Issue No. 228 - June 26, 2001
Contents:

1. Bulgaria: FAIRY HORROR STORY FOR PARLIAMENTARIANS?
           By Peter Karaboev

2. Albania: JUSTIFIED TRUST
          By Slobodan Rackovic

3. Azerbaijan: NEW FORM OF PRESSURE ON INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS
         By Mustafa Hajibeyli
 
4. Special addition: NEW AT TOL
 
 


Bulgaria: FAIRY HORROR STORY FOR PARLIAMENTARIANS?
     By Peter Karaboev
  Bulgarian general elections this June are already part of the
history but they are expected to have at least a mid-term effect
on domestic political scene and maybe some aftershocks through
Eastern and Central Europe. It's all because of one man, or it
looks like it's because of him. It's not news that his name is
Simeon and that he is former Bulgarian king, because his name
already made big headlines on Europe's major newspapers.
   Some of them considered this as a fun, but it wasn't fun for
many Bulgarians and especially for politicians that ruled Bulgaria
for the past 10 years. They were shocked to see how an outsider as
Simeon entered active politics on April 6, and won elections on
June 17, without the backing of a party. In April he announced
creation of the "National movement Simeon the Second" but the court
banned this party because of some authoritarian points in its
documents. Still, king's men are planning to re-establish a party
in next months. This was not an obstacle for this "interest
group" to win 43% of popular vote and to reach one MP short of full
majority in the future Parliament. In an absolute lack of party
logistics and national political infrastructure Simeon won against
the ruling center-right coalition in almost every constituency.
Betting only on his appeal "Honest in everything" he crushed
United Democratic Forces back to 18% of the vote and just 1% ahead
of former communists of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (17%). The
main party of Bulgarian Turks performed unusually well by winning
the remaining  seats making itself the most wanted coalition
partner for the future Government.
    The following seven days were a week of chilly reality for
losers and personal attacks against their leaders. BSP leader
Georgy Parvanov survived on his post (some of his opponents said
that he's "subscribed" to losing every elections) but the Prime
Minister Ivan Kostov's future hangs in balance. On the night after
elections he said that he will take his responsibility for the
poorest performance of his party for the last 10 years but he will
do it on the right place and at the right time. It's expected that
he will announce his retirement on Tuesday June 26, and choose
foreign minister Nadezjda Michailova as his successor at the helm
of the party.
    It may look like a simple party problem of the UDF but it's
not. A lot of things depend on his decision - from eventual
coalition negotiations with Simeon to the name of the new Prime
Minister to the future of the President Petar Stoyanov who faces
new term elections this autumn. But this is rather day by day
politics. Much more interesting things are going on deep under
the surface. A sign of this was the fact that no one cheered in
the election night. There were no flags, songs and champagne in
Simeon's headquarters and on the streets like it was on every
election for the last 10 years. Pointing at this and other facts
some analysts said that this time huge number of Bulgarians
chose to make an experiment on themselves without clear
understanding what are they experimenting with and what's the
final purpose of this experiment. Others - like Stefan Popov,
Chairman of the "Open Society Fund" - went further to conclude
that the parliament system is in danger and that there is
dubious legitimacy behind the vote for King's Party. And to some
extent they are right. Why?
    First of all, Simeon's victory was based not on a promise of
some point-by-point political or expert platform for better life
in the near future. He won the elections in people's minds even
before the appearance of his party - this was a kind of irrational
trust between "the people of Bulgaria" and "their King". He made
some vague promises and people received him with enormous
expectations and this is the biggest danger for his party but at
the same time this is what the King is for - to embrace
disillusioned, poor and unemployed, to hug them, to soothe them
like in fairy tales. It really sounds as something coming from
the fairy tale but in the tales there is no Parliament and
party system. This way the vote was legal victory for some
"unchecked sudden something" which didn't pass through political
public debate to prove itself.
    Second, the whole system of representation was turned inside
out. People voted for the King sometimes without knowing even the
names of his candidates. This way they voted for the unique person
of the Monarch accepting candidates of his party as a "His Majesty
Representatives in the Parliament". Simeon pushed them in this
direction with his promise that he will call back MP's from his
party on a "moral" base. And people understood this as a rule of
personal loyalty to the King by his MPs (even though that formally
he still is not a party leader and he even didn't run for the
Parliament). But this is totally against the text of the
Constitution and a free will of every representative.
    Third, non-existent King's party is still something in
constant motion and development, something too hazy and without
clear face. The only face of this structure is Simeon and a very
tight circle of people around him. But if there is no structured
political subject than what's the Parliament system for? This can
be an old-fashioned model for loyal administration, which is
following the orders coming from the top but not a structure of
modern civil society.
    Forth, suspicion for the deep crisis of the parliament regime
in Bulgaria is coming from the way the major players behave after
the elections. None of them is stating clearly that it's going in
the opposition with a clear program in order to take control of
the executive power of the winners. To the opposite - parties
that entered the Parliament are in waiting and trying to get a
"positive" identification through the winner. This way, Popov
claims, everyone is trying to enter The Kingdom of the Winners.
In fact this turned to be a search for an alibi not in voters'
eyes but an alibi to run away from the rules of the Parliament
game.
    Lastly, the King's party will legitimate itself only after the
Election Day. This is not uncommon for Bulgaria because basically
the same happened in 1997 when people's anger rocketed UDF to the
power at least one year earlier from the point at which it was
supposed to be ready to rule the country. Entering the Parliament
UDF - in 1997, and King's Party - in 2001, faced the same task -
not to prove back people's trust trough their deeds but to win it
in something like unfinished election campaign. Like in 1997 this
time the main political power will have to go through formal
seeking of its face as a party structure. The difference this time
is that The Face of the party is staying outside the Parliament in
his residence in Sofia suburb.
    Summing up all these five points it is questionable that in
fact people in Bulgaria voted on June 17 with the Parliament in
their minds. It's sure they needed something to trust on and the
problem is that for 10 years The Parliament wasn't answering this
need. And this is the point where fairy tales or horror stories
start.

