3.Azerbaijan : PROBLEMS WITH IRAN
By Farhad Mammadov
Slovakia is famous for its elections campaign organized
years ago by NGOs which tried to motivate the then very apathetic
citizens, especially the young, in order to go to elections and
thus contribute to changes. According to many people, that action
was crucial for victory of the opposition against Meciar's populist and
authoritarian regime, which marginalized and isolated Slovakia
from the international community. Furthermore, such a campaign
became an ideal for other countries (Croatia and Serbia, for example).
Soon Slovakia will face new elections, but there is also a chance for
the return of Meciar, which could mean the return many reforms to the
We talked with Balasz Jarabic, a well known activist,
strategist and analyst of the NGO scene in Slovakia about the political
situation in that country and the preparation of NGOs for the upcoming
Q: What is the current political sentiment in Slovakia
regarding the upcoming elections?
A: Recently in Slovakia, a strange, apathetic mood has affected
the public and NGOs both in Bratislava (the capital) and in the
regions. This mood was created by the fake expectation of the
current ruling coalition - the winners of the elections in 1998 -
by bringing unrealistic promises to the mind of the people. These
unrealistic expectations are now affecting the polls, which shows that former
Prime Minister Meciar`s party, Movement for Democratic Slovakia
(HZDS), is the most popular party in Slovakia. Simply, there are no
bad and good guys for the the Slovak voters, just bad guys, which
is creating apathy among the voters toward the elections.
Q: What is the situation in the NGO sector and how are NGOs
preparing for elections?
A: As important players in the 1998 elections, many NGO
leaders have been frustrated by the government's inability to
fulfill the (now admittedly unrealistic) expectations held by the
non-profit sector. Interestingly the remarkably low voter turnout
in the December 2001 regional elections helped to overcome the
strange mood, and now the NGOs seem to be preparing GOTV (Get out the
Vote) and other campaigns to increase the turnout. Since this
year's elections will certainly have a decisive impact on
Slovakia's potential membership in NATO and the European Union,
the Gremium of the Third Sector (G3S) has chosen integration as
the main topic in its approach to the campaign. The Gremium has
mailed letters to more than 2,700 non-governmental organizations
requesting them to help get out the vote. On May 24-25, the G3S is
planning to organize the Ninth Stupava Conference under the slogan
"Slovakia Votes for Integration." Representatives of the G3S have
rejected the possibility that they would join the candidate list
of any political party as a group.
Q: Are NGOs preparing some innovations in their approach to
A: Many NGOs feel that increasing turnout (mobilization) is
not a sufficient approach, but that raising the quality of
decision making will also be critically important. NGOs further
developed the idea that motivation campaigns using celebrities and
national opinion makers in GOTV campaigns may leave many voters
cold, while members of various layers of the society may be
effectively be used to reach out to each other in a peer-to-peer
model (women to women, youth to youth, etc.) In addition the
so-called issue based campaigning can certainly increase not just
the quantity of the voters, but the quality of the voters as well.
Slovakia needs more informed citizens to decide about the
country's direction based on the issues, not on emotions.
Q: Many predict that Meciar will return to power. How much
of that is grounded in reality?
A: Meciar seems to be the winner of the elections, however
we hope he will be not able to form the government. There are clear
signals, there is an anti-Meciar coalition of the democratic
forces forming, however Mr. Meciar is committing everything to
break the isolation around him and his party. Currently HZDS is
supporting integration efforts of Slovakia to EU and NATO, stating
that HZDS was always support the integration of the country, just
the coalition partners Slovak National Party (SNS), the extreme
right party and Party of Workers of Slovakia (ZRS), the basically
non-existing party of workers, were against between 1994-98.
Q: What are causes of possible Meciar's return to power? How
did function wide coalition that was in power? What it managed to
achieve (or change), and what are its main failures?
A: Meciar has the most hardline voters with fixed conditions
to vote just for Meciar and nobody else. Mainly they are old land
lesser educated people creating his base, who seems need a strong
personality/leader. On the other side, the other voters are
refusing to vote for him, so he has no chance to increase his
result. The other political parties had lots of changes during
this governmental period and seems not that unified as HZDS. There
are two - very populist - new parties with significant support
Alliance of New Citizen (ANO) and Smer (Direction) and most
probably it will be them, which will decide about the direction of
Slovakia by joining or not joining to Meciar after the elections.
