Issue No. 163. - February 27, 2000.
1. Russia: PUTIN NEEDS AN ABSOLUTE VICTORY By Arkady Dubnov
2. Azerbaijan: PRIVATIZATION IN FRONT OF DILEMMA By Ali Masimov
3. Belarus: AWAITS HIRINGS AND FIRINGS By Pavlyuk Bykovsky
4. Albania: REGIONAL COOPERATION - ROAD TO EUROPE By
Russia : PUTIN NEEDS AN ABSOLUTE VICTORY
By Arkady Dubnov
The presidential elections that will take place in Russia in a month, on March 26, will not be marred by any intrigues. As a widespread joke in Moscow goes, Russians aren't choosing a president, they're choosing Putin. The pre-election rating of the temporary head of state remains unprecedentedly high at 59 percent. That is how many Russians would vote for him if "the elections were held today." That information was published on February 23 by the most authoritative sociological institute in Russia. Furthermore, turnout is expected to remain at its previous level of 61 percent of eligible voters.
On February 21, the Central Elections Commission registered 11 candidates for president. Thus, the elections formally offer alternatives. Following Putin in the ratings is Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of Russia with 18 percent. Then comes Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko movement, with three percent. Governor of Kemerovo Region Aman Tuleev is maintaining an equal rating. These four are veterans of previous presidential races. This is already the third run for Tuleev. The remaining candidates, well-known film director Stanislav Govorukhin (an associate of ex-premier Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov), Samara Region governor Konstantin Titov (one of the leaders of the Union of Right Forces, or URF), leader of the Civil Pride movement and only woman candidate Ella Pamfilova (former minister of social security in the right-liberal government of Yegor Gaidar), leader of the Spiritual Heritage movement Aleksei Podberezkin (a moderate commu , businessman Umar Jabrialov (a Chechen national, co-owner of Moscow's chic Radisson Slavyansky Hotel), scandalously dismissed Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov and former head of the Moscow division of the Federal Security Service Yevgeny Savostyanov (a first-draft Yeltsin "democrat"), can count on one percent of the vote at best.
Practically none of Putin's ten competitors especially hide the fact that they cannot expect victory and are pursuing their own aims--additional exposure ("Someone has to dilute that boy's vote," Ella Pamfilova says.) or, as is the case of ex-prosecutor Skuratov, a guarantee of safety. Unlike his 1996 run based on his opposition to Boris Yeltsin, the election campaign of communist leader Zyuganov is now sluggish and inarticulate. His old slogan "Bring the Yeltsin gang to trial" has lost its timeliness. Compared to the dynamic and smooth-talking Putin, Zyuganov looks like a superannuated and despondent Soviet-style propagandist. His electorate is aging rapidly and is unlikely to be replenished by the younger generation, least of all by those who came of age in the last 10-15 years. An old anecdote remains popular in reference to Zyuganov: "The top communist in Russia woke up from a terrible nightmare. He dreamed he became president..."
Many observed a month ago that Yabloko leader Yavlinsky could attract all of Russia's non-communist protest vote. That was after the scandal when three fractions, Fatherland--All Russia, URF and Yabloko, quit the Duma, the lower house of the parliament, in protest of the libertarian tactics of the majority, made up of the pro-Putin Unity bloc, the communists and the Zhirnovsky fraction. There was even talk of a realistsic alternative to Putin in an alliance between the centrists and rightists. However, business returned to usual quickly enough.
First, the rightists, headed by ex-premier Sergei Kirienko, received a definite sign of Putin's loyalty to them (the acting president stated that he supports the rights position that a referendum should be held on the introduction on the private ownership of land, stripping parliament members of their legal immunity, the establishment of a professional army and so on) and indicated that they would "conditionally" support Putin if he ad their economic program. The duplicity of the right's position become clear several days later when the political council of the URF passed a decision not to put forward its own candidate in the elections (this was after one of the co-chairmen of the URF, Konstantin Titov, had already entered the presidential race) and did not formally endorse anyone for the first round of elections on March 26. It turns out that the right was on the brink of schism, since some were for Putin and others for Titov. Therefore, it was decided that the vote would be a personal matter and not one of party discipline. Veteran presidential contender Vladimir Zhirnovsky was the subject of a curious dispute.
