Weekly News Update 
 
 
 
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. June 24, 2016
 

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
 
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
 
Dear Friend,
 

I am currently in Vilnius, Lithuania participating in discussions on Jewish property restitution issues, as a Board member of the Goodwill Foundation. The Foundation is chaired by American Jewish Committee Director of International Jewish Affairs Rabbi Andrew Baker and head of the Lithuanian Jewish community Faina Kukliansky.
 
NCSEJ Deputy Director and Chair of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad Lesley Weiss traveled this week to Ukraine. In the Ukrainian town of Berehovo, Lesley spoke at a Holocaust memorial dedication, which was attended by representatives of the Hungarian and Ukrainian governments. She also traveled to Uzhgorod, where she met Michael Galin, director of the Uzhgorod Hesed Shpira. In addition, together with the Deputy Head of the Transcarpathian regional state administration Viktor Mikulin and Jewish community representatives, she visited a former synagogue that during Soviet times was converted into a concert hall. Issues discussed included a proposal to build a Jewish memorial and a museum of Transcarpathian Jewry to be housed in part of the former synagogue.
 
In Vilnius, Lithuania, authorities began dismantling a Soviet structure built from Jewish headstones in the 1960s. Mayor of Vilnius Remigijus Šimašius removed the first stone of the structure, which he called “a clear mark of disrespect.” He promised that the headstones will be moved to a new Jewish memorial, to be built by the government and the Jewish community.
 
Also this week, Lithuania’s parliament passed legislation that would simplify application for citizenship by Lithuanian (Litvak) Jews who fled the country prior to 1990. Prior to this decision, which awaits ratification by Lithuania’s President, many Jews who left Lithuania in the period between 1919 and 1940 and their descendants have been ineligible for citizenship.
 
Today the Russian parliament approved a set of “anti-terrorist laws” that introduce harsh restrictions on Russians suspected of extremist activities. Analysts have expressed concern that the new legislation will further stifle dissent and independent media in Russia.
 
The update includes an interesting story on the Jewish community center in Riga, Latvia, which runs successful programming for Jewish young adults.
 
Another article in the update gives an interesting insight into Azerbaijan’s all-Jewish town of Krasnaya Sloboda, where Mountain Jews have lived since the 18th century. The article details a profound transformation of the Krasnaya Sloboda since the Soviet Union’s dissolution.
 
I also want to highlight an op-ed by Ambassador John Herbst in which he expresses optimism about the new Ukrainian government led by Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, and recently undertaken government reforms of the energy sector and Ukraine’s judiciary.

 
Sincerely,
 
 
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. June 24, 2016



Europe ‘Must Keep Sanctions on Russia While Ukraine Peace Process Ongoing’
By Matthew Dalton
Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2016

 
French President François Hollande on Tuesday called for European economic sanctions on Russia to remain in place while the peace process in eastern Ukraine is unfinished, lending momentum to renew the measures when they expire at the end of July.
 
Speaking after a meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Mr. Hollande said the process that Ukraine and Russia accepted at a meeting in Minsk last year is “a long way” from being completed.
 
“For the moment, we must ensure that the sanctions are kept in place and linked to the Minsk peace deal,” Mr. Hollande said.


Read the full article here.

Polish government wants to take over, upgrade Treblinka museum
JTA, June 23, 2016

Poland’s government offered to take over from a local authority the responsibility for preserving the grounds of the former Nazi death camp Treblinka, where 870,000 people were murdered.
The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage made the offer in a letter it sent last week to the regional government of Mazovia, the Rzeczpospolita daily reported Sunday.
 
The takeover could open up new funds for upgrading the small museum in Treblinka, whose grounds in the 1960s were turned into a Polish national monument featuring hundreds of stones inscribed with the names of the countries and places from which the victims had originated. It also has a room-sized museum displaying some objects, mostly work tools, found at the site.
 
