1. Georgia: A STATE OF CRIMINALS
by Zurab Tchiaberashvili
3. Albania: THE STORY OF A POLITICAL COMPROMISE
by Slobodan Rackovic
Three grim criminal cases
publicized on the same day in June have renewed debates about Georgia’s
image: the stealing of heavy artillery from the Vaziani military airbase
just a few days before the beginning of NATO military exercises there on
June 17; the kidnapping of Peter Shaw, British businessman in Tbilisi on
June 18; and the arrest of Simon Mchedlidze, an officer of the Ministry
of State Security, 10 miles from Tbilisi. Seemingly unconnected, these
cases all suggest that the country continues to face problems with rule
of law and public order.
Peter Shaw, Executive Director of Agro-Business Bank, was stopped at 8:00 p.m. on June 18 as he was driving in the center of the city. Three unknown people, dressed in police uniforms, blocked his car and tried to seize him. Simultaneously, another police car with three legitimate policemen stopped nearby. These officers made an effort to clarify the situation, but in a moment another car with four more offenders dressed in military uniforms and armed with machine guns pulled up and in a flash of gunfire took the British businessman away in their own car. The three real policemen were unable to resist.
Peter Shaw planned to leave the next day after spending six years in Georgia. His luggage had already been sent to Britain. Initially he came as the head of the Partnership Fund, founded under the TACIS program to coordinate investments in Georgia in the agrarian sector. Later, Shaw moved to Agro-Business Bank, a joint project of the EU and the Georgian government.
Shaw's kidnapping is the third case where a foreign businessman has been taken hostage. Two Spanish businessmen, Antonio Tremino and Francisco Rodriguez, were freed in the autumn last year after being in the hands of bandits in the Pankisi Gorge for more than a year. Their families paid a half million U.S. dollars to free them. Also, Sharbel Bashar Anu, a Lebanese businessman, was kidnapped for six months last year.
On the same day Shaw was snatched, the road police patrol stopped a jeep full of arms, ammunition, and narcotics in Natakhtari. According to military experts, the value of the arms alone was about a half million US dollars. The jeep, driven by Simon Mchedlidze, a security police officer, was going from South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia, to Tbilisi and supposedly having a final destination in the Pankisi Gorge. Mchedlidze was accompanied by Artur Ludkov, a Russian citizen who had come to Georgia two days earlier.
The involvement of Georgian law-enforcement officials in the illegal arms and narcotics trade came as no surprise to Georgian society. Three months ago, “60 Minutes,” an investigative program at the independent “Ristavi-2” TV-channel, revealed an analogous smuggling operation, but authorities did nothing to arrest the Georgian military officers accused of involvement in the arms trade.
The Natakhtari case has two additional elements: the owner of the jeep is Shakro Kalashov, a so called “criminal element,” having connections with other criminal groups not only in Georgia but almost everywhere in the post-Soviet region. At the same time, when the news about Natakhtari case was announced by the media, David Shengelia, leader of Georgian partisans fighting to recapture the breakaway region of Abkhazia, declared that the arms confiscated near Natakhtari were intended for them. According to Shengelia, the arms were to be later taken to Abkhazia. Whatever their destination, the Georgian army does not have these kind of arms in arsenal.
The Natakhtari case makes it clear that law enforcement agencies, Georgian partisans in Abkhazia, and criminals, are working together and justifying their unlawful activities by playing on the patriotic feelings of Georgian society.
The Natakhtari case became the vortex of animosity between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor's Office (Military Prosecutor Ghia Jikia, who publicly accused the police of beating Artur Ludkov in a pre-detention cell). Such disputes are another indication that Georgian law enforcement agencies are facing a serious crisis. It is interesting that out of twenty investigations begun since January 2002 on criminal cases against foreigners, only three resulted in charges and none of these has gone to court.
President Eduard Shevardnadze feels that such facts are very harmful not only for the country's image but also for his personal reputation. Last week George Soros made an open statement that the government of Georgia is doing nothing in the fight against corruption. Soros has spent, in agreement with the Georgian government and with President Shevardnadze personally, a lot of money on the initiation of anti-corruption programs in the country with abysmal results.
Shevardnadze's image was partly restored with the launching by the U.S. government of a $64 million program to train and equip the Georgian military to fight against terrorism. The President of Georgia openly confessed the inability of the country to restore public order in the Pankisi Gorge, which borders Chechnya and harbors various criminals, stimulating the U.S. to act.
