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(Un)Civil Societies Report: September 24, 2003

24 September 2003, Volume 4, Number 25
USAID'S 'NGO SUSTAINABILITY INDEX' RATES NEW NATO MEMBERS HIGHEST... A relatively unknown U.S. government report that rates the factors contributing to the survival and growth of NGOs of Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, released in May, is now online and should gain a wider audience (see Published by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), "The 2002 NGO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia" was prepared using a variety of sources -- comments from program officials of USAID itself in the field and in Washington, as well as self-evaluations of NGOs -- and examined by an editorial committee in Washington made up of local NGOs, academics, government officials, partners from business and media sectors, and USAID implementing partners.

Filled with numbers, charts, and graphs, the report, issued every year since 1997, may seem a challenging read for busy NGOs. Yet it is well worth a careful perusal, especially by local and regional nongovernmental organizations that receive USAID assistance and government agencies that are partners in U.S. aid programs to create sustainable civil societies. Grant recipients will be interested to learn how the U.S. government, the largest donor in the region and already responsible for maintaining the existence of numerous NGOs, rates its grantees, and how it assesses conditions in general for civic organizations to function effectively.

At first glance, the limitations to such a scoring approach can be seen in USAID's tables, which prompt questions as to why, for example, 1998 was a banner year for Hungarian NGOs, and why they deteriorated slightly in subsequent years, or why Turkmenistan (5.3), Ukraine (5.0), and Croatia (5.1), all countries with very different degrees of development as well as levels of repression, still all earned similar marks close to five, that is, at the poor (but not terrible) performance end of the spectrum of financial accountability.

Yet the true value of such a rating system becomes evident when studying comparative records of one country over time, or the five-year trends across the region, all of which are clearly represented in the report in accessible format. In that sense the "Sustainability Index" is a very valuable snapshot as well as an analytical tool to judge whether internal and external efforts to promote democracy are working or not -- and why. From the summary charts at the end of the report, it rapidly becomes clear that USAID's own three rough categories of development -- "early transition," "middle transition," and "consolidated" -- more or less track the more stark characterization of the same countries by Freedom House, a private U.S. organization promoting democracy around the world, that issues an annual survey describing countries as "not free," "partly free, and "free" based on various civil and political indicators.

The "Sustainability Index" has adopted the same type of scoring system as Freedom House's "Freedom in the Word" (1-7, with 7 at the worst end of the scale of sustainability). But unlike Freedom House, USAID does not explicitly rate levels of civil and political liberties that contribute to making a society "free" or "not free." Thus, in order to make sense of the context for USAID's "Sustainability Index," highly recommended as companion reading are two Freedom House publications: "Nations in Transit" and "Freedom in the World," also recently placed online (see and

USAID has created six categories to measure NGOs: legal environment, organizational capacity, financial viability, advocacy, service provision, infrastructure, and public image, and divides up the region into three geographical regions in the report. The "Northern Tier" in USAID parlance is the best scoring among the countries for NGO sustainability for the last five years -- and all these countries will be joining the European Union in 2004 and have joined NATO. The "Southern Tier" contains two countries on the EU applicants list and some NATO members. The list includes those countries rated "partly free" by Freedom House (Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Montenegro) and those rated "free" (Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia). "Eurasia" for the purposes of the USAID categories includes countries rated "partly free" by Freedom House (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine) and "not free" (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan).

Clearly, looking at both USAID's and Freedom House's reports side by side, we can see that in countries where governments are more accountable and subject to the rule of law, where human rights are respected, and where laws exist to help NGOs come into being and function (and where they can begin to find alternatives to foreign support) they can accomplish more, be more financially accountable, and obtain a better public image. The good news in the "Sustainability Index" is that NGOs are able to influence their countries' governments to become more tolerant of them, and in turn create better conditions for their own survival.

For NGOs puzzled as to why their countries have received higher ratings when they perceive their own situation to be rather restrictive, it is helpful to see that the framework for the USAID report is what could be called the "development perspective." This model tends to view organizations within the context of societies assumed to be committed to developmental progress and estimates their progress against a set of benchmarks. The tacit understanding is that regional governments have indicated their need for reform and USAID and other external helpers and will cooperate with host governments to educate and train reformers. Sometimes this can boil down to how much training or "technical assistance" NGOs can absorb and reproduce, and how much they can grow and become financially transparent and accountable -- and inevitably, whether they can absorb USAID grants and report back on them effectively. In this perspective, NGOs are characterized as existing in countries with "early transition," "mid-transition," and "consolidated" stages of development -- all neutral terms without judgements of governments' behavior.

