisoners of conscience, but I’ll do everything else.”

It’s everything else that now needs doing.

Persistently, honestly and openly.

Freedom of conscience and religion

Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of the Crimea condemns Supreme Court ruling on Soborna Mosque

The Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of the Crimea [the Directorate] on 30 December issued a statement in which it condemned a recent Supreme Court judgment as having been commissioned.  The Directorate was informed on 29 December of the judgment passed by the Chamber for Economic Proceedings of Ukraine’s Supreme Court on 11 December. The latter turned down the Directorate’s application for cassation review of the ruling by the Higher Economic Court of 7 October 2008 according to which the case must again be examined in a first instance court.

The Directorate is convinced that this will lead to a new string of court hearings on compelling the respondent – the Simferopol City Council – to conclude a lease agreement for the land site to build an Assembly [Soborna] Mosque. It believes that the Supreme Court did not even examine the material of the case and that the judgment was signed not only without studying it, but without even reading the text of the cassation application.

The Spiritual Directorate calls upon the President and Prosecutor General to use the powers vested in them by the Constitution and laws of Ukraine and to stop the open discrimination of Crimean Muslims – Ukrainian citizens by the local authorities. 

The Higher Economic Court responded to an application by the Simferopol City Council by sending it for examination to the Economic Court of the Crimea.

The Mayor of Simferopol Gennady Babenko previously suggested holding a city referendum on the issue of whether the Soborna Mosque should be built on the territory at 22 Yaltynska St.  The Mayor claims that the majority of residents would be against it.

This disgraceful saga has been going on for a long time. Please see the references below for a full picture. Very briefly, the Spiritual Directorate submitted all applications and documents for permission to build on Yaltynska St more than three years ago, this entailing considerable expense and effort.  Everything seemed on course until a session of the Simferopol City Council on 10 January 2008 passed a decision to change the location, allocating a different site.

The Crimean Prosecutor registered a protest in support of the Spiritual Directorate’s claim for the site on Yaltynska St.  In February the Crimean Economic Court ordered the Simferopol City Council to make an agreement with the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims to allocate the land site at Yaltynska St. for an Assembly Mosque. That same month, on 12 February, Crimean Tatars launched an initiative to gather stones for the building. They called on Muslims and other residents of the Crimea to bring one stone each.  The Mayor and City Council are fighting hard.

New information from

Freedom of expression

Media outlets accuse the Presidential Secretariat of interference

Two Internet sites – “Ukrainska Pravda” and “” on Wednesday issued a joint statement over remarks made by the President and representatives of his Secretariat during the President’s annual summing up conference on Tuesday 23 December..  They demand an explanation over what they consider unlawful interference in their activities.

Their anger is specifically over a statement made by the President’s Press Secretary Irina Vannykova in which she asserted that the question from Internet users which had gained the most votes reflected the interests of Russian users.

The question referred to was: “Dear Mr President, please tell me how much we (simple folk) need to pay you so that you, together with all the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, ministers and public officials go abroad once and for all and stop preventing the country from developing normally?”/ It received over 100 thousand votes.

The statement quotes this question then goes on as follows:

“Viktor Yushchenko in answering the most popular question from Internet users called it provocation and said that “two thirds of the authors of this question are not in Ukraine and do not represent the Ukrainian people”. 

Later, before the next question from the Internet audience, Irina Vannykova said the following: “We know with certainly that the first question reflects the interests of Russian Internet users and we therefore hope that the second question from the Internet closely reflects the interests of Ukrainian Internet users”.

After the press conference to sum up the results of the Internet interview, the Head of the President’s Press Service Larisa Mudrak told “Ukrainska Pravda” that the Secretariat had “ordered an expert assessment in the relevant state bodies”. According to “Ukrainska Pravda’s” information, this referred to the State Service for Special Communications and Protection of Information.

In connection with this we would state the following:

Information held by shows that the information which the President’s Press Secretary made public is not true.

According to’s specialists, as well as to data from open statistics, of those who voted, put questions to the President and visited the special webpage created for this, around 80% were Ukrainian users.

That means that Irina Vannykova effectively lied in a live broadcast, placing in question the civic position of thousands of Ukrainian Internet users. is prepared to provide all information it holds regarding the voting to an independent commission if the President’s Secretariat insists on its version. It does however consider that it would be impossible for such a commission to include representatives of the enforcement agencies of the SBU [Security Service) since the IP addresses are private information which much not be divulged.

As already mentioned, Larisa Mudrak reported that some kind of state structures had carried out an expert assessment of the voting data. Yet according to our specialists, without access to our servers it would be impossible to analyze the voting statistics. It would be possible to receive such information either with the knowledge of the provider (which was not the case), or through a court ruling, or by illicit means, i.e. simply hacking into the server. did not give its consent to an analysis of information on voting on our sites. This means that the possible gathering of such data is a direct violation of the law, freedom of speech and expression. demands that the President’s Secretariat gives an explanation for the information given at the concluding press conference of Viktor Yushchenko broadcast live.

Failure to provide an answer will be deemed a violation of the principles of freedom of speech. Unfortunately in Ukraine it has become the rule to leave without response publicly important information uncovered by journalists.

The Internet audience’s questions for Viktor Yushchenko were collected over two weeks from 9 December. readers could ask their questions and vote for questions on a webpage specially created.

At first it had been planned that Viktor Yushchenko would answer Internet users’ questions during his Internet conference on 16 December. However on 12 December the President’s press service stated that the Internet conference would not take place due to the President’s chairing an emergency meeting regarding heating supplies being disconnected, and considerable wages arrears, and that Viktor Yushchenko would answer the Internet users during his annual summing up press conference.

Over 17,000 questions were collected over two weeks which were voted for by around 1,8 million users. At the press conference on Tuesday the President answered three questions from the Internet audience.

From the Ukrainian at:

Freedom of peaceful assembly

New draft law on civic organizations

The current law “On citizens’ associations”, from 16 June 1992, has received well-deserved criticism from representatives of civic society. It is largely through their lobbying that the Ministry of Justice has submitted to parliament a new draft law “On civic associations”.

