Issue No. 318 – April 29, 2003
2. Macedonia: DEFEATED SIDE IS CALLING FOR NEW ETHNIC
by Zvezdan Georgievski
3. Special Addition — Cuba: DREAMS OF FREEDOM
by Azgar Ishkildin
Tunne Kelam is one of Estonia’s leading politicians. Born in 1936, he was among the founders of Estonian National Independence Party (1988), the first registered non-communist political party in the USSR. In 1989 he chaired the Central Committee of Estonian Citizens that held an alternative referendum on independence. In 1992 he was elected chairman of the Congress of Estonia, the alternative parliament that confronted the puppet Supreme Soviet, as well as the chairman of the Council of Estonia, the alternative government. A member of independent Estonia's parliament since the beginning, he was its vice-speaker from 1992 to 2003. In 1995 his party merged with Pro Patria and currently he is the chairman of Pro Patria Union, the party that championed the country's transition to democracy and market economy. He is a member of the EU's Convention On the Future Of Europe.
How would you describe this March’s parliamentary elections?
Kelam: I think these were largely protest elections. The protest had two dimensions: social and moral. There were two political players who tried to make use of that gap and fill it. The Center Party has been exploiting this social protest for years, but in a pretty demagogic and populist way. On the other hand, a brand new party called Res Publica came along wanting to overcome the moral gap and restoring the people's confidence in their government. The most dramatic — or most surprising — thing was that elections that had looked like a referendum on how to radically change the tax system according to conservative or socialist values turned into a vote of confidence on the former communist regime.
How was this vote of confidence manifested?
Kelam: The issue emerged in connection with news revealing that some leaders of the Center Party had been involved in political repressions in the recent past. The result was that while the Center Party was still the strongest in the elections, it fell utterly below its expected gain to one-third of the vote and 35 out of the 101-seat parliament. In the end, it received the same 28 seats as before, which was actually a defeat given that Res Publica, a complete newcomer, had an equal result. The voters were shocked by [leaders of] the Center Party being involved in the communist system so deeply. Indeed, when Minister of Internal Affairs centrist Ain Sepik was exposed as a former prosecutor of dissidents, his party raised its voice to justify the [Soviet] system. Voters were alarmed that if the Centrists felt strong enough they would abuse power and politicize public life in the interests of a single party.
Who has formed the new government?
Kelam: Res Publica, the Reform Party, and the People's Union.
How would you describe this coalition?
Kelam: It is center-right. With a good majority in the parliament. Just for clarity I would make a note: the Center Party is not a centrist party but rather a left-wing one.
Why does the Center Party have so many voters?
Kelam: The Center Party has been seeking the image of the protector of socially underprivileged groups — people with low income, tenants and others who are not rich or successful. However, the Center Party has not managed to actually stand up to this image and represent their interests. Considering its long chain of political and moral defeats, its role may now start to diminish. These elections dramatically revealed the Center Party's weak points: its bonds with the criminal world, its questionable financial sources, its links with the Soviet system, its undemocratic leadership and its cult of leadership, or call it another way its focusing on a single strong-handed leader who has already caused a collection of scandals to his party. And last but not least, this party has a strong inclination to use the wheels of the state according to its own interests.
Commenting on the Estonian elections, the local reporter of Radio Liberty suggested that the overwhelming support to Res Publica, a new party that emerged from nowhere, means that people wanted to vote the whole parliament out.
Kelam: Estonians are indeed disappointed in their government. Confidence between the citizen and the state is weak. Perhaps these are by-products of too rapid changes. With the fundamental transformation we had in the beginning of the 1990s, when property rights, ownership relations, and everything else changed, the fast development of reforms contradicted the habitual inertia of a large part of the society. This Soviet-style habit of assuming no responsibilities or any need to display initiative is partly responsible for this disappointment. Many people thought that a free democratic state is a kind of humanized and improved model of the Soviet system. When this did not prove true, they had a strong reason to be disappointed in the state.
How do you evaluate the fact that all Russian parties lost their seats in the new parliament?
Kelam: This is a normal result of Estonia’s political development and I think that it was both positive and predictable. Parties with an ethnic base tend to appear when a country's internal situation is bad and there are ethnic tensions. When ethnic relations and the overall situation are better, people of different ethnic origins join parties on the basis of world views. A party with an ethnic background is never a sign of healthy development. It is a sign of progress that all our parties want to have non-ethnic Estonian members as well.
What are the most acute problems facing Estonia today?
Kelam: The decrease in population and the low birth rate.
No one deals with these problems seriously.
