Issue No. 153. - December 14 , 1999.
1. Russia: A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES
By Valekh Rzayev
2. Croatia: HOW TO FIND ANSWERS TO POST-TUDJMAN ERA
By Goran Vezic
3. Macedonia: ALBANIANS DECIDED PRESIDENTAL ELECTIONS
By Nebojsa Jakonov
4. Special addition: AGAINST PRESSURE ON BELARUSIAN MEDIA
The most heated information battle taking place is the one between the Fatherland Party and the Unity Party. The Fatherland Party is a hodge-podge of unions based on the authority and influence of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, as well as the former prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, the presidents of Tatarstan, Bashkiria, Ingushetia and the mayor of Saint Petersburg. The Unity Party was hastily created a few months ago and according to expert opinion, was inspired by the Kremlin and invoked to prevent the most radical elements of the opposition from entering into parliament. The party is also supposed to form a base of support for the current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who is the heir apparent of weakened President Boris Yeltsin. In this manner, the forces that make up the Unity Party created a very wise approach by forwarding very popular people as leaders of the party - people who have not been soiled by either politics or criminal activities. These people include the current Minister Emergency Affairs Sergei Shoigu, the legendary champion of the battle against criminal activity, Alexander Karelits, the idol of crime-fighters, and the author of best-seller detective novels, Lev Gurov.
Critics claim that this young pro-Kremlin block is taking advantage of specialist services in election technology, financed by the scandalized and famous m magnate, Boris Berezovsky, who is close to the president's family. However, the Fatherland Party, which began with a tremendous start in Spring of this year when it reached the pinnacle of its fame, has today, according to some reports, lost almost half of its supporters because of powerful information blows from the pro-government TV stations, ORT and RTR. The Fatherland-All Russia party, which calls itself the future party of power, has reacted to losses in it ranks with conceit. The head of Moscow's politics has a Soviet straight-forward approach to propaganda and xenophobia, bordering on Nazism, in dealing with national minorities, refugees from the Russian regions, Muslims and Caucasians. Moscow authorities have created an anti-constitutional legal policy in which the city militia, violating human rights, can arrest and deport any person who is not a resident of Moscow. This policy is most severe against children of Caucasian and Muslim origin, regardless of whether or not they are citizens of the Russian Federation. Citing orders issued by t oscow city authorities, these children are not admitted to hospitals and are denied ambulatory services. The press was horrified by the authorities' actions, and consequently, the Fatherland Party and Yuri Luzhkov are losing the votes of half of the national and religious minorities.
As fate would have it, Russian residents today are deprived of the possibility to freely travel to their own capitol, nor can they work and live there. Yet, they are supposed to vote for a block, whose name "Fatherland-All Russia," does not square well with the actions of its leader. Thus, the leaders of Tatarstan, Ingushetia and other republics of Russia are not happy that they sit in the same boat with Yuri Luzhkov, who is blamed for xenophobia and even wide-spread criminal actions. Along with the war in Chechnya, which is not regarded unequivocally in Russian and in Europe, there is also the growing danger of mass provocations playing into the hands of various parties' political ambitions. In turn, this could bring about bloody confrontations and the only person to win from all-out chaos and a wealth of compromising materials - not taking part in the information wars - is the Communist party, whose supporters earlier flocked to the Fatherland Party in a panic, but are now returning.
There is not doubt whatsoever that
the communists will gain a majority of seats in the future parliament and
their influence will only grow. Against the background of collapsing economic
reforms and the plundering of government property, the popularity of the
pro-Western liberals has been brought to a minimum. In reality, the mood
of many voters is far from optimistic, and is formulated on the simple
phrase, "a plague on both your houses." This goes for almost all parties
and politicians who stand in opposition to the Kremlin only before the
elections. A journalist from a provincial newspaper closed for criticizing
the governor explained that, "I don't want to face an election choice between
thieving politicians and bandit functionaries." However, the situation
is taking shape in such a way that it is necessary to make one's choice
between one of two symbols of contemporary Russia.
TO FIND ANSWERS TO POST-TUDJMAN ERA
By Goran Vezic
Last Monday's burial of Croatian president FranjoTudjman, who died on 10th December, symbolically ends last Croatian decade which can be called Tudjman's era. During that decade, Croatia fought wars, became independent country, but was also impoverished, got bad reputation and was isolated from Europe to which - as even Tudjman himself claimed - it has always belonged. Today Croatia faces post-Tudjman era with many open issues to be resolved in the near future. In a manner of man certain of his immortality, Tudjman failed to leave political successor in the leading Croatian party Croatian democratic union (HDZ) which he headed for ten years, from its foundation until his death.
