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        Issue No.149 - November 15, 1999


By Stojan Obradovic

By Petruska Sustrova

By Petar Karaboev



By Stojan Obradovic

Croatia is on the eve of a serious and uncertain political crisis caused by grave illness of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman. The crisis comes at a critical moment when parliamentary elections (Lower House), scheduled for the end of year, should have been announced.

On 1st November Croatian president was suddenly transferred to hospital and underwent urgent operation because of the rupture of large intestine. Despite optimistic statement saying president will soon recover and lead his party during parliamentary elections, the situation got complicated and his health became - critical. Many say that the medicine has already lost the battle and that the only thing keeping Tudjman alive are tubes and machines, while the politicians are buying time. Although never officially acknowledged, Croatian president got stomach cancer at the end of 1995 and underwent intensive chemotherapy which temporarily stopped the spread of disease. However, his old age (78) and weakened immunological system now impede stabilisation of his grave health condition. Only several days before hospitalisation, Croatian president went to Rome and Vatican contrary to medical advice as some sources claim, never missing a chance to show to Croatian public, especially before the elections, that Croatia is not a country as isolated from Europe as many say, adding that the main cause for that situation is exactly his authoritarian antidemocratic politics.

When he came back, Tudjman made his last public appearance. Answering the question about his health problems, Tudjman said in his famous arrogant and undemocratic style, without a sense for reality that has lately been a mark of his government, that such claims represented imagination of those who would like to have some other Croatia. Eventually he ended up in the hospital he may perhaps never leave and Croatia will undoubtedly be facing a challenge of post-Tudjman era and another Croatia. What kind of Croatia? The question remains to be answered. The first indicator will certainly be parliamentary elections announced for 22nd December 1999, which Tudjman was about to officially date. Most likely, the elections will be postponed but if Constitution is to be respected then the elections must be held, Tudjman or no Tudjman, not after the end of January 2000.

Many analysts think that Tudjman is out just in the most important moment for Croatia and that the upcoming elections where Tudjman's party HDZ is expected to be defeated after being 10 years in power may bring about dirty fight of its HDZ fractions for Tudjman's inheritance with uncertain consequences for the democracy. Analysts fear that the right ultra-nationalist HDZ fraction, opposing co-operation with the international community, which has strong support in army and police could use crisis situation in the country to incite chaos and usurp power in case of unfavourable election results. And Tudjman's departure from the political scene could make this scenario more likely because, without a powerful protector, they can become erratic and dangerous. If  Tudjman had been well, he would have remained chief of state wielding much power even in case his party were defeated in the elections. Since his mandate doesn't expire before 2002 he could have been able to prevent political attacks on his party or some of its members who would otherwise easily have been held accountable for many corruption scandals, privatisation malversations, misuses of intelligence services, even war crimes.

On the other hand, some claim Tudjman leaves political scene just in time since he is the only one who could oppose expected opposition election victory. Tudjman never gave concrete answer to the question would he give opposition mandate for new government were it to win the elections. Reminding of the autocratic character of his rule, many were inclined towards belief that he would never have given power to the opposition and that his cohabitation with the opposition could never have been functioning without a serious political crisis. Anyhow, it seems all uncertainties could be cleared without him. At this moment, opposition parties demand constitutional changes in order to abandon half-presidential model which was investing great authority into president thus making him decisive political element in the country. However, such changes require two-third majority in the parliament.

Even in the case of victory, it is not likely that the opposition will have such majority. The changes will need a democratic consensus, which is needed also by the opposition parties preparing to win according to Slovak model. Six strongest opposition parties ranging from social-democrats (reformed communists) and liberals to regionalists that expect majority of votes will be able to constitute a government only if they hang on to their broad coalition as they had principally agreed upon. After that they will need to fight what ten years of HDZ rule left in inheritance: repairing hard economic situation which has already became a social time bomb, establishing of the rule of law, putting police and army under the control of parliament, affirmation of human and minority rights, speeding up slowed down European integration. A new transition into democracy lies ahead of Croatia. Many circumstances forced it to take the wrong path ten years ago, when first elections were held.