As the ruling coalition is wide, different reform processes
went reasonable slow. On the other side the economic
restructuralization is ongoing, the government has created a good
environment for foreign investors, the major banks are in the hand
of strong foreign investors, the reform of public administration
(decentralization) has started. However all major progress were
followed by bloody dispute by the ruling coalition, which
strengthened the feeling of the citizens about incompetence of the
ruling coalition parties.
Q: US representatives said that Slovakia would not be admitted
into NATO if Meciar won. Also, such an election twist could
significantly slow down Slovakian integration into Europe. What
would be true consequences of Meciar's victory on both local and
international levels? What would it mean for the future of
A: Again, the main question, who will able to form the
government after the elections. If Meciar will bale to find
partners to form coalition, most probably Slovakia will not
receive the invitation in the Prague Summit of NATO in November
2002, which will definitely slow down the integration process to
the EU and make the country unstable economically and as well
Q: Can his party go through a democratization process and
adopt conservative, but European political standards?
A: Since 1998 Meciar and his party are trying to integrate
HZDS into a European political party system without any success.
The record of HZDS is really bad from many respect and the recent
speeches on supporting NATO and EU-integration could remain
Q: NGOs are usually active just before the elections, in the
meantime their activity drops. How much is that wrong and what is
the cause for it?
A :The Slovak non-profit sector did not stop for the
activities between the elections, but the focus of their
activities are not election related, therefore not so visible, but
very important. NGOs in Slovakia are the main stake holders in the
society in controlling the government, advocating human rights,
promoting tolerance, strengthening civic education or increasing
awareness in different issues.
Q: What would be main tasks of NGOs in democratization of
Slovak society and similar transition society?
A: It currently seems as if the watchdog needs to be strengthened in
Slovakia in order to increase citizens` control and participation
in the decision making. In addition, public policy approach and
social services would be another challenge for the Slovak NGOs.
Q: Do you think that "Meciar's syndrome" is threatening other
countries in the region and if yes, what its results can be?
A: Decreasing interest of the public in political
decision making and the apathy of the citizens is threatening other
countries in the region, not the Meciar-syndrome.
Late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman is probably
his grave. Several days ago, the most prominent critic of Tudjman's
autocratic regime, weekly newspapers "Feral Tribune" *, announced
that financial difficulties caused by court rulings have reached
so high a level that it was threatened by bankruptcy. While in
power, Tudjman has tried almost everything in his power to break
down this weekly, but in vain. When the so-called democratic
opposition came to power, Feral found itself at the brink of
Although many believe that this weekly, which was probably more
important for Croatian democracy during the dark times of Tudjman's
regime than all parties of the opposition put together, is
capable of surviving yet another test, what has caused deep
concern are the circumstances of the latest attack on Feral.
Amongst these attacks is a court ruling ordering Feral to pay
approximately 25,000 DEM because of an alleged insult to Zeljko
Olujic, a well-known lawyer of the Tudjman family as well as of
other extreme right-wing politicians, when Feral proclaimed him
racist. The process started during Tudjman's era, and Feral did
call him racist because Olujic was minorizing the holocaust and
defending the pro-Nazi ustashe regime during the puppet Croatia state
Olujic's remarks aren't suspicious to Croatian courts, but
Feral's criticism of it is. Keeping in mind the defects of the Croatian
judicial system which were apparent during former Tudjman's
regime, many were not surprised of such a ruling, but what
surprised them was the fact that the so-called democratic
government let this court scandal pass.
There were only rare individuals, like Croatian president
Stipe Mesic, who expressed their support to Feral publicly, but
Mesic is only a democratic ornament of the new government without
real political power. Those who wield it, for example the Croatian
government led by reformed communist Ivica Racan, didn't find it
worth their time to defend Feral Tribune, or at least say a few
words about court system which protects people who would be
brought to trial in democratic countries.
And that anti-democratic behavior of the government that
wants to enter into Europe isn't incidental. Since its beginning,
January 2000, once could note that a disease of former regime was
transmitted to new - reluctance to accept free and critical media.
