1. Georgia: LAISSEZ-FAIRE ? SHEVARDNADZE'S STRATEGY
FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS
by Zurab Tchiaberashvili
2. Russia: PROBLEMS WITH UNDERSTANDING EUROPE
by Fedor Lukyanov
3. Azerbaijan: FIRING AT THE PEOPLE
by Mustafa Hajibeyli
Local elections held in Georgia
on June 2 have shown voters’ total dissatisfaction with the existing ruling
system. In Tbilisi, approximately 25 and 23 % of votes, respectively, were
received by two parties ? the Labor Party and the National Movement?Democratic
Front ? that sharply criticized the existing political regime during
the election campaign. Initially, the local elections were to be held in
the fall of 2001, but political turmoil in October 2001, when protest demonstrations
forced President Eduard Shevardnadze to dismiss the entire government,
caused the elections to be postponed until spring 2002.
The breakdown of Shevardnadze's ruling Citizens' Union of Georgia (CUG) began even before the October crisis. In September 2001, when Shevardnadze resigned as party chairman. Created in 1994, the CUG was victorious in the 1995 and 1999 parliamentary elections. It served as Shevardnadze’s main base of support until a reformist group, led by Parliamentary Speaker Zurab Zhvania and Minister of Justice Mikhail Saakashvili, started to openly attack members of Shevardnadze's government. In the fall of 2001, both Zhvania and Saakashvili resigned from their posts, citing the impossibility of continuing democratic reforms under Shevardnadze's leadership.
The struggle for taking control of the CUG was no less intense than the election campaign itself. Zhvania and Levan Mamaladze, the governor of the Kvemo Kartli region who has been accused of corruption, confronted each other over the party leadership. While Mamaladze won Shevardnadze's support, as well as a court decision over the party’s leadership title, he lost the elections. In Tbilisi, the CUG won only 2.6%.
Shevardnadze and his bureaucracy were aware of the impossibility of restoring the image of the CUG in the eyes of voters. In previous elections, the state bureaucracy was involved in election fraud in order to provide the CUG with the needed numbers of votes. During these local elections, the party-state machinery pursued another strategy: it tried to disorganize and, consequently, to wreck the elections completely.
After the elections, state authorities claimed that the government remained neutral during the election process. Given that the elections were abrogated in Rustavi, Khashuri and Zugdidi, and the elections in other regions were fraught with serious violations, such statements seem very cynical. Actually, the authorities did nothing to provide a normal environment for conducting the elections according to legal procedures.
In the week after the elections, political parties were occupied mostly with seeking “justice” for a number of electoral violations rather than with thinking about future political alliances. Several political parties, including the second place winner, the National Movement?Democratic Front, have been demanding a recount of voters’ ballots for the Tbilisi area. Initially, the Central Election Committee decided to order a recount, but changed its decision later after the winning Labor Party insisted on recounting not just Tbilisi but all ballots nationwide.
The Tbilisi results are seen as crucial, since Georgia’s capital is the only place where elections are held according to a proportional system. Twenty-one political parties and blocs were competing for seats in the Tbilisi State Council and, simultaneously, testing their prospects for victory in the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for the fall of 2003. In fact, the system of self-governance is very weak, as shown during the last three years, during which the local legislative bodies elected in 1998 were impotent and lacked the financial resources to carry out their duties.
Article 2 of the State Constitution prevents any definition of Georgia’s territorial arrangement until the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity. In reality, Georgia uses both historical and Soviet political legacies: the political system preserved the Soviet legacy of territorial division in districts (70 districts on the territory are currently under the central authorities' current control) and, at the same time, introduced a post of governor in 12 historical regions of the country. A governor in a region, as well as the head of the executive authority in a district, is not an elected official, but appointed by the president. No representative body exists on the regional level.
According to Article 4 of the Law of Georgia on Local Self-Government, local self-governance is implemented in villages, communities, towns, and cities. Special cases are Tbilisi and Poti, Georgia’s main port on the Black Sea cost, where the Mayor's offices are the State Executive Bodies, and simultaneously fulfill the functions of the City Council. Mayors are appointed by the president.
On the district level, the Georgian legislation recognizes only central governance and not self-governance. Gamgeoba, the executive body on the district level, is a state executive body that simultaneously fulfills the functions of the local council. The President of Georgia appoints the members of the Gamgeoba in a district. The legislative area of the local self-governing body (city, town, community, and village level) is narrower than the area of competence of local governing bodies (district level).