The only advantage in the present situation is the fact that the people are really tired of charismatic national politics personified by Tudjman and his party, Inspite of his crucial role in establishing independent state and war victory nonetheless. That soberness which is visible everywhere and which should be confirmed by pa rliamentary elections should be a guarantee that no drastic moves will pay off in the present situation. Whatever the outcome of Tudjman`s illness, there is no doubt that there is a new, post-Tudjman, era beginning in Croatia, which brings some dangers, but also opens door to democratization.



By Petruska Sustrova

Leaving aside certain excesses, the elections in Georgia were "a step towards achieving the rule of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe". This was the verdict of international CSCE observers. By a fortunate coincidence, I, too, had the opportunity to observe the elections - and I would like to fully agree with the view of this respected institution.

In the company of the Polish journalist Marek Pedziwol, I watched the elections at Batumi, the capital of the autonomous Adzhar republic on the shores of the Black Sea. The expected winner there was the chairman of the Adzhar Supreme Soviet, Aslan Abashidze who headed the block, entitled All-Georgian Union of Revival. The group included parties with contrasting programmes, but they were united by their longing for power. Abashidze's position in the Adzhar republic was suggestively indicated by the fact that in Batumi there were billboards depicting him alone: not a single iota, no number of the party, nothing but the head of a man to whom the citizens of Batumi refer merely as of "Aslan" (in the same way as in Cuba Fidel is described without his surname).

Representatives of the opposition told us about the course of the election campaign - for example, that in shop windows there were only posters of parties, brought there by representatives of the Town Hall. When someone of the opposition wanted to place a leaflet in a shop window, he was told by those in the store that they were afraid of problems with the Town Hall. Even the fact that people from the Town Hall went from household to household before the elections, asking the people there for whom they would vote and where they were working, demonstrates that Abashidze left nothing to chance. Local observers argue that the time given by television to pre-election spots of the block was far longer than the time for which funds had been allocated by law. (The latter applies even to the election campaign by the Georgian Union of Citizens under Eduard Shevardnadze which came out on top in the elections with almost 42%.) We spent election day in the premises of ward No. 45 in Batumi. It was a strenuous day, it started at 6 a.m., even before the chairman of the election commission had sealed the ballot boxes, and ended long after 2 a.m., after all the votes had been counted.

We read in the papers that roughly 200 CSCE observers had visited some 800 election wards. It would hardly have been possible for them to spend the whole day in one place - and I find it difficult to imagine how they could have discovered possible election gerrymandering. In ward number 45 the voting took place most of the day in a regular manner, we could easily have spent there several hours and notice no irregularities. But since we were there the whole day without a break, we saw people arriving and depositing bundles of ballot papers in the boxes, possibly twenty and more. We drew the attention of members of the election commission to this but they had no intention of taking the offender to task. We carefully counted all the voters who placed their paper into the box. The day is long, we could have made a mistake, but one local observer checked us and counted the voters on his own. Our results differed by twenty votes. According to our count, some 1,600 persons had come to vote there, and if we to this we add the bundles of ballot papers, 100 to 150 additional papers could have been deposited in the ballot box. But once the votes had been counted it was found that almost 2,400 votes had been cast; had a mere 14 votes been added, the participation in the election in that ward would have been 100%. This means that in ward number 45, 800 votes were added - almost one-third - which were invalid under the rules. An "excess"? Could things have been different in other wards? If we take into consideration that according to official figures, 98-100% of the electorate went to the polls in the Adzhar republic, it is easy to arrive at the conclusion that the results according to h the All-Georgian Union of Revival obtained more than 25%, were rigged. (Observers in Tbilisi told us, there were irregularities there as well, just as elsewhere, but they were more "civilized" and not on such a scale; the figures sounded more credible.)

