Monday, November 29, 2010
By Erica Marat
On November 29, residents of Osh city awaited in panic for the government to clarify that a series of shootings were part of a National Security Service’s special operation. Memories of ethnic strife from last June are still fresh in southern Kyrgyzstan. Over 450 people died and 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks were forced out of their homes as a result of the clash that erupted unexpectedly on June 10 and lasted until June 14. The violence was aggravated by government forces’ chaotic and unprofessional actions during the outbreak.
Head of the National Security Service Keneshbek Dushebayev has assured the people that this was a special operation conducted by security forces and the government was in control of the situation. President Roza Otunbayeva, too, rushed to explain that the shootings were not a result of renewed ethnic violence.
According to the Ministry of Health, four government troops were injured and three criminals were eliminated in the clash. Earlier this month Kyrgyz security forces detained nine people suspected of attempting to instigate ethnic clashes. The government still blames former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev for fueling the ethnic hatred that arose last June.
Despite statements by Dushebayev and Otunbayeva, information coming from the government was incomplete and at times conflicting. Minister of Interior Zarylbek Rysaliyev argued that security forces disbanded an organized group that intended to instigate ethnic strife in southern Kyrgyzstan. Other government channels pointed at security forces’ eradication of Islamic radicals.
The population at large lacked clear information as to what type of “special operation” the government decided to carry out in Osh. Rumors spread fast, fueling panic. Some ethnic Uzbeks feared that police forces renewed “chistki” (cleansing) of Uzbek neighborhoods in search for weapons and the alleged instigators of June violence. Local ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities mobilized for defense against perpetrators.
The latest incident points at persisting fear of the possibility of renewed ethnic clashes as well as the government’s inability to communicate with the masses efficiently. It is such panic and lack of information that might potentially spark a new wave of violence. Looters and opportunistic criminals will seek to attack local businesses and communities should there be a feeling that the government is losing control over Osh. This is the same feeling that many in Osh shared during clashes between government troops and unknown insurgents.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
By David Iberi
On November 23, 2010, Georgians mark the seventh anniversary of the Rose Revolution, a peaceful, popular uprising that ended Eduard Shevardnadze’s post-Soviet regime in the Caucasus country. The revolution followed the parliamentary elections in early November 2003 that had been assessed by opposition political parties, domestic and international observers and, most importantly, by hundreds of thousands of Georgian voters as unfair and undemocratic. The longtime ruler of Georgia, Shevardnadze, submitted his resignation after realizing that he had virtually no public support. His old elite-based regime had exhausted all legitimate means, both at home and abroad, to remain in power.
The new government of young, pro-Western reformers led by Mikheil Saakashvili, who briefly served as minister of justice under Shevardnadze but resigned in protest to the clan-based corrupt power structures, was legitimized in the presidential and parliamentary elections that were held shortly after the revolution.
On all accounts, the Georgia of late 2003 was a failed state. The central government exercised control over only a portion of the country with Abkhazia, the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia and Ajara under direct or indirect Russian rule. The remainder of the territory was hardly governed properly, either. Economic and political reforms undertaken between 1995 and 2000 ended nowhere since they were half-measures at best and parts of devious schemes at worst. Add to that the arrears for months in salaries and pensions, the inefficient and bribe-taking police and bureaucracy, the depleted state coffers, and the acute shortage of electricity keeping the half of the country constantly in the dark and the other half with daily blackouts, and you will have a clearer picture of what Georgia in 2003.
There was, however, more than that. The aging Shevardnadze busied himself more with balancing interest groups and competing clans than exercising his constitutional duties. His utterly corrupt ministers and governors nearly reestablished the practices of the tumultuous years of the early 1990s when gangs roamed the streets and criminality ruled the countryside. Abductions for ransom and crimes related to illegal drugs were so frequent that Georgia’s only portrayals in Western media at the time were journalistic accounts of foreign businessmen’s travels in remote Georgian villages in the company of local warlords.
It was at that period in time when Western audiences first learned about the Pankisi Gorge, a tiny area in northeastern Georgia where armed paramilitary units were engaged in all sorts of illegal activities. Although Pankisi became the epitome of lawlessness and the trademark of Georgia in that day, no better was the situation in other parts of the country, be it Ajara, the Tskhinvali region, Svaneti or Abkhazia, where pockets of illegal transactions were rapidly expanding.
