Issue No. 291 - October 07, 2002


    by Branka Vujnovic

    by Ivan Lozowy

    by Valeh Rzaev

by Branka Vujnovic

        Presidential elections in Serbia held on September 29 ended as expected: more than half of registered voters turned out, making the elections valid, but no winner emerged. The experts had predicted that the first round would end in a stalemate between the two favorites Vojislav Kotunica, the current president of Yugoslavia, who was proposed by the Democratic Party of Serbia and Miroljub Labus, a vice premier in the federal government, who was supported by a citizens' group. According to the final results announced by the Serbian election commission, 30.8 percent of the voters supported Kostunica, 27.3 percent voted for Labus, and, in the biggest surprise of the election, Vojislav Seselj, the candidate of the Serbian Radical Party, received 23.2 percent. In some parts of mid-Serbia and in Kosovo, Seselj overwhelmingly defeated Labus; overall, he surpassed all forecasts of the polls, which gave him just 17 percent of the vote. Analysts consider that the increase in popularity of this extremist candidate can be explained by Slobodan Milosevic's call to his supporters in the Socialist Party of Serbia, made from The Hague, to back Seselj as the best joint candidate of the so-called left bloc.

        Mostly, the election, marked by negative campaigning, reflected the disunity within the DOS reform coalition that toppled the Milosevic regime two years ago. By attacking the Serbian government's work and accusing it of ties with the mafia, Kostunica managed to turn the elections into a referendum on Prime Minister Djindjic. His attacks were successful. After ten years of poverty, people expected changes overnight and now many are living in poorer conditions than during Milosevic's regime. Kostunica, using his image as one of the most honest politicians, promised to wage a war on corruption and crime and introduced the motto "the slower the better" in implementing economic reforms. Labus is a supporter of speedy economic reforms and fast integration of Serbia into the EU. He is well known in the international community because he led the negotiations for credit for Yugoslav reconstruction and is considered the most important figure in obtaining substantial forgiveness on Yugoslav debt to the Paris Club countries.

        Since neither Kostunica nor Labus received enough votes to win outright—requiring more than 50 percent of the votes cast—they will continue their struggle for the presidency in a second round on October 13. Voters once again have to answer why most Serbian media simply represents them as "pro-western Labus" and "moderate nationalist and patriot" Kostunica, and giving the latter much better chances in this duel. After all, Labus and his mentor, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, had done the unappreciated work during the last two years of trying to start economic reforms and clearing out the mess in the society and economy that was leftover from the former regime. They also took upon themselves the responsibility for extraditing former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague Court. Without it, Belgrade would never have gotten money for economic reforms. Meanwhile, Yugoslavia's President Vojislav Kostunica kept himself outside of practical concerns, mostly dealing with respect for the law, even in Milosevic's case, and supporting the interests of common people in reforms.

        As the two candidates once again start a presidential campaign to encourage citizens to turn out at the polls and vote for them in the second round, there is more and more doubt that a Serbian president will be elected. Citizens, most earning just 150 euros as a monthly wage, are less and less inclined to believe in promises coming from these two political camps. Already, there are political calculations as to who will call their supporters to boycott. There is a justified fear that an anti-election campaign could easily cause a drop-off of 200,000 voters, enough for the elections, which require a 50 percent turnout of registered voters under Serbian law, to fail. Past experience shows that voters are always less interested in repeated elections. The call of the Serbian Radical Party and Vojislav Seselj, who won almost 850,000 votes, to boycott the second round will certainly affect many voters not to turn out. Other parties calling for a 2nd round boycott, were the Party of Serbian Unity, Social Democracy, and the Serbian Reform Movement, parties which garnered 300,000 votes for their candidates.

        A part of the government would benefit from a failure of the elections, although no one will say it publicly. While many in the Serbian government back Labus, in fact many also do not want the second round to succeed since Vojislav Kostunica is more likely to win in the second round. Kostunica supports early parliamentary elections, simply another means of toppling the Serbian government and Djindjic. Still, the cabinet of ministers will not openly support a boycott. The expectations of European institutions is important in this respect, and the Russian and French foreign ministers specifically asked Serbian citizens to go out and vote.

    On the Serbian political scene, nothing is certain and everything is possible. The prolongation of the elections hits hardest on the current Serbian president, the Hague indictee Milan Milutinovic, who has been expected by Carla del Ponte for some time now on charges of crimes committed in Kosovo. He has said that after leaving office, he would occupy himself with various activities, from reading to singing, but certainly, in Seveningen.

