Issue No. 311 - March 7, 2003

1. Belarus: BACK IN VIENNA
by Paulyuk Bykowski
by Peter Karaboev
by Paulyuk Bykowski
        Membership in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (PA OSCE) has been restored to Belarus. With that decision, made on February 20, the PA also confirmed the legitimacy of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus.
        The question of Belarusian representation had been open since January 9, 2001, when the five-year term of the Belarusian 13th Supreme Council ended. The Council was dissolved in 1996. At that time, the PA did not recognize the new legislative body, the National Assembly formed by Alexander Lukashenko, but instead invited members of the 13th Supreme Council who refused to recognize the constitutional referendum of 1996 to serve as Belarusian representatives. They did not have voting rights, however, since Belarus did not pay its dues for those years.
        In 2001, when there was no official Belarusian representative, the PA invited two delegations, one from the National Assembly and one from the Consultative Council Opposition Parties, but they too lacked participatory rights.

        When the 13th Supreme Council term ended, recognition of the new Belarusian parliament became a crucial issue, all the more so since the 2nd National Assembly was not appointed by the president, but voted into office, in elections the PA did not find fair or free.
        On the day the winter session of the PA opened, the delegations from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Germany, Great Britain and Canada pressed for the restoration of the Belarusian membership in the Assembly. The United States suggested putting the issue off until the next session and Switzerland did not want to consider it at all. Twenty delegations voted to restore Belarus’ membership, eighteen voted for the American proposal, and five abstained.
        Vladimir Konoplev, vice speaker of the lower house of the National Assembly told the ITAR-TASS news agency on February 20 that the restoration of Belarusian membership rights a wrong committed five years ago. At a press conference in Minsk on February 24, he stated that not one delegation publicly opposed the measure, except the U.S. delegation, headed by Christopher Smith. "He leveled sharp criticism, after which Uta Zapf [head of the OSCE PA Working Group on Belarus] spoke again. She said that, in this case, the European position is at odds with the position of the United States of America; America, as a rule, favors sanctions against any state, while Europe favors dialogue. Then the voting took place, in which America needed two-thirds of the vote. I want to point out that, during the vote, the entire American delegation stoodCthey probably wanted to pressure the European states by watching who voted for or against. Instead of their necessary two-thirds, they received 18 votes, 20 were against them with five abstentions," Konoplev said.
        At the same press conference, Konoplev said, "We were pleased, on one hand, to see that practically all the major European countries supported us. On the other hand, it was, honestly, a little unpleasant to note that, of the CIS countries, Georgia did not support us and, of the former socialist camp, Bulgaria didn't either. The prospect of admission to NATO and the European Union leaves a certain mark." Konoplev expressed special gratitude to the Russian parliamentary group for its consistent support.
        Speaker of the Russian State Duma Gennady Seleznev told RIA Novosti news agency that the decision is a "symbolic event that marks a turning point in Belarus’ role in European society."
        The Americans justified their proposal to put off the vote for six months by pointing out the uncertainty surrounding the recently reopened OSCE Office in Minsk. Christopher Smith, the co-chairman of the U.S. Congress=s Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, made the following statement in a last-minute appeal to postpone the vote: "Otherwise, we may send a very wrong signal to the Lukashenko regime. You know, I saw a statement by Lukashenko on the OSCE mission in Minsk. He observed that they had scored a political victory, that we had changed and agreed not to interfere in the internal affairs of Belarus. But that it the very substance of human rights. . . . If there is a country that violates them, we must react. And it seems to me that this new mission will be very isolated and have very little influence."

