Issue No. 319 – May 7, 2003
1. Balkans: COOPERATION IS KEY TO STABILITY IN THE REGION
by Pero Jurisin
2. Poland: HOW MILLER ENDS ?
by Aureliusz M. Pedziwol
3. Mongolia: LACK OF CIVIC SPIRIT
by Stojan Obradovic
4. Special addition: Uzbekistan (Human Rights Watch
The Forum of Tuzla Citizens organized an international conference “Bosnia and Herzegovina: Facing Old and New Challenges” in Tuzla. One of the more interesting presentations was made by Zivorad Kovacevic, president of the European Movement of Serbia and one of the founders of the Igman Initiative, an alliance of Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian and Montenegrin NGOs that favor faster normalization among the [former Yugoslav] countries involved in conflicts. Kovacevic pointed to three dimensions of this complex issue: the situation in the countries of the region themselves, relations among the countries, and the situation in the region and its relationship to Europe and the world. In the interview conducted below, he warns that progress in the region is possible only through cooperation.
How would you evaluate the situation of countries in the region?
Kovacevic: For the first time in history, all countries in Southeastern Europe share the same strategic goal — they wish to join in the process of European integration. It is the most important and promising common characteristic for countries in the region, taking into consideration all the differences and still open wounds. The realization of such goals would lessen the risk of new conflicts and any territorial ambitions within the region. At the same time, European countries and great powers do not have any special interests towards this or that country in the region — also for the first time in history. They want countries in the region to have good relations with each other, they want stability, they want their admission into European Union and NATO, albeit under certain defined terms.
What is the status of needed reforms?
Kovacevic: Reforms are slow and are now tending to slow even further or even turn back. Maybe Croatia manages to hold onto its initial reform rhythm, but my country, the State Community of Serbia and Montenegro, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina have strong tendencies on reneging on reforms. And the region will not see any progress even if just one country is moving backwards on reforms. It is an illusion to think that a country will be admitted to Europe individually, notwithstanding any decisive criteria of a potential candidate country’s individual performance.
Bosnia is at the bottom. What is the situation for Serbia?
Kovacevic: After emerging from international isolation . . . and reaching a good level of macro-economic stability in the first year [after Milosevic], the last year and a half has been marked by a falling behind, a redistribution of priorities, and general confusion. The priority of foreign policy — a political rapprochement with Europe — was not reflected in internal political priorities. Partisan divisions and conflicts overshadowed this commonly accepted strategic aim of foreign policy. International demands on our country and the conditions we have to meet if we want to join discussions on integration into Europe have become an object of political manipulations. The idea that Serbia’s international obligations need only to be half-fulfilled is widespread, so that some decisive steps by the government were met with strong reservations and obstruction. That can be seen especially in regards to cooperation with the Hague, now in a state of paralysis. Nationalism is rearing its head and becoming the strongest criteria of politics and social dynamics. Extremism — ethnic, racial, religious, ideological — is emerging in various areas. These are not sporadic and spontaneous incidents, but a trend that should worry us and cause us to respond vigorously.
You think that the issue of Hague Tribunal is so important?
Kovacevic: One criterion for Serbia’s readiness to integrate into Europe is regional cooperation. Another is complete cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. There is no difference between the EU and the US on the matter. It is a prime condition both for EU and NATO as well as for financial aid to our countries. The Serbian public has to finally realize that as long as Karadzic and Mladic are roaming freely, there will be no progress in relations with EU and US. The problem is that this is only put forward in the context of stick and carrot, without consideration that it is our international obligation and that we ourselves should be the most interested in facing our history and naming those responsible for war crimes. Without full cooperation of our three countries with the Hague there is no chance for complete normalization of our relations; reconstruction of mutual trust and peace is the basis for true cooperation and joint identity of the region.
What will be the consequences on the situation of the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic?
