February 25, 2008

Ponomarev on Worldview today

Following up on my earlier post. Lev Ponomarev's interview on WBEX Chicago's Worldview program (taped when he was in Chicago) aired today, following news that he was indicted for criminal slandering of the head of the Russian prison system. Catch the podcast here.

Ponomarev since Chicago: Another activist criminalized

Since Lev Ponomarev visited CEERES at The University of Chicago, he has generated a lot of press, as well as ire back home. Unfortunately, this ire has led to Putin's government bringing criminal charges against him. It saddens me to have to reprint the text of the announcement I received this morning:

Russian authorities today brought criminal charges against Lev Ponomarev, head of the All Russian Movement for Human Rights, accusing him of slandering General Yuri Kalinin, head of the Russian prison system. The charges result from accusations made by Mr. Ponomarev that Russia's prison system is inhumane and that, in some prisons, prisoners are routinely tortured and otherwise severely abused. In addition to the criminal charges, Mr. Ponomarev's travel documents were revoked and he was told he would be arrested if he attempted to leave the country.
It appears that today's charges and the travel restriction are reprisals for his recent trip to the United States, where he was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer and gave public lectures on prison conditions and human rights in Russia at Harvard, Columbia, NYU, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago and Boston University. While in the United States, Mr. Ponomarev also had a number of other meetings with foundations, academics, human rights groups as well as the Department of State and NSC in Washington. He returned to Moscow a week ago, 15 February.

In addition, I'm posting here other articles related to his visit in the U.S. and return to Russia:

"Holding Medvedev to his words", Washington Post, 2/25

Announcement of charges against Mr. Ponomarev [in Russian]:

"Putin's Political Prisoners" in Wall Street Journal, 2/19, Opinion by Bret Stephens

February 21, 2008

Roma Rights in Macedonia

University of Chicago's Shayna Plaut is Amnesty International USA’s Macedonia country specialist. Amnesty recently released a report on discrimination against Romani women and girls in Macedonia. Shayna gave an overview of Macedonia’s ethnic landscape on Chicago Public Radio's Worldview.

Kosovo’s neighbor to the south is Macedonia. Macedonia has hosted a
substantial number of refugees from Kosovo. Today there are still more
than a thousand refugees in Macedonia. Some 95 percent of these are from
the Roma ethnic community.

Like most Balkan countries, Macedonia already had a considerable Roma
population. Roma are commonly called Gypsies. They have a history of
discrimination and marginalization throughout Europe.

Roma communities tend to be among the poorest, with low rates of education,
employment, and access to social services. Romani women and girls often
face discrimination based on ethnicity and gender. And some 70% report
experiencing some form of domestic violence.

February 18, 2008

Ripples of Kosovo

In the last blog, I listed a bunch of stories about Kosovo's declaration of independence. This is a major event for the people of Kosovo and the surroundings countries. This also raises the specter of independence-seeking by many groups around the world. Thus, large countries facing breakaway republics, e.g. Russia, China, and Spain, do not approve, whereas countries like Taiwan are supportive. Indeed, Russia faces both issues - for example, it has supported the breakaway republic of Abkhazia in Georgia, but has waged a vicious war in Chechnya to hold on to that republic. Here's a couple more news stories that discuss this point:

In Asian Reaction to Kosovo Declaration, Fears of Secession

Russia links Kosovo with Georgia

Kosovo Declares Independence

In an expected but contested move, Kosovo has finally declared sovereignty from Serbia, with whom they fought a bloody war for independence in the 90's as Yugoslavia dissolved. Following below is a wealth of media news stories from many different sources. In short, Kosovo's Albanians are elated, Serbia and Russia are not (Russia is worried about the status of numerous other breakaway republics), and the International community is warily encouraging of peace and non-violence.

Before that, I'm happy to point out that we at CEERES are welcoming an expert scholar of the region tomorrow for a Public Lecture. Steven Burg, Adlai Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Brandeis University, will present a talk entitled "Is Spain the next Yugoslavia? Ethnoregionalism, Devolution, and Democratization" [5pm, Tuesday, Feb 19, 2008, The University of Chicago, Weiboldt Hall 408 1050 E 59th St, Chicago] No doubt, questions about Kosovo's declaration are inevitable.

Now for news coverage of Kosovo:

Kosovo vow as independence looms
Kosovo's prime minister vows to protect minority rights as Serbia's province prepares to declare independence.

Kosovo Status on BalkanInsight.com
[This is from BIRN, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, of which the founder and regional director Gordana Igric will be on hand at UC on March 6 for a very special and distinguished World Beyond the Headlines panel on the closing of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia]

Kosovo Grows as an EU Problem (David Cronin)

EuroNews video of angry protests in Belgrade Serbia:

The Economist: Kosovo: Independence Day
BBC: Kosovo MPs Declare Independence
RIA Novosti: Georgia has no plans to recognize Kosovo
Itar-Tass [ru]: http://www.itar-tass.com/level2.html?NewsID=12382868
AP: Serb police deserting Kosovo force
Reuters: Kosovo awaits recognition, and Serb challenge

And interesting story from Itar-Tass that I didn't see much in the English language media yet. It didn't make headlines, but if you search Kosovo and protest it does come up on English media as well
[ru] http://www.itar-tass.com/level2.html?NewsID=12382855&PageNum=0
[eng] http://www.reuters.com/article/europeCrisis/idUSL1788584

[Thank you Shayna Plaut and Sasha Belyi for rounding up so much of this coverage]

February 12, 2008

PONOMAREV: Today's visitor in today's news

In preparation for our visit with Lev Ponomarev this afternoon, I found this article in the Wall Street Journal about him this morning: "Putin's Torture Colonies".

