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Caucasus Report: February 27, 2004

27 February 2004, Volume 7, Number 9

EU PARLIAMENT ADOPTS REPORT ON SOUTH CAUCASUS. The European Parliament adopted on 26 February a report on the South Caucasus that urges the EU to strengthen its ties with the region. The report also urges the neighbors of the three South Caucasus countries -- specifically Russia and Turkey -- to play a more constructive role in facilitating reconciliation of the region's so-called "frozen conflicts." However, the report also acknowledges that formidable obstacles exist to a greater rapprochement with the EU.

The 26 February report follows the EU's volte face one month earlier, when on 26 January its members reversed their decision to leave Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan out of the "Wider Europe" initiative unveiled last year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 30 January 2004). The 26 February report authored by Swedish parliamentarian Per Gahrton welcomes that decision, but demands that the bloc do more. Specifically, it asks the EU to contribute more aid, take steps to establish free trade, improve coordination of its involvement in the region, and extend the powers of its special representative to the South Caucasus. The report also says the EU must bring pressure to bear on Russia and Turkey to help resolve conflicts involving the three countries.

When it comes to foreign policy, however, the European Parliament can only act in an advisory capacity. This was evident in the address to the European Parliament by Chris Patten, the European commissioner for external relations. Reflecting widespread skepticism among EU member states -- with which most decision-making powers in foreign policy rest -- Patten put the onus on Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia to begin implementing reforms themselves: "The European Union is closely monitoring developments in all three countries, to see whether there is continued progress towards democracy and continued progress in the economic sphere. We want to see a credible and a sustained commitment to reform, clearly reflected in concrete steps forward -- for example, in fighting corruption."

Many member states are concerned that the inclusion of the three South Caucasus countries will divert attention from other "new neighbors," especially those on the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The inclusion of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in the "Wider Europe" program at the EU's June summit now appears likely. However, key to their hopes will be whether the decision is accompanied by concrete proposals for aid and integration.

Georgia, thanks to the positive international response generated by its November 2003 "Rose Revolution," appears best placed. There is some support among the member states to elevate Georgia to the ranks of those "new neighbors" -- such as Moldova and Ukraine -- which will receive concrete EU "action plans" in June.

Although the European Parliament would like to see greater EU involvement in conflict resolution in the South Caucasus, this appears to be a long way off. Patten indicated the bloc is not prepared to play an active mediating role. He said that, "On the issue of conflict resolution and reconciliation, the European Commission continues to provide its full support to the [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and the United Nations in their efforts to resolve the region's frozen conflicts. I was pleased that we were able to discuss some of these matters with the presidency-in-office of the OSCE at the beginning of this week. We stand ready to assist postconflict reconstruction following peace settlements or to assist measures agreed between parties to the conflict, which would reduce tensions and raise confidence between the two sides."

Gahrton, the author of the parliament's report, described the situation in the South Caucasus in an accompanying explanatory note as resembling a "powder keg." He listed internal divisions, a "democratic deficit," poverty and corruption, as well as the so-called "frozen conflicts," to support that point. But he went on to note that the EU "does not appear to view either its security interests in relation to the South Caucasus, or the benefits of deeper economic relations, as important enough to motivate its greater commitment."

The parliament's report repeats earlier calls by deputies to sponsor a comprehensive "stability pact" for the South Caucasus. But Patten said on 26 February that idea is premature.

"The European Parliament takes note of the call for a stability pact for the region. I have to say when the issue was first raised a couple of years ago, there didn't seem to be all that much support for the idea. I'm not yet wholly convinced that the time is ripe yet to return to it. Certainly, it has budgetary consequences, which we'd want to look at in some detail," Patten said.

Other calls which the member states or the European Commission may find hard to respond to include a suggestion that the EU should bring pressure to bear on Russia to play a more constructive role in conflict resolution in the area. The report also notes that stabilization in the Caucasus cannot be brought about without an end to the war in Chechnya, and urges Russia to honor its commitment to pull its troops out of Georgia. Turkey is also asked to establish "good neighborly" relations with Armenia in accordance with its EU candidate status.

Of the three countries, Azerbaijan comes in for the sharpest criticism, with the report expressing concerns over the human rights situation and curbs on media freedom in the country. Gahrton also suggests in his accompanying note that the Armenian side has carried out an "ethnic cleansing" operation around Nagorno-Karabakh, displacing 1 million Azeris. However, on 26 February deputies deleted from the report a request that Armenia withdraw its troops from the five occupied regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh in exchange for the resumption of rail traffic between Baku and Yerevan.

Gahrton also said on 26 February he is worried that the 7 percent vote threshold in Georgia's 28 March elections could leave opposition parties out of parliament, making Georgia "the world's first democratic one-party state." (Ahto Lobjakas)

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION ASPIRES TO 'GEORGIAN SCENARIO' FOR REGIME CHANGE. The opposition Artarutiun (Justice) alliance continued on 26 February to meet supporters in rural areas around Yerevan, appealing to them to get ready for mass anti-government rallies similar to the bloodless revolution in neighboring Georgia. But although leaders of the bloc again avoided setting a precise date for the campaign of street protests against President Robert Kocharian that they have been announcing for several months, they said the onslaught is not a long way off.

