Issue No. 287 - September 09, 2002
1. Macedonia: ELECTIONS PUT EMPHASIS ON ETHNIC
by Zvezdan Georgievski
2. Kyrgyzstan: GROWING UNREST
by Bermet Bukasheva
3. Romania: LOSS OF POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
by Angela Magherusan
Expectations for a new wave of violence between the Macedonian majority and Albanian minority before the September 15 parliamentary elections --- following on last year's significant ethnic conflict --- unfortunately turned out to be accurate. At the end of August, in Gostivar, a small town in western Macedonia with majority Albanian populace, two policemen were killed. Afterwards, Macedonian police arrested a great number of suspects, most of them former members of the disbanded National Liberation Army (NLA) of Macedonian Albanians, a group that is based on and linked to the neighboring Kosova Liberation Army. In response, the Gostivar-Tetovo highway was blocked.
A new armed organization of Macedonian Albanians calling itself ANA (Albanian National Army) kidnapped five civilians, asking for all the Albanians being accused of murdering the Macedonian policemen to be let out of prison.
The hostage drama lasted for about 30 hours. Thanks to [NATO's] Amber Fox forces, civilians were finally released to local police. What left a bitter aftertaste were the details of the negotiations for the civilians' release that have now reached the public. After a severe reaction of the High Commissioner for European foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, the deputy minister of interior, Refik Elmazi, a high official in the Democratic Albanian Party (DPA), a government coalition partner, succeeded in securing a quick release of hostages. His success pointed to the close contacts his party has with the terrorists.
The so-called ANA came out with an announcement claiming that the Macedonian public now had to treat it seriously and that actions would not stop until their demands were met. Their seriousness became apparent during the following days. First, terrorists broke into "Mosa Pijade" high school in the center of Tetovo, but they were forced to retreat after armed fighting with Macedonian police. Then two Albanians accused of having "sold themselves to Macedonians" were killed. And finally, a police station in the capital Skopje was attacked.
At the same time, there are armed incidents everyday at the Macedonian-Yugoslav border coming from the Kosovo side. Detonations and shootings can be heard at night in Skopje, Tetovo, Gostivar, Debro, Kicevo, and elsewhere. Such a situation spurred Javier Solana to come to Skopje in order to ensure himself that elections will be held normally.
However, the fierce election campaign gives little hope for such a conclusion. The newly formed Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), headed by former NLA leader Ali Ahmeti, which is likely to win a majority of Albanian votes, announced that it would hold an election rally in Skopje but citizens blocked the roads into town and prevented it from taking place. Ahmeti said he didn't give up hope on holding a rally in the Macedonian capital. Meanwhile, the minister of the interior, Ljube Boskovski, said that Ali Ahmeti would be arrested the moment he came near Macedonian police.
The ruling Macedonian party, the nationalistic Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) challenged the opposition Social Democratic Union to sign a political declaration forcing all parties to distance themselves from Ahmeti's party, regardless of election results. The opposition party refused, judging that the ruling coalition was preparing for its defeat and wanted to secure at least some participation in a future government. The SDUM also stated that there should be no roadblocks to prevent Ahmeti's entrance into Skopje. Ahmeti should be integrated, not isolated, since he this is the only way to control his actions. This SDU attitude has opened up a new rhetorical flourish at the election rallies of the ruling coalition; its leaders are now calling the opposition parties and their leaders traitors and pro-Western mercenaries.
While an isolationist campaign based on growing anti-Western sentiment is politically legitimate, Prime Minister Ljupce Georgievski went beyond all diplomatic extreme when he said at one of his rallies that the former special U.S. envoy to Macedonia, James Perdew, (now U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria) had "blood on his hands." Obviously, having lost the support of the West, Georgievski decided to accuse the international community of causing all of Macedonia's problems.
There is an organized tearing up of membership cards of the competing Social Democratic Union of Macedonia at election rallies, creating anxiety that the government will not be against causing further incidents in order to prolong its survival on the political scene.
The main opposition coalition "For Macedonia" (made up of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia headed by former prime minister Branko Crvenkovski, the Liberal Democrat Party of Skopje mayor Risto Penov, and several minor parties) are founding their election campaign upon confidence in overwhelming victory. Leaders of the coalition even refused television duels with the ruling coalition representatives.
Among Albanian parties, besides Ahmeti, the main favourite is the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), headed by Arben Djaferi, which has attracted several prominent leaders of the former NLA. At his rallies, Djaferi, in response to the opposition motto "Macedonia Is One," says that there are two Macedonias, one Macedonian, another Albanian, and that Albanian Macedonia stretches as far as the Albanian word can be heard. "Albanian Macedonia even smells Albanian and that is our reality," states Djaferi. The third largest Albanian party, once the largest, is the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP) led by Abdurahman Aliti. Its expectations are not high in the election results but it does hope to do well enough to enter government. There is also the radical National-Democratic Party, led by Kastriot Hadjiredza, which has a program of Macedonia's federalization.