The first priority for the Saakashvili government was to restore law and order across the country and to provide normal administration and services to the population. Pankisi was soon free of gangs and, step by step, other provinces were as well. The Russian-supported regime in Ajara, which had become the fiefdom of local landlord Aslan Abashidze and his clan, was deposed peacefully in late spring 2004. One of the least developed regions of Georgia at the Black Sea near the Turkish border, subtropical Ajara, with the central city of Batumi, has since become Georgia’s Riviera and home to five-star hotels and kilometers of seashore boulevards attracting hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists.
In summer 2006, Georgia succeeded in restoring constitutional order in the interconnected regions of Svaneti and Upper Abkhazia in northwestern Georgia. Assessing Tbilisi’s successes, Matthew Bryza, the then U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told the press in August 2006: “In this case [Upper Abkhazia], the Georgian government is eliminating the lawlessness and restoring the rule of law. In Gali, that’s not happening.” What he meant was the despicable situation in the Russian-occupied parts of Abkhazia, which continues up to this day.
Almost in the same period of time, in 2005-2006, the government succeeded in removing two Russian military bases from Georgian soil that should have been closed much earlier in accordance with the commitments Moscow had undertaken at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Istanbul Summit in 1999. The removal of the Russian military bases and the restoration of central rule over Ajara have arguably been the two biggest victories of the Saakashvili administration in terms of consolidating Georgia’s sovereignty. Over time, the country’s institutions, including the police force, the army and the bureaucracy, have changed and become almost unrecognizable. The ambitious economic and structural reforms have put Georgia in the eleventh spot in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business category and have made it one of the fastest reforming economies.
Societal changes have been likewise impressive. The traditional Soviet-styled elites, which in fact were competing clans with connections to power echelons in the Kremlin, have been largely replaced by associations and parties of Western-educated individuals who have the same kinds of debates about the role of government, religious and moral issues, and political and economic freedoms as elites do in the West. The organization of Georgian society today is increasingly along the Western lines. This is true not only in the capital of Tbilisi but in the rapidly developing provinces as well. The modernization process will only deepen with the expansion of infrastructure projects, including highways, railroads and educational institutions, interconnecting the nation. Moving the parliament and government to Kutaisi, the second largest city in central-western Georgia, will only speed up the dynamic changes, as will making English a second language and attracting a population of thousands of English teachers and other professionals from the English-speaking world.
The rapid changes, arguably, have disadvantages too. As Georgia moves farther and farther from the Russian reality, a gap widens between the lifestyles of those who live in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia in the lawless environment under factual Russian rule and the society in the rest of Georgia. For better or worse, however, those provinces remain depopulated largely due to the ethnic cleansing but also because of the unbearable conditions. And, besides, there will hardly be any chance for those Russian-occupied Georgian territories to reunite with the rest of the nation unless the bigger part keeps advancing along the path of reform and modernization.
Monday, November 22, 2010
By David Iberi
On November 19-20, 2010, the heads of state and government of NATO member countries met in the Portuguese capital to discuss some of the most challenging issues the Western alliance is facing today, from the ongoing operations in Afghanistan to the collective missile defense system and uneasy relations with Russia.
For Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, who also attended the summit, this was an additional opportunity to hold meetings with and garner support from individual NATO leaders and engage in active discussions related to his country’s security problems and modernization reforms. While talks with British, Canadian, Dutch, Turkish, Polish, Romanian, Czech and several other leaders were important for Saakashvili, his bilateral meeting with the President of the United States, Barack Obama, undoubtedly was the highlight of his Lisbon trip. The language of the Lisbon Summit Declaration and of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly resolution on Georgia a few days earlier were likewise significant and, combined, they even triggered a reshuffle in the Saakashvili administration that will strengthen the positions of pro-Western reformists in Georgian society.
The read-out of the first time ever tête-à-tête meeting between Obama and Saakashvili published by the White House said that Obama “reaffirmed U.S. support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity…expressed his appreciation for Georgia’s significant contributions to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan…[and] discussed the Georgian government’s efforts to implement political, economic, and defense reforms and our shared interest in securing democracy, stability, and prosperity in Georgia.”
