On the 8th Shalva Natelashvili, the leader of the opposition Labor Party suggested, as a way to overcome the crisis in Georgia, that present leadership should resign. It is one of the breaches of the national unity that followed the August’s events.
Back the 12th from her tour in Europe and USA, Nino Buržanadze called for a probe about what happened. In straight contrast with the present national rhetoric, during a press conference she stressed that “[…] we have not won. We have been defeated severely in all directions.” Nino Buržanadze, one of the most popular politicians in the country, is a former supporter of President Saakashvili. She took distance from the Georgian leadership just before Parliamentary elections. Actually, in the last year, Saakashili lost many comrades to the opposition, like former Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili, now of the Georgia’s way party, and former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, arrested in September 2007 after having launched his own party, Movement for United Georgia, and who eventually fled to France. A French appeals court has rejected a request by Georgia to extradite him on the 10th .
President Saakashvili, during his speech in Gori, declared “I want to state with full responsibility: I am personally responsible and I assume full personal responsibility for each and every event […]. I also assume full personal responsibility for rebuilding and establishing peace in Georgia”, words that clearly suggest that he is not considering the chance to leave his position.
A week marked by Cheney’s visit in countries described as the most endangered. But not only: a lot of shaking hands, between the Turkish President and the Armenian one, between the members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization…
The most remarkable protagonist of the polics of shaking as many hands as possible is President Saakashvili. His position seems right now dependent on the support he can get from USA, and on the local propaganda. Together with a new definition of self determination and territorial sovereignty, also the concept of starting a war may face some change, if it’s true what Matthew Bryza said, that the war didn’t start “with the attack on Tskhinvali by Georgia, which we do believe was a mistake; but it began much sooner, thanks to provocations by South Ossetian militias, under the command, by the way, of Russian officers”. Is it such a support to last long? Does the polics of shaking hands pay back? For sure, Russians’ criticisms do, and they are helping the present Georgian President to keep his place.
But an inquiry on what happened seems unavoidable, opposition is not satisfied with the proposed Anti – Crisis Group and not fully with the so called “Charter of Politicians and political Parties”, and, not last, Nino Burjanadze is touring the United States…
Presidents of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization met. As the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, they expressed support to Russia, but didn’t recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After Russia, just Nicaragua recognized the new two South Caucasian States, till now.
The worst position towards this matter is the Armenian one, squeezed between the needs to be in good relation with both Russia and Georgia, to welcome the principle of self determination for Nagorno Karabakh and still not to recognize any other State before it, right now that it’s trying to improve the relations with Turkey, as President Gül’s visit proves.
Finally, it’s six weeks to Azerbaijan Presidential election, and eight to Ajara’s Supreme Court one. Both events seem to be overshadowed now by what happened during this dramatic summer, and both are going to be effected by it, a lot.
For more than 15 years people in Caucasus got used to the concept of frozen conflicts of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh. Some expected the conflicts to be settled, one day, some just lived as if they were to be kept frozen forever. None of these two options became reality: the military solution led to an “unfrozen situation” … with temperature close to a cold war…
From March on, after the recognition of Kosovo in February, tension was indeed escalating. On the 13th the Russian Duma recommended the Government to strengthen the ties with the two breakaway regions, and on the 15th Saakashvili reiterated his refusal to sign the treaty about non use of force stating that “We are told to sign a new agreement on the non-use of our armed forces – Georgia is a peaceful country and we have many times said that we want to settle all the conflicts only peacefully - but with whom should we sign this agreement?”.
Now the answer seems to be clearer: with the two new existing states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. They may not enjoy the recognition of so many states as Kosova, but it’s pretty sure that there is no way to step back to older positions. South Ossetia and Abkhazia are lost.
The two new ethno-states, may be a very unfriendly environment for minorities, especially the Georgian one, and it’s highly improbable that the return of the new and old waves of refugees will be easy and in short term. This is another side effect of the misinterpretation of the principle of self determination, which is leading not only to the disregard of the territorial integrity of countries, but also to the de facto violation of the rights of minorities.
A political solution may have led to a progressive reintegration of IDPs, the military one just high picked mutual animosity. And this is one of the long term effects of this war. But, talking about short term effects, Saakashvili managed, till now, to survive the impact of his mistake. For the second time in few months he proved to be unable to handle situations of protracted high tension, and to prefer to resort to – hopefully – successful use of force. In November, against the opposition, in August, against South Ossetia. In both cases, although partially discredited, he got away with it. At least till now, but for sure he seems to be a much less reliable counterpart, than few weeks ago. Let alone the fact that the Russian Government wouldn’t like to consider him a counterpart at all.
The massive change occurred in the last 3 weeks will effect Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well. The first will have to face the suggested “united position” at the session of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) [Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan] on September the 5th, and support the Russian intervention. This may lead to another tense situation on its border, and, as Onnik Krikorian pointed out “Over 90 percent of [Armenia’s] trade goes through Georgia, and although Russia is considered its most strategic ally, military operations targetting civilian infrastructure — especially the railway bridge outside of Kaspi — adversely affected imports and exports." (http://blog.oneworld.am/2008/08/28/georgia-armenias-predicament/)
Azerbaijan got the message: Russian grip on the Caucasus is meant to be long lasting, and a frozen conflict is much more convenient than an unfrozen one…This must be kept for sure in regard with incoming elections and gas policies. Incidentally, the decision of official Baku to transport Azerbaijani gas to Europe via Russia will be adopted by results of talks with Gazprom and Turkey Enegry Ministry, as stated the 29th.
Russia position is firm and unshaken. Some voiced that the rest of the world will isolate it, ostracize it, or whatever. But it’s not true: as Putin suggested, the West is not the entire world, and, talking about world policy, no one should underestimate anymore the importance of China, which is standing by the Russian Federation. And, moreover, the West is not just Poland, the Baltic States, or even the United States... Who really thinks convenient to turn an Euroasiatic power into and Asiatic one, and find itself isolated, and cold, not metaphorically?
