WASHINGTON, D.C. January 29, 2016
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
NCSEJ Deputy Director Lesley Weiss and I attended International Holocaust Remembrance Day events at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday. The program featured remarks from Holocaust survivors and European diplomats, followed by a candle-lighting ceremony.
I was privileged to receive an invitation from the Israeli Embassy to attend a ceremony bestowing Righteous Among the Nations medals to Americans Roddie Edmonds and Lois Gunden, and Polish citizens Waley and Maryla Zbijewski. President Barack Obama attended the ceremony, and became the first sitting president to speak at the embassy.
Lesley Weiss and I also attended a quarterly meeting at the U.S. Department of State on the state of global anti-Semitism, organized by Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Anti-Semitism Ira Forman.
Commemorative events dedicated to Holocaust remembrance were held throughout Eurasia and Eastern Europe this week. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko gave a speech dedicated to Holocaust remembrance, condemning all intolerance and xenophobia. A commemorative concert was held in Kyiv, attended by U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, Israeli Ambassador Eliav Belotserkovsky, EU diplomats, and high-level Ukrainian officials.
In Lviv, members of the Jewish community and several hundred other city residents gathered for a ceremony at the entrance of the former Janowski concentration camp, where 200 thousand Jews were killed. Large commemorative events were held in Kharkiv, Odesa, and elsewhere in Ukraine.
A commemorative ceremony took place at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow. Another large event was organized by the city government, the Russian Jewish Congress, and the Russian Research and Educational Holocaust Center, held at the Moscow Opera. Close to 500 people attended the event, including public officials, diplomats, survivors, and veterans.
I want to recommend a Jerusalem Post story in this week’s update, analyzing the security implications for Israel of Russia’s involvement in Syria, and its reported close interactions with Hezbollah
I also want to highlight a new Freedom House report that describes setbacks in human rights globally, including in several countries in the Eurasia region. The update includes an RFE/RL article summarizing the report.
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. January 29, 2016
Holocaust Remembrance Day
Vestnik Kavkaza, January 28, 2016
The International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust is being marked today.
Mourning events were held in Moscow.
The annual ceremony of lighting candles and the interactive discovery center "War and the Holocaust: Reflections on the Past and the Future" took place at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. This year, three Jewish organizations in Russia – the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJC), the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) and the Federal Jewish National Cultural Autonomy (FJNCA) decided to join forces to organize and hold this memorial ceremony together with the 'Yad Vashem' memorial complex of the Holocaust and Heroism of the Jewish People.
Ukraine rejects 'Steinmeier Formula'
Ukraine Today, January 28, 2016
Ukrainian members of the Minsk Trilateral Group say their Russian counterparts in the talks on January 27 delivered a proposal for ending Russian's invasion of east Ukraine.
The plan, dubbed 'The Steinmeier Formula,' provides for elections in Donbas and amending the Constitution of Ukraine to grant autonomy for the militant-held areas.
The 'Steinmeier Forumula" is named after acting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. It links passage of legislation on self-rule in the occupied Donbas region to the eventual determination by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that free and fair elections have been held in militant-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Read the full article here.
Moshe Kantor elected to third term as president of European Jewish Congress
JTA, January 26, 2016
Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, was reelected for a third term.
Kantor, a 62-year-old aerospace scientist-turned-businessman who was born in Russia, was reelected unanimously on Wednesday during the organization’s general assembly in Brussels, EJC announced in a statement. He ran unopposed.
Thanking EJC delegates for what he termed “a strong vote of confidence,” Kantor also said that the situation in the 40-odd communities that make up the EJC “could be defined as the most difficult since the end of the Second World War.”Read the full article here.
Ukraine Delays Constitutional Changes Amid Tension on Peace Deal
Bloomberg, January 28, 2016
Ukraine’s parliament paved the way to delay a vote on constitutional changes that are a key part of the 2015 accord to end the conflict in the nation’s easternmost regions.
The bill, backed Thursday by 229 lawmakers in the 450-seat house, allows parliament to change the procedure of amending the Constitution and indefinitely postpone the vote, which had been due by Feb. 2. President Petro Poroshenko immediately signed the legislation into law.
As part of efforts to halt fighting that’s killed more than 9,000 people, Ukraine must change its Constitution to provide special status to two areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Preliminary approval of the bill last August sparked clashes in Kiev in which three police officers were killed. The move is also stoking tensions within Ukraine’s pro-European coalition, where some parties don’t support the changes, which need 300 votes to pass. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has suggested a referendum on the issue.Read the full article here.
Moldova, The New Ukraine: Pro-Russian Street Protests in Moldova Set to Escalate
By Howard Amos
IB Times, January 28, 2016
On the surface, huge anti-government demonstrations in Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, are mirroring recent events in Ukraine when violent standoffs in the capital, and then in the country’s south and east, were defined by allegiance to either Moscow or the European Union.
