1. The Czech Republic: COMMUNISTS DELIVER BOMBSHELL
by Petruska Sustrova
2. Belarus: IS LUKASHENKO THE NEXT BELARUSIAN FREEDOM
by Paulyuk Bykowski
The doors of polling stations
closed at 2 pm on Saturday, June 5 after elections held over the previous
two days. Shortly before midnight, the media informed Czech citizens of
the most likely composition of the lower chamber of the Czech Parliament,
the Chamber of Deputies. The Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) was the
victorious party, receiving 30.2 percent of the vote. The Civic Democratic
Party (ODS) came second with 24.47 percent. But the great bombshell of
the elections was the third place showing by the Communist Party of Bohemia
and Moravia (KSCM) with 18.51 percent. The fourth party which managing
to overcome the threshold for entering parliament (5 percent for individual
parties and 10 percent a two-party coalition) was the Coalition, consisting
of two parties, the Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People's Party
and the Freedom Union. It received 14.27 percent of the total number of
Czech citizens were able to choose from among almost thirty political parties and movements and more than 12 percent of vote was cast for small and minor parties that did not cross the threshold to make it into parliament. Only two were relatively successful: the Association of Independent Candidates and the Party of the Greens, which received
just enough, a little over 1.5 percent each, to qualify for financial contributions from the state (one hundred crowns for each vote cast for the party). President Vaclav Havel entrusted the chairman of CSSD, Vladimir Spidla, with the formation of a new government on Monday, June 17. He must now choose a partner and any of the new or old parties will create a majority in the Chamber of Deputies. Even the mere 30 seats of the Coalition are sufficient for the Social Democrats, with 71 seats, to form a majority in the 200-seat Chamber. It would be a very slim majority in this case.
Long before the elections, Spidla had referred to the Coalition as the most attractive partner of the Social Democrats in a future government. Spidla maintains this view even now, after the elections, and has already approached Coalition politicians with a proposal of forming a government together. This is rather surprising since the Left is the clear winner of the elections and under normal political customs the social democrats should form a coalition government with the communists. This coalition would give a comfortable majority of 112 seats.
But in looking for a partner, Spidla has given preference to an approach that he sees as being more important than the traditional left-right labeling, most importantly taking the road of joining the European Union. While neither the communists nor Klaus's Civic Democrats openly declare their disinterest in EU accession, their systematically stated reservations and demands make it clear that any government including their parties would complicate accession of the Czech Republic to the EU.
Another serious problem is the fact that the KSCM is seen as a party that never disassociated itself from its totalitarian past and consequently is not an acceptable partner for democratic parties. In the 1998 elections, it obtained 11percent of all votes and considering pre-election polls a majority of observers did not expect it to increase its vote very much. So what made Czech voters cast their vote for a party connected with the communist regime?
First, only 58percent of all eligible voters came out to vote in the elections (the smallest percentage since 1989). Since the traditional voters of the KSCM are absolutely reliable when it comes to going to the polls, this meant the KSCM could expect better results simply by an overall lower turnout. In the Czech Republic, there is a saying that, "Those who do not vote, vote for the communists." This notwithstanding, the stronger position of the communists in the Chamber of Deputies is not just an optical illusion from a lower turnout; the communists had 200,000 more total votes than in the previous election. Many observers, however, attribute the large KSCM vote to so-called "protest" votes, and not due to the Czech citizenry's longing for a return of communism.
There is another reason that low turnout is linked to the communist party's success. Large sections of the Czech public were sickened by politics during the past term of office. The social democrats won the previous elections but did not find a partner with whom to form a government, forcing the previous party leadership to conclude a so-called opposition contract with Klaus's ODS. The agreement stipulated that ODS deputies would not vote for the resignation of the government, allowing the CSSD to remain a full four years in power despite strong criticism.
