Sunday, February 24, 2008

Week 18-24 February: Arm Wrestling and the Kosovo Syndrome

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.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Week 11-17 February: Dark Shadows

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…

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Week 4-10 February: East, West, and what lies in between II

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”?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Week 01/28-02/03: East, West, and what lies in between

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?

(Full text of the Memorandum:;
Video of Saakašvili’s speech at PACE, in English: