Issue No. 263 - March 9,  2002

            By Ivlian Haindrava

            By Ylber Emra

            By Stojan Obradovic

    By Ivlian Haindrava

    The Pankisi Gorge, about 150 kilometers northeast of Tbilisi,
is the only passable path connecting rebellious Checnya with the
outside world. It became widely known since 1999 when Russia
initiated the second war against breakaway republic. Escaping
Russian offensive and horrors of war, thousands of Chechen refugees
made their way over high mountains to Pankisi Gorge in neighboring
Georgia. A few villages of Kists (Kists - ethnic Chechens and
integrated Georgian citizens inhabiting Pankisi Gorge for last two
centuries) turned into a shelter for up to ten thousand refugees.
No surprise that some Chechen fighters included radical Islamists
(Wahhabis) as well as criminals involved in arms and drug
smuggling penetrated Georgian territory along with women, children
and elderly persons. Some of the Chechen fighters are supposed to
have been linked to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.
    The situation in Pankisi Gorge deteriorated immediately after:
kidnapping and drug traffic in the region became a customary crime
spreading all over Eastern Georgia. To say nothing about a number
of Georgian citizens, two Spaniards were held by the kidnappers
for more than a year in Pankisi Gorge and released only after a
huge ransom was paid; the brother of well-known Georgian footballer
Kaladze (FC Milan) is still retained for almost an year already.
Georgian police proved to be impotent in fighting the criminals.
Moreover - some high-ranking police officers were accused in
Georgian media of being in deal with drug smugglers and
    At the same time officials in Moscow put pressure upon Tbilisi,
blaming the latter for turning a blind eye on transformation of
Pankisi Gorge into a base of Chechens for military operations
against Russian troops in Chechnya and acts of terrorism
elsewhere. Though Russian militaries claimed to control the
Chechnya-Georgia border from the north the pressure upon Georgia
increased every other day causing another crisis in
Georgian-Russian relations. Political pressure was reinforced with
recurring violation of Georgian airspace by Russian military jets
and helicopters and even dropping bombs in Pankisi Gorge. Russia
insisted on joint military operation in Pankisi Gorge while
Georgia rejected such a proposal keeping in mind Russia's
pro-Abkhas deeds during the conflict in Abkhazia (in 1992-93) and
avoiding direct involvement in Russian-Chechen conflict.
    But real hysteria (this is how Georgian Minister of Foreign
Affairs Irakli Managharishvlili defined the event) in Russian
media and among Russian politicians burst out in late February
when the outlines of US military assistance to Georgia in fighting
terrorism became public. In addition to the aid Georgia received
from the United States during the recent years in building up
military infrastructure and border security, American authorities
plan to spend about $65 million on equipping and training four
Georgian elite battalions, each comprising about 300 servicemen.
Some 200 US military experts will be sent to Georgia for 12 months
term to fulfill the task.
    "Dispatching US troops to Georgia will worsen the situation in the
region," Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov stated in
the interview to the Russian ORT TV Company on February 27. State
Duma International Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin
said to ITAR-TASS agency on February 28 that if the US troops are
deployed in Georgia the Russian Duma (parliament) should pass a
resolution on recognizing the independence of the self-declared
republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (sic). One of the leaders
of the Union of Rightist Forces Boris Nemtsov predicted in his
interview to Interfax agency on February 27 that if Georgia
remains oriented towards US in its foreign policy this would lead
to the break-up of Shevardnadze's regime. Vladimir Zhirinovsky
predicted total disintegration of Georgia, while communist leader
Gennadii Ziuganov advised Georgians to hold referendum on
restoration of the Soviet Union. Later on Iranian Defense Minister
Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani echoed s strong feelings. During his
official visit to Armenia he stressed that Iran is against
presence of the US troops in Georgia.
    Politicians in Tbilisi also reacted in a harsh way. Speaker of
the Georgian parliament Nino Burjanadze on February 28 protested