                          * * *

Albania: JUSTIFIED TRUST
     By Slobodan Rackovic
   Fifth parliamentary elections (held June 24) after the fall
of communism ten years ago were, according to foreign and
Albanian monitors and numerous journalists, the most peaceful
ever! If we compared current situation with the last parliamentary
elections of June 31, 1997, when election booths had to be
protected from political bullies and criminals by strong
international forces headed by Italians (the action was called
"Areobaleno" - Rainbow), than it is obvious that a big step
forward in democracy and stabilization has been made. Many
analysts and diplomats in Tirana think that is exactly the reason
behind another victory of the Socialist party headed by Fatos
Nano and prime minister Ilir Meta who have much calmed political
tensions, established certain dialogue between the government and
the opposition and increased general security in the country.
    Socialists have already declared their victory, and their
leader Fatos Nano said that candidates of Socialist Party have won
in at least 45 out of 100 election counties in the country and
announced that their triumph would be complete in second election
round in two weeks. This statement was confirmed by Albanian prime
minister Ilir Meta and general secretary of the Socialist Party
Gramosh Ruchi. However, the opposition Democratic Party also claims
victory! Although tired and seemingly unsatisfied, their leader Sali
Berisha told the press that opposition fared well at the
elections, not missing the opportunity to harshly criticize their
alleged irregularity. "Police were frightening the voters, and the
government directly influenced the outcome with various schemes
and falsifications" - told Berisha. On Sunday at 2 a.m. he
appeared before his support who circled HQs of Democratic Party
near Skenderbeg square and declared victory! When he heard about
true results in the morning, he must have had a painful sobering
up. On the other hand, socialist supporters organized large and
noisy celebration in the streets of Tirana and other large cities
in the night between Sunday and Monday, although well aware that
their favorites were worse off than in June 1997 when the left won
more than two thirds seats in the parliament. Opposition
celebrated simultaneously, although some foreign monitors note
that they have won only 17 percent so far. So, if we are to
believe the sources, second round will decide who will have the
remaining 38 percent seats in the parliament.
      But, as official results are expected several days after,
one must say that there have still been some incidents. In an
election post in the suburb of Tirana one citizen and one member
of election committee were wounded in the cross-fire between
supporters of various political parties. The toughest situation
was in the north, traditional stronghold of uncrowned united
opposition leader Sali Berisha, president of Democratic Party who
was the chief of state from March 1992 to June 31, 1997. There
were two incidents - in the towns of Shlak and Lek Bibaj (200
kilometers north of Tirana) where Berisha's supporters set fire to
complete election material. There, as well as in other locations,
the voting will be repeated next Sunday.
      At the Sunday's elections there were 2,5 million registered
voters, out of 3,5 million Albanians, and as much as 38 parties
and coalitions nominated 1,114 candidates for 140 seats in the
parliament. Barely 60 percent voters participated at the
elections, less than ever before, which is here explained with
less fanatic election campaign compared to earlier, general
unhappiness because former election promises weren't fulfilled and
the standard of living is very low in the poorest European
country.
      Elections were monitored by 220 OSCE representatives, a
number of Council of Europe monitors and many western
parliamentary members - a total of 500 monitors. Almost all of
them say that elections were regular and for the most part OK, if
one disregards some folcloristic manifestations and isolated
incidents. Despite OSCE stamp of approval, Sali Berisha claims
that he and his party as well as most opposition won't acknowledge
election results, so that he already announces non-parliamentary
battle in the streets in which he has already gained a reputation
of a specialist in the past years. But today the support for such
actions diminishes and the world has turned their backs on him,
primarily because he is big fan of the "Greater Albania" idea, as
shown by his stubborn support to former "Kosovo Liberation Army"
as well as to Albanian extremists in southern Serbia and
Macedonia. On the other hand, socialists, at least declaratively,
accept current borders and have established diplomatic relations
with FR Yugoslavia, a long time Albanian arch-enemy and that is
what the international community appreciates and gives full
support to the government of Ilir Meta in return. For now, that
support is only political, but together with stabilization and
general democratization of Albania one should finally expect also
financial aid to socialist regime in Tirana, which has shown in
the past 4 years, especially during Meta's command, that it
deserves international trust.
      One year from now there will be presidential elections in
Albania, since the current peace-keeping chief of state Rexhep
Mejdani, non-partisan president supported by socialists, is
running out of his 5-year term. It will be a new opportunity for
fight between Socialist and Democratic Party, meaning Fatos Nano
and Sali Berisha. Of course, if Berisha doesn't run out of
patience until then...