Why all this cheating when Shevardnadze and Abashidze won convincingly even without them? The reason was to make sure that the make believe higher participation in the elections changed the number of votes and, consequently, the power ratio so that smaller parties did not get into Parliament. One of these, the Industry Block to Save Georgia, in the end reached the seven percent election threshold, but it is being said precisely in this block that the threshold was created on instructions from Shevardnadze as his satellite ally in Parliament. So, why do CSCE observers claim that the elections in Georgia were a step forward? Agency reports prompt something, namely that the fundamental battle took place between two major rivals - the smaller parties appeared to be irrelevant.

Something is explained also by Mr. Michael Ochs who had monitored many elections as an observer for the OSCE. He told us even before the event that there would be cheating in the elections but that in Georgia the situation was better than, for example, in Kazakhstan. He is surely right, but I believe that the honesty and regularity of the Georgian elections can be judged solely by Georgian laws. The United States welcomed Shevardnadze's victory. This is understandable, his drive towards Europe is definitely closer to the advanced world than Aslan Abashidze's orientation towards Russia which could bring even further problems to the region which is already full of turbulence.

But what about the citizens of Georgia? What about the voters who saw the rigging of the elections with their own eyes, and are now told that the world regards this as "occasional excesses" which are beside the point? After all, democracy in the country is created neither by Shevardnadze nor by some other prominent politician but by the participation of people in public events: and many Georgian citizens feel deceived and sold out to "higher political interests". Not even a post-Soviet republic will get very far without civil commitment. And another significant fact: by all international standards, there is far-reaching corruption in Georgia, and it is generally known that unless there is a change-over in elites, the rule of the law is unlikely to make any progress.



By Petar Karaboev

Local elections last month in Bulgaria were supposed to be a gray and dull political autumn event, but it turned to be a slap in a face both of the ruling coalition and of the main opposition. What was this battle for with about 30,000 candidates participating in it? It is important to say at the very beginning that it was not for access to some state funds and big salaries. The month salary mayor of a city with population over 200,000 is about 600 DM (three average month salaries) and much less for representatives in the local parliament.

Main appetites are for the control over local business, access to privatization, to the process of issuing all kind of licenses, to the orders from local administration. But from a vote for local "parliaments" and mayors elections turned into a national protest to slow reform and extensive corruption in the administration. From a test of public confidence for eventual calling of early parliament elections it turned into wave of resignations in the ranks of governing party Union of Democratic Forces (UDF). From a "victory in advance" - in certain regions with Turkish majority population - for the main party of Bulgarian Turks (Movement for Rights and Freedom) it turned to its humiliation loss in the "stronghold city" of that party. From expected confirmation of biggest parties strong position in political life it turned into a blossoming of small, but more free-minded and colorful parties. This way the result was a new and gaining force public campaign against corruption, reshaping of political "Bulgarian ethnic model" and maneuvering by big parties to defend their future with rumors that they will rise the minimum level of 4 percents of vote for entering future Parliament.

Almost 100 parties rallied this autumn for positions in local authorities in 262 communities. Only 15 of them succeeded with a results that it is not easy to translate as a clear trend or perspective. Main opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (former communists) took 90 communities, UDF - 80, MRF - 22, both Peoples Union (part of government coalition) and social democrats 12 each, independants - 22. From 28 provinces 14 went to BSP, 11 - to UDF, MRF and social democrats-liberals - 1 each. This is a picture different from previous local elections in 1995 when under then BSP Government Bulgaria's map turned almost completely red. But for UDF is was a bitter-sweet victory. It celebrated victory in traditionally "red" provinces in Western Bulgaria and in border regions with Turkey but suffered a humiliating loss in showcase campaign in Eastern and Central Bulgaria. Post-voting analyses showed that UDF's active electorate was limited to the minimum of "blue die-hards" with young and educated middle age Bulgarians abstaining from going to election cabin. So the signal was clear - something is wrong with the party that only 2 years ago was given a huge public credit at last to start long delayed reforms and obviously the gap between political class and common people is becoming wider. 52% of people asked by Alpha Research Center said they want to send a signal for changing the speed and direction of reforms and exactly the same percent refused to show up in voting cabin.

