Issue No. 213 - March 3, 2001
Contents:

1. Central Asia: NEW THREATS TO PEACE
            By Arkady Dubnov

2. Macedonia: SCENT OF GUN POWDER
            By Zvezdan Georgievski

3. Bulgaria: LANDMARK PRIVATIZATION IN RUINS
           By Peter Karaboev

 4. Special addition: NEW AT TOL
 

 


Central Asia: NEW THREATS TO PEACE
    By Arkady Dubnov
   An article that appeared last week in the German newspaper
"Welt" has caused a big stir in Moscow.  It cites information from
the German BND intelligence agency that, in the spring of this
year, a very serious military conflict will be ignited in Central
Asia.  The Russian armed forces, "the power keeping order in the
region," will be forced to intervene in the conflict, German
intelligence warns.  They are forecasting new attacks by 2000 to
3000 Islamic extremists on Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The German experts think that Moscow is showing restraint for the
time being because its elite forces are engaged in Chechnya and
the forces stationed in Central Asia are insufficient to the task.
If a war involving Russia begins there in the summer, the battles
will be "very difficult," BND analysts warn, since it will be
necessary to wage the war in mountainous areas, which will require
lightly armed infantrymen without the support of armored vehicles.
The Islamists are already preparing arms and backup. In particular,
the demand for satellite telephones has sharply increased in the
region.
    Sources told "Welt" that the BND has passed this information
on to the German foreign ministry and that the topic was touched
upon during the recent visit of German foreign minister Joschki
Fischer to Moscow.  The German government is concerned about
developments in Central Asia because they affect that country as
well.  "Among other things, Central Asia is one of the centers of
the narcotics trade and, should the Islamists strengthen their
position there, an influx of drugs can be expected in Europe," the
article in "Welt" reads.
    It is obvious that these fears are not a surprise for the
Russian leadership.  The Russian and Tajikistani armies held joint
command staff training from February 15 to 20 in Tajikistan.  The
Russian 201st Machine Rifle division, stationed in Tajikistan,
took part.  At the training sessions, a scenario was played out
where "theoretical extremist groups attack military settlements
and garrisons both by land and by air."  The joint forces were
training to bring their preparedness up to the maximum level.
    The problem is that the Russian military might in Central Asia
remain only in Tajikistan.  It consists of about 27,000 men.  It
is highly unlikely that Uzbekistan, for instance, will ask the
Russian military to enter its territory to fend off the extremists
even if the need for it arises.  Since the moment it received its
independence, Tashkent has done all it could to prevent a Russian
military presence in the country.  That is a basic policy of
Uzbekistani president Islam Karimov and has already led to a
certain cooling of relations with Moscow.  Last year, when
Uzbekistan was again attacked by Islamic extremists coming out of
Tajikistan and Karimov was forced to appeal to Moscow for the military
and technical assistance, Moscow offered to do even more in the
effort, including dispatching a small contingent of soldiers.
Karimov refused.
    The main cause of the situation emerging in Central Asia today
is not Russia's inability to use the military methods to prevent such
development of events, but relations between the Central Asian
states themselves.  The main threat of Islamist attack issues from