"inadmissible and unbalanced statements" of some Duma
representatives, while former speaker Zurab Zhvania qualified them
as "political pressure upon Georgia and aggression against
sovereign state". Same day Georgian parliament passed a statement
stressing that "Georgia will continue to independently determine
the scales, frameworks and intensity of military-political
cooperation with other countries on the assumption of its own
security interests". President Shevardnadze supported the
parliament's statement and rejected the Russian threat to
recognize the self-declared independence of Abkhazia as a "stupid"
one, which may lead to disintegration of Russia itself.
    The sentiments of Russian politicians noticeably changed after
CIS informal summit in Almaty (Kazakhstan) on March 1. "There is
no tragedy that Georgia cooperates with the United States to
combat international terrorism" - Russian president Vladimir Putin
stated on the concluding press-conference after hour-and-a-half
face to face meeting with Eduard Shevardnadze. "If this is
possible in Central Asia, why not in Georgia?" - Putin's
rhetorical question followed. "Georgia sees nothing strange in the
assistance of the US to the Georgian armed forces" - Georgian
president just confirmed official position of his country.
    Following composure of his president Russian Minister of
Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov said to journalists on March 3 that
"combating terrorism is a common goal" and that Moscow's reaction
on US military presence in Georgia would depend upon the tasks
they fulfill there. No surprise that after Moscow officials cooled
down Russia's strategic partner in the Caucasus region - Armenia
have also been discreet: "Each state made its own decision on how
to provide its security" - the Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan
Oskanyan said on March 4. As to another immediate neighbor of
Georgia - Turkey, it was openly sympathetic towards Georgia.
"Georgia itself invited the U.S. military. Both the United States
and Georgia are friendly countries, and any step for bringing
peace and stability to the Caucasus is welcomed in Turkey" senior
official commented in Ankara on March 1 according to Turkish Daily
    However the question is what is in reality beyond the initial
furiosity of many Russian politicians that followed proclaiming of
Georgian-US military cooperation aimed at joint antiterrorist
action in Pankisi Gorge? Was not it Russia that urged Georgia to
restore the order in Pankisi Gorge and clear it of Chechen
fighters? And why the position of great majority so drastically
differed from the position expressed by President Putin?
    Zeyno Baran, Director of Caucasus Project, Center for
Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, thinks: "Bush
has made clear to President Vladimir Putin that Georgia's
territorial integrity and stability are of utmost importance to
the United States. Many in Russia are still stuck in Soviet-era
imperialistic worldviews, and therefore have tried to weaken
Shevardnadze's power base, destabilize Georgia and prevent it from
close cooperation with the United States. Putin and his team,
however, have realized that in order to further the budding
US-Russian relations, Russia's militant elements must be kept in
line. Thus, a more pragmatic and sophisticated approach to Georgia
is indeed in Russia's interest. After all, US assistance to
Georgia in ridding the Pankisi Gorge of terrorists would also ease
some of Russia's security concerns and allow it to more
effectively deal with its Chechen problem".
    Richard Giragosian - a frequent commentator on developments in
the Caucasus on Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty and editor of
the "Transcaucasus: A Chronology" monthly publication presumes:
"Such region-specific aims are dominated by an overarching
campaign to strengthen the statehood and sovereignty of the
fragile states of the Transcaucasus, which is essential to
fostering stability in a region already beset by ethnic conflicts
and vulnerable to external pressure. Stability in the
Transcaucasus is particularly valued by the United States given
its role as a prerequisite to the effective development of the
natural gas and oil reserves in the Caspian Sea and the transport
of Central Asian gas and oil through the region."
    These viewpoints seem to be convincing answers to the
questions above. Nevertheless one question remains: how dangerous
for Russia and its neighbors is the obvious gap between President
Putin's position and those of the rest of public politicians?