A mistake, at the beginning of August, which will be deterministically followed by many necessary others.
In defining their own identities, people may rely on their job/level of life or on their cultural belonging. The first, at social level, is the economic cleavage, the second the national one. In Soviet time, because of the Marxist theory of the clash of classes, the first was the most stressed. In the era of the clash of civilizations, national issues are the most sensible ones. And thus, they can be used as tools of political pressures, if not of blackmail.
Georgian government, a month to the elections, is under the cleaver of Russian moves in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The RF government has taken the first steps for a recognition de facto of the two republics, although not yet of a political one. Putin’s instructions are that: “List of documents issued by Abkhaz and South Ossetian state agencies to individuals that are recognized by the state agencies of the Russian Federation is defined. Legal personality of legal entities, registered under the legislation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which is considered as lex personalis of such legal entities, is recognized as well. Federal bodies of the executive authorities are instructed to carry out cooperation with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in frames of legal assistance in the filed of civil, family and criminal laws. In case of necessity, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s local representations in Krasnodar district and in the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania will perform consular functions to provide assistance to persons permanently living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia[…] It is also envisaged to develop additional proposals on concrete directions of further interaction with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in favor of the social-economic development of these republics, protection of rights of the population living there, including the Russian citizens”.
For such a step, Russian government is blaming the Saakashvili administration, “which neglects the capabilities of the existing mechanisms for establishing normal economic relations, solving social problems…”, recently addressed by the Resolution of the UN Security Council (April 15). Moscow is discrediting the present administrations in its ability to protect State’s territorial integrity, in having good relation with its neighbour, in peacefully negotiating. Its aim is to show that Russia has nothing again Georgia in itself (visa restriction to Georgian citizens has being lifted, decisions for a further normalization taken).
Karabakh is not mentioned in this effort to “promote … the stability in Caucasus”, as Lavrov said. But Razim Agaev, an Azeri political analyst, suggests that Russian support to separatism may spread to Karabakh. For sure, whoever plans a colour revolution in Azerbaijan, catching the chance of next presidential elections, must face the probability to loose the Karabakh. Or, at least, to be challenged on it.
In Armenia, the new administration will carry the same politics as the previous one, about the Karabakh issue. Another Karabakhi entered the cabinet, the Minister of Defense. But it is not the national cleavage that the new President wants to pursue. Quite the opposite, after the unpleasant and almost fratricide confrontation between Karabakhis and Armenians in the days of post-election demonstrations, the message about all the matter is just continuity and stability. The main focus of the Government is not the promotion of a micro-ethnicity (like Kosovarism, as a different Albanian identity), but social issues, the only ones that, if dealt successfully, can provide legitimacy and consensus to the four parties coalition government and the President.
Since the 9th Armenia has officially a new President. The inauguration of Sergh Sargsyan, in the frozen centre of the city, kept far from the general public, marks the end of the long election period in the country, started far before the official electoral campaign, with the militant return in the political arena of Levon Ter Petrosyan, and continued in a stormy way after the day of the vote, 19th February.
Rallies, the eruption of police early morning the 1st of march, clashes, state of emergency, deaths and arrests… were all these events just transient, now that the President is in his place, managed to attach to his government a previously opposition party and enjoys – numerically - the support of almost all the Parliament? Something for sure changed, in not forever, at least for a while. The political crisis is not resolved, with people still kept under arrest and a new law on assembly that – for sure – does not meet international standards. Society is still quite polarized, albeit the radical opposition is probably reduced to a small (but rather motivated) group, and, what’s worse, it is cut outside the legal political confrontation. One of the first enemies of a State-mechanism is the creation of extra-parliamentary fractions. Either they are dismantled with force, and this seems to be the strategy adopted, either their issues and representatives enter the legal State framework.
In the third part of his inauguration speech, Sargsyan stated that he “will fully implement the program”, to turn Armenia in a country (of) “mutual respect, love, tolerance […] dignity […] strong, proud, democratic […] peace, stable development”. So ambitious an aim that he added “Alone, no one can turn Armenia into a country of dreams”. So he summed all part of the society, with two captatio benevolentiae targeted to the Church and the intelligentsija, to “overcome polarization, rough confrontation, and discredit”.
Just a couple of sentences, in the fourth part of the speech, for the “painful events” and the following "wounds". No words to the memory of the deceased... quite surprising, for someone who relies so strictly on the army, not even for those who died performing their duties (at least two, the number of dead is nine, now). And some rather alarming statements: “Unchecked freedom can result in conflict […] the State may interfere with the exercise of certain fundamental rights.” These words are extrapolated from their context, but deserve to be underlined in their un-ambiguous meaning. The turn of the screw could be not so ephemeral.
On the other hand, the first step taken, the choice of the Prime Minister, economically more than politically led, may display a pretty technical approach to the management of the State, a factor that could provide a good context to engage a confrontation, not on principles but on needs, with the opposition in the Parliament and outside it.
NATO&democratization, or just democratization… a cold spring in South Caucasus.
Saakashvili, however triumphantly, came back to Tbilisi from Bucharest without having been able to put his own signature on the MAP agreement. Decision postponed to December, allegedly, with, right now, only an unprecedented declaration about “welcome of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro Atlantic aspirations”. If it’s just a matter of time, it will take eight months more to realize the so called “geo-political revolution”, as Saakashvili describes it. If not, the strength of not NATO members – Russia in particular - on its politics should be reconsidered. Meanwhile, apparently, fairness and freedom of elections in Georgia are supposed to be two of the requisites to be considered for its accession. Putin contested the relevance of NATO in democratization processes, quoting the case of Ukraine and Estonia. About elections, the new system of single mandate constituencies is already favouring parties rather than coalitions, as a single party faces less difficulty in expressing a candidature. The Republican Party presented 10 candidates of its list. Time for submission will expire the 21st, and the eight opposition parties have to negotiate on 75 names, plus the proportional list.