Here's a picture of him in action - link.

February 11, 2008

The Lion of Russian Human Rights Defenders: LEV PONOMAREV

Tomorrow we're hosting a remarkable human rights activist in the CEERES office - Lev Ponomarev. He's on a visiting tour of the US, and has agreed to stop by the CEERES office for an informal chat with us about the current state of democracy and human rights in Russia. I can promise that it will be interesting, if bleak... Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 3:30 PM. in the CEERES suite, Judd Hall 319-323, 5835 S. Kimbark Ave.

Briefly,Lev Ponomarev is the founder and executive director of the All Russian Movement for Human Rights, which receives support from the MacArthur Foundation, George Soros and NED. Lev is also a political activist, declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty in 2006 when he was arrested for organizing what the Kremlin viewed as an anti-government Beslan memorial event. While in the U.S., Lev will discuss the general state of human rights in Russia, prison conditions, political prisoners, the recent Duma elections and upcoming Presidential election in Russia. Robert Amsterdam, who appeared at CEERES last September (audio), calls Ponomarev "the lion of Russian human rights defenders."

On Wednesday, Feb. 13, Lev will be interviewed on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio's Worldview program. I'm not sure whether the interview will actually be broadcast Wednesday, but when it is, I'll be sure to post a link. Here's link to Worldview - http://www.wbez.org/Program_WV.aspx.

For more information on Pononmarev, here's a couple links:
Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lev_Ponomarev
Transcript of appearance at Harvard in 2001: here

February 7, 2008

Roma recyclers in Kosovo?

If you're not interested in metal scrap, I assure you that you will be if you read down and check out these sources.

Here at the U of C, I have a colleague Brian Ashby who's been producing a documentary on local scavengers of scrap metal. They have a website - http://www.scrappersmovie.com/.

This apparently feeds into a growing and formalizing global metal recycling industry. I read a great article about it in The New Yorker by Jonathan Seabrook, "American Scrap", 1/14/08 http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/01/14/080114fa_fact_seabrook

What does this have to do with the CEERES region? Brian sent me this fascinating documentary about a culture of Roma recyclers in Kosovo.

It's called "Pretty Dyana - A Gypsy recycling saga"
by Boris Mitic

An intimate look at Gypsy refugees in a Belgrade suburb who make a living by transforming Citroen's classic 2cv and Dyana cars into Mad Max-like recycling vehicles, with which they collect cardboard, bottles and scrap metal. These modern horses are much more efficient than the cart-pushing competition, but more important - they also mean freedom, hope and style for their crafty owners. Even the car batteries are used as power generators in order to get some light, watch tv and recharge mobiles! Almost an alchemist's dream come true! But the police doesn't always find these strange vehicles funny...

The whole movie (45min) is posted on google video:

February 1, 2008

A Week of Russian Folk Concerts at UChicago

Sadly, the snowy weather has ruined our plans at CEERES to host an academic workshop on Islam, Modernity, Eurasia. As this clears up, our community still has a shot at experiencing some great Russian folk music over the next week.

This Sunday, February 3, at 6pm in Ida Noyes Hall Theatre (1212 East 59th Street, Chicago IL), a talented and prolific trio named Zolotoj Plyos will perform. Zolotoi Plyos consists of 3 musicians (Alexander Solovov, Elena Sadina, Sergeui Gratchev) who met at the conservatory in Saratov and who now are students of the Royal Carillon Academy in Mechelen, Belgium. They perform authentic Russian folk music, from the villages, in costume, both a capella and with instrumental accompaniment on over 20 authentic folk instruments (dutki, treshchetki, lozhki, balalaiki, garmoshki, etc.). The name of the group refers to a stretch on the Volga River. This concert is free.

On the following weekend, The University of Chicago will hold its annual Folk Festival. Golosa, the University of Chicago Russian Choir, will perform at 3:00 pm on Saturday, February 9, in the third floor theater of Ida Noyes Hall, located at the corner of Woodlawn Ave. and 59th street on the U of C campus. Admission to the Golosa workshop, and all of the daytime workshops, is free.

More information about the Folk Festival can be found at:


Golosa will also be joining forces with the Rockefeller Chapel Choir for an evening
of sacred Russian works by Chesnokov, Kalinnikov, Grechaninov, and Rachmaninov.

The concert will be the February installment of the Chapel's new and very
popular evensong series, and will take place at 5:00 on the evening of Sunday,
February 10. There is no charge for admisssion.

More information about the Rockefeller Chapel performance can be found at:


A map of Hyde Park is here:
(exit 53rd or 57th street from Lake Shore Drive)


A map with the location of Ida Noyes Hall is here:


A map with the location Rockefeller Chapel is here:


We hope to see you there!