Thursday, September 30, 2010

Russia Intensifying Annexation of Georgian Territories

By David Iberi

On September 29, 2010, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia made a statement accusing the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) troops stationed in the occupied Georgian province of Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia of conducting “illegal ‘border demarcation works,’” which will “further limit free movement in the region for the local population,” including areas adjacent to the line of occupation. The brief statement by the ministry was followed by Georgian media’s own reports claiming that the Russians started to advance deep into Georgian territory that was not previously held by the occupying forces. Some media sources say that the Russians seized “25 hectares” in one Georgian village and “five hectares” and “half a hectare” in two others, leaving some local farmers virtually without land.

A spokesperson for the European Union’s Monitoring Mission to Georgia (EUMM) – the only international body on Georgian soil to monitor the implementation of the 2008 ceasefire agreement between Russian and Georgia – told, Georgia’s online news agency, that the situation in the region was “calm and quiet” and declined to give details “at this stage…as EUMM monitors were currently “looking into the situation.” The EUMM headquarters in Tbilisi has since not made any public comments on the issue.

Representatives of the Russian FSB deployed in the occupied region told the Russian news agency that they are not involved in any demarcation activities on the “border between Georgia and South Ossetia.”

While Russia has put up myriads of obstacles to minimize contact between Georgian citizens on both sides of the occupation line, it has long intensified the process of annexation of the two Georgian territories – Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia and Abkhazia – by improving infrastructure connecting those regions with the Russian Federation. In addition to stationing nearly 10,000 troops in those provinces, almost completely subsidizing the local budgets and directly or indirectly appointing local apparatchiks, building roads, tunnels and bridges across the major Caucasus Ridge has become the important business for the Russian authorities.

On September 27, published an interview with Boris Ebzeyev, president of the Russian Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, who said Russian authorities plan to construct a new road that will link his republic with Abkhazia. According to Ebzeyev, the road will help “Karachay-Cherkessia gain access to the Black Sea via Abkhaz ports… [and] attract more tourists to the region.”

The creation of new infrastructure in the high mountains that separate the North and South Caucasus is apparently part of a Russian military strategy aimed at facilitating faster movement of troops. But no less important are political, social and cultural aspects of those infrastructure projects, since they will further contribute to isolating the occupied provinces from the rest of Georgia and firmly chain them to the Russian territories in the North Caucasus.

Although, arguably, Georgia has limited means at its disposal to counter geostrategic schemes of its nuclear neighbor, it still can take some steps that would raise the international awareness of the situation on the ground and at least slow down Russia’s pace. Georgia should speak more openly on the world stage about Russia’s annexation efforts by making regular reports to the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, of which both Georgia and Russia are members. Georgia might as well request that the European Union, as the guarantor of the ceasefire between Russia and Georgia, establishes a fact-finding mission to study the compliance of the parties with the provisions of the agreement.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Georgian, Russian Churches at Odds over Sovereignty Issue

By David Iberi

On September 19, 2010, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill I, sent a letter to Eduard Kokoity, a Russian-appointed leader of the occupied Georgian province of Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia. Congratulating Kokoity on the 20th anniversary of the “Republic of South Ossetia,” the Russian patriarch praised “the Russian-Ossetian relations aimed at strengthening the stability in the region and the friendship and cooperation between the peoples of our two countries.”

This highly politicized move angered the Georgian public, government and church leaders alike, especially since the words Kirill used in his message belonged more to a Kremlin or FSB official than to a patriarch of the Christian Church. On September 27, Georgian media reported that Patriarch Ilia II, the head of the Georgian Church, had already sent a letter to his Russian colleague “expressing discontent” over the support given to “the separatist regimes” that caused “an utterly negative reaction” in the Georgian society. The Georgian patriarch’s communication was announced on the day when Georgia marked the 17th anniversary of the fall of Sokhumi to Russian-supported militias in Abkhazia.

Russian authorities and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church have frequently described religion as something that “unites the Russian and Georgian peoples.” And there still remain a considerable number of people within the Georgian Church that oppose Tbilisi’s pro-Western ties and hope for a restoration of “the old friendship” between Georgia and Russia. The irony is that steps similar to those that Kirill chose to take help reduce the prowess and moral authority of the pro-Russian Georgian clerics and further alienate the majority of the Georgian public.