Kovacevic: Djindjic's murder was an organized political assassination. Behind it are those forces that felt that Djindjic's pro-European and reformist policy, with its intention to cooperate with the Hague and to fight the mafia, would cause them to lose out in the new game. That is why they hit. His assassination could further slow down an already dangerously slow reform process. However, I am confident that mass condemnation of his murder by the Serbian public represented a real shock for those who authored this assassination, showing them they failed. Such a public reaction gives strong support to those who want to continue with reforms in Serbia. I think that the good side coming out of this tragedy is that there is a greater consciousness about the necessity for a radical crackdown on the criminal past and present. Countries in the region will also realize that they need to cooperate in order to deal with criminal heritage of the war, which might then improve their cooperation in all other areas.
After 2000 came a stronger normalization of relations between Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro. What are their prospects?
Kovacevic: Especially with Bosnia. However, relations between the three countries — political, economic, cultural, etc. — are still far away from necessary and possible. Politicians in Bosnia still do not fully realize that there can be no political and security stability in the region without Bosnia as a sovereign and whole state, economically and politically stable so that it may gradually be removed from international protection and the current culture of [international] dominion. Unfortunately, the victory of nationalist parties in the recent Bosnian elections seems to have encouraged those who oppose such a path, or at least doubt such a possibility. Every now and then there is a new idea about the possible rearrangement of the territory or people make comparisons with other sources of instability in the region — like Kosovo — causing a level of mistrust. It is not right to accuse current governments of maintaining their ideas of Greater Serbia or Greater Croatia, but still they must demonstrate with actions towards Bosnia that they are fully accepting the idea of a sovereign Bosnia as an important condition for normal relations, stability, and a European future of the region.
How are those processes progressing?
Kovacevic: Serbia and Montenegro, and Bosnia have signed ten agreements, four have been harmonized while eight are in preparation. However, mutual political, economic, cultural and other contacts are still only occasional. Economic cooperation is directed more at the Serbian entity (the Serb Republic) and not at Bosnia as a whole. There is no direct airline connection between Sarajevo and Belgrade. Most newspaper articles concerning neighbors only deal with crime. Trans- border cooperation between municipalities is modest, and examples of tri-partite cooperation are rare. Mutual cooperation between former Yugoslav countries should be the most important element of their foreign politics.
What is your view about relations between Serbia and Montenegro and Croatia?
Kovacevic: They are progressing, although representatives of NGOs and especially we at the Igman Initiative often express our displeasure at the slowness of normalization between Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro. After several meetings between foreign ministers Tonino Picula and Goran Svilanovic a certain progress was made: the two countries managed to resolve the issue of the southern border at Prevlaka peninsula with great political pragmatism and not linking it to the northern part of the border which is much more complex. It is one of the rare important agreements made without the intervention of international community. It is an example of how we can proceed further. We at the Igman Initiative are great proponents of a liberal visa regime. Yugoslavia made some unilateral actions, which were partly followed by Croatia. There will be no full economic, cultural, or any other cooperation if the visa regime is not changed.
Lately there has been an improvement in economic cooperation.
Kovacevic: There are many improvements. The process is rendered easier, but we from former Yugoslavia cannot ask Europe to join the Schengen [visa] regime if we don't introduce it among ourselves. That is why we started the Igman Initiative among three countries, in order to deal with two central problems of the region. One is Bosnia: if it is not sovereign and stable country, there will be no stability in the region. Another is relations between Serbia and Croatia, which have always been either a cause for division in the region or a backbone for good relations among all countries. As president of the European Movement of Serbia, I started this initiative to establish a constant dialogue between Serbs and Croats on various levels, organizing meetings of journalists, judges, historians, writers, movie workers in Zagreb and Belgrade, who will start dialogue about what is happening in their countries. We still don't know each other enough, and without it there can be no overcoming of mistrust, which is only natural after all that has happened.
What will be further attitude of international community towards this region?