Kelam: They have already been tackled. The new ruling coalition emphasized these problems in its program. In our party's program they are in the forefront. Increasing the population is an important target in the Program of the National Contract signed by the president. I believe that fighting the decrease in population and providing support for children and young families has become a general political priority. The second priority is to improve the quality of education. The third is scientific research: to be successful, a small country must offer the product of educated brains. Which requires investment. Another serious problem is the sharply increased disparity between standards of life in the capital city of Tallinn and elsewhere in Estonia. We must make country life decent and promising, we must use EU funds to establish modern nets of roads and communications in rural areas. All countrymen must be provided with access to the Internet.
Disparities between the town and the country have never been traditional in Estonia.
Kelam: They are not traditional, and Estonia's territory is so small that such disparities are absurd.
What is the situation with unemployment at the moment?
Kelam: Rather serious. The latest estimates were up to 10 percent but unemployment has somewhat decreased now. To encourage creation of workplaces, many parties have proposed to reduce the income tax. The aspiration to reduce the tax burden is widespread. The Pro Patria Union, too, would not favor any increase in taxes. The previous government already made steps to encourage business: under the Reform Party's initiative the profit reinvested into business was made exempt from taxation.
Can we expect any surprises from the new government?
Kelam: I think not. It depends on cooperation among the ruling coalition partners and on how realistic are Res Publica's idealist objectives to build up the public consensus, to improve the political culture and ethical responsibility. To my mind, these are very good objectives.
How many seats has the Pro Patria Union in the new parliament?
Kelam: Now we have 7 seats instead of 18. The widespread fear that the Center Party might achieve a landslide victory moved many of our supporters to vote for the Res Publica. They thought it was the only choice capable of countering the Center Party. As a result, our party was a loser and suffered precisely because of the public’s disappointment with the previous government of the Center and Reform parties.
Why have the Estonian National Independence Party and, later, the Pro Patria Union repeatedly obtained poor electoral support? Parties that were fighting communism merge time and again but still keep to a mere 7 to 15 percent. Why? After all, those parties initiated the change and reforms and guided that process efficiently.
Kelam: One of the reasons for this is that in the last decades of the Soviet regime, fighting communism was unpopular. Many people were accustomed to the regime. People criticized it and were ironic about it, but actually the system was largely accepted. There is also an international background: the communist empire collapsed without having been given a political and moral appraisal. The price for this collapse is that ex-communist leaders can freely perform under the new regime. They used their social and economic positions to secure the interests of their group in a free society, so anticommunist parties remained in a minority. The ground for this was laid by the reluctance of Western democracies to give communism a political and moral appraisal as that given to the Nazi system, with a clear watershed between the old and the new regimes when functionaries of the old administration were not accepted under the new one.
Perhaps the restoration of independence and the collapse of the Soviet Union changed political realities and problems so profoundly that parties built on old paradigms have no future?
Kelam: These political realities did not disappear in the 1990s. Many "nomenklatura" people joined new parties but retained their mentality and traditions. It has been our problem for ten years to get rid of the Soviet political and moral legacy that is conveyed by interest groups of former leaders. Preservation of this legacy and failure to give moral and political appraisal to an inhuman totalitarian regime has played its role in the rise of general disappointment and the loss of confidence in public institutions. People see that even the present parliament consists at least by half from former communists. No, I can't say that values have changed. People are more skeptical now, indeed. But this is partly because life has become normal. People may say now: "We are not interested in the elections; I will not vote; no matter what happens there will be nothing critical." So I think that there are two explanations. Firstly, as life has become stable, some socially active people escape politics. Secondly, disappointment was produced by the social inequality linked with the progress of reforms.
How is your party planning to deliver its message to the people more effectively?
Kelam: We must search for new target groups and address them. However, the Pro Patria Union has always observed the interests of Estonia as a whole. Our main electoral slogan was "For the National Interests of Estonia". I believe that this attitude is important in the European Union where each member must protect its identity, culture, and language: these will never be observed automatically. We do not promulgate narrow nationalism: we speak of open-minded patriotism. Such a program and such an orientation are promising. Other parties took over our slogan; this indicates that these principles have a wider social basis than merely a single party's support. Perhaps someday our Center-right parties will merge. This should not happen in the near future and we must also see what becomes of Res Publica. Meanwhile we must look for active people among our own members and motivate them. The best motivation are people's interests. In the new parliament we have already made some legislative initiatives that pertain to people's vital interests: re-introduction of financial support for students, income tax relief and exemption from the land tax for families with children. If we manage to bring our message to the people and make them aware of our initiatives, the number of our supporters will grow.
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There has recently been work done on the reconstruction of world-famous Old Bridge in Mostar, built by Turks in the 16th century and destroyed by Croatian forces in 1993. The installation of the first of a total of 1,080 stone blocks being used to rebuild the bridge in exactly the same way it was originally constructed several centuries ago has signaled for many an end of a politics that dominated the Balkans during the 1990s and perhaps a hope that conflict and ethnic divisions may still be defeated.