        That quotation was taken from Radio Liberty. The head of that station's Belarusian service, Alexander Lukashuk, who was at the PA session in Vienna, noticed an odd difference between Uta Zapf's written account of her last visit to Minsk and her statements at the session in favor of restoring Belarus to membership in the PA.
        "The written account of the situation in Belarus by the OSCE Working Group gave reason to doubt that the official delegation would be recognized," Lukashuk said. "Not one of the four conditions imposed by the OSCE were met, the worsening of conditions for the press, for labor unions, for elections; there has been no progress in location the missing politicians. One plus: the return of the OSCE mission with a limited mandate. However, the head of that very group, Uta Zapf, rather insistently called for the recognition of the official delegation and said almost nothing about the negative things in her written account. Those who had not read it, and that was the majority, might have thought that everything was in order in Belarus."
        Indeed, Zapf's change of heart, like that of the PA as a whole, is hard to explain. Yesterday, democracy and human rights were the main issue; today it is something different. A number of explanations have been proposed: mutual Russian and German economic interests in Belarus, the vote splitting according to supporters and opponents of war with Iraq, the West's disappointment with the Belarusian opposition and hope for a meaningful dialog with the National Assembly, the idea of attracting dictators to international democratic institutions in order to convert them, and others. No one explanation is entirely convincing, which suggests that a number of factors coincided and played into the hands of the Belarusian regime.
        Before the PA session, the United Civic Party, the Belarusian Labor Party, the Belarusian Social-Democratic Hramada, the Belarusian National Front Party, and the unregistered United Social-Democratic Party issued a joint statement entitled "On the Worsening Political Climate in Belarus and the Impermissibility of Legitimizing the National Assembly." In that document, reference was made to the lack of progress in democratizing Belarus and the danger involved in recognizing the National Assembly: "We call attention to the fact that there exists a real threat to the sovereignty of Belarus. And the National Assembly with its present membership, and greatly dependent on A. Lukashenko both politically and financially, is a potential threat to the sovereignty of the country. The National Assembly can give force of constitutional law to any proposed act to change the Constitution. Legitimizing Lukashenko's parliament would mean legitimizing its potential decisions to reduce or destroy the sovereignty of the country."

        Besides open supporters of the ruling regime, the decision of the PA OSCE was favorably regarded by leader of the Liberal Democratic Party Sergei Gaidukevich and, in part, by Belarusian Social-Democratic Party (People's Hramada) leader Mikola Statkevich. "I welcome the decision of the Parliamentary Assembly," Gaidukevich said. "Europe has always taken a step-by-step strategy with Belarus, because isolating us would be dangerous. The opposition can always take part in the PA OSCE. It's no problem for Gaidukevich, Statkevich or anyone else to get invited."
        Statkevich told the BelaPAN news agency that the decision strengthens independence and will permit democracy in Belarus. "The more channels of influence the West has on Belarusian state institutions, the better it will be for democracy and independence. Deficient representation in European bodies is deficient statehood."
        Statkevich is convinced that that decision was "long overdue." "There is no legal basis for not making that decision," he said. "Even the parliament of Turkmenistan is a member of the PA OSCE. The charter of the PA OSCE places no conditions on the democratic election of the parliaments."
        However, Statkevich gave a negative assessment to the tactical aspect of the PA OSCE decision. "This was done just before local council elections. The PA OSCE should have provided some motivation for more democratic elections, rather than removing such motivation. The right wing of the Belarusian opposition was also mistaken in insisting that the National Assembly could not be admitted to the European body. The official media will portray all democratic forces as being disappointed, not just the rightists."
        All other representatives of opposition parties made statements critical of the PA decision. Zenon Poznyak, head of the Conservative Christian Party Belarusian National Front, was the most outspoken. He said, "Europe has sold Belarus to Moscow. The OSCE pursues a double standard. Now, in the context of founding a new Paris-Berlin-Moscow political axis, the OSCE's double standard has been legitimized. For Belarus, that will mean the legitimization of Russian annexation."