The Central Elections Commission refused to register him as a presidential candidate after discovering that he had not included a 38-square-meter Moscow apartment registered in the name of his son on the list of his property and that of his family members. A noisy scandal has ensued and Zhirnovsky filed an appeal in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, accusing Central Elections Commission head Vishnyakov of personal enmity toward him. However, many observers rightly saw a different reason for freezing the leader of the liberal democrats out of the elections. If Zhirnovsky's name is removed from the ballot, his supporters are likely to vote for Putin. That gives the latter hope of a decisive win in the first round, thus enabling him to declare a popular victory and devote no more attention to the opposition, a representative of which he would otherwise face in the second round. It should be ke mind that Vladimir Putin has already displayed his determination to further strengthen presidential power in Russia, but, to do so, he needs an absolute victory in the elections. Seeing the war in Chechnya, or "antiterrorist operation," as they call it in the Kremlin, to a victorious end would be enough to ensure his own victory. The generals recently announced that the "operation" will be concluded within a month, that is, in time for the first round of elections.
However, the Russian army has begun to suffer appreciable losses in Chechnya in the last several days, especially after military action shifted to the mountainous regions of Chechnya. Military losses, if he cannot hide them, could damage Putin's image enough to prevent him from winning in the first round. There is another aspect of the current pre-election situation that touches on the second Chechen war. It is striking that the awful story of Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky, who was taken captive by federal forces in the middle of January and then supposedly exchanged secretly for Russian soldiers being held hostage by Chechen rebels, has had practically no effect on the rating of the top man in the Kremlin. The deceit of the official propaganda, even compounded with the usual choas that characterizes relations between military and civil authority in Russia, has little effect on the average Russian. This is especially so since the authorities have had great success lately convincing the voters of the old thesis that "those who are not for us are against us." Freedom of speech remains a triumph of Russian democracy as long as it "freely" expresses the "correct" point of view.
Other views of what is happening in the country are classified as antigovernmental. The final touch was put on the pre-election picture on February 23, when Russia's first president gave a public evaluation of the situation for the first time in several weeks. Arriving in Moscow with his wife to congratulate Partriarch Aleksei II on his birthday, Boris Yeltsin stated, "Putin has chosen the right path, which had already been determined while I was in office, and he will follow it closely." That was followed by a rather mysterious pronouncement: "I support him and will support him until election day, and then we will work together." It is hard to say whether that means that Yeltsin is ready to return to politics. It may be just the latest improvisation in his typical style. Or it may not be--he may have aspsirations to the post of chairman of the united Russian-Belarussian state.
That is why, the majority of the privatized enterprises are not working. And only one of the each 8-10 working enterprises are able to give dividend worth to 20-30 thousand manat (5-7 USD-A.M.). Because of the unhealthy environment around the privatization formed by the government most of the citizens of the country could not participate in the privatization process and had to sell their vouchers in 10-100 USD intervals. At present, the privatization parts have gathered in the hands of the following physical and legal persons: - local physical and legal persons, who plans to participate in privatization; - groups preferring not to participate directly in privatization, but getting benefit in buying and selling of vouchers in black market; - foreign investors, who are planning to participate in privatization of strategic fields. 50-60 percent of privatization vouchers is in the hands of foreign investors, according to experts` evaluations. Foreign investors have spent 450-500 million dollars for buying privatization vouchers in Azerbaijan, according to information of various sources.