"We have done and are doing everything to make sure that the establishment of a legitimate government takes place without upheavals," Artarutiun leader Stepan Demirchian told residents of a large village some 30 kilometers east of Yerevan. "The referendum of confidence [in Kocharian] does represent such an opportunity and the authorities must be interested in using it. Otherwise full responsibility for further developments will fall on the authorities and they will quit anyway." "Our patience is running out," warned Albert Bazeyan, a leading member of the Hanrapetutiun party, one of the dozen parties aligned in Artarutiun.

Artarutiun and the other major opposition force, the National Unity Party, have been jointly boycotting parliament sessions since the beginning of this month because of the pro-Kocharian majority's refusal to debate amendments to the constitution that would pave the way for a nationwide vote of confidence in the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, 5, 12, 17 and 24 February 2004). They say the focus of their activities will soon shift to the streets of the capital.

A senior Artarutiun lawmaker, Victor Dallakian, elaborated on this in the village of Garni, saying that the opposition plan is to "surround" the parliament building and presidential residence in downtown Yerevan with huge crowds. They will "stay there until the head of the clan is toppled," he said, evoking last November's dramatic events in Tbilisi that resulted in the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Kocharian has already shrugged off the opposition threats, saying that he has sufficient control over Armenia's security apparatus to thwart any "unconstitutional" actions. In a televised interview on 19 February, he said that the Armenian constitution gives him extensive powers to "maintain constitutional order."

But the Armenian leader's grip on the security agencies was questioned by another top oppositionist. "Let them look at Georgia. [President Mikheil] Saakashvili's government is not persecuting senior law-enforcement officers there," Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to President Kocharian) told the Garni rally. "Why? Because when matters came to a crunch, police and other security bodies did not act against the people." (Armen Zakarian)

GEORGIAN TRIUMVIRATE SEEKS TO RESOLVE ELECTION LIST DISPUTE. The process of compiling the joint list of candidates for the 28 March parliamentary elections from President Mikheil Saakashvili's National Movement and the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc jointly headed by Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burdjanadze, speaker of the outgoing parliament, has given rise to ill-feeling that could jeopardize the working relation between the three leaders.

Initially, it was planned that the two entities would merge to form a single political party. But the planned founding congress of that new party, scheduled for early February, was postponed at the last minute, and the two parties registered separately to contest the 28 March ballot for the 150 parliament mandates to be distributed under the proportional system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2004). The Central Election Commission twice extended the deadline for parties that had registered separately to align in blocs, but the National Movement and Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc failed to create such a bloc, opting instead to field a single list of candidates.

But disagreements arose over which party should receive what proportion of the places on the 130-member combined list. Burdjanadze told journalists on 26 February that originally it had been agreed to compile the list on the basis of parity, but that the National Movement had subsequently demanded a 60 percent share, leaving Burdjanadze and Zhvania with 20 percent each. "I obtained less than I expected and I consider this unfair," Caucasus Press quoted Burdjanadze as telling journalists on 26 February.

In addition, Burdjanadze has only two candidates among the 10 top names on the combined list (in seventh and 10th place), while Zhvania's Democrats and the National Movement have four each. The combined list is headed by Maya Nadiradze (National Movement), whom Burdjanadze fears is being touted as speaker of the future parliament. Zhvania on 25 February said he considers it "natural" that Nadiradze should head the combined ticket. (Burdzhanadze won re-election in the 2 November ballot from a single-mandate constituency in Kutaisi.)

After protracted behind-the-scenes talks on 26 February between Burdjanadze and Zhvania, the final joint list was submitted to the Central Election Commission just minutes before the deadline of 6 p.m. Tbilisi time.

Burdjanadze complained to journalists on 26 February that over the previous several days she had repeatedly tried to contact Saakashvili, currently on an official visit to the United States, but that he declined to return her calls. She went on to hint that while she is still attracted by the prospect of working with Saakashvili and Zhvania to extract Georgia from its present crisis and build a new state, it would be "difficult" for her to do so if "intrigues" against her continue, and she might ultimately be reluctantly constrained to join the opposition to Saakashvili and Zhvania.

Saakashvili for his part played down the dispute, telling journalists in New York on 26 February that "there is no disagreement between President Mikheil Saakashvili, parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, and Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania," Caucasus Press reported. But at the same time Saakashvili added that "all must know that Georgia has one leader elected by the people, and he is the head of the National Movement." (Liz Fuller)

STATISTIC OF THE WEEK. Georgian citizens working abroad wired a total of $96,085,296 to their families in Georgia in 2003, Caucasus Press reported on 27 February. That sum represents an increase of $23,963,678, or a little under one third, over the previous year. Georgian budget revenues in 2003 totaled 947,860,000 laris ($451,478,380), according to Caucasus Press on 15 January.

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "Being critical of the new government does not mean one is opposed to Georgia's becoming a success story." -- Georgian political analyst Irakly Areshidze, writing in "The New York Times" on 21 February.