• • •

by Peter Karaboev
        In the weeks preceding a major conflict, as in Iraq, one would expect that the ruling party in a democratic country would behave with great responsibility in the area of national security. Not in the case of Bulgaria, where the government understands as national security the privatisation process of major state-owned companies.
        In this case, everything started long before the Iraq crisis emerged on the radar and concerns the long and painful privatization sale of the Bulgartabac Holding Group, which owns not only Bulgaria=s tobacco monopoly but also the telecom operator BTC. Now, the issue has involved the Constitutional Court in a presidential challenge to a 13-year-long tradition of substitute voting practices in Bulgaria's 240-seat Parliament.
        On March 6, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov appealed to the country's Constitutional Court to invalidate the widely used practice among Bulgarian parliamentarians of casting proxy votes in plenary sessions by use of parliamentary voting cards given to members by absent deputies. Parvanov also requested that the Constitutional Court justices rule on the legal validity of bills voted on in such a fashion. Opposition MPs are in turn challenging the validity of approved amendments to the Privatization and Post-Privatization Control Act before the Constitutional Court on the grounds that these amendments violate 13 provisions of the country's basic law, including those relating to the division of powers and the prerogatives of judicial authorities. The Court agreed to rule on the appeal and determined that its President, Roumen Yankov, will be the reporting judge. The decisions of the Constitutional Court, which are usually taken within a month, are final.
        The amendments being challenged introduce a more relaxed procedure for the privatization of enterprises of key importance for national security. They entered into force on Friday, March 7. Their enactment was delayed by a presidential veto that was C eventually C overridden by the National Assembly. The issue came into the limelight on February 27, when deputies for the ruling coalition, which is comprised of the Simeon II National Movement and the predominantly ethnic Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms, overrode the presidential veto on the amendments only by violating parliamentary regulations. Deputies of the opposition parties refused to take part in the vote and accused the ruling coalition=s deputies of using the voting cards of fellow parliamentarians who were absent. Some of the MPs whose votes were cast were not in fact in the plenary hall; some were even abroad. Under Article 81, paragraph 3 of Bulgaria's Constitution, votes in Parliament must be cast in person and openly, except when the Constitution requires or the National Assembly resolves to hold a secret ballot. The meaning of the constitution is clearly that each and every member of parliament must personally and clearly state his or her will on any bill before the parliament.
        Voting irregularities in parliament have plagued Bulgaria ever since the Balkan state restored democracy in 1989, but until now no parliament Speaker managed to solve the problem. The Speaker of the present 39th National Assembly, Ognyen Gerdzhikov, repeatedly vowed to end this embarrassing practice but to no avail. He even threatened to resign but without effect.
        In the days after the February 27 vote, the rightist United Democratic Forces, one of the parties in opposition, circulated a petition calling for the resignation of Ognyen Gerdzhikov but the socialists, who are also in opposition, killed the motion by refusing to sign it. It is expected that the Parliamentary Speaker will introduce regular voting hours as a partial solution of the problem.
        In the meantime the privatization sale of the Bulgartabac will be completed according to the latest dubiously adopted amendments to the Privatization and Post-Privatization Control Act. The four bidders for the national tobacco monopoly emerging from two stages of competitive bidding last year are expected to confirm their offers by Monday, March 10 and extend their validity until April 20. The new law requires the Privatisation Agency to report the contents of the four bids to the Council of Ministers, which then selects the buyer and fixes the deadline for concluding the privatization contract. The Cabinet resolution selecting the buyer must be approved by the National Assembly, at which point the Privatisation Agency opens formal negotiations with the selected candidate. The final privatization contract must be submitted to the Agency's Supervisory Board and to the Council of Ministers for approval.
        But Parvanov, the Socialists, and the UDF claim that the lack of a right to appeal against decisions linked to the 15 sales could create opportunities for corruption and put off potential investors. In December, the Supreme Court annulled an earlier decision by Bulgaria's Privatisation Agency to choose Tobacco Capital Partners -- the Deutsche Bank consortium --- as the buyer of 80 percent of Bulgartabak for 110 million euros ($219 million). It recommended higher bids be sought. Other bidders are the Austrian-registered Tobacco Holding, Russia's Rosbulgartabac, and the Bulgarian-registered Metatabac. The ruling on the landmark sale dealt a serious setback to the reformist government's goal of raising foreign investment funds for the country. The amendments to the Privatization Law that followed do not allow any appeals to the Supreme Court for the sales of 15 strategic companies including Bulgartabak.
        The state economic team said the amendments will enable it to speed up the long-delayed selling off of remaining key state-run companies, thereby fulfilling an important pledge to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Bulgaria's main donors. The Bulgarian Government now plans to complete the long-delayed sell-off of the tobacco monopoly by the end of March 2003. But the sale may be delayed once again if the country's constitutional court declares the changes to the privatisation law invalid according to President Parvanov=s appeal.