“What we’re seeing is a state collapse and an economic collapse,” contends Balázs Jarábik, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who specializes on Eastern Europe. “It could turn violent, and there are a lot of weapons around.”
Mass protests in Moldova flared up earlier this month when a new prime minister, Pavel Filip, was suddenly sworn in at midnight — following months of political deadlock — without any media presence, triggering an attempt by demonstrators to storm the parliament building.
Strange Bedfellows: Moldovan Protest Leaders Share Common Goal, Different Beliefs
By Eugen Tomiuc
RFE/RL, January 28, 2016
Moldovan politics makes strange bedfellows, as shown by recent protests in Chisinau. But the unlikely alliance of pro-Europe and pro-Russia parties is fueling concerns that Moscow will emerge the winner.
The main parties behind the protests -- the Socialist Party (PSRM), Our Party (PN), and the Dignity and Truth (DA) party -- have found some common ground. They staunchly oppose what they consider a corrupt political elite, blaming it for failing to lift Moldova's citizens out of deep poverty. They seek early elections and the dismissal of the country's newly approved government, which they accuse of being a puppet of that corrupt elite. And they're united in calling for the arrest of a hugely powerful oligarch and media mogul accused of involvement in a massive fraud that shook Moldovans' faith in government.
But their positions on the opposite end of the political spectrum are what makes their union so improbable. The Socialist Party and Our Party are pro-Russian, and have made no attempt to hide their desire to move closer to Moscow; Dignity and Truth is pro-European, and wants to maintain Moldova's course toward Brussels, and away from its Soviet pastRead the full article here.
EU sanctions on former Ukraine regime unravel
By Andrew Rettman
EU Observer, January 28, 2016
In March 2014, activists found 42kg of gold and $4.8 million in cash in the home of Edward Stavytskyi, Ukraine’s former energy minister, after he fled the Maidan revolution.
But the combined investigative capacities of 28 EU states and 18,000 officials in the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office over two years failed to build a case that he and others were guilty of “misappropriation” of state funds.
That's one reading of an EU court decision in Luxembourg on Thursday (28 January) to annul an EU asset freeze on five former regime members that was imposed in March 2014.
The other four men are former PM Mykola Azarov, his son Oleksyi, former PM Sergej Arbuzov, and Sergiy Klyuyev, the brother of a presidential aide.
Most of them are still under an asset freeze, based on a subsequent EU decision in March 2015.
The Ukrainian economy is not terrible everywhere
The Economist, January 20. 2016
In 2014 Ukrainian GDP fell by 7%; in 2015 it shrunk by an astonishing 12%. The whole economy is indeed in trouble; the hryvnia, the currency, has lost about 70% against the dollar in the past two years. Inflation is very high (though it is now subsiding). However, what's often lost in analysis is that different parts of the country are doing very differently.
The war has been concentrated in the east of the country (Donetsk and Luhansk). To show the economic damage this has caused, we've looked at how much construction is going on in different provinces (this is a decent proxy for GDP growth). Data from a warzone are hardly reliable, but there is a regional pattern to Ukraine's economic woes. In January-November 2015 Donetsk's construction shrank by an astonishing 60% on the previous year.
But western Ukraine is clearly doing decently. In the first three quarters of 2015 Lviv, a city in the west from where your correspondent is writing this, had one of the biggest jumps in employment of any province in Ukraine. And construction is doing rather well (luxury flats are popping up across the city and hipster bars are opening).
Russia allots $1.7 billion for real economy in draft anti-crisis plan: sources
By Margarita Papchenkova and Darya Korsunskaya
Reuters, January 24, 2016
The Russian government has set aside 135 billion roubles ($1.7 billion) to help the real economy in a draft anti-crisis plan, two senior officials said, and may use a separate 340 billion rouble cushion to dampen social discontent, according to a third source.
Battered by low oil prices, Western sanctions and a falling rouble, Russia is torn between the need to support its shrinking economy and its desire to preserve funds to help it navigate one of its worst downturns since Vladimir Putin came to power.
Two senior officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity that an anti-crisis plan had been drawn up which earmarked 135 billion roubles to help parts of the real economy. The funds were drawn from unspent budget money from 2015, they said.
Israel believes Russia's intervention decreases chance of Israel-Hezbollah conflict
By Yaakov Lapin
Jerusalem Post, January 26, 2016
Russia’s intervention in Syria and close interaction with Hezbollah may actually decrease the likelihood of an Israel-Hezbollah conflict erupting in the near future, according to IDF assessments.
For example, dialogue between Russia and Hezbollah could provide an opportunity to rein in Hezbollah responses to reported Israeli air strikes on weapons-trafficking runs in Syria.