Yet the countries with these varying levels of NGOs at different stages of development are basically corresponding to the same list of countries that Freedom House describes as "not free," "partly free," and "free." The different, although complementary approach of Freedom House and other groups that monitor and rate conditions, such as Reporters Without Borders, might be called the "human rights and democracy" perspective in contrast with the "development" approach, because they look at how governments live up to their obligations to secure the basic freedoms of association and expression essential for NGOs to function, and civil and political liberties in general, rather than how NGOs perform on their own within these contexts. To be sure, USAID examines a key component for sustainability -- the legal environment -- yet the onus is on NGOs to cooperate with governments in drafting and abiding by laws. Freedom House may view Kazakhstan as sliding downhill with the jailing of opposition leaders in the last year; for USAID, however, the legal context for NGOs improved not because of any positive changes in law but because of the "increasing ability of [Kazakh] NGOs to operate in the current legal environment" -- achieved by their attendance at various seminars held by local and international organizations in the past year to help them to "better understand and adapt to the new legal environment." Meanwhile, some civil rights attorneys are vigorously attacking the restrictive NGO laws.

Thus, in some settings, the "development" versus the "human rights" approach are frankly at odds, and tend to generate very different assessments of NGO viability, depending on the nature and type of NGO, and very different methods to support them. Nevertheless, by extensively reporting on legal sustainability and efforts to draft and reform NGO and related law, the USAID study has identified a key obstacle for NGOs in the region: governments are refusing to legalize -- and legitimize -- nongovernmental activity outside their control. This is not due to a lack of legal proficiency or exposure to Western models, or an unwillingness of NGOs to comply with imperfect laws, but, in the parlance of Freedom House, because the countries are "not free" and the governments do not tolerate freedom, i.e. NGOs that challenge their power. In Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and sometimes even in more "developed" countries, governments are refusing even to register NGOs, or to amend laws to bring them into compliance with internationally accepted standards.

USAID experience in the Balkans, as well as continued poor performance from countries that have drafted and reformed NGO laws in the Caucasus and Central Asia, tend to confirm the findings of Freedom House's reports. An essay by Alexander Cooley in Freedom House's "Nations in Transit" this year, "Western Conditions and Domestic Choices: The Influence of External Actors on the Post-Communist Transition" explains the role of history and culture in determining the outcome of democratic reforms. "External actors like USAID or the World Bank have had the most positive effect in countries already themselves committed to reform, mainly in the Central European and Baltic states," Cooley writes. For most of these countries, "the progress...towards liberalization was predetermined by their existing civil societies, favorable geographies, and anti-Communist political cultures," he continues. "Deeply resentful of their Russian-dominated Communist past, the majority of these states chose to vigorously court and benefit from their interaction with Western actors." Meanwhile, conversely, in the former Soviet Union, even those nations that affected to be reformers "often used the material resources offered by external actors not to enact sustained reforms, but to maintain the political power of Soviet-era elites and state agencies."

As the USAID report reveals, laws don't always determine freedom for NGOs; in the Balkans, even groups facing poor association laws have had plenty of opportunity to criticize the government and research and publicize alternative ideas.

Where the regulatory environment for NGOs is poor and the freedom of maneuver for foreign donors is highly restricted, the development tends to stay in the "early transition" stage. In fact, with some of these countries like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan staying in USAID's designated "early transition" stage for more than 10 years now, perhaps it is time to recognize that they are not in transition at all, or if anything, have slipped back to their frozen Soviet-era states -- or worse.

...SAYS NGO RECOGNITION IMPROVES WITH CIVIC FORUMS, LEGAL REFORM. In the "development approach," any official recognition of the NGO sector -- given the history of government indifference or even hostility -- is viewed as a positive development. The report cites presidents in at least three Eurasian countries who have made speeches commending the work of NGOs, and the organization of civic forums, such as the one convened by Russian President Vladimir Putin in November 2001 and the one now being readied by President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Kazakhstan.

