Issue No. 224 - May 29, 2001

           By Zvezdan Georgievski

          By Peter Mikes

         By Stojan Obradovic
4. Special addition: NEW AT TOL

     An Interview with Kim Mehmeti
     By Zvezdan Georgievski
    Macedonian Albanian, Kim Mehmeti is a well-known writer, poet,
journalist and translator. He is a director of the Center for
Multicultural understanding and cooperation that has been
systematically working on development of multiethnic and civil
society in a complex Macedonian situation, gathering both
Albanians and Macedonians for its program.
    Q: What are the sources of current Macedonian crisis?
    A:  First I must admit that I could never envision the war in
Macedonia. But I have publicly warned that there could be
radicalization of tensions between the two nations. I think that
only political idiots and amateurs could hope that the road taken
by Macedonia would lead to inter-ethnic tolerance and civil
society. Since Macedonian independence, there was a huge and
dangerous conflict every year. Macedonia talked to its Albanian
minority with police force. If you beat up ten or hundred Albanian
citizen every year, if you lock up and humiliate young people, if
you make them believe they cannot gain or solve anything with the
usual methods, isn't it then normal to expect that there will be
more and more of those who will want to have the revenge for the
injustice made to them? If Macedonian police enters Albanian homes
without a court warrant, without witnesses, isn't it normal that
the aversion of citizens towards such police is going to rise on
an every day basis. If you build government institutions dominated
by members of Macedonian nations, it shouldn't come as a surprise
that Macedonian Albanians don't see them as common to both
nations. So, if anything of what I said is true, what political
idiot could have counted that multi-ethnic society could be built
in that manner. Can such society be built by special police and
army units composed of only one nation? Can one build such a
society when there are five Albanian ministers, but only at the
top government level, while there are almost no Albanians in the
state administration? That is the key of the problem. Of course,
I don't think that is reason enough to take up weapons, but one
must have in mind that today's youth isn't used to wait for better
tomorrow but want to live in dignity today.
    Q: Contrary to statements of Albanian parties' representatives
that causes of conflict lie within displeasure of Macedonian
Albanians with their status, Macedonian prime minister Ljepce
Georgievski proposes the theory which claims that Albanians wage
war for new territories and that the aggression comes from Kosovo?
    A: It is only tragical that our statesmen downgrade difficult
situation and in fact a war situation Macedonia is in to a simple
matter of terminology. One shouldn't be especially intelligent to
conclude why Macedonian politicians insist on proclaiming
Albanians terrorists. We all know that western world is without
mercy when it comes to terrorism and that any method is allowed to
fight it. However, Macedonia could see that terminology return to
it as a boomerang. If the situation worsens with more and more
young people going to the mountains, will all Albanians become
terrorists then?
      Similarly, it is easy to see why Macedonian authorities
insist that the aggression comes from Kosovo - only war against
aggressor allows use of all military and police potentials and
measures. And I claim that this isn't an aggression from Kosovo and
there are no terrorists. I know that among armed Albanians there
are some volunteers from Kosovo and probably some other areas
where Albanians live, but I have solid information that the core
of the rebellion is made out of original Macedonian Albanians.
According to my sources, leaders of Macedonian KLA want the same
as Albanian political parties in Macedonia - equality of Albanians
with ethnic Macedonians and they claim they were forced to take
the weapons because Macedonian politicians have been ignoring
Albanian requests for ten years.
    Could someone have prevented all of this? Of course, but now
it's too late to feel sorry about it. One should concentrate on
how to find the easiest way out of this situation. Throughout the
history, Macedonians and Albanians never waged war on each other.
Even today's Albanian rebellion isn't a rebellion against ethnic
Macedonians but against a certain government and certain regime
that makes them feel as second-rate citizens.
    Q: Leader of the most popular Albanian party in Macedonia,
Democratic Albanian Party, Arben Xhaferi and leader of Macedonian
ruling party VMRO DPNE, prime minister Ljepco Georgievski had a
relatively satisfying cooperation and claimed there was no reason
for inter-ethnic clashes. How do you comment it?