The stable government of the Social Democrats had some advantages: it succeeded in privatizing banks and bringing the country out of its economic recession; it attracted a large number of foreign investments and launched solid economic growth. But in the eyes of the public, the contractual link of the CSSD with the opposition ODS lessened the value of politics. Political programs and their implementation did not matter and politics seen as merely a technicality of power sharing.
Spreading corruption was an inevitable consequence: if the CSSD was to satisfy its “opposition contractual” partner, then CSSD and ODS deputies had to share out many posts on the boards of enterprises where the state still owns asset shares, as well as many posts in the state administration. This created the impression among many citizens that for Deputies politics is no more and no less than a lucrative sinecure and not a service to the public, and that by casting their votes in elections the voters are unable to participate in decision-making since the
political elite has turned into a kind of new nomenklatura sharing power among its own members after the elections. It was this feeling that clearly dissuaded many citizens from voting. In fact, almost one and a half million fewer people voted in this election than in 1998.
Another factor that might have helped the communists to achieve their considerable electoral gains was the election campaign, which lacked specifics and was accompanied by countless attacks and invectives. The CSSD's prime theme was “the defense of national interests.” Milos Zeman, the Prime Minister, made several rude and crude statements addressed to the Sudeten Germans who had been stripped of Czechoslovak citizenship, deprived of their property after the Second World War, and expelled from Czechoslovakia.
This so-called expulsion had been accompanied by various acts of brutality, which have never been punished since one of the decrees of the Czechoslovak President at the time, Edvard Benes, assured the culprits of impunity. This Decree, together with all other Decrees, which were the foundation of Benes's government immediately after the war, subsequently became law under a decision of the National Assembly. The justification of the expulsion and, above all, the methods by which it was carried out were never discussed openly in Czechoslovakia under communist rule. A statement by Vaclav Havel on television in December 1989 that “we ought to apologize to the Sudeten Germans,” aroused a widespread wave of antagonism among the public as well as among a number of politicians. Ever since, there have been discussions from time to time in the Czech media on the subject. Representatives of associations of expellees in
Germany and in Austria demand the annulment of the Benes Decrees and certain German and Austrian politicians support them. When in the spring Prime Minister Milos Zeman called the Sudeten Germans Hitler's Fifth Column in post-war Czechoslovakia and when he advised Israeli politicians to settle their problems with the Palestinians by expelling them as Czechoslovakia had done after the war, he aroused understandable irritation in German and Austrian political circles.
The Sudeten German question became a major theme in the Czech elections; the Czech Chamber of Deputies even went so far as to adopt a unanimous decision according to which the post-war territorial and ownership arrangement was irreversible. It is worth mentioning that neither the German nor the Austrian state ever raised territorial claims against the Czech Republic and that the political representatives of these two countries repeated over and again that they had no intention of ever raising such claims.
But “the defense of national interests” which certain Czech politicians had made their crucial theme triggered considerable alarm among the public, especially in regions, which had been resettled after the expulsion of the German population. This alarm was able to add a number of votes for the communist party since the communists are traditionally anti-German and could well appear to be the best protectors against an alleged threat.
• • •
Russian president Vladimir
Putin's “casual” speech on Russian-Belarusian integration on June 13, made
to an audience of medical personnel at Bakulev Cardiologic Surgery Center,
has destroyed the myth that the builders of the Belarusian and Russian
Unified State think alike. Questions were raised on this high level for
the first time, such as why Belarus will have a veto and why there will
be guarantees of its territorial integrity and sovereignty within the Unified
The week began without hint of the upcoming sensation. On June 10, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko arrived in Saint Petersburg for a meeting with his Russian colleague. While his host was busy with summits with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Union of Baltic Sea States as well as negotiations with the heads of Azerbaijan, Germany and Ukraine, Lukashenko found his own way to keep busy. He played hockey against the St. Petersburg team and won. Everything was as usual.
On June 11, summing up the results of several hours of negotiations with Putin, Lukashenko announced, “There are no irresolvable problems.” Moreover, the Belarusian BELTA news agency quoted Lukashenko as saying that they had reached an agreement that the Belarusians would present its views on the nature of the union to take place, when a united parliament would be elected and what type of document the whole affair was to be based on.
