Issue No. 155- December 29 , 1999.
1. Russia: HAVE PARLAMENTARY ELECTIONS DECIDED PRESIDENTIAL RACE
By Arkady Dubnov
2. Russia/Belarus: A YEAR AGO LOOKING BACK
By Arkady Dubnov
3. Croatia: CHANCE FOR DEMOCRACY
By Stojan Obradovic
4. Special addition: AN APPEAL FOR HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE FOR CHECHNYA _________________________________________________________
Russia: HAVE PARLAMENTARY ELECTIONS DECIDED PRESIDENTIAL RACE
By Arkady Dubnov
Analyzing the results of the recent elections to the Russian State Duma (parliament) is not a job for journalists, political scientists or sociologists - it's a job for psychologists. Or, as some of my colleagues joke, a task best left to those who know how to diagnose psychosis. Who else could one explain the unexpected decision of a quarter of Russian voters to cast their ballots on behalf of the Yedinstvo (Unity) bloc - a party that was created only three months ago? Or, who can explain the decision of Russian voters to prolong the political life of Vladimir Zhirinovsky by giving him 5% of the vote - just enough votes to let him clear the minimum hurdle for party-list representation in the Duma? Or, voting results which, contrary to all expectation, nearly led to the disintegration of Grigory Yavlinsky's Yabloko party?
The preference of Russians for the Yedinstvo bloc (popularly known as "Medved", or bear, an abbreviation for Mezhregionalnoye dvizhenie "yedinstvo" - the interregional unity movement) can be explained by the following: the party capitalized on support for the current prime minister, the popular Vladimir Putin, and won the affection of the Russian people (and Russian women in particular) with the attractive, smiling figures of its number one candidate, government veteran and minister for emergency situations, Sergei Shoigu, and Olympic wrestling champion Aleksandr Karelin. The latter two figures were sold to the public as "real men that you can count on." In the most literal sense of the phrase: Russian television showed non-stop broadcasts of one candidate saving the unfortunate victims of fires, explosions and earthquakes, and the second, taking his opponents down on the wrestling mat.
This ingenious image was concocted by the main architect of Yedinstvo - Boris Berezovsky, the famous "oligarch" who offered the Kremlin a non-ideological bloc which could unite regional leaders and loyal forces under the aegis of "new" and "fresh" faces who had a proven reserve of popularity. Russia needed a new "party of power" to replace the old "Our Home is Russia"/NDR bloc headed by ex-prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The NDR had long ago used up its goodwill in Russian society, a fact which became obvious two years ago, when President Boris Yeltsin was unable to drive through his nomination of Chernomyrdin to the post of prime minister following the August 1998 financial crisis. It is worth remembering that following the dismissal of Sergei Kiriyenko from the post of Prime Minister after the crisis, Yevgeny Primakov took his place. But the success of Yedinstvo would not have been possible had the bloc not been connected with the image of Primakov's successor, Prime Minister Putin, who won astonishing popularity in the country in recent months because of his hard-line policy towards clamping down on Chechnya. Kremlin image-makers quite calculatingly placed their bets on a resolute political figure, who, in contrast to the incapacitated President Yeltsin, could restore the confidence of Russians with tough, decisive actions. The "short victorious war" in Chechnya (that is how it looked on the eve of the December 19th elections) had the planned effect - primarily by knocking out the opponents of the war, particularly Grigory Yavlinsky. It also contributed to the unexpected success of the Russian "right wing" (the Union of Rightist Forces, led by Sergei Kiriyenko, Irina Khakamada and Boris Nemtsov), which won around 8% of the vote.
The bloc's shadow leader, Anatoly Chubais, tirelessly repeated during the duration of the campaign that the war in Chechnya was necessary to enable the "rebirth of the Russian army." The voices of human rights activists - who pointed to the unjustifiable loss of life for military and civilian alike in Chechnya - were lost in a chorus of approval for the war. The war's supporters reasoned that it was dangerous to oppose the military (which threatened destabilisation and even the possibility of insurrection), and that obliterating the threat of terrorism was the only way of insu that terrorist bombs would never strike Russian cities again. Incidentally, no details have been made public about the alleged conspirators arrested for organizing the horrific bombing attacks in Moscow, Buynaiksk and Volgodonsk , which took over 300 lives in September.