The draft law was tabled on 14 November and with a new coalition having got the Verkhovna Rada working again, there seems a chance that it may be passed. Roman Holovenko from the Institute for Mass Information stresses that there are failings, but that it contains a number of positive changes.

Norms on founding civic organizations

The new law would allow legal entities, excepting state bodies or bodies of local self-government created through subordinate legislation, to found civic organizations. At present only individuals are legally able to do so.

Legalization of civic organizations can be carried out via 1) registration or 2) sending notification that the organization has been founded. Under current legislation registration envisages the obtaining of legal entity status. The draft law clearly stipulates that civic organizations legalized through notification do not become legal entities.

One somewhat retrograde step is seen in the norm making it possible to refuse to legalize an organization when it sends its notification of creation. This makes all civic organizations dependant at the stage of creation on the Ministry of Justice.

In any case, however, founders of civic organizations in practice prefer the first means of legalization, i.e. registration, partly because by becoming a legal entity they can carry out wider-scale activities, being able to attract funding from outside and not depend on the enthusiasm and funding of their members.

While the proposed time frame for considering documents for legalizing a civic organization of ten days cannot be considered very long, it is an increase on the present three days.

Five days is now proposed for review of notification that an organization has been founded, however no time limit was given before at all since at present the legalizing body in theory must only record the information, not assess it for its compliance with the Law.

The draft law also broadens the possibilities for state bodies to suspend civic organizations. With organizations legalized via notification of creation, it will be possible to suspend them by publishing the relevant announcement in the printed media if there is no activity identified by the organization over three years. Grounds for compulsory dissolution of a civic organization through court order include the formulation “carrying out activity prohibited by law”. This wording would seem broader than the norms of current legislation which given a comprehensive list of prohibited types of activity.

A painful issue for civic organizations is the financing of its activities. The draft law envisages that civic organizations are non-profit making. At the same time, unlike the present law which allows for economic activity via the creation of separate account-keeping legal entities, the draft law allows the organizations themselves to carry out economic activity without a profit-making aim. However with this change in legislative wording, it is perhaps not warranted to expect that sale at cost price or lower of products by non-profit making organizations linked with their basis activities will be treated by the tax bodies as non-taxable income. Despite the existence already in the Law “On taxation of the profit of enterprises” of norms which waive tax on the income of non-profit making organizations in the form of “funds or property received by such non-profit making organizations from carrying out their main activity”, the State Tax Administration only waives tax on passive income not from, but for running its main activities (donations, grants, etc).

The draft law needs revision and the Institute for Mass Information plans to take all efforts possible to improve legal regulation of civic organizations in Ukraine, and are prepared to work with all organizations and specialists interested in ensuring appropriate legislative changes.

Slightly adapted from the analysis by Roman Holovenko at

Prohibition of discrimination

The Black Hole of “Ukrainian Anti-Semitism”

I write these words in the last month of 2008 in an attempt to pull the issue of anti-Semitism in Ukraine from the edge of a black hole in which time and space have ceased to exist.  I will look at the reasons why the issue has ended up there, who wants it that way, but I have only one objective  – to stop blurring different issues in order to move forward in our time and space.

My life, and probably the reader’s, has been lived under the weight of the Holocaust.  I will never remove that weight and I would not try to do so. My family suffered immeasurably more from Stalin’s regime, yet the Holocaust and the degree to which vast numbers of human beings were involved in a killing machine and in the deliberate slaughter of children on the grounds of race remain the edge of an abyss, awareness of what we human beings are capable of.  Awareness of the duty to know and remember and of our responsibility for ensuring that it never happens again.

I am convinced, however, that the failure to separate the need to understand the past and the challenge of here and now can have dangerous consequences. I am equally certain that this blurring of the edges is being encouraged in some quarters, and that particular myths and stereotypes are deliberately repeated despite the fact that those most competent to judge have demonstrated that they are flawed.  I will return to the extremely interesting results of monitoring of the actual situation later, however first let’s look at what we all effectively stand accused of.

The charges range from innate anti-Semitism and collaboration to an apparently major role in the Holocaust.  I wasn’t born then, my family were certainly not involved, and any person who in any way took part in the murder of Jews (or anybody else) in WWII committed a sin and a crime against all of us. That is neither compounded nor excused by nationality, nor by any supposedly wider motives.

Apologies at government level can be a sign of maturity, of ability to acknowledge dark moments in a country’s history. In his article “Silence the European way”, Yaroslav Hrytsak writes: “Each European nation has taken their exam of conscience although nowhere was this easy.”  One must undoubtedly welcome the acknowledgement by President Chirac in 1995 of France’s role in the deportation of more than 75 thousand French Jews however the tendency in society is rather to paint an image of France as a country occupied, with victims, courageous Resistance fighters and a handful of traitors. I remember very well the dismay experienced by many Poles, including somebody very close to me, when Gross’ book about the role of Poles in murdering Jews at Jedwabne appeared.  The reaction was more or less: “But we were victims, not perpetrators!”  That President Kwasniewski, the Church and intelligentsia understood the need to acknowledge guilt for Jedwabne is indeed worthy of respect.

And yet doubts remain. In western countries the stereotype of French brave opponents of Nazism is widespread, while Poles and Ukrainians are often accused of collaboration and anti-Semitism. There are historical reasons, as well as fairly cynical manipulation. The unequivocal fact gets forgotten that it was the French authorities, and not just isolated individuals, that were implicated in the Holocaust. Nor do people take into account the fact that by helping Jews a Pole or Ukrainian risked not just his own life, but his family’s also. Against the background of vague and extremely unfair accusations levelled at a whole nation, or significant part of it, I fear it is not realistic to expect recognition of any kind of collective responsibility for the Holocaust. Poles found it in them to apologise for a specific crime, yet is it reasonable to expect them to feel collective guilt for the crimes of individuals when Poles themselves suffered so terribly?