Before retreating, the Nazis largely destroyed the facilities of the relatively small camp, which was spread across nearly 57 acres, including the southeastern extermination area with its brick building containing three gas chambers, each measuring 170 square feet.



Lithuanian mayor dismantles building made from Jewish headstones
JTA, June 23, 2016
 
The municipality of Vilnius in Lithuania began dismantling a Soviet-era structure made from Jewish headstones.
 
On Wednesday, Mayor Remigijus Šimašius removed the first stone from the structure housing an electricity and heating generator on Olandų Street, his office said in a statement.
 
The generator was built by the Soviet authorities of Lithuania between 1965 and 1968, when it was part of the Soviet Union. The headstones had been removed from a Jewish cemetery.
 
“After 26 years as an independent country it is now the time to remove these stones, which are a clear mark of disrespect to our Jewish community,” Šimašius said. “The stones will be removed from the generator and moved to a memorial, which will be built on Olandų Street with the cooperation of Vilnius’ Jewish community.”



Victoria Nuland praises judicial system reform in Ukraine
Ukrinform, June 22, 2016
 
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland has congratulated Ukrainian MPs on the adoption of the needed constitutional amendments on judicial system.
 
Nuland stated this at a meeting with Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada Chairman Andriy Parubiy in Kyiv on Wednesday, an Ukrinform correspondent reports.
 
“We congratulate you and other parliamentarians on the adoption of judicial reform,” she said.


Read the full article here.

France Sees Ukraine Summit Next Month, Russia Skeptical
RFE/RL, June 22, 2016
 
France says a four-way summit on Ukraine is "feasible" next month in the light of "progress" in the crisis.
 
Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll quoted President Francois Hollande as making the comments at a cabinet meeting on June 22.
 
Le Foll did not give any details about the progress that the president said had been made.
 
Hollande referred to the so-called Normandy format for the summit on Ukraine that would involve the leaders of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine. The previous such meeting took place in June 2014.
 
In Moscow, Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov expressed reservations about organizing a summit on Ukraine now, saying "the premises for valuable work of this kind have not been fulfilled."
 
Fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 9,300 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.
 

 Read the full article here.

Moldova asks Russia to stop recruiting its citizens to Army
AP, June 22, 2016

Moldova’s foreign ministry has called on Russia to stop recruiting Moldovan citizens to the Russian Army.
 
In a letter sent to the Russian embassy in Chisinau Wednesday, the ministry accused Russia of recruiting soldiers in Ternovca, a village located in the pro-Russian breakaway region of Trans-Dniester, which borders Ukraine. It said the alleged recruitments violate bilateral agreements.
 
The letter did not say when the alleged recruitments took place or how many people had been recruited. The Russian embassy did not immediately respond.
 

Read the full article here.

Kyrgyz Parliament Approves Bill Banning Foreign Media Ownership
RFE/RL, June 22, 2016
 
Kyrgyzstan's parliament has given initial approval to a bill banning foreign individuals and organizations from owning and establishing media outlets in the country.
 
The proposed legislation also bans activities in the country of media outlets financially supported by foreign countries.
 
Lawmakers approved the first reading of the bill on June 22 by a vote of 79-30.
 
The text needs to be approved by parliament in its second and third readings and signed by the president before coming into force.
 

Read the full article here.

Moscow Warns U.S. Against Imposing Cold War-Style Restrictions On Russian Diplomats' Travel
By Mike Eckel
RFE/RL, June 23, 2016
 
Russia's Foreign Ministry has warned Washington against imposing new rules on the movements of Russian diplomats in the United States, threatening that Moscow might institute similar restrictions.
 
The warning relayed by ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on June 23 followed news that legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate would impose Cold War-era monitoring requirements on Russian Embassy and consular employees in the United States.
 
The legislation, first reported by BuzzFeed News, calls for limiting Russian diplomats' travel to 80 kilometers from their post for a period of three months unless the FBI has certified in writing that all Russian diplomats followed existing reporting requirements within the prior three-month period.
 