Kovacevic: We were an important problem and we remain an important problem. Instability in the region, organized crime across the borders, two hot spots — Bosnia, with effects on stability in the center of the region, and Kosovo, with its great implications on the southern borders — are what primarily interest both the EU and US. The EU interfered in defining relations between Serbia and Montenegro not because they were interested in the fruits of negotiations directed by them or in how long it will be functional, but because they did not want a referendum in a divided Montenegro to be a detonator for new instability in the Balkans. That is why any solution postponing new instability is better. They are looking at Bosnia with the same eyes. The fact that all the countries in the vicinity are entering NATO and only then the EU shows that security of the region is a priority of Euro-Atlantic associations. There is a strategic goal which is to our advantage: the EU doesn't want discontinuity between its new borders in central and eastern Europe and its members or candidates in the south, Greece and Turkey. That is why its leaders decided to expand to the Western Balkans in the future. It is a political and geographic term they invented for future expansion that includes all countries of former socialist Yugoslavia minus Slovenia plus Albania.
What is key to the stability of the region?
Kovacevic: People in Brussels must realize that stability cannot be reached only with prevention of conflicts, of organized crime, or of corruption, or even with the development of democratic institutions. The larger threats to stability are high unemployment, low production, lack of investment, or any conditions for prosperity. The failure of large socialist industry in post-Yugoslav countries cannot be replaced, neither in terms of production, export, or new workplaces, with development of small to mid-firms without serious capital and chances to reach other markets. Poor and dissatisfied nation that don't believe its leaders or Europe is what we all in the region fear, and the EU should also. The current expansion of the Union is costing a lot of money and the next expansion will be even more expensive, but non-expansion, i.e. lack of long-term plans for political and financial action, would cost Balkan countries and Europe even more. Look at the cost from lack of decisive action because of the underestimation of the dangers of the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia. European unity, which is primarily a project of peace and stability and not economic integration, will not succeed and will be seriously endangered until Balkans also becomes a part of it.
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“One recognizes a true gentleman not by how he begins but by how he ends.” This probably most famous phrase of the current Polish prime minister, Leszek Miller, now stands to be tested. On April 26 and 28, the prime minister was interrogated by the special commission of the Sejm, the lower chamber of the Polish parliament, charged with finding out about the corruption affair called Rywin-Gate, named for the well known movie producer Lew Rywin who allegedly solicited the Agora company, which publishes the largest circulation Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, with a proposal to “buy” for 17.5 million U.S. dollars changes in a media law which would allow Agora its well known desired purchase of the TV station Polsat [for details of the affair see NIJ Weekly Service 312].
You Are a Zero!
The first test of Miller's own maxim was not very successful. The premier began his two days of hearings much better than he ended it. Miller came to the hearing on the morning of April 26 with a smile on his face; he shook hands with all his interrogators and spoke with each of them. by Monday afternoon, he went inside the room with clenched teeth, hissing in passing “You are a zero!” at one of his interrogators, Zbigniew Ziobro, the deputy of the opposition right-wing party Law and Justice.
The words were echoed by the media as if this were something really important or interesting. Many commentators agreed: The PM lost control.
Nothing justifies such manners by a chief of the government, even after seven hours of hearings and very harsh questions. The prime minister was unusually arrogant, said sociologist Ireneusz Krzeminski. From hour to hour, Miller transformed himself into a secretary of the central committee of the communist party PZPR, “whom he never ceased to be.” Indeed, on this Monday morning, the people in Poland could see on their TV sets the right side of Leszek Miller’s face, rather than the right. His smile evaporated, his face stiffed, his speech was tricky and malicious.
The PM repeated a dozen times that Rywin's corruption proposal sounded absurd and incredible to him. There was no reason to let the case go all the way to the Prosecutor's Office, the PM argued. Ziobro wondered why, if the affair were so absurd, the prime minister had spoken so many times about it with the president and the justice minister. Commentators were also astonished by this discrepancy, even if they underlined that Ziobro had not prepared his questions extremely well. They were too long, over-complicated, and repeated often. I had to repeat them, Ziobro defended himself, because Miller hadn't provided answers.
During the hearing, Miller declared Adam Michnik, the editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, to be “one of the greatest living Poles” — and it was he who came to Miller with this sensational news — reminded Piotr Zaremba in the daily Rzeczpospolita. It doesn't fit together, he concludes.
