Issue No. 312 - March 14, 2003


1. Serbia and Montenegro: SHOTS INTO REFORMIST SERBIA
by Milos Jeftovic
by Petruska Sustrova
by Aureliusz M. Pedziwol
by Peter Karaboev

by Milos Jeftovic
        The sniper assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in front of the government building has shocked Serbia, disturbed the region, and worried an international community that has been trying to stabilize former Yugoslavia region for years.
        Immediately after the assassination, a state of emergency was introduced in Serbia and the police arrested a number of suspects. The ruling authorities determined that the safety and order in the country were in such danger that they had to resort to the most radical measure. It was declared that the state of emergency would last until the assassins and those who gave the order are taken into custody. The government immediately accused the so-called Zemun clan, named for a section of Belgrade, of the assassination. It is claimed to be the largest organized crime group in all former Yugoslavia and is said to have wanted to provoke chaos by murdering Djindjic, thus stopping the  “unrelenting fight against crime” that Djindjic himself had announced. The Zemun clan allegedly has deep connections with the former and also current governments. Authorities publicly denounced Milorad Lukovic-Legija as the leader of this criminal group. Legija was the commander of the special police forces unit called the "Red Berets" and is suspected of having organized numerous crimes and murders during the Milosevic regime. Media have speculated that he would soon be called to the Hague.
        A deputy prime minister of the Serbian government, Zarko Korac, clearly said that the goal of Djindjic's assassination was an attack on the state and on democracy, to create paralysis in the Serbian government and parliament, and the taking over power by so-called patriotic forces that were ousted in October 2000, together with Milosevic. Their return to power would protect them not only from war crimes' trials, but also from responsibility for the crime and corruption that has entered all levels of Serbian society.
        Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, 51, was a controversial politician, but after the collapse of Milosevic's regime he emerged as the symbol of reforms and of Serbia’s new orientation towards Europe. After a decade of international isolation resulting from former Yugoslavia’s bloody wars, Djindjic was ready, and many say also capable, of stabilizing and normalizing the country. Critics say that Djindjic did not in fact achieve much success, but even so admit that he was a positive Serbian alternative.
        Many fear that his assassination could now draw Serbia into a difficult crisis and political chaos allowing the government to again be under the control of  nationalist, anti-democratic and anti-European forces that lost power in October 2000, but actually have never lost political strength—as could be seen in the presidential elections in Serbia last autumn.
        The new state imposed by the international community to replace Yugoslavia— Serbia and Montenegro—is also certainly contributing to possible instability. It is difficult to say whether the new state will function at all. Still, the biggest sources of instability are internal affairs in Serbia itself. Even before Djindjic's assassination, the political situation in Serbia was extremely complicated, and relations among parties in Serbia’s ruling coalition, which was led by Djindjic's Democratic Party, were often at the breaking point. One immediate question is whether Djindjic’s political forces would be able to control the situation or whether the current Serbian government would collapse.