Ilham Aliyev joined the Summit in Bucharest as well. Azeri army is in Iraq, and a member of ISAF. But the relations of the country with NATO are on a different level than Georgia’s, and are not likely to change, as long as its links with Russia are so entangling.
Armenia has not relieved yet by the government’s turn of the screw. From many sides, local and international, it was invited not to turn stabilization into repression, to permit an independent investigation on the events of March 1st, to negotiate with the opposition. One option could be, for example, to create a Parliamentary Committee for what happened (art. 73 § 3 Constitution RoA: “If necessary and in conformity with the procedure stipulated in the Law on Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly ad hoc committees may be established for the preliminary review of special draft laws or for submission of conclusions and reports on special issues, events and facts to the National Assembly”). Since the government enjoys an overwhelming majority, and for the Committee to be representative also of the part of opposition which is not sitting in the National Assembly, NGOs or other organizations could be involved in the work of the Committee as amici curiae, a practice already well established in the international legal system.
If, when, how a fact should be reported happens to be a big issue.
In Georgia Patarkatsishvili’s “heirs” are disputing the destiny of Imedi TV. The control of one of the main independent media raises political interests. Although the opposition’s hunger strike, after the appeal of the Church, has finished, its present visibility may influence the electorate, and the election campaign is getting closer, with the parliamentary vote planned for the 21st of May. Moreover, in Saakashvili’s administration, image is a determinant factor, both internally and – may be even more – internationally, with the Bucharest summit at the doors. That’s why, Sukhumi insinuates, Tbilisi is pressing for new solutions in its conflicts, just to seem more acceptable to NATO potential partners. Its new proposals are unlimited autonomy, joint free economic zones, the vice presidency, representation in central authorities, the right of veto on decision affecting Abkhazia.
In Armenia, Gala TV is charged with a huge sum of money for alleged back taxes. 26,899,986 drams collected till now are not enough and the Inspectorate may expropriate the company’s real estate. As for the other information sources, the pro-government ones are underscoring the availability of the majority to dialogue with opposition. Levon Ter-Petrosyan is losing the battle to keep all opposition’s info media compactly on his side, with some reminding that if you push towards a full frontal confrontation, you cannot complain afterwards for harsh outcomes. And the responsibility for the tremendous suffers of the victims, arrested, shocked persons, of the further loss of credibility of Armenian political system, falls on whoever is acting moved by personal ambition and selfishness. Inside or outside the government. It all draws quite a mean picture, that doesn’t give justice to the peaceful behavior of that part of the civil society protesting in clever and original ways in Northern Avenue, against the new law on restriction of freedom of assembly.
In Azerbaijan the unofficial presidential campaign goes on, with some media already demolishing any hypothesis for the opposition to find a credible challenger to Ilham Aliyev. After the hangover of the diplomatic success, waters calmed, and the President now accuses Armenia of provocations.
The manipulation of information is not only relevant for present events, but also for the interpretation of the past, in Caucasus and around it… In Turkey finally Youtube is back online after many days of blackout imposed on it for the images denigrating Atatürk, and Ukraine wants to be given by the Russian Federation the “Baturinskij Archive”, with Mazepa-related documents. Nation building has its rules.
In Armenia, after the lift of state of emergency, situation is supposed to be normalized. A coalition of government is taking shape, the new elected president made his first visit, to Moscow, not an official one yet, but a “business meeting” . Still, somehow, the capital city doesn’t seem pacified. For two days the downtown saw protesters mourning victims and asking for the detained to be released. The last point, if not led by an organized political force, is a mere petition. The oppositions gathered together the last days before the 1st of March is annihilated by arrests, with some exceptions, like Ter-Petrosyan, kept in his isolation, still focusing on election results, and the Heritage party, trying to voice against the new law on freedom of assembly and holding peaceful meetings. Such a fragmentation is not providing the chance to draw a united opposition program, to carry on a confrontation with a government that, clearly, is decided to move steadily on.
In Georgia, programs are quite clear. The Saakashvili administration played his cards to have the amendments on the Constitution – the 75 majoritarian seats – passed. Opposition is fiercely struggling against it, with a hunger strike of 42 persons, some inside the Parliament itself, in front of the Speaker’s office. Fight’s going on. The President came back from his meeting with the American counterpart galvanized by the unconditioned USA support, felt so essential now that the goal of entering into the MAP could become a reality... And cause immediately the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russia, a program not secret at all.
So was galvanized at the beginning of the week the Azeri public opinion, because of the new UN resolution about Karabakh. Proud suggestions were made to quit the Minsk Group, to change it, to leave some of its proposals unnoticed or consider them irrelevant. The cold shower arrived from Moscow, with a simple and dry statement about the Minsk Group, which is all right the way it is, and there’s no need to change it. So, future programs and confrontations still have a permanent frame to be discussed in.
Facts&words. Sometimes words used to make reality look different.
In Armenia the lift of few points of the decree on state of emergency (political association and broadcasting of “some” news), virtually, softened the hardship of the post 1st March atmosphere. Serge Sargsyan opened a direct line through internet to communicate with his citizens, which is probably the first politically sophisticated move after many primitive ones, like the crude remark by President Kocharyan to the Civic Mediator, to remind him he’s working for Yerevan and not for Strasbourg. In practice, everything seems to stand still. Less than one week to the expiring of the state of emergency and no political compromise in sight. Moreover, arrests are going on, and the official list counts already at least 96 detentions for tentative to overthrow the government and connected crimes. It’s hard to guess how the society of Yerevan elaborated in the last two weeks what had happened. Under the condition of the impossibility to hold a public and open debate about the clashes, any kind of rumor was spread, from the number of deaths on, in a city where everybody found out to have a friend-of-a-friend who works in this-and-that-hospital and saw personally #-protesters-dying…As it is well known that people can be prevented from talking, but not from chatting, and all these doubts may increase the depth of the worse scare on the skin of the Armenian electorate. It could probably be partially cured with a clear and independent investigation, involving all the parts and international observers. Very unlikely, since, reading between the lines, the answer to any potential critic about the not-proportionate methods adopted to keep the situation under control will be “not a political will, but a lack of preparation”, thus more investments for security forces.