                          *  *  *

 
Azerbaijan: NEW FORM OF PRESSURE ON INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS
     By Mustafa Hajibeyli
     Forced transition to the Latin script will seriously damage
the financial state of independent newspapers.
    On June 18, the president Heidar Aliev signed the decree
about formation of the language commissions under the president.
According to that decree, ministries, state offices, and executive
powers are instructed to eliminate the shortcomings made before in
the field of using Azerbaijan language as a state language and
transition to the Latin script on August 1, 2001. The decree also
regards that from August 1, 2001 all the local publications, as
well as newspapers must use compulsory Latin script alphabet.
    It is notable that the decision about switching to the Latin
script from Cyrillic was adopted already in 1992 in Azerbaijan.
This step was estimated as a historical event serving to
strengthen Azerbaijan's independence and integration of the
country to the international community. Since that period there
have been studies in Latin script at the educational institutions
of Azerbaijan. But in the most cases the writings were held with
Cyrillic script in the country until now. This is why the decree
of the president on finalizing the transition to the Latin script
is estimated approving case. Nevertheless, the forced transition
to the Latin script may create serious problems in many fields, in
particular for the independent media. Unfortunately, prevention of
these problems has not been considered at the president's decree.
    At present, the majority of readership is still based on the
Cyrillic script. This is why local newspapers are mainly using
the Cyrillic script. Switching the newspapers at once to the Latin
script will influence decreasing in the number of readership and
circulation of the newspapers. And this, in its turn, will
seriously damage the financial state of press outlets. That
danger has caused serious concern of media representatives.
Recently the heads of local independent newspapers and journalist
organizations have begun raising alarms concerning that. For
example, chairperson of the "Yeni Nesil" Journalists' Union Arif
Aliev has stressed, while speaking about the problems that the
independent newspapers will face, that most readers can not read
Latin script, in addition, there would also be difficulties in
generalizing these fonts and programming computers with Latin
fonts. Aliev marked the government structures should take the main
obligation on transition to the Latin script: "It has various
ways, it may be in any form from paying State subsidies to the
newspapers till privilege in publication-printing works".
    Heads of several independent media organs have suggested
payment of compensations to the newspapers on forced transition to
the Latin script, as well. But the government authorities have not
reacted to these suggestions yet. In light of such silence of the
state officials and pressures on the independent newspapers
in Azerbaijan, there appeared such suspicions, as the mentioned
decree of the president was a step directed towards suppressing
the free media. Some observers estimate this decree as a new form
of pressure on independent newspapers. Editors of several
newspapers have already declared that if the government
authorities do not help in eliminating such problems in this
field, then it will be proved that the aim of transition to the
Latin script is to neutralize the independent newspapers.