I have not seen hard evidence that Roman Shukhevych or the leadership of the Ukrainian Resistance Army [UPA] were involved in the Holocaust. I would repeat though that such involvement would undeniably warrant unequivocal condemnation. If any such crime were in fact proven, then I believe that supporters of UPA, and probably the Ukrainian government, would have to condemn it. Yet when there remains no real consensus in society as to the role of the UPA and as to whether Ukraine was occupied only by the Nazis, or also by the Soviet Union,  it is perhaps no wonder that calls to apologize arouse irritation in a lot of people.

If there is a European lesson to be learned, and I suspect there is, it is in their pragmatism, the ability to put aside issues which will only divide people in order to take a united stand against anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia here and now.  I suspect this is indeed more about brutal pragmatism than about full acknowledgement of each country’s responsibility.  There were too many divergent points of view, and not just about countries’ role in the War, but also about their responsibility for problems arising from the collapse of the colonial empires.  You could argue until the end of the world, or more likely until a new war erupted, about who was to blame, yet what was to be done needed to be decided here an now.  People had to live together and no grievances regarding the past would justify inadequate reactions generating new problems and fresh outbreaks of hatred and aggression.

Ukraine would do well to follow this pragmatic approach. There is, undoubtedly, an additional problem in the unrelenting barrage of propaganda and lies with an unmistakeably Soviet odour issuing mainly from Russian-language media outlets, though very often repeated by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  One of the reasons that these tactics are effective highlights another fundamental problem. New information about the War is constantly being dug up by European researchers however this largely adds detail to a basically clear and universally recognized picture. This is not the case in Ukraine where basic information about WWII continues to be highly coloured by the position of those presenting it.  There is no point in shouting that we are being maligned if we are not prepared to be remorselessly objective ourselves.

Stereotypes have a number of apparent advantages: they’re easy to remember, require little painful mental effort and usually save time. Very often it’s a cut and paste job – the same words year in, year out.  Problems arise, at least for those who have nothing against hearing the truth, when reality changes and the words apparently describing it don’t.  In the last week, which was by no means unusual, I received one alarming statement about the rise in anti-Semitism in Ukraine and read two others on the Internet, both undated, although one had apparently been created or last updated in April 2008.  Before examining why that report was outdated when posted, it is worth noting the first comment on the text, from a person signing himself as Alexander: “Shame!  And this is in our times! Independent Ukraine was and remains a dirty anti-Semitic country!”

Confronted with such a damning “analysis” of the situation, we can either be silenced or ask the specialists.  Viacheslav Likhachev has been carrying out monitoring of anti-Semitism for several years. In a recent article entitled “Trends in anti-Semitism in Ukraine at the beginning of the XXI century: reality and stereotypes”, he subjects the stereotypes to one litmus test: how they correlate with empirical data.

Instead of the increase in anti-Semitic crimes so loudly and persistently claimed, it turns out that over the last two years there has actually been a small decrease in the number of attacks on Jews.  There have been three victims of street assaults this year.  If one counts the two people in Lviv who were slightly injured by two aggressive and seemingly anti-Semitic pensioners (who themselves received worse injuries) in July 2008, the figure stands at five. Last year there were 5 assaults (or 6, but one remained unclear) with 8 (or 9) people being injured.  In neither year were there any serious attacks.  There has also been a considerable fall in the number of cases of vandalism (chiefly desecration of graves and memorials) in 2008.

It should be stressed that there are no grounds for relaxing.  During these two years there has been an increase in the number of hate crimes against people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.  V. Likhachev also notes that the fall in cases of vandalism may be attributable to some court cases where serious sentences were handed down for such offences. In previous years, perpetrators had gone unpunished or received symbolic sentences.

We thus look for assailants so to speak under the streetlight, where the visibility’s better. And anyway we know that they’re there because they once used to hang out there.  Obviously we’re not about to say if there are less of them. They’re cunning swine and we’re not going to let them dupe us! .Or we have other reasons for not saying. The result is clear: nobody notices the assailants in their new position with this arousing irritation among law-abiding members of the public, and placing other victims of violence in danger. And while densely continuing to rage, we fail to draw adequate and most obvious conclusions about measures likely to help resolve the problem, such as serious sentences.

With regard to anti-Semitism in political life, the point made by specialist on ultra-nationalist movements Andreas Umland is of particular interest. He singles out Ukraine as the only country in Eastern Europe where no extreme right-wing political factions have managed to get into parliament, despite a lower than usual threshold.  Electoral support for the ultra-nationalist “Svoboda” (“Freedom”) party, the only force advocating ethnic proportional representation, came to just 0.76% in 2007. Likhachev also points out that the general volume of anti-Semitic propaganda during the election campaign in 2007 was on a different, considerably lower scale, than in 2006.

The main source of anti-Semitic propaganda in 2006 and earlier was, of course, the notorious International Academy for Personnel Management [MAUP].  The enormous rise in anti-Semitic publications from 2002 – 2006 can be directly attributed to MAUP, which according to V. Likhachev produced up to 90% of such material. 

“In autumn 2007 for a number of reasons MAUP curtailed its anti-Semitic campaign as dramatically as it launched it. Since September 2007, with the trend continuing in 2008, there has been a sharp fall in the number of anti-Semitic publications. According to the results of monitoring over the first nine months of 2009 we can speak of a tenfold (!) reduction in the number of anti-Semitic publications in Ukrainian regular issues in comparison with the same period in 2007.”

This was reported in Likhachev’s regular monitoring bulletins which are the primary source of information in this area.  It is therefore disturbing, to say the least, to read the statement and recommendations from a roundtable held apparently to mark the seventieth anniversary of Kristallnacht by the Maimonides Jewish University in Kyiv, some Jewish organizations, as well as an organization which calls itself the “Ukrainian Anti-Fascist Committee”  It is baffling how people apparently concerned with combating anti-Semitism could have devoted a major part of a roundtable discussion and subsequent report to raging over information which any human rights organization could have told them was out of date. Even without such advice, the very fact that the sources they quote are from 2002 and 2004 should have made them seek more up-to-date information.  If, of course, their aim was indeed to fight anti-Semitism, and it is profoundly upsetting to imagine how on that most terrible anniversary any other objective could have seemed acceptable.

