Month: April 2009

Georgian opposition facing problems of PR

As small and dwindling protests continue in Tbilisi and elsewhere in Georgia, their organizers are trying to find ways of provoking the authorities to acts of violence, in the hope of reviving the protesters’ public image as victims. So far the Saakashvili authorities haven’t fallen into this trap, and have studiously avoided physical contact with the demonstrators. Jamestown’s Vladimir Socor writes that the protesters seem to have misunderstood the nature of western human rights democracy, and find that they are having to justify to foreign observers their tactics of blockading the Georgian Parliament and other public buildings:

European envoys are increasingly concerned and frustrated by the opposition’s strategy of confrontation. French ambassador Eric Fournier declared, “Because of the [opposition’s] activists, the parliament chairman must hold meetings at a hotel, not in the parliament building. We regret that some people have decided to act against the law and violate the democratic constitution. It is inadmissible that we should gather at a hotel to meet the chairman of the parliament. This is a lamentable fact” (Rustavi-2 TV, April 25). The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly Secretary-General Terry Davis told the opposition that “any issues should be discussed in negotiations, not in the streets;” and reproached it for having refused to take up their parliamentary mandates after the 2008 elections (Rustavi-2 TV, April 28).

Opposition leaders, however, demand Saakashvili’s resignation and the holding of general elections (only one year after the last elections). They denounce the “criminal Saakashvili regime,” as they have done continuously since 2007, and insist that a dialogue should only pertain to the modalities of resignation and early elections (Imedi-TV, Public TV, Kavkas-Press, April 25-28).

Unaccustomed to and intolerant of European criticism, some opposition leaders bristle in response. One of them, French-born diplomat Salome Zourabichvili, felt duty-bound to apologize to the crowd at the rally over Fournier’s remarks; and she retorted to “Davis or any Englishman” that their call for dialogue was like “dialogue with Hitler” (Rustavi-2 TV, April 28). Other opposition leaders, parochial and unfamiliar with European institutions, imagine as “Conservative” leader Kakha Kukava told the crowd, that Europe will pressure Saakashvili into a dialogue about resignation (Rustavi-2 TV, April 25, 27).

The authorities adhere to the policy of non confrontation, no physical contact with the opposition in the streets, and openness to dialogue toward a political agreement with opposition groups. Saakashvili called for such dialogue most recently in his April 23 speech at a factory outside Tbilisi and his April 28 remarks in the city, following a special church service convened by the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II. The Patriarch had publicly appealed to opposition leaders to attend the service; but they did not seem to be on hand, with the exception of Alliance for Georgia leader Irakli Alasania, who accepted to shake the president’s hand (Imedi TV, April 28).

The indiscreet charm of totalitarianism

At Fifi, Veli Itäläinen raises some questions about Russia’s National Bolshevik Party, a motley assemblage of artists, poets and hangers-on which is sometimes seen as having a role to play in the defence of human rights:

It’s generally assumed that artists are a little extravagant. They are forgiven more. But is a fascist always completely harmless, if he happens to be an artist?

Hat tip: FinRosForum

More unrest in Chechnya

With news within the last 24 hours of three explosions in Grozny, an armed clash with insurgents and an attack on police by insurgents in a fifth Chechen district, Nozhai-Yurtovsky, it looks as if the Chechen conflict may be intensifying once again. In fact, the process of activation appears to have begun even earlier – before the official announcement of the ending of counter-terrorist operations (CTO) in the republic. Jamestown reports that

The news of renewed counter-insurgency activities by both local and federal authorities in Chechnya came amid reports that three Russian Defense Ministry contract servicemen were killed in the village of Bamut in Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan district on April 21. Interfax on April 22 quoted a source in the headquarters of the Russian combined federal forces in the North Caucasus as saying that the three servicemen, a sergeant and two privates, were traveling in a tank truck carrying drinking water when unidentified gunmen fired at them, apparently from an abandoned house on the outskirts of the village. The source said that a military patrol arrived at the scene soon after the incident, but that the gunmen had already fled. Reuters on April 22 quoted a spokesman for the Russian security forces in Chechnya as saying that after the three soldiers were shot and killed, their weapons were stolen.