    A: Elated by their good business cooperation, Xhaferi and
Georgievski thought that finally also Albanians and Macedonians
were happy like they, who almost became brothers. They forgot that
cooperation between politicians doesn't necessarily mean
cooperation among ordinary citizens who have nothing from luxury,
privileges and corruption of the power. Ordinary citizens couldn't
enjoy the benefits of "10 percent out of every passing truck"
system and similar businesses. I have said already long ago that
Macedonia only succeeds in building multi-ethnic contraband
business that reached its all-time high when Georgievski and
Xhaferi came to power. I even publicly said that some Macedonian
political elite don't want to solve problems between nations
because Albanian discontent carries political points with it. That
is why today Albanians don't even believe their own political
parties. Especially now when it is drastically evident that those
parties are only political ornaments that have no power whatsoever
when it comes to deciding which Albanian village will be shelled
and how Albanian police will treat local population.
    Q: How much do the current events remind you of already seen
war scenarios in other parts of the former Yugoslavia?
    A: Unfortunately, much. I have already warned that there are
many similarities in Albanian events with break apart of the former
Yugoslavia when police and army became protectors of only one
nation - Serbian and when others had to organize their defense. At
this moment there is an ongoing process of general radicalization,
of lack of respect for political parties and general
militarization of the society. Stories about Albanian "deserters"
and Macedonian "volunteers" began to circulate. So the front-line
is becoming clear now: Macedonians are protectors of the state
while Albanians are its "natural" enemies.
    Q: To what extent can the situation with Macedonian Albanians
be compared to what happened in Kosovo during Milosevic's regime?
    A: Macedonian Albanians have never been in so tragic situation
as Kosovar Albanians during Milosevic's regime. However, tragedy
is proportional to what you're comparing it. Position of
Macedonian Albanians could be taken as a positive example before
NATO air strikes against FRY, compared to the situation in Kosovo.
However, now when Milosevic's regime isn't the basis for
comparison anymore, you immediately have  a new scale. Macedonian
Albanians are now becoming an example of the worst-treated nation
in any of the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Just for
comparison, Serbia that without Kosovo has only a small percentage
of Albanians accepted multi-ethnic police forces in the south (in
Presevo valley) and in Macedonia with the total of 30 per cent
Albanians you have almost no Albanian policemen, not even in the
places where Albanians form a 100 percent majority. Is it the
model of multi-ethnicity to be accepted by Albanians?
    Q: Does the new government of political unity has the
necessary authority to change constitution which is considered to
be an important condition for putting an end to current
    A: Unfortunately, I fear that the present politicians don't
have the necessary credibility and skill to solve the problem. Do
you know what makes me laugh during these dramatic days when all
looks so bleak: when I hear Macedonian president Boris Trajkovski
claiming that he will strive for fair and democratic elections.
That comes from the man everybody knows came into office because
Macedonian Albanians boycotted presidential elections. Afterwards,
their leaders supported now president Trajkovski. Most part of the
current political elite don't have enough credibility to support
interest of Macedonian citizens. I cannot believe that people who
are responsible for this chaotic state can find the way out. We
need solutions that will leave most people happy, solutions which
will be still valid after 100 years. If we had serious
politicians, they could find the solutions and this precipitation
into abyss would be stopped. But our politicians and wide
coalition government care more, even in this situation, how to
divide offices than how to save human lives.
    Q: How can change of constitution lead to solution or at least
a productive dialogue in finding that solution?
    A: I belong to those who have been warning for ten years that
Macedonian constitution is the generator of the crisis. How can you
build a civil society on the basis of a constitution which claims
that Macedonia is the country of ethnic Macedonians? That
constitution was rejected by 30 per cent of the Macedonian
citizens (ethnic Albanians). How to proceed in such manner towards
stabilization and normalization of the society and state? Until
the constitution is changed, we will remain prisoners of our
    Q: Are you scared of an option which favors a decisive, quick
and efficient military action and can it bring a solution?
    A: I haven't yet heard of a military that defeated a guerilla
supported by its people. For me, the so-called military solution
is crazy and horrible. With every new shell, with ever new victim
both sides become more deeply entrenched, hate grows as well as
the prejudices that the two nations cannot live together. I
think Macedonian enemies are all those who advocate military
solution. We are two entities that can wage war on each other for
the next hundred years with the disappearance of Macedonia as a
result of it.
