Issue No. 297 - November 20, 2002


by Aureliusz M. Pedziwol

2. The Czech Republic:  PRAGUE UNDER FEVER
by Petruska Sustrova

by Peter Karaboev

by Aureliusz M. Pedziwol

        In local elections in Poland held on October 27 and November 10, all major parties had "victories" but that does not mean any were victorious.

        The elections meant some success for nearly every important political party. Only the Union of Freedom, which once upon a time was the most influential party, cannot brag of any significant election result. Once known for its myriad of Polish political giants like Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first non-communist prime minister in Central and Eastern Europe, legendary leaders of underground Solidarity Zbigniew Bujak and Wladyslawa Frasyniuk, and the author of Poland's economic reform Leszek Balcerowicz, now this party cannot find enough strength to recuperate from internal clashes and its significant defeat in parliamentary elections two years ago. It appears to be headed towards a part of history.

        The Alliance of Democratic Left (SLD) headed by current Prime Minister Leszak Miller, together with its small coalition partner the Union of Work (UP), won in a majority of local electorates. The victory margin, however, was lower than in its showing in the parliamentary elections. The Alliance was especially dominant in smaller municipalities and towns because these are areas where not much has changed in the past years and where there are zones of high unemployment. Voters there feel their problems can only be resolved by the Left.

        In major cities, the situation was different, with the liberal Civil Platform (PO) or the conservative Rights and Justice Party (PiS) triumphing. Even in former SLD bastions as Lodz, the birthplace of the current prime minister, the left was defeated. Mayoral candidates of right-wing parties won in 75 major cities and towns, while candidates of the left coalition won in just 26. The SLD's general secretary, Marek Dyduch, said of the results that the "Left got the warning." But one could say that the right got one, too: major towns do not represent the whole of Poland. And in the large cities, the right had the advantage of having stronger candidates since many Left officials had gone into government administration, while right-wing officials had been preparing for the last two years.

        Populist parties on the right like the League of Polish Families (LPR) or the peasant's movement Self-Defence also had remarkable success. In regional parliaments, Self-Defence had the second best showing, while LPR came in third place. With this showing, it seems that voters are appreciating some of the political methods of these parties, such as the blockade of Polish parliament organized just before the elections. Support for populist parties indicates that Poland can also expect its own Meciars, Le Pens, Haiders, or Zhirinovskys.

        Polish voters showed an astonishing level of vote differentiation, with the potential for creating political chaos. For example, in large cities such as Lodz, the mayor was elected from the right while the city council was kept in the hands of the Left. In Krakow, the situation is reversed, with the mayor coming from the left coalition, and the city council put in the hands of the right. Difficult situations may arise from such splits, since parliament has not made much effort to clearly divide powers of local government.

        Research carried out by the Center for Regional Research in various Polish municipalities shows that municipalities with right (liberal or conservative) parties in government had the largest investments, increase in employment, and most reduction in local administration, both in manpower and costs. On the other hand, the worst run municipalities, with only minor investments and the highest amount going to administration, usually run by representatives of exotic local coalitions or by the left. Over 80 per cent of these municipalities' officials were also in power during communism. Some Polish voters drew conclusions from this record, but not completely.

• • •

The Czech Republic:  PRAGUE UNDER FEVER
by Petruska Sustrova

        The Czech Republic is preparing to welcome and host a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization where further post-communist countries are to be invited to join the alliance.  But as Czech President Vaclav Havel recently pointed out in an article in Mlada fronta Dnes, the most widely read daily in the country, the whole thing looks rather as though the country was getting ready for a minor civil war.

        Vaclav Havel's texts appear in the press only rarely. The press may publish his speeches or occasional interviews, but mostly he makes his pronouncements through press spokesman. An article written for a newspaper by Havel himself is a rarity.  At this moment, the President wanted to tell the citizens and the media that the summit would concentrate on the talks themselves, not on what would take place in the streets.