the mountainous Tavildary district in Tajikistan, where the
well-fortified bases of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)
are located.  IMU rebels have been the cause of tension throughout
the region for the last three years. IMU was augmented by members
of the Unified Opposition of Tajikistan who refused to disarm
after peace talks in Tashkent resulting in most of them taking
positions in the government.  Both Uzbeks and Tajiks fought in the
Unified Opposition of Tajikistan then later turned their rifles on
the Karimov regime in Uzbekistan.  IMU leaders Juma Namangani and
Takhir Yuldashev claim that their goal is to form an Islamic
Caliphate in Central Asia to be made up by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan
and Tajikistan.  The main focus of attention is the fertile and
populous Fergan Valley, which is divided between all three
countries.  Fourteen million people, 20% of the entire population
of Central Asia lives in the Fergan Valley, including half of the
population of Kyrgyzstan, a third of that of Tajikistan and 27% of
that of Uzbekistan (8.3 million Uzbeks).
    To the consternation of the authorities, the idea of the
Caliphate enjoys immense popularity in Fergan Valley, where
traditional Islamic values are deeply rooted.  Since the downfall
of the USSR, poverty and unemployment have become a way of life in
the region, and concepts of Islamic justice have given rise to a
rapidly spreading urge for "holy Jihad." Simple military solutions
in such a situation may displace events, but not eliminate their
causes.  On the contrary, harsh measures by the authorities
against those who spread Islamic ideas only provoke opposition and
aid in the recruitment of new rebels.
    In addition, the abominable personal relationships between the
leaders of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan prevent them from
coordinating efforts against the threat of a new war.  In the
middle of February an expert session of the Shanghai Five (China,
Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, with Uzbekistan as
an observer) was held at the level of deputy foreign ministers and
special services.  When the Kyrgyzstani representative presented
intelligence data indicating that there are 2000 rebels on
Tajikistani territory ready to embark on new campaigns into
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the spring and that it was essential
to set up a Kyrgyzstani branch of the group's Antiterrorist
Center, the Tajikistani representative replied that he had data on
the location of their bases.  Moscow and Dushanbe refused
Bishkek's antiterrorist request, citing a "lack of the necessary
legal bases."
    The Kyrgyzstani armed forces had to turn to the United States
for assistance.  Military training began in the middle of February
as part of the NATO's Partnership for Peace-Balance Night program.
The goal of the program is to teach the Kyrgyzstani army
diversionary military tactics, such as the Afghanistani Mojahedi
and IMU use.  There are an unofficial reports that Turkish military
specialists with experience from the military operations against
Kurdish rebels in the mountainous conditions, are taking part as well.
    Nerves are further being rattled by the unusual level of
winter military activities in Afghanistan between the Taliban and
the Northern Alliance, headed by Ahmad shah Masud.  The Afghan war
can spill over into the CIS at any time and it is unclear which
Afghan groups have the greater interest in internationalizing the
war.
    Thus they will be fighting for more than just mountains in a
new war in Central Asia.

                        *  *  *

Macedonia: SCENT OF GUN POWDER
     By Zvezdan Georgievski
    "What are you looking for here when you know that this has been a
free territory for a month", said an unknown soldier in
undescribed military uniform at mid-February to a team of
journalists from independent television from Skopje in the
Macedonian village of Tanusevci, at the border between Macedonia
and Yugoslavia (that is Kosovo).
    The team was kidnapped and released after several hours, and
all equipment was confiscated, or to be more precise, stolen and
sent to Kosovo. The whole incident maybe wouldn't be worth
mentioning if it didn't discover that Macedonian-Yugoslav border
isn't as secure as the officials have been saying.
    Macedonian defense ministry reacted after the incident with a
statement acknowledging, among other things, that the same day
there have been armed incidents between Macedonian border police
and "Albanian terrorists".
    However, Macedonian defense minister Ljuben Paunovski tried to
explain that citizens can rest at ease since Macedonian army is
"completely controlling the border". Asked how was it possible
then for a team of journalists to be kidnapped in Macedonian
territory, Paunovski answered that they found themselves in the
village of Tanusevci, 100 meters before the border, "but that is a
populated place and border police cannot enter there".
    However, under the pressure of public, Macedonian president
Boris Trajkovski convened National Security Council which jointly
said that the situation was stable. Until the next day.
    According to an old custom, defense ministry came out late with
the information that by February 26. almost a real war was going on at
the border near Tanusevci village. But president Trajkovski wasn't
late and calmly addressed the nation, although nobody knew what
was the president quieting down when the situation was stable.
Only in the evening came the news that during that day there has
been a heavy armed conflict between Macedonian army and Albanian
"terrorists" which lasted two hours.
    Heavy equipment was brought to the border, and the army is in a
permanent state of readiness. Television Kosovo reported that
there had been seen a convoy of refugees from Tanusevci village
going to Kosovo.
    People could see cars, tractors and carriages loaded with
women, old men and children. They say that Macedonian police has
been terrorizing men in the village forcing them to stay. Contrary
to these statements, Macedonian media say that the police don't
have any control over this territory and that they are prohibited
to enter the village.
    What is encouraging in the whole situation is the statement of
otherwise bellicose vice-president of the leading party of
Macedonian Albanians DPA (Democratic Party of Albanians) Menduh
Taci. He said that Macedonian Albanians don't support whoever was
behind attacks in Tanusevci and that border attacks can be to
everyone's advantage but Albanians.
    Responsibility for attacks was taken upon by the so-called
National Liberating Army, an organization which first became known
last year in relation to several attacks on police stations in
western Macedonia, mostly populated by Albanians.
    The worst of these incidents was an attack on a police station
in the village of Tearce near Tetovo at the end of January. One
policeman was killed and three were critically wounded. Also,
several days later, deep in Macedonian territory, somebody fired
rockets at the train, fortunately without victims. This case is
still shrouded in mystery.
    Regarding local Albanians, the situation is rather relaxed.
The most debated inter-ethnic problem - issue of higher education
in Albanian language is finally getting over with. Already there
has been set a founding stone on the so-called Sthoel's university
(called by its creator Max van der Sthoel , OSCE high officer for
minority issues ). It is a private college that will educate its
pupils in Albanian. Also, the problem of the students that have
been enrolled in the so-called Tetovo University will be also
resolved. That illegal university is now called "civil initiative"
among government officials. Their degrees will be verified in two
remaining Macedonian universities with tests.
    Many of these students have already verified their degrees at
the Tirana University and, according to the agreement between the two
countries, Macedonia will have to recognize them as valid. Also,
Macedonian Albanians didn't have so much representatives at the
important political and public offices in Macedonia since the time
of communism.
    So, what could be the reason for support of Macedonian
Albanians to the radical methods of violence? Local analysts blame
transitional period with deep connections between ruling and
criminal structures. There is a lot of money, coming from
smuggling of drugs, arms, even slaves. So, attacks on police
stations and especially incidents at Macedonian-Kosovar border
that was poorly guarded to begin with can be explained as securing
of the profitable smuggling business masked with political
motives.
    On the other hand, some think it is the issue of Albanian
nationalism. Positions of radical Albanians in Kosovo are
permanently declining and as a result their positions in southern
Serbia and Macedonia are rising, which some say shouldn't be
underestimated.
    What to do next?
    International community was already alarmed, and according to
the local media, Macedonian government got full support in
resolving these issues, with NATO taking upon itself to increase
control of the Kosovar side of the border.
    Macedonian prime minister Ljupce Georgievski said that
Macedonian army will use arms to defend itself, never to attack.
At least not before all diplomatic methods to resolve this
conflict are exhausted. But there is a fear of what will happen
then.