Viacheslav Likhachev also looks at the issue of anti-Semitism in the public consciousness. While suggesting well-founded reservations about the continued validity of the Bogardus Scale, this method has been used for a long time and it is therefore significant that the perceived distance between Ukrainians and Jews fell from 4.6 in 2007 to 4.1 in 2008). This distance is less than for any other minority group in Ukraine, although Poles are now close behind.

If we place ourselves firmly in 2008, while there is no cause for complacency (there never can be), the situation is by no means as bleak as is painted. Those who prefer to stay with old stereotypes, as well as those who positively fuel them, as for example, those who tried to make a “pogrom” out of a squalid act of aggression by two bigoted pensioners, do us all, regardless of ethnic origin, a grave disservice.  They generate fear, suspicion and antagonism.

They also distract people when fighting the primitive need for enemies and scapegoats demands constant vigilance. , One of the attacks this year was by skinheads against the Chief Rabbi of Vinnytsa and his three-year-old son.  There is no question that they were not attacked as Jews, however harping on about whether or not Ukrainians are innate anti-Semites fails to take the nature and the danger presented by skinheads into account. 

Lessons have been learned from the War.  We know what created the right conditions for hatred and aggression to fester and spread their disease.  We know what the consequences can be. During a time of deep crisis we have no right to disregard knowledge seeped in blood and suffering. There probably are questions unanswered about some Ukrainians’ role in WWII and in the Holocaust and there are undoubtedly some who have eluded justice. How much we all bear responsibility for this remains a matter of debate. For placing any people who stand out in danger, for standing back and allowing the disease of primitive hatred and aggression to spread we bear direct responsibility here and now.

Trends in anti-Semitism in Ukraine at the beginning of the XXI century: reality and stereotypes

Articles about anti-Semitism in Ukraine, both in the domestic and international press, usually begin with a worried assertion that “anti-Semitism has been on the increase of late”. “The rise in anti-Semitism” in Ukraine concerns observers from Russia, Israel, Europe and America. I won’t even give specific examples since I suspect that all those who take an interest in the subject and from time to time (or regularly) read material about anti-Semitism in Ukraine have had enough of hearing that claim. This assessment is typical not only for the media:  in many foreign monitoring or analytical reports, as well as in statements from public figures, it gets repeated in cliché mode. Over recent years one has observed a positive “autumn spurt” timed to coincide with the anniversaries of the Babi Yar Massacre and the founding of the Ukrainian Resistance Army [UPA] in September and October and events connected with them. Interest increases in public discussion about “Ukrainian – Jewish relations” and about how the situation is with “anti-Semitism in Ukraine”.  In a recent statement from a respected Ukrainian Jewish organization it is asserted that “attacks on Jews have become an everyday thing in Ukraine”. Yet as a rule such statements are not confined to simply saying that the situation is catastrophic, but suggest that it is getting worse.  For the reader of one specific publication, such assertions can seem entirely logical, yet when they are repeated year in, year out, one does want to find a way of measuring this supposed increase. <…>

In fact, I do have such statistics. Over recent years, supported by and in cooperation with a number of Ukrainian and foreign civic organizations, mainly the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine, Vaad Ukraine [the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine), the Euro-Asiatic Jewish Congress and the Union of Councils), I have been monitoring and analyzing various forms of xenophobia, including anti-Semitism.  The information accumulated makes it possible to draw cautious conclusions about how the situation is developing, based on hard facts, and not on emotions and feelings. <…>

In order to check the validity of claims about a rise in anti-Semitism, it is in my view enough to examine changes in four key areas: anti-Semitic crimes; electoral success of xenophobic political forces; propaganda in the media and the level of anti-Semitism in the public consciousness.

Anti-Semitic crimes

We are mainly talking here of assaults and vandalism. Strangely enough no systematic monitoring was carried out in the 1990s therefore we can only substantiate comments about changes over the last few years.

According to our data, there was a small rise in the number of attacks on Jews at the very beginning of the 2000s.  The situation stabilized by 2005-2006, and in 2007 and 2008 the figure has even slightly fallen.

Although it is too early to give definitive statistics, according to preliminary monitoring, from January to November 2008 three people suffered from street attacks. Another two received light injuries as the result of the so-called “pogrom” of the Jewish Education Centre in Lviv in July (the two elderly neighbours who carried out the attack, also suffered as a result of the resistance shown, however this does not negate the fact that it was they who were the aggressors and initiated the confrontation).

In 2007 there were five anti-Semitic attacks in which eight people suffered (if we include one case which was not fully confirmed then we are talking of six attacks and nine victims).

In 2006 five incidents were recorded in which eight Jewish people suffered, as well as a passer-by who interceded.  In one of the cases (an attack with the use of weapons on Hitler’s birthday in Dnipropetrovsk) it was a miracle that the victim was not killed. There were also two other questionable cases where we were unable to receive reliable information.

In 2005 more than eight people suffered in six incidents (it is difficult to be more exact sine one of the cases was an attack on a group of school students in Simferopol). As a result of one of the attacks the victim, brutally beaten by skinheads, a Kyiv yeshiva student received life-threatening injuries.

We would note that neither in 2007, nor in 2008, were there any such serious cases.

One cannot therefore assert that in 2007 – 2008 there was any particular increase in anti-Semitic violence; on the contrary, there was a slight fall. Yet it is precisely in the last two years that we most often hear public statements about an increase in the number of anti-Semitic crimes.

If we look at changes in the number of hate attacks as a whole around Ukraine, we see a sharp increase in such attacks from the end of 2006. The victims of such attacks are most often people from Africa, Middle Eastern countries and Asia. According to our information, in 2006 14 people suffered as the result of xenophobic violence (with two killed).