According to the current law, the date of usage of vouchers is finishing on August 15 of this year. In taking into consideration the fact that over 85 percent of vouchers given to the people have not been used in privatization process, yet, so the serious concern of foreign investors will strengthen around this issue. But the Azerbaijani government does not say anything yet on the basis of which principle will continue the privatization process. The foreign investors have gathered enough privatization vouchers for gaining the strategic fields of Azerbaijan. But delaying the privatization gives ground to say that the government officials are not willing to separate "grease pieces" of the state property with the foreigners in the second stage of privatization. At the same time, if privatization serves carrying out of secret goal, which characterized like "who is in power, the property is his too" in the second stage, too, the effectiveness of privatization will be lower than in the first stage. That is why, though the main socio-political forces of the country and majority of people are supporting reforms, they are dissatisfactory from the current results of privatization. It strongly blows on the perspectives of market reforms in Azerbaijan. An optimal way out of this situation is preparing and carrying out a new privatization program taking into consideration the interests of all layers of Azerbaijani population. The basic principle in that program must be solution of such problems like finding effective owners for enterprises during privatization of state property, effectively using of qualified managers, as well as attracting investments for re-establishing privatized enterprises. The privatization policy must be related with investment policy, as well as other directions of economic policy in the new program. There also must be used of methods of privatization taking into consideration the list of privatized enterprises, concrete status, degree of liquidity, field character, and others related with it in the program. For increasing the degree of liquidity of the privatized enterprises and attracting serious investors to this process, the problems on the debts of the owned enterprises should be resolved. For increasing the effectiveness of privatization, publicity must be provided in all the stages of that process.
Therefore, a change of the head of the administration does not automatically lead to the far-ranging personnel changes that the departure of a Russian prime minister causes. Nonetheless, the event gave i s to rumors to that effect. Ling's departure was predicted almost from the moment he took office on November 18, 1996, after the politically-motivated dismissal of prime minister Mikhail Chigir and the office ceased to be taken seriously. Rumor has it that Ling submitted his resignation at least three times but Lukashenko refused to accept it. On February 18, he accepted it. A source close to the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus told this "Express-Chronicle" correspondent that the prime minister was surprised that Lukashenko accepted his resignation. It may be suggested that Ling, long ago despairing of retirement and burdened by the toil of the official head of the administration with no real influence, used his resignation statements as an extreme measure to protect himself: after receiving his request to resign, Lukashenko softened his attitude toward him and even protected him from other aggressors.
On February 18, that strategy, if that is what it was, failed. The same week, the chairman of the board of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus, Pyotr Prokopovich, had a meeting with the head of state. The pretext for the February 14 audience was preparation for the visit of Russian Central Bank board chairman Viktor Gerashchenko, although officially the topic was a running account of "the realization in January of the current year of the Basic Directives of Financial and Credit Policy in 2000." But they say that Prokopovich did not limit himself to those issues and presented the head of state with some sort of analysis of missteps by members of the administration. The performance of the Belarussian administration has long been evaluated as only barely satisfactory and, while that assessment would hardly cause serious worry for the prime minister, it might be the last straw for Lukashenko. This week, the Internet agency Polit.Ru stated that, in the Belarussian administration, "the possibility not been ruled out that Belarussian specialists and entrepreneurs will be employed in the restoration of the economy Chechnya."
A final decision will be made on this issue during a visit to Minsk on February 26 by Nikolai Koshman, representative of the Russian government in Chechnya. A plan will be proposed to pay off Belarussian debts for energy by assisting in the restoration of the war-wrecked Chechen economy. Russia is particularly interested in Belarussian building material production enterprises and specialists in petroleum technology and gasoline refinement. This entails the establishment of enterprises and the dispatch of a Belarussian workforce to a "hot spot." Considering that the Belarussian constitution prohibits the participation of the Belarussian military in foreign wars, the use of civilians in this context has keen political significance, and it may be th ng decided to wash his hands of the affair and withdraw from the quandary.