    Q: The international community supports Macedonian sovereignty
and integrity, but insists on a dialogue. Is such behavior of the
international community which seems reluctant to undertake strong
measures also an encouragement to the extremists?
    A: It is not an encouragement of the extremists but
encouragement of the conscience that Macedonia isn't the country
of only one entity and that it has to find solutions acceptable to
everyone. The international community can condemn Albanian rebels,
but it cannot advise Macedonian Albanians to accept the current state
of their discrimination. So, the international community can condemn
Albanians that took weapons, but cannot condemn whole Albanian
nation in Macedonia that has been persuading Macedonian government
for ten years that every patience comes to an end. Our further
behavior depends upon whether we understand that the world
doesn't recommend weapons as means for solution of political
problems, but also there is no time for us to accept years of
advice on how to furnish our mutual home.
    A: You and several of your colleagues have recently said to
Macedonian public that you will in future use only your mother
Albanian tongue for public communication. It is certainly a kind
of protest, but do you, as an intellectual, think such protest is
necessary at this moment?
    Q: My attitude towards the language of ethnic Macedonian
citizens is best illustrated by the fact that I am a bi-lingual
writer and that all my books have also been published in
Macedonian. For years I have been struggling to prove than in
multi-ethnic state the principle of domination of one nation
cannot function, not even in the matters of language. And today,
when all this is happening, I feel cheated and defeated.
    Our protest means that we are no longer ready to appear in
public if there is no translation for our mother tongue and is
addressed to those who find translators for anything and anybody
coming from the world, but it insults them if they come across the
demands of Albanian Macedonian who can more easily express his
feelings in his mother tongue.
    So such my attitude is the result of the feeling that somebody
whose language I respect underestimated my own. Such attitude also
comes because Macedonian media have been calling us asking to make
our stand as Albanian intellectuals. Meanwhile, I have written
numerous articles and gave numerous interviews in Albanian. How
can one who doesn't read Albanian dare to misinform the public
about the so-called silence of Albanian intellectuals in
Macedonia? If a colleague of mine wants to judge me, he should
learn my language and follow my work. I don't want anything I
wouldn't be prepared to offer to others: when I address Macedonian
public I do it in Macedonian, when I address Albanian citizens I
do it in my mother tongue.

                          * * *

     By Peter Mikes
    The situation in the Slovak governmental coalition can be
characterized only as unstable- after the news during last ten
days one has to speak about the governmental crisis or the mortal
fight inside the governmental coalition.
    In the the first round of this fight which can be
characterized as the fight of prime minister Dzurinda against all
the others was the person of vice prime minister Ivan Miklos. The
opposition called for the resignation of Miklos, who is in favor
of EU and NATO countries as the guarantees of pro western
direction of Slovakia. Miklos survived the vote of parliament but
was not supported by the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) and
the Party of Democratical Left (SDL), both leftist parties of
governmental coalition. These parties did not vote on the special
session of the parliament in this case.
    The real reason of the second case causing instability is an
old problem- the tension between the former leader of the
Christian Democratic Party (KDH) Jan Carnogursky and the Slovak
prime minister Mikulas Dzurinda. The concrete step, which caused
the recent fight is the decision of Dzurinda to call for the
resignation of ministry of the interior Ladislav Pittner. After
Pittner on May 14 resigned, Dzurinda named Van Smirk a member
of "his" SDK for ministry of interior- but without consulting his
nomination with the other coalition parties.
    KDH as a party of governmental coalition protested.
According to the coalition agreement, ministry of the interior
"belongs" to KDH. Pittner, after nominated by KDH changed to
Dzurinda' s SDKU. But Dzurinda, alone a former member of KDH never
trusted Pittner, who was one times the closest ally of
Carnogursky. After Pittner's resignation it is not clear who has
the right to name the ministry of the interior. Carnogursky says
that right belongs to KDH, Dzurinda thinks that after Pittner
changed its political dress this ministry belongs to SDKU. KDH
announced that by approving of Simko it is not sure, that member
of KDH in the parliament will vote for him. How will vote the
other parties of governmental coalition is as so far not clear.