During all past years, Tudjman's HDZ functioned as a movement containing at least three fractions which he managed to strictly control with his authority. Despite some expectations, Tudjman's illness and 40-day agony didn't cause new confrontations among fractions in the party but united them in one, at least on surface. The reason lies in parliamentary elections, to be held on 3rd January 2000. All fractions want HDZ to remain compact while fighting more and more strong socialdemocrat-liberal-populist opposition which announces revision of privatisation in Croatia which could be very painful for overnight rich HDZ elite and could even result in prison terms. Very brief election campaign which started on 14th December will be marked by Tudjman's death and moratorium for Christmas and New Year holidays which favours HDZ. There are many speculations in Croatia that Tudjman's dying body has been kept alive artificially for weeks for that very reason. According to Croatian constitution, Tudjman is replaced by president of the parliament Vlatko Pavletic (69), literary theorist who has been silent and obedient "aparatchik" during past years, but started using Tudjman's armoured BMW at the beginning of his brief mandate and also announced fight against misuses of Croatian secret services which he accuses of listening to his conversations.
According to Constitution, Pavletic must declare election date in 60 days as the presidential elections are to be held on 9th February 2000 latest. Unofficially, HDZ presidential candidate will be Mr. Mate Granic, long-time minister of foreign affairs and prominent diabetes expert, who is publicly viewed as moderate member of the nationalist party and is considered the most easily acceptable HDZ member, both to national and international public. His strongest rivals are presidents of Socialdemocrat party and Croatian socio-liberal party Ivica Racan (56) and Drazen Budisa (51) who together formed a pre-election coalition. Racan is a reformed communist who spent all his time in the Communist, now Socio-democrat party. Budisa was a student leader during reformist and national mass movement "Croatian spring" in 1971 and spent four years in prison as a consequence. One being a reformed communist, the other reformed anticommunist, both got politically close today, but may be separated by their presidential ambitions. According to newspaper polls, Racan leads over his potential rivals. He himself stated he would accept the job of prime minister.
After establishment of Croatian state, nationalistic wave receded giving place to more pressing social issues. That is the advantage of Racan and his socialdemocrat party since Croatian electors think they could make changes on the social and economical level and speed up integration of Croatia into European integrative processes. Having thrown away its legacy of communism and former Yugoslavia, Socialdemocrat party lately showed its growth at several local elections. Sad isolation of Croatia as a consequence of Tudjman's politics was visible at the funeral ceremony. The only heads of state to attend this funeral came from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and Turkey. That fact caused reminiscence and parallels - 20 years ago Tito's funeral was attended by the most important world leaders and by 209 delegations from 127 countries. It is bizarre that one of the first condolences were given by Tudjman's formal enemy Slobodan Milosevic, while his formal ally Alija Izetbegovic sent his among the last. That detail symbolically showed Tudjman's controversy in Balkan events during last decade - while he was fighting Milosevic, he made plans with him to divide BiH. Tudjman was ally of Bosnian Moslems at the beginning and at the end of the war in Bosnia. He fought them in between.
Understanding with Milosevic was
stronger than war enmity between Serbs and Croats - misunderstanding with
Izetbegovic was stronger than, at least initial, war companionship between
Croats and Bosnian Moslems. Disregarding the outcome of upcoming presidential
elections, probably rings true the statement made by Vladimir Seks, vice-president
of HDZ and Croatian parliament: "Never again will Croatia have a man as
FranjoTudjman". The statement is true since both ruling HDZ and the opposition
think that Croatia needs to change Constitution which instituted semi-presidential
system and significantly limit the authority that enabled Tudjman to maintain
autocratic rule. Besides expected changes in parliamentary system and constitutional
changes, it is important that there are now no indications that repressive
elements of the state - army and police - are trying to take over the power.
It's fortunate for Croatia that there is no person strong enough to try
undemocratic adventures without great personal risk.
ALBANIANS DECIDED PRESIDENTAL ELECTIONS
By Nebojsa Jakonov
43-year old Boris Trajkovski, presidential candidate of the ruling VMRO - democratic party for Macedonian national unity, is now a new Macedonian president and a successor to Kiro Gligorov. However, on Sunday 5th December in voting was repeated in 24 election units (out of them 85). Results of the prior voting were disregarded by Macedonian Supreme court. Trajkovski's victory caused, according to first analyses, new ethnic and political tensions which could, in the long run, negatively influence total stability of Macedonia. It seems that the main problem coming out of the presidential elections was the fact that Supreme Court accepted all complaints of irregularity during second cycle of presidential elections staged on 14th November. Complaints were issued by the opposition Social-democrat Union of Macedonia (SDSM).