At the same time, the economic axis of local self-government and local governance is the district budget, controlled by the members of the Gamgeoba, from which village, community, town and city budgets receive transfers. The amount of money received by the local self-governing body from the district depends on the level of loyalty of the local council, the mayor, or members of the Gamgeoba. Due to the system of transfers and the system of appointing the members of the Gamgeoba, the central government maintains tight control over local self-governing bodies.
According to the Central Election Committee, 46 percent of Tbilisi’s voters participated in the elections. Seven political parties overcame the 4 percent threshold for representation in the Tbilisi Council: the Labor Party (25 percent), the National Movement?Democratic Front (23 percent), New Rightists (11 percent), the Team of Zurab Zhvania, using the title of the Christian Conservative Party (7 percent), Industry Saves Georgia (7 percent), Revival of Georgia (6 percent), and Unity (4 percent).
The Labor Party won the majority of seats in the Tbilisi State Council also in the 1998 local elections but was unable to maintain its majority because of defections to other factions, mainly the CUG. One of the leaders of the National Movement?Democratic Front, David Berdzenishvili, thinks that the chairman of the Labor Party, Shalva Natelashvili, rivals the leader of the Liberal-Democratic party of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, in his radicalism. He believes that Natelashvili’s rhetoric takes away the votes of real opposition parties, thus helping the authorities.
Natelashvili, in turn, accuses Zhvania's Team and Saakashvili's National Movement? Democratic Front of cooperation with the President. In either case, it is clear that an affiliation with President Shevardnadze is very dangerous for any political party and so political opponents easily use accusations of cooperation with the President as their main weapon against each other.
The local elections put an end to the era of Shevardnadze favoring only one political party. The elections revealed that the President is no longer interested in having only one support and will seek the establishment of a political system where temporary, random coalitions between various parties are the norm rather than the exception.
In general, Georgian politics does not differentiate between parliament or local council representatives and the state bureaucracy. The entire system is based on an undefined balance between the two. Such a structure leads the legislative and executive branches of government, different institutions, and both central and regional leaders, to perform narrowly focused blocking activities. Shevardnadze guarantees the operation of this system. The president's position can become more stable even as conditions within Georgia stagnate. After the local elections, the president and state bureaucracy feel safer: the political system is divided by rival political actors and the chance for the creation of a broad anti-Shevardnadze political unit prior to coming parliamentary elections seems to be minimal.
• • •
Vladimir Putin has celebrated
yet another victory. His new bosom buddy George W. Bush recently called
him to give him the good news: The United States has recognized Russia
as a country with a market economy. European Union head Romano Prodi announced
the EU’s similar recognition a week earlier at a summit in Moscow.
Russia has been striving for that for ten years, since Yegor Gaidar's first postcommunist government began “shock therapy” to disassemble the Soviet planned economy. Such recognition by the United States and the European Union is, of course, music to Moscow's ears, and entirely deserved. Russia has no less grounds to be called a market economy than Kazakhstan, which was recognized earlier. It will be easier now for Russian enterprises to operate in international markets, even though they are still a long way away from entrance into the World Trade Organization. The decisions by Washington and Brussels are an important symbol of the West’s readiness to deal with Russia on an equal footing. It has to be clearly noted, however, that the potential for such a “declarative” collaboration has already been spent. For ten years, reforms have been conducted with all the ritual mutual gestures: partnership agreements, cooperation agreements, and so on. They were all very important, but noncommittal.
Granting Russia market status is the latest in a series of steps that have come almost without any concrete requirements by the developed nations. It simply acknowledges Russian as a normal state, with which it is possible to have normal relations. That's all very good, but attempts at real collaborations are only now beginning, and won't be easy.
Remarkably, the summit meeting at which Prodi announced Russia's market status was spurred by the first real crisis in relations between Russia and Europe. This crisis was caused by the situation in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea. In a year and a half, it may become completely isolated from the Motherland. After Lithuania and Poland are admitted into the European Union, residents of that western region of Russia will have to have a Schengen visa every time they wish to travel to the “mainland.” (Few there have the resources with which to buy an airline ticket.) This is hardly a new problem, but Russia had not given it much attention before. Throughout the 1990s, the bulk of Russian diplomatic efforts were spent fighting the expansion of NATO, and the expansion of the EU seemed less consequential at that time. Now the situation has made a full-face turn. The expansion of NATO is no problem at all, as Russia is halfway into that alliance now. But the coming expansion of the EU will come as a blow to Russia on more than one front. These include Moscow's economic interests and, most of all, the problem with Kaliningrad, which is, according to deputy Prime Minister Boris Khristenko,
“aggravated to the maximum.”
