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Issue No. 159. - January 29 , 2000.

By Arkady Dubnov
By Goran Vezic
By Peter Karaboev
By Zoltan Mikes
By Arkady Dubnov

What took place on January 18 in the Duma of the Russian Government will enter into the immortal history of Russian parliament.

The first meeting of newly composed lower house of the Federal Assembly, elected on December 19, 1999, was dedicated to electing the news speaker. The assembly, however, concluded in an unprecedented scandal. Let's recall briefly the results of the elections.

The Communist Party received the defacto victory, as well as the pro-governmental Interregional Movement of Unity, called Medved (The Bear in Russian. The name comes from the first letters of the Russian party name (M-Dv-D). The Unity party, made up of two closely related groups of deputies, the agro-industrialists (close to the communists), the "National" deputies (Centrists - closer to Medved) and Zhironovsky's liberal-democratic party, make up an absolute majority in the Duma (about 280 deputies from a total of 450 seats). The Fatherland-All Russia bloc suffered a sensational defeat. The bloc, headed by ex-prime minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, received only 46 seats. The Union of Right Forces, headed by another ex-prime minister, Sergei Kirienko, received 28 seats. Finally, there was another sensational defeated suffered by the right-center Yabloko party, which received only 21 seats.

The resulting alignment of forces means that the Kremlin was victorious. The Kremlin had created the Unity Movement in an unprecedented short time period - a party whose only distinct ideology is to be "pro-Putin ". This was an astute calculation: in Russia, where there is still only the emerging signs of civil society, the most popular party is the "party of power". Only the party of power is capable of dealing with nostalgia for Soviet times (i.e. support for the Communist Party) among the aging part of the population. It was precisely the victory of the Unity party that convinced Boris Yeltsin to give Putin the reigns to government. At the same time, the rightists (the Union of Right Forces), headed by Russia’s energetic oligarch, Anatoly Chubais, counted on the election results bringing about the formation of a right-center majority in the Duma (Unity, plus Union of Right Forces, plus Yabloko, plus the " National Deputies") and Sergei Stepashin of the Yabloko bloc would become peaker of the parliament. What happened in reality is that all the cards were mixed up.

It turned out that the presidential administration, working behind the scenes with the leadership in the alignment of forces, took a different path. For some reason, the Kremlin decided it would be more beneficial to create an unprecedented (and it would seem antithetical) alliance of the pro-governmental bloc and the Communists. This brought about the election of a representative of the Communist Party and speaker of the previous Duma, Gennady Seleznev, to speaker of the current Duma. It's possible that this plan originated on its own, as a result of Seleznev's defeat in the gubernatorial elections of the second most important region of the Russian Federation - the Moscow oblast. Seleznev lost to well known General Boris Gormov, who had led the Soviet military contingent out of Afghanistan in 1989. In as much as Seleznev shows himself for the speaker position as a completely “moderate” communist in the Kremlin, this so tried and true “cadre” is quite convenient for the authorities. However, this sort of makeup would look civilized enough for the parliament in practice if it weren’t for the tendency towards "bolshevism". The leaders of the two strongest factions, the Communists and Unity, supported by the Kremlin, decided that they could form a firm majority in parliament, and it was up to the remaining factions to be left with the question of what do to without representation. They, among others, attempted at first to field their own candidate for the post of speaker, based on approval rating, believing that it was a completely appropriate idea for a representatives of a smaller faction.

In this case, the figure was "technical" and didn’t actually have pretensions to power, which allowed them to avoid new conflicts between the parliament, president and his representatives. The use of approval ratings has long been a tradition in the Russian Duma around for awhile and has allowed for some politicians to have a coefficient of influence, and also the possibility to consolidate different points of view. However, Unity and the Communist party were not well disposed to this plan and presented a non-alternative vote for Seleznev. As a result, well known politicians like ex-Prime Minister Primakov and Stepashin publicly announced that they were removing their names as candidates for the speaker, and three factions, Fatherland, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, declined all government posts in the Duma. Primakov called the events a "farce", Stepashin a “cynical conspiracy” and Sergei Kovalyev, the well-known human rights activist simply, "filth".