Read the full article here.

Why the West Was Wrong about Ukraine’s New Government
By John E. Herbst
Atlantic Council, June 20, 2016
 
There was understandable pessimism when Groisman assumed office in April with a new government that did not include the previous cabinet’s strongest reformers. Critics also cast doubt on Lutsenko’s appointment, pointing out that his absence of a legal background was unusual and required the passage of special legislation in Ukraine’s parliament. In this they saw the possibility for discreet deals between the incoming prosecutor general and entrenched interests. Both are seen as close allies of President Petro Poroshenko.
 
Yet both have come out of the gate strong. Groisman made good on his promise to raise the gas tariffs to meet IMF requirements within two weeks of taking office. Despite strong populist opposition in the Rada, he raised the tariffs to market prices in May. Populists like Fatherland Party leader Yulia Tymoshenko are now trying to use this to their advantage, but it is not clear that they will succeed.
 
The prime minister’s team has also overseen steps to root out corruption in state enterprises, establishing an independent supervisory board for Naftogaz, the state gas company, and putting into place a transparent process for choosing new chief executive officers for state-owned companies.


Read the full article here.

Senators push vote to condemn Russia's 'reckless actions'
By Rebecca Kheel
Hill, June 22, 2016
 
Members of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee from both parties are seeking to formally condemn Russia for a series of aggressive actions, including buzzing U.S. ships and aircraft and violating an arms control treaty.
 
Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced a resolution that would condemn Russia for its actions and call on the United States and its allies to pressure Russia to stop.
 
 “The United States and the international community must stand strong against Russian aggression and the Kremlin’s ongoing efforts to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors,” Shaheen said in a written statement.
 


Russian Duma Drops Citizenship-Stripping Clause Ahead Of Antiterror Bill Vote
By Tom Balmforth
RFE/RL, June 23, 2016
 
Russian lawmakers, who are expected on June 24 to pass controversial antiterrorism legislation, have reportedly dropped the proposed bill's most contentious elements: a mechanism to strip certain Russians of their citizenship.
 
As it stands, however, the bill going before the State Duma still contains a raft of provisions that human rights watchdogs say are unconstitutional and land a major blow to privacy rights and freedom of conscience. If passed, they warn, it could still amount to the most egregious legislation passed by the outgoing legislature.
 
The legislation has been championed by United Russia lawmaker Irina Yarovaya and has won support from members of the ruling party. They argue that the measures are needed to combat the potent terrorism threat illustrated by the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in November by Islamic State militants.
 


Russia seen putting new nuclear-capable missiles along NATO border by 2019
By Andrew Osborn
June 23, 2016
 
Russia is likely to deploy advanced nuclear-capable missiles in its European exclave of Kaliningrad by 2019, casting the move as a reply to a U.S.-backed missile shield, and may one day put them in Crimea too, sources close to its military predict.
 
That would fuel what is already the worst standoff between Russia and the West since the Cold War and put a swathe of territory in NATO members Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in the cross-hairs.
 
Russia would probably have deployed the missile -- called the Iskander, the Persian name for Alexander the Great -- in Kaliningrad regardless, and the targets it will cover can be struck by longer-range Russian missiles anyway.
 
But Russian and Western experts say the U.S.-backed shield, which Moscow says is aimed at blunting its own nuclear capabilities, gives the Kremlin the political cover it needs to justify something it was planning all along.



In Latvia, Leaders Are Ahead Of The Curve On Jewish Programming For Young Adults
By Liam Hoare
EJewish Philanthropy, June 23, 2016
 
When I spoke to Benny Fischer, President of the European Union of Jewish Students, back in April, he told me European Jewish communities must focus more on programming and investment for students and young adults. “Communities stop investing in members aged 18 to 35,” he said. “They do not see the urgency in investing in this particular group of people and it’s reflected in the inclusion of young people in community politics and work” which he described as ‘shocking.’ Young adults are “the exact age group where you have to invest,” for it is out of this cohort that the next generation of community leaders will emerge.
 
