Issue No. 274 May 29, 2002

        By Fedor Lukyanov
        By Farhad Mammadov
        An interview with Zarko Korac, deputy prime minister of Serbia

By Fedor Lukyanov

        Russia has never attempted such a drastic lurch to the West as in the last few days. In less than a week, president Vladimir Putin has taken part in three summit meetings, each of which has been termed “historic.” American president George Bush has just been in Moscow and St. Petersburg. A new agreement on relations between Russian and NATO will be signed in Rome on Tuesday and, on Wednesday, leaders of the European Union arrive in Moscow.
       Moscow has gone through periods of warm embraces with the Western capitals before. Such periods occurred at the beginning of the Boris Yeltsin regime, under Mikhail Gorbachev, and even 30 years ago under Leonid Brezhnev, when, as Soviet General Secretary, he announced a policy of  “international detente.” Each time, the period has ended in bitterness.   Detente ended with the invasion of Afghanistan, resulting in the lowest point in Cold War relations in the early 1980s. After picking up the pace of perestroika, it turned out fairly quickly that Gorbachev, the last president of the USSR, was unable to maintain control over his country. The West's friendship with Yeltsin in the early 1990s turned into a sharp disappointment by the end of the decade, when the West began to call Russia a “gangster state” and just about the most corrupt government in the world.
        Putin first came into fashion in the West not for reasons relating to his politics, but for the vast differences he exhibited from his predecessors. After Yeltsin, from whom the West never knew what to expect, the young, energetic leader was comprehensible to the West and made a good impression, even in spite of some unavoidable clashes over Chechnya. Now, after the events of September 11, the West has found a real basis for interest in the Russian president.
A year ago, no one in Russia would have suggested that world politics would have taken such a radical change in course. In the mid-1990s, Russian international policy, under the helm of the minister of the foreign affairs (later prime minister) Yevgeny Primakov, consisted of a single principle: maintain Russia's appearance as a world power. Just as in Soviet times, Russian foreign policy was active in all international affairs, signed all important international documents, and commented on every issue. The Russian elite still saw the United States as its main opponent. In actuality, an economic quagmire rendered it impossible for Moscow to implement its policies. Nonetheless, Russia resolutely attempted to maintain this appearance, expending great political and diplomatic efforts in the process. For the first time Putin has acknowledged that Russia has to assign its external priorities very carefully, so as to not waste its meager resources. Speaking before the State Council (a body made up of the influential regional governors) just before his meeting with Bush, Putin made a revolutionary announcement that was not immediately noticed by the international community: “The goal of Russian foreign policy is to increase the prosperity of its citizens,” he said. In the last century, the country's foreign policy has had various goals, but the interests of its citizens were never taken into consideration and the interests of the state as a whole always took precedence.
        “Russia acknowledges itself as the junior partner of the United States, as is quite correct. There is no one today able to speak as an equal to the United States,” stated Nikolai Zlobin, director of the Center for U.S. Defense Programs, who took part in the preparations for the
        Russian-American summit. Russia has practically renounced opposition to NATO as well. The Kremlin understands that the alliance's expansion makes little difference to it. Much more important is the expansion of the European Union, which directly effects the country's economic interests. Lately, Russian leaders have been trying to mend certain aspects of their relations with Europe. Until recently, Moscow had generally ignored the European Union, insisting on bilateral contacts with each country individually and passionately opposing any expansion to NATO (to no avail). Now Russia has faced reality and is trying to find its rightful place in the world.
        The problem is that this shift toward the West made by the previously very popular Mr. Putin and his circle does not reflect the sentiment of the Russian majority. “Putin has indisputably come into his own among Western leaders,” notes the influential Moscow political commentator Vitaly Tretyakov. “But Russia has not come into its own among Western powers.” Most of the political elite and the general public see no cause for such a sharp turn to the West. Many see Putin as giving up his geopolitical and military advantages (arms control, closure of military bases abroad, U.S. access to Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus) without getting anything in return but empty declarations. Majority opinion has it that Russia should make a hefty profit from its support of the American war on terrorism by demanding that Soviet debts be written off, Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization be sped up, and so on. The United States and NATO are still seen as potent enemies.
        The more temperate of the political scientists say that the course chosen is the more strategically advantageous and will provide ample compensation. Russia will have the chance to be a real partner to the developed nations in the coming decades, both politically and economically. However, they have yet to convince the public of that, nor does most of the political elite understand that process. Most experts, who will now have to formulate a new agenda for relations with the West, are well versed in counting warheads and devising countermeasures, but do not know how to be genuinely cooperative.
        It is almost inconceivable that any serious opposition to Putin's pro-Western position should arise any time soon. Almost all political power lies with the president, no matter what he does. If opposition should be seen, it will be among those who hold that Russia's way is not that of the West and that the country must once again become aware of its greatness. That will happen if the populace does not feel the benefit of Putin's course.