• • •

by Ivan Lozowy

        For months to come politics in Ukraine will center around one question of whether Viktor Yushchenko will become (some would say "be allowed to become") president of Ukraine in 2004?  Following the government's failure to predetermine parliamentary election results in March, President Leonid Kuchma and his associates are faced with a quandary.

    In December 2000, Kuchma had nominated the relatively obscure head of the National Bank, Viktor Yushchenko, for Prime Minister.  Upon his appointment Yushchenko then did the unexpected, namely, he paid arrears in government wages and pensions, which propelled him to the top of the list of popular politicians.  Yushchenko deservedly achieved poll ratings as yet unheard of in Ukraine, to the order of 30% and more. The ruling elite, including Kuchma, became so concerned regarding Yushchenko’s popularity that he was removed from office in April 2001, as soon as the Constitution allowed.

        Now, with the March 2002 relative election triumph for Yushchenko's coalition, "Our Ukraine", and his continued stubbornly high personal ratings, many Ukrainians are assuming that Yushchenko will be Ukraine’s next president following elections due in October 2004.  They would be wrong to do so. President Yushchenko would represent a sea change in Ukrainian politics.  And that is why "Bankova" (Kuchma's administration) is working overtime on making sure Yushchenko does not become president.

        Kuchma has done his best to minimize the practical results of Our Ukraine's relative victory on the parliament, or Verkhovna Rada.  First, deputies elected to the Rada in majoritarian districts were corralled into the government coalition, For a United Ukraine, which received only 12% of the vote in the proportional count.  Second, government pressure, still quite effective on an individual basis, was brought to bear against members of the Our Ukraine faction, causing seven deputies to defect. As a result, a bare minimum of 226 votes was collected to elect Wolodymyr Lytvyn to the powerful post of Chairman of the Rada.

        Kuchma then made a move that surprised many by appointing Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the Social-Democratic Party (united), head of his presidential administration.  Of all his post-election maneuvering, this was the most important one. In doing so, he took a tough politician, reputed to be connected with organized crime as part of the Surkis financial empire, and made him the head of Kuchma's "Stop Yushchenko" campaign! Kuchma also let Rada Chairman Lytvyn know that Yuschchenko was not to be considered "The Anointed One" as Kuchma's presidential successor, someone handpicked and blessed for the task of securing continuity.  Kuchma thus created enough confusion to leave his options wide open.

        One option not widely discussed until this past summer, is that Kuchma himself will try to continue on as president after 2004. A month ago Roman Bessmertny, Kuchma’s former parliamentary representative but now a Yushchenko supporter, revealed Bankova’s plans to see Kuchma through to a third term. Several weeks ago Wolodymyr Semynozhenko, Vice Prime Minister and a close aide to Kuchma’s wife, Ludmilla, publicly stated he thought Kuchma should be given "two more years."  Another Kuchma crony, though recently out of favor, Oleksandr Volkov, has been busy proclaiming to any who would listen that Kuchma must stay on as a guarantee of stability.

        One thing for sure, Kuchma will keep up the pressure on Yushchenko. About 25 criminal cases have been opened up against pro-Yushchenko parliamentarians and businessmen.
Reportedly, at a meeting this past August in Crimea, Kuchma lambasted Yushchenko from the moment the latter stepped into the room.  Medvedchuk is also standing behind recent moves against freedom of the press, including introducing a censor and personnel changes at the UNIAN news agency.  Certainly, the “Stop Yushchenko” campaign will continue to try to downsize Our Ukraine’s parliamentary faction further, continue tightening control over the mass media and using it to decrease Yushchenko’s ratings, and trying to stop the nascent opposition in its tracks.

        For his part, bizarrely, Yushchenko continues to pin his hopes on being nominated by Kuchma for the post of Prime Minister, a post he used already to burn the current regime.  He has repeatedly complained to Kuchma of harassment of his supporters, particularly the most vulnerable cross-section, entrepreneurs, but to no avail.  Most puzzling is Yushchenko’s insistence on remaining on the sidelines of the largest demonstrations the country has seen since independence.  "The Three" united against Kuchma—Yulia Tymoshenko, Oleksandr Moroz, and Petro Symonenko—are  calling for the president's resignation or removal, precisely what Yushchenko needs.

        Today, on a popular level, Ukrainians repeat that the regime is in agony, the only question is how long the agony will last . . . Given that Kuchma and his associates have amassed fortunes in the billions of dollars, including through the sale of weapons to Iraq , they are likely to fight with "fingernails on glass" against the possibility of Yushchenko's coming to power. Ukraine, after all, has never experienced a regime change distancing the former ruling Soviet elite from power.  Political struggle at the top has been an internal nomenklatura affair. Now Yushchenko threatens this tradition. Yushchenko's actions, though, leave room to wonder if he even knows that he is in the midst of a battle for his political survival.