Two weeks after elections the same center showed that 66% still think that reforms are too slow (only 19% said they are too quick, 7% - that the speed is normal). A famous political analyst told me last April that some dangerous for the Government landslide is approaching and he told this to politicians too but they remained dumb for the whole summer. Only in September - about a month before 16 October elections - Prime Minister Ivan Kostov canceled trips abroad for every member of his Government and send them across Bulgaria to campaign for the ruling coalition candidates. It was meant to be a winning strategy showing the strong party support for local candidates. But it turned into a avalanche of ministers in black limousines, mobile phones and bodyguards touring the deep poor province where people are fighting high unemployment, closed factories, limited public transport, health and social services...

At this elections Bulgarians wanted to hear more about problems resolving in local hospital or school, while some party bosses were speaking about transnational infrastructure projects, EU and NATO enlargement. As a local weekly mentioned, it was mistake to send high ranking party officials, ministers and members of parliament to the countryside because many of these bosses are responsible for economic and social declining of their regions. Protest vote was not against reforms but for being too late with implementing them. Right after the vote Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov announced that he well support Prime Minister in "clearing the house" from corrupted and irresponsible administrators - even ministers - but in a few occasions later he refused to point at the names of the people he is talking about. Than Prime Minister said that if t here are corrupt people he will ask secret services why they stayed quiet for so long. Which in fact turned into a fight for control over secret services information, but it is another story...At the same time there are some optimistic news - for the first time since 1989 ruling party has lost local elections. In election cabin people showed themselves more pragmatic, more as a members of civil society, not as a blindfolded party electorate. Bulgarians voted for persons with a strong party "backs" not for anonymous party representatives.

Both UDF and BSP lost in the regions where they thought that only their party color will be enough for victory. People gave a chance to new small parties and local newborn coalitions - about 3% of vote went to them - and this was understood as a signal that there is a deficit in parliament space, that there are some serious interests without adequate representation in the field of political representation. A warning signal was sent to the very foundations of basic idea for political party - if it wants to be a political organisation with a future, it should work hard on its peoples potential renovation. Traditional parties where in a sort of political cooperation the person is hiding behind collective decisions and platforms are doomed. Bulgarian politicians exhausted pre-election style of last 7-8 years focused on constant reproduction of a distance between them and electorate, between fancy cocktail parties and imitation of achieved only trough politics and state administration high standard and the poor life of the people. The message was clear - there is a need of reforms in the state and in UDF while former communists opposition was not chosen as an alternative. After local election '99 in Bulgaria people started to measure politicians with real, not with ideal measures. Political behavior must be reshaped because "illusion's plant" is still producing but there is no market for its production. 74% of people, asked after the election by Alpha Research Center said they want increasing in their income, 47% - personal changes in the Government and 41% - speeding of reforms. And at the end some words about reshaping of "Bulgarian ethnic model".

There are two points of view toward this model of peaceful co-existence of different ethnic groups, mainly between Bulgarians and Turks. First, represented by MRF, is that this party - which is not an ethnic or religion based - is the main guarantor of ethnic peace in Bulgaria. It is true that after exodus of nearly 300,000 ethnic Turks from Bulgaria in the summer of 1989, MRF played a basic role in healing the hatred and suspicion between Bulgarians and Turks, created mainly on official level by then ruling communists. For last decade after this event that some radicals even call "non-violent ethnic cleansing" MRF established itself as the only party, representing interests of its ethnic electorate. But it turned its modern, secular, European-oriented vision into a mechanism of "iron-strong" ethnic vote, which was a guarantee for election victories at every level and in every occasion. Other problem with its role is that always after elections MRF supported - guess who - local organisations of former oppressors from BSP. Between 1992 and 1994 even Bulgarian Government was constructed under MRF mandate but in fact with BSP members or confidants and with BSP support in the parliament. Many accusations were made that the leader Ahmed Dogan and highest party officials were members of former communist secret service or military intelligence, but some are still unproven, some are not against the current law. More interesting is that these people succeeded in replacing every voting result with a substitute of the original pre-election promises.