In Georgia the hunger strike of the eight opposition parties is continuing. Already six persons had to be hospitalized. Popular participation cannot be compared to what it was after the elections, it’s quite hard to keep a mass mobilized for long. So, claims from both the sides, but no decisive steps. The contested constitutional amendment about the 75 majoritarian seats passed, the margin of political action is restricted, if not for such demonstrative acts. Although well organized, is it a way out? And talking about deadlocks, the verbal struggle that dominated the entire week is the one about the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The 13th the lower chamber of the State Duma held a hearing, not a public one, about controversial borders disputes within the CIS. The representatives of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia stressed the fact that it has many more requisites than Kosovo/a to be recognized, as, allegedly, it was artificially joined to Georgia under Stalin and it had already claimed its independence before Georgia was recognized as an independent State and entered the UN. The result is not a binding resolution of the State Duma, but a recommendation to the Government to consider opening not embassies, but diplomatic representations in Abkhazia, South Ossezia and Transdnestria. Not an official recognition, but a sort of “Taiwan way”, which will enable to strengthen the economical and political linkage. And allow to keep playing the card of potential recognition against Georgia, if it keeps insisting on its NATO aspiration. And, back to words&deeds, after so many declarations of Tbilisi about the excellent prospects of membership, a cold shower came from Germany, first, than from France, Greece, Italy, Norway and Spain, unwilling to expand NATO Membership Action Plan.
Nagorno Karabakh (virtually Azerbaijan…), as well, states that it meets more requisites of statehood than Kosova: it doesn’t need peacekeepers to guard its own borders, its governance bodies are working, it holds regular elections and exercise fully sovereignty from more than 14 years. Azeris don’t miss the chance to underline that it is –indeed- exercising sovereignty, but till Yerevan. But the only fact than marked a change in its position is a new UN Resolution, voted under the pressure of the Azeri delegation, which recognizes again the right to territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. It is worthy to be mentioned that the troika of the Minsk Group, US, France and Russia didn’t support the resolution, considering it a wrong step on the way to the normalization of the situation. Georgia and Moldova voted for the resolution, as territorial integrity is a very sensitive issue for them, too. Finally, talking about normalization, is it normal for a journalist to be beaten in February and stabbed in March? Agil Khalil, correspondent of Azadliq, was assaulted in the same days when talks are kept to reform the electoral code, with the aim to hold free and fair elections.
An efficient management maximizes profits and minimizes costs. Vice versa an inefficient one reaches the opposite outputs. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia had to face in few days their unsuccessfully unresolved problems, both internal and on their borders.
Armenia is still in the grip of a "deafening silence". The media blackout and the other repressive measures to keep the situation under control don’t seem to strengthen the position of the government, internationally less supported than ten days ago. Citizens and members of the diasporas are still expressing their opposition/doubts whether the way chosen to manage the crisis was the most efficient one, and concerns about what’s next. Internet is playing an unprecedented role, as a place of dissemination of information and of constructive confrontation. Remarkable: under such a strict state of emergency, many are not exercising self-censorship, which proves that a part of the civil society has admirable maturity and awareness. Chapeau.
On its borders, the “shuttle diplomacy” for the Karabakh issue, was replaced by the “shuttle accusations” over the breach of the ceasefire, the 5th, that cost lives to sixteen soldiers, according to Azeri sources. Azeris accuse “the Karabakh clan”, as the present Armenian political élite is often referred to, to rely on the fear of new dangers to gather more support and to try to distract from internal problems. Government in Yerevan says that Azerbaijan is taking advantage of the moment of weakness of Armenia. Breaches of ceasefire are not so much an exception, and a new one is reported on Saturday night. But so many losses are.
In Azerbaijan, turning to internal issues, a sentence is going to weight on the perception of freedom of speech. Ganimat Zahidov, the Chief Editor of Azadliq, a newspaper of the opposition, has being sentenced to four years for hooliganism and aggression, for an episode that many consider an (efficient?) trap. Allegedly on November the 7th he was approached by a woman who asserted that he insult her. A man intervened. The man, Vusal Hasanov, from the Popular Front, has personal animosity against Ganimat Zahidov. Witnesses assess that the editor just pulled back the assailant, and that he was the one to be struck. Freedom of holding peaceful demonstrations will be discussed, as well, with the reform of the Electoral Code. A meeting with the Venice Commission should be held on the matter. Seven months to Presidential election, and both Armenia&Georgia are alarming examples.
Georgia is dealing with Russia’s decision to lift sanctions against Abkhazia. The sanctions were decided within the frame of CIS in 1996, and prevent all the member-States from selling weapons to Sukhumi. The Russian Federation invited all CIS to act accordingly, including Georgia. Saakashvili appealed to national solidarity, but his words received a cold welcome from the opposition. His position is also discredited by official statements form Moscow, assessing that he had being informed during his meeting with Putin in February about the Russian decision.
Also the Joint Control Commission (JCC) on South Ossezia is sailing in stormy waters, with Tblisi trying to change its composition to have it more balanced on its own position. Till now, its negotiations are inefficient, not only with the others three members of the JCC (South Ossezia, North Ossezia and Russia), but also at local political level: the 9th opposition resorted again to street protests. Gachechiladze declared that the struggle will be end only upon the achievement of opposition’s goals. The issues on which an agreement has not being reached so far are the numbers of deputies to be elected by majoritarian system, 50 now, 75 in the government’s proposal, political detentions, rules to hold free and fair elections. Whoever will win the majority of seats in the next Parliament, will potentially be able to impeach the President (art. 63 of Georgian Constitution). And the opposition has never recognized the legitimacy of President Saakashvili.