However, the results of the parliamentary elections in Russia should not be misinterpreted as a dramatic shift in the mood of the Russian populace, particularly in its attitude towards the current ruling powers. The communists retained their electorate in its entirety, receiving a quarter of the votes through party lists and winning more contests in single-mandate districts (half of the 450 seats in the Duma go according to party lists and the other half represent individual majoritarian districts). Fatherland-All Russia/OVR, the anti-Kremlin bloc led by Yevgeny Primakov, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, managed to avoid a serious setback. The 13% of votes won by OVR plus a large number of single-mandate seats ensure that this party will be a formidable faction within parliament. But nonetheless, the main victory in the parliamentary elections went to the Kremlin. For the first time in the post-Soviet era a parliament will be formed with a pro-government majority. It appears more than certain that the pro-government coalition will be composed of Yedinstvo, the Union of Rightist Forces, the Zhirinovsky bloc and even Yabloko (in specific but crucial issues).
Much depends on who will be elected as speaker of the new 3rd Duma. The Communists will not manage to forward their own candidate (in the 2nd Duma, the speaker was Gennady Seleznyov, a dedicated Communist), nor will a candidate from the OVR bloc have a chance. Most likely, a candidate for speaker will be selected from one of the smaller pro-governmental factions, either the Union of Rightist Forces or Yabloko. The leader of the Union of Rightist Forces, ex-prime minister Sergei Kiriyenko, has already proposed to nominate Sergei Stepashin, another former prime minister who has been allied with Yabloko sinc e summer. The likelihood of such a decision seems high. One factor in particular is obvious: Stepashin's chances for victory in the 2000 presidential race stand more than a passing chance. But now to the main result of the Duma election. The outcome created the impression that there is only one outcome possible in the presidential elections on June 4th.
It appears, at this point, that Vladimir Putin is without rival. He need now only convince Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the communists, to put forward his candidacy. Such a scenario would be as convenient to the Kremlin (if only because it would insure a first round victory, capturing 50% of the votes) as convincing a member of the presidential administration to run as Putin's opponent. In that manner, the Kremlin can ensure the successful repetition of the 1996 presidential election scenario, when Russia was forced to choose "between communism and democracy". Today, that dilemma is not worth pronouncing. At the beginning of the new century, neither communism nor democracy is possibly in Russia. More likely, there will be something along the lines of South Korea: a strong hand maintaining a grip over civic freedom and a quasi-market economy. This is the conclusion that many sober observers of the Russian political scene are coming to.
Even those who see Putin as the only way out from Russia's chaotic state are ill at ease about the prime minister's large reserve of political faces - from that of an authoritarian to that of a liberal. No one for sure knows where Mr. Putin's true political identity lies... There is also a clear lack of consensus in the West about the meaning of "Putin phenomenon". Attempts to exert political pressure on Russia for its "inadequate use of force" in Chechnya have caused Russia's political elite to close rank. Such lock-step has never been reached in the recent history of Russian-Western relations. Some of the more pessimistic of Russian political actors have already begun to hint about the need to rally against the threat of fascism in Russia... A small, but telling detail: on the 21st of December, Mr. Putin received the leaders of all the parties and blocs which won in the elections (by passing the 5% barrier for ensuring seats in the Duma). When the official part of the ceremony was ended and politicians gathered to drink champagne (the leader of the Yabloko bloc, Yavlinsky, was not among them, having left the meeting earlier), the toast "to Stalin" was raised... No one knows who raised it. But that day was the 120th anniversary of the birth of the "leader of all times and all peoples."
At the end of December 1998, Presidents Yeltsin and Lukashenko agreed to unify their countries under one common government. If this decision came as a surprise, then it was only due to one aspect - that this decision was taken just a few days after the previous meeting between the Russian and Belarusan leaders - a meeting which hadn't met with much success. However, this must be set in the context of the rather unsuccessful visit of Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to India.