        But what the great majority of articles in the Czech press felt to be of paramount significance was precisely what was being planned to take place on the streets.  Analyses or reflections of the forthcoming talks were a fraction of all Czech media coverage in the run-up to the summit. Instead, the media provided several times a day facts and figures about  police preparations for confronting demonstrations accompanying a meeting of the top representatives of dozens of states.

        Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, a young and ambitious Social Democrat politician, appeared on television almost daily to assure his Czech compatriots that his police were well prepared. Over and over again, concerns were raised based on recollections of demonstrations that accompanied a meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank two years ago, in September 2000. At that time, the demonstrators succeeded in taking control of certain places in the center of Prague for several hours, and people watching the demonstrations on television were under the impression that Prague had turned into a battlefield. At the time, television cameras were competing with each other in providing shots of cobblestones being hurled around Wenceslas Square in the center of the city, or on the roads leading to the Congress center where the finance experts were meeting, and how the police was waging a real battle with the demonstrators. However, they did not show that there was total peace and calm only a few streets away or that the streets of Prague were almost deserted: school children were given special time off from school and the police had called on citizens to leave the city for the duration of the meetings. The politician who appeared most frequently on television screens was the same Stanislav Gross, Minister of Interior also in the previous government.

        And so Czech citizens were now being told that the police was given special equipment, costing hundreds of millions of Czech crowns especially for the present occasion, they are being shown police maneuvers on television during which the police is being trained in combating groups of fictitious demonstrators, or what kind of methods will be used against demonstrators.

        It is, of course, a fact that the journeys of more than four dozen delegations of the highest representatives of the countries concerned will unquestionably complicate the Prague transport situation.  Transport in the center of the city is still partly paralyzed following the massive floods in August, and certain stations of the underground are still closed.  It is certain that some of the main transport thoroughfares will be temporarily closed more than once a day on account of the movement of delegations, and this will definitely complicate the transport situation even further.

        Moreover, during the week immediately prior to the NATO session the police have discovered a group of "darkers" who have been damaging electricity circuits in northern Moravia. Following spraying and the activities of hackers, "darkism" is a new form of protest by vandals against the existing society. "Darkers" are as a rule educated and intelligent young people who climb onto high voltage electricity pylons in an attempt to cause a short circuit, which creates a bright arc of light. They refer to this light effect as the Elias flame. The whole thing has dire consequences: electricity cuts produced in this way put electrical appliances in entire towns and cities out of operation.

        Two of the detained "darkers" which the media refer to inaccurately as "extremists," since their vandalism has no political context, admitted during questioning that they had intended to try and "switch off" certain parts of Prague during the NATO session.

        The police have, furthermore, introduced far more stringent checks at border points in an attempt to stop organized international groups of demonstrators from entering the country. During the meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 2000, these "professional" demonstrators—regular visitors to top level international gatherings throughout the world—were the most aggressive in the streets of Prague: they came in special coaches. A special train was even dispatched from Italy.

        Several international demonstrations have already been announced for the days of the NATO meeting, but the number of Czech opponents of NATO planning to go into the streets is not too high even when adding various groups of young anarchists who frequently protest against globalization in general or against the ills of a consumer society. The police nevertheless suggest that Prague citizens would do best to leave the city wherever possible, and the children will once again have special school holidays. There is considerable tension in the media prior to the summit, which to some extent affects also Czech society.

        So, it was not surprising that Vaclav Havel did his best to try and change the current atmosphere: the summit of the Alliance is his farewell party. In January, Havel will end his second term in office, and the Czech Constitution allows only two presidential terms. And so the highest statesmen of the developed world will gather in Prague not only to discuss and decide the strategy and enlargement of the most powerful military alliance in the world but also to take their leave from the Czech President prior to the end of his term of office.

• • •

by Peter Karaboev

        A few dozen ministers and high officials will gather next week in London at a conference on "Organised Crime in the Balkans." Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Home Secretary David  Blunkett will host the forum at Lancaster House. Delegates will include justice, interior, and foreign ministers from the Balkans, as well as representatives from neighboring states, the EU, other international partners, and multilateral organizations, including the European Commission.