To defend himself from accusations appearing in the Western media after Shaw's kidnapping, Shevardnadze has blamed his ministries for doing nothing. Then he declared that the rockets confiscated in Natakhtari are capable of destroying any armored vehicle, indirectly hinting that he might be the target of a terrorist attack himself. Shevardnadze continues to claim that the country is full of enemies who obstruct his struggle against corruption. The hope that the Georgian law enforcement agencies will be able to restore public order in various parts of the country after the program of American military assistance has been dashed. It is clear that without serious changes in the Georgian government itself, any assistance will be meaningless. It makes no sense to start any operation either in the Pankisi Gorge or elsewhere in Georgia while Tbilisi itself is run by criminals.
the deceptive coverage on Russian mainstream television, the war in Chechnya
is not over.
Looking only at Russian broadcasting services, one might conclude that peace in Chechnya has been restored and reconstruction work is under way. Both national and local TV channels air reports about the stabilization of the situation, the return of weapons by terrorists, and the large-scale reconstruction of Grozny.
The head of the Chechen Administration asserts that much progress has been made in restoring peace and order. In fact, the situation on the ground is constantly deteriorating.
At one point, there were rumors that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held in the republic soon. But Russian state officials directly responsible for the internal affairs of Chechnya vehemently denied the rumors and announced that elections in Chechnya would not be planned even for at least a year or two. There is, however, a possibility that municipal elections will be held; this question is not yet finalized.
Indeed, the conditions for free and fair elections are non-existent in the Chechen Republic: not only does half the population currently reside outside Chechnya, but also a horrendous war is still being waged on its territory.
Military actions in Chechnya still continue, despite all the optimistic announcements of Russia's military leadership that the war is over. Clashes between Chechen fighters and federal troops take place in a number of different regions of Chechnya. Hardly a day passes by without Russian planes and helicopters roaring over the republic's territory. The mountainous regions are frequently subject to rocket and bomber attacks. In addition, Russian soldiers and militiamen are often victims of mines planted throughout Grozny. When the night falls upon the city, firing does not stop. From 3 a.m. on, artillery cannonade wakes up Grozny while Russian soldiers shoot at the abandoned lots of land on the outskirts of the city as well the mountainous regions.
In March 2002, there was widespread news about a significant decrease in the large number of Russian checkpoints, which were set up by the Russian army to extract money from travelers. Yet, the real number of the checkpoints has remained the same. Only cosmetic changes were made by relocating the posts from the center of the road to the side. Russian soldiers on duty continue to extract money from drivers, finding any possible pretext for harassment or threats of arrest and detention.
Mop-up operations of the Russian army have become a regular occurrence in Grozny. Moreover, they have reached heightened levels. In the past, such emergencies as an explosion in the city or firing at Russian soldiers entailed mop-up operations. Now they are callously carried out regardless of the circumstances.
Since early June, mop-up operations have taken place in the Leninsky, Oktyabrsky, and Zavodsly districts of Grozny and the Grozny rural district. According to the testimony of witnesses from the Leninsky district, ten people were detained; many of whom were released the next day. Another mop-up operation took the inhabitants of the village of Proletarsky by surprise at 1 a.m. Men between the ages of 18 and 45 were detained, beaten, and finally released.
Until recently, schools remained untouched by the Russian army. Yet, there is a growing number of cases where Russian soldiers have broken into school buildings, insulted teachers, and beaten up and detained high school students. The higher educational establishments also have become subject to systematic mop-up operations, especially in the Leninsky district of Grozny.
The Russian armed forces kick off the day with raids of multi-story buildings and a passport inspection of every apartment. Suspects, mainly men between the ages of 16 and 45, are detained and brought to the police office. Among the detainees, there are a number who are not registered, as well as some who do not reside nearby the area of their registration.
Russian troops regularly mastermind so-called ambushes that block the roads and target suspicious-looking individuals, mainly men.
At night, Russian soldiers sometimes shoot civilians walking in the streets of Grozny without any warning. By the same token, snipers, lurking atop high buildings, are also quite unpredictable. Life in the city remains fraught with danger.