                     *  *  *
 

 Special addition: NEW AT TOL                  June 25, 2001
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    --- OUR TAKE: No News Means Good News ---
    After anarchy almost tore the country apart in 1997, Albania
should be given credit for its progress toward democracy.
    Amid the fuss over Milosevic's possible extradition to The
Hague and continuing fire fights in Macedonia, few paid attention
to the parliamentary elections in Albania this weekend. In a way
that's a good thing, because little of drama happened, but it also
obscures the progress the tiny Balkan nation has made since 1997,
when the collapse of fraudulent pyramid schemes led to anarchy.
    With results partly counted for the June 24 poll, the ruling
Socialists claimed to have won the most seats in the first round
of elections and predicted a parliamentary majority after the
second round, which will take place in two weeks. Gunfire
destroyed the calm at one polling station and intruders burned
ballots at another, but it was a far cry from the violence of
times past.
    According to the preliminary conclusions of the OSCE,  "the
two main contestants were noticeably more restrained in their
rhetoric than during earlier elections, thus contributing to an
overall peaceful atmosphere," hardly a trivial observation given
the deep mistrust and enmity between the socialists and opposition
Democrat Party of former President Sali Berisha. The media
"offered voters a wide range of information for an informed
choice, with the public broadcaster providing fair coverage,
except in the last days of the campaign." Even with the final
caveat, that's better than in many countries, including EU
aspirants such as Poland and Hungary where objectivity takes a
back seat to partisanship. The success of these elections shows
that reforms undertaken in the wake of the 1997 chaos, including
the adoption of a new constitution and electoral code, have born
fruit.
    "This election represents another important step towards the
consolidation of democracy in Albania," said Bruce George,
vice-president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and special
coordinator for the Albanian poll. The monitors also praised the
Central Election Commission's "professional and transparent
conduct," particularly the brave move to declare many
"independent" candidates as party-affiliated (party-supported
candidates had chosen independent status in a bid to acquire
automatically mandates seats for independents).
    The recent restraint that Albanian politicians have
demonstrated in regard to Macedonia has also been commendable.
Only 120 kilometers away from the capital Tirana, the Macedonian
military has been regularly shelling ethnic Albanian rebels, this
past weekend ignoring NATO and EU pleas to respect a cease-fire.
Ethnic Albanian villagers have been caught in the crossfire and
forced to flee. And ethnic Albanian politicians in Macedonia
continue to press for constitutional changes, complaining that the
current problems are only the result of widespread inequality in
Macedonian society.
    Yet throughout the crisis, the Albanian government has kept
its head, referring to the conflict as an internal Macedonian
problem and saying that the ethnic Albanian minority should solve
its grievances through political and legal means; no one has
accused Tirana of funneling weapons to the rebels or even of
providing moral support. It is very hard to imagine Hungary's
Victor Orban, for example, of behaving so moderately if the
Romanian or Slovak governments placed even milder forms of
pressure on their ethnic Hungarians. Sure, the Albanian state is
still desperately poor and must curry favor aboard, and its
citizens (for historical and cultural reasons) feel more empathy
for their ethnic brethren in Kosovo than in Macedonia, but that
does not lessen the importance of Tirana's determination to stay
out of the fray. Luckily for the rest of the region, the ruling
former communists of Albania did not shift their allegiances to
virulent nationalism the way Slobodan Milosevic once did.
    That decision to shelve cheap solutions is all the more
admirable considering that much of the country remains poor and
susceptible to demagoguery, with economic improvement scuttled by
the lack of reform in the 1990s; the 1997 meltdown; and the
draining of resources caused by the war in Kosovo (the government
estimates that the costs for accommodating and feeding the roughly
450,000 refugees amounted to $145 million).
    Still, the mood in the country is more upbeat than in recent
years, despite the disputed status of Kosovo and hostilities in
Macedonia. Stability helps a lot, but so do smaller changes: a
flamboyant mayor in Tirana, an artist, has splashed formerly
shabby, run-down apartment blocks with oranges and pinks,
brightening up the downtown area, and banished ramshackle kiosks
from the capital's main square. A construction boom is well
underway, with both residential and company buildings sprouting
up, an optimistic contrast to the igloo-shaped bunkers that
continue to dot the countryside, a reminder of the wasteful
policies of paranoid former dictator Enver Hoxha.
    That is enough to make Albanians start to forget the events of
only four years ago, when public order crumbled, people looted
weapons depots and banks, and armed marauders roamed the streets.
Hundreds, perhaps as many as 1,500, were killed, many by random
bullets shot in the air.
    This year in Albania, no news, almost certainly, means good
news.
    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
    -- Transitions Online - Intelligent Eastern Europe
    Copyright: Transitions Online 2001
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