The Georgian Church already complains that its priests and monks are not allowed by the Russian occupying forces into Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, where many of the most ancient and revered Georgian churches and monasteries are located, not to mention the displaced people, victims of ethnic cleansing, who are forbidden to even temporarily visit their hometowns and villages or the graves of their relatives.

In an interview that caused quite a stir in Georgia, Andrei Kuraev, a professor at the Russian Patriarchate’s Academy, recently said that “the Georgian Church’s existing problems in its Abkhazia and South Ossetia eparchies could be solved by temporarily allowing the Russian patriarch to chair over those units.” In Kuraev’s words, this voluntary transfer would help “avoid any violation of the common Orthodox laws that includes noninterference into each other’s affairs as one of the most sacrosanct principles.”

Apparently, the Russian patriarchate leaders are contemplating some “legal mechanisms” that would help both avoid a schism with the Georgian Church and at the same time be in line with the Kremlin’s official Georgia policy. Under the incumbent leadership of the Georgian Church, that goal is hardly attainable.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Obama meets with Otunbayeva

By Erica Marat

Kyrgyz president Roza Otunbayeva had a busy schedule during her visit to the U.S. for the Millennium Challenge Goals summit that took place in New York last week. The president held over 60 official meetings, over 30 of which were with heads of states. Among others, she met with U.S. president Barack Obama and German chancellor Angela Merkel. Otunbayeva was the only Central Asian leader to meet with Obama in New York. The meeting took place on September 24.

Obama applauded Otunbayeva’s achievement of restoring democratic institutions in Kyrgyzstan, including allowing freedom of speech, independent mass media, and adopting a new constitution. The U.S. president also noted Otunbayeva’s efforts to end violence in June, adding that more needs to be done to install peace in the region. Obama reiterated that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe must deploy its 52- member Police Advisory Group and an international investigation of the violence must take place. Both leaders also discussed issues of bilateral cooperation, including cooperation on Afghanistan.

Positive U.S. feedback of Otunbayeva’s leadership comes at a time of uncertainty for Kyrgyzstan. The outcome of its upcoming elections is uncertain, competing political parties may still choose to resort to violence to contest elections results. Moreover, some political parties choose to use ethno-nationalist slogans to earn support. Uncensored media helps nationalists spread their own message.

Importantly, however, depending on the election’s outcome, the U.S. Transit Center at Manas airport in Bishkek might once again be challenged by the parliament. Leaders of at least three political parties are aiming to be elected to the prime minister post. Omurbek Tekebayev of Ata Meken, Almazbek Amambayev of the Social Demo Critic Party and Felix Kulov of Ar Namys are serious contenders, each assuming their party is going to receive the most support at the election. None of the three have openly supported cooperation with the United States, instead leaning toward cooperation with Russia. If successful, all three leaders will most likely challenge U.S. presence in the county.

Nonetheless, Otunbayeva’s meeting with the U.S. president was significant. This was the second time a Kyrgyz leader has met with a U.S. president. Former president Askar Akayev met with George W. Bush in 2002. Like Otunbayeva, Akayev scored support from the international community for democratic reform. Later, however, Akayev turned more authoritarian and was ousted by the opposition led by Otunbayeva in March 2005. Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who replaced Akayev, never visited the United States during his 5 years of service. Otunbayeva was the key opposition leader to challenge Bakiyev, who was ousted in April 2010. Many in Kyrgyzstan hope that Obama’s support of Otunbayeva signifies that things in the country are changing for the better this time around.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Georgia’s Focus on Regional Cooperation: Modernization by Example and Engagement

By David Iberi

Despite the Russian invasion in August 2008 and the ongoing occupation of 20 percent of Georgian territory, Tbilisi focuses more on the future than anything else. With Russian occupying forces stationed some 20 miles from the Georgian capital, concentrating on reform and development is not an easy task. But President Mikheil Saakashvili’s pro- Western liberal government thinks that modernization is the only way to counter its present challenges and walk the safest road into the future without sacrificing Georgia’s sovereignty and freedom of choice.