Following the heavy ethnic
conflict between the Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority that
shook the country last year, the so-called Ohrid Agreement signed in the
summer of 2001 under EU pressure did not bring peace and stability. That
much has been confirmed by this election campaign, with the elections themselves
proving that Macedonian society is still deeply divided according to ethnicity.
Only after elections can Macedonian and Albanian politicians begin negotiations
about constituting a coalition government that must be made out of both
Macedonian and Albanian parties. The Macedonian future, at present not
looking very pretty, will depend in great deal on the principles underlying the next ruling coalition.
• • •
After the events of September 11, Kyrgyzstan, a small, formerly Soviet state in Central Asia, has been able to command closer attention from the international community. It seems to have gotten it. "A key ally in the war on terrorism," writes the Washington Post about Kyrgyzstan recently. General Tommy Franks, Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command, who has become a regular visitor to the country, said that Kyrgyzstan was on the front lines. There are 2000 representatives of the armed forces of the United States and the coalition stationed at the airbase at Manas Airport in Bishkek (the country's capital) carrying out operations in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan's president, Askar Akaev, will meet with George Bush in Washington on September 23.
The political situation of this strategic U.S. partner is one of severe crisis. More than 20 community and political groups united on August 14 to form the Movement for Reform and the Resignation of Askar Akaev. It is led by prominent members of the opposition, members of parliament and human rights activists.
An event took place in Kyrgyzstan this year that will forever be a black mark on its history. The so-called Aksy Tragedy, or Bloody Sunday, was the most egregious crime against human rights in the 12 years of the country's existence and the catalyst for today's crisis. On Sunday, March 17, 2002, Kerben Region police opened fire on residents peacefully marching on the main road to district center of Djalalabad to picket in defense of local member of parliament Azimbek Beknazarov, whom they consider to have been unjustly and illegally arrested. Six people were killed and dozens wounded. On the two following days, dozens more were beaten and tortured in the basement of the police station.
Authorities have tightened their repressive grip on the political opposition and the media since the beginning of the year, just in time for the arrival of US soldiers in Kyrgyzstan. Until then, the authoritarian government, which officially calls itself a democracy, had held itself to international standards of human rights and civil liberties, membership in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the influence of the United States, its major source of aid. This has led to accusations against the United States of maintaining a double standard when it made the crucial agreement to land its forces in Kyrgyzstan.
Under the pretext of fighting terrorist propaganda, the government passed a special resolution on printing that has almost eliminated the free press of Kyrgyzstan. In January, prosecution of independent newspapers was also stepped up, resulting in closures and one attempt to burn down one paper's editorial office.
The high-profile parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov, whose patriotic leanings won him huge popularity with his constituency, was arrested that same month. Beknazarov had been an exceptionally vocal opponent of the handover of Kyrgyzstani territory to China, going so far as to state that president Akaev could be impeached for it. He also opposed any American presence in the region, probably giving his captors grounds to think that America would not protest his arrest. The domestic disturbances his arrest caused were greater than those that took place in 2000 after the arrest of Felix Kulov, the well-known leader of the Ar-Namys Party and a former vice president, minister of national security and foreign affairs, and mayor of Bishkek.
After Beknazarov's arrest, politicians, public figures, human rights activists and others declared hunger strikes and staged pickets in Bishkek and his native Aksy District. These events elicited no reaction from the government. The protests rapidly escalated, but were exclusively peaceful and in conformance with law. On the 22nd day of the hunger strike, activist Sheraly Nazarkulov died. The government still did not respond.
After the shooting of the demonstrators, thousands of people from the southern part of the country joined the protest march, demanding Beknazarov's vindication and the punishment of those responsible for the deaths. Then the government paid attention. Beknazarov was released and, in May, after a number of statements by opposition political forces and endless protests, the president fired his cabinet. The people were still not satisfied, however, since those who ordered and caused the tragic deaths were still unpunished and the vacancies in the administration were filled by more bureaucrats controlled by the president. The protesters and radical elements in the opposition began resignation of president Akaev, whose unlimited power has led to a systemic crisis, behind-the-scenes corruption that threatens state security, repression and economic collapse.
Now the president is trying
to escape the crisis through another constitutional reform.