Obama’s meeting with Saakashvili on the sidelines of the NATO summit was more than a symbolic gesture and in sharp contrast to the arcane postulates propagated by individual authors, such as Walter Russell Mead from the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington-based influential think-tank, who have long written off Georgia as a factor in U.S. foreign policy and rejected Tbilisi’s NATO bid as pure utopia.
The account of the same meeting published by Tbilisi stated that the two leaders “focused on the strong and growing partnership between [the] two countries, based on [the] shared democratic values and strategic goals… under the auspices of the U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership…[and] discussed regional security, stressing the importance of dialogue and cooperation.” In addition, Saakashvili thanked Obama for America’s “steadfast support of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity… for affirming Georgia's path toward eventual NATO membership… [and] for [Washington’s] generous financial aid package that helped Georgia in the past two years. Obama, for his part, “praised Georgia's contributions to NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan, where almost a thousand Georgian troops are serving…[and] commended Georgia's reforms, [urging] the Georgian leadership to continue them.” President Obama also said the United States supports Georgia's Euro-Atlantic and NATO aspirations.
The Lisbon Summit Declaration says that “Stability and successful political and economic reform in Georgia and Ukraine are important to Euro-Atlantic security. We will continue and develop the partnerships with these countries taking into account the Euro-Atlantic aspiration or orientation of each of the countries.” This actually means that the alliance has decoupled NATO-aspirant Georgia from Ukraine, whose leadership no longer sees NATO membership as a national priority, at least for the moment. To manifest the decoupling even further, a separate paragraph was introduced for Georgia that states that “at the 2008 Bucharest Summit we agreed that Georgia will become a member of NATO and we reaffirm all elements of that decision, as well as subsequent decisions.”
The declaration also reiterated NATO’s “continued support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders… [called] “on Russia to reverse its recognition of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia as independent states,” and urged Moscow “to meet its commitments with respect to Georgia, as mediated by the European Union on August 12 and September 8, 2008.
The language of the resolution on the situation in Georgia adopted by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Warsaw, Poland on November 16, three days before the NATO summit, was even more favorable to Georgia. The document that very much resembles the Council of Europe’s several resolutions on Georgia in the aftermath of the Russian military aggression in 2008 openly calls the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia “occupied territories” and expresses concern over the “continuing failure by the Russian Federation to comply fully with the provisions of the EU-brokered Ceasefire Agreement, and particularly its failure to withdraw to the positions it held before the conflict.” Even more importantly, the Assembly urges Moscow “to reverse the results of...the ethnic cleansing” that was committed by Russia and its proxies in the occupied Georgian territories and “allow the safe and dignified return of all internally displaced persons to their homes.” Among other requests, the resolution also asks the NATO governments and parliaments “to reaffirm...the Bucharest Summit declaration that Georgia will become a member of NATO.”
Already in Lisbon, Saakashvili announced an important reshuffle in his administration. Giorgi Bokeria, one of the closest allies of the Georgian leader and, arguably, the single most influential catalyst of Georgia’s democratization and modernization, has become the assistant to the president for national security affairs and secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia.
Bokeria, who served as first deputy foreign minister prior to the recent appointment and years before was a member of Georgian Parliament, played a key role in many aspects of Georgia’s reforms. As a staunch trans-Atlanticist and a man who worked with the Liberty Institute, a powerful force behind the peaceful Rose Revolution in 2003, he has been one of the major targets of the pro-Russian forces in Georgia. Bokeria is believed to reinvigorate and consolidate Tbilisi’s pro-Western agenda, in which sovereignty issues are firmly anchored with the Euro-Atlantic integration and NATO membership, for the next several, crucial years before the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Analysts in Tbilisi foresee that the National Security Council will become a powerful decision-making body under his leadership.
It is no coincidence that this major change in the Saakashvili administration came during the Lisbon Summit. It is seen as a reward for the important diplomatic efforts behind Georgia’s latest successes as well as a sign that Tbilisi has no plans to succumb to Russian pressure and go back to Moscow’s sphere of influence where it belonged some seven years ago.
