Issue No. 286 - September 2, 2002
 

Contents:

1. Georgia:  DOUBTFUL EFFECTS OF PANKISI GORGE OPERATION
    by Zurab Tchiaberashvili

2. FRY/Serbia:  TOWARDS EARLY PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
    by Milos Jeftovic

3. FRY/ Montenegro:  SMALL STEPS TOWARDS INDEPENDENCE
    by Slobodan Rackovic
 

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Georgia:  DOUBTFUL EFFECTS OF PANKISI GORGE OPERATION
by Zurab Tchiaberashvili

        Bombing of Georgian territory by Russian aircraft has become a usual event during the last two years. But unlike previous attacks, the current one led to human cost. On August 23, up to 10 military aircrafts penetrated into Georgian airspace and during 50 minutes were bombing villages in the Ilto and Iori gorges.

        Moscow denied the Russian involvement in the case. OSCE observers, monitoring the Chechen part of the Georgia-Russian border, confirmed the bombing and said the aircrafts were flying from the North to the South. In turn, Sergei Ivanov, Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation, criticized the OSCE mission to Georgia and expressed disappointment with the performance of the OSCE observers on the border.

        The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, again called Georgia to join the fight against international terrorists on Georgian territory. "Either we will fight against terrorists jointly and fight effectively, or no result will be fixed," Putin said on August 28. Defense Minister of Georgia David Tevzadze restated the official position that Georgia would not accept any military assistance from the Russian side, or from any other state, to restore public order in Pankisi Gorge.

        The United States expressed deep concern. "The United States strongly supports Georgia's independence and territorial integrity, and has welcomed similar statements by the Russian
Federation. Yesterday's attacks and their denial by the Russian Government, however, belie such Russian assurances and escalate existing tension between Russia and Georgia, just as cooperative arrangements for resolving regional security problems are emerging," stated a White House statement issued on August 24.

        The territory that was bombed lies 20-30 km from the place where the Georgian government started two military operations simultaneously on August 25, two days after the bombing. Under the command of Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili, approximately 1,000 servicemen of internal troops of the Ministry of Interior and Special Forces of the Ministry of Security entered into Pankisi Gorge and established 13 new block-posts there to take control over the criminals and to restore a public order.

        At the same time, under the command of Defence Minister David Tevzadze, armed forces of the Ministry of Defence and Department of Border Defence, in coordination with the internal security troops of the Ministry of Interior, started military exercises called "Kakheti-2002." Fifteen hundred military servicemen as well as Georgian officers trained under the first phase of the U.S.-led program, "Train and Equip," participated in the exercises.

        The three-week long exercises, aiming to improve coordinating capabilities between different types of the Georgian armed forces, was not reaction of the Georgian government to the bombing. The government had arranged the exercises a month ago before their beginning.

        About 500 policemen, moved to the region from different regions of the country in connection with an anti-criminal operation in Pankisi Gorge left the region on August 28 as the operation continued in a relatively peaceful environment. The population of the Pankisi valley welcomed the entry of internal security troops from the Ministry of Interior. According to Ahmed Zakaev, vice-premier in government of Chechen Republic of Ichkerya, the government of Aslan Maskhadov supports the operation of Georgian troops in Pankisi also.

        Connected initially with the Chechen refugees, problems in Pankisi Gorge became an important issue for both Georgian-Russian relations and for the internal political situation in Georgia.

        After the bombing, the Parliament of Georgia voted in favor of a statement recommending to the president (1) to start relevant procedures to leave the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and (2) to ensure withdrawal all Russian armed forces (including peacekeepers staying under the CIS mandate in the conflict zone in Abkhazia). But President Shevardnadze openly disagreed with the Parliament statement, arguing that he does not intend for Georgia to leave the
CIS.

        Russian military pressure coincides with on-going negotiations between the Georgian government and the Russian gas company ITERA. Unable to pay a $60 million US debt for gas supplied by ITERA, the Georgian government is being coerced to sell "Tbilgazi" (a gas distribution company in Tbilisi) to ITERA. Otherwise, Tbilisi will remain without gas during the winter, which would be very risky for the government in the current circumstances.