Some Russian NGOs looking at these events from the "human rights perspective," however, viewed the civic-forum process as a form of co-optation and even intimidation, and several opted to boycott the process entirely. In Kazakhstan, the government's plans to convene a civic forum this fall are viewed as a distraction from a very controversial NGO draft law that has threatened to shake loose groups that are not "socially useful." During a conference of Almaty-based NGOs on 5 September that designated representatives to attend the Civic Forum in October, participants complained about the inadequate association law and lack of access to the drafting process and voiced sharp criticism of the government's indifference to civil society, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2003).

In discussing the Russian Civic Forum, USAID says neither the NGOs nor the government were prepared for the high-profile event. "Many of the NGO participants used the Forum as a mechanism to advance their own interests and not those of the sector as a whole," the authors complain, although Russian NGOs say the government subtly and not-so-subtly tried to divide NGOs into "good" and "bad" depending on whether they were involved in mild or neutral activities such as youth choirs and assistance to the blind or more hard-hitting activism such as monitoring war crimes in Chechnya. "The fact that none of the recommendations were immediately enacted in federal legislation demonstrated that the federal government still lacks mechanisms for operationalizing NGO input into the policy process," the USAID report says. Some human rights NGOs complained after the meeting that federal officials were not serious about promises to abide by Russia's own laws and regulations governing security sweeps of Chechen villagers, and it was not due to lack of mechanisms.

USAID notes as positive an address to the spring 2002 session of parliament by President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan where he called for stronger NGOs and government support for social partnerships with NGOs. Yet the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor as well as various local and international human rights groups have severely criticized Uzbekistan for failing to register nonviolent political parties and human rights groups and for arresting human rights defenders who have attempted to operate monitoring groups.

The country that yielded the highest score for NGO sustainability is Slovakia. This seemed counterintuitive to some observers, who noted recent political turmoil once again in the government leading to renewed fears of resurgent authoritarianism, a perceived indifference on the part of NGOs to the problems of the Romany population, and some threats to press freedom. In fact, in the scoring system, the differences between Slovakia (with an average total of 2.1), the Czech Republic (2.5), and Poland (2.2) are minor and insignificant; the Czech Republic is noted for the most financially viable NGOs and Poland is praised as having the NGOs with the best service provision. Experts say Slovakia did so well -- so as to be on par with countries that have had less troubled democracies -- precisely because NGOs were forced to fight a protracted battle in the transition from authoritarianism to democracy. In September 2002, Slovak voters kept the party of the previous autocratic prime minister, Vladimir Meciar, from garnering enough support to form a new government, and Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) finished second and succeeded in forming a center-right government.

Interestingly, the harsher conditions forced the NGOs in Slovakia to consolidate and play a critical role in the transition to a more liberal society, observers say. In the same way in Belarus, with a brutal climate for NGOs that leads to self-censorship and poor performance, NGO lawyers have become more adept at defending rights than their neighbors who have not had to fight court battles. Although the authors may not have wished to draw this conclusion, it appears that the more unsustainable governments make conditions for NGOs, the more sustainable NGOs can become if they persist with determination -- and have considerable outside help.

Those rating countries for the "Sustainability Index" put great stake in "organizational capacity," which they define as including the role of governance structures to control NGO leaders. In Russia, for example, NGOs rated only 3.9 last year, up slightly from previous years but not back at their high rating of 3 of 1998. This is because NGO leaders "still retain a high degree of control in their organizations." Meanwhile, observers say the strong, even dictatorial NGO chiefs in Russia evolved to meet the challenges of a repressive environment.

In Kyrgyzstan, where NGOs received only a score of 4.3 for "organizational capacity," the report's authors still find improvement as "true non-governmental organizations are emerging where previously only non-governmental individuals existed." While the report doesn't single out any groups by name, several of the leading human rights committees clustered around very prominent, outspoken persons are likely what the report authors had in mind. Yet often, it is only individuals, with personal determination and stamina, who are brave enough to stick their necks out in the face of considerable government persecution.