        Serbia also has no popularly elected president at the moment since the three ballots that were held last year failed to meet constitutional requirements for majority vote and turnout. The presidential office is thus being filled  temporarily by the president of the parliament, Democratic Party member Natasa Micic.
        Whatever the immediate outcome, the political consequences of Djindjic's murder will certainly be large and deep. Djindjic led the reformist current in Serbia; he was called the "motor of reforms." Djindjic favored closer ties with Europe and cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. He was a skilled and pragmatic politician, succeeding in maintaining a slight majority in the Serbian parliament and thereby gradually taking over control of all areas of power in Serbia.
        After Yugoslavia was retired as a state, Djindjic became the most powerful political figure in Serbia, allowing the possibility for even more decisive reforms and threatening many structures of the old regime. His open announcement that he would have no second thoughts about [declaring war on] organized crime probably cost him life. Some analysts think that one of Djindjic’s key mistakes was deciding so late to crack down on organized crime. . . .
        Djindjic also had a stigmata of "Serbian traitor," a tag Milosevic's regime often applied to him and a name that even gained strength when he organized Milosevic’s arrest and extradition to the Hague Tribunal, an action strongly opposed by then-Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica.
        Of course, there are many stains in Djindic's political career. During the war in Bosnia in 1994, he openly supported war criminal and leader of Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadzic and his separatist tendencies. This philosophy doctorate’s outbursts of hard-line nationalism, however, were mostly attributed to his legendary political pragmatism rather than to from not due to his political orientation (as is the case with Kostunica). Some see this interpretation to explain his recent increasing of tensions over the final status of Kosovo. Djindjic was too realistic a politician to think that Kosovo could ever again be a part of Serbia, but he was certainly ready to use the issue of Kosovo to gain political points.
        It is difficult to predict further political developments in Serbia after Djindjic's assassination. European and world politicians rushed to express their solidarity and promise aid to further Serbian efforts to strive for democracy. However, it is a question how much they can help. Serbia is in a difficult economic situation. There are more than 900,000 unemployed people in the country. On the day of Djindjic's murder came the news that the IMF had postponed a new credit worth $115 million for the third time. It is feared that new events will slow down the privatization process and stop foreign investments, which are vital for economic and political recuperation.
        Serbia will probably face new elections very soon, and it is a big question whether reformist political forces of Djindjic's breed will grow stronger or weaker.
        There is also the fear that the state of emergency Serbian government introduced following Djindjic's assassination will be prolonged and misused.
        A long-term state of emergency, some argue, will be more favorable to the army and police forces where the remains of Milosevic's regime are strongest. Such a situation could strengthen populism and pave the way for the introduction of a "firm government" or cause internal conflicts.
        However, currently the biggest fear is that the government, which rushed headlong into a fight with mafia will lose control over situation and slide into complete anarchy. . . .