                          *  *  *

 
Bulgaria: LANDMARK PRIVATIZATION IN RUINS
     By Peter Karaboev
    One of the landmark privatization deals in Bulgaria is ending
these days in ruins. Bulgaria's national carrier Balkan Airlines is
off-air for third week and there's no hope on a horizon that its
planes will fly soon. Or ever. How did it happen that just in about
18 months after the deal was signed Bulgaria is possibly facing a
case in the International Court of Arbitrary in Paris and a clime for
compensations amounting to $230 million (the real amount is about
400 mln USD)?
    It all started in mid-1990's when the tender for 75% of BA was
started. On 30 July 1999 deal was signed with Zeevi Holdings - a
company from Israel. Among the losers were Russians from Russian
aviation consortium and German citizen Ulrich Benteler. Both
offered more money and plans for modernization and renovation of
the airplanes. But the Government decided that BA should go to
Israelis at a price of 150 000 USD. It was a little strange to
sell national air carrier at a price of a luxury BMW car, but at
that time BA's debt was reaching 120 million USD. Zeevi promised
to invest at lest 30 million USD during the next 10 years and to
expand it to new destinations. Even at this moment in 1999 some
analysts warned that Bulgaria is going to loose money immediately
only because of the fact that the new majority owner is coming
from Israel while a lot of BA's destinations were to the Arab
world. And it happened just like that and the foreign ministry and the
Ministry of the Transport had to call their Arab counterparts
to open their skies for BA. At the same time there were warnings
that Zeevi will start to sell out BAís shares in SITA and part of
its buildings and hotels. And this happened this February and the
minority owner - again Bulgarian Government - had to stop it
because of illegal documents.
    The scandal broke out on February 12, 2000 when Zeevi said that
it will take Bulgaria to UN court in Paris claiming that the
Government didn't kept it's promise and didn't gave to Israelis
even 1 US dollar. Sofia reacted with the news that it will ask
local authorities to send BA into bankruptcy and will ask Attorney
General to investigate for deliberate bankruptcy. On February 14,
all BA flights stopped leaving for days hundreds of passengers
somewhere in no-man's land across Europe's airports. Than Bulstrad
- the insuring company and BA's biggest loan lender asked air
carrier to be declared in insolvency because of 5.5 mln. USD debt
to it.
    Somewhere at this point situation started to get out of
control. The CEO of BA - Zeevi Frank refused to leave the plane he
was coming with from Italy, for he was advised by his Bulgarian
lawyers not to step on Bulgarian soul because he might be
arrested. The authorities said this is non-sense but few days later
said that they have found some documents "falsified" by Mr. Frank
and confirmed that there is some reason for his arrest. It is
still not clear whether Zeevi asked UN court in Paris or it's
just a local French court. The reason for this guessing is that
Zeevi has to pay an opening tax of 6% on its claim which in this
case amounts to 14 million US dollars. The mess turned deeper when
last week Zeevi said who he hired as its representative to the UN
court. The name may have sounded like an earthquake in the Government
because it's Mr. Jacob Freedman- former Central banker of Israel
during 1991-2000 and at the moment one of the 4 most powerful men
in US bank Marill Lynch. It's hard to imagine that Zeevi will hire
so high positioned financier if itís not sure that it can take its
quarter a million dollars from Bulgaria. And why would this company
do it when Bulgaria is not obliged to recognize Paris courts decisions
even if they a coming from the UN court.
    But, then, who is standing behind the name of Zeevi Holdings?
The name of the man is Gad Zeevi, born in Israel in kibbutz of
Masada. Now he lives in the city of Hayfa. Gad Zeevi entered the
business world in 1960ís starting with infrastructure projects.
His company built a number of roads and military bases in Sinai
dessert after The Six-day war. His strongest years were 1970's
when he based his business in Kenya and made the President Daniel
Drdp Moi his business partner. Gad Zeevi's second coming was in
1990's when he returned to Israel and in 2000 he took over part of
the state-owned Telecom Bezeq.
    Daily "Maariv" is naming him "The Concern-man" with huge
business empire. He is alone cold-blooded wolf and according to
one businessmen you need first a good lawyer to make a deal with
Mr. Zeevi. But letís not forget that at the end of the day Mr.
Zeevi may turn right. His business interests are above all and
itís Bulgaria and its control authorities that were supposed to
look for the text of the BAís contract. The man who was leading in
1999 negotiations from Bulgarian side now is accused by some media
of accepting 10-20 million USD bribe. He is reported to be
somewhere in Africa leaving Bulgaria on its expired diplomatic
passport. Last week Bulgarian daily reported that Prime Minister
Ivan Kostov received letter from Zeevi with warning of coming
crisis on November 23, 2000 and the Government did nothing to
prevent it.
    On March 6, the BA will be declared in insolvency. Finance Minister
Muravey Radev promised to lend some 10 mln. USD to save remaining
4 planes and some destinations.
    And in this case it's well known who will pay the price -
Bulgarian taxpayers.