Lukashenko’s press secretary Natalya Petkevich stated that, by the end of the first four hours of the negotiations, Lukashenko had given Putin a letter with a list attached of unresolved problems in Belarusian-Russian relations, among which were indirect taxation, optimum conditions for the delivery of Russian uncut diamonds, controls over cane sugar imports to Russia, the establishment of a common transportation market, and natural gas shipment to Belarus.
Then there was a second round of negotiations and Putin went boating on the Neva. Lukashenko said that he was sure that “there will be no tactical problems between Belarus and Russia.” Leonid Kozik, deputy head of the Belarusian presidential administration, broke the news to journalists that Moscow was about to take specific measures to alleviate misunderstanding between the two sides. BELTA quotes Kozik as saying, “The thing is that the
Russian Federation, as a sovereign state, passed laws three to five years ago placing Belarus on an equal footing with the other countries of the world. Therefore, today we have to adjust them.”
Several days later, his words took on new meaning. Nonetheless, everything appeared normal. The integration machine, wound up under Boris Yeltsin, continued to shoot out steam and rumble forward. On June 13, the Russian Central Bank released the second tranche of credit, another 1.5 billion rubles of 4.5 billion promised last year.
Belarusian officials were speaking warmly of the latest stage of integration, but only in the first half of the day. Then Russian television showed Putin meeting doctors at the Bakulev
Cardiologic Surgery Center. Somewhere between his visit to the chief surgeon's office and the children's ward, Putin suggested that the Belarusian leadership should define the mechanism for integration. And everything changed.
“There should be no legal wishy-washiness that we will then be unable to deal with,” Putin said. “Our partners need to understand for themselves, to define what they want. We often hear that it would be nice if it were something like the Soviet Union. Then why write in the write in the proposed Constitutional Act that there will be a sovereign state, territorial integrity, the right to a veto on all decisions, and so on?”
The Russian president spoke forthrightly about the unacceptability for the Kremlin of true equal rights for the two countries in the Unified State, since that would not be in the Russian interest. “Let's not forget that the Belarusian economy is 3 percent the size of Russia's,” he said.
Nor does Putin agree with the transfer of the Belarusian state “golden lot” into the Union State. “Maybe there is a right to a veto if the leadership has established that the people are opposed,” he said. “Then we should have the right to a veto too. . . But then it is no longer anything like the Soviet Union. It must be clear what we want and what our partners want.”
Putin also openly denied the possibility of any “supra-Russian” agencies in the Unified State. “Under no circumstances can any kind of supra-national organs with ill-defined functions be created. We already had that in the history of this country with the Supreme Soviets of the USSR and Russia,” which had no “clearly assigned competences.”
Thus, the Russian head of state decisively constricted the maneuvering power of pro-integrationists, leaving only a choice between the status quo and the annexation of Belarus.
Political scientist Viktor Chernov, commenting at the request of STINA, stated, “The Union State will not be built on the Belarusian model. The subtext of Putin's statements is that
Belarus will either join Russia as a constituent of the Federation or else there will be no integration."
It is curious to note how the Belarusian opposition reacted to Putin’s statements. The first reaction of most of them was almost childlike happiness that the oppressor was being offended. When the question of the implementation of Putin’s demands in the unification process was raised, Belarusian political scientists tried to speak in the most general terms.
The ruling party acted similarly. Kozik was set under the spotlight and Lukashenko evaded political self-immolation. A Belarusian newscaster read part of a reproach addressed to Putin from Kozik, another part Kozik was allowed to read himself. Putin's own words were not broadcast at all.