In a statement at the European summit, Putin touched on themes that are new in his public dealings with Western leaders. Putin practically issued the EU an ultimatum, saying that relations will depend entirely on the solution to the Kaliningrad problem, it being the “absolute criterion of the authenticity of our partnership.” According to Putin, the choices offered from
Brussels “in essence mean one thing: that the right of Russians to associate freely with their relatives within Russia will depend on the decision of another state.” He tried to hit the Europeans' soft spot, mentioning “elementary human rights” and similar problems that were satisfactorily decided in West Berlin.
Moscow will provide for any form of transit of its goods and citizens out of Kaliningrad (sealed wagons on trains, guarded transit corridors, etc.) as long as no visas are required.
Brussels has promised to make every effort to hasten the procedure to provide Kaliningrad residents with long-term multi-entry visas, but is categorically opposed to any to any system that does not utilize visas. Schengen visas for Kaliningrad are “unacceptable for Russia and politically unconstitutional,” inasmuch as they “divide unified Russia into pieces,” Khristenko says. “All the countries of the EU are obliged rigorously to enforce rules adopted in the Union on the movement of citizens. It is not possible to deviate from them,” representatives from Brussels rumble back.
Besides human rights, the Russian Federation is, of course, worried about what will become of its enclave, from which it will be as hard to reach the Motherland as to reach “Europe.” Won't residents there feel that it is more worthwhile to follow a European path than to struggle to maintain their Russian identity?
The Russian diplomats with whom this correspondent spoke were unabashed in their delight at the president's decisiveness. “See,” they say, “finally the Europeans will feel Russia's determination. They have understood that these are no longer the times of Yeltsin, and we won't give way. If they don't decide the question our way, they won't get our support...” And so on.
So far, Putin's great strength has been that he has accurately judged his country's capabilities in the international arena and has not backed himself into obvious no-win situations. The advisors who led him to take a hard line on Kaliningrad have clearly led him astray, claiming that the EU can be forced into concessions. Few in Moscow understand just what that organization is. Russian leaders are accustomed to bilateral relationships, where the other side, whether it is the United States, Germany or Ukraine, can adjust its position under pressure or in return for measures decided on in meetings. In the case of the EU, simply no one-not the European Commission, which is at the top of the complex, multilevel structure known as the European Union, nor then country currently leading the Union-has the authority to make concessions. Their concern is to guarantee that the collective will of the member-states is carried out. That will is expressed in the harsh norms of the Schengen Agreement. If someone were suddenly moved by the plight of the Kaliningraders to reconsider that collective will, it would still be practically impossible to do anything because of the complexity of the process. There is turning back from European integration.
In the 1990s, when Europe was making strides toward unification, Russia was mired in its own problems. The elite were fighting each other for power. The old system had crumbled and a new one was painfully emerging from the ruins. Now that Europe has made its own difficult internal transformations, it is beginning to speak in one voice. Russia does not seem to be ready for that. Most importantly, Russia does not understand the workings of the unified Europe.
Sooner or later, Russia will have to agree to those visas. That will come about when the Russian leadership realizes that Europe will not back away from the internal consensus that it so laboriously attained, not even for such an important neighbor as Russia. All the more so, since the Schengen Agreement is one of the fundaments of the contemporary EU. If Putin is sincere when he speaks of Russia's European path, and there are no reasons to doubt that yet, then the country must overcome its pride and adjust to European norms. Moreover, given the choice between a long-term multi-entry Schengen visa (as the EU is suggesting) and sealed train cars with a convoy of Lithuanian border guards (as Russia suggests), the people of Kaliningrad would probably prefer the former.
• • •
On June 3, 2002, a bloody
incident in Baku's Nardaran settlement shocked the community. Police troops
placed themselves in order to disperse a protest action and fired on the
peaceful Nardaran protestors with sub-machine guns. As a result, one civilian,
53-year-old Alihasan Agayev, was murdered, and many protestors were injured.
The angered protesters attacked the police officers and soldiers were brought
to the settlement. According to the report spread by the Ministry Interior,
the local population began throwing stones . . . at law-enforcement
officers. A bloody clash continued for nearly two hours. A number of police
cars were overturned and burned a number of police officials were injured.