Indeed, but perhaps on this, the Jewish community of Latvia is ahead of the curve – and might provide an instructive example to other communities across Europe. Last month, I met Inna Lapidus-Kinbere, who has been running the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Riga for two years. She moved to Latvia from Estonia after she completed her Master’s degree and having met and then married someone from the Latvian Jewish community, with whom she now has two children. Energetic and highly engaged, her phone more or less didn’t stop ringing throughout our entire meeting.
 

Read the full article here.

The Painful Journeys of Ukraine’s IDPs
By Kateryna Moroz
Atlantic Council, June 20, 2016

Galina Dzhikayeva, an internally displaced person, from Simferopol, Ukraine, performs at her theater in Kyiv. In her most controversial play, “Militiaman,” she plays a pro-Russian man from Donetsk who captured, tortured, and killed Ukrainian soldiers. Through discussions with the public she tries to understand what motivates him, and aims to find an approach that will help people like him reintegrate when the war ends.
Two years ago this past April, the words “internal displacement” first appeared in the Ukrainian media. The term was brought by UN agencies that, along with local nongovernmental organizations, worked on a legal framework to regulate the phenomenon, which was completely new to Ukraine. Before then, journalists, volunteers, and even government officials called those who were fleeing occupied Crimea or hostile areas in eastern Ukraine “refugees” or “migrants.” Ukraine now has 1.7 million internally displaced persons.
 
Today, three IDPs in Ukraine share their memories of how they left their homes, how the past two years have changed their lives, and what needs to be done to reintegrate IDPs.



Violence against Russia's web dissidents raises fresh fears for internet freedoms
By Dmitry Treshchanin, Aleksandr Gorokhov and Claire Bigg
RFE/RL, June 22, 2016
 
When Aleksandr Markov heard the doorbell of his St Petersburg apartment earlier this year, he rushed to welcome his guest. But instead of the friend he had been expecting, Markov was surprised to see several strangers on his doorstep.
 
Then came the blow.
 
“I was hit in the eye,” he said. “I found myself in the staircase. Someone pushed me from behind and I fell over. They started kicking me.”
 
The assailants fled when Markov screamed for someone to call the police.
 
The incident is the latest in what appears to be a string of assaults and arson attacks on Russians who have openly criticised their government on social networking sites.
 
Markov is one of the administrators of an opposition group called Criminal Authorities on VKontakte, Russia’s largest social network. The group has about 14,000 members and openly denounces Kremlin policies, including those pertaining to Ukraine.


Read the full article here.

A glimpse into Azerbaijan’s hidden all-Jewish town
By Lee Gancman
Times of Israel, June 22, 2016
 
KRASNAYA SLOBODA, Azerbaijan — “Not good,” Rabbi Yona Yaakobi says in Hebrew, expressing his distaste while pointing to a grave featuring a statue of a man who died in 1988.
 
Carved in white marble, the nearly life-size statue of the deceased portrays him staring ahead, cane in hand, flanked by two pots of artificial flowers. Just below, on a black tombstone, is inscribed the man’s name, date of birth and the day he died in Hebrew. But lower it is engraved again much more prominently in Russian.
 
“All of this is influenced by the Muslims who got it from the Russians,” Yaakobi continues.
 
Although this particular grave is among the more ostentatious in the three cemeteries of Krasnaya Sloboda, an all-Jewish town in the mountainous north of Azerbaijan, it is surrounded by hundreds of others showing lifelike pictures of the dead in various poses, sometimes bordering on the absurd.
 
“I knew all of these people personally. I know the story of each one of them,” Yaakobi laments as he strolls past a large tombstone depicting a middle aged man in a business suit reclining in a throne-like chair. “This guy for instance went fishing one day, and when he cast his line, it ended up hitting some wires, he got electrocuted and died.”

 

Read the full article here.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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About NCSEJ
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.
 
 
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