In this reproach, reference was made to a search for the enemies of integration who set the Russian head of state against the suggestions of the Belarusian leadership in a sudden change of position. The newscaster put it this way: “As the deputy head of the Administration said, ‘It is hard for me to answer the question of who could plant the idea overnight that Minsk intends to resurrect the great and powerful USSR, but I think that Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] and all right-thinking people in both Russia and Belarus understand very well that is impossible theoretically and even more so practically.’” In his opinion, the Russian president’s pronouncements today were made under the influence of the notes of the latest socialite political analyst, who is trying, for the benefit of opponents of the Union State, to convince the leaders of the State to emasculate the existing agreement, to render it hazy and washed out and thereby unworkable.”
Could they really be talking about Speaker of the State Duma Gennady Seleznev and leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation Gennady Zyuganov, who that very day criticized the Kremlin for its undesirable support of the Belarusian proposal to create supranational organs within the Unified State?
Kozik made another argument as well. “Just imagine,” he said. “Two presidents spoke for nine hours, spoke in a businesslike, yet friendly, atmosphere. I don't think that people who bear the mantle of high authority, heads of state, would spend that much time together, more than nine hours, if they didn't have a lot to talk about or, let us say, if they weren't nice to each other or they didn't think that their states would live and develop together.”
One Belarusian high official compared the developments in Belarusian relations to a marriage contract between spouses from different social strata-it's very hard, if though both have the same goal of living together. Another commentator made a similar comparison, but observed that nothing happens by chance in politics.
Indeed, time has flown since Russia has been recognized as a country with a market economy, thus increasing its chances of joining the World Trade Organization. The U.S. State Department's request that the Kremlin convince its Belarusian allies to behave themselves increases the Department's dependence on the Kremlin, as does Minsk's utter alienation from all international institutions. It bears repeating that Belarus today has withdrawn itself to the greatest extent possible from the very organizations Russia is attaining to.
One explanation for the situation as it stands may be the West's hypothetical isolation of Belarus in matters acknowledged to be the interests of Russia, and gentlemen's agreements not to interfere in the inclusions of Belarus in the Russian Federation in return for guarantees not to violate human rights.
In that case, at their meeting in St. Petersburg, Putin could have offered his Belarusian “brother” a deal he couldn't refuse, or accept.
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky roughly outlined the hypothetical deal as Belarus joining Russia in the form of two provinces and the president of the Republic of Belarus being given the post of first deputy prime minister in the Russian government. More responsible politicians began to shush him, without exactly refuting him. If there will not be supra-Russian organs in the Union State, either there will be no Union State, or there will be supra-Belarusian organs.
A deal like that will not please Lukashenko. The relationship between lord and vassal can be dressed up and renamed in many ways, but the vassal remains a vassal. Anatoly Lebedko,
Belarusian opposition activist, said of Putin’s statements that the only place left in politics for Lukashenko was as the head of a CIS anti-Putin faction. Five years ago he had predicted that the Belarusian president would have to form a partisan brigade to fight for Belarusian independence.
There are increasing rumors of a referendum to be held in Belarus in the fall. They opposition says that Lukashenko will use the tactic to extend his term in office. If integration takes place without supra-national organs, the first question on that ballot may be whether Belarus will be joined with Russia. In that case, preserving a leadership role for Lukashenko will be a measure to preserve Belarusian independence, at least for a time.
In August, the Belarusian-Russian group to develop a Constitutional Act of the Union State is supposed to present the fruits of its labors to the High State Council of the Union State.
It is hard to imagine how they will reconcile the positions of Minsk and Moscow. There is a precedent in Belarusian history for subjecting two proposed constitutions to a referendum. At that time, the results were determined by the Lukashenko-controlled media and Central Elections Commission.
• • •
The war in Chechnya
is being fought in a way that could continue for decades.
Landmines are still frequently set off in Chechen cities and villages, killing both Russian soldiers and police, and also civilians – women, children, and old people. Anytime this happens, Russian law enforcement responds with harsh punitive operations directed against the entire civilian population.
The situation in the Chechen Republic is deteriorating continually in all respects, despite Moscow’s cheery announcements and the optimistic coverage by Russian television news channels.