He has called a constitutional assembly and invited members of the opposition
to join it. By the end of September, the assembly is to work out
changes to the constitution to take power away from the president and increase
the power of the prime minister and parliament. Akaev will take this
show of democracy (and even a proposal to free Felix Kulov) with him for
his meeting with president Bush. Nonetheless, it is entirely possible
that the reforms are just a distraction. Since the majority on the
constitutional assembly are supporters of the president, there is a danger
that the authoritarian regime will be retained, which will only enflame
the revolutionary mood of the masses. Kyrgyzstan may yet see civil
unrest of the type that gripped its neighbor Tajikistan in the recent past.
• • •
For the first time in the last twelve years, Romania faces the biggest danger of all: destruction of its young democracy due to the disappearance of any political alternative.
It all began after the 2000 elections when the Social Democrat Party of Romania [(PDSR)] won with a large majority, due to the people's disappointment with the Romanian Democrat Convention [(CDR)], the civic-political force that had ruled the country for the previous four years. Beginning as a true alternative to the PDSR, it became the most corrupt Romanian government since 1989. During that period, Romanian democracy kept receiving very good outside evaluations, mainly because of CDR's goals and orientation towards issues like democracy, royalty or property, but in the country life became more expensive than ever and corruption extended to levels never reached before. Desperate, Romanians saw only two alternatives in November 2000: the social democracy of former Romanian president Ion Iliescu, seen by many as neo-communism, and the right-wing option represented by a turbulent and extremist politician [Cornelius Vadim Tudor]. Of the two, [PDSR] proved more powerful and won the election in a second round.
Thus, Romania escaped the danger of extremism, but, as many analysts said, made a huge political step towards the past. Voting for the [PDSR] Romanians showed preference for the one-main-party political style that resembles times Romania is trying to forget. The Social-Democrat Party of Romania was the power from 1989 to 1996, and its leader Ion Iliescu was the country's president during the whole period.
Nevertheless, returning to a single-part system was ensured by the collapse of the opposition. Its fall began right after the 2000 elections, with CDR disappearing from the scene. The Christian-Democrat Party, the main force of the Democratic Convention, also disappeared. Several wings of the party tried to begin its reconstruction, but they were too many and too eager to blame one another for the past failures to succeed.
The fall of the Romanian opposition then continued with the Democrat Party of Petre Roman, the coalition partner of the now-defunct Democratic Convention. In a post-election self-examination, it changed its leader with a new and very charismatic politician, Traian Basescu. But his huge support in the polls did not translate into improving the party's standing, which remained low.
The most recent crisis was the reorganization of the liberals this summer. They also chose a new leader, Theodor Stolojan, a highly respected economist who also held the post of prime minister in 1991, when Romania first heard of the term technocrat. Stolojan proved to be a good investment for Ion Iliescu and his party at the time. In his turn, Stolojan manifested his admiration for Ion Iliescu. Thus, observers talk about the liberals' paradox: a party in opposition trying to reemerge from its own ashes by using a person from the inside, who openly admires the current power.
At the moment, the carousel spinning in the Romanian opposition seems to be stopping, after having swallowed every worthwhile political alternative to the current government.
The only forces untouched by the phenomenon are the Democrat Union of the Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) and the right-wing Tudor. These two are to be taken seriously as the country anticipates the next elections. And since the [PDSR] rejected any collaboration with the right, there remains only one political force with which the Social Democrats might form a new government, the UDMR, the party that all troubled Romanian governments have reached to in the past to stabilize. This ethnic party represents a very important part of Romanian politics, especially due to the unwavering stability of its voters. The UDMR counts on 6 to 7 percent support in elections, and thus is always a possible coalition partner for any winning party. Since its creation, it was always part of the governing process, either in alliances or as a "partner," a status held in today's [PDSR] government, which badly needs DUHR for a majority in the Parliament. It will probably continue in this role in the future, too. That future begins in November 2002, with the NATO summit in Prague. Only after this date will the government take a decision regarding the anticipated elections. For now, the subject of early elections remains "a purely theoretical one," say both prime-minister Adrian Nastase and president Ion Iliescu, who prefer to keep it this way in order to keep at bay some problems in the [PDSR]-UDMR partnership. These problems relate to the so-called concessions made to Hungarian minority by the ruling party, among which are acceptance of a new local administration law that provides expanded rights to minority representatives. There remain the disputes over a state-sanctioned Hungarian-language university, as well as giving back to Hungarian churches property once confiscated by the communists. The last and most important demand of the UDMR concerns amending the Constitution, which the Social Democrats say goes too far.
The UDMR is asking for the elimination of the constitutional description of Romania as "a unitary state," because "it offends the minorities' sensibility." Social Democrats reject that proposal.
With or without anticipated
elections, the political scene does not look very bright now or in the
future. Perhaps democracy is a not a thing to build in one or two months
or years. Or even decades.