DUMA DEPUTY CONDEMNS "GUAM-2." Speaking at a press conference in St. Petersburg on 2 December, Colonel-General Eduard Vorobev, a member of the State Duma Defense Committee, said the alignment of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova "cannot be seen as a friendly gesture toward Russia," Interfax reported. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev had said on 25 November that the new union "is not directed against anyone." But Vorobev claimed it aims to further the "military and strategic" interests of the four member countries. LF
UKRAINE WON'T SIGN LAND-MINE CONVENTION--FOR NOW. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Viktor Nagaichuk said on 2 December that Kyiv will not sign the land-mine convention in Ottawa, Interfax reported. But he added that Ukraine's decision was motivated by a lack of money with which to comply rather than by opposition to the ban on land mines. Nagaichuk noted that Ukraine might accede to the agreement sometime in the future. PG
UKRAINIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO TRANSDNIESTER? A Ukrainian peacekeeping unit will soon be stationed in the Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 2 December, citing the Russian-language pro-governmental daily "Nezavisimaya Moldova." The daily said that Russia, which previously opposed the stationing of the Ukrainian troops, has changed its position following the recent visit to Chisinau and Tiraspol of Russian Minister for CIS Affairs Anatolii Adamishin. The newspaper also commented that separatist leader Igor Smirnov hopes that the presence of the Ukrainian peace-keepers will result in a competition for influence in the Transdniester between Moscow and Kyiv. Moldovan presidential adviser Anatol Taranu, who heads the Chisinau team in the parleys with Tiraspol, said Moldova is ready to accept the Ukrainian contingent in order to "once more demonstrate its good will and readiness to accept a compromise." MS
The countries of the former Soviet Union have all adopted constitutions that contain such pious phrases as "everyone is guaranteed the right to free expression of one's own views and ideas." In reality, media freedom remains a distant prospect in some of those countries. Laws alone cannot change that state of affairs. Worse, laws sometimes limit, rather than safeguard, freedom of expression.
Laws on defamation--or "harming the reputation of citizens"-- are such examples. In addition, there are the provisions of the press law itself (on the obligations of journalists), of the civil code (on the protection of the dignity and reputation of citizens), and/or of the criminal code (on punishment for insulting officials or for slander).
Azerbaijan has a special law "on the honor and dignity of the president," which provides for the punishment of those damaging the reputation of the head of state. The Ukrainian law "on the protection of the dignity and business reputation" of legal entities and individuals allows those subjects to appeal to a court to demand the retraction of, or compensation for, allegedly defamatory or inaccurate information.
While adequate libel laws are clearly necessary, no country needs overly broad legislation protecting the reputation of officials or the head of state. On the contrary, the European Court for Human Rights has ruled that public figures (meaning politicians, among others) cannot expect the same protection as the public at large and will inevitably come under greater scrutiny.
In the former Soviet Union, however, legislation on defamation has all too often been used by state bodies, officials, and individuals to sue local media outlets. Those outlets have regularly had to pay very high fines. Recent findings shows that the majority of legal proceedings against the media in the former Soviet republics are for defamation.
Then there are legal provisions that place restrictions on the media in order to ensure the country's security. Such provisions typically state that the media are forbidden to disclose state secrets, to call for the overthrow of the existing state, or to propagate war or racial, national, or religious intolerance. True, the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 10.2) also curtails the activities of the media in the interests of national security. However, those restrictions are not nearly as far-reaching as some in the former Soviet Union.
Belarus, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, for example, have a special law on classified materials. The Ukrainian law states that all information pertaining to defense, the economy, foreign relations, national security, and the safekeeping of law and order constitutes a state secret. That law also lists various subjects that must remain classified in order not to endanger Ukraine's vital interests. In Azerbaijan, two decrees "on temporary military censorship" and a parliamentary resolution provide a long list of materials deemed to contain state and military secrets.
In those four countries, as well as in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, such provisions have been subject to opportunistic interpretation and have resulted in hefty fines for some media outlets. Control has also been imposed over media output.
At the same time, one law is conspicuously absent in the countries of the former Soviet Union, except for Moldova, Ukraine, and the Baltics: namely, one governing the electronic media, in particular, licensing procedures and frequency distribution. For want of such a law, some governments (including Russia's) have issued decrees on the licensing of private broadcasting outlets and the transmission of their programs. However, the lack of a sound regulatory framework remains an obstacle to the development of independent broadcasting in many post Soviet states.
Independent media oversight bodies could play an important role, but as yet, they are markedly absent throughout the region. The relevant authorities are directly subordinated either to the president or the government, while the executive branch reserves for itself major decision-making powers over media issues. Regime loyalists are appointed to positions of power in ministries, on committees, and within the state-owned media. There are virtually no non-political appointments.
An independent judiciary could also play a valuable role. However, most legal proceedings involving journalists or media outlets are libel cases in which the press is the defendant. Rarely do journalists or media outlets appeal administrative decisions (such as not to grant a license), undue interference by the authorities, or insufficient access to information. That state of affairs indicates a lack of confidence in the effectiveness and independence of the judiciary. It also suggests that most journalists in the former Soviet Union do not believe it is possible to successfully sue government officials or challenge their decisions.
KUCHMA CRITICIZES EU PASSIVITY TOWARD UKRAINE. Speaking in The Hague on 3 December, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma sharply criticized the EU and most of its member countries for failing to do more to integrate Ukraine, Ukrainian media reported. He said this "passive" approach would have negative consequences for both sides. Meanwhile in Moscow, parliamentary speaker Aleksandr Moroz called for closer ties with Russia and for the ratification of the friendship treaty between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported. PG
MORE STRIKES, CORRUPTION CHARGES IN UKRAINE. Some 15,000 Ukrainian coal miners at seven mines went on strike on 3 December to press for the payment of back wages and improved safety conditions, Ukrainian media reported. Meanwhile, Deputy Prosecutor-General Olga Kolinkova told Interfax the next day that the authorities have opened 900 investigations into officials suspected of various forms of corruption. PG