Some Western politicians are making baseless statements that observance of human rights has improved substantially. In fact, the people of Chechnya have are not only deprived of all civil and human rights, they lack even the most basic of all rights – the right to life.
Terrorist acts directed against the civilian population of the Chechen Republic have reached unprecedented scope and methods. Because law enforcement agencies – most notably the prosecutor’s office – are entirely non-functional, both street crime and war crimes have are part of daily existence in Chechnya. The growth of criminality in the Republic is staggering. Extra-legal executions and other punishments have become the norm. Whereas earlier, members of the Chechen militia and government were the targets, now nearly every night people who are just socially active or civic leaders are being killed. These targeted civilian killings have filled Chechen society with fear and desperation.
Russia’s military leadership has long known that the tactics associated with “inspection of the passport regime” are ineffective means in subduing Chechen fighters. The inspections – better known as mop-up operations – are nothing more than state-sponsored terrorism directed at the Chechen people. They go hand in hand with theft, vandalism, and bribery. More than 90 percent of those arrested during mop-ups have no connection whatsoever to the independence fighters. Of those arrested, the lucky ones are bought out of captivity by their families; they return beaten, crippled and hardly alive. Frequently, however, the family finds only a mutilated corpse, and is often forced to buy the corpses for burial.
The formal military doctrine governing the operation in Chechnya outlines a set of principles regulating operations regarding the “inspection of the passport regime.” Officially under doctrine, “passport inspections” are supposed to be under strict administrative and legal control in order to prevent any human rights violations. In fact, as soon as this doctrine was enacted, the violations became more egregious. While in 2001, mop-up operations occurred sporadically in various towns and villages in Chechnya, in 2002, multiple operations have frequently been conducted in several areas simultaneously. And in some areas (Grozny, Stariye Atagi, Argun, Urus-Martan, Alkhan Yurt and Tsotsin-Yurt), mop-up operations are a regular occurrence. Each operation targets dozens of people, and hundreds disappear without a trace. Russian soldiers reserve a special sort of cruelty and sadism for the mop-up operations, beating, torturing, and crippling innocent people.
Due to the work of Chechen human rights organizations, information on these unprecedented human rights violations occurring during mop-up operations in Chechnya has become available to people in Russia and to the international community.
The Russian army has been conducting regular mop-up operations in the town of Argun. Twice in a short period of time, Russian troops attacked local schools. School Number 4 was attacked on March 28, while students were on break, and School Number 1 on April 10. According to administrators of School Number 4, Russian troops approached them and claimed that they had information that guerrilla fighters used the school basement as a hideout. There was an explosion in the school, after which the soldiers began shooting indiscriminately. Approximately 10 people were wounded in the attack and a cow was killed. As the soldiers left the school grounds, they continued to fire into the streets. A young boy who heard the shooting tried to hide in a store, but the bullets penetrated the wooden door. He was hit in both arms and both legs.
On April 10, troops arrived at School Number 1 in armored carriers with the serial numbers blacked out. They broke into the building and beat up a number of students in the gym, as well as attacking members of the Chechen militia who were trying to protect the children. The soldiers answered all questions with obscenities. Many students, traumatized, did not return to school the next day.
According to Chechen human rights organizations, on April 23 Russian troops conducted another mop-up operation in Argun. By the end of the day, Ramzan Mazayev, who happened to be walking near the train station, had been killed, and several others were wounded. Russian soldiers arrived at the train station in armored personnel carriers without serial numbers, surrounded a group of men and tried to arrest them. In order to prevent the men from running away, and to prevent bystanders from interfering, the soldiers opened fire. Several people were wounded. Witnesses living near the train station saw the troops fire on unarmed people. Ramzan Mazayev, who was simply walking by, was seriously injured. Bystanders begged to be allowed to help him, but in vain. Mazayev died on the street amid dozens of witnesses. Some, watching from far away, saw the soldiers place a grenade in Mazayev’s pocket, lay their guns down next to his body and then film him with a video camera. Only then did the soldiers leave the scene, leaving Mazayev and four wounded men lying on the street along with the other men who were surrounded and shot at for no apparent reason.