• • •

by Petruska Sustrova
        The weather on Friday, March 7, was not exactly favorable for Vaclav Klaus as he was taking the President’s oath at Prague Castle. The sky was grey and it was snowing. But apart from that, other circumstances seemed rather more favorable: from the position of candidate of an opposition party having slightly more than 25 percent of all seats in parliament after the 2002 elections, he was elected President by the representatives of both chambers. His inauguration took place on the anniversary of the birth of Czechoslovakia’s unforgettable first President, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. And one day after his election, he became the grandfather of twins.
        The search for a successor to Vaclav Havel was not easy, but his election was even more difficult. Deputies and Senators had to vote for a new Czech President in three rounds: two rounds, on January 15 and on January 24, were inconclusive. Finally, Vaclav Klaus was elected in the third round on March 3 with just a one-vote majority. There were several reasons why there had to be three rounds. First, it was beyond comprehension that the election of a new head of state would take place without public debate or parliamentary discussion. And it was quite evident that there was no candidate who would be approved by the deputies and Senators in the same way as they all accepted Vaclav Havel five and ten years ago. But Havel was in an exceptional position—after the collapse of the old regime he was the symbol of opposition to communism, and his reputation abroad and at home predetermined him for the role of President. However, it was not clear to politicians nor to the population what kind of a person Havel’s successor should be, whether it was to be a representative of a strong political party or some renowned personality who up to now had been somewhat outside political life. This strange situation was accompanied by a bizarre moment when several popular artists came forward with the proposal that the well-liked singer Karel Gott should become the new
        The second major reason, which complicated the election of the President, was the distribution of forces within the Government coalition and especially within the strongest government party, the Social Democrats. The Government coalition, made up of the Social Democrats, the People’s Party, and the Freedom Union, has a mere one vote majority in the Chamber of Deputies (101:99). Since the position of the Social Democrats in the Senate is somewhat better and, consequently they are strong enough to ensure the victory of their own candidate, it would have been logical if they had put up a joint candidate. But this did not happen. In the two rounds in January the Social Democrats put up a different candidate than the other Government coalition parties, and in both these rounds the candidate of the Social Democrats was excluded in the first round. Initially, the Social Democrats’ candidate was a not very distinguished lawyer, Jaroslav Bures, who was outvoted, while for the second round the party put up its former chairman and former prime minister, Milos Zeman.
        Both rounds in January signaled the disunity of the deputies of the main government party. The counting of votes after the election revealed that a number of social democratic deputies had not cast their vote for the candidate of their own party but gave their vote to someone else.  There was a simple reason for this: some did not like Bures, others did not like Zeman.
        That is why the coalition proposed a joint candidate for the third round, Jan Sokol, a university professor and Dean of the Faculty of Humanist studies of Charles University, as well as a philosopher and former dissident. Had all representatives of the government coalition voted for him he would have easily beaten Vaclav Klaus. But Sokol was unacceptable for a section of the social democratic club of deputies, and so the former chairman of the Civic Democratic Party Klaus became President with the help of votes by communist deputies and some deputies of the government coalition.
        This placed the government in a difficult position since it became evident that it cannot count on the support of some of its own deputies, a real problem given the distribution of forces in the Chamber of Deputies. That is why Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla (Social Democrat) decided that the government call for a vote of confidence in the Chamber on Tuesday, March 11. He wanted to see whether his government stood a chance to achieve its goals among deputies in the future. He passed with meager majority. At the same time, the Presidium of the social democratic faction in the Chamber of Deputies handed in its resignation.
        The reason for this mix-up is that some Social Democrats still feel a longing for the former chairman, Milos Zeman, who resigned his post one year ago. Zeman declared that he was going into “political retirement” but it is evident that he did not really mean what he said. During the past few days he told the media on several occasions that he was not happy with the policy of his successor, Vladimir Spidla, whom he had recommended for the post of Party chairman last year. Certain commentators are speculating that Zeman may stage an unlikely come-back.
        The Social Democrats are planning to hold their congress in the next few weeks, which will be a clear measure for where things stand within the strongest ruling Czech political party. But it is already clear that there is no question of stability in the Social Democratic party. Neither Spidla nor anyone else can judge today whether his current leadership will be confirmed or overturned. Neither can anyone guess the outcome of the confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies and whether the government will survive.
        In the Czech Republic there are at least two political forces, which would like to see the fall of the present coalition Government. The Civic Democrats, now in opposition, criticize the Government for its excessive social spending. But then there are the communists who would like nothing better than a change in Government since they regard the Freedom Union, now included in the coalition, as being much too rightwing. However, the communists declare that they are prepared to support or at least to tolerate a minority government—either one consisting only of the Social Democrats or a government consisting of the Social Democrats in coalition with the People’s Party. For the moment, no one is longing for early elections: a referendum is planned to be held in June on the country’s accession to the European Union.  One of the few issues on which the quarrelling Czech political scene is able to agree is the belief that it would not be beneficial to unsettle the fragile stability of constitutional institutions prior to the referendum. It is therefore likely that the government will survive for a few more months. But there is every reason to expect that after the referendum that the pressure demanding early elections will be stepped up. That is when the President will play an exceptionally significant role, and it is impossible to anticipate whether he will be in favour of maintaining a stability of sorts or whether he will strive to bring about a political change.