The task is complicated by Russia’s own version of modernization, but Saakashvili argued on Thursday that true modernization is always coupled with political freedom and laissez-faire economy, and is not as much about making more sophisticated weapons as making peace, transforming society and opening up to the world. This was the major topic of his speech before the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 23, 2010.

“Peace is not only the goal; it is also the means to any goal,” the Georgian president told world leaders in an elaborate manner and, to the surprise of many analysts in Tbilisi, put unusually strong emphasis on the need for cooperation in the Caucasus region. Unlike most of his previous speeches, Saakashvili has now increased the scope of his discussion from talking about modernizing Georgia to transforming the entire Caucasus region. What the Georgian president apparently wanted to show was that Georgia’s “spectacular reforms” in law enforcement, public services, economy and education could serve as an example and point of attraction for all other countries in, and around, the Caucasus, including the Russian Federation. “For too long, [the Caucasus] has suffered from division, injustice, conflict, colonization and violence,” Saakashvili argued. “Today, however, change is possible. In fact, change is already taking place.” He then talked about his vision of a “free, stable and united Caucasus.”

The possibility of Georgia surviving as a nation after the full-scale Russian invasion two years ago was placed under a big question mark by many academics, political scientists and government officials in the region, Russia and the West alike. The fact that it has not only endured but has continued its modernization agenda and development projects has inspired even some in Russia. Georgia’s police reform that changed the Soviet-type corrupt and ineffective organ into a Western institution to service the public has been widely talked about in Russia, where the authorities are contemplating some makeover of the law enforcement.

Prime Minister Nika Gilauri said on September 22 that Georgia’s GDP was 8.4 percent higher in the second quarter than in the same period of time last year. The tourism industry and services have been the primary beneficiary of the economic recovery, as Georgia saw more foreign tourists this year than in the past 19 years of independence. Donald Trump, an American business magnate, told the Georgian president two days ago that he plans to build a Trump Tower in Tbilisi and develop a few other construction projects in Batumi, Georgia’s impressive Black Sea Riviera.

In the concluding part of his UN speech, the Georgian president made three appeals – to the people still living in the depopulated areas of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, the Russian leadership and the Russian people, and to the international community. Saakashvili told the Russian government to care more about developing the Northern Caucasus, “a region that is exploding,” than about annexing the Georgian territories and he urged his fellow world leaders to help “secure peace in Georgia, but also in the broader region.”

Not only geographically but also historically, Georgia has been central to the Caucasus, and Tbilisi’s emphasis on multilateral energy projects and development could indeed help modernize the region and secure lasting peace there. For this process to succeed in the long run, however, the United States and the West have to play a more active role by engaging with Georgia and the Caucasus more closely and proactively.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Viktor Yanukovych’s Domestic and International Honeymoon is Over

By Taras Kuzio

President Viktor Yanukovych’s honeymoon with Ukraine’s voters is over – as is, judging by growing criticism from abroad, his honeymoon with the West. The Ukrainian-American Diaspora refused to meet with him during his visit to New York to attend the opening of the UN this week and embarrassed him with widespread protests. On September 13 and 21 respectively the European People’s Party and EU both issued strong condemnations of threats to Ukraine’s democracy, while an editorial in the Financial Times on September 21 was entitled, “Kiev's backsliding on democracy."

A new extensive opinion poll has found that the popularity of Ukraine’s politicians has returned to the same approximate levels as those found at the launch of the 2010 presidential campaign; that is, they have returned to “normal” after the post-election depression of the opposition and Yanukovych’s six-month honeymoon with voters.

It is during this honeymoon period that Ukrainian politicians can potentially undertake the toughest of unpopular reforms. Yanukovych, however, – like Viktor Yushchenko when he came to power in January 2005 –missed the opportunity of this time period, as no significant reforms were undertaken in his first six months in power.

The poll by the sociological group “Rating” found that Yanukovych continues to be Ukraine’s most popular politician with 26% support, but this number has significantly dropped from 38%. Yulia Tymoshenko is in second place with 16.8%, increasing her support from 13.2%. Yanukovych and Tymoshenko were the two main candidates in this year’s election and faced each other in the second round where Tymoshenko was defeated by a mere 3.5%.