        But permitting ITERA to take practically total control of the energy sector in Georgia, the government gives an instrument of further pressure to Moscow. As the negotiations on withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgian territory restarts, Russia, using the threat to stop Georgia's gas supply, will force the Georgian government to agree to leave the bases in Georgia for 11 years. To resist Russian pressure, Georgia lacks not only military capabilities, but also effective state structures, which are totally corrupted. The government lacks public trust, which is necessary to carry out any policy. Whether the operation in Pankisi Gorge will help the government to restore public confidence remains doubtful.
 
 

 

FRY/ Serbia:  TOWARDS EARLY PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
by Milos Jeftovic

        Serbia is expecting presidential elections soon to decide the date of early parliamentary elections. Presidential elections are set for the 29th of September while the parliamentary elections are getting more and more certain, no longer a taboo subject even among the parties of the coalition in power, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS). The coalition, formed in order to remove the authoritarian regime of Slobodan Milosevic, has been troubled by in-fighting among parties. Differences between parties can be seen especially now, since DOS could not select a single presidential candidate to support.

        On the eve of elections, the political situation in Serbia is very complicated, with the number of presidential candidates growing daily. Candidates who stand most chances of winning, according to polls, are the current Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Yugoslav deputy prime minister Miroljub Labus. The leader of the extremist Serbian Radical Party Vojislav Seselj also had serious chances until Kostunica announced his candidacy on August 23. Seselj is often called the Serbian Le Pen, and is now being supported by former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic as he continues his Hague war crimes tribunal.

        Although there are many candidates, it is clear that the real contest is between Vojislav Kostunica and Miroljub Labus, who represents the political option of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. The candidacy of the current Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica was expected since his current office will lose political prestige and influence in the new redefinition of the country under the Belgrade Agreement, which replaces the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with a loose alliance of its former federal units, Serbia and Montenegro.

        Announcing his candidacy, Kostunica said that if he won he would call early parliamentary elections and fight for a state of law, democratization, and eradication of a mob state. With the latter term he alluded at his former coalition partner during times of struggle against Milosevic but now a bitter opponent for political supremacy in Serbia, Zoran Djindjic.

        Their parting of ways began immediately after their coming to power following the removal of Milosevic and escalated during Milosevic's extradition to the Hague Tribunal. The more nationalistic Kostunica resisted extradition while the more pragmatic Djindjic supported it, certain that it was an inevitable price for Serbia to pay in order to start on its integration into Europe.

        Even before Kostunica announced his candidacy, all polls gave him great chances, almost equal to Labus's, who announced his decision to run for president early on and has been running his official election campaign since August 19. Other possible candidates, ten of them, have much less chance to sit in a chair now occupied by Milan Milutinovic, a person indicted by the Hague Tribunal for war crimes in Kosovo.

        Serbia is awaiting new elections without definite knowledge about its new state alliance with Montenegro, which will hold parliamentary elections on October 6, with presidential elections set for the end of the year. A new community is being tailored under the great pressure and influence of the European Community, which doesn't want to allow the complete breakdown of the final remains of Yugoslavia. On the other hand, not even the EU can completely prevent growing Montenegrin ambitions to form their own independent state as the last of the former six Yugoslav republics. Although leaders from Belgrade and Podgorica, with active participation of  EU representative Javier Solana, achieved a framework agreement about the future alliance between states, nobody knows yet how it will function in reality, which can have much impact on voters.

        A month before presidential elections, Serbian voters are very divided, with as many as a third of voters abstaining. It is a direct consequence of disappointment in DOS, but also an answer to almost daily fighting among parties in the ruling coalition. Struggles within DOS, which started to surface last summer, increased in intensity and culminated with decision of the DOS presidency to remove 45 parliamentary representatives of Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). The decision was disputed by Yugoslav Constitutional Court and added fuel to political struggle, as well as dividing DOS on the issue of what citizens really wanted when they voted on September 2000 against Milosevic's politics.

