Russia: OSCE Rejects New Offer For Monitoring Presidential PollThe Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has rejected what Russia describes as new concessions in the quarrel over conditions for monitoring Russia's presidential poll.
The OSCE says the Kremlin continues to impose too many restrictions to make any monitoring of the March 2 vote meaningful. The organization did not send observers for Russia's December 2 parliamentary elections because of similar problems.
Curtis Budden, a spokesman for the OSCE's election-monitoring arm, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), says that Moscow's latest offer still does not give monitors the time they need to monitor the full presidential election process.
"The original invitation from Russia said that we could send 70 observers on February 28, which is three days before the election. And what they have offered now is 75 observers on February 20," Budden says.
"And the perception that I am getting from reading the Russian media is that these are great concessions on Russia's part and that the OSCE is unwilling to compromise," he continues. "And I think it is necessary to raise a number of issues in response to that perception; the first is that everything in this process began much later than standard practice."
Budden says that the new Russian offer appears aimed at continuing to limit monitoring to the actual day of the presidential election.
He says that monitors require more than just a week to deploy, procure drivers and interpreters, and set up their observing operations. With a country the size of Russia, the start time offered by Moscow assures that monitors will only be in place as voters actually head to the polling stations.
But, Budden says, to judge an election, monitors must also be able to see what happens in the days ahead of the actual voting.
"As we all know, an election is more than what happens on election day," he says. "The electoral process is very important through all stages of it. Ordinarily, we would observe registration of candidates, [but] we weren't permitted to this time. Ordinarily we would observe the entire campaign, [but] that has already started. We still don't have any observers on the ground and they are saying that we can come three weeks after the campaign starts, which is also, I believe, almost a full week after early voting starts. So there are tremendous limitations being placed on us."
The OSCE says the conditions violate Russia's own commitments as a member of the international organization. Moscow disputes that, and both sides have become embroiled in a negotiating process that shows no signs of ending in an agreement.
A 'Farcical' Vote
The quarrel has already increased Western doubts about the legitimacy of the Russian vote.
Russian opposition leaders have accused the Kremlin of keeping them off the ballot for the election. Due to the weakness of the other candidates, the poll now looks much like a simple referendum on President Vladimir Putin's endorsed candidate, Dmitry Medvedev.
The three other candidates running in the election are Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, Liberal Democratic Party head Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Democratic Party head Andrei Bogdanov.
Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky are both polling at less than 10 percent, while Bogdanov is forecast to win less than 1 percent.
On January 27, Russian election officials barred opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov from running, saying there were too many invalid and suspect entries on his signature lists of supporters. Kasyanov, who served as prime minister under Putin from 2000 to 2004, called on voters to boycott what he called a "farce" election.
Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov intended to contest the election as a liberal opposition figure. His supporters, however, were not allowed to rent halls for a required nomination gathering.
Some opposition candidates have called on the OSCE to send observers to the presidential poll, despite the quarrel over monitoring conditions. ITAR-TASS quoted Zyuganov as saying the election monitors "should get off their high horse and at least come to see what is happening here."
But Budden says principles are important. "We really do have to keep in mind our mandate, we have to keep in mind the commitments [OSCE members make], we have to keep in mind our responsibility to the [OSCE] states," he says. "If we feel that conditions aren't conducive to effective monitoring, if we are being prevented from doing that, there really isn't any sense in just showing up."
Throughout the dispute, Russian officials have accused ODIHR of refusing to work with Moscow to find solutions.
Foreign Ministry official Sergei Ryabkov said on February 1 that "there is a continuing, open sabotage in the OSCE of our proposals on adopting a collective, consensus-based agreement on election monitoring."
In describing Moscow's latest offer, Russian Central Election Commission member Igor Borisov said it had met ODIHR's own demands.
"We are not withdrawing from our proposal to host the OSCE's ODIHR mission. Even more, we have made some concessions, including the number [of observers], which in accordance with the OSCE's ODIHR request we have increased to 75 people," Borisov said. "This is the number [ODIHR] suggested."
But with time now running out for monitors to do their work, Moscow's bargaining position seems only certain to assure the OSCE's election observers stay home.
HRW Says Democracy Charade Undermines Rights
By Kathleen Moore_A new report by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) warns of a "democracy charade" in which Western governments allow autocratic leaders to get away with masquerading as democrats, mastering the art of democratic talk while indulging in distinctly undemocratic practices like electoral fraud and media censorship.