• • •

(Based on material from the Russian press, November-December 2002)
        The long information war waged by the Russian mass media against the Chechens has been whipped up into an informational reign of terror since the terrorist act in Moscow in October. Chechen topics dominated Russian newspapers from the end of October through mid-November. Under Russian law most of the authors of the articles appearing at that time could easily be charged with fascist propaganda and inciting ethnic enmity.
        This is true even of the major papers that usually are reserved and correct in tone no matter what the topic. On November 13, 2002, Izvestiya published an article by Andrei Kuraev, a Russian Orthodox priest and candidate's degree-holder, entitled "War on Terrorism without the Special Forces." Father Andrei writes that it is not enough to fight terrorism in reaction to separate acts, but it is necessary to fight against the people and religion that are, in his view, the source of the terrorism. The priest draws a parallel with the modern Chechens and ancient Jews, who, he says, were rightly driven into exile for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He draws the inescapable conclusion of collective responsibility of a people for the actions of individual members. In the priest's opinion, war against the Chechens everywhere in Russia and harsh repression of
them will be effective against terrorism.
        In the weekly Mir novostei (no. 46, November 12, 2002), Elena Khakimova, in one article called "Mass Poisoning in Kuban," analyzes various causes for the catastrophic outbreak of food poisoning at the Kropotkin dairy-products plant. After examining the official explanation for the epidemic, she turns instead to the possibility that it was a diversion on the part of the Chechens. "Of course," she writes, "no one today will say that the mass poisoning of the inhabitants of southern Russia was a well planned and carefully executed diversion by the rebels. But certainly such a scenario is entirely possible, especially after the eloquent revelation of head bandit Maskhadov just before the audience at 'Nord-Ost' was taken hostage." The author lets reliable information takes a back seat to informational diversion despite a clear explanation for the events.
        Argumenty i fakty newspaper (no. 46, November 2002) ran two articles on normalization in Chechnya by Zurab Todua, an expert on the Caucasus and Central Asia and journalist Vyacheslav Kostikov. In his pseudo-analytical article, "The War Abroad," Todua attempts to reinterpret the myths that have arisen around the Russian-Chechen conflict in the last ten years. In reality, he turns the "confusions," or myths, upside down to create commonplace propaganda, written to order, whose conclusions are that Chechnya was the aggressor in Russian-Chechen relations, and the war won't stop if Chechnya is granted independence, it will just take on new forms. Negotiations should not be entered into if they will be beneficial to Maskhadov. The pacification of Chechnya will take several decades still.
        Kostikov's article, "The Mistake of Khasavyurt," also concerns normalization in Chechnya, but in a different light. In an analysis of Russian-Chechen relations since the Khasavyurt Agreement, Kostikov concludes that peace talks are futile if they involve only Maskhadov and small-armed groups. Referring to the work of "Chechen specialist" Emil Pain, Kostikov suggests negotiating with a coalition made up of all political forces in Chechnya and establishing a coalition administration, which would control the armed groups. Furthermore, he says, there can be no military solution to the crisis, but only a long, hard road to peace through negotiation.
        The problem of extraditing Akhmed Zakaev from Denmark received voluminous coverage in November. Nearly all Russian newspapers wrote that Denmark sympathizes with and supports