The report tends to judge NGOs with regard to their advancement toward more structured groups and more sophisticated forms of structure and advocacy and relationships to the public. Figures of past decades like Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, or Andrei Sakharov might have found that their organizations rated poorly on the "Sustainability Index"; indeed, although they came to positions of authority, they could not function as "non-governmental organizations" in the hostile climates of the 1970s and 1980s in their countries -- conditions that still persist in some countries in the region today.

Media coverage and government assessments of human rights (such as the U.S. State Department's "County Reports on Human Rights Practices") tend to focus on harassment of NGOs, and the victims of such persecution tend to be those involved in human rights or political reform or ethnic identity. The USAID report takes a broader look at all types of NGOs, including those that provide social services or represent vulnerable constituencies such as the disabled, some of which enjoy a greater tolerance even from very repressive countries. Local groups might also point out that some of the USAID partners and recipients described as "nongovernmental" in fact are known as "GONGOs" in NGO parlance -- government-organized nongovernmental groups that can be neutral or loyalist in regard to governments, and therefore enjoy greater privileges. The presence of successful social-service groups as well as GONGOs in joint public projects with the government can raise the overall NGO sustainability index for even a repressive country. An obvious indication of this phenomenon is the report's category of "service provision" which has no countries in the "early transition" stage -- Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Turkmenistan are characterized here as "mid-transition." All the other categories show those countries as "early transition."

While a very helpful tool for assessing NGOs, and generally indicative of the state of civil society in countries in the region, the "Sustainability Index" should not lead to a perception that civil society is only made up of NGOs, or NGOs that receive foreign grants and perform well on them. The reports authors are the first to point out two huge challenges for their clients -- dependency, and a failure to expand their outreach to constituents, or even to identify their external constituents, since they are focused on their own members. This is largely due to a tendency to play to funders rather than clients.

Civil society is made up of a variety of elements -- churches, business, labor unions, citizens' movements -- that are not just organized into NGOs with members, boards, statutes, grants, and projects. A movement like the market vendors of Belarus, who have repeatedly staged marches and pickets to protest unfair taxation and protect small businesses, does not fit neatly into the category of an NGO, sustainable or otherwise, is not structured to receive foreign grants, and yet has been a vital sign of political reform in a very bleak landscape. Teachers in Russia who are going on strike or who are working in small groups in collaboration with communities and Education Ministry officials to try to reform the educational system, may not have a grant or even conceive of themselves as NGOs per se but are a vital component of civil society.

WOMEN'S NGO RAIDED AS OFFICIALS RAP PARTICIPATION OF WOMEN IN SPORTS, NGOS. With the postponement of the Constitutional Loya Jirga (see Recommended News Links below), nongovernmental groups have gained more time to educate members and the broader public about the issues, but also have reason to be concerned about the outcome of the process as controversies have sharpened on religion and the status of women.

One group active in education is the All-Afghan Women's Association (AAWA) a group founded in the early 1990s which worked quietly under the Taliban regime to organize home schools for literacy for girls and handicraft courses for women despite official bans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2003). Four unidentified armed civilians attacked the Kabul office of AAWA on 16 September, demanding lists of the organization's members, RFE/RL reported on 17 September. The attackers ransacked the office when the women refused to turn over the lists. AAWA head Suraya Parlika , sister of Abdul Wakil, foreign minister in communist Afghanistan, has been a controversial figure because she served as the head of Red Crescent Society under the communist regime. She was also involved in the recently established National United Party, banned for espousing communist ideals.

Commenting to the Council of Ulama of Afghanistan's recent recommendation that women should not work in foreign nongovernmental organizations, Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari said on 16 September that women may work in foreign nongovernmental organizations, but only if they observe Islamic hijab (dress code), Radio Free Afghanistan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2003). Women also continue to be barred from traveling for more than three days without a husband or male relative. He added that democracy can only function within the framework of Islamic rulings such as the one on women's travel which is opposed by women's groups inside and outside of Afghanistan as a basic violation of women's human rights.