As a result, the Court cancelled more than 160 thousand votes cast chiefly by voters from western parts of the country (bordering with Albania), where majority population are Albanians living in Macedonia. Albanians, more inclined towards Democratic party of Albanians headed by Arben Xaferi which participates in the current government, once again decided in favour of Boris Trajkovski during repeated elections, thus giving him 70,000 votes' winning margin against his rival Tito Petkovski from SDSM. Many Macedonians interpreted that as "minority chooses on president", which they thought an unacceptable situation. Ethnic and political tensions which coloured the elections of the second president of independent Republic of Macedonia surfaced on Sunday, according to newspapers' voting reports, in a climate of fighting, accusations and even physical violence between observers of the three political parties involved in repeated voting: VMRO and DPA on Trajkovski's side and SDSM on side of opposition candidate Petkovski. All the incidents culminated on the day of repeated elections when, during afternoon, SDMS headquarters in Skopje decided to revoke their observers from voting committees.
In the explanation, SDSM stated that the party cannot guarantee "safety to its members" and that it wished to avoid further escalation which could cause "graver incidents". In its first comments on the elections , SDSM said that "government in Macedonia is obviously not capable of organising nation-wide elections in accordance with Constitution" and added that in almost all election units with second cycle of elections there has been pressure on opposition representatives, including "physical force, blades and firearms". On the other side of this election "frontline", VMRO representatives claimed that incidents SDMS had talked about didn't exist and that the strategy of SDSM was to further question regularity of elections. "Unfortunately", said VMRO spokesman, "we have to say that this SDSM attitude means further loss of reputation for that party , sign of its incapability to grasp political reality in the country and finally, wish to mask heavy defeat of their presidential candidate by all means possible".
To make matters more complicated, local media also don't give a clear and precise picture about the process of Sunday's voting. Besides stating that Boris Trajkovski won, political- and party-biased Macedonian journalists also this time rendered their reports as partial views of the election process. Some claim that Sunday saw a repeat of election farce from second voting cycle, adding that Albanians votes as a party machinery, while those more inclined towards the coalition in power say that repeated elections passed in fair and democratic atmosphere and with confirmation that "the people are in favour of the ruling party". As expected, this polarised views repeat themselves also when it comes to degree of fairness of the election process which, some say, was blackened by numerous incidents while other retaliate saying that the number of incidents was overblown and that nobody can question regularity of new elections on that account. Of course, in this complete polarisation about regularities of presidential elections, we must mention evaluation of the State election commission which held a press conference to give first and still unofficial results of Trajkovski's victory. Commission said that repeated elections had a certain number of incidents, but that such incidents didn't significantly influence regular election process. Similar remark was stated in communiqué issued by the Ministry of Interior confirming heavy incidents in three election units (fist-fighting and blade-use). The ministry said it had investigated also other incidents reported by SDSM representatives and came to conclusion that some of them were fights while at other alleged incidents no backing evidence could be found.
At the end we should mention position of approximately80 international monitors who, it seems - following opposition outrage upon their confirmation that second election cycle on14th November had been regular, for now remain silent and don't make public statements, especially not to the local press, about the election process. By appointing new president, Macedonia affirmed victory of national right-wing party VMRO. It also won last parliamentary elections, thus replacing the long government of reformed communists. New president replaces a charismatic persona of the former communist official Kiro Gligorov - the man who, despite all his political controversies, navigated Macedonia unscathed through all the war currents of the former Yugoslavia - the only republic to do so. However, this elections for president, institution without any significant authority, once again laid bare deep internal divisions chiefly due to strong Albanian minority which comes to as much as 30 per cent out of about 2 million Macedonians. Political aspirations of Macedonian Albanians are not small and Albanians, although they participate in the ruling coalition, make up for isolated and separate social and political segment within Macedonia. Albanians also participated in the reformed communists' ruling coalition but that didn't help in going over strong interethnic tensions, sometimes on the edge of major conflicts, which have been evaded for the time being. However, there's no doubt that now Macedonia will have to face the problem of Albanian national minority more openly and that it will finally have to solve their status.
