BHHRG

About BHHRG

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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The Timisoara[1] Syndrome and the Modern Media
HITS: 5241 | 24-08-2005, 00:02 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Uzbekistan , Media World, PR and human rights

Much of the reportage about Uzbekistan recalls previous media “beat ups” when excitement and shock combined to make plausible what turned out afterwards to be wildly exaggerated accounts of violence and cruelty. The contemporary stereotype for this media syndrome originated in 1989 when reports emerged of demonstrations against the Ceausescu regime in Timisoara in south-western Romania. Considering what happened in Romania in December, 1989, helps to focus understanding of the problems of reporting protests from a safe distance with moralising blinkers. Timisoara was the birthplace of the media myth of genocide in the post-Communist period. Like many myths had some basis in fact but took on a life of its own.
As news filtered out that demonstrations were taking place in Timisoara after 16th December, 1989, reports of the savagery of the infamous Romanian secret police, the Securitate, soon filled Western media.

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European Values versus Euro-Atlantic power structures
HITS: 2437 | 7-01-2005, 20:56 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Macedonia , PR and human rights

The intervention of the Euro-Atlantic power structures on the side of the SDSM and DUI was hardly surprising since NATO and the EU had acted as godfathers to the political alliance between the two parties eighteen months earlier. However, critics of the re-districting plan could call European values in support of their stance. After all, had not the constitutional expert, Robert Badinter, who had endorsed Macedonia’s constitutional order as worthy of EU recognition thereby ratified the legitimacy of the referendum provisions contained in it. Why had the power-brokers in Brussels reneged on the constitutional order which had been worthy of independence from Yugoslavia then. Another problem was that as far back as 1985, the EU’s then member states had adopted a Charter on Local Government which explicitly endorsed referendums as one way in which ordinary people could express their views on proposed changes to administration in their regions. For instance, the Charter states,
“Local self-government… shall be exercised by councils or assemblies composed of members freely elected by secret ballot on the basis of direct, equal, universal suffrage, and which may possess executive organs responsible to them. This provision shall in no way affect recourse to assemblies of citizens, referendums or any other form of direct citizen participation where it is permitted by statute.” [emphasis added][1]

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Macedonia: Re-districting or partition?
HITS: 1992 | 7-01-2005, 20:48 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Macedonia , PR and human rights

Macedonia’s current local government legislation dates back to 1996 when the current president Branko Crvenkovski was prime minister of an SDSM-led government. Then the current main opposition party, VMRO-DPME, opposed the changes. Each big Macedonian party has reversed its position on local government and this, no doubt, contributes to cynicism among ordinary Macedonian citizens of all ethnicities.
The Ohrid Agreement and Euro-Atlantic integration are invariably cited as the main reason for changing the 1996 arrangements with subsidiary emphasis on the changes alleged benefits to local people and local government finances and services.
Although re-districting had been an issue hovering in the background of post-Ohrid Macedonian politics it only really took off as an issue from early 2004. By mid-summer widespread protests and referendums in 41 localities (not all ethnically mixed) had expressed opposition to proposed changes.

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Vandalism not religiously motivated
HITS: 2068 | 18-08-2004, 00:10 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Serbia , PR and human rights

J.A. Cuddon’s classic Companion Guide to Jugoslavia mentions the churches and monasteries of Prizren but insists, “The [sic]church to see in Prizren is Sv. Bogorodica Ljeviška (the Virgin of the Falling Asleep). It is an interesting mixture of Serbian, Greek and Romanesque styles built with five cupolas, an ex-narthex and a belfry” Begun in 1307, it had been converted into a mosque under the Turks who whitewashed over its medieval frescoes. After 1950 restoration began after the church had been returned to Orthodox control in 1913 after the Serbian army expelled the Turkish rulers. Turkish iconoclasm damaged the frescoes but the intention was only to cover them over. Cuddon noted, “Every few inches there is a white scar on the paintings giving the effect of a heavy snow storm. This was done to make it easier for the walls to take plaster. However, between and behind the flakes of this ‘blizzard’ one can still see the frescoes which are among the finest in the fourteenth century.” Whatever Cuddon saw is now locked away behind barbed wire. Fire damage is visible on the window frames and because KFOR prevents access to the interior the exact state of the wall paintings so admired by visitors before 1999 can only be guessed at.

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The Referendum in Cyprus: Before, During and After
HITS: 2436 | 1-06-2004, 18:11 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Cyprus , PR and human rights, Politics

The defeat of the anti-rejectionist parties in the December election led to the revival of the Annan Plan in January 2004. Although the CTP and its allies had demanded that Denktaş resign as TRNC’s main negotiator, he was kept on after consultations with Ankara. This in itself reflected divisions in society where the elder statesman still commanded popularity and respect. However, after leading the TRNC delegation in a preliminary visit to New York in February, Denktaş stepped down as final negotiations loomed, saying he could not advise acceptance of the plan as it stood.
As the parties had agreed to let the UN Secretary General ‘fill in the gaps’ in the parts of the plan where no agreement had been reached, arrangements were made for talks to be held, leaving time for a last-minute referendum to be called before the 1st May deadline on the final version of the document. At the same time, Erdogan was offered various sweeteners to reward TRNC (and Turkey) for their cooperation.