Nothing fits together, think many Poles who do not believe that the commission will find out anything. The goal before the commission will sink in the flood of words.
Death in Senseless Circumstances
Anyway, this year seems to be not very lucky for Leszek Miller. The success in Copenhagen, when the Polish prime minister became the star of the EU Summit, was forgotten very quickly. It was just enough to enable him to reconstruct his cabinet as he wished [see NIJ Weekly Service no. 304].
But only two months later the coalition broke up unexpectedly, with Miller the one making the ultimate decision. After the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) voted against the governmental proposal to introduce obligatory tolls on Polish roads, Miller reacted with amazing steadfastness: “One cannot be part of government and opposition at the same time,” he said and dissolved the coalition. The event was described by the dismissed environment minister Stanislaw Zelichowski as “death under senseless circumstances.” His party was completely shocked with Miller's hard-line attitude. It would look better for the PSL to give its political life for an agricultural law than for a transportation one. “We would at least become heroes who defended the Polish national property,” said Zelichowski.
For the governing minority, this began its wrestling with successive motions for the recall of its ministers. But these actions did not worry Miller and his comrades, since the other peasants’ party, the Samoobrona, was oppositional only in words and would not vote against the government. Secondly, there was no candidate for prime minister acceptable to all the opposition parties. And finally, everyone agreed that the fall of the government before the European referendum would be damaging for all pro-European forces.
Problems With the Own Country
So it seemed that Miller might have peace at least to the first days of the summer, when the EU referendum was scheduled. But the beginning of April brought the next bad news for him. Two ministers resigned. The health minister, Marek Balicki, protested against a personal decision of the prime minister. The treasury minister, Slawomir Cytrycki, declared no concrete motives for his resignation, but for commentators it was clear that also was a protest against the personalized policy of Leszek Miller. The hit was so much harder because they had begun their careers in Miller's government only in January.
The prime minister tried to flee to the front. With the nomination of new ministers, he declared that he would reconstruct his cabinet no further and he announced that the next parliamentary elections would be held earlier than planned, on July 13, 2004, together with the elections to the European Parliament. Of course, that presupposes that Poland will be already a member of the EU.
Andrzej Lepper, the chief of Samoobrona, was the most happy with the decision of the premier. On this day, July 13th, 2004, he will celebrate his 50th birthday. So, he said, the election should bring 50 percent of votes for his party and for him the chair of prime minister. But the question stays open if others are ready to wait so long for elections. The pressure of the public opinion becomes stronger. Miller has touched bottom in public opinion. As much as 82 percent in the latest poll criticized the work of his cabinet, while only 10 percent were satisfied.
No government after 1989 has had such bad polling numbers. Even if it seems impossible, the next polls could be even worse. Miller's loss of popularity is not only because of the Rywin-Gate. This affair is not even the most important factor in his decline so long as no concrete evidence of his participation in the conspiracy is uncovered (even if Miller is indeed the motor in this corruption case). Far more significant is the fact that the prime minister has problems with his country. The promises from the elections campaign were not fulfilled. Unemployment did not go down, the GDP did not rise, and the outlook for the future stays dark. The end of the Miller era could be nearer than it appears. The most interesting question now is how the prime minister will end. One has to hope that it will be another show, as the one he has given in the Column Hall of the Polish Sejm at the finish of the last hearing.
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What is your evaluation of transition of Mongolia from a communist country to a democratic country? What goals and democratic values have been achieved, and which are still waiting to be achieved?
Rinchin: In its 13-year transformation, Mongolia has made many achievements in creating democratic institutions. The 1990 Constitution of Mongolia sets out a democratic path of development and guarantees basic civil rights. Western observers and political scientists have assessed these changes in glowing terms. Mongolia has become one of the few Asian countries to undertake both political and economic changes simultaneously. Basic democratic values are enshrined in laws that are passed under the constitution. Matters are coming along nicely from the point of view of the law. In my view, the main challenge today is enforcing these laws, that is, honoring the law and establishing a state under law, in which the citizen obeys the law and demands the same from others.