In Armenia the day of reckoning came. Anticipated by some politically- flavoured arrests of Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s supporters, the rally in Opera Square of the opposition has been dispersed with force. Under article 44 of the Armenian Constitution, the right of citizens to hold peaceful and unarmed meetings, rallies, demonstrations and processions can be restricted “only by law, if necessary for the protection of State and public security, public order, public health and morality, and the rights, freedoms, honor and reputation of others”. The totally peaceful rally, at the moment of the police intervention – early in the morning –, was not even threatening the traffic, let alone the State security. So, it doesn’t sound very wise to display such an abuse of power, unless such power is nothing but an “Empire with clay feet”, panicked by -fewer and fewer- demonstrators. Or by something else, like alleged coup d’etat, defections or whatsoever?
For sure, from then on, the situation only worsened, with increased polarization and radicalization. New statements, from opposition forces, previously ready to move against the government on legal bases, like the Heritage party, marked a fiery condemnation: “In view of this tragedy, it would be meaningless to now speak about the establishment of a legitimate presidential institution in Armenia. It is beyond any doubt that such atrocious methods will bring forth huge problems […]”. Unfortunately these words, uttered the 1st, precisely foresaw new violence in the streets, that went far beyond the worse expectations. Eight killed and emergency state for 20 days declared by acting President Kocharyan, which deprives partly from the chance to have further detailed information from local sources.
Not so for Russian and Azeri media, which are trying to cover what’s going on (http://www.day.az/ in Russian, posts hourly news based on reports from News Ribbon, Газета.Ru, АрмИнфо, ARMENIAToday, Regnum, Strana.ru, Gazeta.ru, Эхо Москвы, PanArmenian.Net, Новости-Армения, Арка), while in Tbilisi some NGO organized a manifestation under the slogan “DO NOT SHOOT” in front of the Armenian Embassy to express support to Armenian people, to protest against violence, violation of human rights, and to appeal to the Eurocommission and OSCE not to leave Armenians alone.
From the international community, which, btw, had not in its whole officially congratulated the new President, the first appeal to reasonability came form OSCE. The Armenian Assembly of America, as well, expressed its concerns and then the Secretary of State. The international community was quite absent during the entire pre-electoral and post-electoral period. Demonstrators tried to have it more involved after the forced end of the rally, moving in front of the French and Italian embassies. (Videos of the 1st March http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLKhhO63vj0, night clashes http://www.russiatoday.ru/news/news/21596/video in English)
In Georgia, where starting from 1999 two on three of both Presidential and Parliamentary elections had to be extraordinary, because of massive street protests and clashes, the harsh political confrontation at present goes on in the proper place, i.e. the Parliament. Important issues, like the change of the electoral system, the re-distribution of powers, the management of public tv, relevant constitutional amendments, are discussed, although not always profitably, during regular sessions. Reforms, right now, overcastted revolutionary appeals, and there’s a balance between the needs of radical changes and the stability necessary to pursue such changes. Is it the stillness before the storm? Parliamentary elections, scheduled for May, will provide the answer. The opposition is drawing the strategy to maximize the votes, running as an eight-parties bloc, after the defection of the Republican party, which will run alone.
If internal politics legally, but with difficulty, moves a step after another, on the borders the tension is rising much faster, after the accident that involved Malkhaz Basilaia, a Georgian journalist, at present held in custody in Sokhumi, and the following escalation of mutual accuses and, then, of shots. Media reported that a military mobilization is taking place in Abkhazia.
An arm wrestling match can last from few seconds to pretty long. And the end is often unpredictable.
The match between the nine opposition parties and the ruling ones in Georgia is shifting from revolution to reforms. Seven weeks passed from the Presidential Elections, and appeals to hunger strikes and rallies leave place to a more moderate rhetoric. Gachechiladze said that he wants – as well - to present the opposition to foreign observers as a real alternative to the present Government, not just as a radical force, but as a responsible, serious and capable of dialogue one. At the same time, positions are kept firm on key demands: release of political prisoners; a new general director of Public TV; replacement of the chairman of the Central Election Commission.
The match between Levon Ter-Petrosyan and the ruling government is taking shape right now. The Presidential election of 19th sanctioned the victory of the front-runner Serž Sargsyan at the first round (53%) and left Ter-Petrosyan ranked second, with his contested 21%. Then rallies started, and the swing of the numbers of participants. It’s hard to say that in the last 10 years Ter-Petrosyan made the general public regret too much that he was no longer the President, and that a overwhelming majority of population is ready to follow him in his “struggle till the end”. Still something is moving, may be in the army, where Ter-Petrosyan claimed to have relevant support. Yesterday seven Generals and eight Colonels left the Organization Yerkrapah, expressing dislike about the political role played by the organization in the election. Those who backed his run stand by him, but it’s hard to foresee, with international recognition of acceptably free and fair elections, if such a strategy can lead to a stroke, as he seems to expect.
Another big match, that concerns the Caucasus a lot, is the one between the concepts of Nation-State and the one of Ethnic-State that is emerging after the recognition of Kosovo’s independence. In Abkhazia and South Ossetia there are early polls for Russian Presidential Elections, and the leaders of the two provinces, together with Transdniestria should meet soon to decide what’s going to be their next step to be recognized as fully flagged independent states, notwithstanding the official declarations of Tbilisi that Kosova will not be recognized by Georgia.
