Sunday, March 30, 2008

Week 24-30 March: Fourth Estate

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.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Week 17-23 March: Confrontations&Programs

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.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Week 10/16 March: Virtual reality

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.

Virtual, but not virtuous, realities.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Week 3-9 March: The costs of inefficiency

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.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Yerevan, bloody Sunday: 8 killed, state of emergency

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 ( in Russian, posts hourly news based on reports from News Ribbon, Газета.Ru, АрмИнфо, ARMENIAToday, Regnum,,, 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, night clashes in English)

Week 02/25 – 03/02, Georgia: (r)Evolution

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.