Tension has been building in the Nardaran settlement since the end of last year. Residents of the settlement have been staging various protests in order to draw attention to the social hardships of that region. The reason that the events came to such a head, however, was the arrest of local elders on June 3. On that day, the prosecutor of the Sabunchu district had invited the local elders to the executive offices for talks presumably to discuss appointment of an official representative to the Nardaran settlement. A leading district official wanted to consult with the local elders before appointing his representative to the settlement. However, nine local elders were detained on their way to the meeting, one of the inhabitants of the village, Hajji Gulaga reported it to the local media. In his words, a police force then entered the settlement and held searches in the detained elders’ homes. It was reported that during the searches, the police officers insulted and humiliated the elders’ families. Thereafter, the local population began gathering at Imam Hussein square, in the center of Nardaran. When they saw these beginnings of a protest rally, the police shot off firearms and automatic guns to start dispersing the people. As a result, a bloody clash occurred. Police officials state that they only shot in the air in order to warn the demonstrators. Nevertheless, it is a fact that several local dwellers were wounded and taken to hospitals in critical condition. One died.
Upon seeing the large numbers gathered at the square, the police stepped down and a demonstration was held at the Imam Hussein Square until morning. On June 4, a funeral ceremony for the murdered Alihasan Agayev was held. Over ten thousand people took part and it turned into a protest against the authorities. The situation in Nardaran remains tense. The arrested local elders have still not been released.
News of the police use of force against the demonstrators has shocked the community. Isa Gambar, leader of the democratic opposition and chair of the Musavat Party, said the incident showed that the authorities were heightening the level of repression. “While the government until now has used a stick against opposition voices, now it uses weapons. Instead of fulfilling the just claims of Nardaran residents, the government authorities shot down their own people,” Mr. Gambar said.
The social condition of the majority of the population in Azerbaijan is appalling. The unemployed population is in the millions. Moreover, the salary of those who do work is not sufficient to provide for basic needs. The average salary is 27,500 manats (5 USD) in Azerbaijan. The salary of doctors is approximately 100,000 manats (20 USD), and teachers and police employees earn just 150,000 manats (30 USD). The minimum pension defined by the state is a mere 55,000 manats (11 USD). The social condition of population in Azerbaijan has surprised recent representatives of international organizations. Walter Schwimmer, secretary general of the Council of Europe, visited Baku last month and stated that from his observations, 60 percent of the population in Azerbaijan was living at the poverty level. Naturally, in such a situation social protests should not be a surprise. Recently, protests have been held not only in Nardaran, but also in other regions of the republic, where people demanded jobs, housing, bread, gas, and electricity from government officials. Social protests held in Nardaran have become a regular occurrence. The recent violence in that settlement is a sign that the whole republic is on the verge of a revolt.
Political observers compare the recent incidents in Nardaran with similar incidents that took place in the town of Shaki in November 2000. There was only one difference: in Shaki military units immediately took repressive measures against the local protestors and many protestors were arrested. It was expected that the government authorities would again use violence in January of this year- during the protest actions in Nardaran. However, at that time government circles preferred different tactics: firstly, government representatives were sent to the settlement and local dwellers were promised that their problems would be solved. The development of events shows that the authorities had simply postponed punishing the protestors at that time. Each of the elders arrested on June 3 in Nardaran are active participants of protests that were held in winter at the settlement. In other words, the government has been trying to buy time by giving empty promises to the people, and has now begun punishing the major figures of the winter protests after things have calmed down in the settlement.
These incidents show that the aggression of the police has reached a critical level. Nardaran is one of the regions where people are strongly devoted to national traditions and religion. At present, representatives of law-enforcement agencies have specifically made up reports that inhabitants of the settlement threw stones at the police officers and burned police cars during the incidents. Nevertheless, it is impossible to hide that police and government bodies are themselves guilty in raising the protests to such a level. For nearly three days a peaceful protest rally has been continuing at the central square of the settlement and no police or government representatives have been seen. Inhabitants of Nardaran state that they will continue to protest until the arrested elders are released.
All political forces of the country except the government party insist that the Head of State Heidar Aliev take responsibility for the mentioned incidents, and especially the murder of a citizen by a policeman. It is clear that by such violence the authorities are trying to deter the population from protesting. On June 4, the “Amal” Intellectual Movement made a special statement and demanded the president “to answer before the nation” for the Nardaran incidents. However, Heidar Aliev keeps silent and continues to propagate himself and his son, Ilham Aliev as “great leaders,” as if nothing has happened.