    The both cases- the nomination of Simko and call for the
resignation of Miklos are  signals of  a very hard fight inside
the coalition . It is possible that in short time run they will
strengthen the position of prime minister Dzurinda- his
competitors in the governmental coalition know, that they could
stay outside of the parliament in the case of the fall of the
government and new elections. The problem is, that in a long run,
after this way of political "work" of Dzurinda there will be
after next elections in 2002 no "new" party (neither the
Direction of Robert Fico nor the ANO of  Pavol Rusko) who would
like to be with him in coalition. And Dzurinda politically really
destroyed all his competitors in the recent coalition-  so it is
not clear who will enter into a coalition with him after next
elections. Dzurinda's position could be very similar to the
position of Meciar- he will have a strong party, but without

                          *  *  *

     Interview with Javier de Cespedes
     By Stojan Obradovic
    Javier de Cespedes  is co - founder and current President of
Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Directorate ( DIRECTORIO).
    The DIRECTORIO is an organization founded in 1990 by workers,
college students, and professional executives who have forged
together a strategy for the liberation of Cuba from the
totalitarian dictatorship, and for the establishment of a
Democratic Republic in Cuba. In carrying out its strategy the
DIRECTORIO extends multi-faceted support to many organizations of
the internal democratic opposition, and it has established
alliances with pro-democracy organizations and individuals
throughout Europe and Latin America who have organized permanent
committees of active solidarity with the internal democratic
opposition in Cuba.
    NIJ ran an interview with Cespedes a year ago and this new
situation is an opportunity for new insight.
    Q. Is resistance to Castro's regime rising?
    A: Yes, in number of actions, geographically, in the diversity
of the institutions being formed by the internal opposition, and
also in the number of people participating in the resistance
activities. The number of actions has grown geometrically since
1997 when we first published "Steps to Freedom," a report that
tracks the actions of the internal opposition in Cuba. In 1997
there were 44 actions reported, 100 in 1998, 233 in 1999 and in
2000 the actions had doubled once more to 444. Geographically the
actions now have spread to all provinces of Cuba, which is a major
feat of the opposition because in the provinces the repression is
much greater as they are more isolated. The opposition is also
growing in the variety of institutions that conform it such as
independent farms, independent libraries, professional independent
associations of economists, lawyers, ecologists, small unions,
youth organizations, independent journalists, and others.
     Q. What are the most important actions carried out by Cuban
groups resisting Castro's dictatorship?
     A.There are three types of actions that we have documented.
Protest actions in which the opposition makes their message known
such as in hunger strikes, Intervention actions such as sit-ins
outside political prisons and the creation of new independent
institutions (independent farms, independent activist think tanks,
for example) where the opposition takes direct action to solve a
particular problem caused by the Dictatorship, and non-cooperation
actions which marks a higher stage of action in which the
individuals break off the links with the control instruments of
the Dictatorship such as resigning from the Dictatorship
Hallucinary groups (the communist youth, party, etc). In the year
2000 there were 254 protest actions, 168 intervention actions and
22 non-cooperation actions. This clearly shows that the internal
movement is still mostly in the protest stage, but moving towards
other types of actions.
    Q: Is Castro's regime increasing its repression against
dissidents? What is currently happening in the human rights field?
Is there any progress? Do protests against Castro's totalitarian
regime give any results, at least to soften repression and improve
prison conditions?