• • •

by Valeh Rzaev

        Nowhere in the world do citizens need permission to be in the capital of their own country. Except in Russia.

        We strive to be European, opening up boutiques for the best Western designers, shopping in supermarkets and driving Mercedes and Volvos.  We try with admirable stubbornness to at least look like we have a civilized state.  But we remain serfs to this day, discernable from our ancestors only by our 21st-century trappings.

        It would be hard to imagine a young man from Liverpool coming to London to join his bride and making his first stop be the police station, where he would register and pay some amount to remain there and bringing with him the necessary documentation a dozen municipal offices.  Nor would that happen in France, Italy, Spain, Turkey or even the United Arab Emirates.  In the USSR, Stalin's bureaucrats set rules requiring everyone leaving their own city for more than three days to register their whereabouts.  These rules were rarely followed, even though they were written in the back of everyone's internal passports.

        In Russia, those same harsh and ridiculous rules were mockingly reimposed at the height of the democratic transformations in 1994 Moscow.  The new lawmakers obviously had little sympathy for the 19th-century intellectuals who had fought to abolish serfdom and had no idea that they were disemboweling citizenship in the Russian Federation, which bestows freedom of movement, guarantees medical care and education and a choice of place to live and work throughout the country.  But, in spite of numerous upsets in the Constitutional and Supreme Courts of Russia, Moscow bureaucrats make little effort to bring their residency rules into line with the highest law of the land, setting in motion a series of serious legal violations by local authorities, the likes of which would lead to an American or European official of any rank facing charges.

        "I am Russian by birth and citizenship," N. Abasova, a graduate of the  Academy of Consumer Services, recently recounted. "In 1994, a well-known Moscow writer/journalist and I decided to be married.  We went to the Khoroshevsky District Registry of Civil Acts (Russian acronym ZAGS), where my husband-to-be was registered, for the marriage certificate. They bounced us to the Central City ZAGS because 'Dagestan isn't in Russia, but another country now.  You must have documentation from the Dagestani ministry of foreign affairs and the embassy showing that you are not now married.'  Showing a Russian passport and explaining our country's geography had no effect on the women working at ZAGS, until my husband contacted the Khoroshevsky District Prosecutor's Office.  After that, we were issued our certificate.

        "My husband was unable to register me at his two-room apartment because his former wife, who was also registered there, refused to allow it.  Her permission was required under new rules imposed in Moscow. That problem proved to be insurmountable and was the cause of humiliation at every step.

        "I had become pregnant and went to the district clinic for a consultation.  They refused to see me.  'We only serve Muscovites,' I was told.  So I had to Moscow city health administration, where they complained about the legal incompetence of their subordinate service and issued me a benefits card, without which I would not have even been admitted to the maternity ward.  I was examined in my eighth month of pregnancy.  The head of the clinic burst into the examination room unexpectedly and screamed that the baby was almost dead and must be immediately aborted and that she had already called an ambulance to take me to the hospital.  I was stunned by this groundless diagnosis and the aggressive insistence that I go under the knife.  Crying and ready to faint, I called my husband. Happily, he beat the ambulance there and took me away after a loud argument.  I nearly miscarried from the stress.  We have a family friend who is a gynecologist. He examined me without knowing of that incident and found everything to be in order.  I understood that they had decided simply to kill my baby in revenge for my complaint to the administration. New mothers Tanya from Kaluga; Lena, a Russian girl from Kazakhstan; and Ira from Kaliningrad had similar experiences.  The situation had been identical with all of them. My husband and other journalists conducted an independent investigation and discovered that district clinics had two purposes in sending out-of-town girls to the slaughter.  They were fulfilling an unspoken order to limit the birth rate among out-of-towners and receiving a kickback from the doctors in the hospitals, who received between $100 and $200 for every abortion they performed.  When met with opposition, they warned that, considering the catastrophic condition of the medical arts in Russia, they were no guarantees against blood poisoning or other complications.

        "After we gave birth, the head of the department came in and began ceremoniously handing out gift packages to the Muscovites 'from the city administration.'  An uncomfortable silence hung in the air during this discriminatory demonstration.  "What if the father is from Moscow and the mother is from Kaluga? What does that make the baby?'  Ira asked.  Just at that moment, we heard her Muscovite husband Dima calling to her from the street.  Dima and Ira had the same problem we did.  His ex-wife wouldn't let Ira register in Dima's apartment.