The pollsters explain these ratings in two ways. First, Yanukovych’s support has plummeted because his honeymoon period with voters is over. Second, Tymoshenko’s voters have overcome their post-election depression and returned, giving her a popularity rating just short of what she had at the start of the election campaign. Tymoshenko is re-assuming her majority support in the West, Central and North Ukraine.

Yanukovych is threatened by disillusioned voters in the East and South, some of whom are moving to left-wing parties. The reasons for this are the president’s inability to fulfil all of his populist election promises and massive 50% increases in utility prices mandated by the IMF (one election promise was not to increase these prices). Yanukovych seeks to regain some support by focusing on the usual Party of Regions election strategy of raising the Russian language question. A draft law on languages that would significantly increase the influence of Russian could be adopted in October ahead of the local elections on the 31st of that month.

The re-adjustment of political sympathies are returning Ukraine to the pre-election position whereby Yanukovych and Tymoshenko are separated by 10% (in the first round they received 35% and 25% respectively). The major difference from 2009 is that Arseniy Yatseniuk was then in third place whereas this year Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Tigipko holds that position. Tigipko’s ratings are, however, slowly declining month by month, from 13.6% to 11%.

The next popular political leaders are Yatseniuk (4.2%), Communist Party (KPU) leader Piotr Symonenko (3.1%), nationalist-populist Svoboda (Freedom) party leader Oleh Tyahnybok (1.8%), former President Viktor Yushchenko (1.5%) and Parliamentary Chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn (1.3%).

Lytvyn is undoubtedly being punished by Central Ukrainian voters for joining the pro-Yanukovych Stability and Reforms coalition and his fate could well follow that of Socialist Party (SPU) leader Oleksandr Moroz. Moroz took the SPU into the pro-Yanukovych Anti-Crisis coalition (2006-2007) and his popularity has never recovered. From a third place finish in the 2004 elections, Moroz’s popularity slumped to 0.38% and 11th place out of eighteen candidates in this year’s elections.

The popularity of Ukraine’s political parties reflects the above tendencies.

Ukraine’s most popular party remains the Party of Regions, but its popularity has slumped from 35.2% to 24.4%. In second place is Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party, whose popularity has grown from 12.4 to 15.5%, returning to the 10% differential with the Party of Regions found on the eve of this year’s elections.

In third place is Tigipko’s Strong Ukraine party with 8.8%, a slump from 12.7% in March, which reflects the month to month decline of the deputy prime minister who in the summer bragged he was the second most popular politician in Ukraine. Yatseniuk’s Front for Change’s popularity has remained stagnant at 3.5%, a low figure when considering that Yatseniuk’s popularity in summer 2009 showed he had the potential to overtake Tymoshenko and replace her in the second round. Unfortunately, the June 2009 replacement of Ukrainian by Russian election consultants fatally undermined his election campaign and he ended up winning only 7%, coming in fourth place. Ukrainian media describe Yatseniuk’s 2010 election campaign as the worst conducted in Ukraine’s two decade history as an independent state.

Two other political forces with the potential to enter parliament are the KPU, whose support has grown slightly from 2.5% to 3.8% (the threshold to enter parliament is 3%) and the Svoboda Party, whose popularity is not surprisingly growing in response to the Yanukovych administration’s pro-Russian policies. Our Ukraine-Peoples Self Defence deputy Taras Stetskiv told Jamestown that Svoboda could very well receive first place in the three Galician oblasts in the October 31 local elections, the first time a nationalist party would have gained such ground.

If Ukraine were to hold parliamentary elections today, six political forces would enter parliament in the following way – first, the Party of Regions, followed by the Fatherland (previous elections would have been fought as the Tymoshenko bloc [BYuT]), Strong Ukraine, Front for Change, KPU and Svoboda. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine, Lytvyn’s Peoples Party and the SPU have 1.4, 1% and 0.5% support respectively, and they are in crisis because parties are closely associated with leaders and all three (Yushchenko, Lytvyn, Moroz) are highly unpopular.