Monday, November 15, 2010
By Erica Marat
Kazakhstani bloggers can now use the popular LiveJournal blogging site again. After Kazakhstan authorities had reportedly banned access to the site for two years, LiveJournal has become available again. Kazakhstan’s lifting of the ban coincides with the suspension of Kazakh president Nurslutan Nazarbayev’s former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev’s LiveJournal page. There have been no official statement as to whether these two events are linked, but a few savvy bloggers are convinced that this is the only explanation.
Rakhat Aliyev requested asylum in Austria in 2007 after his relations with Nazarbayev soured. Since then he has used his LiveJournal page to launch attacks against the president. He posted provoking material about Nazarbayev’s alleged corruption deals, as well the president’s personal life. Although Kazakhstan authorities did not officially react to Aliyev’s statements, Astana has been pressuring Austria to extradite him back to Kazakhstan.
Owned by the Russian company SUP, LiveJournal is a major part of the Russian-language blogosphere. It is loosely edited but well maintained by its owners to prevent abuses and spamming. In Russia, LiveJournal, along with other internet resources, has become the only media outlet where opposition forces are able to freely express their own views.
Overall, 874,783 users have been registered in Russia to date. The users vary from those who blog about hobbies to those trying to spread political messages. Nemours young Russian rights and political activists are actively present on LiveJournal. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, an avid user of social media, has his own LiveJournal page as well. The president uses his page to post weekly video-diaries.
The impact of LiveJournal on Russia’s political life has been growing, as at times the blogosphere is the only credible source of information when compared to national propaganda featured on TV and by the press. Apparently, renowned journalist Oleg Kashin’s criticism of the pro-Kremlin “Molodaya Gvardiya” youth movement unnerved his opponents. The journalist was severely beaten in front of his house on the morning of November 6 by unknown perpetrators.
Due to its implosive content, LiveJournal has been blocked in other parts of Central Asia as well. During former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s block of LiveJournal access in Kyrgyzstan, local bloggers were forced to switch social media portals. However, the vibrant blogger community in Kyrgyzstan only flourished under Bakiyev’s regime and became ever more active after the leader’s ouster. Kyrgyzstan's bloggers provide timely information on all aspects of political life in the country, particularly during the elections season. President Roza Otunbayeva has even started her own video-diaries similar to those of Medvedev.
Kazakhstan’s temporary ban on LiveJournal is likely to have produced similar results. Perhaps it is time for Nazarbayev to join the virtual community as well.
Monday, November 8, 2010
By Erica Marat
Kyrgyzstan president Roza Otunbayeva has expressed her disappointment with the November 3 U.S. Defense Department (DoD) decision to renew its contract with Mina Corp Ltd., which has supplied jet fuel to the U.S. Transit Center Manas in Bishkek for the past six years. The one-year, $315 million contract will allow Mina to supply 96 million gallons of fuel to Manas. The contract can also be extended for another year.
Otunbayeva is particularly unhappy with the DoD’s decision to renew its collaboration with Mina due to the fact that her government is still investigating the company’s work in Kyrgyzstan. The government has urged the United States to terminate the contract with Mina until the investigation is completed.
According to the president, the Defense Department has turned a blind eye to the fact that revenues from selling fuel to Mina by local companies surpass the state budget. The business is so secretive, she alleges, that it is difficult to trace how these virtual companies serving Mina function. Both DoD and Mina have claimed that they are not aware of any corruption schemes led by Kyrgyz contractors. The U.S. Congress, in the meantime, has called on the DoD to “ensure transparency” in fuel supply contracts.
DoD’s resumed cooperation with Mina comes at the time that Otunbayeva’s administration is pushing for greater transparency throughout the government. Although corruption remains high in Kyrgyzstan, some positive changes are obvious. Otunbayeva has been determined to fight the major corruption sources of the previous regime.
Namely, Kyrgyzstan’s hydro-energy sector shows signs of gradual recovery. Otunbayeva’s government also disbanded the Central Agency on Development, Investment and Innovation formerly led Bakiyev’s son, Maksim Bakiyev. The agency was formed as a result of Bakiyev’s government reform and was entitled to control all foreign financial inflows, including aid and credits. The agency’s responsibility also included the control of major national hydroelectric and gold companies.
Otunbayeva has announced that a new state agency “Manas” will be formed to take over fuel supplies to the Transit Center. Right now the Kyrgyz government is pushing for the gradual overtake of fuel supplies by local companies, hoping to increase their involvement from 20 percent to 50 percent during 2011.