• • •

by Aureliusz M. Pedziwol

        The most exciting reality show ever on Polish TV has been running for a month now. The special commission of the Sejm, the lower chamber of the Polish parliament, interrogates VIPs on live TV and uncovers what is behind the scenes for millions of viewers.
        Everything started with Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s most widely circulated newspaper. At the end of 2002, it shocked its readers with an unbelievable story. On July 22 of the same year, the famous Polish movie producer Lew Rywin (Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List, Roman Polanski's Pianist) went to see the editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper, Adam Michnik, in order to repeat a bribery offer, one he had already proposed to the board of directors of the Agora company, the publisher of the Gazeta newspaper chain. As alleged, Rywin was presenting himself as an envoy of "the group which holds the power in the country," and he assured [Michnik] that the parliament would pass the radio and television law desired by Agora. The law previously being considered, which prohibited the concentration of media in one company (and thus would have forbid a newspaper owner from purchasing a television station as desired by Agora), would be withdrawn in favor of the new one out  and Agora would be able buy the television station Polsat.
        For ensuring passage of this law, Rywin demanded 5 percent of the estimated  $350 million purchase price of Polsat, or $17.5 million. Thirty percent of this amount had to be provided after the new legal amendment came into force, the rest after the Polsat purchase.
        The money was to be paid to an account of his company Heritage Film, but in fact would be devoted to the Alliance of the Democratic Left (SLD), the party of the Prime Minister. For himself, Rywin wanted "only" to be guaranteed the chief position in Polsat.
        The movie producer did not know that two hidden recorders taped the conversation. But he obviously had known that he was trying to corrupt one of the most honest persons in Poland.
        A few days earlier, on July 11, Rywin spoke with the head of the publishing house, Wanda Rapaczynska. He asked her to write him the wishes of Agora regarding the radio and TV law. He said that he would leave for his countryside house in Mazury the next weekend and meet the premier Leszek Miller, who comes for fishing trips. "I wrote down what we have already presented to the radio and television council and to the ministry of culture," reported
Rapaczynska later.
        On July 15, Rywin called her again and “urged a meeting during which he would present his proposal while fishing.” RapaczyZska [refused]. In the corridor, Rywin met Piotr Niemczycki, the deputy director of Agora. He repeated the "proposition."
        "I pretended not to hear well. Then I thought I must be crazy or Rywin is crazy," recalled Niemczycki.

        The shocked Rapaczynska wrote a note to Michnik the following day and met him. "I was thunderstruck," said Michnik. "It was the first time in my life that anybody proposed to me something like this."
        Rapaczynska did not have enough boldness to propose an American solution. But Michnik came up with the idea. "Buy me the best recorder you can find," he said to his secretary. "The price doesn't matter," he added.
        Yet on the same day when Rywin came to see Michnik, both men met the Prime Minister. Michnik states that he informed his friend Miller about Rywin's bribery proposal. The premier arranged a confrontation. The depressed Rywin discovered how naive he was.
        Many prominent witnesses have testified already in Rywin-Gate, as the affair was baptized. The editor-in-chief of the weekly NIE, Jerzy Urban, the former speaker of the government from the time of martial law and still an influential person on the left, recalled a procession of five minister the last August after he wrote in one article that Miller should uncover at least one affair in his own ranks if he wanted to cut the corruption knot. The minister wanted to know what Urban really knows.
        But the interrogation of Juliusz Braun, the chief of the radio and television council, on March 8, brought the first hard facts. Braun admitted that there were diverse machinations over the amendment on the radio and television law and that he did not start any investigation on this matter. Thereafter the state president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, called the whole radio and television council to resign.
        Only two out of nine members obeyed, and they were not among those who are suspected of being connected to Rywin-Gate. But there is yet a possibility that the council will be dissolved, since its members are required to resign if both chambers of the parliament and the president do not accept its annual report.
        The next potential candidate to be fired is Robert Kwiatkowski, the chief of the public TV. His role in this affair is also very dark. But the most asked question is who really belongs to "the group which keeps the power in the country." They should have sent him to Michnik with the bribery request.
        Even if the commission should have no success, one thing is already sure: No one will any more come up with bribery proposal to somebody so easily. He will have to think that there could be a hidden recorder.