Here is an excerpt from an interview with a 67-year old resident of Grozny A. Aslanova:
During the previous war, I was not afraid of Russian soldiers. Now the mere sight of them sends shivers down my spine. I do not have any clue what to expect from them. Wherever they go, shooting and explosions are heard. Russian soldiers are often drunk and shoot at random in all directions. It is impossible to fall asleep at night because the shooting never stops. The question is who is shooting and at whom. It is said that Russian army has a mission to accomplish and plans to fire until it uses up its resources. Gas is regularly turned off, leaving people hungry. My daily ration consists of bread and tea. I do not know how the youngsters can survive on such a diet.
I am tired of all that. And I have endured a lot in my life. As a small girl, I was [exiled] to Kazakhstan, I was on the verge of starvation there in 1944. The elderly say that it was much easier to live at that time. I used to have an apartment, my son used to have a house. Now everything is bombed and leveled. I have to live in a stranger's house. It seems to me that it would be better if the Russian army would gather all of us and kill us on the spot instead of torturing us like this. . .
R. Mutsaev, a 47-year old teacher, spoke about life in Chechnya:
Life in Grozny reminds me of a snapshot from an old Soviet movie: whenever the White Army comes, it beats us; whenever the Red Army comes, it beats us. On one hand, the federal troops kill and torture us because we are Chechens. On the other hand, the Wahhabis sow the seeds of war because we want to maintain Chechen customs and traditions. When the war broke out, I have to admit that I sincerely hoped that the Russian army would bring law and order to the region. However, they turned out to be worse bandits than the Wahhabis. There was a ray of hope that the international community would interfere, but this hope is gone. While US troops strengthen their position in the Republic of Georgia, the Russian army, along with the Wahhabis, continues to destroy the Chechens as an ethnic group.
The crime rate in Grozny is staggering despite an overbearing presence of Russian soldiers. The city is rife with murder and theft; acts of vandalism are also committed on a daily basis. Motley bands made up of both Russians and Chechens specialize in armed robbery across the city.
Russian TV paints a rosy picture of the large-scale reconstruction in Grozny. It comes as no surprise that hardly any residential area was renovated in the course of the past two and a half years. The prime minister of the Chechen government claims that 90 percent of the city has electricity; in reality, this number is a mere 10 percent.
The Committee of the Russia's Chamber of Commerce, investigating the embezzlement of financial assets allocated for the reconstruction of the Chechen Republic, found numerous cases of the mismanagement of state funds by the government and the administration of Chechnya. These findings did not translate into action. No measures were taken to punish the guilty party. It is not surprising, because half the funds allocated for Chechnya never leave Moscow. Thus, not only the Russian military, but also high rank officials have an invested interest in continuing this war. Indeed, the war in Chechnya has become the most profitable business for the Russian army and civil servants.
The Chechens have become convinced that Russia has neither the desire nor the capability to revive the demolished republic. The funds that do make it to Chechnya are divided up among local officials. Chechen high-ranking officials have to bribe Russia's military so that they can operate in a relatively secure environment.
Workers involved in the city’s reconstruction projects often complain of the irregular payment of wages. Although money for paying the wages, pensions and unemployment allowances come regularly in the republic, its inhabitants receive the hard-earned cash with a two- or three-month delay and often accompanied by some “administrative” cuts.
The construction worker S. Isaev, 32, tells his story:
I have been working on the construction site in Grozny for half a year. We were repairing a multi-story building. We were paid for the first two months, then all payments stopped. Now all the work is stopped as well. We are told that there is no money to pay back the debt or continue the construction project. How can I support a family under such conditions? If my mother had not received a pension, we would not have survived. My wife sells goods on the market. Russian soldiers do not allow salespeople to have normal working conditions, they constantly raid the market and grab whatever they see. I do not have a clue what is store for me. I live life from day to day.”
According to various estimations, between 250,000 and 300,000 people live in Grozny. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of the able working population are unemployed and have no source of income.
The city still stands in ruins. The overwhelming part of the city has no electricity or water. The roads are in a dilapidated condition, without any prospect of prompt repair. The frequent absence of gas is a real disaster for people.
The streets are rife with high piles of garbage that give off poisonous fumes and an unpleasant odor. The central market is the dirtiest location in the city; yet it is the only place where Grozny inhabitants and residents of the neighboring villagers can buy food. Fruit, bread, and meat are sold in the midst of gigantic heaps of garbage swamped with stray dogs and cats. Thus, the risk of having an epidemic runs high in the city. The sanitation services in Grozny have been put in place. They have yet to fulfill their professional responsibilities.