The few open supporters of the U.S. Transit Center’s presence in Kyrgyzstan see its main benefit in significant financial inflows from rent payments. Although none of the five political parties represented in the parliament have openly challenged the U.S. presence, corruption around fuel supplies might potentially serve as a strong argument against the Transit Center.
By Taras Kuzio
It did not take long for Russia to poke fun at Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in a seven minute comical parody aired on Russia’s State channel 1 in the “Bolshaya Raznytsia” (Great Differences) program on October 31, the same day as Ukraine’s local elections. The timing was obviously not coincidental.
“Bolshaya Raznytsia” is retransmitted by Ukraine’s ICTV channel, owned by oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, a darling of Western leaders such as President Bill Clinton. However, ICTV censored the video clip parodying Yanukovych.
In May, Ukrainian television also censored a similarly embarrassing clip of Russian President Dmityri Medvedev and Yanukovych laying wreaths to commemorate the end of World War II (or the “Great Patriotic War” as it is now called) with Yanukovych’s wreath falling back on to him. The wreath incident became a sensational hit on Youtube.
Over the summer Russian television lambasted Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenko in documentaries entitled “The Godfather,” that depicted him in an unflattering light with ties to exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovskiy. “The Godfather” re-opened the sensitive issue of a presidential-run death squad that operated in the late 1990s that murdered the regime’s opponents and a Russian journalist.
The question now is why Moscow is parodying Yanukovych, who has this year become more pro-Russian than Lukashenka. In fact, latter has fallen out with Moscow and is fighting the December 18 Belarusian elections without Russian support.
Russian political technologist Stanislav Belkovsky told the BBC that Moscow has become disenchanted with Yanukovych. The television skit plus Western criticism of him over election fraud last Sunday could be a double whammy for Yanukovych. At this rate, Ukraine could soon have a “no vector” foreign policy.
Belkovsky pointed out that such a parody would not have appeared on Russian state television without the Kremlin’s approval. He also claimed that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin preferred Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine’s 2010 presidential election, which could have influenced his decision to approve the airing of the parody. Russian President Medvedev has developed closer relations with Yanukovych than has Putin.
More importantly, Yanukovych has not agreed to various Russian economic proposals for the takeover of Ukrainian companies or joint ventures, Belkovsky argues. Putin has, according to sources in Kyiv that confided in the Jamestown Foundation, set aside $20 billion of his funds for the purchase of strategic areas of Ukraine’s economy, such as the metallurgical industry which accounts for forty percent of export earnings.
Kyiv’s rejection of Putin’s offer to merge the two state-run gas companies Naftohaz Ukrainy and Gazprom was especially galling. Equally infuriating is Yanukovych’s close ties with Lukashenka over energy issues by reversing the Odesa-Brody pipeline from north-south to south-north so that Minsk can import Venezuelan oil. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recently visited Russia, Belarus and Ukraine (see JF blog, October 21).
Russia’s State TV parody shows former president Viktor Yushchenko asking Yanukovych how many years it will be before Ukraine pays for its imported gas. The camera pans in on Yanukovych’s hands behind his back which show him giving a “dulia” to this question (meaning never). The correct answer should have been “two years.”
The Kremlin-inspired parody of Yanukovych resembles earlier ones aimed against Lukashenka. The difference, however, is that this recent parody was far less revealing and critical. There was no mention, for example, of Yanukovych’s two prison terms, while the Godfather skit based on Lukashenka raised the issue of officially sanctioned murders in Belarus of opposition politicians.
Most amusingly, when Party of Regions deputy Vladislav Lukianov was asked what he thought of the parody he replied, “Russia is a democratic country... This is a sign of democracy, a sign of political tolerance."
Presumably, following Lukianov’s “logic”, if Russia is “democratic” for showing the parody then Ukraine, by his admission, is not democratic, as ICTV cut out the parody from its retransmission of “Bolshaya Raznytsia.” Lukianov should be asked if it is then the case that Ukraine will only be considered democratic if its state TV channel aired a similar parody of President Medvedev?