After this, all three factions left the meeting hall together. Just three days later, the Government Duma looks very strange: the right of the presidium is absolutely empty, and to the left are the Duma Bolsheviks. Now we turn to the Duma posts. The extremely frustrated "Mensheviks" complained that they were left in a situation whereby all of the posts to leadership in the three committees of the Duma were divided up without their consultation, and Yabloko didn’t receive even one post. Moreover, practically an absolute majority of experienced lawmakers with knowledge of the main legislative areas are in the Fatherland blok, Yabloka and Union of Right Forces. Moreover, about 140 deputies, voted in by 18 million voters, were derived of any serious possibility to influence the Duma’s decisions. The "Mensheviks" decided to organize a coordinating center made up of three fractions which thus far have refused to take part in the Duma's work. Consequently, voting on organizational questions in the Duma looks today quite similar to the results of work done in the Soviet Parliament, or in the Central Asian parliaments. For example, 270 votes yes, and two abstentions. And what comes next? The Mensheviks are hoping that the scandal will upset acting President Vladimir Putin, who will then call the Bolsheviks to order. It seems, however, that these hopes are not justified. First of all, it is doubtful that was is happening now could have taken place without Putin's knowledge, and Putin's own statements confirms this. After meeting with Speaker Seleznev, he said, "In the parliaments of other states, this situation takes place often". Secondly, it is clear that an alliance with the communist many be useful right now for Putin himself, since the leader of the Communist Party, Gennady Zyugenov, will become simply a "paper rival" in the presidential elections scheduled for March 26. And the Kremlin will not “lose” the rightists, because Putin promises to be a "reformer". Up to now, Mr. Seleznev has said that the "Mensheviks" should refrain from their boycott. Yet, he refuses to redistribute the Duma’s posts, and instead suggests that a special new committee be formed giving posts to representatives of the three offended factions. It is clear that this proposition was made after consultation with the Kremlin and Putin's approval. Seleznev himself would rather remain silent on this issue just three days after the events. Besides Seleznev and the communists, Medved has one more person celebrating "the day of the Duma's scandal". This is Vladimir Zhironovsky, the main "political prostitute" of modern day Russia. He became the vice-Speaker, giving up the leadership of his fraction to his 27 year old son. "And why not? " he asked, "No one is surprised when a milkmaid retires and leaves her cows to her daughter?" It is likely that in today’s Russian Duma, the “cattle” category fits not just Zhironovksy's "Liberal Democrats".


By Goran Vezic
First round of presidential elections staged on 24th January has forever earned of prominent place in Croatian political history. According to results of presidential elections, Croatian citizens finally said "no" to a party state. Only in such circumstances could presidential candidate of a minor Croatian People's Party Stipe Mesic have won a decisive victory in first round, with 41 votes of support. Mesic won 25 per cent more votes than four minor parties, which nominated him their mutual candidate, at recent parliamentary elections. Those parties are Croatian Peasant's Party, Istrian Democratic Assembly, Croatian People's Party and Liberal Party. Undoubtedly, Mesic won support of some voters of the winning duo of parliamentary elections - Social Democratic party of Croatia (SDP) and Croatian Social-Liberal party (HSLS) .

Together, they won 47 per cent votes at parliamentary elections on 3rd January, while their presidential candidate Drazen Budisa got only er cent votes three weeks later. According to the agreement between SDP president and newly nominated prime minister Ivica Racan and HSLS leader Drazen Budisa, the latter was to become the president. The deal was carried through, but the two forgot one minor impediment - the voters. Racan's SDP today is by far the largest party in Croatia, but thanks to the deal SDP had no its own candidate but supported Budisa instead. It became clear that the era of "democratic centralism" was gone years ago - the party leaders supported Budisa, but not SDP partisans. With a simple calculation one can deduce that more than half of SDP voters gave their support to Mesic. Mesic himself recognised it soon enough and earned Racan's anger when he said that he will get the support of SDP voters.

Racan was repeating, in vain, that Croatian socialdemocrats took a firm stand beside Budisa, describing Mesic only as "likeable", but adding Mesic was, in fact, incapable of being a president. Mesic was the most attacked presidential candidate. A day before the election silence, daily newspapers Slobodna Dalmacija published a front-page stating Mesic had been an agent of UDBA, former Yugoslavia secret police. Even such fabrications were only improving Mesic's popularity. After a decade of Tudjman's arrogant insults of his political adversaries, such attacks became disgusting to Croatian citizens and, as a rule of a thumb, they begin to favour the attacked party. Secret service and partisan machinery haven't understood it yet. Mesic was the first prime minister of democratic Croatia in 1990 and the last president of the Presidency of social Yugoslavia in 1991. In 1994, as the president of Croatian parliament, Mesic turned against Tudjman - to whom he had been a right arm before - not accepting the politics of dividing B-H. He belongs among the rare who left then ruling Croatian Democratic Union and faded into political margin where they ferociously attacked Tudjman.