Earlier this year, women began to take up the job of taxi drivers and other public-service occupations, and now a few are being trained as police officers. Police commanders hoped to build a 20,000-strong police force with at least 2,000 females before next year's election, but so far only 30 women have graduated from the academy since it opened in March 2002, AP reported on 22 September. The policewomen will wear uniforms of green pants and a shirt and a black headscarf. Not only discrimination keeps their numbers low; men, too, are reluctant to take on policing jobs when remnants of the Taliban still launch attacks, usually against supporters of Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's government. The police-academy officials launched a recruiting effort including television and radio ads and went to high schools to encourage women to apply. Some girls said they believed it was "anti-Islamic and unholy" to work as police officers, although those willing to risk the position could earn $30 to $60 a month, said to be a salary higher than most in Afghanistan. "So many people have misused and abused the police uniform, and now no one really trusts the police," another female student told AP.

Nine women have begun a martial arts class at the Afghan Youth Club, reported on 22 September. The class in tae kwon do is taught by former exiles in Iran who have returned to Afghanistan. Sayyed Jawad Hussaini, the club's founder, returned from Iran last year. He has irritated local conservative Islamic groups and the police with his weekly paper, "Afghan Youth," containing articles such as one that criticized Afghanistan's defense minister, an ethnic Tajik, for allegedly monopolizing power. Hussaini and his associates are mainly ethnic Hazaras.

In August, leaders of the former Islamic government headed by President Burhanuddin Rabbani attacked foreign charities for promoting female participation in sport, deeming it a "negative influence." Both the Afghan Information and Culture Ministry and AINA, a media-support group founded by French photographers (see, recently organized an outdoor sports exhibition with women performing moves which one official said would not have been possible even a year ago.

NGOS HAIL ANTIDISCRIMINATION LAW. The Bulgarian parliament passed a new antidiscrimination law on 16 September, local media reported. The law, passed in anticipation of Bulgaria's eventual joining of the European Union, is designed to comply with European tolerance legislation. It prohibits direct or indirect discrimination based on gender, race, nationality, ethnic identity, citizenship, origin, religion, faith, beliefs, political affiliation, marital status, property, age, disability, and sexual orientation. The law also addresses sexual harassment, instigation of discrimination, persecution, and building of and architectural environment which hinders the access of disabled people to public places. Those found guilty of violating the law will face fines depending on the severity of the offense. The parliament also approved the establishment of a commission for protection against discrimination, which will work as an independent state body, reported.

Dimitrina Petrova, executive director of the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), in a press release applauded the new legislation. Under the law, the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove discrimination did not occur. Following its adoption, an antidiscrimination commission with specialized subcommittees for racial and gender discrimination will be formed. "This law is of particular significance for Roma," Petrova said. "It opens the door for the provision of real and significant remedies to Romany victims of the very serious harm of racial discrimination, and moves Roma rights issues to a new level in Bulgaria." Petrova added that the new antidiscrimination law could also provide a positive example for other central and eastern European countries to follow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003).

A new poll prepared by Gallup International found that Bulgarians have a mainly positive attitude towards immigrants, although 7 percent continue to be "xenophobic," reported on 23 September. Immigrants from Central Europe and the Balkans as well as Western Europe tend to be more accepted, although those from Africa and the Arab world are said to be fairly well-tolerated. The groups provoking the most resentment are those viewed as related to Islamic fundamentalism or criminal groups from Kosovo, Chechnya, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. Most immigrants to Bulgaria are from the former Soviet Union (33 percent), with 14 percent from the Middle East, 13 percent from Eastern Europe, and 12 percent from the European Union and the United States. They include investors and managers of businesses. Officials are said to be reviewing restrictions on land ownership by noncitizens, and participants at a 23 September roundtable in the National Palace of Culture discussed the possible waiver of the rules especially for young, educated, and skilled professionals, reported.

Another group that has promoted equality in Bulgaria is the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA) and its regional chapter, ILGA-Europe. They credit the process of EU accession for putting pressure on the governments of Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and others to bring local legislation into conformity with Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for a general prohibition of any kind of discrimination on any grounds. Legislation passed in Bulgaria in September 2002 was said to equalize homosexuals and heterosexuals regarding the age of consent, penalties for prostitution and rape, and also decriminalized homosexual acts. The legislation was still open to some interpretation, and without an enforcement body, compliance was uncertain. Evidence of a more tolerant attitude toward gays was evidenced at a March 2003 hearing of the UN's NGO Committee, the official body that determines whether groups can obtain accreditation at UN agencies. Bulgaria supported ILGA's application for consultative status.