As a result, HRW concludes, despots are allowed to extinguish any real chance their people will have a genuine, free say in government.
Last year, the group says governments from Nigeria to Russia and Thailand acted as if simply holding an election -- no matter how flawed -- were enough to earn the label "democratic."
"The West -- the United States and the European Union in particular -- [is] allowing countries simply to hold a vote and then give them credentials as a democratic country," HRW's Reed Brody says. "What we're seeing is that it's easier and easier for autocrats to get away with mounting a sham democracy because many Western governments insist on elections and leave it at that. They don't look at other things that make a democracy function, things like a free press, freedom of assembly, a mobilized and informed civil society that can really challenge a power."
HRW says Western governments act for politically expedient reasons. It says the reasoning can be commercial. Or the reasoning can be "better the devil you know," because the alternative might be worse. Or it can be because a country is an ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
The result, it says, is encouraging the world's autocrats to play the game, because they know it can be worth it.
"One might ask why countries like Uzbekistan or even China go through elections, and I think it is the reaction of the West that shows why they do it," Brody says. "People want to be considered part of the democratic club, and obviously it works, In Nigeria there were elections that were fraudulent through and through and yet the president of Nigeria is accepted now in the circles of power and the halls of the community of nations as if he were a legitimately elected president."
To be sure, Western governments and organizations do continue to criticize undemocratic practices and abuses. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe routinely decry flawed polls such as last year's Uzbek presidential election.
And when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule last year and rounded up many political opponents, the United States and the European Union urged him to lift the state of emergency and release those arrested. U.S. President George W. Bush called on Musharraf to "take off your uniform" while he was still army chief.
But HRW argues that words are often not matched by actions. In Pakistan's case, it says, Western government largely continued to give aid to Islamabad instead of making it conditional on improvements ahead of next month's parliamentary elections.
The report also says the problem is compounded by what it calls inconsistency in promoting democracy. Here it singles out Washington for what it says is a "double standard" -- where the strongest criticism is reserved for countries such as Cuba or Syria while others such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt are given much softer treatment.
"We saw just in the last couple of weeks, President Bush made some very nice remarks on democracy on his visit to the Middle East in Qatar, and then stood next to [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak and talked about democracy and said, 'We like what you're doing,'" Brody says. "No one, no independent organization would consider the elections in Egypt to have been fair, and this is a country in which dissident speech can still be severely punished."
The report does note one glimmer of hope. The fact that autocratic leaders, increasingly, believe it's important to have some kind of democratic credentials -- albeit hollow ones.
Russia: Prosecutors Launch Investigation Of Opposition CandidateRussian prosecutors have launched a criminal probe in connection with accusations that former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov forged signatures in support of his current presidential bid.
Kasyanov, a former prime minister turned fierce Kremlin critic, has submitted the 2 million signatures required to qualify as an independent candidate in the March 2 presidential election.
But Tatyana Chernyshova, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, said petitions with false signatures were discovered in Rybinsk, in Yaroslavl Oblast, north of Moscow.
She said that members of Kasyanov's campaign staff "falsified signature lists containing more than 3,500 citizens' signatures. Since these actions bear the hallmarks of a crime..., the evidence about the uncovered violations has been sent to the department of investigations in Rybinsk of the [Federal] Investigative Committee...for the opening of a criminal case."
Chernyshova added that an additional 12,000 falsified signatures were discovered in the Mari El Republic, where a criminal case has also been launched.
'He Has Fulfilled His Role'
Yevgeny Volk, a political analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Moscow, says the Kremlin wants to ensure that its anointed candidate, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, wins handily in the election's first round. Volk says that although Kasyanov is a weak candidate, he could potentially siphon critical votes away from Medvedev.
"In think the task right now is to remove him from the presidential race, or to discredit him," Volk says. "I think he will have a lot of difficulty registering."
On January 11, security officials detained six Kasyanov campaign workers in Mari El and tried to get them to admit to illegal campaign activities.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service on January 22, Kasyanov said that "of course, we understood that our activity was unpleasant to the authorities because we speak the truth and the truth, of course, always reaches the people. That is why we have no access to the mass media."