Such an election would lead to an alignment that would consist of the Party of Regions and KPU on the one side (they entered coalitions together in 2006-2007 and in 2010), and a “democratic opposition” on the other (Fatherland, Front for Change). This assumes that Yatseniuk could work with Tymoshenko, as he has refused to join the opposition Committee in Defence of Ukraine that Tymoshenko is a prominent member of. Tigipko’s Strong Ukraine would be the kingmakers, as the parliamentary coalition would be formed by either of the two groups (Party of Regions-KPU or ‘democratic opposition’) depending on which Strong Ukraine decided to join. Svoboda would remain a nationalist fringe of 20 or so deputies.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Georgia Seeks International Condemnation of Ethnic Cleansing on Its Territory

By David Iberi

On September 15-20, Chairman of Georgian Parliament David Bakradze had important meetings in Washington, DC with high-ranking officials in U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration. As reported in the media, Bakradze discussed various aspects of Georgian-American relations, ranging from his country’s security concerns to making English a second language in the rapidly modernizing Caucasus nation. But the head of the Georgian Parliament focused particularly on discussing with influential American lawmakers Congress’s plan to adopt a resolution on Georgia in the near future. In Bakradze’s own words, the new resolution “will lay the foundation for the start of Russian withdrawal from the occupied Georgian territories.”

Georgia has many good friends in both branches of U.S. Congress and, even better than that, it enjoys bipartisan support, which makes Tbilisi less dependable on party politics in the United States. The upcoming resolution on “de-occupation of Georgia,” as it has been already dubbed in the press, could trigger a series of similar resolutions by other countries and international organizations. NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly is believed to be next, as it is set to meet in early November and legislatures of several European countries have been reported as contemplating Georgia resolutions in one form or another.

Resolutions on the unacceptability of the Russian occupation of Georgia’s sovereign territories in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia are important for Tbilisi for both political and practical reasons, but, arguably, even more vital would be the condemnation of the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Georgians committed by Russia and its proxies in those territories.

During the Russian invasion two years ago on August 12, 2008, Georgia filed an interstate complaint against the Russian Federation before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – the United Nations’ primary judicial body – accusing Moscow of committing ethnic cleansing in different phases over the course of past 15 years in violation of the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). On September 17, ICJ completed public hearings and said that it would render judgment on Russia’s preliminary objections to the case at a public session, “the date of which will be announced in due course.” If the court decides that it has jurisdiction over the case presented by Georgia, this will already be a big victory for Tbilisi, notwithstanding the fact that the extensive deliberations might continue for a long period of time.

Georgia hopes that its case before ICJ would only be strengthened if individual states and powerful international organizations start adopting resolutions condemning the ethnic cleansing in the Russian-occupied Georgian territories, as has already been done by the Lithuanian Parliament and by several organizations in the past. This would provide Georgia with much needed moral support, and time, by thwarting Russia’s attempts to isolate the Georgian government and make it more vulnerable to any new military attack.

Furthermore, to minimize the threat of renewed Russian aggression, Georgia soon plans to “officially formalize” the fact that it has no intention “to use military force against the Russian occupation.” In Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s words, Georgia’s unilateral decision would “pacify and disarm” those in Russia who are thinking of solving the “Georgian question” by military means.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Georgia’s Modernization and Its Critics

By David Iberi

President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government recently inaugurated a new project aimed at making English a second language in Georgia, which is seen by many Georgian analysts as a linguistic revolution. At the core of this ambitious undertaking is a plan to bring to Georgia thousands of native English language teachers, mainly from Anglo-Saxon nations such as the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The end goal is to make all Georgian youth from ages 5 to 18 English literate in the next four years. Along with increasing the accessibility to the Internet and putting emphasis on sciences, the robust English program is to help spur Georgia’s reform agenda and usher in a new generation of Westernized Georgians resistant to Russian and Soviet backlash.

Georgia’s language project is yet another phase of a broader modernization campaign the Saakashvili-led team of young Georgian leaders has embarked upon since the pro-Western Rose Revolution in 2003 unseated the corrupt regime of President Eduard Shevardnadze. Teaching English to Georgian schoolchildren is just one, albeit important, part of the Teach & Learn with Georgia project. Arguably, its scope goes well beyond linguistic paradigms and touches upon highly sensitive cultural issues so intimately that some have already dubbed the project Georgia’s Cultural Revolution. Indeed, most of the foreign teachers will go to rural areas, which gives the project additional fervor.