In 2007 there were nearly 90 victims (the exact figure cannot be given since some cases were not clear-cut). 5 people (or 6, if we count one of the unclear cases) people died.  According to preliminary information, from January – September 2008 there were 69 victims of hate attacks. It should also be borne in mind that the public are much worse informed about manifestations of racism in relation to people with black skins, or those from Asia, than about cases of anti-Semitism, and therefore the statistics may be far from complete. These figures help to understand the real level of hate violence in Ukraine and the place held by anti-Semitic crimes in this context.

Vandalism (mainly desecration of Jewish cemeteries and memorials, as well as damage to synagogues and other Jewish infrastructure buildings)

We did indeed record a rise during 2006-2007 (which may partly be due to a normal system of monitoring in different regions of the country having been set up).  However, according to preliminary findings for 2008, there has been a steep reduction in such crimes. In the first ten months of 2008 there were half as many as during the same period for 2006 and 2007 (10, 21 and 20 respectively).

This reduction would seem to be due to some unexpectedly harsh sentences (including terms of imprisonment of several years) against anti-Semites proved in court cases to have taken part in acts of vandalism.  Previously such crimes had practically always gone unpunished or the punishments had been of a symbolic nature.

Anti-Semitism in political life: electoral movement

The Ukrainian political situation in the period of interest to us presents an ambiguous picture. On the one hand people known for their anti-Semitic (or more broadly, xenophobic) rhetoric are active in very different political forces and neither the public nor the political elite have the sense that the very presence of such figures on the electoral candidate lists is anything compromising or unacceptable. Anti-Semitism is seen as not being significant. The only case when the leadership of a political force took disciplinary measures with regard to a politician publicly making xenophobic statements was the expulsion of Oleh Tyahnybok from the “Our Ukraine” faction after remarks in the summer of 2004.  And that was in the specific circumstances of a presidential campaign.  Anti-Semitic utterances by, for example, the patriarch of the Ukrainian national movement Levko Lukyanenko did not stop him being a respected member of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) during the last parliamentary term (and it did not disturb him in any way to be in the same faction, for example, as Oleksandr Feldman).

On the other hand, radical right-wing political forces, especially those which focus on anti-Semitic rhetoric face crashing defeat in election after election. Moreover as the political analyst and specialist on ultra-nationalist political movements Andreas Umland states, Ukraine is the only Eastern European country where, despite a low electoral threshold, no parties or blocs from this political spectrum have got into parliament.  There is nothing like the Russian “Rodina” [“Motherland”] party, or “Great Romania”, or the League of Polish Families in Ukraine’s parliament, and there wasn’t even in the 1990s when the national-patriotic discourse was perhaps relevant for our country (at least, in single mandate areas, some radicals were trying to get into parliament).

In the 2007 snap parliamentary elections, there was only one radical rightwing political force running - the ultra-nationalist “Svoboda” (“Freedom”) party, led by former National Deputy [MP] and now Deputy of the Lviv Regional Council Oleh Tyahnybok. “Svoboda” which espouses a racist policy of ethnic proportional representation gained 0.76% of the votes in 2007, this doubling its result in the 2006 elections (0.36%). It would seem that this improvement can be explained by the lack of any radical nationalist competitors in 2007. During the 2006 elections there were other parties: the radical rightwing Ukrainian National Assembly; the People’s Movement of Ukraine for Unity; the overtly anti-Semitic Ukrainian Conservative Party; the Bloc “Sontse” [“Sun”] with its religious messianic rhetoric. Altogether they received less than 1% of the votes.  It should admittedly be kept in mind that a certain number of votes from the radical national electorate were “siphoned off” by the Ukrainian People’s Bloc of Kostenko and Bloc, and partly by PORA – PRP.

Of particular interest is the fact that the general volume of anti-Semitic propaganda during the election campaign in 2007 was on a different, considerably lower scale, than in 2006 when the vast majority of such material was circulated by the Ukrainian Conservative Party which is linked with the International Academy for Personnel Management [MAUP]. Despite considerable activity, at least in Kyiv, the Ukrainian Conservative Party only received 0.09 % of the votes.

One can therefore confidently assert, on the basis of the last parliamentary elections, that anti-Semitism is not in any way a popular subject in electoral rhetoric. Efforts to bet on the anti-Semitism card end in failure. Rightwing radicals, gaining relative success, can on a personal level experience negativity towards Jews, however they prefer not to focus on this subject, at least do not actively use anti-Semitic rhetoric and their electoral support is due to other reasons. In any case there can be no question of any rise in popularity of anti-Semitic political forces.

Anti-Semitic Propaganda: the fountain has dried up

“Unpunished and untrammelled anti-Semitic propaganda”, the scale of which is supposedly also on the increase is another clichés doing the rounds from publication to publication. I suggest that here too we turn to exact figures.

According to data from Vladimir Mindlin, who carries out monitoring of anti-Semitic propaganda in the central print media for Vaad Ukraine, during 2007 542 anti-Semitic publications were identified. The monitoring undoubtedly encompasses far from all publications which is clear given that it is not impossible to follow the huge number of Ukrainian newspapers (for example, regional, party, religious, as well as campaigning papers during elections, etc). One can therefore hardly claim that these results are to be interpreted as the exact number of anti-Semitic articles published in the Ukrainian media during the reporting period. They are nonetheless invaluable since they enable comparison with analogous figures from previous years (also gathered by V. Mindlin).

Thus, in 2006 676 anti-Semitic publications were identified; in 2005 – 661; in 2004 – 379; in 2003 – 258 and in 2002 – 179. In 2001 there were slightly over 100 such publications.

What processes are reflected in these figures? At the very beginning of the 2000s anti-Semitic material was mainly published in marginal publications, in general, monthly ultra-nationalist newspaper with a print run of around one thousand. From 2002 a new phase begins with a sharp rise in the scale of anti-Semitic propaganda.

The colossal increase in the number of anti-Semitic publications between 2002 and 2006 was caused by the activity of the International Academy for Personnel Management [MAUP]. MAUP publications contained up to 90% of the general amount of anti-Semitic material in the print media. From 2002-2005 the amount of anti-Semitic material increased each year by 1.5-2 times, with publications with a print run of tens or even hundreds of thousands of copies coming to the fore.