The commentator Yulia Latynina reported on Ekho Moskvy radio on April 18 that on the eve of the announcement of the cancellation of the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya, two members of the Vympel special operations unit of the Federal Security Service (FSB), including a high-ranking officer, had been killed in separate explosions in Chechnya. According to Latynina, the federal authorities had not reported the deaths of the Vympel personnel so as not to ruin the celebrations marking the end of the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya or possibly delay an announcement that the operation was over. reported on April 21 that the FSB had confirmed the death of one Vympel member in Chechnya and that the slain officer may have been a colonel.

CTO reintroduced in Chechnya

CTO (counter-terrorist operation) restrictions have been reintroduced, and military operations launched, in four districts of Chechnya, just a week after President Kadyrov announced the ending of the CTO. The restrictions and hunts for insurgents now affect the Shalinsky, Vedensky, Shatoisky and Itum-Kalinsky districts. (Reuters and

No Eastern Partner

The European Union is currently launching something called an “Eastern Partnership“, which is designed to cement links with six neighbours: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus. Quite why Belarus has been included in the “reach-out” plan is something of a mystery. If Belarus accepts the invitation to attend the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague on May 7, this will grant the republic a legitimacy it clearly does not deserve, in view of the widespread repression that is still taking place within it. Now Maidan writes that one of the leaders of the Belarus opposition who is also Co-ordinator of Charter 97

has rejected an invitation to attend events connected with the EU Summit in Prague. He believes the invitation issued to Lukashenko to be a grave mistake. He names just three political prisoners – Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau, Uladzimir Asipenka and says that the first has been on hunger strike for more than a week demanding an open trial.

“Political repressions go on in our country, many Belarusians have had to emigrate due to political persecution, the authorities refuse to register political parties and NGOs, peaceful demonstrations are brutally dispersed and banned, we do not enjoy even minimum freedom of speech, youth activists are unlawfully drafted for military service. The authorities don’t investigate the cases of kidnapped opposition leaders and a journalist although the international community suspects them of involvement to these crimes. I think inviting Dictator Lukashenko to Prague when demands to release political prisoners and stop political repressions have not been met was a great mistake.
That’s why I have taken the decision not to go to Prague.”

Medvedev and "Helsinki-plus"

During talks with Finland’s President Halonen in Helsinki on April 20, and also in a speech he gave at Helsinki University the same day, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev outlined shadowy proposals for a “new European security structure” which would also involve energy-related considerations. The proposals would be discussed at a prospective summit forum in Helsinki, to be called “Helsinki-plus”.

In her blog, the Finnish centre-right politician, OSCE advisor and human rights campaigner Nina Suomalainen comments on Medvedev’s proposals, and wonders what they may actually involve  [my tr.]:

Did Russia’s so-called Helsinki-plus initiative take a step forward in Helsinki, or not? Finland’s chairmanship of the OSCE and the OSCE meeting that was held in Helsinki in December last year stuck closely to the line that the current structures are a good basis for agreement on European security issues.

This week, President Medvedev raised the issue again. For Russia is not very pleased with the OSCE, which it feels pays too much attention to questions of human rights. The holding of free elections has also been another of the OSCE’s preoccupations, and Russia cannot ignore the fact the elections brought about a change of government in Georgia and Ukraine.

However, it is not really clear how President Halonen viewed the matter, except to say that Finland would provide help with regard to the meeting place, and “everything else”. Foreign Minister Stubb, however, seemed skeptical, and reiterated the OSCE’s approach: No new structures are required.

Russia’s Helsinki-plus idea doesn’t really have much precision or clarity, and in spite of efforts that have been made, its content is still not understood. One guesses that it is mainly a proposal for a review of the security question mainly from Russia’s own standpoint, leaving aside all the nonsense about democracy. So it is probable that Helsinki-plus will be on our tables for a long time, and that at some stage it will emerge in the form of a real initiative, as a concession to Russia. Medvedev’s comments and the “maybes” of the Finns fit together like a nose on a head.

Another issue that is creeping up is the Baltic Sea gas pipeline. On the positive side, the opportunity for Finns to make land deals in Russia were high on the meeting’s agenda. Though it sounded – rightly or wrongly – a little as though this was the first that Russia had heard of it. Now it will have to really think about how to react to it.

Hat tip: FinRosForum