    A: The repression has increased tremendously in the last 2
years. When the world was focused on the Elian saga in South
Florida, the Dictator in Cuba launched the harshest wave of
repression of the last 10 years. The repression has passed from a
police type repression where the dissidents were dealt like common
criminals to a military type centralized repression. The
repressive offensive even has an ironic name "The Battle of Ideas,"
and the Dictatorship for the first time in 40 years is teaching
the officers in charge of repression that the consolidation of the
Dictatorship did not come from a struggle against the rich
imperialists but actually after a 10 year struggle against the
poor Cuban peasants of the Escambray mountains who fought without
any international support against the Dictatorship and the Soviet
Union. So the focus of this is that they are now facing another
internal challenge and that in order for the Dictatorship to
continue to exist they must annihilate this new opposition. The
difference today is that this growing internal opposition is also
attracting growing international support, and this support makes
it very difficult for the Dictatorship to commit human rights
violations in secret. International protests and publications have
a tremendous impact inside of Cuba. I would want people to know
that international protests, some of which people may consider
insignificant are very significant for the political prisoners in
Cuba. International solidarity is a matter of life or death as in
the example of the political prisoners Damaso Aquino del Pino and
Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez." The Dictatorship refused to
grant medical attention to both. Damaso is dead and Jorge Luis
still alive. The difference was the international pressure, I am
sure that if the case of Damaso had been taken by just one
international organization of say Croatia, Slovenia, or another
country in Eastern Europe he would still be alive. This is why it
is so important that organizations around the world link themselves
with the families of the political prisoners and organizations
inside of Cuba, and part of our work is to make those links
    Q. What is the economic situation in Cuba?
    A: An immense ocean of profound poverty with tiny drops of
great luxury. The Dictatorship spends a tremendous amount of money
in not allowing the Cuban people to produce. Cuban prisons are
full of entrepreneurs, those which are allowed to function are
severely limited, overtaxed, and bribed constantly. The
Dictatorship has installed a cruel apartheid economic system where
non-cubans have more rights than Cubans. For example, non-cubans
can create and own a business in Cuba, but Cubans are punished
with prison if they try. The Police in Cuba is not seeking to
uncover the hundreds millions of dollars that the Dictator himself
steals but rather in arresting a man like Oscar Biscet because he
was standing on a corner with a sign opposing the death penalty.
The Dictatorship does not want to improve the economy of the Cuban
people. It is only interested in improving its flow of american
dollars to maintain the repressive apparatus. So the economic
situation of Cuba is that which results from a Dictatorship that
seeks loans and credits from other countries like a prostitute to
finance all kinds of human rights violations.
    Q. Do you know if anti-Castro sentiment is growing within the
power structures themselves? Are there different fractions in the
government? Are there groups that would be ready for some kind of
transitional compromise or nothing is possible to change while
Castro lives?
    A: Change in Cuba will never come from the Dictator. The
Dictator will only make cosmetic changes with the only purpose of
staying in power. There are definitely reformers within the
Communist Party structures but they are unable to be visible at
this moment because they would immediately be purged out. They
need the opposition to grow stronger because the stronger the
opposition becomes the stronger they become within the Party and
military structures. Discontent is now becoming more visible among
movie actors, singers and other performers who are complaining
openly about the "unfair system." I believe there are groups
within the system ready and wishing a change and reconciliation,
and I believe that they will become more visible as the opposition
and the international support for the opposition grows. Change in
Cuba does not depend on the Dictator but in the internal opposition and
the growing international support it is attracting. The democratic
institutions that the internal opposition is creating are the
foundation for the coming democratic republic. The more they are
supported and they grow, the closer Cuba is to having a democratic
republic and joining the free nations of the world.
    Q. How can organizations in Eastern Europe contact
organizations in Cuba?
    A: We are linking up individuals and organizations of Eastern
Europe with organizations and families of political prisoners.
They can contact us by email at

                     *  *  *

 Special addition: NEW AT TOL                 May 28, 2001
    - - - TOL launches the Balkan Reconstruction Report (BRR) - - -
    As part of TOL's ongoing efforts to bring its general and
expert readers the type of coverage not found in the mainstream
media, we are proud to announce the launch of a new subsite, the
Balkan Reconstruction Report (BRR). With breaking news, in-depth
analysis, colorful and insightful human-interest features, local
press reviews, profiles of key officials and decision-makers, and
more, the BRR will approach the Balkan societies in their entirety
and not just focus on the crisis of the day. The BRR will also be
the place to turn to monitor promises and reality concerning
international aid flowing to the region. Visit the pilot issue of
the BRR at .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
      --- WEEK IN REVIEW ---
      Desperateville, Georgia
      An attempted coup d'etat turns out to be the military's cry
for attention amid the country's social malaise.