        For example, the November 16 issue of Komsomolskaya Pravda, special correspondent Elena Ovcharenko's article was title "Danish Prime Minister Ready to Forgive Terrorists for Everything." In it, the author simply accuses the Danish administration, Prime Minister Rasmussen, and Danish society as a whole of supporting international terrorism. Ovcharenko pointedly, but without argumentation, criticizes the Danish government's chairmanship of the European Union, claiming its prominent role would have gone completely unnoticed were it not for the October events in Moscow. "But, luckily for the Danes," she writes, "they took hostages in Moscow, eliciting an outburst of joy in Copenhagen among the fans of the Chechen Mujahids." The Danes were not observing their legislation or freedom of speech by allowing the World Chechen Congress to be held in Copenhagen and by refusing to extradite Zakaev, she wrote, but instead were following political considerations as undefined by the author. Even while demanding political and economic sanctions against "disobedient" Denmark, Ovcharenko still found something good in European democracy: Denmark will be replaced as EU chairman by Greece, a country "known for its sensible and constructive approach."
        An interview with former speaker of the Supreme Council of the Russian Federation Ruslan Khasbulatov was published in the weekly Sobesednik (no. 44, November 13-19, 2002). He said that, after the terrorist act at "Nord-Ost," open season has been declared on Chechens in Moscow. Law enforcement agents even visited him to take his fingerprints and those of his family.
        Khasbulatov's view was that the war must stop before mass repression of Chechens and other ethnic Caucasians will stop in Russia. The only real possibility for normalization in Chechnya is negotiations between the Russian government and Aslan Maskhadov. It is also very important, he continued, that developed countries take part in the reconstruction of the Chechen economy, since Russia, with its economic problems, will be unable to resurrect the ruined republic. Russian policy in Chechnya today not only does not allow for peace, it leads to continuing war and terrorism.
        The anti-Chechen hysteria in the Russian press immediately after the terrorist act at "Nord-Ost" lost some of its passion over time and calmed down by the beginning of December. Articles became less aggressive, and some of them even expressed a measure of sympathy for the Chechens, which was almost entirely absent a month earlier.
        In Kommersant newspaper (no. 224, December 10, 2002), there is an article by Vladimir Kara-Murza on the status of the extradition of Zakaev from England. Kara-Murza avoids evaluation of the situation and the persons involved in it, noting instead the difficulties Prime Minister Tony Blair finds himself in, needing Russia's support if a war should begin with Iraq, but not wanting to spoil relations with the European Union, which is against extradition
        An article by Vadim Rechkalov, "Ibrashka Is a Little Guy," was published on the front page of Izvestiya (no. 226, December 11, 2002). The article is based on a poll of Chechen children taken in a school in Grozny. Rechkalov writes that children 10-12 years old in Grozny do not know that they live in Russia. They consider the Russians aggressors who attacked their country, killed their relatives and destroyed their homes. Based on these observations, the author concludes that restoration of normal human relations between Chechens and Russian authority figures is one prerequisite for normal life in Chechnya.

        Still despite the diminished passions in the Russian press, the political slant of most of the material appearing in the major newspapers did not change and generally reflects the official policy of the Russian government. That is not surprising in light of the strict censorship on all material dealing with Chechnya.
        On the front page of Izvestiya (no. 225) on December 10, 2002 was an interview by Vadim Rechkalov with Lieutenant General Sergei Babkin, head of the FSB division in Chechnya. Babkin claims that Russian actions in Chechnya are justified and that all instances of illegal arrest and murder were perpetrated by the rebels and then blamed on FSB and Main Intelligence Division agents. According to the lieutenant general, the Russian special services conduct themselves lawfully within Chechnya, just as they do in Vladimir and Ryazan Regions. One might assume from the lieutenant general's line of thought then that Russian special services agents kidnap and murder people as a hobby in their off-duty hours since it does not happen "officially".
        The only newspaper in Russia that can be called objective in its coverage of Chechen affairs is Novaya gazeta.
        For many Russian citizens, Anna Politkovskaya's articles in Novaya gazeta are the only source of more-or-less accurate information on Chechnya available. A sense of pain, sympathy and shame pervades Politkovskaya's articles on the anti-Chechen mood in Moscow after the events at "Nord-Ost." Unfortunately, her clear and honest voice is drowned out by the lies, hatred and disinformation splashed across the pages of Russian newspapers, magazines and television screens today. That reflects the official Russian policy toward the Chechen Republic and toward Chechens in general.
* Written by correspondents in Chechnya, Dispatches from Chechnya is prepared by LATTA, a Chechen NGO, and distributed in English by the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE). To receive Dispatches by email, please contact IDEE at