This meeting took place in between the meetings on unification, and Primakov's attempts to form a tri-state geopolitical alliance of Russia, India and China, met with a rather cold reaction in Beijing. Thus, it becomes quite clear that external motives were what drove Moscow to declare its enition to create a new pan-Slavic Union. Of course, it is clear that this attempt was also a response to the humiliation that Moscow experienced when it faced the fact of the U.S. and Great Britain decided (taken without Russia's consent) to carry out bombings in Iraq. Russia was in no situation to stop the bombings (in fact, it generally wouldn't have been in Russia's interests to do so, considering that the possibility that such an attack would increase the world oil prices as a result of bombing Iraqi oil stations).
Nonetheless, Russia wants to show that it is deter to build its politics as a counterweight to the strengthening of a uni-polar world - and this display is one of the few possibilities Moscow has to present itself as a world power. It is precisely in this context that the current stage of Russian-Belarussian unification should be viewed. However, it is no less important to consider the internal-political motives, something more important for Moscow than for Minsk. This concerns preparations for the parliamentary and presidential election in Russia - the former took place in December 1999, and the latter is scheduled for January of the year 2000. It must be remembered that the idea of creating a "greater" Slavic government on the territory of the former USSR remained quite popular among the rank and file of the Russian and Belarusan electorate. This is reminiscent of the private meeting that took place over a year and a half ago between a group of Moscow journalists and President Yeltsin's daughter and closest advisor, Tatiana Dyachenko. This meeting took place during stormy negotiations over the charter on the unity of Belarus and Russia.
When this journalist asked Dyachenko, "And what does Boris Yeltsin want in reality - does he want to unify with Belarus?" A bit apprehensive, she replied, "What he wants, of course, is for the country to be bigger..." This answer is quite characteristic and similar to what most Russians believe. Their concern is not so much that they fear the economic implications of the loss of a large state, but rather regret the lost feeling of belonging to a powerful empire. This notion remains fundamental to the Russian worldview. This motive also became a major factor in the propaganda and rhetoric of the leftist opposition in Russia, which accused Yeltsin's regime of betraying millions of Russian in the break-up of the Soviet Union.
In fact, this is one of the points of accusation that the left opposition brought up in attempts to impeach the president. Thus, on the eve of the elections, it became very important for the "party of power" to counter the opposition's argument by seeking to present itself as the party bringing about a rebirth of a powerful Russian government. Unification with Belarus is a serious step in this direction. To announce intentions to achieve this "noble goal" is much less costly than rebuilding the economy or securing a bare minimum, dignified quality of life for Russians. Besides, it is noteworthy that the only serious contender to Yeltsin's appointed successor to the presidential post (whom, one year ago, the Kremlin had not yet designated) is Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who was also able to play the Russian-Belarus fraternity card. Thus, even the Kremlin is attempted to play the game in order to forestall things a bit. For Minsk, movement towards a unified governmental alliance with Moscow gives it the only chance it has to escape the monstrous financial and economic crisis facing the state, particularly at time when Belarus is denied any sort of Western aid. Added to this, Belarus remains in complete depedendence on foreign energy supplies - i.e. Russian oil and gas (debts to Moscow currently stand in the several hundreds of million of dollars range).
So, a unified government, according to Alexander Lukashenko's thinking, provides the one possible solution to Belarus' economic problems. Many representatives from Russia's elite to not hide the fact that a new government would be economically disadvantageous for Russia, however, they also believe that geo-political considerations would outweigh this minus. Nonetheless, a good part of Russia' regional elite have come out quite decisively against the new union. Mintemer Shaimiev, the president of Tatarstan believes that Belarus should join Russia only as a regional unit of the Federation (like Tatarstan) in so much as the economic potential of Tartarstan is certainly no less than that of Belarus. If Lukashenko were to have the same authority as Yeltsin is this new government, Shaimiev says, then he would have to reconsider the status of his own republic within Russia. From Shaimiev's point of view also supports Ruslan Aushev, the president of Ingushetia. It is possible, that the president of Bashkiria, Murtaza Rakhimov, would join him as well. In as much as they are leaders of Muslim regions of Russia, it is quite possible that they would join together in the event of national or inter-religious conflicts.