In 2006 the number of anti-Semitic publications rose only slightly against 2005. In 2007 for the first time since 2002 a reduction was observed in the amount of anti-Semitic propaganda. Furthermore, a detailed analysis indicates a reduction during the entire year but an especially sharp fall from autumn 2007 (183 publications during the first quarter; 137 – in the second; 147 in the third when elections were taking place to the Verkhovna Rada (parliament); and 75 in the final quarter.)

In autumn 2007 for a number of reasons MAUP curtailed its anti-Semitic campaign as dramatically as it launched it. Since September 2007, with the trend continuing in 2008, there has been a sharp fall in the number of anti-Semitic publications. According to the results of monitoring over the first nine months of 2009 we can speak of a tenfold (!) reduction in the number of anti-Semitic publications in Ukrainian regular issues in comparison with the same period in 2007.

We thus see that the claim about a constant increase in anti-Semitism in the Ukrainian media was justified from 2002-2006 however it is precisely in 2007-2008 that in this area we observe a fall, moreover one on a colossal scale.

Anti-Semitism in the public consciousness

In sociology there are various methods for assessing how widespread xenophobia is within society. Ukrainian researchers (in the first instance the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) and specifically Vladimir Paniotto) most often use the Bogardus Social Distance Scale which measures the social distance between different groups of the population. The respondent’s answer to the question of how they would be prepared to view members of another ethnic group (as members of their family, close friends, neighbours, colleagues, etc) makes It possible to determine the social distance which they would like to maintain with respect to people of that group. The accumulated number of various answers are used to give a mark on a scale from one to seven where the higher the figure, the lower the level of tolerance towards that group.

The last such survey was carried out in summer 2008.  Although the results have not been officially presented, preliminary figures were given by V. Paniotto at a conference on Ukrainian – Jewish relations held in Kyiv on 29 October.

According to the results of the study, for the first time in many years the social distance index between the Eastern Slavonic majority (Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians) and Jews decreased (from 4.6 in 2007 to 4.1 in 2008).

This is a reasonably significant change although, of course, the results of one study are not yet enough to speak of a steady trend. It should be borne in mind that previously, according to earlier KIIS studies, the social distance towards Jews was only rising (from 3.63 in 1994 to 4.6 in 2007).

Unfortunately the results of studies based on the Bogardus Scale are not in my opinion enough to draw conclusions about xenophobia (and anti-Semitism as one of its specific manifestations) in the mass consciousness. This scale determines precisely and only social distance, and interpreting it in terms of “tolerance”, “xenophobia” and “anti-Semitism” is problematical. The Bogardus Scale was devised back in the 1930s and first and foremost measures the level of integration into society (not to say assimilation) of ethnic minorities. It would hardly be justified to try to cover the whole diversity of inter-ethnic relations with this scale. One should therefore be very careful with any definite assertions like “such and such a number of respondents did not wish to see Jews as Ukrainian citizens” pulled out of the context of the study.

Furthermore, one should draw attention to the social context. I think that for a post-Soviet society a high level of social distance is on the whole natural, as is the “negative” development over the last 10-15 years. In conditions of a breakdown of the Soviet model of society, the role of ethnic identification increases with this being normal. At the same time, the boundaries between different groups become more fixed and the level of social distance accordingly rises. The role of religious identification also increases obstructing closer contact (including marriage) with members of different ethnic and religious groups. It is hardly justified to equate this process with a rise in xenophobia.

Finally, I would like to point out one not unimportant detail specifically relating to anti-Semitism. Jews are in the most favourable position in comparison with other ethnic groups – they are the minority closest to the Eastern Slavonic (Ukrainian – Russian) majority. The distance with regard to Jews is less than that towards Romanians, Hungarians, Greeks or Tatars, not to mention the traditional “leaders” in the xenophobia rating – Roma (gypsies), people from the Caucuses, South-East Asian countries, and people with dark skins. According to surveys over the last two years, only Poles have almost caught up with Jews – the social distance index with regard to them was 4.7 in 2007 and 4.2 in 2008.

*  *  *

We thus see that the assertions about a “sharp increase” in anti-Semitism “over recent times” are not borne out by the data we hold. The situation if of course far from ideal and in different spheres of public life one observes worrying features. We must acknowledge for example a sharp rise in the number of racist crimes over the last two years. One can also mention that a migrant-phobic discourse has gained topicality and demand in society, with this teetering on the edge or toppling over into xenophobia. However if we speak specifically of anti-Semitism, then there has on the contrary been a noticeable fall.

One would hope that in discussing such a delicate subject which undoubtedly requires particular attention, experts and publicists could be guided by facts, and not emotion.

(very slightly abridged for readers outside Ukraine, however no details from the monitoring have been omitted - translator)

News from the CIS countries

Attempts by the Azerbaijani authorities to block free access to information will not bring the desired effect

This was the reaction of political commentator Vafa Gupuzade to the news that the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council had passed a decision to stop radio broadcasting to Azerbaijan by foreign radio channels. He told “Novosti – Azerbaijan” that “in the modern world attempts to block people’s access to free information cannot bring the effect the authorities desire since people will find access to other information which can prove more undesirable for those who passed such a decision”.

He said that the radio station “Azadlyg”, one of the three foreign radio stations broadcasting to Azerbaijan was popular among the population and was not seen as a foreign station. “People received objective information thanks to the journalists of that station, considering it to be Azerbaijani. Now, after 1 January we will listen to foreign radio stations on shortwave, through the Internet or cable. Every illness will find its cure”, he added, quoting an Azerbaijani proverb. He believes that the Soviet Union collapsed in part because they closed off access to information.

The decision to stop broadcasting from 1 January 2009 on national FM channels will affect the BBC, Voice of America and “Radio Svoboda / Azadlyg”

From information at:

Where contract killers are the ultimate censors

As the murders of Russian journalists go unsolved, there are increasing signs that the impunity of Russia’s contract killers is not accidental. One reason for the lack of progress may be that the law enforcement organs that are responsible for investigating the murders of Russian journalists are actually involved in carrying them out.