Very little was done by MRF for its supporters, no one from former communists elite was send to jail for the events form late 1980's and still Turks are the most poor part of nation and for 10 years illegal economic emigration from Southern Bulgaria can't be stoped. This autumn MRF was beaten back in its stronghold city of Kardjali with its basic weapon - the ethnic vote. For the first time Bulgarians voted anonymously - and regardless of their party affiliations - for one candidate, the one from UDF. From demographic point of view the battle was even more "bloody" because in 1999 there are 30,000 people living in Karjali region, while 4 years ago they were 50-60,000. At the local elections in 1995 the last MRF mayor Rasim Mussa gained only about 400 votes more then his opponent. This time the margin was huge - more than 4,000 votes, few hundred of them coming from local ethnic Turks (54,7% for UDF - 45,3% for MRF). For the first time ethnic model in Karjali is dismantled for good, Prime Minister Kostov announced in election night. Maybe he was misunderstood, because it was clear that the vote here was against MRF candidate and politics in general, not for the UDF alternative. But there was an avalanche of warnings from the President, politicians, media and even from some Western diplomats in Sofia, that there is nothing to celebrate for.

Ahmed Dogan canceled post-election press conference and rushed to Karjali. MRF leaders started to speculate that there they will send election results in the court, that will notify local and international human rights organisations, NATO, EU, OSCE, Counsel of Europe... The most alarming speculation from Dogan was that if Bulgarian politicians don't want him as a kind of Ibrahim Rugova, than electorate may want him as Adem Demaqi. But this was a shot too long and maybe even Dogan's swans song as politician. Because all of mistakes he has done this decade and because ethnic Turks want jobs not Kalashnikovs. Two weeks after elections Prime Ministers of Bulgaria and Turkey opened a huge years long construction project in the region with 3,000 new jobs.




War and Human Rights
Special issue, November 12, 1999

October-November 1999
by Lecha Ilyasov
Member of the Chechen NGO LAM

The events this fall, which began with large-scale bombing of Chechen districts next to Dagestan and then became a creeping war along the entire Russian-Chechen frontier, have led to the exodus of a significant part of the population from Chechnya. Most of the displaced persons found asylum in Ingushetia; some in Dagestan and other regions of the Russian Federation; and a few in Georgia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Many civilians, however, still remain in Chechnya, some in the war zone itself and others in rear areas which are targets of continual bombing by Russian aircraft. In fact, civilians, including women, children and the elderly, have borne the brunt of the conflict. Those who remain in Grozny -- for the most part, elderly Russians and Chechens without relatives to look after them, handicapped persons, members of very poor families, men guarding their homes from looters, as well as vagrants and drug addicts -- are in the worst situation. Social services in Grozny were in very poor shape to begin with.

Shortly before the outbreak of war, electricity and gas had been cut off, the water-supply system stopped working, public transportation was breaking down, and the food supply was hindered by the blockade of the border with Russia. Because of the lack of electricity and continual threat of air raids, clinics were closed and outpatient medical services halted. Since late September, schools and colleges have been closed, and also many government agencies. A major crime wave accompanied all this. In short, life in Grozny was practically paralyzed even before real combat began. People began to leave Grozny as early as August since any kind of normal existence had become impossible. The flight of refugees markedly increased after many civilians were killed in the October 21 rocket attack on Grozny. People were so terrorized by the indiscriminate destruction caused by the rockets that literally tens of thousands left Grozny on October 22.

The population of Grozny now is little more than a tenth of its prewar size, and most who remain are old, ill or disabled. The most serious problems they face, besides the bombing and the rocket attacks, are the onset of cold weather, the difficulty of obtaining water and food, and the lack of qualified medical care. Food supply to Grozny, at least for the civilian population, has been almost completely suspended because the roads into the city are being so heavily shelled. It is still possible to buy bread, matches and cigarets, but during daylight hours the markets are empty because of frequent bombing and shelling. Those who remain in Grozny are faced with the choice of leaving the city and heading for unknown destinations, without any means of subsistence during their flight, or staying in the city and risking death from hunger, cold, bombs, or rockets. Grozny has no bombshelters, and the basements of most of its multistory buildings are flooded.