At the same time, Budisa, as HSLS leader, opted for forming coalitions with Tudjman's party at the lower levels of government. Voters who so fiercely attack ten-year-old Tudjman's legacy today awarded Mesic's consistency, although he was an HDZ member at the beginning of the 90s, and punished Budisa inclination towards flirtation - today with socialdemocrat Racan, yesterday with nationalist Tudjman. Also, Budisa wasn't helped by the fact that he went to jail in 1971 as a student leader of the movement "Croatian spring". At the time, Mesic has been a representative in then Croatian republic assembly and he, also, had the same treatment. Besides, Mesic is more direct in his addresses to voters. Although his opponents describe him as "populist", Mesic, for example, clearly stated that Croatia will no more finance Croatian para-state "institutions" in B-H, while Budisa, when asked, gave vague answers encircled into a veil of protection of Croatian national interests in B-H. After results of the first round of presidential elections had become public, Mesic said that the editor-in-chief of daily "Slobodna Dalmacija" Josip Jovic who had published allegedly compromising story about Mesic being an UDBA agent, would have to decide whether to be newspaper editor or a police informer.

Drazen Budisa acted principles and commented the statement as Mesic's declaration of war to the media. At the same time, Budisa's elder political brother Ivica Racan refused to gave an interview to the most famous Croatian political weekly "Feral Tribune", newspapers which made more steps towards democratisation of Croatia than any political party. At the start of new government, Feral Tribune showed incurable "disease" of being critical. Budisa used Mesic's first public statement after results of the first round of elections to say that Mesic didn't support Racan's government although Mesic also comes from the group of six opposition parties which have come to power and together formed the new government. Mesic only said that he will be a balance which won't allow one party system to be introduced in Croatia anew. And that is not going to happen because voters have learned to seek balance, being aware of the defects of one party system that was implemented in Croatia. Mesic and Budisa, and Croatia, can be pleased because Croatia balanced HSLS and SDP from one side and the parties of the so-called opposition four on the other (Croatian Peasant's Party, Croatian People's Party, Liberal Party, Istrian Democratic Assembly). Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) of the late president Tudjman was a retrograde political option whose leaders have supported thievery during transition. HDZ is finally in position from which it won't come out easily, but will split into at least two different parts. Its voters have already begun to erode.

HDZ's presidential candidate Mate Granic, the former minister of foreign affairs, got 22 per cent of the vote, which is eight per cent less than his party - HDZ - scored at parliamentary elections. Granic is now resting from presidential campaign, aware that his voters will decide about the future Croatian president on 7th February, second round of elections. The president could still be Budisa, if HDZ voters support him. Since Mesic is more radical in his demands to clear up the exact role of HDZ in the past decade, it would be no surprise if HDZ members gave their votes to Budisa. And if Budisa wins, for which he has small chances, there will be an absurd situation in Croatia - left candidate will be elected thanks to the votes of the right.However, it is hard to believe in since disappointed HDZ voters will probably abstain from vote. Whatever the outcome, Croatia has passed a great exam. There will be no more grand and massive movements nor party monopolies in this country. There will be no more partiocracy in Croatia, not because the parties in power wouldn't want it, but because Croatian voters wouldn't accept it. Croatia has a chance to become democratic state where a citizen will become more ad more aware of his/her political role. After Tudjman, no-one will ever have bianco check of Croatian public. The public, all political parties and even the candidates themselves are unanimous that presidential powers need to be constitutionally decreased. With sustained euphoria and having the necessary time in mind - Croatian case may become a Balkan's road-sign.


By Peter Karaboev

"In this competition they were the contenders' Mercedes."
"They behave like an occupation corps."

You will hardly recognise what the competition was it for looking only on these opinions. But it's clear that it was for something REAL, something for MONEY and POWER. Well, it was for the first Bulgarian private TV channel. And the winner was - no surprise - Ruppert Murdoch.

It was almost 10 years after communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, when Bulgarian Government started the competition for a national private channel on 22 July last year. And after some problems, delays and scandals everything was finished early this year - the battle was won by "Balkan news corporation", a branch of Murdoch's global media empire. Up till this moment it's only a Bulgarian lawyer's office, representing Murdoch's interests. The real start on air is expected to be somewhere in early March 2000. The money his people promised to invest in Bulgaria in next 15 years are at least 45 million dollars. As last resort they promised 30% of their media to be Bulgarian owned. But what was the competition for? In late July 1999 the Government decided to offer for privatisation the second state-owned TV channel. The license is for duration of 15 years with annual tax of 212,400 DM plus 0,3% of channel's income. In addition the operator will have to pay 15,000 DM for using telecommunications air frequency.