Thursday, November 4, 2010
By David Iberi
On October 24, 2010, Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri kicked off his nine-day tour of China and India. Accompanied by his top economic team, Gilauri met in Beijing with China’s Vice Premier, Zhang Dejiang, to discuss a “broad spectrum of political and economic issues” and explore opportunities for “strengthening the already fruitful cooperation” between the two nations. In India, where Gilauri traveled on October 30, the Georgian delegation took part in the Invest in Georgia Forum that attracted Indian companies interested in the Georgian market.
As reported by Georgian media and later confirmed by the Georgian prime minister himself, the Chinese vice premier told his Georgian counterpart that his government “encourages Chinese companies” to deepen collaboration with Georgia and make investments in the Georgian economy. Gilauri called this kind of encouragement “a political decision” on the part of the Chinese government. A Georgia-China business council will soon be created to address trade and economic issues and Georgia expects hundreds of millions of US dollars in Chinese investments “in a matter of two to three years.”
For its part, Tbilisi offers a set of incentives in terms of the better use of the country’s transit potential for China’s air and land travel to and from Europe, including the establishment of a direct flight between Tbilisi and Beijing, multimillion energy projects in Georgia’s hydro power sector and in general making Georgia a “regional logistical hub” in the Caucasus for Chinese businesses and tourism.
The free economic zones at Georgia’s Black Sea ports could offer a different set of opportunities, Tbilisi hopes, to Chinese industries as they try to explore new markets in the wider Black Sea region and the Middle East. Four-season tourism potential is one of Georgia’s prides. The country, with a population of five million, has already attracted more than one million foreign tourists this year mainly to its subtropical sea resorts and the capital. Georgians expect more visitors to come as the ski season soon starts in the Caucasus Mountains in less than a month. Wine is another asset of Georgia and a variety of Georgian wines was on display in Shanghai’s renowned World Expo as Prime Minister Gilauri was given a tour in the Georgian pavilion during the National Day for Georgia event.
Gilauri held separate meetings with representatives of China’s investment companies, banking, technology, automobile and energy sectors. In India, he met with entrepreneurs who are interested in investing capital in Georgia’s steel and textile industries, agriculture as well as tourism and infrastructure projects and film production.
Georgia’s liberal economic reforms have found international acclaim and over the past several consecutive years the country has been in leading positions worldwide in terms of ease of doing business, business and investment attractiveness and efficient anti-corruption policies. Despite the Russian invasion in 2008 and the ongoing international economic crisis, Georgia’s GDP has grown by 6% in the nine months of 2010, although the growth is less impressive than the two-digit numbers that existed during several years before the war.
Georgia dramatically intensified its diplomatic, political, economic and trade relations with the outside world after the 2003 Rose Revolution but, paradoxically, the Caucasus nation’s openness only increased after the Russian aggression. Tbilisi apparently hopes that a greater international presence in the Georgian economy and a diversification of Georgia’s economic and trade ties will only help its long-term political objectives in addition to providing for steadier and more robust economic growth.
By Taras Kuzio
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has given grants to two Ukrainian election-monitoring organizations: the well known Committee of Voters of Ukraine (KVU) and the lesser known Opora. KVU obtained $200,000 in 2007 and $140,000 in 2010, while Opora received $100,000 in 2007 and again in 2009. Unfortunately, only funding given to Opora has been money well-spent.
KVU and Opora also received funding from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), but in the case of KVU, a decade-long relationship ended in the first two years following Viktor Yushchenko’s election. The reason was KVU’s financial shenanigans.
Opora grew out of the “black” wing (based on its symbols) of the Pora (It’s Time) youth NGO that modeled itself on Serbia’s Otpor and Georgia’s Kmara. The “yellow” wing of Pora, headed by Vladyslav Kaskiv, was a parody of the Serbian and Georgian youth NGOs, acting more as a vehicle for his political ambitions. Yellow Pora became a political party, but failed to enter parliament in 2006. It succeeded, however, in 2007 as one of nine parties in the Our Ukraine-Self Defense bloc.
After Yanukovych’s election, Pora leader Kaskiv defected to the new administration and joined the Nikolai Azarov government. It seems as though the KVU has also been bought.
The reputation of the KVU, which was stellar during its decade-long cooperation with NDI, deteriorated, ironically, during the Yushchenko presidency, when Ukraine held three free elections. Suspicions of corruption first surfaced during the pre-term March 2009 Ternopil oblast council election, which was endorsed by the KVU as “free” despite numerous, significant infringements. The KVU worked with Presidential Administration head Viktor Baloga, who used the Ternopil elections to ensure that the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc received poor results (and in the same breath permitting the nationalist Svoboda party to win).