        "The birth of our child led to even bigger battles for civil rights and elementary human dignity.  For about a year, the passport office at the police station refused to register our daughter at my husband's apartment. They refused verbally.  They refused to accept documents, and lost others.  The head of the passport section told my husband in vulgar Russian, 'Forget about registering your daughter in Moscow.  Your wife can just take her back to the hills with her'.  Thus we also lost the state benefits available for six months after giving birth ".

        "My husband wrote to the chief of police's office and other authorities, all the way to the Ministry of the Interior.  He received only form letters in reply, although no permission from those registered at his address is required for a parent to register an underage child.  When an international organization became involved, police began coming to our home and asking the neighbors about any criminal tendencies or mental imbalances my husband might have.  But the neighbors stood behind us, and the third uniformed visitor was nearly chased away with a broom".

        "For the whole year that they refused to register my daughter, we were unable to take her to the children's clinic, request a house call, receive baby food from the government, and so on. This is what happened to Russian citizens within the territory of the Russian Federation.  It was as if Muscovites had their own alternative citizenship ".

        "Our travails, and the bureaucratic absurdity, reached their highpoint on the two times we turned to the courts.  The first time, my husband was advised to 'go join your wife in Dagestan.' The second time, after press attention led to our daughter being registered with her father, a judge ruled to revoke her registration at that location.  When we appealed, the appellate court was shocked at the district court ruling and threw it out. But that's how we live, like Russian wetbacks in Moscow".

        This is one of thousands of stories that are told in the endless lines at Moscow courts, police stations and legal aid offices.  And, if this is how Russians are treated, how much worse must the lot of those from the CIS be?

        Human rights activists recently marked their latest small victory in an eight-year battle with Moscow authorities to rescind the discriminatory passages in the Registration Rules for Nonresident Citizens in Moscow.  Now a child cannot be refused an education or medical services based on his or her parents' residency status.  Moreover, limiting the time a citizen can spend in the capital and any sort of registration has been found to be illegal by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The public group Civil Cooperation thinks it is still too early to celebrate, however.  Moscow authorities continue to limit the length of time an out-of-towner can spend there to three months, and receiving registration even to stay for six months is an enormous problem.  Zh. Manteeva, director of the Skanialaw office, says, "Moscow registration continues to limit the Russian citizen's constitutional rights to free movement and choice of place of residence.  Therefore, all the other limitations stemming from the registration rules should also be considered serious offenses ".  In other words, if a resident of Smolensk is denied a job in Moscow exclusively because of not having registration, that is illegal and may be taken to court.  But it is obvious to everyone that the average Russian has little recourse in the face of law enforcement's abuse of power and employers' unscrupulousness.  The courts are overloaded with civil cases and a suit may drag on for months.

        Russian Federation Ombudsman for Human Rights Oleg Mironov has stated that "it is written in the law that registration is of an informational character.  A person is supposed to notify the authorities of where he is located but, in reality, he has to ask for registration".  Why do Moscow authorities refuse with such maniacal insistence to abide by the decisions of the highest courts of Russia?

        As representatives of the mayor of Moscow and the city's law enforcement agencies have pointed out repeatedly, almost half the crime in Moscow is committed by nonresidents.  Many have expressed doubt about that figure, because the actual numbers are not available to the public, and there is no guarantee that the Ministry of the Interior, which has a way with numbers, is being completely honest in this case.  Also, living in Moscow without registration is among the crimes chocked up to nonresidents, and the number of those violations is indeed great because of the excessive complexity of the procedure, which can take up to a week and cause a heart attack.  Many members of the Moscow City Council hold that the unloved rules were "made to order for various city agencies".  That is why Moscow is perpetually inventing new variations on the same theme.

        In a city where almost two million people commute in every day, the temptation to turn this flow of humanity into a cash flow is tremendous, even if it means ignoring fundamental law. It is well known that the Moscow policeman's favorite duty is checking the identification and registration of passersby.  Most of us have seen policemen minutely inspect the passport of a person of Caucasian nationality, while drunken hoodlums carouse around them. Human rights activists say that, by following their "basic instinct", Moscow's centurions collect millions of dollars a day, without particularly inconveniencing any criminal elements. Incidentally, the Prosecutor General and the presidential representative for the Central Federal District have changed their positions on Moscow registration twice in the last year, moving from opposition to silent agreement.  "In truth, keeping track of who was born where, who is registered where and who moved where from where is the concept of an unfree society ", respect writer Andrei Bitov said recently in a television interview.  For some reason, that concept is amazingly persistent in Russia.