There are 3 networks with national cover. The first state-owned TV channel uses 600 emitters and covers 95% of Bulgarian territory. The second state-owned TV channel - which was on the table for sale - uses 22 emitters, 588 re-translators and covers 83% of the territory. But the real cover is about 60% because of the poor state of the transmitters, some of them 20 years old. Third network is for the frequency of the former Soviet state TV, then for some years Russian ORT TV, which covers 30% of the territory, but now there is nothing on air in it.

All three are still state owned by Bulgarian Telecommunication Company (BTC) which is undergoing a painful privatisation. And even after the successful privatisation - maybe by OTE company from Greece and Dutch KPN - it will be allowed to keep the monopoly until the year 2003. So the new private TV operator will be forced to use this network and at the same time to build its own. The license in fact is in two parts - one for the program scheme and one for telecommunications - and will be under control of 2 state commissions. The curious moment in the procedure was that the final word belonged not to these commissions, but to special third one in the Government. And something more - there was not a tender but only a competition. Which means that there is always a risk decision to depend not on the biggest money offer, but on the biggest bribes, paid to the right people in these commissions. Even all this mess 19 companies were interested in competition's documentation, but 7 of them applied in the autumn - 3 Bulgarian local channels and 4 international.

The last were the real players and on 5 November 3 of them were allowed to continue at the next round. Number one was "Balkan news corporation", followed by Scandinavian EBS and Sweden's MTG. Some of the companies were from Greece, but they didn't have any chance because nobody was ready to let neighboring country to own both private TV and Bulgarian telecommunications. It's the Balkans, stupid!The last battle was in fact between BNC and EBS with too much money, interests and politics used as a war weapon. While BNC was considered to be a representative of American business world, EBS was European power, because it is a joint-venture between Scandinavian media group SBS and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

There were rumors going in Sofia that two - already former - deputy Prime Ministers are lobbying for BNC and EBS. And the paradox in the story is that the winner is American, but "his" deputy Prime Minister now is head of the Government team that will negotiate Bulgarian membership in EU. According to the member of the National TV and Radio Counsel (NTRC) - a body, made of representatives from the Parliament, President and Government - Murdoch's offer was almost perfect and covered 95% of their criteria. NTRC wanted first Bulgarian private TV to have news, analyses, culture, education and minority programs, to invest in local film industry, to have experience in TV business, to have "transparent" capital... BNC was the only from contenders to offer a project based on research and analysis of Bulgarian public, talk-shows fro students, social programs fro the family. plan for editorial independence and clear expectations and criteria for the journalists. In fact everything was only on paper, while some contenders - like famous Sofia TV Channel NovaTV - are from years on air. BNC don't have even it's own studio and the only professional TV studios are of Bulgarian National TV. But Murdoch will never be allowed there because it's a question of national security, people in BNTV say.

BNC promised to offer Bulgarian viewers 10% news - 10-15 minutes every 2 hours - they will be on specific topics: politics, business, culture - plus an evening magazine news show. 13% will be editorials and analysing programs, 15% education and science, 11% children's programs, 13% Bulgarian programs made outside the media. The original Bulgarian made production will be 32%, European made - 50%. There are expectations fro more sport, because Murdoch is famous with his British sport channels. The real start will be in March and in next 4 months step by step BNC will reach 18-hours program. After 3 years there must be a 24-hours program. It's expected that Murdoch will not try to invent something special for Bulgaria, but will try to make a mix-channel. He is owner of 28 satellite TV channels worldwide and everyone of them is specilised on something. So maybe in Bulgaria he will pick a piece of each of them and made a kind of puzzle-TV. Where all the money will come from? They say that there are about 50 million USD on Bulgarian advertising market and the trend is soon this sum to reach 65 mln. USD. TV channels are taking about half of it. BNC will bring new advertising companies to Bulgaria, but there is a limit here too.

According to the law license is for PUBLIC TV, not a COMMERCIAL, so the newborn TV will be allowed to air no more than 5 minutes ads per hour and 15 minutes per 24-hours period. Other problem is that the prices will go down - now in BNTV 30-seconds ad costs 11,100 DM (370 DM per second) from 20.00-22.00 in the evening and 12,600 DM (420 DM per second) on the weekend days. But Murdoch is a media giant and will find the money if he -as his people in Bulgaria declared recently - is making a first vanguard post in Bulgaria and this year will bring in Romania his crusade across Eastern Europe. As we are talking about a crusade, it's interesting to mention some of the names of his crusaders - or at least what Bulgarian press speculates. According to well informed Sofia weekly there was a stamp on Murdoch's project and there was a name - Strobe Talbot, the second man in State Department. Decisive support came from highest level - during the visit in November in Sofia of the President of the USA Bill Clinton.