The assessments are part of a broader look at Israel’s strategic environment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking the survival of a pro-Moscow regime in Syria where he also has an economic interest. Moscow also wants to keep Islamic State away from the country’s 20 million Russian- Muslim citizens.
Meanwhile, the Syrian war rages on and more than one percent – 300,000 – of the country’s population has been killed in the conflict and more than 10 million people have been displaced.
Hezbollah, which is deeply involved in Syria, has lost 1,300 fighters and another 10,000 of its members have been injured. Hezbollah also faces economic problems due to delays in the transfer of around $100 million a year from Iran, which is 10% of the annual $1 billion Hezbollah budget from Tehran.Read the full article here.
Watchdog Says Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan Among World’s Most Corrupt
By Pete Baumgartner
RFE/RL, January 27, 2016
An international monitoring group says people around the world demonstrated to governments in 2015 that they must become more transparent and tackle the large-scale corruption that continues to plague so many countries and hinder their development.
In its 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released on January 27, Transparency International ranked 168 countries based on perceived levels of public-sector corruption, with Denmark edging out Finland to win the title as the least corrupt country in the world and Somalia and North Korea being declared the most corrupt.
The high levels of corruption in Afghanistan -- which was ranked 166th -- Iraq (161st), Turkmenistan (156th), and Uzbekistan (153rd) placed them all near the bottom of the index.
Central Asian countries as a whole did poorly, with Tajikistan tying with Nigeria for 136th place and Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan seen as equally corrupt and listed 123rd on the index.
"All five countries of Central Asia are…at the bottom of the CPI table," said Svetlana Savitskaya, Transparency International’s regional coordinator for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Europe and Central Asia, told RFE/RL.
Read the full article here.
Azerbaijan Turns to IMF, World Bank After Collapse in Crude
By Zulfugar Agayev
Bloomberg, January 28, 2016
Azeri officials met for talks with the International Monetary Fund as the former Soviet Union’s third-largest oil exporter reels from the collapse in crude prices, with Finance Minister Samir Sharifov saying the government isn’t yet asking outside lenders for financial aid.
“We do have the right to borrow from the IMF and others,” Sharifov told reporters on Thursday in the capital, Baku. “But we aren’t in an urgent need to borrow now. We aren’t burning. We can borrow in three months, five months, at year-end or next year.”
Discussions with the IMF and the World Bank focused on programs to liberalize the economy and improve the business climate, Sharifov said. While these plans may require financing, no decision has yet been made. The Financial Times reported earlier that the IMF and the World Bank are discussing a possible $4 billion emergency loan package for Azerbaijan.
The Azeri central bank moved to a free float on Dec. 21 after burning through more than 60 percent of its reserves last year to defend the national currency as crude prices tumbled. The manat, which hadn’t depreciated against the dollar in a decade, nosedived by about half last year and slumped further to record lows this month, stirring public unrest over rising prices for food and other essential goods.
Last Year Saw Biggest Slide In Freedom In A Decade, Says Monitoring Group
By Pete Baumgartner
RFE/RL, January 26, 2016
Last year saw a greater decline in global freedom than any other in the past decade, according to a leading rights monitor.
The U.S.-based organization Freedom House says freedom ebbed in 72 countries around the world in 2015, while just 43 countries witnessed an increase.
A key finding of the report was that "fear of social unrest" led Russia, China, and "other authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent."
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan also received special attention for joining a group of 10 other countries the authors regard as the "Worst of the Worst" as far as political rights and civil liberties are concerned.
Read the full article here.
Bring home the Subbotnik Jews of Ukraine and Russia
By Michael Freund
Jerusalem Post, January 26, 2016
Snow doesn’t seem to deter the small local community of Subbotnik Jews from faithfully trudging to their modest synagogue, where they continue to turn their hearts and their hopes toward Zion.
Last week, amid subfreezing temperatures in a Ukrainian city founded by Cossacks, I saw living proof that the Jewish spark can truly burn brightly even under the most unlikely circumstances.
Indeed, while the snow in Krivoi Rog may be kneedeep, blocking roads and turning thoroughfares into slippery escapades, that doesn’t seem to deter the small local community of Subbotnik Jews from faithfully trudging to their modest synagogue, where they continue to turn their hearts and their hopes toward Zion.
Rivka, a young member of the community, is a student of architecture at the local university who has taught herself to speak Hebrew. When I asked her how she envisions her future, she said, “I want to live in Israel so that with God’s help I can have a Jewish wedding and educate my children in the spirit of Torah. This is very important to me.”
Andrei, who is 19, told me that his dream is to serve in the IDF.
“I believe that doing so is a mitzva and that defending the Land of Israel is something sacred,” he said.
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Founded in 1971, NCSEJ represents the organized American Jewish community in monitoring and advocating on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, including the 15 successor states of the former Soviet Union.