        Announcing the major EU-led conference, Mr. Straw said, "Organised crime is the scourge of southeastern Europe. It is one of the most serious threats to peace, stability, economic development, and democracy in the Balkans. If we fail to confront the problem, the recent progress made in the region is at risk." Mr. Blunkett added, "Organised crime in the Balkans not only affects that region but impacts on the rest of Europe and here in the UK. Illegal immigrants, trafficked women, and drugs smuggled through the Balkans end up on our streets. The continuing instability encouraged by organized crime also threatens our military, political, and financial investment there." For the London conference, there is a special point of interest concerning Bulgaria: since last year its Custom services are managed by UK company Crown Agents.

        Within the region, Bulgaria lies on the crossroads of trafficking in both drugs and people. It is one of the main sources of prostitutes, illegal immigrants, and forged foreign currency.

        Just last week, the Russian police services seized $6.0 million in forged banknotes in a car parked in front of the Bulgarian trade mission in Moscow. The car was owned by a Russian citizen who authorized a Bulgarian to drive it. Bulgaria's National Service for the Fight Against Organised Crime destroyed three Bulgarian criminal networks forging foreign currency and documents in Sofia, Plodded, and Verna in 2002. But, as Nifco’s economic crimes department head Panatela Piano said recently, the more cases the police solve, however, the more publicity foreign media gives about Bulgaria being a center of forgery. A recent TV5 report on the issue claimed that forging money in Bulgaria was the brainchild of Andréa Lozano, the former Bulgarian prime minister who was assassinated in 1996.

        Foreign experts discount the claim that Bulgarian forgers possess any special technique or high quality, saying that even shop assistants should be able to recognize the forged banknotes. Most of the forged money originating from Bulgaria, they say, is made using offset technology. The truly high quality forged banknotes are made mainly in Iraq.

        The first large-scale interception of money forged in Bulgaria was reported in 1993 and the latest in 2001. U.S. dollars were forged by using the paper from bleached Lebanese dollars. Most of the materials used in the process are commercially available. Intensive co-operation between Bulgarian and U.S. law enforcement services resulted in the capture of a group of forgers in Ruse in 1999 and the more recent breaking of the three forgery networks, Capital Weekly said recently.

        Bulgarian media have claimed that money bleaching was in fact invented by Bulgarian émigrés living in the U.S. in 1920s. It is said that when Todor Angelov Krivanliev, a graduate from the Bulgarian School of Polygraphy, went to the U.S. he discovered that 1 and 100 dollar banknotes had the same form and he started to bleach 1 dollar banknotes and overprint them with a 100 USD imitation. Krivanliev was arrested in 1933 and sentenced to jail for 15 years, but was extradited to Bulgaria and arrested again in possession of the first forged 20 USD banknotes. A new 12-year prison term followed. When the communists came to power in 1944, he was released and employed as "specialist" in the national monetary court just to be arrested 2 years later and sentenced to 5 years in prison for forging state obligatory paper. He died in 1955. The tools of his trade are part of the exhibition at the Ministry of Interior Museum in Sofia. In his footsteps, Bulgarian forgers have experimented with different methods, including digital and computer-based, but today they are considered to be on the mid-level of the international forging industry and their product is not as usable.

        During the last years, the United States helped in cracking down forgery workhouses in Bulgaria. Their cooperation with Bulgaria's secret services became more active after 9/11 because of the effort to try to stop illegal financing of terrorism. As well, there are some Bulgarians who immigrated to the U.S. and Canada in the 1990's having already been included in North America's crime circles.

        Money forgers in Bulgaria are working on Bulgaria's leva too. Their favorite is the 20 leva banknote followed by the 10 and 50 leva (the highest nominal note). According to National Bank data, just 0.001 percent of the lev banknotes that circulate in Bulgaria are forged. This is far from the critical point, which is considered to be 0.1 percent. U.S. dollars are twice more favored by forgers in Bulgaria. The Euro is too young and unknown to Bulgarians to be preferred, but there are some forged 100 Euro banknotes reported by the National Bank.