So there was a little bit more politics in this decision. He is a huge investor - or at least he's promising to be. And to say NO to Murdoch's first venture in Eastern Europe means a bad signal for Bulgarians reputation in business world. To say NO to American will rise eyebrows in the USA, which now considers Bulgaria as one of its closest partners in the region. The other contenders are not lost - in few weeks will be announced a tender for a satellite and/or cable private TV in Bulgaria. so they will have their chance too. And the Government will have on his table Murdoch plus 2 more channels. But to have a "shark" as Murdoch under control you need to have a good deal with him. Just look who will work for him in Bulgaria and you will made your conclusions. BNK announced that it plans to start with 100 people staff and on a later stage will work with 300 people plus 40 people administration. Even there is still no official address to send applications and CVs for the job in the future TV, more than 1600 - from well known local TV journalists, cameramen and technicians - were sent to the lawyer, representing BNC in Bulgaria. There is still lack of official information, but the press speculates about mysterious "quotas" for the President's people, for Prime-Minister's people and for God knows who's people. Among the mentioned names are Nery Terzieva - chief of the President's press-office. Rumors are going that she has a direct contact with Murdoc's London office, which she denies. Former Government spokeswoman Stoyana Georgieva, which surprisingly resigned last year without any explanations is told to be the chief news editor in BNC channel.

Unconfirmed reports say that in this direction is going current chief of state Bulgarian Telegraph Agency Panayot Denev, a large part of Bulgarian section of Radio "Free Europe", substantial number of Sofia's cable operators... Murdoch's representatives explained that selection will be made by Bulgarian consultant and they will have the final word on the later stage. But the most sensational and scandalous shift was made by Mrs. Nelly Ognyanova - a forrmer member of National TV and Radio Counsel. She resined recently - shortly after decision in favour of BNC - without any explanation under heavy media pressure to answer what her motives are and is there something real in the rummors that she controls shares from BNC and will be member of its board of directors. Her former coleagues from National TV and Radio Counsel said that if she goes to Murdoch than at the time she didn't put all contenders at the same basis during the competition. She was the only person with two votes - as a member of NTRC and as a member of Government commission on private TV.

Ognyanova is considered as a good specialist on media laws, especially on electronic media, and a very close advisor of the Prime-Minister Kostov. So maybe this is the woman, who will control BNC from inside to be loyal to the Government. But anyone who knows Murdoch's media empire is well aware that everywhere he plays WITH the Government, never AGAINST it.


By Zoltan Mikes

The only one sector in which Slovak government was spared from criticism since the last election was the ministry of foreign affairs. This sector wasn't criticised for corruption and there were no problems with carrying out of the governmental goals. This ministry was the biggest proud of prime minister Dzurinda, who has never forgotten to show how popular Slovakia was abroad after he became the prime minister.

This haughtiness especially grew after the summit of European Union in Helsinki in December 1999. Slovakia was invited to the entry discussions into the union and the government of Mikulas Dzurinda announced the success as the result of his policy. Reaching this goal of his government was the reason to forget realism and political carefulness, so Dzurinda announced a new target. He said that Slovakia wants to open 15 chapters on the beginning of entry discussions with European union and wants to close all 30 chapters- which have to negotiate with Union before the entry- till the end of year 2003.

But the visit of the Chairman of European Commission Romano Prodi in Bratislava on Thursday (20.Jan) and of Gunter Verheugen, commissioner of European commission responsible for the opening of European Union to new members, was a great disappointment to Dzurinda's ambitious plans. Prodi announced that the EU wanted to open the negotiations with Slovakia on only 5 chapters and Verheugen added that the Union would not be able to open the wanted 15 chapters for as long as the end of year 2000.

The opposition media and some of the political analysts and journalists are now starting to think that the invitation of Slovakia was not so much the result of success of Dzurinda´s government but a tactical move of European Union, which wants to extend the entry discussions instead of intensifying them. As it is now, the goal of Slovak government to end the 30 chapters till the end of the year 2003 begin to look unrealistic. But prime minister Dzurinda, who wants to create a new political party (SDKU) with ministry of foreign affairs Eduard Kukan, doesn't need to have serious problems. The year 2003 is one year after the planned parliamentary elections in Slovakia- they should be held in 2002. During his period of being in power Dzurinda can proudly announce, how successful his government is in the process of integration into Europe. The people will believe him-they don't care about the foreign policy so much, they are interested more in the bad economical situation.