                                 *  *  *
 

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    OUR TAKE: In the Flesh
    For all the marvels of the technological age, Internet
publishing can at times be a lonely business. With a few
exceptions, the editors here at TOL communicate with our
correspondents through email alone--even the telephone has become
obsolete and expensive compared to the efficiency of computers.
Though we couldn't run the publication otherwise, the downside of
the tech age is that the day-to-day exchange of
information--pitching ideas, the back-and-forth of editing
articles, even our own internal office communications--resides
almost entirely on the computer screen.
    This past week, for the first time, nearly all--24 out of
26--of the TOL correspondents, or local correspondents, came
together in Prague for our first correspondent Summit: four days
of intensive journalism training provided by TOL staff and a
number of outside experts.
    The primary motivation behind the conference was less for us
to meet our correspondents than to give them the chance to meet
one another. Though a few of them have collaborated informally in
the past, we wanted to give them a forum not only to run through
formal workshop exercises but also to share information and build
friendships in the down time, so that our network of
correspondents can be strengthened in the future by mutual
exchange of information, perceptions, and ideas.
    The lectures and workshops ranged from the technical side of
Internet publishing to the techniques behind writing feature
articles to self-protection while working in conflict zones. But
nearly every topic gained new dimensions as the correspondents
demonstrated the incredible range of applications each subject had
across the region. Even a talk on the basics of the editorial
process moved from a standard-issue primer on responsible sourcing
to a discussion of the risks of publishing names in Central Asia,
where a story that  might be considered innocuous in Central
Europe could put the sources in jeopardy in their home country.
    During a session on ethical dilemmas in journalism,
correspondents were asked to share experiences when they had
personally faced a problem. Our Estonian correspondent recalled a
university professor who had told his class that anyone who
brought him a bottle of whiskey would pass the upcoming exam
without having to take it. Though our correspondent said he
worried about possibly failing the exam if he wrote an article
about the situation, he went ahead and published the story, and
the teacher was subsequently fired. "If I did such a thing in
Russia, I would be expelled and nothing would change in the
system," countered our correspondent from St. Petersburg. In the
same session, our Hungarian correspondent discussed the dilemma of
using stolen documents as sourcing for articles. Our Bosnia
correspondent talked about the self-censorship that many Bosnian
journalists face and their unwillingness to discuss how Sarajevo
is not, in fact, returning to its former multiethnic glory. And
our Nagorno-Karabakh correspondent told a story of a journalist in
her country who had been killed after publishing an article on
corruption among the local authorities--the paper was also shut
down.
    It is the juxtaposition of experiences such as those that
demonstrates that it can make sense to talk about Central Asia and
Central Europe in the same breath. Though the  issues facing
post-communist countries are essentially the same including
corruption, ethnic conflict of varying degrees, freedom of
information--they have taken divergent directions. Both the
successes and the failures can be instructive, as reminders that
the issues facing these countries are ongoing and long-term. After
hearing the perceptions of our journalists from across the region,
we hope that a correspondent writing about media freedom in, say,
the Czech Republic, will remember that the same issue's underbelly
in Tajikistan is not such a remote concept.
    For us as well, much of the real reward of the conference was
simply to see the region--which for us exists mostly as disparate
stories filed by people we'd never laid eyes on before--become
manifest in the people who live through the issues we discuss in
the editorial room, to hear how they think, to watch them process
the stories and viewpoints they received from their peers in
neighboring countries. And, perhaps more importantly, to see the
region as not so much a patchwork of diverse countries, but as a
whole--as an alive and dynamic area experiencing the same trends
and developments and facing the same challenges, but often at
different stages. The summit showed that the process of
post-communist transition can sometimes be a hard beast to define,
but a beast that can be tamed and, hopefully, understood.
    Transitions Online - Intelligent Eastern Europe Copyright:
Transitions Online 2001