Developing infrastructure has long been the Georgian government’s key priority and some parts of the country, namely the capital, Tbilisi, resorts at the Black Sea and in the mountains as well as the major highways, have indeed changed and become almost unrecognizable thanks to Georgia’s own investment, the funds provided by the United States, including through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and other foreign direct investments over the past several years. The focus of Georgia’s development projects has recently shifted to rural mountainous regions and ski resorts in both western and eastern Georgia bordering Russia across the Major Caucasus Ridge. The better infrastructure has yielded a record high number of foreign tourists this year, exceeding one million according to some estimates. To cope with “the rapidly increasing flow of visitors,” Saakashvili argues that Georgia needs not only good roads and decent hotels but an English speaking population as well. This gives additional reasoning for his robust English language campaign.

To motivate the professionals and the student population, the Georgian government announced that teachers and police officers with good command of the English language will receive bonuses in their salaries and advanced scientific degrees will no longer be granted in universities without first passing an English language proficiency test.

According to Saakashvili, Georgia is Russia’s “major ideological competitor” in the post-Soviet space and the Georgian reforms are “an alternative” to the Russian way of life. He further argues that while Georgia is increasingly associated with modernity and the future, Russia’s domestic and foreign policy agenda lags behind in the past. “Georgia is an A student and Russia is acting as a classroom bully or street vigilante,” the Georgian leader told a crowd in Anaklia, a burgeoning Black Sea resort near the Russian-occupied Georgian province of Abkhazia, where youths from different former Soviet states spent the summer with their Georgian peers. As if echoing what Saakashvili said in Anaklia, Georgia’s Minister of Education Dimitri Shashkini announced on September 14 that tough sanctions will be introduced in Georgian schools for bullying and hooliganism.

But young school offenders are not the sole opposition to Georgia’s social transformation. Retrograde clerics in the Georgian Church as well as some anti-Western political parties fiercely oppose the Teach & Learn with Georgia project as well as the policies aimed at bringing order and discipline to the Georgian school system. One of the high-ranking bishops in the Georgian Church, Iobi, recently lashed out against teaching English to first-year students, the wider use of computers among Georgian children and turning Georgia into a “tourism country.” The pro-Russian Labor Party for its part said in early August that English teachers recruited from abroad belong “to various religious sects” and they could harm Georgia’s religious and cultural identity. Most of the radical opposition likewise criticizes the measures Shashkini has taken to increase security by placing special officers, called mandaturi, and video cameras in Georgian schools, similar to the practice in the West.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tweeting Their Way Through Election Campaigns

By Erica Marat

If there is any visible change in pre-elections Kyrgyzstan, it is the growing number of Kyrgyz politicians relying on online social networks. As political campaigns for the October 10 parliamentary elections informally began shortly after the constitutional referendum in June, over a dozen Kyrgyz politicians joined Twitter and Facebook, as well as other various online forums.

In pursuit of engaging younger voters, political leaders like Temir Sariev (head of Ak Shumkar party) and Omurbek Babanov (Respublica party) claim they personally read all messages sent by their Twitter followers. Twitter is a social networking and blogging site used by over 100 million people worldwide.

Users of online discussion forums like Akylbek Japarov have already managed to stage vibrant debates on the country’s economic future.

Prominent politician Bakyt Beshimov was the first to appear on the blog LiveJournal and Facebook. Engaging a younger audience, Beshimov provoked tough questions about Kyrgyzstan’s political reality at the time when former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s leadership seemed invincible. Many Facebook users were excited to be able to communicate with Beshimov in person.

For younger politicians like Edil Baisalov, who recently launched the political party Aikol El, using Facebook, Twitter and LiveJournal as everyday communication tools with local and international audiences has become second nature. Other young aspiring politicians are finding their voices online as well.

Of all politicians, Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva is perhaps the most popular Twitter user, with over 1,600 followers.

This spike in using online interaction by Kyrgyz politicians shows that some political forces are trying this new style of campaigning. In an environment were no single political force controls the election results, competing parties must rely more on their messages, rather than old techniques based on organizing charity events or distributing goods to convince people to vote.
Thanks to this emerging participation, there is a strong possibility that the elections are going to be free and fair, which would be a novel achievement in the region. Success in this election should strengthen current and future political parties.