• • •

        The year 2003 will be a very important one for the countries of South Caucasus. Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in Armenia, presidential elections in Azerbaijan, and parliamentary elections in Georgia. To a great extent, these elections will define not only the direction for development of all three countries but of the region as a whole.
        Multiparty elections are no longer a novelty for the citizens of our countries. In the course of 12 years, we have accumulated both positive and negative election experiences. Sadly, the negative experiences are preponderant; each succeeding election held in our countries has proven to be worse than the previous one and represented a further step in falsifying election results and distorting the will of the electorate. As a result, citizens are more and more apathetic, alienated from their government, and skeptical of the possibility of genuine democratic reforms, improvement in the standards of living, a state based on the rule of law, and developing a real civil society. These are ever more remote phenomena for our societies.
        Unfortunately, some international organizations and Western institutions, called upon to support and promote democratic processes in our countries, contribute to the process of our citizens' disenchantment in the values of freedom and democracy. Most significantly, during the period of elections, many representatives of different observer missions, whether willingly or unwillingly, contribute to legitimizing falsified elections in the eyes of local and international communities. Among many problems are: the inadequate qualifications of observers, lack of knowledge of local realities, the impossible effort to cover a substantial number of election districts and constituencies with a small number of observers, the lack of coordination between different individual missions, and other reasons of technical character. In all instances, international organizations and western institutions turned out to be, as it were, accomplices in the gross distortion of the will of the electorate. The people living in the post-Soviet space have suffered from a policy of double standards to the maximum possible extent.
        On the eve of the elections in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, we call upon the relevant international organizations and governments of democratic States to put on their agenda the urgent issue of holding genuinely free and fair elections in the South Caucasus states; to emphasize the importance of bringing electoral legislation in conformity with the standards of the Council of Europe and OSCE; to urge Authorities of our States to fully comply with their universal requirements in the course of whole election process; and to secure maximum possible transparency of electoral procedures and create favorable conditions for the work of local and international observers and representatives of mass media. A clear and unambiguous message must be sent to the Governments of our countries to convince them that there will be zero tolerance for any manipulations and falsification of results of the elections and that any such instances will most likely result in the imposition of sanctions envisaged against those member States of the Council of Europe and OSCE, which tend to ignore their one commitments.
        At the same time, we call upon the international organizations and institutions, and Governments of democratic states:

- To coordinate in advance their own efforts directed at observation of elections in our countries;
- To start the observation and monitoring from the very beginning of the election process and complete it only after all   appeals and claims have been addressed and there are final rulings of courts and other competent bodies;

- To divide among themselves election districts and precincts and carry out ongoing observation of election process from the very start of voting until the moment of drawing up (and getting hold of) final protocols;

- To refuse the practice of sending of inadequately qualified or inexperienced observers and encourage invitation of observers from those countries, which have similar experience of electoral process;

- To be absolutely objective and unbiased in terms of assessment of the elections.

        In addition, we put forward an initiative of holding an international forum with a preliminary title For Free and Fair Election in the Post-Soviet States with participation of all interested parties: politicians, political scientists, experts working on legislation and election procedures, professional-organizers of elections from different countries, and representatives of NGOs and mass media. Such a forum should work out a number of concrete measures to be undertaken in order to improve the efficiency of electoral processes on the post-Soviet space, to secure the maximum possible support of the international community aimed at holding free and fair elections, to create mechanisms of mutual assistance, to immediately and effectively respond, through all available channels and means, to any instance of violations, to further improve the effectiveness of those organizations that practice sending election observation missions to the post-Soviet States.
        We place our hopes on your cooperation in contributing to the creation of all necessary conditions for holding free and fair elections, elections that will allow our citizens to make
responsible choices.

* The Memorandum on Fair Elections in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia was created and signed by more than 15 representatives of regional Centers of Pluralism at a conference dealing with elections in the Caucasus (November 29 - December 1, 2002 , Tbilisi, Georgia). For signing this Memorandum and for more information contact Ivlian Haindrava at <>, or Coordinator in Armenia: Natalia Martirosyan at <>, or Coordinator in Azerbaijan: Mustafa Hajibeyli at <>