We talked with one of the founders and editors of Feral
Tribune, Viktor Ivancic, about how much are these court rulings a
threat to criticism in newspapers and what is the role of new
government in it.
Q: If during Tudjman's regime one could maybe understand it,
is it unexpected for today's courts to sentence someone who denies
that Croatian ustashe regime in WWII was fascist?
A: Although Olujic wrote his articles in 1993, such things
still aren't illegal in Croatia. They were written during
Tudjman's regime, but in any normal country such articles could
never be published. Even if they were, public prosecutor would
bring charges against the author. However, Croatia was not a
normal country and it is evident that the situation hasn't changed
because we saw that today it is criticism of such opinion which
gets penalized. I still haven't seen anybody in Croatia
sentenced yet for spreading hate, anti-semitism or promoting fascism.
Q: Isn't it absurd today when everything is supposedly
A: You have the right word - supposedly, because Croatia
didn't undergo any changes, only continuity. The same political
philosophy was veiled in silky handkerchief, with the same content
underneath. Today's ruling politicians aren't hysterically
nationalistic as Tudjman's, but they are eyeing nationalists from
the distance all the time.
Q: Does it confirm one theory about yesterday's opposition
saying that it would do anything better than HDZ, but not
different, so that it will now "better" silence Feral?
A: I don't know they will be more efficient than Tudjman, who
tried it in several ways. Yet, we knew to some extent the rule of
the game during Tudjman's regime. He openly declared himself as
opponent of "anti-Croatian" media. He spelled them out, he was
sending editors-in-chief to military camps, he was implementing
pornography tax. Today's government labels itself as democratic,
but is using a method of pretending ignorance while they cross their
fingers and pray for silence of public criticism.
Q: "Feral" found itself before courts before changes in the 90s,
then during the 90s, and now as well. Courts, as regime exponents, almost
always bring condemning sentences, trying to destroy the
newspapers with draconic financial reparations. Are there any
similarities between three regimes?
A: There is a link. It is non-democracy, although its
intensity is different. Tudjman's regime was hysterical, but not
so dangerous to media as was the case with communists. During
communism, we had no protection in the public opinion. It was much
harder to publish something than during Tudjman's era. However,
during communism, when public prosecutors wanted to sentence me to
three years in prison in two instances, there was no public
aggression or hysteria orchestrated against me. I was alone
against the institution. One knew he was breaking the law, because
there was not pluralism nor criticism of communist rulers allowed.
During Tudjman, there was mass hysteria, there was a danger that
somebody in the street could beat me, even murder me. This third
phase has shown utter unfamiliarity of government with freedom of
media. The government doesn't beat us, doesn't persecute us and
probably even doesn't spy on us. However, ruling politicians won't
to be in control, they won't let media slip out of their hands and
they are supporting very dangerous monopolies. So, the fact that
Feral was a problem for all three regimes doesn't say anything
about Feral, least of all that we were created to cause troubles
to someone. But it speaks much about those regimes, which are
generally non-democratic. No newspapers have problems with
democratic governments if it doesn't promote hate speech etc. But
when media have problems with authorities, it means something is
wrong with the government.
Q: Can one draw line of the attitude of new governments
towards media which promoted democratization during the last
decade, in Croatia Feral, in Serbia RTV B92 and Reporter which
enabled former opposition to come to power?
A: The so-called democratic regimes which came to power in fact
aren't democratic. It is correct, independent media raised the degree
of freedom, in a way, so they opened up the space also for them.
On the other hand, this freedom opened up by the media in question
is much larger than some new governments in this region are ready
to accept. This is where problems arise.
Q: But you expected them?
A: Of course. But we were also expecting that they learned
some lessons from former dictatorships. However, it is obvious
they didn't learn them and that call of power is still very
strong. Besides, they are so similar because this region is still
connected. Disregarding borders and various "walls", this region
functions by domino law. It is rather difficult to have both harsh
dictatorship 20 kilometers from you, and land of freedom 20
kilometers to the west. Area of common language is spreading area
of inter-dependent influence.
