Issue No. 303 - January 7, 2003
1. Bosnia and Herzegovina: FROM HOPE TO FEAR
by Radenko Udovicic
2. Georgia: THE COUNTRY OF MUTUAL DISTRUST
by Ivlian Haindrava
3. Slovakia: GOOD NEWS FOR DZURINDA
by Zoltan Mikes
The end of 2002 was met in Bosnia and Herzegovina in a gloomy mood due to the cruel ethnically driven massacre of innocent people in the town of Kostajnica, near Konjic. The massacre coincided with the re-taking of power by new—according to many—nationalist politicians who won last September’s elections. The winners were the same parties—the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), and the Party of Democratic Action (SDA)—which won in 1990.
On Christmas Eve, three persons were murdered and another maimed in their home. The Croatian family of returnees, named Andjelic, was living in Kostajnica near Konjic, a municipality with a dominant Bosniak (or Muslim) population. The massacre destroyed all positive assessments of an improved security situation in Bosnia in 2002. Citizens' hopes that the new, basically nationalist government, which defeated the leftist Social-Democratic Party (SDP), would bring prosperity and a closer relationship with the EU also collapsed.
Shooting people who are guilty only of returning to their pre-war home and of being a different religion has shown in the worst possible manner the dominant thinking of some Bosnian citizens. While everyone has condemned the crime of the fanatic assassin Muamer Topalovic, who admitted the "religious-ideological" basis for the murders, and no one in the government or other institutions supported the act, nevertheless, in an indirect way, Topalovic is a by-product of a horrendous nationalist policy that has been implemented for years in Bosnia. He is the most brutal reflection of the mild police and government reactions to various minor nationalist outbreaks. [Never did the authorities try to] live up to their responsibility to discourage such "fanatics, idiots, criminals. . ." among their own people.
The positive reaction in this case is that police acted quickly and arrested the killer by the next day. Topalovic is a member of various Islamic organizations and became a media personality when he was arrested in Serbia three years ago and charged with 20 months in prison due to illegal border crossings and possession of arms. After he served his sentence, Topalovic said in the Bosnian media that he was going to travel to Belgrade to kill Slobodan Milosevic.
Although today all Bosniak politicians and institutions condemn this crime and do everything they can to return feeling of safety and trust to the Federation B-H, it is clear that this fanatical murderer has succeeded in slowing down the return of Serbs and Croats in areas with Bosniak majority. International representatives have already asked Sarajevo authorities to deal with suspect Islamic elements in the country, especially due to the fact that Topalovic was identified as a member of Active Islamic Youth and humanitarian organization Jemiet el Furkan. The investigation also saw the arrest of some other persons who are suspected of being connected with Topalovic in planning the murder. One arrested person had an arsenal of weapons and ammunition and the investigation showed that all of them gathered in an isolated warehouse where they were training for various terrorist activities. If this is proved correct, then it is clear Bosnia is dealing with a terrorist group with unknown intentions. All the arrested belong to the Wahabian Islamic sect, which explains Islam in a so-called original manner. They were unknown in Bosnia until the war. Foreign Islamic volunteers who fought on the side of Bosnian army brought this kind of Islam to a minority group of Bosniaks.
After the September 11 terrorist attack on United States, Bosnian authorities started investigating various humanitarian organizations that mixed Arabian capital and local, mostly Wahabian influence. The victory of the Bosniak SDA, which has closer relations with Islam than the SDP, has encouraged previously minor groups to be more active. Wahabians are especially strong in parts of Bosnia where Bosniaks live together with Croats, like the mid-Bosnia region. During 1997, eleven Croats were killed in that part of the country, and none of the murders was ever solved.
An inter-religious council, comprising the heads of Islamic, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish communities in Bosnia, reacted to the shooting and the authorities to take more decisive action at all levels. Representatives of religious communities also asked people in Bosnia to work for peace together in honesty. They also called on the media to renounce hate speech and to act in the promotion of truth, justice, and peace in the country.
Religiously motivated crimes have been committed in the time of peace also by Serbs and Croats. The freshest examples are the violent demonstrations in Banja Luka, where thousands of people protested against rebuilding a mosque destroyed during the war. Hundreds of protesters hurled stones at Bosniaks who came to attend this event, and even at numerous local and international politicians present at the ceremony.