What are the biggest and most important problems Mongolian society faces at this moment?
Rinchin: Before the early 1990s, Mongolia was a socialist-bloc country and heavily subject to Central and Eastern European influence. That influence is still being felt in the country's transition to democracy. The transition of postcommunist European countries to democracy in the last decade was marked by many of the same problems that we have faced. The greatest problems in Mongolia are unemployment, the low wages of state employees, an imperfect tax system, bribery and corruption.
What are the biggest obstacles to development of complete democracy and efficient democratic institutions in Mongolian society today?
Rinchin: But the greatest impediment to democratic transformation that I see is people's unawareness of how to put their legal rights to use and the lack of civic spirit in solving problems. There is still tremendous fear of the state machine and a submissive, obedient attitude toward authority.
What are relations between government and opposition? Has the opposition enough possibilities and political liberties for their activities?
Rinchin: A multiparty system began to operate in Mongolia in the early 1990s. At one time, there were more than 20 Mongolian political parties. Today, the most influential parties are the Mongolian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP), the former Communist Party. In the 2000 elections in Mongolia, the MPRP received an absolute majority in the Parliament: 72 out of 76 seats. Only four people represent the opposition.
According to the law on the Great State Hural (Parliament) of Mongolia, a political party with less than eight people cannot form a parliamentary group. Taking advantage of this, the ruling party does not even allow members of the opposition to address the parliament. At the opening of the parliamentary session before the last session, a member of the opposition, having once again been denied the right to address the assembly, put up signs in view of the press demanding that he be given the opportunity to speak. The vice speaker parliament dashed up to rip the signs up. At the next session of parliament, the same protesting member stood up behind the prime minister while he was speaking. This time his sign was made of stronger stuff. The speaker had no choice but to end the session without even letting the prime minister finish. This is just one example of how the opposition struggles with getting heard.
What is the situation with the freedom of the press?
Rinchin: The Constitution guarantees freedom of press, as does the law on freedom of the press. To judge by their number newspapers, FM radio stations, and TV channels are free. But the authorities pursue the same policy toward them as ever. The central radio and TV channels are under full state control and provide only information that is convenient to the state. People in the province have no access to any other sources of information, and so the “brainwashing” of most of the population is within the state's reach. Newspapers that present an inconvenience to the state are put under pressure. The authorities take every measure possible to interfere with their functioning.
How is the civic sector functioning and to what extent is it contributing to democratization of society as a whole?
Rinchin: The importance
of the civil sector increases in a situation such as this. The law on non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) was passed in 1997. The fast-growing number
of NGOs gives reason to hope for greater civic involvement in society.
Unfortunately, a lack of funds hinders most of these organizations. Nonetheless, the NGOs that are active have a sufficient place in society. The government is forced to take account of their opinions, at least in words. NGOs have very effectively implemented a civic education program that is important for civic development.
How would you evaluate situation with human rights in Mongolia?
Rinchin: Human rights legislation is another bright spot, although what actually happens on the ground reminds us that it is still a matter for concern. Those in power are able to violate people's human rights due to the people's ignorance of their rights, their passivity and their lack of confidence in their own strength. Human rights violations most often take place in prisons, the army, and in the courts.
What should be key priorities of democratic development of Mongolia in the near future?
Rinchin: Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2004. The voters understand that absolute power concentrated in one party is bad for everyone. The majority of the population is hoping that the upcoming elections create some sort of balance of the two political powers in the parliament. Much depends on the ex-communist party that is now in power. It has tremendous capacity for propaganda and is able of changing any law in the country, including the law on elections, in any way that is advantageous to it. Democratic forces must learn from their mistakes, consolidate their forces and adopt a policy that will achieve victory in the elections.
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Bank's Commitment to Openness Tested
(Tashkent, May 2, 2003)-With an important international financial meeting set to open in Tashkent on Sunday, police have sought to preempt public protests by harassing dissidents and human rights defenders, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch urged the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to make clear to the Uzbek government, the host of the bank's annual meeting here, that harassment of dissidents will not be tolerated and should cease immediately. Human Rights Watch also urged Uzbek authorities to take immediate steps to meet the specific human rights benchmarks set by the EBRD.