However, Twitter, Facebook and LiveJournal do not necessarily guarantee stronger support at the polls. Some users of social network sites think that parties like Ak Shumkar are better promoted online than in real life. Nor are online social networks useful, should some political forces choose to stir up mob violence, possibly ethnic based, in order to challenge opponents with physical force on the day of the election.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Utility of the UN Vote on Georgian IDPs

By David Iberi

On September 7, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution submitted by Georgia on the Status of the Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia. Tbilisi promptly issued a statement hailing the UN decision on the inalienable right of “safe and dignified return of all internally displaced persons and refugees and their descendants, regardless of ethnicity, to their homes in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region” and expressing gratitude “to those 50 Member States, whose delegations, together with Georgia, supported the resolution.”

Despite Moscow’s continued efforts to isolate Tbilisi internationally, this year’s resolution gained more support than a similar one from last year. While 48 countries supported the Georgia resolution and 19 voted against it in 2009, this year’s vote was 50 to 17, which is a tangible achievement for a small country of five million struggling to survive as a sovereign nation against the background of Russia’s great power aspirations. Now the question is, to what extent can support from the United Nations help the Georgian internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees return to the Russian-occupied Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia and, in a broader sense, minimize the fallout of Moscow’s strategy to dismember Georgia.

Along with the right to return clause, the UN resolution recognizes the need to respect the property rights of all IDPs and refugees, underlines unacceptability of forced demographic changes and calls upon all parties involved to take immediate steps to create favorable security conditions conducive to the “voluntary, safe, dignified and unhindered return of all IDPs and refugees to their places of origin.” Before the August 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, the UN Security Council (UNSC) regularly issued resolutions affirming the same principles, but since the 2009 Russian veto on the UNSC the General Assembly has become the only UN body through which Georgia could promote those principles.

Although a practical implementation of the resolution is difficult, if not impossible, given Russia’s heavy military presence in the occupied Georgian territories, it nonetheless has political and psychological importance for Tbilisi. First, the resolution explicitly calls Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia Georgian territories. Second, it addresses the humanitarian needs of Georgia’s IDP population, whose return to their homes is opposed by Russia. Third, the adoption of the resolution shows that a vast majority of the international community rejects the Russian claim to a sphere of influence and supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The resolution was endorsed by Western nations, while most of the states in the Third World either abstained or voted against it, which shows that Georgia has to intensify its engagement with countries and regional organizations in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, where Russia traditionally has significant political and economic influence. Another place where Georgia should become more active is the post-Soviet space. Several countries, including the United States, already call Russia’s illegal presence on Georgian soil occupation, but there is a clear lack of vision, let alone strategy, on how to end the occupation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Orange Revolution Erased from Ukrainian School Textbooks

By Taras Kuzio

An analysis and interview with textbook author and historian Viktor Mysan published in Ukrayinska Pravda reveals the ideological orientation of the Ukrainian authorities who came to power in February. During the preceding five years, Viktor Yanukovych had never accepted the legitimacy of the Orange Revolution or his defeat in 2004, ignoring a Supreme Court ruling and parliamentary resolution, and, worse still, adhered to the Russian view that the mass protests were nothing more than ‘political technology.’ This is post-Soviet speak for a black ops conspiracy that was undertaken by the US through the rhetoric of democracy promotion pursued by the Bush administration.

It was always, therefore, a mistake to view Yanukovych in the 2010 elections, despite five years of ‘grooming’ by U.S. consultants Manafort and Davis, as a ‘re-born democrat.’ In order for this to be true, Yanukovych would have had to condemn the mass fraud committed in the 2004 elections, embrace the authenticity and domestic origins of the Orange Revolution and accept his own defeat.

This unwillingness to accept responsibility casts a shadow over another aspiring politician – Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Tigipko – who seeks to refashion himself as a ‘re-born new face democrat.’ Tigipko has also steadfastly refused to condemn the 2004 fraud that took place when he was head of Yanukovych’s election campaign. Therefore, we cannot trust the genuineness of his democratic credentials until he acts like a democrat and condemns the 2004 election fraud.