People living in the villages south of Grozny, which lie outside the current war zone, also have their problems. Despite their distance from the front lines, they have been hit several times by air raids and rocket attacks, which mostly killed women and other civilians. Since the war began, the populations of a number of towns and villages in the foothills of the Caucasus range, among them Shali, Starye Atagi, Goity, Shatoi and Benoi, have almost doubled with refugees fleeing Grozny, Urus-Martan, and other exposed regions of Chechnya. The larger towns, dependent on gas to heat homes and other buildings, find themselves without fuel in the face of an unseasonable cold snap which has raised the demand for and price of firewood.

To heat their homes and to cook food, people are driven to cutting down trees which have served as windbreaks along the roads and fields. The cutting of firewood in forests farther from populated areas is too dangerous because of attacks by Russian aircraft. In the course of a single week, over a dozen civilians from Starye Atagi, Duga-Yurt, and Ulus-Kert were killed or wounded while cutting firewood, and on the Shatoi-Grozny road several trucks and tractors were destroyed while hauling wood. The water-supply system for rural areas -- just as for towns -- is no longer working. People have to draw water for drinking and cooking from rivers and canals which is extremely dangerous since there is no sanitary inspection or control. Moreover, the canals often run alongside roads which are subject to frequent bomb and rocket attacks. Food becomes scarcer with every passing day. Even in peacetime the ordinary daily ration of many Chechens living in rural areas consisted of bread and tea. But now, because of the blockade and the influx of refugees, most of whom arrive without money or supplies, the situation has become critical.

Medical services are an equal problem. The hospitals in Shali and Starye Atagi have more or less acceptable facilities for treating limited numbers of sick and wounded, but they cannot cope with all those who now need assistance. There is a shortage of medical supplies, and the price of medicines has risen sharply. Frequent air raids make the transfer of patients from Grozny and its environs to functioning hospitals dangerous and difficult. The situation is further complicated by the many refugees who are seriously ill. Children and the elderly are now especially prone to disease due to their dire living conditions.

Those infected with tuberculosis are a serious threat to people living near them, and themselves are doomed to death since there is no possibility of their getting effective treatment in current circumstances. The war has brought other indirect casualties. The flight of Russian fighter planes at low altitudes over towns and villages has sometimes caused heart attacks and even the death of persons suffering from cardiac conditions or high blood pressure. Quite a few adults and children suffer from psychological disturbance, extreme nervousness, and sleeplessness because of the stress of facing the constant threat of death.

Many are terrified by any loud noise. In summary, in Chechnya today all the signs of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe are present. It will definitely come to pass if the Russian campaign continues for any length of time and if [the following] preventive measures are not taken:

                1. A mutual agreement must be concluded between the Russian authorities and Maskhadov-s administration which defines those Chechen localities where refugees have gathered in great numbers as Safety Zones or Non-defended Localities, in which Chechen fighters will not be harbored and which will not be subject to attack by Russian warplanes, rockets or artillery. Shali, Starye Atagi, Shatoi, Goity and Benoi are examples of towns that should be designated such Safety Zones.

                2. Provision of humanitarian assistance for refugees and people living in rural areas -- in the first place food and medical supplies-- must be organized quickly. The Red Cross, together with other international and Russian humanitarian organizations, could accept responsibility for this.

                3. Free-fall bombing and rocket attacks which are not aimed at specific military targets should be ended immediately, as such indiscriminate attacks kill mainly women, children and other civilians.

                4. The prompt evacuation from Chechnya of seriously ill persons should be organized. They should be taken care of by international humanitarian organizations.

                5. The sale of electricity and gas -- at least in Shali, Starye Atagi and Goity v should be arranged in order to improve the situation for refugees there. Since the government of the Russian Federation and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov have both declared that everything they are doing is for the welfare of the Chechen people, it should not be difficult for them to agree at least on the steps needed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Chechnya.

For the moment, however, one can only recall the proverb: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Human Rights Network Group and Ryazan Regional Memorial Society.
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