According to the public press center in the city of Nazran (Ingushetia), on April 17, 2002, Russian troops opened fire in the village of Vashindoroy in Shatoy region at 4:00 in the afternoon. Two sisters, ages 3 and 11, died, and their 9-year-old brother was seriously wounded. The children were playing in their yard when the shooting began. The boy’s relatives asked the troops to take him by helicopter to the military hospital in Vladikavkaz, but they refused. Instead, he was placed in the local hospital.
A Russian regiment stationed in the village of Borzoy carried out the shooting. According to residents, Colonel Tarasov had threatened the head of the Vashindoroy village administration that he would shell the village on the previous day. Residents believe that the colonel was simply making good on his threat.
At the end of March, a mop-up operation took place in Tsotsin-Yurt, after the murder of a local Russian contract soldier, a man who had been particularly rude and cruel in his relations with the local population. Villagers claim that he was killed by a fellow soldier. Nevertheless, the day after the murder, Russian troops surrounded the village. At that point, there was an unexpected explosion. It turned out that a bomb had been planted on a passing car. Ten Russian soldiers were injured, and one died. Afterwards, as the villagers had feared, troops arrived from Khakala, Gudermes, and from the military installment located between Oyskhara and Tsentoroy.
The mop-up operation was particularly cruel, gathering up men and taking them to a makeshift filtration camp on the outskirts of the village.
The detainees were not only cruelly tortured, but also subjected to electric shocks by soldiers mockingly suggesting that they “call up distant relatives.” Men returned from this camp half alive; some had had their fingers crushed. Many ended up at the camp more than once. A total of 280 people were detained. The rest of the men in the village had been threatened with arrest, but managed to bribe themselves out of it.
Soldiers broke into private homes at night, searching down women in a vulgar manner and committing vandalism and theft. Soldiers stole 13 carpets from one home. Three houses were completely destroyed – one burnt down and two exploded.
Several people taken to the filtration camp never returned to the village. Their relatives and village leaders are now looking for them. In early April, the bodies of three men from Tsotsin-Yurt were found near the village of Bachi-Yurt in Kurchaloy region. All three had been brutally beaten.
In early May, a mop-up operation – particularly vicious, according to witnesses – was carried out in the village of Alkhan-Yurt. Several people were killed in the operation, including women, who were killed with extreme cruelty. They were beaten, tortured and cursed. Their dead bodies were horribly mutilated; they had turned black from the blows.
The situation in the city of Grozny remains very disturbing. Russian armed forces periodically carry out mop-up operations in various neighborhoods. They arrest innocents, most of whom disappear without a trace or return home beaten and crippled. Russian troops regularly conduct raids in the city, arresting anyone who does not have a Grozny residence permit. In the end most people arrested during these raids are freed – usually for a bribe – but some detainees have never been heard from again.
In addition to the widespread mop-up operations, Russian troops also carry out so-called “address checks” in every town and village in Chechnya. Every day dozens of people, most with no connection whatsoever to the guerillas, are subjected to address checks.
The mop-up operations and other checks and raids constitute an act of ethnocide against the Chechen people. These operations are destroying the population of men between 15 and 40 years of age. Without convicting them of any crimes, Russian soldiers arrest and kill healthy, strong men and boys, claiming that they are potential terrorists and guerillas.
The observance of human rights in Chechnya is not increasing; in fact, the situation it is deteriorating with each passing day. The optimism of international organizations that are charged with observing the progress of human rights protection in Chechnya is incomprehensible.
Perhaps the progress will become more visible when the entire Chechen nation has been destroyed.
* Written by correspondents in Chechnya, Dispatches from
Chechnya is distributed in English by the Institute for Democracy
in Eastern Europe (IDEE). For more
information about IDEE, its programs, and the situation in
Chechnya, visit the IDEE webpage at www.idee.org. To receive
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