Due to the strong pressure of the international community, there was a court trial against several people involved with the protest, but they were convicted to only minimal prison terms. At the same time, the murderer of a Bosniak was never found.
The new government is being formed in the shadow of this crime. The new president of the Bosnian government has been selected: Adnan Terzic from Bosniak party SDA. The constitutional principle is that the Bosnian government is made out of three Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. Although ministers will be named during the next several days, it is already clear that all three Croats will be from HDZ and two ministers each will be from the Bosniak SDA and Serbian SDS. Will such a hard-line nationalist government made out of people with opposed viewpoints manage to resolve national problems and create an atmosphere that will not encourage fanatics like Topalovic. Many are skeptical, however international community does not count among them. The High Representative, Paddy Ashdown, said in his New Year's address: "In 2003 we will be on the way to Europe, which has just been reached by Hungary and Poland, as well as other countries of Eastern Europe. I am certain Bosnia is able to do it." He added that any progress in Bosnia depended on development of the economy and that economic self-sustainability would eliminate all problems.
Positive remarks coming from
Bosnia’s most powerful person—even more powerful than the government in
this international protectorate—give hope that not all is bleak. However,
the fact remains that 95 percent of progress was made at the insistence
or imposition of the international community. This fact causes fear of
what might happen should the international community decide to withdraw
from the country. One can free say that most people see 2003 with mixed
emotions — ranging from fear to hope.
• • •
The year 2003 is likely going
to be a thrilling and remarkable one for Georgia. Parliamentary elections
are due to take place in the fall and will bring in a new composition to
the country's top legislature. A year and a half afterwards, the parliament
will oversee the process of constitutional transfer of power from Eduard
Shevardnadze as the next president of Georgia. Thus far, Georgia has not
had any experience of a peaceful transfer of presidential powers. The first
president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was ousted as a result of the "Christmas"
coup in the winter of
Neither socioeconomic nor political realities provide any reason for optimism. All-embracing corruption, a deep energy crisis, a chronic budget deficit, frozen ethnopolitical conflicts, the country's administrative-territorial underdevelopment, a fragmented political spectrum, and a fierce confrontation between rival political groups—this is an incomplete list of domestic political problems that the incumbent president has failed to solve. In this context, the government's pro-Western foreign policy, which has quite justly been regarded as a key achievement of Shevardnadze's 10-year-long stay in power, looks like a fragile structure built on sand and destined to be destroyed under the pressure of unsolved internal problems.
The positive dynamics in
the development of national statehood from 1995 to 1997 has been replaced
with a drawn-out stagnation and even a step backwards in many respects.
In 2001, it was reflected in an internal crisis within the president's
own party, the Citizens' Union of Georgia
(CUG). This party was abandoned by its reform-oriented section represented by groups led by former speaker of the parliament Zurab Zhvania and the former leader of the CUG parliamentary faction Mikheil Saakashvili. The popularity of the president, his government, and the remains of his party went into unprecedented decline. During the local elections in June 2002, the CUG got as little as 2.37 percent of votes in the capital-city of Tbilisi, failing to overcome a 4 percent electoral threshold, and has no seats on the city council (Sakrebulo).
The ruling party has degenerated into an irreversibly corrupted bureaucratic organization, which, however, still keeps control over the executive branch. In search of security for himself and his closest milieu for the post-presidential future, Shevardnadze is counting on certain clans being in his gravitational field and representing a symbiosis of Communist/Komsomol leadership and half-legal business groups. That's exactly where the main threat to the country's stability resides in: to the extent that people have no confidence in the government and the government has no confidence in its own people, the attempts to keep power by all means (first of all, by means of falsifying the results of elections) is likely to trigger an explosion — the explosion that may deprive the ruling elite of all that they have hoarded up under Shevardnadze's rule. However, this corrupted elite is not likely to give up the reins willingly as they fear losing everything in that case too.
If anything can help Shevardnadze get an acceptable composition for the next parliament and, thereby, pave the way for an acceptable successor for himself, it is the opposition’s lack of unity.