·   ·   ·

By Farhad Mammadov

        Last week, the Azerbaijani parliament opened discussion on and quickly adopted two draft laws that restrict people's rights and freedoms. According to the changes made in the law “On Communication” last week, law-enforcement agencies can listen in on citizens' telephone conversations without a court sanction. The new law requires that communication services purchase the necessary equipment to make citizens’ telephone conversations accessible to law-enforcement agencies for surveillance or interception. The initiators of these changes – representatives of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party [NAP] –linked the ability to listen to citizens' phone conversations with “Azerbaijan's joining the anti-terror coalition after the events of September 11.” In their opinion, the struggle against terrorism requires giving additional authority to the law-enforcement agencies. The public, however, has shown dissatisfaction with those changes. According to Gulamhusein Aliev, an MP from the opposition, those changes foster interference into private life and are a crude restriction of human rights.
Another draft law restricting human rights and freedoms was approved at the first reading on May 21. This draft is about “regulating the implementation of human rights and freedoms,” and its adoption was included with a number of other obligations taken by Azerbaijan before the Council of Europe. However, the essence of that draft law is in contradiction with the European Human Rights Convention and is based on the restriction of human rights and freedoms. Under that draft law, citizens' personal immunity, inviolability of the home, freedoms of speech and conscience, and free assembly can be restricted. Protecting citizens' health and ethics, protecting other citizens' rights, and guaranteeing public stability may be shown as grounds for those restrictions.
        Nevertheless, the local Constitution does not permit changing the provisions guaranteeing rights and freedoms of citizens even through a referendum. Discussion of the draft law caused sharp disputes at the parliament and opposition MPs called the draft “reactionary.” In the words of an MP Igbal Agazadeh, adoption of this law will allow the government to restrict human rights and freedoms. Ali Karimli, an MP and leader of the Popular Front (Reformers wing) Party, stressed the draft law was against the Constitution and fostered a new totalitarianism. He notified that adoption of this law would turn the Constitution into a “piece of paper.” The majority of the parliament approved the draft law presented to the parliament with a signature of the President Heidar Aliev from the first reading, despite a number of protests.
        It should be mentioned that in the past several governing bodies used the gap in laws to violate citizens’ major rights and freedoms. The latest discussions at the Azerbaijani parliament confirm that Aliev’s authorities are going to apply even more serious control over citizens' rights and freedoms.

·   ·   ·

An interview with Zarko Korac, deputy prime minister of Serbia
By Pero Jurisin

    Zarko Korac, university professor and vice-president of the Serbian government, was until recently president of the Social Democratic Union, one of the 18 parties forming the larger coalition Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), which toppled Slobodan Milosevic from power in October 2000. Aware of the fact that the heterogeneous DOS is progressively deteriorating, he started the process of uniting the Social Democratic Union and similar parties to try and strengthen the democratic left in Serbia, which was the least developed political force due to decades of communism and Milosevic's “national socialism.” Following his initiative, the new Social Democratic Party was recently founded. Korac is one of its presidents.