        Parties that supported removal of DSS representatives from parliament and DSS from DOS said that it would ease political tensions and enable reforms and transition in Serbia. However, it was not seen as such in the public. Many citizens, about 60 per cent, are not satisfied with the way reforms are going, especially because they are not backed by adequate social programs.

        The public is also wavering because of Labus's emphasis on being a candidate of a citizens' group and not DOS, although he was a DOS member from the beginning. Labus is also refraining from emphasizing his connection with the Democratic Party of Zoran Djindjic. Not much is changed by the fact that Labus got support from some DOS parties on August 17, two days before the announcement of his candidacy. Eleven parties gave him their support, but only two of them are major, the Democratic Party (DS) of the prime minister Zoran Djindjic and the Civil Alliance of Serbia (GSS), led by Yugoslav foreign minister Goran Svilanovic. Other supporting parties are so minor that researchers often jokingly say that their influence equals a statistical error in polls. Other major DOS parties have their own candidates who cannot win, but can take away Labus's voters.

        Besides all handicaps, Labus is entering the presidential race with many uncertainties for Serbian voters. He never stated his opinion about some key events, was always apart from debates, never asked to voice his opinion about some painful political and social issues which are important to common citizens. His strong pro-European orientation, academic stories, and signing of agreements for donations and credits aren't exactly recommendation for voters who don't know in what state they will live in, what and how large their country will be. Serbian voters are emphatically nationalistic and don't view Labus as a person who knows how to protect their national interests.

        Besides Seselj, another nationalist is trying to return to political spotlight --- Vuk Draskovic, leader of Serbian Revival Movement (SPO), once the strongest opposition party but which faded into obscurity following federal and republic elections in October and December 2000 [when it ran alone outside the DOS coalition].

        The former ruling party, Milosevic's SPS, is divided into two factions and is unable to nominate a single candidate --- speaking volumes about its own internal political crisis. Its formal president, Slobodan Milosevic, even voiced his support for extreme nationalist Vojislav Seselj, a candidate of another party.

        Beside the election of new Serbian president, these elections are also important for the date of early parliamentary elections. Parliamentary elections will wait until their nominal date, in two years' time if Miroljub Labus wins the elections, because early elections aren't favourable to Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic. In the event of Kostunica's victory (or any other candidate for that matter), early elections are a real option and will be set as soon as the new president takes office on the 5th of January, 2003, when Milutinovic's 5-year-term runs out.  Milutinovic himself has already announced that he would voluntarily leave for the Hague soon afterwards.

        Not only the opposition SPS and SRS, but also some parties from the ruling coalition mention early parliamentary elections as a solution for Serbia's current political troubles. Among those parties are some that have been fervent followers of Djindjic's government, like the Social democracy party, whose vice president is Serbian deputy prime minister Zarko Korac, and some other influential parties of the ruling coalition.

        The person who is most afraid of early elections is Prime Minister Djindjic. At this moment, he enjoys a minor parliamentary majority. However, his rating, as well as the rating of his government, is at its lowest ebb because of a generally difficult political, social, and economic situation in Serbia. He cannot allow himself a risky test of voters' sentiment.
 
 

FRY/Montenegro:  SMALL STEPS TOWARDS INDEPENDENCE
by Slobodan Rackovic

        Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic has shown new sign of his bravery recently, when he defiantly accused the European Union in a "Washington Post" article. Djukanovic wrote that the EU was helping Serbian efforts to preserve Yugoslavia, the name of which is only a euphemism for Greater Serbia, and ignoring the wishes of most Montenegrins for full independence and international recognition. "Some European bureaucrats are stubbornly trying to change the Belgrade Agreement about redefining relations between Serbia and Montenegro that was signed with EU support on March 14, in a manner damaging the position of the smaller republic and making the liberal Montenegrin economy subservient to the conservative Serbian one. In their wish to conquer Montenegro, they found allies among people loyal to Slobodan Milosevic, extremists around Radovan Karadzic, and members of various Yugoslav intelligence agencies," wrote Djukanovic, warning that it could all lead to new unrest in the Balkans. Therefore he appealed to the U.S. for urgent action in order to prevent further escalation, adding that European bureaucrats should be warned to stop supporting extremist pro-Serbian forces --- people who in fact represent an anti- European option --- both inside and outside Montenegro.