For purposes of conventionality, the parties active on the Georgian political scene may be divided into four groups. The first consists of the CUG and its present and potential satellites. If that group succeeds in keeping power in its hands by any means, Georgia’s current miserable conditions will become the norm of life. These people are simply unable to change things in a more-or-less positive direction and they would not dare to make them drastically worse (for example, to reduce the scope of half-democratic rule).
The second group is represented by political figures like Aslan Abashidze (an authoritarian ruler of the Ajara autonomous region) and Jumber Patiashvili (the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party from 1982 to1989), for whom political pluralism is as alien a value as principles of a competitive free market economy. They support the command economy and a strictly hierarchical ruling system in which Shevardnadze’s style of allowing coexistence of multiple clans is unacceptable. Their ideal rests in Lukashenko's Belarus; and this path would get Georgia nowhere. This camp has seen no consolidation, however, and the results of local elections were almost as disappointing for Abashidze as for the CUG.
The third informal grouping, made up of Saakashvili’s and Zhvania’s parties, as well as some other groups, could be referred to as right-centrist with a clear orientation towards the West. If Saakashvili and Zhvania are able to achieve mutual trust and agreement among themselves as well as with some other parties of similar orientation, together they will be able to present themselves as a reliable and viable alternative to Shevardnadze's regime not only in Georgia, but also abroad and to bring the country back onto the track of reforms and overall change for the better. However, the manner in which Zhvania has conducted himself makes it clear that his ambitions are more than a match for his capabilities. His tendency to talk with his potential partners from a standpoint of a no-longer-existing position of power are likely to bury all hopes for overcoming the present deadlock.
The fourth segment of the political spectrum includes those, which have no stated aspirations and change political configurations according to the particular arrangement of forces. For example, a good example of such a phenomenon is Badri Patarkatsishvili, a crony of the fugitive Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who seems to have settled in Georgia for good and for the time being prefers to play political games offstage, without a clear demarcation of his political priorities.
In general, just as the local
elections of June 2002 were regarded primarily as a general rehearsal of
the upcoming parliamentary elections, the latter can be viewed through
the prism of the next presidential election. Shevardnadze, whose last presidential
term is expiring in April 2005, is obviously running short of his ability
to be in charge, a process that began not today, but already three or four
years ago. Furthermore, the very structure of governance that he has built
is completely outdated. For this reason, even ahead of the above-mentioned
social and economic problems, there is a substantial need of political
reform without which the country will not be able to get out of a gridlock.
• • •
The summit of the European Union in Copenhagen resulted in a long-awaited invitation for Slovakia. After the invitation into NATO at the summit in Prague, this is the second big success of the government of Mikulas Dzurinda. The Slovak prime minister needed this success. He is hoping that the bad economic situation of the country will be overshadowed by the success of his foreign policy or be solved from Brussels. Dzurinda has every reason to celebrate and hope his wish can be true.
Slovakia reached a good agreement with Brussels—the financial support of the EU will be 156 euro per capita, more than twice as high as the support for the Czech Republic or Hungary. But much more important is the improvement of Slovakia’s image. After the invitation into two internationally recognized organizations, Dzurinda can count on foreign investments. Slovakia is not only the country with one the cheapest labor force in the EU, but any fear of foreign investors of a comeback by Vladimir Meciar has now faded. There are reports that this former king of Slovakia’s political scene is losing support even inside his own party, even more good news for Dzurinda. So the Slovak prime minister can hope that unemployment climb down from the recent 20 percent level, that economic growth will rise, and with it his personal and political rating.
There is more good news in
last week’s support of Slovakia by Gunter Verheugen, the commissioner of
the European Union, following Prime Minister Dzurinda’s protest of the
Hungarian law on supporting Hungarians living abroad. This improved Dzurinda's
position among nationalists, the voters he normally does not reach. It
seems there is nothing that could improve the New Year for the Slovak prime
minister. Support for entry of Slovakia into the EU is well above 65 percent
and there is no real danger of a referendum regarding entrance into NATO.
So Dzurinda has just to sell his success to the public and hope that the
2004 timing of Slovakia’s entry into EU will also be okay. Until that time,
he has to survive the economy’s tensions. In 2006, the year of the next
Slovakian elections, the economy could already feel the benefit from Brussels.