The link between KVU and Baloga was confirmed when KVU leader Ihor Popov was appointed deputy head of the Presidential Secretariat immediately after the Ternopil elections. The final proof of this relationship was evident this year when Popov was elected leader of the United Center party that Baloga established in 2008 to compete with Our Ukraine to become the president’s party of power.
Popov’s replacement as head of KVU, Oleksandr Chernenko, gave the October 31 local elections a similar clean bill of health four hours before the polls closed, claiming they were held in a “free atmosphere.” He was already insisting to the mass media that the elections could not be declared illegitimate (also before the polls closed).
This statement points to Chernenko’s biased work on behalf of the authorities, Ukrainian experts and journalists believe. Opora, other Ukrainian and foreign NGOs, the Ukrainian opposition, the U.S. Embassy and the Council of Europe, as well European Parliamentarians from all the major political groups (including the Socialists, with whom the Party of Regions signed a memorandum of cooperation last month), were highly critical of the October 31 elections and believed they were a step back from the free presidential elections held in January-February.
Even the Odesa branch of KVU stated that the local elections in their city had a greater number of violations than the infamous fraud in the 2004 elections that sparked the Orange Revolution. The Odesa election commission committed egregious violations that led to a “scandalous situation” in the city, Odesa’s KVU stated.
The Charles Stewart Mott foundation should investigate this blaring contradiction between the corrupted KVU and objective and unbiased Opora. The KVU’s reporting of the October 31 local elections shows that only Opora has proven that it is worthy of U.S. assistance.
Monday, November 1, 2010
By Erica Marat
Kyrgyzstan’s Central Elections Commission (CEC) has announced the October 10 parliamentary election results following three weeks of deliberation. As expected, five parties were proclaimed winners – Ata-Jurt, Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), Ar-Namys, Respublika, and Ata-Meken.
Although the winners are now officially recognized, it remains unclear how the parties will form parliamentary coalitions. Rumor in Bishkek has it that SDPK, Respublika and Ata-Meken will form a bloc, leaving Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys as the minority. This type of coalition is widely supported in Bishkek.
However, voters from southern Kyrgyzstan would prefer for either Ata-Jurt or Ar-Namys to prevail in parliament – both parties received strong support in Osh and Jalalabad. Ethnic Kyrgyz overwhelmingly supported Ata-Jurt, while ethnic Uzbek voters hoped Ar-Namys would represent their interests in the parliament. In effect, Respublika got a trump card and is, therefore, able to decide on its own partners. The party’s leader, Ombek Babanov, is likely to demand the position of prime minister in return for building a coalition with competitors.
Several political parties that were not able to overcome the 5-percent threshold, including Butun Kyrgyzstan Party, refused to recognize official results. Butun Kyrgyzstan leader Adakhan Modumarov has announced that he will not give up and demands that his party is included in the parliament. Butun Kyrgyzstan originally passed the required 5-percent threshold, however, because the voters’ lists were extended on election Day, the threshold rose by a few thousand and the party failed to meet the new threshold. Madumarov has been holding rallies in Osh and Bishkek for weeks now.
According to CEC Chair Akylbek Sariyev, if requested by the court, election results will be recounted. However, it is unlikely that the CEC will be officially requested to recount the votes.
According to the CEC, 120 parliamentary mandates will be distributed in the following way:
• Ata-Jurt - 28 mandates
• SDPK – 26 mandates
• Ar-Namys – 25 mandates
• Respublika – 23 mandates
• Ata-Meken – 18 mandates
• Another 3 seats will be distributed proportionally between parties.
Although Butun Kyrgyzstan will now become the loudest political voice outside the parliament, the country’s most powerful parties are represented in the parliament. Many in Kyrgyzstan hope that the winners will now resolve their differences and abstain from street-riot politics. Leader of the Ar-Namys party Felix Kulov and the Ata-Jurt leader, Kamchybek Tashiyev, however, previously warned that they would hold mass riots in Bishkek should CEC not consider their reports of irregularities during the October 10 vote.
Both politicians have since dropped their plans to stage riots, showing agreement with CEC’s conclusions.