However, only several days after the news of the restoration work on the Mostar bridge, there came a sign that such politics is still being pursued. Former Macedonian prime minister, Ljupco Georgievski, leader of the strongest Macedonian opposition party, the Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), wrote an article called “Thesis for the Survival of the Macedonian Nation and State,” published in Macedonia’s most influential daily, Dnevnik. In it, Georgievski writes that since the Ohrid Agreement ended ethnic conflict between the Macedonian majority and Albanian minority in the summer of 2001, Macedonia has been condemned to a silent national, demographic, cultural, state, and every other level of death. Georgievski argues that in such a situation, the best solution would be to divide the Macedonian and Albanian population and form ethnic states. Georgievski is also offering "solutions" for other Balkan issues: he stated that “the Croatian part of Bosnia should be given to Croatia, Serbian part to Serbia, while the Muslim side should organize into a separate country.” He would also “separate Serbian from Albanian part of Kosovo, which is a unique and permanent solution for the Balkans problem.” The manner of dividing territory between Macedonians and Albanians is suggested by Georgievski: “If this proposal were rejected by Albanian national parties, then Macedonians should make a division line on their own, as the Israeli government did, and build a concrete wall copied according to the Israeli project.”
Such attitudes met with fierce criticism in public. However, only several days afterwards, VMRO-DPMNE’s former coalition partner, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), proclaimed a moratorium on their further activities: DPA MPs retreated from Macedonian parliament, while DPA mayors said they would only carry out administrative tasks. The vice-president of the party, Menduh Taci, declared that the “Ohrid Agreement is dead and, since it is not respected in reality, a destabilization of the country is imminent.” He emphasized that only ethnically clean countries can survive, “while the others fall apart.”
DPA president Arben Djaferi also announced his resignation. He said that “the collapse of Yugoslavia legitimized the right of every nation for their independence, a right which is also valid for Albanians.” He said that the current government does not have the will nor the vision to make internal cohesion. Therefore, he believed his party was facing the question of whether or not to change the course of its political activity from one based on a belief in multi-ethnic society and tolerance and replace it with the idea of territorial separation between Macedonians and Albanian. Menduh Taci, who also announced his resignation, added that Albanians gained much with the war in Kosovo, while in Macedonia they failed to use armed conflict to gain the same results and status as Kosovar Albanians.
Ernard Fejzulai, a person from the inner party leadership, thinks that the current government headed by the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia ( SDSM), which won elections last autumn and relieved VRMO-DPMNE of Ljupce Georgievski, together with its Albanian partner, the Democratic Union for integration (DUI), has exhausted itself and created a feeling of disappointment amongst the population, especially Albanians. Fejzulai claims that political processes have been returned to 1990 levels, creating a “solid ground for new conflicts.” He continues, “There are old communist structures at work in Macedonia; there is an unbearable economic crisis in the country; there is no vision. There is only thirst for revenge towards the opposition. The red light is lit. The concept of a multi-ethnic state has no perspective anymore.”
Ljupce Georgievski announced that he would withdraw as VMRO-DPMNE president. Explaining his resignation, he said that he was a pessimist regarding relations between Albanians and Macedonians and that he felt himself a representative of a vision for Macedonia that was currently being rejected. “I cannot accept former Albanian rebels being represented as a political party instead of a group of primitive bandits and criminals that they are,” said Georgievski, referring to the fact that DUI is led by Ali Ahmeti, former leader of the National Liberation Army that fought for greater autonomy for Macedonian Albanians two years ago. Georgievski emphasized that he saw a solution only in ethnically clean states and that therefore “he won't burden his party with his personal opinions.” The resignations of Djaferi and Taci were rejected by their party. As they explained it, their resignations were "frozen." Georgievski said that his resignation was final.
These events on the Macedonian political scene have several aspects. [. . .] According to some analysts, the resignations of these three politicians is a feint aimed at provoking political and ethnic tensions that would create chaos and thus the possible conditions for their return to power and the restoration of politics that already has once ended with bloody ethnic conflict. However, there is still a dominant opinion that such desperate and open attempts to provoke ethnic divisions are in fact a proof that the ideas of ethnically clean states — once dominating ideas of the future at the beginning of 90s — are now politically dead and have no chance for significant political support. In this view, open calls for ethnic divisions are a sign that forces run over by time are leaving the political scene, as witnessed by the last parliamentary elections in which such ideas were defeated. In Macedonia, there needs to be a language of cooperation and tolerance among nations because it is getting more and more clear to both sides that any other option is leading into total chaos, exhausting conflicts and hopelessness.