The real Yanukovych (not the PR version of this year’s election that most Western newspapers such as the Financial Times accepted) has always had the same hostile view of the ‘orange nightmare’ (as he once put it) as Russian leaders. It is therefore no wonder that his Minister of Education, Dmytro Tabachnyk, has quickly taken the initiative to remove the Orange Revolution from school textbooks in a move that smacks of George Orwell’s famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Ukraine retains a Soviet-style centralization of educational policy and textbooks published in Kyiv are distributed in both Ukrainian and Russian throughout the country. The textbooks for the fifth class that are being published in a 506,000 print run have a new front cover void of the background containing the Orange Revolution protests that was included in the 2005 edition. The 2010 edition has only Cossack leaders on the front cover. In the 2010 edition the Orange Revolution is ignored and replaced by very brief information on the 2004 and 2010 presidential elections, the Viktor Yushchenko presidency and the election of Yanukovych.

Mysan places the removal of the Orange Revolution within the context of an overall new line in the 2010 edition that portrays the authorities as bowing to Russian pressure. ‘The majority of the Ministry’s recommendations (to the author) are tied to the formation of another, less aggressive, face of our eastern neighbor – Russia. Besides the Orange Revolution, other episodes that have been cut out of the new edition include when Ukrainians fought against Russia for independence. Also, the 1933 famine is no longer designated as ‘artificial’ and directed against Ukraine.

These twenty ‘recommendations’ of the Ministry of Education are the first that textbook writers such as Mysan have been forced to deal with throughout independent Ukraine’s fourteen previous governments. The 2010 edition edits out parts of Ukrainian history that are seen as ‘anti-Russian’ by Moscow, as reflected in the condemnation of Ukraine’s humanities policies under Yushchenko in President Dmitri Medvedev’s August 2009 open letter to the Ukrainian president.

The Orange Revolution followed the Serbian ‘bulldozer’ and Georgian ‘Rose’ democratic revolutions in 2000 and 2003 respectively. These in turn followed mass protests that had similarly removed post-communist leaders who had retained power after the collapse of communism in Romania (1996), Bulgaria (1997), Slovakia (1998) and Croatia (1999).

Of these democratic breakthroughs, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution was the largest (one in five Ukrainians participated), the most peaceful (in Serbia parliament was set on fire and in Georgia the parliament was stormed) and the longest (lasting 17 days). The Orange Revolution will continue to be seen by Western and some Ukrainian historians as an epochal event similar to Ukraine’s 1991 declaration of independence.

On a final note, optimism by Atlantic Council of the US Senior Non-resident Fellow Adrian Karatnycky that Tabachnyk is an aberration and on his way out is unlikely to materialize, as this ignores the ideological dimension of the Party of Regions and wrongly assumes that ‘pragmatic’ oligarchs run the party and Yanukovych. It was this view that led many in the West (but not the Jamestown Foundation) to believe that there was no difference between Yanukovych and Yulia Tymoshenko in this year’s Ukrainian elections. In reality, subsequent events have shown that Yanukovych represents a fundamental Russophile break in Ukraine’s post-Soviet trajectory from its Ukrainophile three former presidents, as predicted by Jamestown Foundation authors.

Karatnycky wrote in the Kyiv Post in a debate with Rutgers University Professor Alexander Motyl that, ‘On the matter of culture, I am in broad agreement with Motyl. We both disagree fundamentally with the Ukrainophobic policies of Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk and with the naming of a Stalin apologist as head of the Institute of National Memory. I still believe that these odious appointments can and will be reversed. Nevertheless, I think that Yanukovych is right in trying to ensure a hospitable environment for Ukraine’s Russian-speakers. Such steps, in my view, are likely to deepen their support for Ukraine’s statehood’.

In reality, Tabachnyk is an integral ideological component of the Party of Regions and the Yanukovych administration, and he is in his position for the long haul because Russia demanded influence over government appointments in the humanities and security forces. With the expunging this month of the Orange Revolution from the textbooks used in schools, Ukraine’s students will be left wondering why they are no longer taught about an event that many of their parents, uncles and cousins participated in and, more importantly, what country is being built where history is edited out for political purposes.

The Ministry of Truth is where the main character of the book Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith, works. The Ukrainian authorities’ approach to history would permit the substitution of Winston Smith for Tabachnyk and the Ministry of Education for the Ministry of Truth.