Undoubtedly, Albanians expect it
from the new Macedonian government, but it is unclear is that government
really ready for such a step.
Special addition: AGAINST PRESSURE ON BELARUSIAN MEDIA
On 14 December 1999, the Belarusian Association of Journalists has issued a statement with regard to the stepped-up pressure on the independent media in Belarus.
STATEMENT OF THE BELARUSIAN ASSOCIATION OF JOURNALISTS
Statement of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Minsk, 14 December, 1999 - Despite the declared readiness to promote democracy and being bound internationally to respect and implement the human rights, the Belarus authorities have continued to introduce further restrictions on the freedom of expression, and have stepped up pressure on the independent media organizations. In their war against the independent press, authorities have resorted to more subtle forms and methods. On 30 September the State Committee for the Press of Belarus annulled registration licenses of nine independent publications. Given a clear unlawful nature of this document and due to the domestic and international outcry, the Committee was later forced to revoke the ban and resume licenses of the newspapers. However, some publications still have not managed to come out. Another measure against the non-state press was an ultimatum issued by the State Committee for the Press ordering the newspapers either to receive within one month an approval by local authorities for the location of their offices, or to be closed down extrajudicially.
Since local officials denied approval
of the newspapers' legal addresses, the publications were put under the
threat of closure. The unlawful nature of this campaign was so much obvious
that authorities were once again forced to step back, and have extended
the term of such "approvals" for an uncertain time. However, this artificial
problem has not been resolved yet. In
Minsk only, there are nearly 200 printed periodicals which are waiting for an approval by local authorities to operate in spaces they have rented. Furthermore, it has been over two months that the Minsk authorities have demonstratively declined to settle this issue. Non-state newspapers are forced to operate in clearly unfavorable economic conditions, in breach of constitutional provisions which set out equality for all forms of ownership and all types of economic entities. For instance, the print charges differ greatly for the state-controlled and independent publications. The discrimination of non-state periodicals has also been reinforced in the field of distribution via subscription and kiosk sales. Independent newspapers have to pay threefold more for delivery services that those state-controlled which also receive regular financial subsidies from the state budget. In these conditions, it is impossible to speak about equal opportunities and a fair competition at the news market. Belarusian Association of Journalists has learned that authorities have presently been in the process of developing new amendments to the press law. In particular, it is planned to further toughen a procedure of registration of the newspapers. Besides, these amendments are to widen a range of cases when newspapers can be closed down. If introduced (the amendments), newspapers can be closed down by founders, by a body of the legal entity empowered by the constituent documents, and by a court ruling.
An amendment to Article 49 in the Law on Press of Belarus which proposes huge fines (from 100 up to 1000 minimum salaries) for any violation of the law, is seen as a significant danger to the operation of the independent newspapers. What the most dangerous it is that a notice by the registration body or a prosecutor of any rank will be sufficient for subjecting newspapers to punitive sanctions. Thus, the procedure of reprisals against disagreeable newspapers will be extremely simplified. Needless to say, another "improvement" of the media laws, just like the previous amendments to the press law, is targeted at the independent mass media. The Belarusian Association of Journalists considers the stepping up of pressure against the independent press is linked with the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. Authorities have launched an active "clean-up" of the informational space, in which, in the view of authorities, there is no room for a free press. Such a stance of Belarus authorities with regard to the independent press confronts with constitutional provisions which guarantee the freedom of expression, and virtually excludes a possibility of free and fair elections in this country. The Belarusian Association of Journalists sees another way for the development of national media laws. At the example of East European nations which have followed a path of democratic changes, Belarus should begin with privatizing the mass media. In this respect, Belarusian Association of Journalists suggests the following steps to be taken: the establishment of equal opportunities for media organizations, regardless of the form of ownership the change of the state radio and television into the public radio and television the abolishment of the permissive practice of the mass media registration the immediate introduction of only the judicial accountability of the mass media for violating the laws.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists
is prepared to submit concrete proposals on introducing democratic changes
into the media legal regulatory framework. We appeal to Belarus citizens
who want to live in an independent democratic country with the rule of
law, asking them to support the independent mass media. This is the only
chance for the society to receive a full genuine and objective information.
We appeal to the whole journalistic community requesting your solidarity
with Belarusian colleagues in defending the freedom of expression. We hope
for the support from the international organizations, their efforts and
contribution to the process of a peaceful transition of this country to
democratic changes. The war against the democratic press in Belarus should
be stopped today. It will be late tomorrow! Board of the Belarusian Association