Issue No. 293 - October 22, 2002


1. Latvia:  NO LEFT TURN
    by Pauls Raudseps

    by Milos Jeftovic

    by Sanja Vukcevic


by Pauls Raudseps

        On 5 October the Latvian electorate once again, for the fourth consecutive time, returned a right-wing majority to parliament, thus keeping the distinction of being the only country in East Central Europe and the Baltic States that, since the fall of communism, has prevented the left an opportunity to return to power.

        Five of the six parties elected to parliament, accounting for 75 of 100 seats, label themselves as belonging to the right. That is an increase of five seats over the last elections in 1998, when four right-wing parties (out of a total of six elected) won 70 seats.

        Why has Latvia bucked the general post-communist trend, in which elections are handing power from right to left and left to right like a pendulum?  The answer to this question is simple: national security.  In Latvia, the political spectrum is only partly defined by economic and social policy.  The crucial axis is not really right and left. It is West and East.

        The reasons for this are not difficult to understand.  The majority of ethnic Latvians, who make up about 60 percent of the total population and a little less than 80 percent of the citizenry, have one abiding political ambition: to escape from the shadow of Russia and anchor themselves firmly in the West. This drive is stronger in Latvia than in the other Baltic States because the presence of Russia is more strongly felt and in recent years the Russian government has put more political pressure on Latvia than on Estonia or Lithuania. Latvia's ports have remained strategically important for Russian trade since the days of Ivan the Terrible.  The goods that go through these ports have changed — furs and potash in the Middle Ages, oil and fertilizer today — but the significance of the ports to Russia has been constant. The presence in the country of a large Russian minority, a perennial justification for the Russian government to try to influence Latvian domestic politics, is yet another reason for ethnic Latvians to feel that their safety lies in the West.

        As a result, Latvian politics is dominated by parties that loudly and consistently declare their adherence to Western values, to free markets, and the goal of joining NATO and the European Union.  Latvia is very close to achieving these goals — it is among the front-runners to be invited to join NATO at the Prague summit in November and among the ten countries the European Commission has recommended for admission to the EU by 2004 — and this expectancy has caused intense concern that somehow Latvia might stumble on the threshold. This worry undoubtedly increased the support for Western-oriented parties and ensured that voter participation remained at the over-70 percent level, as in the last three elections. (By way of comparison, in the last Estonian parliamentary elections in 1999 and the Lithuanian elections in 2000, participation was 57 percent, while participation in the Polish elections in 2001 was only 46 percent). The Latvian electorate was motivated and was making a statement: we have come too far to stop now. It's time for the final push.

        The fact that Latvian voters keep voting for right-wing parties does not mean they are any happier with incumbents than his Baltic or Central European neighbors.  In fact, of the four right-wing parties represented in the out-going parliament, only two managed to get reelected, one of them only barely making it over the 5 percent threshold for getting into the legislature. One of the biggest losers was Latvia's Way (Latvijas cels). In 1993 this party got the largest number of seats in parliament — 36 — of any party in Latvian history.  It has been represented in every government for the last nine years and its outgoing Prime Minister Andris Berzins was the longest serving in Latvian history. Indeed, during his tenure Latvia achieved not only impressive economic growth but also moved from the back to the front of the line for both NATO and EU accession.  Yet in spite of all these achievements, Latvia's Way could not make it over the 5 percent barrier and is now facing an uncertain political future.  The three parties making up the out-going government had 61 seats in the legislature.  The two parties from the coalition that managed to get into parliament, the People's Party (Tautas partija) and Fatherland and Freedom (Tevzeme un Briviba), will have just 27 seats.

        The voters punished the incumbents for their persistent sense that the Latvian political system is too responsive to the interests of a few influential businessmen and that the politicians, when not corrupt themselves, are doing too little to root out corruption in the judiciary, the police, and customs.

        The big winners in this election were two new parties founded this year, whose election platform could be reduced to one plank: honest government.  One of them, The New Age (Jaunais laiks), was the elections front-runner since its founding at the beginning of the year.  Its success is due entirely to the popularity of its leader, the former head of Latvia's Central Bank, Einars Repse.  His success in maintaining the stability of Latvia's currency over the last ten years and his reputation for honesty made his party the undoubted winner in this election. It won 24 percent of the vote and 26 seats in parliament and Repse is now the clear favorite to form the government when the parliament meets for its first session at the beginning of November.