                                    * * *
    By Ylber Emra

    The formally Yugoslav province of Kosovo has surpassed months-long
parliamentary crisis which seriously threatened to compromise
efforts of international missions. Three and a half months after
general elections, Kosovar Assembly, following strong pressure of
new UNMIK chief, elected both new Kosovar president and prime
minister. That was the aim of futile negotiations between three
leading parties of Kosovar Albanians until beginning of March.
    Only three weeks after taking over, new special envoy of UN
general secretary Michael Steiner resolved this big parliamentary
crisis. Thanks to Steiner's agile attitude, Kosovar president is
now leader of Democratic Alliance of Kosovo (LDK) Ibrahim Rugova,
while prime minister is a high-ranking official of a competing
Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK) Bajram Rexhepi, former LDK
member. Still, their election only resolved a political problem,
while resolution of the basis of Kosovar problem is still an
issue, both for Kosovars and international management.
    Rugova was elected Kosovar president on 4th of March by
Kosovar Assembly. He got 88 out of a total of 119 MPs present at
the voting. Same number of parliamentary representatives voted for
prime minister Rexhepi. Sustained were representatives of Serbian
coalition "Return", a third-ranking group in 120 member Kosovar
parliament with 22 seats. Serbian representatives sustained also
from previous four voting rounds, claiming they weren't involved
in negotiations about elections of president and prime minister
and the constitution of future government.
    Everything related to elections of the two most important
officials in Kosovo has been done by Steiner. He "diplomatically
persuaded" leaders of the three strongest parties of Kosovar
Albanians to forget at least for a moment about their competition
and political enmities in order to elect Kosovar's "first". How
much it yielded, remains to be seen because authorities in
Belgrade, which control 22 Serbian representatives in Kosovar
parliament, expressed grave concerns regarding agreement between
Albanian parties and Rexhepi's election.
    Oliver Ivanovic, a member of the Presidency of Kosovar
Assembly and one of Serbian leaders from the north of the
province, said that Serbian representatives didn't vote for
president of the province and its prime minister because they were
unhappy with only one position in Kosovar government, decided upon
without consulting them. He warned that Serbian coalition
"Return", as third-ranking group in parliament, should have right
for more positions in the government. "Nobody consulted Serbs
about division of government offices", said Ivanovic, adding that
Serbian representatives "had the right" to choose among different
sectors, and not to be simply allotted ministry of agriculture.
    Serbian representatives as well as their mentors in Belgrade
had mentioned already before Steiner persuaded leaders of three
Kosovar Albanian parties that they should had more than one
position in government as well as one seat of vice-prime minister.
Those demand were in fact a "political trade" more than a reality.
Same term can be applied to what Belgrade commissioner for Kosovo
Nebojsa Covic, one of the Serbian vice-prime ministers, said
accusing Rexhepi of responsibility for murder of two Yugoslav
soldiers in 1999. Rexhepi himself rejected accusations as nonsense
and propaganda, saying that he had much more important tasks as
prime ministers than dealing with "disinformation coming from
    Newly elected Kosovar president Rugova and prime minister
Rexhepi said immediately after their elections that independence
and freedom of Kosovo will be their top priorities during next
three years. During their first interviews after elections, both
carried themselves as officials of a sovereign territory, which
further irritated Serbs in Kosovo as well as Serbian authorities.
    There were first harsh words between new officials in Pristina
and Belgrade. In a situation like this, it is difficult to
announce a meeting at a more important level. Without it, there
can be no solution to some problems, no matter how small.
    Announcement of Rexhepi that one of his priorities will be
uniting divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica was termed by Serbs as
additional meddling into already tense situation and inflaming of
Albanian extremists, who aren't satisfied with border in the
biggest town in northern Kosovo. It is interesting that some
Serbian parliamentary representatives compliment Rexhepi as being
"honest and fair" person. All of them come from Kosovska
Mitrovica, town where also Rexhepi lives.
    Rexhepi was born in 1954. in the village of Suvi Dol, near
Kosovska Mitrovica. He got his degree in medicine from Pristina
University, specializing in general surgery in Zagreb. Rexhepi was
active in politics starting from 90s. He was also a doctor in
Kosovo Liberating Army. International representatives have good
opinion about him, as he worked with them as mayor of the southern
part of Kosovska Mitrovica. He will have to continue this course
of good cooperation with international management if he wants to
fulfill his promises - one of them is uniting Kosovska Mitrovica.
    That divided town is a real time bomb in Kosovo, and political
success in that field will add up to total measure of everyone's
politics. Rexhepi is well aware of that. He still lives in his
family house in Suvi Dol, a village where half of the people are
Serbs, and another half Albanians.