The 21st Saakashvili and Putin met, and apparently the first received guarantees that Russia will not recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, thus preventing what can be described not only as the Kosovo precedent but as the Kosovo syndrome from spreading. In the same days Ilham Aliyev was in Moscow, where he was proclaimed honorary Professor of the MGU, Moscow State University Lomonosov, for his activity in strengthening the relations between Russia and Azerbaijan. Still, the news of the official invitation to the Russian Duma of a delegation of the NK Government in March for the session about conflict-solution in the CIS space was not welcomed at all by the Azeri public opinion. Indeed, the syndrome is spreading, at least as a fear.
Some events of the week seem to cast long and dark shadows on the days to come.
The first and more important international issue that affected the South Caucasus, and Georgia in particular, is the self declaration of independence of Kosovo. Nation-states are based on the balance between an internally&internationally recognized territorial integrity and the protection of minorities, which should be given the tools to keep and exercise their autonomy. In case such tools are not sufficiently provided, or perceived so, the precedent of Kosovo, for the first time, may make the principle of self-determination be predominant over the one of territorial integrity.
The 15th the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov met the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Sergey Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, to discuss the effects of the recognition in respect of the situation in the two provinces, which led to a new pick of tension between Tbilisi and Moscow. The opposition declared to be against the recognition of Kosovo. Meanwhile, it’s carrying on its struggle, warning to start a hunger strike and to turn the city into a town of tents. Just one of their demands was fulfilled, and the persisting uncertainty is going on. Still, the rally of the 15th, with 30 000 demonstrators, cannot be compared with the massive participation deployed before.
Badri Patarkatsishivili's sudden death in London, although for a heart attack, cast another dark shadow on the Georgian government, “morally responsible” for his stress. Many mass media abroad, in Russia as well as in Azerbaijan, gave much relevance to the unexpected death of the contested opposition leader, sometimes openly pointing at Saakashvili as the probable plotter of his murder, linking this episode to the other “strange February death” of Zurab Zhvania, especially before the post-mortem made clear that he had died of natural coronary disease.
At the same time, in Azerbaijan Saakashvili is often quoted for his – and not only his – thesis that the Kosovo situation is a unicum, and that should be treated as such. Of course, the fear is that the new balance of the two principles may be applied to the Karabakh issue, as well, albeit at present all the lights are all on Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Armenia is focusing on the upcoming elections, with Ter-Petrosyan gaining the support of the Heritage, New Times parties, and some defectionists from Dashank. Still, the candidature of Sargsyan seems the strongest, and the supports to Ter-Petrosyan based much more on the need to be “against”, rather than on a fully and unconditionally “for”. During the week, the voices about his meeting with Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow made much ado, let’s see if about nothing…
In the days of the Munich Conference on Security Policy, of Putin’s memorandum at the State Council, and of Kosovo’s expected declaration of independence, an eye is kept wide open on the events of the USA Presidential campaign and the evolution of NATO enlargement.
Armenia: the American candidates are followed not only for their programs - internal and international politics - but also for sensible issues such as a solution for Nagorno-Karabakh and the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which is in both Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s agendas. Armenian Defence Minister Mikael Harutyunyan met with NATO delegation led by Jaroslaw Skonieczka. The delegation is in Armenia to assess the IPAP implementation, in view of the 26+1 Nato Session in April. At the same time, news are reported of a considerable cut of US economic aid to Armenia for next Financial Year (Georgia $52 ml, Armenia $24 ml, Azerbaijan $19,5 ml). Azerbaijan: for Azeris in America, a new agency was established to ensure their successful participation to the vote, and for “Azerbaijani-American voters to speak with one vigorous voice, to be heard in Washington D.C…”. A good relevance was given to the declaration of the NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that Russia’s position will not be taken into consideration while admitting Ukraine to the alliance. Georgia: Mathew Bryza said that “The situation is not perfect in Georgia – far from it. And this [presidential] election was not an example or a model to be followed elsewhere in the world.” A Statement that, although does not support opposition’s claim of illegitimacy of the vote, still doesn’t sound as optimistic as before.
Some issues divide the international arena, and for sure it doesn’t seem to be much better at local level, in the post/ante election environments.
With the uncompromising attitude that marked their politics in the late Shevarnadze government, Gachechiladze and Gamkrelidze, together with all the parties of the opposition bloc, decided to suspend talks with the Government. Salome Zurabishvili, former Foreign Minister of Georgia, now opposition leader and head of the "Georgia's Way" Party, allegedly the new Prime Minister in case of opposition’s victory in the January elections, made a visit in the US on February 6th, for a hearing at the Helsinki Commission.
Levon Ter-Petrosyan applied to Constitutional Court for the election to be postponed of two weeks, as the Article 90 of Election Code prescribes in case of violation of the right to campaign. The 9th, early in the morning, the building of the Ministry of Justice was set on fire. “The usual suspects”?
The Kosovo issue, oppositions, new Presidents: how to get away with foreign pressures and local strategies.
Azerbaijan: polemics about Russian language in the country, started a couple of weeks ago, then a decree signed by the President to open a branch of Lomonosov University in Baku… and Ali Kerimli, from Popular Front of Azerbaijan, denied his passport to go in the West to gather support for the opposition, thus Zerkalo newspaper suggests. Georgia: Saakašvili proposes to open a Department of Russia - “our traditional and key partner” - within Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a deputy foreign minister, Gia Vašadze, with a long soviet-foreign-policy curriculum. Armenia: the candidature of Serž Sargsyan seems to be enforced and to receive the blessing of the Russian leading party, which signed an inter-party cooperation with Prosperous Armenia and Republican Party.
Balance and counter-balance of different interests that sometimes are used, and others are suffered, but never exhaust the complex relations of the various political forces in the three countries.