        Of course, Djukanovic drew upon himself the anger of Javier Solana and other Brussels officials, but he also scored some points not only in Washington, which has little sympathy for yet another shaky European initiative in former Yugoslavia, but also at home, where many political forces have had their fill of European tutoring. Immediately afterwards, the Serbian and Montenegrin governments cut short the hard labors of numerous committees and subcommittees and published their draft of the constitution, which now goes to the respective parliaments in Belgrade and Podgorica for decision. The document was concluded in the face of opposition from Serbian forces led by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica.

        The document is very much influenced by Montenegrin separatists, headed by Milo Djukanovic, but also by Serbian realists led by the pragmatist prime minister of Serbia --- and Kostunica's political opponent --- Zoran Djindjic. In fact, the draft of the constitution is a faithful reflection of solutions offered in the Belgrade Agreement itself from March 14. Both documents were created by the same persons: Djukanovic, Djindjic, Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic, and Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, who is also a candidate for the Serbian presidency in the upcoming election on September 29. The other signatory of the Belgrade Agreement, President Kostunica, remains isolated. Showing he is aware of his own defeat on the issue, a few days ago Kostunica declared his candidacy for Serbian president. Montenegrin and Serbian media covered the event with articles like "Kostunica moves to Serbia." How much his authority in Serbia has collapsed was shown last Tuesday when not one signatory of the Belgrade Agreement heeded his call to meet to address some points of future constitution. . . . It is a true paradox that Montenegro wants Kostunica to win the presidential contest, although he is very unpopular there, since his victory would remove Kostunica from his post as president of Yugoslavia, thereby contributing to independence of Montenegro.

        Montenegrins favoring independence are helped by events in Montenegro at the eve of parliamentary elections set for the 6th of October. Representatives of the OSCE, Council of Europe, and other European democratic institutions strongly rejected all damaging legislation enacted during the last two months by the unnatural coalition made of pro-Serbian parties in Montenegro united in the coalition "Together for Yugoslavia " and the pro-independence Liberal Alliance. Their parliamentary majority, held by a single seat over the pro-independence alliance led by Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS ), substituted a new Election Law (over one passed last year by the consensus of all parliamentary parties), endangered long-time rights of national minorities in the country, prevented the election of new judges to the Montenegrin Constitutional Court (after the terms of current judges expired), and created such an atmosphere before the elections that many were asking if they would be held at all. Representatives of European institutions who are obviously keeping a close watch on Montenegrin events quickly intervened to put an end to this destructive strategy of the pro-Serbian/Liberal Alliance bloc, thus not only ensuring proper conditions to hold elections but also indirectly strengthening the pro-sovereign alliance. Leaders of pro-Serbian parties and the Liberal Alliance lost much of their popularity among the voters due to the fact that they entered a coalition with each other only six months ago after being fierce enemies for years.

        On the wings of a new victory, Djukanovic's DPS and its coalition partner, the Social Democrat Party, are entering the upcoming election campaign with good chances of winning a parliamentary majority and the possibility to pass important legislation in favor of Montenegrin independence. And if Djukanovic, as promised, forms a wide pre-election coalition with all non-parliamentary Montenegrin parties and independent intellectuals --- then victory of pro-independence forces at the elections could mean a definite defeat of pro-Serbian forces in the country.

        Everything will be known on the 6th of October, but it is already clear that Montenegro is slowly drawing closer to independence and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia closer to its end.

        The Belgrade Agreement prescribed that member states of the future community replacing Yugoslavia can hold a referendum on independence in 2005, meaning that Djukanovic's political option, if he wins the elections, would have almost three years' time to prepare Montenegro for entry into the community of independent and internationally acknowledged countries.