However, the political meaning of Ling's resignation is merely conjectural
and based on indirect evidence, though nationalistically oriented Belarussian
politicians, even without the "Chechen motif," point out that Belarussian
Ling is being replaced by Russian Yermoshin, and see this fact as a tendency
of "Lukashenko's occupational administration." Yermoshin has lived in Belarus
for 35 years and may have developed considerable local patriotism in that
time span. There are a good number of Russians among Belarussian patriots,
ranging from Natalya Arsenyeva, composer of the national anthem, "Almighty
God," to Levon Borshchevsky, leader of the Belarussian People's Front.
The former head of the Minsk municipal administration is a Belarussian
citizen, which is, in contemporary circumstances, significant in and of
itself. Ivan Antonovich, former head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
of the Republic of Belarus, and the majority of current vice chairmen of
the Belarussian KGB retained their Russian citizenship when entering into
Belarussian state service.
This "Express-Chronicle" correspondent recorded the characterization of Yermoshin made by Lukashenko in January 1995
before his confirmation as chairman of the Minsk Municipal Executive Committee (MEC) by the Minsk City Council: "I ask you to support the candidacy for the position of chairman of the executive committee of the city of Minsk of Vladimir Vasilyevich Yermoshin, whom you all know and, according to my information, who enjoys respect among you.
"Yermoshin was born in 1942 and received degrees of higher education in 1964 and 1989. He began as a lathe operator and is now the first vice chairman of the city executive committee for construction and land use. "Honorable deputies! I again earnestly request you to support this candidacy because he is a pragmatic, practical person, a person who has worked alongside you many years."
This endorsement was not as straightforward as it may appear,
since this "practical person" had just been publicly
accused of economic crimes by subordinates of Lukashenko. "Before that meeting was held," recalls Yury Belenky, vice chairman of the Conservative Christian party, then a deputy in the Supreme Council and the Minsk City Council, "a commission headed by presidential assistant Viktor Kuchinsky was sent to the Minsk MEC by Lukashenko. The commission checked the work of the Committee, using methods that many of the Committee members, especially the women , found shocking. The inspectors literally dug through offices demanding documents. The commission worked in this manner for a month. Then one publication ("The People's Newspaper") published material detailing how, as a result of the inspection, serious abuses were uncovered, and the main lawbreaker was Yermoshin. His violations were on such a scale that he was threatened with eight years (in prison)."
Then the aforementioned city council meeting was held. Lukashenko recommended Yermoshin. A stir went through the hall
and shouts were heard objecting to the fact that he was a criminal and that, if he was not a criminal, Lukashenko owed him an
apology. Lukashenko replied that, if the deputies refused to approve Yermoshin, he would appoint a different municipal head
without asking for their approval. Furthermore, "You confirm him and I will apologize." However, the apology never came, which led Belenky to conclude that "Lukashenko places people on whom he has compromising information in leadership positions." At the session, after the deputies confirmed Yermoshin in the top position in the capital city, the Belarussian president became concerned over the completion of the formation of the executive "ranks" (in which the appointment of the chairman of the Minsk MEC was the final and most crucial step) and felt it necessary to give a summary of the results: "The process of e ishing a system of executive authority is coming to an end... Time will show what has gone on today and what final accomplishment it will lead to. Maybe God will grant that it will not lead to what some people would want in our republic. By confirming Comrade Yermoshin in the post of chairman of the Minsk MEC, you invest him at the same time with the full powers of proprietor and, if you like, leader of our city of Minsk. As President, I declare to you that, from now on, a
leader on such a scale will not be decorative figure..."
Lukashenko went on to acquaint the deputies with his philosophy of the
moment: "The chairman of an executive committee
at any level cannot be merely an administrator... He is also a political figure. He is appointed by the President so that the
policies of the President can be carried out in the duties entrusted to him, so that he can explain the specifics of those
policies to the people he works with and mobilize people to fulfill them."
For his part, Yermoshin has stated, "At the stage of reforming society, we cannot attain success without strengthening
executive authority. The more difficult it is for a society, the more necessary it is to unite and consolidate executive authority
so that it can work for the good of society."