In fact, it was precisely on this point that Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, voiced his concerns over Moscow and sk's plans to unify. He reminded them that it was precisely this situation, i.e. the division of Slavic and Muslim governments, that everyone was attempting to avoid through the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in 1991. Up until that moment, Nazarbayev had made much more restrained remarks; not wanting to harm relations with Moscow on the eve of presidential elections in Kazakstan scheduled for January 10. However, in the next few days it is expected that Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan, will also make extremely critical remarks on Moscow and Minsk's efforts to unify. This may be followed by a wave of further criticism from presidents of the various CIS states. Nonetheless, such remarks would only influence Moscow's position. Last year, the Belarusan leader was concerned with one thing and one thing only: how to succeed in signing documents that would result in the formation of a new government by July of 1999. This was important because Luskahenko wanted to have the international-legal acceptance for the government.
Lukashenko's "parents" cannot help but remember that for the West, there is only legitimate branch of power in Belarus and this is the presidential branch. Lukashenko was elected president in July of 1994 for a five-year term and the term of his legitimate authority ran out half a year ago. The dismissal of the Belarus parliament in 1996, and Lukashenko's initiation of a new one, was not recognized by the West. Neither does the West recognize Lukashenko's extended presidential term that lasts until 2001. So far as the future of a new Russian-Belarus currency is concerned, none of Russia's politicians or economists takes this possibility seriously. This is nothing more than pre-election rhetoric. The same can be said about the speakers of the government Duma and Counsel of the Federation, Gennady Seleznev and Igor Stroyev, who said that the governments of Ukraine and Kazakhstan would also quickly join in a confederation. It must be remembered, that both of them are thinking of taking part in Russia's presidential elections.
Third parliamentary elections after 1990, when the communist regime was toppled at the first multi-party elections, are as historically important for Croatia as those ten years ago. Almost symbolically set at the beginning of new year and new millennium, on 3rd January 2000, they mean hope for a new era for many Croatian citizens. According to many estimates, ten years of monopoly and rigid rule of an autocratic system personified in recently dead president dr. Franjo Tudjman and his nationalist party Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) are at an end. All polls show that the opposition parties (according to the so-called Slovak model) will win a majority and get a chance to form government for the firs time in ten years.
Croatian opposition parties are grouped in two great election blocks. One is the so-called Great coalition and is made of Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP) and Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS). They have big chance to win majority of votes. However, not enough to form new government all by themselves. That is possible together with the so-called Small coalition made of five parties (Liberal Party, Croatian People's Party, Croatian Peasant's Party, regional party Istrian Democratic Assembly and Social Democrats Action of Croatia). Before the elections, the two coalitions signed a political agreement bounding all not to enter coalition with until now ruling HDZ and to form new government together. According to all estimates, they should win more than half of total votes.
Besides the ruling HDZ and parties of two coalitions, in Parliament will enter coalition of extreme right headed by Croatian Party of Rights, puppet party of now ruling HDZ. However, estimates say they cannot even dream about winning majority in parliament. A total of more than 50 parties are in the election run. According to polls, the strongest party in Croatia now is Socialdemocrat party headed by Ivica Racan. It is the party of reformed communists. However, "reformed communists" in Croatia aren't followed by so bad reputation as those in many parts of Eastern Europe. Racan was chief of Croatian communist party in 1990 and lost at then parliamentary elections which were generally given better marks than all that followed including the present at which Racan is, taking all into account, coming back to power. Due to war circumstances, after 1990 Racan's party was constantly accused of ties with not only ex regime but also Yugoslavia, then attacking Croatia. Therefore, SDP hit the rock bottom in popularity and barely passed election census of 3 per cent votes at the following 1993 elections. However, as soon as war in Croatia finished and HDZ rule started to show its real face of unprecedented theft of national property by the means of privatisation process and disregard to the basic democratic standards already established at the end of the communist regime, started rise of reformed communists who greatly adopted principles of the modern European socialdemocracy.
It should be noted that communists in Croatia won almost 30 per cent of the votes at the first democratic elections in 1990. That results were among the best won by comunists in Eastern Europe at that time. After war catharsis, Racan is getting that votes back. Racan's power is stronger since he entered into a very pragmatic coalition with Croatian Social- Liberal Party headed by the former dissident Drazen Budisa who was one of the student leaders during the so-called Croatian Spring in 1971. He was accused of being Croatian nationalist and sentenced to 4 years in prison. In dictionary of Croatian political scene, HSLS is example of "soft" but democratic nationalism and Racan took it as fig leaf in order to stress to voters that the communist past (and any other tie with the former Yugoslavia) has been completely overcome.