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Azgar Ishkildin is a journalist for the PRIMA Human Rights News Service (www.prima-news.ru).
Stalin is going to try the first microphone in the USSR. The microphone is set up on Red Square in Moscow. Stalin approaches the crowd, picks out a farmer and leads him to the microphone.
“If you say something into this, everyone will hear you,” Stalin tells the farmer.I heard this story last December in downtown Havana. An old black man driving a motorcycle taxi told me it. Mario worked in the Soviet Union, Poland, and East Germany. He used 40,000 Cuban pesos (about $1,800) that he saved up in the course of several years to buy a motorcycle with a sidecar. That motorcycle provides for him, his family, and sometimes a few neighbors. Seeing Mario speaking with a foreigner, another driver comes up, smiling and saying something in Spanish.
“Really everyone?” the farmer asks.
“Will they hear me abroad?”
Stalin smiles. “Even abroad.”
The farmer yells “HELP!!!!”
“My friend hasn't seen any Russians in a long time,” Mario said. “He's asking if you've come to see how things are going in the old colony. He also asks what you think about Cuba.” “I'm sorry we brought this system here,” I said.
“It's not your fault. They just took what was up for grabs. What's become of the people who used to work for the party and write for Pravda?” They laugh bitterly at my answer and tell another joke about Castro.
People are flocking to Havana from all over the island. There are tourists in Havana — a source of dollars, with which you can buy things like soap, milk, and cooking oil. The luckiest ones find jobs dealing with foreigners. They are required to show their loyalty in exchange by participating in the meetings Fidel Castro holds on Saturdays on Plaza Jose Marti. He leads the crowd in shouting condemnations at the American mission in Havana. The taxi drivers are not dragged to these meetings. They are there, as a matter of fact, by invitation of the neighborhood committees to defend the revolution. The taxi drivers do not go yet, but everybody knows that private enterprise is on shaky ground. The communist system allows the leaders of the country to crack down at any arbitrary moment without encountering mass resistance. Dissidents are making great efforts to take this power away from the party. The party responds with repression.
The authorities waited until the war started in Iraq: Then, on March 16, Cuban state security began making arrests among the dissidents. All of those arrested, about 80 people, were tried on April 7, 8, and 11. Their sentences ranged from 10 to 27 years in prison. There were people of varying views among the arrestees. There were members of the Varela Project, which only asks that the regime change to conform better to the Constitution enacted by Castro. Members of the Assembly for a Civil Society do not seek such a compromise. There are supporters of Mahatma Gandhi's civil disobedience and people who maintain the network of independent libraries. There are a lot of journalists among the arrestees. The Cubans have been rather successful lately in informing the world of the brutality of Cuban prisons and the repression in the provinces, which is more severe than in Havana. The most active journalists have been rounded up, and we heard nothing about it.
Observers at American newspapers have blamed James Cason, head of the American mission in Havana, for the arrests. He infuriated Castro by saying that Cuban authorities “are afraid of free thought and free speech and human rights.” Cason made that statement on February 24 of this year at a gathering of dissidents at the home of Marta Beatriz Roque, leader of the Assembly for a Civil Society. On February 24, Cubans celebrate the beginning of the war for Cuban independence, in which the United States was its biggest ally. The dissidents invite diplomats from all democratic countries that have a presence in Havana to join them. Only the Americans have accepted those invitations though. The rest are either afraid or are pursuing other interests.
Two weeks before the arrests, European Union commissioner Pol Nielson arrived in Havana to open an EU mission. Europe regularly discusses the possibility of Cuba joining the agreement on economic aid to countries that once were called “developing.” To receive this aid, under the agreement, a state must show “significant movement towards democracy.” Nielson stated in Havana that Cuba meets this requirement. The shock this caused among the dissidents caused them to put their disagreements aside to draw the EU's attention to the true situation in Cuba. Five days later, the arrests began.
On my last day in Cuba, I went to downtown Havana again. A young flower seller ran to fetch her neighbor when she found out I was from Russia. Tatyana is a 40-year-old who came to Cuba from the USSR with her husband. Now she sells flowers and her husband drives a bicycle rickshaw in hopes of saving up enough money for the family to move to Kazakhstan.
Tatyana saw the uprising in Havana on August 5, 1994. The holiday crowd on the Malecon, the main beach in Havana, suddenly began chanting anticommunist slogans. Several days later, fearing the masses would get out of control, the authorities announced that everyone who wished to could leave Cuba. Thousands of people threw together rafts on which to float to Florida. Tatyana also saw the helicopters that flew out to sea. And she remembers how the rumors in Havana a week later about how they dropped bags of sand from those helicopters to sink the rafts. The few people who made it back to shore told. She asked me to pass this information on to whoever would be interested in it.
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