        The surprise of the elections was another newcomer, The First Party (Latvijas prima partija). A combination of established second-tier politicians and a number of Christian organizations, it languished below the 5 percent barrier up until the end of September, but an elegant and very well financed advertising campaign in the last weeks of the campaign sent it shooting up in the polls. It won 9.5 percent of the vote, good for 10 seats in parliament.

        The remaining places on the right wing are occupied by the People's Party, which saw a drop in support from 21 percent in the last elections to 17 percent this year; the Greens' and Farmers' Coalition, which parlayed the combined popular support of these two parties (along with a significant infusion of money from some influential backers) into 9 percent of the vote; and Fatherland and Freedom, the most nationalistic of the major parties, which saw its support drop from 14 percent in the last elections to barely over 5 percent this year.

        But what about the left wing?  Its sole representative in parliament is a coalition of parties with the unwieldy moniker "For Human Rights in a United Latvia" (Par cilvektiesibam vienota Latvija, or FHRUL for short).  This heterogeneous amalgam of reformed and unreformed communists with a smattering of former independence activists is united by their desire to become the sole political representatives of the so-called "Russian-speaking population" in Latvia, and they took a major step in that direction, increasing their percentage of the vote from 14 to 19 percent. This success was in no small part due to the collapse of the Social Democrats, who in the last elections had attracted a significant amount of support from both Latvians and non-Latvians, but this time could not make it into parliament. FHRUL also reaffirmed its sympathies for Moscow when its co-chairman Janis Jurkans had a personal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin two weeks before the elections.  He thus became the first Latvian politician to be invited to the Kremlin since 1994 when Latvian President Ulmanis signed the treaty on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Latvia. Putin praised Jurkans, saying that he was happy to meet a Latvian politician who is interested in "renewing ties" with Russia. It is difficult to gauge how much this meeting helped FHRUL in the elections, but it will certainly be a major barrier to cooperation with the right wing parties in the newly elected parliament.

        The consolidation of the FHRUL vote points to the one negative implication of these elections:  the growing consolidation of the "Russian-speaking" vote, raising the threat of FHRUL becoming a purely ethnic party.  Up to now, no party has been able to convincingly present itself as the sole representative of this part of the population and such a development would certainly complicate Latvian domestic politics. However, there is at least some reason to hope that such an ethnic divide will not become a permanent part of the Latvian political landscape. An increasing numbers of Russians learn the Latvian language and the society is gradually becoming more integrated. Certainly, the environment in which ethnic questions are debated will change profoundly after NATO and EU membership. Moreover, the dramatic decline in support for the nationalistic Fatherland and Freedom party indicates that ethnic Latvians do not see purely ethnic parties as the model to be followed. The positive implication of the elections is that they have strongly reaffirmed Latvia's desire to become more integrated into Western institutions.  Moreover, the clear mandate given to politicians who have promised to clean up the system means that we may see an airing out of the backroom politics that have grown increasingly rancid in the past years. However, the inexperience of many of these reformers means that domestic politics may be more than a little unsettled for some time to come.

• • •

by Milos Jeftovic

        Kosovo's second local elections will be held on October 26. The election campaign has been lasting for a month and a half, but no one knew until the last moment whether Serbs, who make up slightly less than one-fifth of the voters, would participate. On a practical level, Serbian leaders decided to participate --- but only partially. Serbs will go out and vote in a small number of counties where they are in a majority, where their victory is certain. This will enable them to later participate in discussions about decentralization. The head of the UN mission to Kosovo (UNMIK), Michael Steiner, has stated that decentralization will provide "significant national minorities" some special rights so long as they participate at the elections.

        Serbs completely boycotted the first local elections held under the protection of the international community two years ago. They also refused to be included into voting registers, accepting the electoral process only a year later, when parliamentary elections were held. And in those elections, Serbs came out to vote only after many weeks of consultations with authorities in Belgrade and an agreement was signed by them with former UNMIK chief Hans Haekerup.
As a result, the Serb coalition "Return" became the third strongest political group in parliament. Steiner has repeatedly said that elections will be held regardless of the current Serbian decision for partial participation. He is sure that his plans for decentralization and unification of Kosovska Mitrovica, the second-largest city in Kosovo which was divided in the summer of 1999, will succeed with political help from leaders of the Kosovar Serb. There are many skeptics about that.