In case of election victory, Racan will occupy the seat of prime minister while Budisa will be mutual runner for president's office after Tudjman's death at the elections set for the end of January. However, while the greatest political power has been, until now, concentrated with late Croatian president Tudjman, all parties are now unanimous that president's authority should be limited to the role practised in most European parliamentary democracies - more or less protocolary. That is why Budisa is mutual presidential candidate of Croatian leading coalition while Racan will become prime minister, function that will in future hold greatest political power. During the communist regime, Racan was pale aparatchik, but he proved to be concrete democrat during turbulent times of creating conditions for transition into a modern society. However, neither he nor Budisa have yet passed great tests Croatian society was subjected to during past years. As critical analysts of Croatian politics say, during past years they remained mostly silent about all relevant issues of Croatian society. Racan's reformed communist follow in the wake of huge social discontent, similarly as Tudjman and his HDZ followed in the wake of huge national discontent in 1990. However, in the case of expected victory of opposition which is yet to be confirmed by the firm stance that both coalition blocks will enter post-election anti-HDZ alliance (HDZ is expected to win at least 30 per cent of the votes) many things will still be uncertain. Croatian opposition, or to be more precise, its strongest part which will decide about Croatian politics if victorious (Racan and Budisa) still didn't give clear answers to some key questions. Croatia faces grave crisis, and the only way to solution is integration into Europe.
Until now, Croatia was greatly isolated country due to undemocratic and authoritarian regime. That was best shown by funeral of president Tudjman. The funeral was practically boycotted by the international community, which thus broadcast a very clear message of what it thought about present Croatian government. However, for Croatia to get a chance to join Europe, it must fulfil several conditions. International community has already said that the conditions will be no different than during Tudjman's government. Of course, there are general issues of democratisation, but also some crucial issues about which today's opposition and tomorrow's possible government remains silent or answers only in general. First comes the issue of relationship towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, that is fulfilment of the Dayton Accord. Second, issue of return of Serbian refugees and third issue of co-operation with ICTY. These three questions are hard for Croatia and their principle-led solution can lead to internal political tensions since it means radical cuts in present politics led by HDZ. That politics constantly supported Croatian separatists in B-H, prevented Serbs from returning to Croatia and protected Croatian war criminals. These issues will test how much politically mature and democratic new Croatian government will be .
Opposition gives only general, not specific answers to those questions. That can be a part of the opposition tactics not to open toughest issues which can divide Croatian society before the elections, while parties are gathering voters. But can also be a part of a deeper opposition strategy always described in short terms, as some claim. Serious analysts claim that Croatian democratic future can be made only by radical cut with present HDZ politics, not by its improvement. If the future government doesn't recognise it, chances for real democratic changes in Croatia, even with the new government that can win these elections, are - not big.
Special addition : AN APPEAL FOR HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE FOR CHECHNYA WAR AND HUMAN RIGHTS
No. 98, Special issue, Decemberer 28, 1999
AN APPEAL FOR HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE FOR CHECHNYA According to information received on December 27 from a reliable source in Ingushetia, tens of thousands of local residents and internally displaced persons, including many Chechens who have recently returned from Ingushetia, lack food, cold weather supplies, and medical care in and around Achkoi Martan, Urus Martan, and Gudermes, Chechen towns now occupied by the army of the Russian Federation. The most urgent immediate needs include flour, powdered milk for infants, other basic foodstuffs, medicines (especially antibiotics), blankets, warm clothing, and heating fuel. We appeal to the United Nations and its humanitarian agencies, to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to the International Committee of the Red Cross to make arrangements with the government of the Russian Federation for the prompt delivery of humanitarian supplies to the areas of Chechnya under Russian control and to allow representatives of the organizations involved to visit Achkoi Martan, Urus Martan, and Gudermes to make an on-site assessment of needs.
Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe
2000 P Street, N.W. , Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036
Human Rights Network Group and Ryazan Regional Memorial Society.
For more information visit our web site at www.hro.org/war
Editor : Andrei Blinushov. Technical editor : Julia Sereda.
Sincerely, ANDREI BLINUSHOV
Karta/Memorial/Human Rigts Network, Ryazan, Russia
Stop war in Russia: www.hro.org/war