      by Dima Bit-Suleiman
      Kuchma's Man
      The Ukrainian president nominates a loyalist for the vacant
prime ministerial position.
      by Oleg Varfolomeyev
      Praise for a Strongman
      Polish parliamentarian makes waves at home after commending
Belarus' Lukashenka.
      by Wojtek Kosc and Alex Znatkevich
      Nobody Wants To Be An Informer
      The first Bulgarian astronaut, Georgi Ivanov, is among 129
former and current parliamentarians who collaborated with
communist state security services.
      by Polia Alexandrova
      Re-Establishing Severed Ties
      Yugoslavia and Bosnia pledge closer economic cooperation and
easier border-crossing procedures for all their citizens.
      by Dragan Stojkovic
      Police Accuse Milosevic of Destroying War Crimes Evidence
      Diamonds To Fund Siberian Flood Clear-Up
      Yugoslav Forces Regain Control of the Kosovo-Serbia Border
      Bucharest Hosts Human Trafficking and Immigration Conference
      Former Yugoslav Successor States Agree on Further Property
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
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    --- OUR TAKE: No Candles, Only Fireworks ---
    On the eve of the 10th anniversary of Georgian independence, a
military rebellion highlights some painful truths.
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    --- BELARUS SPECIAL REPORT: A Critical Year ---
    Lukashenka Woos the Elderly
    Opposition wavers as Europe's last dictator polishes
    Feature by Nick Coleman
    Behind Closed Doors
    The opening of the first-ever Belarusian homeless shelter is
revolutionary in its implication but hard to find in its current
    Feature by Sviatlana Kurs
    Constitutional Despot
    After years of political meddling, oppression, and uncivil
society, the opposition faces an uphill battle in Belarus'
critical election year.
    Analysis by Lionel Beehner
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    - - - TOL MESSAGE - - -
   Be sure to visit our new mediakit. We reach 27.000 people with
this newsletter every week. Your future business partners,
customers and readers are probably among them. No one reaches the
region like TOL - visit our mediakit for more information:, or e-mail us at
   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    --- FEATURES ---
    Greening Up Poland
    Polish experts question the EU's double standards for
environmental clean-up but are the first to admit that no one's
forcing accession on them.
    by Susan C. Pearce
    Enemy Football
    Out of the rubble, Chechnya's football team comes back to life
as one of the only symbols of normalcy in the war-torn republic.
    by Anna Badkhen
    A Desert Pearl
    In a remote corner of Uzbekistan, the Karakalpakistan Museum
is the showcase for the second-best collection of Russian art
outside St. Petersburg, home to the art of a nomadic people, and
testament to one man's enterprise in the Soviet era.
    by Saidazim Gaziev
    The Leader is One
    Turkmen President Sapamurat Niyazov expands his cult of
personality. A TOL partner post from EurasiaNet.
    by David Hunsicker
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    --- OPINIONS ---
    License To Steal?
    The battle to replace Gazprom's chief executive is seen as a
make-or-break chance for Russia to right one of the most wasteful
wrongs of the Yeltsin era and change how the country is run.
    by Maria Antonenko and Kevin Krogmann
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    --- MEDIA ---
    Dark, Damp Journalism
    The Azeri government has independent media in a stranglehold,
but journalists hold out hope that their basement newsrooms will
eventually produce results.
    by Seymur Selimov
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    --- ANNUAL REPORT ---
    Lithuania 2000: Political Turmoil, Institutional Stability
    Wide swings mark the political, economic, and social landscape
in the country.
    by Terry D. Clark and Nerijus Prekevicius
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    - - - TOL PARTNERS - - -
    - The Network of Independent Journalists of Central and
Eastern Europe (NIJ), a weekly service run by the Croatian-based
STINA press agency. To subscribe to STINA's NIJ weekly service,
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    - Internews Russia ( is a Russian
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the Russian television industry as a whole.