In Georgia, after the elections, there are two parallel lines, which tried to meet with a first round of talks on the 1st and, again, for the second round to come, the 5th of February. On one side, the nine parties opposition plus Industry Will Save Georgia, New Rights and Party of Future, the 28th laid out a Memorandum with 17 proposals to: a. Overcome not legitimate results of Presidential Elections; b. Ensure political freedom; c. Ensure freedom of speech; d. Hold fair Parliament Elections. If the proposals are not met in full, allegedly, permanent rallies will be held from 2.00 pm 15th of February.
Some of these demands - of course just points b, c and d - were addressed in speech and in action by the Saakašvili administration. A new General Prosecutor has being appointed, Eka Tkešelašvili, 31 year old, ex Minister of Justice, the first female GP of South Caucasus, who hastened to declare the repression of 7th November a big mistake never to be repeated again. In his speech at PACE Saakašvili himself talked about the need to reform TV boards and to make decisive steps towards further democratisation. On the other side, he claimed to have being voted for his commitment to NATO, for his fight against poverty, corruption and for his remarkable results in economy, in re-shaping the country and its legacy.
The new Cabinet was approved with 141 for and none against, but the opposition boycotted the vote and in the point 3 of the Memorandum calls for constitutional amendments requiring that the cabinet resigns after parliamentary elections. Do parallel lines meet somewhere, if they have to?
Political communication is suffering from the flaws of the mass media society. An articulated analysis is often replaced by slogans, the mutual respect between challengers by aggressive statements. It all leads to a polarization that it is quite difficult to reconcile afterwards.
While in Azerbaijan some newspapers, quoting the Financial Times, already claim the re-election of Aliyev, 8 months before the election (an untimely election campaing?), in Georgia the new government has to take shape. And, clearly, it is no longer time to linger on accusations or open insults, but rumors suggest that all ministers who answer more directly for the level of life of the population are going to be removed: Giorgi Arveladze, the Economy Minister; Davit Tkeshelashvili, the Minister for Healthcare and Social Welfare; Kakha Bendukidze, the State Minister for Economic Reforms.
In Armenia candidates blame “the others” for the quality of political confrontation. Levon Ter-Petrosyan calls for a mitigation of tension and creation of an atmosphere of tolerances, but, at the same time, goes on in defying the government a bandocratic system. Vazgen Manukyan declares to feel “uneasy about the vitriol and aggression that is presently spreading throughout our society not only by way of public rallies but also through the press and television.” and adds “This road will not lead to an improvement of the situation in Armenia”, words that do not prevent him from describing the ruling élite as “worthless people whose sole aim is to retain those positions”... et cetera et cetera.
Such a venom, the Armenian Observer points out, seems to be infecting the blogosphere, “whereby a range of extremely intolerant propaganda-blogs have sprang up, and have started attacking all and everyone around in the blogosphere - have taken the fun away from blogging. Instead of being the enjoyable personal hobby it once was, blogging now is increasingly becoming a risky business, a hostile environment, where you risk being attacked and harassed for your views.”
So, while the electoral platforms of some candidates promise to change completely the country in a lapse of time from 3 to 5 years, the web offers nice views of the same heroes in the shape of devils… Wasn’t the red-eyed picture of Tony Blair, during the election campaign, harshly criticized for not being in line with political fair play?
Probably Armenian society doesn’t need heroes nor devils… and since this is just a blog, and I have already mentioned the UK, let me put it with some brilliant English humour… (www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxfzm9dfqBw)
Hard work for mediators, with negotiations going on about stability and future.
Starting with Georgia, today Saakašvili swore, pledging, in his first speech as President, to represent all the country and not just his supporters. At the same time the opposition - not allowed to manifest in the centre of the city - gathered at the hippodrome, and still denied his legittimacy. What’s the next step? To maximize the present visibility and try to obtain anticipated parliamentary elections, making the new Government fall? Or to prepare for the scheduled one in may? Oppositions leaders met with Matthew Bryza, the USA Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affaires, with Ilia II, Head of Orthodox Church and so on … negotiations… Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, who attended for the Moscow government the oath, met with Saakašvili and with Ilia II. Markets of wine and water between the two countries have being announced to open again this year… negotiations on the way…
In Armenia, under the influence of Georgia’s events, the Speaker of the National Assembly Tigran Torossian made clear that “Presidential elections will not yield to parliamentary ones” (A1+, 16th Jan.). BTW: it’s time for the broadcasting of political manifestos of the candidates, whose list was officially announced the 18th by the CEC: Arthur Baghdasaryan, Artašes Geghamyan, Tigran Karapetyan, Aram Harutyunyan, Vazgen Manukyan, Arman Melikyan, Serge Sargsyan, Levon Ter-Petrosyan. While the opposition is grouping around the last (negotiations…), a common point which can be spotted in the different programs is how to overcome political isolation and try to reach a solution for Karabakh. Just in these days the Minsk group is touring the Caucasus, bouncing Baku-Yerevan-Baku.
The year 2008 is supposed to be the one of the ultimate settlement of the conflict, on fair and balanced basic principles. But, both basic principles and practical solutions are far from official proclamations and collective understanding in Baku… Araz Azimov, from the Ministry of Foreign Affair, stated that for the last three years he cannot match any significant change. … so the space left empty by unjustified optimism should be filled with massive negotiations…
An extra Post, to commemorate someone who willy-nilly became a hero…
“We stayed in Turkey because that was what we wanted - and out of respect for the thousands of people here who supported me in my fight for democracy...”
On the anniversary of Hrant Dink’s death that’s the only thing I can offer to his memory ... the images of the thousands who claimed the pride to be Armenian, to be Hrant Dink, no matter who they are... to turn Turkey into the country he and they wanted to be citizens of.
(at the bottom of the page)...Some of the few pics I managed to take in the sad and moving day of his funeral and of the overwhelming procession ... together with the bitter words of Ilnur Cevik on the day before Hrant Dink’s Anniversary. (http://www.thenewanatolian.com/opinion-30788.html)
Thus the Armenian expert Alexander Iskandarian said, mentioning to the potential influence of Georgian Presidential Election on the incoming Armenian one (02/19). The same point of view is shared by the Azeri specialist Razim Agaev, very doubtful that any other South Caucasian republic would be able to raise such a popular participation.