Although those words were uttered on February 18, when he was appointed
acting prime minister, they would have been in place five years ago, when
he was confirmed as chairman of the Minsk MEC, and on March 14, when his
candidacy for prime minister will undoubtedly be confirmed by the Chamber
No one is sure yet of what to expect from Yermoshin's appointment as head of the Belarussian administration. He is
considered an effective and rather independent administrator, but it is unclear how he will be able to exploit those qualities in
his new post. He lacks an economic education, but it can be noted that his predecessor Ling was self-taught in this field and
studied it only after his appointment as minister of economics. It is true, however, that that was five years before his assumption
of the premiership.
It is possible to predict from the formal indicators of education and past experience that the replacement of the agrarian
Ling with Yermoshin, once second in command at Minsk civil aviation plant no. 407, will mean a return of the influence of the
industrial lobby, as during the premiership of Vyacheslav Kebich.However, this does not take into account of the fact that the
agrarian Lukashenko hold the even higher position of head of state and that the post of prime minister has far less real significance than its official description.
Yermoshin's appointment may be due to his relative distance from both lobbies and have real political significance.
Parliamentary elections are planned for this fall and a presidential election is supposed to take pace next year. Both of
these events demand a great amount of energy and attention from Lukashenko., and this may be the reason for the selection of the apolitical Yermoshin as head administrator of the country.
Some unions are established not out of love but only for the division of responsibilities between the spouses. If this is one
such union, it may indicate that Lukashenko is tired of exclusive personal authority. The very fact of the appointment of a
regional leader indicates a lack of candidates from the ranks of central authority.
Alabnia : REGIONAL COOPERATION - ROAD TO EUROPE
By Slobodan Rackovic
When, last October, another change was made at the head of Albanian
government, not many in the world, even Albania itself,
greeted thirty-year-old prime minister Ilir Meta with optimism. Not only because of his inexperience with affairs of the state
(Meta is the youngest prime minister in Albanian history), but also because of an absurd political situation in the country. Top
of the ruling Socialist party had disbanded its own government and revoked from office its prime minister Pandeli Majka, who remained in his position for only a year. The absurdity of the situation is reflected in the fact that the new prime minister Pandeli Majka is not only not the president of the ruling party, but is not even rated among high-ranking party officials, which means he has less political power than usual for a prime minister.
However, Meta is far more liked by the all-mighty president of Socialist party Fatos Nano than his predecessor. In such a way, the new prime minister is compensated for formal lack of political power. Also, western countries welcomed his coming to position of prime minister, not only because he is pro-western oriented, but also because Meta is considered to be more pragmatic and practical than his predecessor. On the wings of such support and having in mind that hastiness of his numerous antecedents produced nothing but counter-effects thus causing disappointment in Albania as well as abroad, prime minister Meta turned on to slowly, but firmly, step-by-step solve crucial Albanian problems. Along the way Meta is trying hard to evade radical moves which promptly created him a good image in government as well as in opposition. Although under aegis of Fatos Nano, whose intolerance towards opposition leader and former Albanian president Sali Berisha has been proverbial,
Meta succeeded in warming relationship between government and opposition that has been out of parliament since autumn 1998, when Azem Hajdari, one of top official of opposition Democratic party was murdered.
Meta is trying to return all opposition parties to parliament; not,
as he said, because of his personal beliefs, but because of
peace in the country. Now there is no major impediments in the dialogue with influential Berisha, who was re-elected for
president of Democratic party last autumn. The dialogue positively reflected in increased political and security stability in
Albania. There are no frightening news from "eagle country" about frequent political assassinations, rallies and rebellion, as could have often be heard in the period of 1997-end of 1999. Frequent demonstrations organised by opposition supporters on Skenderbeg Square in Tirana are now increasingly rare, and relative calm settled even in the north of Albania and the city of Skadar, traditional strongholds of Sali Berisha.