        Q: Does the 18-party composition of the DOS reflect differentiation of Serbia’s political scene?
        A: In Serbia, the political positioning is over. The rightist, conservative and nationalist option is represented by the Democratic Party of Serbia, led by the current Yugoslav president, Vojislav
Kostunica. More extreme is the Serbian Radical Party led by Vojislav Seselj. As with other pro-fascist organizations, it also has some elements of the populist left. The center position is occupied by the Democratic Party, headed by Zoran Djindjic. Considering his practicality, that position suits him because he can turn a little to the left or right, depending upon the voters' sentiment. His party is the best organized of all, with many middle-class intellectuals, especially in small cities. The extreme anti-democratic left is represented by the Socialist Party of Serbia, formerly led by Slobodan Milosevic, who now faces a period of internal struggle surrounding his legacy. Milosevic, an indicted war criminal, is in jail; he leads the party via emissaries or speakerphone. Its sister party, Yugoslav United Left, is headed by Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic, and is practically extinct. As a consequence, there is a big open space for the now-fragmented democratic left. My big wish was to see my party united with the Civil Alliance of Serbia, led by federal minister of foreign affairs Goran Svilanovic, but they are still uncertain as to what to do. They have the strong image of an anti-war party that fought for human rights throughout Milosevic's regime. Therefore, their participation in the leftist block would be a huge contribution to establishing the credibility of the civil left that is very necessary in Serbia now.
        Q: Is this unification related to alleged early elections?
        A: This year will see presidential elections in Serbia, with probable federal elections if negotiations with Montenegro come out well. Most DOS members will try to postpone the parliamentary elections in Serbia until 2003, when people can expect the first results of reforms.
        Q: What is the current economic and social situation in Serbia?
        A: If we take the gray economy into account, Serbia has a per capita GDP of $1300 USD, which makes it poorer than Bosnia and Herzegovina. Poverty is more widespread in cities, which makes Serbia different from other European countries. People in villages are better off than townspeople. Serbia is also burdened with 700,000 refugees, including 200,000 from Kosovo.
        This amounts to 9 percent of the total population. Moreover, many young and educated people have left Serbia during the past 10 years, rendering already difficult conditions worse. There is no alternative to reform if we want to integrate into Europe. This is very hard for people in Southeastern Europe because it presents them with a paradox: The project of creating a national state, which increases nationalist sentiment in people, now competes with the desire to participate in European integration, which curbs national feelings.
        Q: To what extent is the political situation burdened by unresolved relations between Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo?
        A: Serbia faces problems unknown to any other transition country. Relations with Montenegro, together with the problem of Kosovo, use up a tremendous amount of energy. The separation of Kosovo and the hard position of Serbs living in enclaves is so complex that a Serbian vice prime minister deals exclusively with that issue. On the other hand, the divisions within Montenegro concerning integration with Serbia is also presenting an obstacle to reform.
    It is even an obstacle for admittance into European institutions, which are uncertain about the status of the country they are preparing to admit.
        Q: Could there be a resurgence of the extreme nationalist right due to the difficult economic situation and disappointment with unfulfilled promises of the current government?
        A: No. Our situation is completely different. The extreme Serbian right is embodied in Seselj, who currently barely passes 6 or 7 percent in polls. The next elections in Serbia will offer an interesting alternative between the new nationalism of Vojislav Kostunica, which tends to be enlightened and oriented towards Europe, and reformists embodied in young people grouped around Prime Minister Djindjic, like Vice Prime Minister Labus or National Bank governor Dinkic. These are the main options in Serbia. Individually, Kostunica enjoys more popularity, but it is now much less than after the 2000 elections.
That's why Serbian citizens will have a difficult choice between a wish to support Kostunica, who represents continuity with the past, and realizing that a break has to be made. That choice will determine the Serbian future. There is a new historical decision to be made at the next elections: whether to continue with modernization, supporting reformers embodied in Djindjic who alone cannot win the elections, or to cast their vote for Kostunica, maintaining continuity with the past, slowing down changes and making it difficult for us to face our history.