Although results are official and internationally recognized, the opposition kept its supporters mobilized for the entire week, from the hunger strike to today’s peaceful rally, with over 100 000 people expected by the joined opposition parties. They claim results to be fraudulent. The CEC confirmed Saakašvili to be the winner, with 53.47% (1 060 042 votes), followed by Gachechiladze 25.69% (509 234). Results that do not match those given by other independent observers, such as the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (Saakašvili 50,8%, margin of error +/- 2,2%). Abroad, only Russia is supporting opposition’s claim, but it seems very isolated. Even the CIS observation mission recognised the elections to be in line with international standards. Russian observers, by the way, were not allowed in the CIS mission by Georgian authorities. At present, an exposition of hundreds falsified protocols has been opened in Tbilisi, dedicated to the so called “Georgia-American lies, in honour of Matthew Bryza”, the American Congressman who is reported to have described elections as democratic (on Russian tv, http://www.1tv.ru/ 01/13 12:09).
The results of the plebiscites: For North-Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) integration: 72.5% For holding Parliamentary Elections in the Spring of 2008: 69.8% Protesters are not, indeed, against the main line of the present President, his pro-Western attitude, but accuse him to be extremely authoritarian, close to dictatorship. To ease his position, Saakašvili opened the door of the new Government to opposition. Being Georgia, since the Rose Revolution, a semi-presidential republic, potentially the role played by the Government in leading the country is a key one, but till now the strictly presidential heritage prevailed. Even if the mediation works, and opposition agrees to enter the Government, will this solve the problem of the extremely polarized political life, and enable the President to gain the confidence of Georgian citizens again?
It seems that November’s rallies, with over 600 wounded, had already entered in the collective memory as another epic moment in Georgia’s fight for freedom… or so are self – represented by those who had joined the protests … (www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7pR8rLZaqg&feature=related)
Finally Georgian Extraordinary Presidential Election’s day came. Electors voted the new President, and for two referendum, if the want their country to join NATO and Parliamentary elections to be held in April instead of October.
The Georgian Constitution (Art. 74.2) states that “The referendum shall not be held with the view of adopting or repealing law, in terms of amnesty or pardon, ratification or denunciation of international treaties and agreements, as well as the issues restricting the basic constitutional rights and freedoms of individuals”. So the referendum has not any juridical value (btw: no treaty has being written till now, and it will be the Parliament to ratify it) and its purpose was just to remind people of what the incumbent President did to ensure the access in NATO, an issue which is viewed positively by 83% of population, according to recent surveys.
The Presidential Election legal framework (Art. 70 Constitution as amended after the Rose Revolution) states that: “4. A candidate shall be deemed to be elected if he/she has obtained more than half of the votes of participants. 5. If no candidate has received the required number of votes in the first round, a second round of elections shall be held in two weeks after an official announcement of the first round results. 6. Two candidates having the best results in the first round shall be put to the vote in the second round. The candidate who received more votes shall be deemed to be elected.”
The preliminary results published by the Central Electoral Committee (6.00 pm) are: Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia............................0.16% 43 years old, Imedi movement. First woman ever to run for presidency in Georgia Georgij Маisаshvili .......................................0.77% 42 years old, Future Party David Gамкrelidze........................................ 3.73% 43 years old, New Right Party Shalvа Naтеlаshvili...................................... 6.22% 49 years old, Labor Party Arkadij Pатаrkatzishvili .........................7.47% 52 years old, unofficially withdrew his candidature and is at present abroad. Owner of Imedi TV and involved in scandals and accused to be preparing a coup d’etat Levan Gachеchiladze ..............................25.21% 44 years old, supported by a coalition of 9 opposition parties Mikhail Saakasvili ...................................50.17% 41 years old, National Movement, ruling party, incumbent President.
At launch time today Gachechiladze claimed “Not counting votes in Tbilisi, Saakashvili has 44% and I have 34% of the vote. In Tbilisi, however, I have gained an overwhelming victory, which gives me an overall nationwide lead”, while David Gамкrelidze said during a press conference “I want to state that the result of the yesterday’s election is that there should be second round of polls […] I want to congratulate Mr. Levan Gachechiladze with success in the first round […] I want to call on Mikhail Saakashvili, if he really has a sense of responsibility towards the Georgian state, he should say no to artificial victory in the first round and agree on holding of second round. That would be a solution to the current situation.” (www.civil.ge)
The point is how “free and fair” were elections. The OSCE Interim Report assess that while elections were in essence consistent with most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections, significant challenges were revealed which need to be addressed urgently (full report available www.osce.org/documents/odihr/2008/01/29182_en.pdf). Human Rights denounces serious violations (www.humanrights.ge/) and Russian medias, quoting the Minister of Foreign Affair, went so far as to declare “Media sources, non-governmental organizations and representatives of opposition are reporting about numerous cases of violation of the electoral laws by the authorities” and “Hasty remarks made by the U.S. congressman Hastings [coordinator of the OSCE short-term election observation mission] about “triumph of Georgian democracy” are superficial”.
The nine opposition parties bloc is threatening unrests from the 8th of January for the supposed manipulations of electoral results. New preliminary results (7:30 pm): Saakashvili 48,55% Early results (11.30 pm): Saakashvili 52,8%
MA Degree in Foreign Languages and Literatures,
BA Degree in International and Diplomatic Sciences,
PhD in Democracy and Human Rights, Political Sciences.
Languages: Italian, English, Russian, Turkish.
Associate Researcher ISPI (Milan), Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, DIRE (Genoa University).
Previous work experience: Political Adviser EU Council;
EUMM Team Leader and Gender Focal Point.
Assistant Professor El Manar University, Tunis