On Dec. 5, at the trial of three men accused in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, Russia’s best known investigative reporter, Sergei Sokolov, the deputy editor of Politkovskaya’s newspaper Novaya Gazeta, told a packed courtroom that he had information showing that Dzhabrail Makhmudov, one of the accused, was an agent of the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service, and that the FSB was shadowing Politkovskaya up until her death in October 2006. Novaya Gazeta is carrying out an independent investigation of the case.

Sokolov refused to reveal his sources, but evidence connecting Politkovskaya’s accused assassins to Russian law enforcement existed well before Sokolov made these latest, sensational accusations. The person accused of planning the murder of Politkovskaya is Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former major in a police unit responsible for fighting organized crime. In a separate case, Khadzhikurbanov and a former FSB officer, Lt. Col. Pavel Ryaguzov, have been charged in the kidnapping and torture of a Russian businessman in 2002. The prosecutor is pursuing charges against Ryaguzov in connection with the Politkovskaya case. The third defendant is Makhmudov’s brother, Ibragim.

If these connections weren’t enough, Sokolov said that he had evidence that the Makhmudovs were recruited to kill Politkovskaya by their uncle, Lomi-Ali Gaitukayev, who also worked for the FSB. This would mean that Politkovskaya’s murder was sanctioned by the FSB at a high level. Unlike the CIA or FBI, the FSB is a military organization. According to Konstantin Preobrazhensky, a former KGB officer and author of a new Russian book, The FSB’s New Trojan Horse, "No one can do anything on his own initiative. Even former agents are still subject to discipline."

Sokolov said that Gaitukayev was also in contact with Kazbek Dukuzov, who was acquitted in 2006 of the murder of the editor of Forbes’ Russian edition, Paul Klebnikov. The Russian Supreme Court overturned the acquittal and a new trial was ordered, but in the meantime, Dukuzov fled.

The involvement of law enforcement officers in contract killings should be a momentous scandal, but the elimination of independent centers of power in Russia under Prime Minister (and former president) Vladimir Putin has created a situation in which the organs of law enforcement are integrated into the corrupt oligarchies that run the country. When the interests of those oligarchies are threatened by independent reporting, law enforcement is unable to restrain corrupt interests and is often in league with them. As a result, contract killers function as the ultimate censors.

There are a number of well-known cases in which agents of the Russian security services carried out extra-legal sentences in cooperation with criminal elements. Two former KGB agents were incriminated in the blowing up of a trolleybus in Moscow in 1996 and a plan to blow up the railway bridge across the Yauza River in Moscow. The former KGB agents were part of the criminal gang run by Maxim Lazovsky.

In 2004 and 2005, in Kaliningrad, FSB officers were involved in a gang that engaged in kidnapping and extortion. An FSB agent who was part of the gang described under interrogation how he shot a well-known Kaliningrad businessman on orders from the head of the anti-terrorism department of the Kaliningrad FSB. Amazingly, despite this direct testimony, there was no investigation of the charges by either the FSB or the prosecutor.

In other apparent murders of journalists, important FSB business interests have been at stake. In 2003, Yuri Shchekochikhin, a deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, investigated the Tri Kita ("Three Whales") furniture store chain, which had been evading millions of dollars in customs duties. The co-founders of the company were firms belonging to the father of Yuri Zaostrovtsev, the deputy director of the FSB. In July 2003, Shchekochikhin, who had been in good health, contracted a mysterious illness that progressed from peeling skin to edemas of the lungs and brain. When Novaya Gazeta tried to investigate whether he had been poisoned, it was told that all information was a "medical secret."

Since 2000, there have been at least 16 journalists murdered in Russia. In not a single case has the person who ordered the killing been arrested and in the majority of cases, the mastermind has been neither identified nor sought. In recent comments on press freedom, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said that journalists need to write the truth and "be responsible for the stories you publish." But a far more pressing need is for the Russian authorities to stop using the security services to settle accounts when the published truth is something the regime cannot abide.

David Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. His most recent book is Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State

Russian Duma set to extend “spying” articles in the Criminal Code

All those whose actions are directed “against the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional system, sovereignty, territorial and state integrity” will become traitors and spies in Russia if new amendments to the Criminal Code are passed.

The draft law changes the norms of the current Criminal Code according to which at present only “hostile” action threatening exclusively “the external security of the Russian Federation” is considered to be State treason.

Human rights defenders and lawyers are concerned that under the new norm, just as in Stalin’s times, anybody who dares to criticize the authorities could be labelled a spy.

The government draft law appeared in the State Duma last Friday when deputies from the “United Russia” party and LDPR (Zhirinovsky’s party) approved in its third reading amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure restricting the powers of juries (cf.

Juries are now not allowed to examine cases connected not only with terrorism, the siege of hostages and violent seizure of power, but also with mass disturbances, sabotage, as well as with state treason and espionage.

One of the likely reasons for the amendments introduced on Friday is that they will simplify the work of the Federal Security Service [FSB] investigators.  The explanatory note states that the present norm labelling treason hostile action against the external security of the country needs to be changed since it is “extremely difficult to prove” that action was indeed “hostile” which is allegedly used by the defence seeking “the release of those accused of a crime or defendants from criminal liability”.

The explanatory notes also state that “some international organizations have on several occasions made attempts to obtain information constituting a state secret.”  Therefore, according to the government, the essence of state treason should be understood not as “hostile activity”, but as “acts”, including handing over a state secret to “a foreign state, international or foreign organization”.  It should be noted that the term introduced "деяния" [“deyenya”] is broader than “activity”, since it encompasses either action or failure to act.

As mentioned, the very definition of state treason has been broadened considerably, from the current “hostile action aimed at harming the external security of the Russian Federation” to the new “acts directed “against the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional system, sovereignty, territorial and state integrity”.

According to the Head of the Department of Law of the Moscow Physics and Technology University Boris Nadezhdin, if the draft law is passed, then “any person who spoke with a foreigner could be deemed a traitor.” Equating actions “against the constitutional system” with treason, the government names among such actions “giving financial consultative assistance .. to a foreign organization”.