Relative political stability, which will be total only when opposition
parties accept their part of responsibility in
governing the country, influenced positively security situation in Albania. The crime rate has declined, especially armed robberies and assaults on state and private property. That trend is influenced by the fact that there is less and less weapons stolen during rebellions of spring 1997. It is not due to state being successful in taking it from its citizens, but because a large
part of it has ended up in Kosovo or has been sold for bargain prices in Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece and Italy. Smuggling,
illegal traffic of oil, cigarettes, drugs, arms and emigrants, as well as prostitution, has been either only slightly decreased or
spilt over to Kosovo, an El Dorado for all criminal activities. In the harbours of Durres and Vlora large mafia bands have been
eliminated, although there are frequent news of business scandals, often involving international peace contingent soldiers, coming
from these ports. The recent scandal concerned misuse of humanitarian aid from international action "Rainbow". It was
discovered that some members of Italian forces located in Durres and Vlora made a huge profit. Due to decrease of hard crimes in the country, Tirana government made capital punishment obsolete two months ago. Albanians now eagerly await the effects of such action. While some analysts fear that cancelling death penalty could encourage criminals to restart their crimes, government claims that democratic atmosphere in the country, rather than draconian measures, serves to decrease gravest crimes.
The new Tirana government, embodied in head of state Rexhep Mejdani, a proven democrat and cosmopolite, and new prime minister Ilir Meta, is trying to improve relations with Albanian neighbours, close and far, more than any other government before it. The new course has already produced some good effects not only for situation in Albania, but also for the whole unstable region. With exception of Serbia, with which official Tirana has very tense relations (witnessed by the fact that Albanian socialists didn't go to Belgrade to a recent congress of their colleagues from Serbian Socialist Party), during past few months Albania strengthened its relations with all other countries in the region. Ilir Meta recently met Macedonian prime minister Ljupce Georgievski and Montenegrin prime minister Filip Vujanovic in Ohrid, where he and his colleagues agreed many actions which serve to promote co-operation and good relations between countries in this part of Balkans. The results have already n to show: on the 24th of February, Montenegrin - Albanian border, closed for three years) was re-opened, despite criticism from Belgrade. Also, Macedonian authorities allowed opening of Albanian faculty in Tetovo. The three countries annulled need for visas among them, and in the course of next days and months an intensive co-operation in the fields of traffic and energy systems, agriculture, trade and other economic spheres is expected. Also, Tirana and Athens cancelled many barriers that stood in the way of better neighbourly relations, especially position of Albanian immigrants in Greece as well as large Greek community on the south of Albania. Tirana significantly increased its diplomatic activity also in the wider region of Balkans, especially via Pact for stability, of which Albania is a member. It has created Albania an image of open and peaceful country and is a difference from recent times when Albania was treated as a destabilising factor in this part of south-eastern Europe.
This policy has yielded economic aid since international community and neighbouring countries (especially Italy) now more
easily decide to invest into specific projects in Albania. Macedonia is now seriously thinking about finally starting to realise its long-time dream - highway to Dress port; Montenegro will help Albania to reconstruct railway Skadar-Podgorica, the
only traffic route connecting "eagle country" with Europe, while Greece also considers building modern highways to connect it with Greek northern neighbour. "Albania will never again be an isolated country. Now it seems to us that we have more friends than ever before" - told us deputy minister of foreign affairs Pelumb Gjufi in Skadar, at the ceremony of signing agreement with Montenegrin delegation about re-opening of Montenegrin-Albanian border and revoking need for visas between two countries.
It is obvious that some new, better, winds are starting to blow from Tirana. The huge credit for it is, without any doubt,
given to current Albanian prime minister Ilir Meta and his government. Effects of his four-months old government is well-felt
at domestic political level and its position in the world community, and soon so longed-for foreign investments will start
arriving in Albania, improving its economy and standard of living. Europe stepped into Albania, but it also seems that Albania is now stepping into Europe with its both feet.