        A new element of the present local elections in Kosovo is that council members will be elected for a four-year term instead of the limited two-year mandate before. These will also be the last elections organized by OSCE mission. Without including those representing Serbs, there will be 68 Kosovar Albanian parties, coalitions, civic initiatives, and independents participating in the elections. According to the OSCE mission, 1.32 million citizens will have the right to vote, 80,000 more than in the last elections. Among these are persons currently living in central Serbia and Montenegro who are eligible to vote at 212 voting places there. The total number of persons living outside Kosovo who have the right to vote is 109,000, mostly Serbs.

        The election campaign began on September 10. Kosovar Albanian parties held their election rallies after September 11 in order to express their solidarity with the anniversary of the terrorist attack on the US. The campaign has been basically peaceful and tolerant, as was stressed on day one by leaders of the most important political groups of Kosovar Albanians. There have been many fewer incidents than two years ago, when candidates of the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo (DSK), the party of current Kosovar president Ibrahim Rugova, were targeted for attacks. In this election, there were several DSK candidates attacked, but unlike in 2000, no one was killed or wounded in this campaign.

        The OSCE mission in Pristina announced at the beginning of October that there will be 920 council seats contested in 30 counties by 5,500 candidates. The central election commission approved all 360 candidates’ lists on September 10. . . . The OSCE mission stressed that for the first time candidates had to give out information about their property. The mission explained that a great many public service jobs will be under jurisdiction of the counties and that establishing such a procedure was an attempt to prevent conflicts of private and public interests. A Western diplomat in Pristina noted that success in the area of transparency could mean a huge step towards democratization in Kosovo, adding that the plan for decentralization was also an important move in that direction.

        The latest polls of Inex Kosova agency, in cooperation with the American BBSS Gallup International show that 70 percent of registered Albanian voters will participate in the elections, 4.5 percent will not vote, 16 percent is hesitant about participation, and 4 percent is undecided. According to the poll, 40.4 percent will vote for Rugova’s DSK, 18.5 percent for the Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK) led by Hashim Taqi, and 6.2 percent will vote for the Alliance for Kosovo's Future (AKK) of Ramush Haradinaj. Up to 14 percent said they would vote for no party, while 13 percent still did not decide for whom to vote.

        According to the poll, the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo will continue to hold power in most Kosovar counties. Rugova's party, the largest and most influential among Kosovar Albanians, was also a winner in local elections two years ago and in last years’ parliamentary elections.

        Independent analysts in Pristina and foreign diplomats remark that democratization in Kosovo will not be complete until Serbs enter into all institutions, in order for the province to have its necessary multi-ethnicity.

        Serbian political leaders were inclined to a complete boycott, only to swerve in favor of a compromise and partial participation in the elections. The question is whether that is a contribution to Serb integration into political life of this formally Yugoslav province that is now under an international protectorate, or a contribution to deep and unbridgeable division.

• • •

by Sanja Vukcevic

        The second round of presidential elections on October 13 didn't decide a new Serbian president because less than 50 percent of the voters came out. What is your view of this situation and what is the cause for it?

        The results are not surprising for more knowledgeable observers of the Serbian scene. Citizens expected much more from the ruling DOS coalition which defeated Milosevic regime in October 2000 and they have no confidence in their promises. The fighting between two blocs within DOS and their two leaders, current Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, contributed to the present situation. There were also various scandals and incidents, as well as a low level of public discourse having a striking resemblance to what we had under Milosevic. The presidential candidates entering the second round, Vojislav Kostunica and Miroljub Labus, the candidate of Djindjic's political group, did not offer enough. They didn't offer very much at all; their last debate was mainly boring and without offering answers to important issues. The main message of the elections, however, is that the majority of voters are against reforms, a result which is disconcerting since it means there will not be real changes in Serbia.

        How will the current situation develop and which candidate "made a profit" in this situation?