Q: Wasn't that expectation too optimistic? Changes were
brought about more by implosions of Tudjman's and Milosevic's
regimes than by opposition actions. Media that contributed to
changes are embarrassing witnesses of it and they constantly
remind present government of what it didn't do as opposition, that
it wasn't a true opposition?
A: I myself had no illusions. I didn't expect incredibly good
government, but I was expecting them not to make crazy actions.
They should've draw back from the media, but they weren't ready to
do so. During past two years, they weren't capable of establishing
public television in place of state TV, which is of key importance
considering its influence. Also, they didn't privatize two
state-owned daily newspapers. Therefore, something is wrong and
something in their attitude towards freedom of media is in great
collision with what they had promised us. I didn't expect so great
fight for positions in power, nor such fear of criticism. With
this fear, there is always a danger of it turning into hysteria
and repressive measures. Such a possibility in Croatia isn't
completely ruled out.
* Feral Tribune was founded in 1984, during the communist regime,
as a satirical feature of Split weekly newspaper "Nedjeljna
Dalmacija". Many times, Feral defended itself before
communist court of law, but charges were always dropped.
In independent Croatia, Feral Tribune began its life as an
independent newspaper in 1993. Besides its famous satirical part,
there was also serious journalism which criticized the autocratic and
nationalist regime led by Franjo Tudjman. Due to its exceptional
satire, which placed it as one of the top world satirical newspapers, and
thanks to its courage and professionalism, Feral won many
international journalistic acclaims and prizes.
It is not still known when the visit of the Azerbaijani
president Heidar Aliev to Iran planned long ago will take place.
It is notable that after the talks held in Iran by the delegation
headed by Azerbaijani minister of economic development Farhad
Aliev in January, both sides were stating the visit would take
place soon. According to the official sources, Mr. Aliev was to
visit Iran in late February, but there appeared problems in the
health of the President and he had to undergo a medical treatment
in the U.S. in February 2002. But the reason of postponing Aliev's
visit to Iran until now is related with the United States' sharp
position with respect to that country.
As it turned out, the U.S. has included Iran into the
"triangle of harm" and regards the country as one of the key dangers
for civilization. But Azerbaijan is a strategic partner of the
U.S. and simply supports the U.S. position in the struggle against
terrorism. In such a condition, how correct is the policy
of Aliev's trip to Iran and concluding an agreement on "friendship
and partnership" there, as well as agreements in the economic
field profitable for Iran?
On the other hand, no changes have happened between
Iran-Azerbaijani relations. Tehran, like before, is
claiming on a number of big carbon-hydrogen fields at the
Azerbaijani part of the Caspian Sea and is attempting to
strengthen his claims through military pressure. But there is not
any progress in the talks on the status of the Caspian. Iran
considers that less than 20 percent of the sea must be given to it. In
addition, Iran has not abstained from its plans of extending
religious extremism in Azerbaijan and creating a condition for the
Islamic revolution. According to Western diplomatic circles in
Azerbaijan, the extremist "Hizbullah" organization can already
create its structures at the southern regions of Azerbaijan at the
boundaries with Iran.
Besides, Azerbaijan's partnership with the United States is
one of the reasons dissatisfying Iran long before. So, even if
Aliev's visit to Iran takes place, there is no use to expect any
positive changes in the relations between Iran with Azerbaijan. On
the other hand, Azerbaijan must take into account the position of
its strategic partner, the U.S., as a neighboring country with Iran.
At present, Iran is closely cooperating only with Armenia
among his neighbors in the South Caucasus region. Armenian
president Robert Kocharian called Iran as "one of its closest
allies" and stated that the Armenian-Iran alliance would continue
regardless of the position of the U.S. That fact did not remain
outside of the U.S. attention. Last week, the American ambassador
to Yerevan Mr. Ordway stated that Iranian attempts to get the weapons
of mass annihilation and this matter should concern also Armenia
as a close neighbor of Iran. The ambassador's statement shows that
the U.S. is not for long going to silently observe the Armenian-Iran
closing. On March 18, 2002 the Armenian defense minister Serj
Sarkisyan left for the U.S in order to hold negotiations on the
bilateral military partnership. This visit can also be marked as
an effort of Yerevan to form a balance. But if we take the U.S.
position into account, such type of political motions will hardly
bring any serious success to Armenia.