                                * * *
    By Stojan Obradovic

    Large five-member coalition government led by Socialdemocrat
Party (SDP) and its head, prime minister Ivica Racan, who took
over the country rule in January 2000, is now going through a
difficult crisis. As a consequence, Croatia is facing possible
early elections. Long and difficult negotiations trying to evade
them show that ruling politicians are fighting over functions and
power, not about program solving the crisis that is still
looming over Croatia.
    As was expected, up till now the biggest crisis of the government
escalated after mid-February when ambitious politician Drazen
Budisa was re-elected president of Croatian Social Liberal
Party (HSLS), second strongest party in ruling coalition and
formally main SDP partner in the coalition.
    Budisa, who lost the race for Croatian president in a big
political changes in January 2000, submitted his resignation last
July after Croatian government, including HSLS ministers, had
dismissed his proposals to re-evaluate relationship with the
International Criminal Court in Hague following that court's first
war crimes' indictments against Croatian generals. Budisa
seriously rocked the coalition government, but it won support in the
parliament and he went underground for a while.
    Now Budisa is using his triumphant return to act with vengeance and
ask for resignations of HSLS ministers who supported government
policy of non-conditional cooperation with the court in Hague,
explaining that any other solution would lead Croatia into
international isolation and that is a condition the country had
been in before general elections in 2000.
    The HSLS president decided to withdraw ministers of
maritime affairs Alojz Tusek, economy Goranko Fizulic and vice
prime-minister himself, Goran Granic, at the same time announcing
his own ambitions for that office.
    However, not only the addressed ministers , but also all
HSLS ministers in Croatian government offered their resignatios
as sign of their protest to Budisa's demands. Together with already
mentioned ministers, resignations also offered were ministers of
defence, health and science Jozo Rados, Andro Vlahusic and Hrvoje
Kraljevic respectively. Once again, HSLS was threatened with
division, and the fall of government was an option.
    Budisa's move met heavy resistance from prime minister Ivica
Racan who asked for explanation for demand for ministers'
resignations, especially regarding his deputy Goran Granic whom
the public also sees as the most capable person in Racan's
government, who is successfully coping with key problems ranging
from relationship with Hague to negotiations with syndicates.
Budisa's party HSLS didn't offer convincing arguments for
resignations of their ministers but simply proclaimed them the
losing current. Paradoxically, these ministers became "losers" by
supporting government policy that is formally accepted by all
coalition parties, including HSLS.
    However, even more than matters of staff, prime minister Racan
was struck by questioning his authority as PM because he was in a
situation where others decide on his government. Maybe the most
important issue was a possibility for Drazen Budisa to be his new
deputy. Racan has a justified fear that he would clash with him on
key matters, as was the case with Hague, creating government under
permanent state of emergency.
    During difficult negotiations that have been lasting for days,
there were many compromises, but no real solutions. Five ministers
and deputy prime minister Goran Granic withdrew their
resignations; Tusek and Fizulic, ministers of traffic and economy,
will leave the government; several new vice-PM offices will open
in the government, one of them will be reserved for Goran Granic,
current deputy prime minister. New deputy PM will become - Drazen
    But even when all this was agreed upon, there came out some
new problems about division of authority so that the crisis is far
from over, but confirms that relations in the coalition,
especially among the strongest parties SDP and HSLS are deeply
disturbed, and that it is only a matter of time before the
fighting flares up again.
    Prime minister Racan asked all coalition parties to express
their support to the government's program. Although he claims to
got it, there are not many who believe him. It would be only
normal for Budisa to publicly declare support of his party to
government's policy regarding court in Hague. As he didn't do it,
it is clear that deep divisions still remain and that they will
soon surface. And Hague is only of many dividing issues among the
leading coalition parties. Many of the differences will become
public only now, when Budisa is in the government and when
government officials will lead a desperate fight for as better
starting positions at next elections as possible.
    Grand coalition came to power thanks to decisive victory
against HDZ at parliamentary elections in January 2000, announcing
big political, economic and social changes after ten years' rule
of a rigid nationalistic regime of Franjo Tudjman who left behind
him a devastated and international isolated country.
    However, big change of government didn't fulfil expectations.
In fact, this crisis shows that after two years ruling coalition
cannot cope with political problems in the country because it is
to much preoccupied with coalition parties themselves.
    The government is made out of a very heterogeneous alliance of
five parties. Together with the most influential Social Democrat Party
(reformed communists) and Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS),
there is also Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS), Croatian People's
Party (HNS) and Liberal Party (LS). Their relations are often
challenged by various struggles both on local and national level.
Last Spring a small but prominent regional party Istran Democratic
Assembly (IDS) left the coalition, saying that the government was
leading different politics from the one promised to the voters in
a great election victory two years ago.
    To be honest, government initiated many reforms which should
create conditions for Croatian development and progress into EU,
but Racan's cabinet still cannot stop negative economic trends
although it leads a harsh neo-liberal politics, pressured by IMF,
and constantly persuades populace that it is the only way out of
crisis. Crucial problem is the huge number of unemployed who
surpassed 400,000 in a country with slightly more over 4 million
    Although aware of the widening gulf between them, all ruling
coalition parties fear elections at this moment because of bad
results. It is this fear, and not accordance over government
program and continuation of reforms, that keeps them together,
in a nervous struggles to reach a compromise. Some rare people
among them, like president of a small Liberal Party Zlatko
Kramaric, openly proclaimed this crisis to be "a war for
functions" and disgustingly rejected taking side in it. However,
small parties do not decide on the coalition's future.
    Even opposition HDZ, certainly one of the main competitors in
the fight for power, is not ready for elections in this moment.
HDZ is going to have internal elections within the party soon,
which should resolved their internal conflicts and decide its
future political profile.
    At the upcoming party elections, current HDZ president and
leader of a more moderate faction Ivo Sanader will be challenged
by Ivic Pasalic, one of the most controversial Croatian
politicians, a former Tudjman's advisor for internal politics
which is seen as the leader of HDZ extremists and radicals, and
allegedly a potential Hague target. It is possible for such a
politician to become a tomorrow's Croatian prime minister which is
really concerning and is facing Croatia with a new prospect of
    And continuation of a barren struggles in ruling coalition and
postponing its agony will only increase HDZ chances. Six parties
rallied together two years ago under the banner of fight against
HDZ. However, that cannot keep coalition together anymore.
Although risk of early elections is big, lengthening of political
agony shaking Croatia at this moment is even a bigger danger.
Therefore it seems that time has come to lay political cards on
the table and sort them out according to a different formula which
will yield political alliances based on clear and unambiguous
attitudes toward crucial issues of Croatian future and its
entrance into Europe. At this moment there is still no fear that
citizens won't recognize such alliances and give them their
support. However, already tomorrow, disappointment and displeasure
can produce radicaly different election results.