• • •

by Peter Karaboev
        The president of MG Corporation, Iliya Pavlov, was shot dead at 7:50 pm local time on March 7 as he was exiting the company headquarters in Sofia. The police suspect that an assassin hid in a bush some 40 meters from the MG building and managed to find an opening between the four bodyguards that were escorting the MG president to fire the single deadly shot that hit Pavlov in the heart. Doctor Yulii Galev, head of the emergency unit where Pavlov was rushed by his bodyguards, said Pavlov was dead upon arrival at the hospital and that he had died instantly after the bullet pierced his rib cage in the heart area.
        Going on the scant details that have been released by the police, experts said the hit was professional and meticulously prepared. The gunman was upright but leaned slightly on a wooden cradle, found by investigators, with a perfect view of the entrance of MG Corporation office building.
        Print EOOD is a one-floor high building, nearly attached to the neighbouring building, which houses a private printing-house TBP-Print. There is a splinter of distance between the two buildings, which the murderer used to run away.
        The burned down stolen Opel Astra uncovered by the police in a residential area adjacent to the crime scene is believed to be the getaway vehicle of the assassin who tried to cover up his/hers tracks. Minister of Interior Petkanov declined to comment if there was a link between Pavlov's death, the shooting in Varna at the car of his partner Sevdalin Stratiev a few hours later, and the murder of the Moldavan citizen Stepan Rubakov on Saturday.
        Pavlov was the target of a botched assassination on June 17, 1997 when 20 kg of TNT detonated on the Sofia-Bistritsa road shortly after his armored SUV had passed by. No one was injured in that incident. Although there is no official data on Pavlov's assets, he is widely believed to be one of Bulgaria's richest men. Pavlov's second wife Darina Pavlova, father Pavel Naidenov, and a daughter from his first marriage are believed to be among the legal heirs of his estate.
        Pavlov's corporate rise coincides roughly with the demise of Bulgaria's communist regime in the late 1980s. Although he would later become the poster boy for the transition of today's business juggernauts from their initial murky dealings to the corporate A-list of EU-bound Bulgaria, his untimely death suggests the crossover was not entirely successful.
        Pavlov registered his company Multigroup in Switzerland in the early 1990s, not suspecting that its moniker would later become the vintage brand name of Bulgaria's infant capitalism. Multigroup's flying start is unofficially linked to state money appropriated by ex-communist functionaries with the assistance of the special services before the fall of the socialist system.
        The only way from there for Pavlov's business was up and up. Off-the-books operations involving local and foreign banks, shopping sprees for equity in the tourist industry, forays into the treacherous natural gas business. Nothing was off limits and nothing illegal was ever proven. Under fire by the government and in the aftermath of a fumbled assassination attempt, Pavlov decided in 1997 to make Multigroup into MG Corporation and go for a clean-cut business image. His goal was to restyle the notorious firm in the vein of Western corporate culture.
        According to insiders, the most credible leads for Pavlov's murder was a possible turf war in Bulgaria's vibrant hospitality industry or MG's bold plans to regain its foothold on the gas market. The corporation had its eye on a number of energy assets, including Bulgaria's soon-to-go-private electricity distribution utilities, a share in the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline and part in the upcoming sell-off of local gas monopoly Bulgargaz.
        Meanwhile former MP Ventsislav Dimitrov, Pavlov's economic advisor in 1997, stated that competitors were not the only ones who did not like Pavlov.
        Representatives of the ruling majority, who thought that business should serve politics, did not like him either, he said. It is a conflict of interests in a very high economic level, Dimitar Yonchev, political expert, stated. He added that no matter how sad this murder was, it was not a surprise from a political point of view.
        Almost endless questions arose after assassination. Is this the end of MG - Pavlov's family ownership? What will happen to its management, staff and creditors? Can MG survive as a normal company that can survive its founder and owner (if Pavlov was the real owner and not the shadow group of former communist party and secret services high positioned members)? But the main question is "Is this the end of transition for Bulgaria?"—a transition from a Communist state security to organized criminals, having a number of Governments under their control, wars over gas imports from Russia, control over the judiciary system, and some moves in direction of normalization. Or did Bulgaria just close a full circle and enter another?