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    --- OUR TAKE: No Candles, Only Fireworks ---
    There is one cracking portrait of Georgia that hangs in a
gallery far away from home. It paints Georgia in broad strokes as
the jewel of the troubled Caucasus, and President Eduard
Shevardnadze as a democratic reformer, a safeguard against Russian
aggression, and a friend to the West.
    But it's an old and rather faded portrait. It depicts
Shevardnadze as an international hero who played a key role in
nurturing a détente between East and West in the 1980s and then
returning to his homeland in 1992, shedding his Communist Party
boss uniform for that of a democratic reformer. It depicts him as
a Georgian hero, battling the organized criminals who had taken
control of the capital and fighting off pro-Russian rebels in
breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It paints him as a stoic and
candid man who has attracted more than  his fair share of Western
aid, largely because of his role in the fall of the Soviet Union.
    A fresher and clearer portrait has since emerged, however, and
it paints Georgia in a completely different light--and with much
more detailed strokes. It depicts Georgia as a miserable country,
exhausted from civil war and fleeced by corruption. It shows a
poor country in which 5.5 million people live below the poverty
line--the average monthly wage is approximately $35--and
engineers, teachers, and the other educated professionals are
forced to sell produce on the street to survive unemployment and
months of wage arrears. It doesn't hide a humiliating defeat in
Abkhazia and tens of thousands of refugees, or winters without
heat and daily electricity blackouts. It depicts a president
surviving two assassination attempts and hanging onto power amid
accusations of rigged elections. It paints the president not as a
despot, but not as much of a democrat, either. In this portrait,
recent political stability is the only bright spot.
    But that political stability showed signs of fading on May 25
--the eve of the Georgian celebration of the 10th anniversary
of its independence from the Soviet Union--when 400 armed National
Guards attempted mutiny. Shevardnadze expertly negotiated the
mutineers back to their barracks, promising they would not be
criminally prosecuted. And he took his promise of no prosecution a
step further by placing a large part of the blame for the mutiny
on his own shoulders. Hours later, early on May 26, the city
witnessed another upset as several hundred nationalist protesters
wielding broomsticks and wooden crosses clashed with riot police,
resulting in injuries on both sides.
    What first looked like a coup d'etat, however, turned out to
be a desperate military demanding over a year's worth of unpaid
wages, proper nourishment, and decent living conditions--a mutiny
of desperation and social malaise rather than high-level political
    The attempted "coup" underlines the chronic problems of the
Georgia military--without whose support, it will be more difficult
to maintain stability, says Vicken Cheterian, director of the
Caucasus Media Support Project. Georgia integrated former
dissidents into the army and is now unable to pay them their
salaries, he says. "The problem is that the Georgian army is not
unified, and the state does not pay their salaries either. For
Shevardnadze, the army is an alien structure, while he depends on
the Interior Ministry for his security and control.
    And some say the president set a dangerous precedent for the
future by forgiving the mutineers. Gia Nodia, an analyst with the
Caucasus Institute for Peace Democracy and Development, says the
president could be setting the stage for further coup attempts and
destroying the fragile foundation on which political stability has
rested for the past several years. "The president's actions meant
that it's OK if officers break their oaths--at least until they
demand the president's dismissal," Nodia in the Resonanse daily.
    The situation has many worried that Shevardnadze's negotiating
skills won't be enough to keep the country politically stable
unless fast progress is made to remedy widespread social malaise.
Now that he's quelled the uprising by promising the officers their
back wages, he'll have to make good on it or face the music. A
message from the International Monetary Fund earlier this month
had similar advice: It decided to withhold a loan on the grounds
that it did not see progress in implementing reforms, making it
clear that further aid will be dependent on visible results.
    Georgia's and Shevardnadze's challenge is the challenge of the
region. Even if the president's reform initiatives are
sincere--which most experts seem to think they are--his hands are
still tied. Far-reaching reforms would attack those members of the
ruling elite from whom his power derives. The president doesn't
want to cut off his own foot, Nodia says, "he is afraid to weaken
his power and is not ready to take radical measures."
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    -- Transitions Online - Intelligent Eastern Europe
    Copyright: Transitions Online 2001
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On the eve of the 10th anniversary of Georgian independence, a
military rebellion highlights some painful truths.