Mr Nadezhdin himself was co-author of an open letter of the party “Pravoye delo” to regional legislators in which they called on the latter to oppose the amendments to the Constitution increasing the length of term of the President. Nadezhdin told BBC correspondents in detail about the letter. “If the government’s draft law had already been passed, it would be possible to charge me with state treason since I first signed a letter directed against the constitutional system and then as well spoke about this to a foreign organization”.

Lev Levinson from the Human Rights Institute has similar fears. “The term “security” / “safety” [one word in Russian – translator] has a number of meanings: information security, food safety. He considers that by equating “simply action directed against the constitutional system”, this suggests the reinstatement of the norms from Stalinist times when anti-Soviet activity was considered a crime”.

Levinson is also concerned that the term “international organization” has appeared in articles of the Criminal Code. He considers that the existing norms about “a foreign organization” are sufficient to examine any cases where international organizations are implicated in spying, since each of theme is registered in some country or another (for example, the UN is registered in Geneva, Switzerland).

However there are international organizations registered in Russia, for example, “Memorial”. If the government draft law is passed then Lev Levinson believes that Memorial “if they wanted to, could be accused of treason for passing critical material abroad, for example, about the Russian electoral system which is one of the foundations of the constitutional system”

The draft law which curtailed many of the powers of juries was passed basically within two weeks, with no significant changes.

Based on information from

Russian neo-Nazis claim responsibility for beheading a Tajik migrant worker

The headless body of a man was found by police on 6 December in a Moscow region forest near the village of Zhabkino. The police report that the assailants used shock pistols to shoot at two workers from Tajikistan returning home from work. They then began beating them up. Only one managed to escape. 20-year-old Salekh Azizov’s body was thrown into a ravine. Later his head was found in a rubbish container near the premises of the Moscow district “Mozhaisk” Administration. Extremists calling themselves the “Fighting Organization of Russian Nationalists” have claimed responsibility. On 9 December their letter with a photograph of the beheaded Tajik appeared on several websites.

Galina Kozhevnikova, Deputy Director of the Sova Centre explains: “There were four addresses – ours, two addresses for “Komsomolskaya Pravda” [a newspaper] and the Moscow Human Rights Bureau. We believed it better not to make the letter public. It’s just that we and the Moscow Bureau have different approaches. We handed it all over on Monday to the law enforcement bodies investigating the crime. This is an ostentatious murder, probably timed to coincide with the transfer to the court of the case of the Borovikov-Voevodina group in St. Petersburg. Because it’s a significant group for neo-Nazis and calls itself the “Fighting Terrorist Organization”.  The people who sent us the letter signed themselves “Fighting Organization”, I don’t think that’s a coincidence. In reality that was aimed specifically at media coverage since they place the media and human rights organizations in a position where it’s impossible not to show the photo or not to talk about it, not to show the letter. And that way they get a huge advertisement and terrify masses of people watching television, listening to the radio, reading newspapers, because it’s known that in Moscow, in St. Petersburg, and in other cities, people are afraid to go out onto the street.”

The latest crime by ultra-nationalists is testing the authorities, the Chief Editor of the Civic Information Centre for National Policy Timur Muzeev believes. “I wouldn’t say that fascists who, there’s no need to pretend, are protected by the law enforcement agencies and some high-ranking officials, are in this way opposing the authorities. They’re checking how far they can go”. He adds that there is no clear protest against ultra-nationalists’ crimes in society. “Society itself doesn’t just tolerate, but sympathises with the actions of the ultra-nationalists. In this way people espousing extremely radical, aggressive and fascist views get a carte blanche from society for aggression against migrants, against people of a different nationality or religion.  It’s no secret that recently, when a school girl was killed in Moscow region and central channels, and many media outlets wrote with undisguised sympathy about the actions of the fascists who used this truly terrible crime to stir up nationalist views. At the same time, other murders (and at that time several schoolgirls were killed in the Moscow region, but on those occasions there was no information about any guest-workers, although the crimes were absolutely horrific) received absolutely no interest either from the press, or among the public, nobody called any meetings, nobody demanded that the perpetrators be punished.  Responsibility for the fact that this wave is being stirred up and that this crime took place lies to a large extent with the law enforcement agencies, and the press which effectively feel support for the criminals inciting inter-ethnic enmity.”

The Tajikistan Ambassador in Russia Abdulmazhib Dostiev states that he has approached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs demanding that the perpetrators be punished. The embassy points out that just in the first half of this year 39 Tajiks were killed in Russia.

“Memorial” issues statement over the seizure of its office in St Petersburg

On 4 December, following a decision passed by the City Prosecutor, a search was undertaken of the research and information centre “Memorial” in St. Petersburg, the organization researching the history of the Stalinist Terror . The search was carried out under the pretext of an investigation into the case of what the Prosecutor asserts was an “extremist” publication a year and a half ago in a newspaper called “New Petersburg”.

People in masks, armed with police batons, occupied the premises of the Centre and removed the hard disks from all the computers. These hold the results of twenty years historical research, as well as material of one of the staff of the Centre and art historian Alexander Margolis, well-known also for speaking out in defence of the historical face of the city.

The “Memorial” Society and the research and information “Memorial” Centre in St. Petersburg know absolutely nothing about the newspaper publication which supposedly led to the search nor of the newspaper “New Petersburg”. It would appear that this publication is no more than a pretext for carrying out a search of the Memorial offices.

The disks removed contain databases with biographical information about tens of thousands of victims of Stalin’s repressions gathered by Memorial over twenty years, unique collections of photographic material and copies of documents on the Soviet terror, the results of searches to find camp graveyards and places of execution on the territory of the former USSR, as well as archives of interviews taped with former prisoners of the GULAG.

The International “Memorial” Society demands the immediate return of material which does not and cannot be connected with any “extremist” publications. “Memorial” warns the St. Petersburg City Prosecutor’s Office that this material is of enormous scientific value and that the prosecutor’s office bears full responsibility for its safekeeping.

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2008, #12