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Human Rights and the Roma
HITS: 1997 | 12-05-2004, 21:49 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Slovakia , PR and human rights

Western human rights groups were complaining about the treatment of Czechoslovakia’s Roma minorities as far back as the mid 1980s. When the country split into the Czech and Slovak Republics monitoring of the situation increased under the auspices of the Council of Europe and other EU institutions. At the same time, various cross border Romany NGOs were formed, ostensibly to protect the rights of this large and controversial minority. Funding was made available for a variety of projects, including the EU’s own PHARE project which supported initiatives to improve both living and educational standards for the Roma. On top of this, the Slovak government appointed a minister for Roma Affairs at the time of writing the post is held by Klara Orgovanova, herself of Roma origin.
While many of the people involved in NGO work are well-meaning, many projects have been based on the (mis)understanding that the Roma inhabit a quaint, picturesque bohème world strumming the cembalon and speak their ancient Romany language. Mrs Orgovanova’s web page features what purports to be a Romany dance troop regaled in their finest, völkisch costumes as they perform some elaborate peasant dance.

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Estonia, NATO and the War on Iraq
HITS: 1992 | 1-05-2003, 16:42 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Estonia , PR and human rights, Analyzing

Estonia’s entry into NATO and the EU should have been significant issues, but BHHRG’s impression was that NATO entry was not at the forefront of average voters’ minds – perhaps people fail to appreciate the costs of NATO entry which demands that 2% of a country’s GDP be spent annually on defence. All six parties that were predicted to make it into parliament favoured membership in both organizations, although, official opinion polls showed popular support for EU below that for NATO. In fact, Estonia has gained something of a reputation among Eurosceptics as the least enthusiastic of the candidate members. A group of British Eurosceptics recently set up a fund to help the Estonian ‘No’ campaign with its public relations, needless to say, all state funding, as well as assistance from Brussels goes to those in favour of accession to the union. Estonia’s referendum is planned for September, months after most of the other 10 countries have voted a sign, perhaps, that any lingering doubts will be put to rest when it is seen that everyone else has voted ‘Yes’.

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Estonia parliamentary elections 2003: Is small beautiful?
HITS: 2015 | 3-04-2003, 16:10 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Estonia , PR and human rights, Elections

Estonia is hailed as one of post-Communism's success stories but is this correct? BHHRG went to see and monitored the parliamentary election held in the republic on 2nd March 2003.
Introduction
The small Baltic republic of Estonia has been hailed as a bastion of democracy and one of the economic success stories of post-communism. In the present year, 2003, the Heritage Foundation concluded that it has the sixth freest economy in the world, thus putting it ahead of France and Germany! Such fulsome approval has, no doubt, contributed to the fact that the country is now poised to enter both NATO and the EU. In November 2002, Estonia became one of seven new ex-Communist countries to be invited to join the alliance, along with Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria. Estonia is also among the top contenders for membership in the European Union. Referendums to endorse membership of both organizations will be held later in 2003.

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Kaliningrad: Black hole or black propaganda?
HITS: 30302 | 18-02-2003, 23:27 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Russia , PR and human rights, World health

The Baltic port city of Kaliningrad is the former capital of East Prussia, Königsberg; the surrounding territory is the northern half of that historic German province. In 1945, Königsberg was captured by the Soviet army and subsequently incorporated into the Soviet Union as part of the Russian Federation of the USSR and Kaliningrad became the headquarters of the USSR’s Baltic fleet. However, the United States and some legal scholars in the West have, thus far, refused to accept its de jure incorporation into either the USSR or Russia, leaving open a possible change in its future status.

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Strategy for the endgame for Kaliningrad
HITS: 1950 | 18-02-2003, 22:12 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Russia , PR and human rights

It is for these reasons that the EU proposed the new visa regime. Lithuania did not demand it, and Lithuania was not even a signatory to the agreement on Kaliningrad between the EU and Russia. [1] (The Lithuanians, bizarrely, still claim that this agreement is designed to protect their sovereignty!) Europe alleges that the new regime is necessary to conform with the EU’s laws; but Lithuanian will not join until May 2004, while the new visa regime applies already, and it will not join the Schengen agreement (which abolishes all border controls between member states) until 2006 or 2007. In any case, it would be possible for Lithuania not to join Schengen, as the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark are not members of it.

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