“The bank has justified the choice of Tashkent as an incentive for reform,” said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. “But talk of future improvements will be empty if at the same time the Uzbek authorities are harassing, beating and arbitrarily detaining people.”
In April, a police official approached a human rights defender and threatened her not to be involved in any protests. On April 17, police detained six people on their way to a protest in front of the Presidential Administration and held them for several hours. On April 10, police detained three activists on their way to another protest, also in front of the Presidential Administration, and beat one of them.
As bank officials and international media have begun to arrive in Tashkent, police have modified their tactics. Peaceful protests held on April 29-30, demanding the release of detained rights advocates and redress for abuses, have drawn a large police presence but so far have not been dispersed.
In the lead-up to the EBRD meeting, police have also stepped up persecution of relatives of religious prisoners. Several female relatives of religious prisoners have told Human Rights Watch and other human rights advocates that police have recently held them under house arrest or remained outside their homes, questioning them about where they are going when they leave the house. National Security Service officers have come to the homes of other relatives, demanding that they sign statements promising to stay at home and not to protest or make complaints about their imprisoned relatives.
“The Uzbek government has a long record of cracking down on peaceful dissent,” said Andersen. “These recent incidents confirm our fears that Uzbekistan could not provide an open and free environment for holding the EBRD meeting.”
Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Islam Karimov yesterday calling for progress on human rights in the follow-up to the EBRD annual meeting. Human Rights Watch today also released a briefing paper on human rights defenders, “Persecution of Human Rights Defenders in Uzbekistan,” describing ongoing imprisonment and harassment of human rights defenders. Human Rights Watch also called on the bank and its shareholder governments to use the annual meeting to identify specific reforms expected as a condition for further engagement, and after the meeting is over, to monitor and insist upon Uzbekistan's compliance.
“The bank squandered important leverage by not making the need for human rights improvements a condition for the meeting,” said Andersen. “Bank officials should speak out about human rights concerns at the meeting and engage in serious and sustained follow-up after it.”
On March 16, the Bank published its country strategy on Uzbekistan, which made clear that unless progress were made in several key areas, its investment in the country would be limited. In its letter to President Karimov, Human Rights Watch highlighted the following benchmarks for progress:
• Implementing the recommendations made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture following his recent visit to Uzbekistan, including in particular the introduction of judicial review of detention, accountability for torture or ill-treatment of detainees, and inadmissibility of evidence obtained by torture;
• Registering independent human rights organizations;
• Releasing imprisoned human rights defenders;
• Inviting the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights defenders, as requested by that office, as well as other relevant U.N. human rights mechanisms, to visit the country;
• Registering opposition political parties;
• Decriminalizing legitimate religious activities.
The briefing paper, “Persecution of Human Rights Defenders in Uzbekistan,” outlines government persecution of defenders in Uzbekistan over the last year, including the arrest of seven defenders, four of whom remain in prison. Other incidents described in the paper include temporary detention and police beating, police threats to defenders' physical safety, and deportation. Human Rights Watch calls upon the Uzbek government to end these practices, immediately release the four imprisoned defenders, and allow for registration of local, independent human rights organizations.
The briefing paper also calls
on the international community to make the requirement of unfettered operation
of human rights groups an integral part of their relations with the Uzbek
government, and ensure that visiting delegations meet with local rights
defenders to demonstrate their support.
* HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH PRESS RELEASE
For more information, please contact:
In Tashkent, Veronika Szente Goldston: +(998-90) 108-17-91
or Matilda Bogner: +(998-93) 181-54-22.
In New York, Rachel Denber: +1-917-916-1266,
To read Human Rights Watch's briefing paper, please see: http://hrw.org/backgrounder/eca/uzbek050103-bck.htm
To read the letter to President Karimov, please see: http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/05/ebrd050103-ltr.htm
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