ICTY PRESIDENT IN BELGRADE. Judge Theodor Meron, current president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), became the first president of the tribunal to visit Belgrade officially (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003). In an interview with Radio B92 on 18 September (see, Meron explained that for the first time, the government has extended an invitation, a gesture he believes "reflects a changing mood of cooperation" and ".improvement, progress" in relations with the tribunal in The Hague.

Discussing the possibility of transferring some cases back to local courts, Meron said, "war crimes trials in the area where crimes have been committed have the greater resonance because they would then take place close to the victims, close to the people, and not thousands of miles away." Such ceding of cases back to local courts is part of an overall "completion strategy" to eventually wind up prosecutions of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. He cautioned that such transfers would only be made if the courts could be determined by the UN Security Council to be up to international standards.

Tactfully, he noted that Serbia and Montenegro could be "extremely helpful to the international community in making the completion strategy realistic and speedier" by arresting fugitives still not in custody -- specifically Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. "The completion strategy -- it is not a strategy for obtaining impunity from prosecution," he added. The ICTY will attempt to meet a targeted completion date of 2008 for trials and appeals by 2010 but factors such as the speed of arrests, whether some defendants can be tried jointly or separately, could slow down the schedule. While in Belgrade, Meron gave a lecture the Center for Human Rights about the challenges of the ICTY.

Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told the BBC he welcomed the opportunity to talk to a top tribunal official other than Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor. Svilanovic stressed that Karadzic and Mladic are not the only indicted war criminals, and that Belgrade has already sent two former presidents -- Slobodan Milosevic and Milan Milutinovic -- to the Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September).

Asked if the ICTY had spent too long with prosecutions and gone after "small fry," Meron recalled that "we had so little support from the governments in the area that we just couldn't get custody for people of any rank. It is a sign of our success that during the last few years we have been getting very senior, very prominent people."

B92 pressed Meron about continued U.S. reservations against the International Criminal Court, but he refrained from comment, saying it was not appropriate in his capacity as president of the ICTY, and in any event, the issues were more complex than had been portrayed. Asked about possible pressure from the U.S. to "wrap up your mission more quickly," Meron explained that he was an international judge elected by the UN General Assembly and "to say that I would be more subject to pressure applied by the United States government because I am an American is...completely unacceptable." Meron believes the ICTY can go a long way to ending "the culture of impunity" and also promoting reconciliation in the region. Whatever its problems, the ICTY is a "marvelous model of international justice" which over the years has built up "an extremely developed, sophisticated body of procedure" that would benefit the ICC and other tribunals, he said.

AFGHANISTAN. "Why the Delay in Afghanistan's Constitutional Loya Jirga?" Afghanistan's Constitutional Commission announced amid confusion on 7 September that the Constitutional Loya Jirga that was scheduled to review and approve a new Afghan constitution in October would be delayed until December. The commission secretariat's official explanation for the postponement was that the body needed more time to evaluate the questionnaires it collected from the public. Lost in the shuffle, however, was the draft version that the Constitutional Commission had promised to release to the public by 1 September.

KAZAKHSTAN. "Allegations of Dirty Tricks and Government Pressure in Run-Up to Kazakh Council Elections." Kazakhs went to the polls on 20 September to vote for candidates to district, city, and regional maslihats, or councils. The powers of the maslihats are limited, and their main job to date has been to rubber-stamp decisions made by nonelected officials. This is true even for the regional (oblast) maslihats. Although they are the highest tier of elected local government in the land, in practice they are dominated by the regional governors, who are appointed personally by President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

SLOVENIA. "Slovenia Ends the Draft." Slovenian Prime Minister Anton Rop and Defense Minister Anton Grizold announced on 9 September that the October "generation" of draftees will not be called up. The decision, officially ending obligatory military service in Slovenia, was widely expected.

RUSSIA. "The Russian Federation Votes: 2003-04." Special page on forthcoming parliamentary elections in Russia, including biographies of key political figures, timeline, and features on national and regional topics. Includes an English-language translation of the transcript of the 11 September 2003 broadcast of "Vybory," a program of RFE/RL's Russian Service devoted to the upcoming Russian elections, with discussion of the party congresses of the Communist Party (KPRF), the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), Yabloko, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Liberal Russia, and the Party of Russia's Rebirth.