The shortage of drinking water poses another threat to the health of Grozny inhabitants. Many households take water from the wells, which are located, on average, 500 meters away from their houses. The water in such wells tends to contain large concentrations of gasoline and can be mixed with sewage water. The usage of such water for drinking purposes is detrimental to health. The availability of pure drinking water is still a pie in the sky for the Chechens. In northern parts of the city, water is delivered in large cisterns and people have to stand in long lines to buy it.
The environmental situation in Grozny leaves much to be desired. The black smog from the oil wells covers many parts of the city, especially the northern one.
The current living conditions in Grozny remain extremely challenging. Large-scale reconstruction and the stabilization of life in the city hinges upon the active involvement and financial support of Western Europe and North America. Such assistance, in turn, is possible only with the end of the military conflict in Chechnya and the finalization of its status and relationship with Russia.
* 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 Dispatches by email, please contact IDEE at firstname.lastname@example.org
• • •
a seventy-five-year-old retired army general – once a close associate of
Enver Hoxha, the late communist dictator who died in 1986 and later deputy
minister of defense and military adviser to Sali Berisha, – has become
the third president of post-communist Albania. His predecessors were Sali
Berisha (1992-1997) and Rexhep Mejdani (1997-2002).
Moisiju is a member of the opposition Democratic Party. He was elected as president on June 24, 2002 by the parliament, with a majority of MPs from the Socialist Party and its coalition partner, the Social Democrat Party, voting for him. (The ruling coalition was recently reduced because of the departure of the Democratic Alternative, leaving it short of a two-thirds majority.)
Political analysts in Tirana think that the election of an aged Moisiju for Albanian president is a classic example of political compromise between the leader of the ruling Socialist Party, Fatos Nano, and the president of the opposition Democratic Party, Sali Berisha, the two most important political figures in the country who had abandoned their own presidential plans due to Western pressure. Since the new president comes from Berisha's party, it is likely that Berisha will stop accusing the ruling socialists of stealing past parliamentary elections for awhile.
The Socialist Party, especially its reformist faction led by the so-called young lions, is also pleased with the choice. Among these “lions” are one former and a current prime minister, Pandeli Majko and Ilir Meta, both of whom are challenging party leader Fatos Nano and did not wish Nano to succeed in his plan to entrench his already great political power by becoming president.
Western countries, fed up with hostilities between Berisha and Nano, exerted pressure on both to not enter head-to-head competition and to find a quick solution for a new head of state so that Albania could finally start reforms and a process of stabilization after much lost time. While the West wasn’t too picky about who the candidate should be, it is yet to be seen whether the aged General Moisiju is up to the demanding task ahead of him as leader of the poorest country in Europe. In fact, the office of president is only an honorary one in Albania, so Moisiju should not bear such a difficult burden. Besides, Albania, along with Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Kosovo, and Macedonia, is under some kind of Western protection, helping to steer the Albanian ship of state towards Europe. In the West’s view, it is high time for Albania to take a break from brutal political struggles, including frequent assaults and assassinations, and its frequent elections so that the government, parliament, and president can finally turn to democratization and the stabilization of this poor and rural country.
The primary task is to improve the security situation because there are various groups of bandits, especially in the northern and eastern regions, on the loose. Even buses with foreign tourists aren’t safe from them, which is negatively affecting tourism, the most dynamic branch of the Albanian economy. Recently, a bus full of Kosovar tourists headed for the Albanian coast on the Adriatic was attacked and pillaged. There was also an attempted kidnapping near Tirana, in which the parents of an 18-year-old girl and two civilians were killed. The number one issue is the kidnapping of people who are then sold in Western countries, especially Italy. Prime Minister Majko himself recently acknowledged that the illegal smuggling of narcotics, cars, and gasoline is still the most developed part of the Albanian economy and huge unemployment and low wages (around 60 Euros monthly) is adding to the crime rate. There is a significant emigration of young and capable people to Western countries, primarily Italy and Greece. Inflation is growing, and the budget is meager. The only constant income is money sent from around the globe by hundreds of thousands of Albanian emigrants, but this money is mostly spent on electricity, medical supplies, and other necessities Albania either doesn’t have or is not producing at all. Almost the entire nation has turned to street vending, selling everything imaginable, while the once rich oil fields are now half-empty. The standard wages of an average citizen is at its lowest level since the fall of communism ten years ago.
This is the situation in which the retired and aged general Alfred Moisiju has become president, so it is no wonder few people envy him.