        Following the election result, Serbia entered a crisis involving the political calculations of many leading political actors and whose end cannot be seen. Everyone will try to use this vacuum for himself. Objectively, the biggest winner of the elections was Vojislav Seselj, the head of an extremist nationalist party, the Serbian Radical Party, which shows that voters are becoming radical. Seselj won third place in the first round, behind Kostunica and Labus, but the real shock was that he won more than 20 percent. His message to voters to boycott second round of elections was the determining factor in its failure. Basically, there is not much difference between what is offered by Seselj and Kostunica, who won the most votes in both rounds. However, Seselj proved to be a much more successful politician because his election campaign centered upon issues of corruption and crime. Nobody used the fact that Seselj was under investigation of the court in the Hague because of doubt that he was responsible for war crimes committed by Serbian para-military formations during the war in Croatia and Bosnia. It is a moral disgrace.

        At the same time as the elections there continues the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic in the Hague. How did the trial and his appeal to support Seselj during the presidential elections influence voter sentiment?

        Milosevic's trial is a special phenomenon and deserves attention. Instead of using his trial to distance candidates from Milosevic's politics, we have the opposite political reaction. Public institutions and sentiment maybe are not backing him as a person but they are behind his politics, which are still insisted upon. His behaviour in court is arrogant and ruthless, but it has a positive reflection in the Serbian public. There is no wonder that his appeal from the Hague to support Vojislav Seselj bore fruit. However, Seselj's success must primarily be interpreted as a radicalization of Serbian society. The far right is extremely successful in promoting itself, enjoying support of some circles (at the federal level, in the Orthodox Church, in the military). It is a dangerous phenomenon that I think is not taken seriously enough.

        Are results of the elections showing, as some claim, that there is a renewed strengthening of the politics that dominated during the Milosevic's regime?

        Yes. It is the consequence of the missed opportunity after October 5, 2000, when Milosevic was brought down, to show things as they were. The international community helped by so easily accepting Serbia into international institutions without taking into account the breadth of Milosevic's legacy. Such an attitude of indulgence, coupled with the insistence to create the new community of Serbia and Montenegro, has helped to restore the old political forces instead of supporting the forces of transition. Today, the old forces have become a new economic and financial elite. Considering the weaknesses of the current ruling DOS coalition, one should not discount the return of these forces to power.

        What is your view of the situation in Kosovo following the Serbian elections?

        Kosovo and the Albanian issue remain open, especially if you ask the international community for its view. However, there is a seniment shared by most experts that Kosovo is forever lost to Serbia, having lost all legitimate claim of ever returning there. Serbia and its political elite does not want it in fact, because the war started with the idea of amputating a part of Kosovo and expanding [Serbia] on territories of other republics of former Yugoslavia (Croatia and Bosnia). The representatives of the Serbian nationalist elite like writer Dobrica Cosic claimed ages ago that Serbia could not win a demographic war with Kosovar Albanians and that it could only hold on to some important parts, leaving the rest to Albanians. The Serbian elite wants to resolve the issue of Kosovo through other compensation, namely the Serb Republic in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, the world cannot allow a division of Bosnia for many reasons, and therefore Kosovo still remains an open issue. Serbia is blackmailing the international community through its constant manipulation of Serbian refugees from Kosovo --- who will pay the biggest price in the end, just like the Serbs from Croatia. It seems the U.N. chief in Kosovo Michael Steiner understands Belgrade's strategy and is trying to face them with some consequences if they refuse to accept participation at the elections.

        What about Montenegro? What are today's chances and possibilities of creating a future joint state community?

        I think that the international community's and especially the EU's insistence on a joint state community between Serbia and Montenegro, shows a great misunderstanding of the dominant process that caused the downfall of Yugoslavia. It is a long-term process and at its ore is the emancipation of former Yugoslav republics into separate countries. Therefore, insisting on a state community instead of transition to independence is a waste of time. I think that such a policy cannot be sustained for long because of the nature of this long-term process, which can be slowed down but not stopped. Besides, some processes in Montenegro are showing what way its development will go. The Montenegrin orientation and identity is becoming more and more Mediterranean and that gives much chance to Montenegro to join in globalisation. The argument that Montenegro is too small to be an independent country is unconvincing even to these who utter it because of the very characteristics of globalisation. Montenegro has some advantages that enable it to overcome its small size.