Volk and other analysts have long alleged that the only reason the Kremlin even allowed Kasyanov's candidacy to get this far was to divide the liberal opposition and prevent the emergence of a single strong candidate. "He has fulfilled his role," Volk says. "There is nobody on the right flank that can compete with him. Kasyanov has played the role of spoiler."
Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov intended to contest the election as a liberal opposition figure. His supporters, however, were not allowed to rent halls for a required nomination gathering. Boris Nemtsov, another opposition figure, announced in December that he would not run.
Putin is constitutionally banned from seeking a third consecutive term. He has endorsed Medvedev, who is widely expected to sail through the election.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, have also registered to run on March 2. Neither presents a significant challenge to Medvedev.
Serbia: The First Colored Revolution?
By Nenad Pejic"Slobo, save Serbia," groups of youths could be heard chanting in the streets of Belgrade in September 2000. "Kill yourself!"
The chant, referring to frequent suicides in the family of President Slobodan Milosevic, came from Otpor, a group of reform-minded young people that claimed 100,000 registered members. On October 5, amid massive public protests, the dictator fell. Songs of jubilation echoed through Belgrade, sighs of relief through Brussels. The most dangerous man in Europe was gone; democracy -- in the form of Zoran Djindjic, soon to become prime minister -- had won.
In the years that followed, similar scenarios played out in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan; the Otpor model saw its tactics adopted by groups like Pora, Kmara, and KelKel. In many ways, the public protests leading to Milosevic's ouster can be considered the "first" colored revolution. Its roots, however, sprang from a different geopolitical reality, and its conclusion came too soon. If and when Serbia lives through a new revolution, the world -- and Serbia's place in it -- will be far different.
In 2000, as Otpor was gathering strength, the United States still had the time and energy to deal with global issues. Russia, by contrast, was recovering from the 1998 ruble collapse and still relatively weak. Throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, emerging democracies were turning away from the East and running at full speed toward the West, NATO, and the European Union.
Everything that's happened since -- the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. war on terror, a resurgent Russia, skyrocketing energy costs -- has changed the playing field. In March 2003, the dream of a reformist, pro-Western Serbia died along with Djindjic, slain by an unrepentant gunman with ties to the Milosevic regime. Djindjic's successor, Vojislav Kostunica, has since become the symbol of a conservative Serbia, with strong links to the Orthodox Church and chilly regard for the West.
Elsewhere, Greater Success
No assassinations have cut short the democratic experiments of the other colored revolutions. But their progress raises inevitable questions about where Serbia would be now had Djindjic not been killed.
Within a year of Djindjic's death, Mikheil Saakashvili was flying high in Georgia. With 96 percent of the vote in the presidential election that followed the Rose Revolution, he quickly began vigorous reforms. Georgia was seen as a symbol of change; a vanguard in the drive to escape Moscow's orbit. Saakashvili was hailed as a political dynamo and charismatic charmer.
But if the outside world was captivated, inside, Georgians were in for a letdown. Saakashvili, dazzled by constant praise, was blind to reality at home. He saw things that didn't exist, and failed to see that which was obvious. By November 2007, however, that reality had become hard to deny: tens of thousands of protesters had gathered in central Tbilisi, demanding his resignation. His hard-line response -- tear gas, state of emergency, media blackout -- forced many outside the country to reexamine their affection for the Georgian president.
Today, he remains in office, having secured a second term with a far weaker mandate and a nascent opposition on the rise. The period of one-man reforms is over, replaced by a less certain, perhaps more democratic, political process.
It's a fate somewhat similar to that of Ukraine, which has spent the past three years trying to burnish its "orange" credentials after the heady optimism of the 2004 pro-democracy revolution went south. During the early days following the Orange Revolution protests, Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, as president and prime minister, seemed to have been handed a blank check. Foreign experts enthused that "democracy in Russia goes via Ukraine."
But once the honeymoon was over, the two Orange protagonists found the day-to-day reality of their political marriage hard to endure. Quarrels took precedence over reforms; public support began to dim. The grand villain of 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, staged a political comeback in parliamentary elections hailed as the cleanest and freest the country had seen. Now, with another legislative vote behind them, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko once again have an opportunity to advance Ukraine's democratic agenda. It remains to be seen if they can succeed in putting their personal problems aside for the sake of getting things done.
Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution in 2005 strengthened that country's parliamentary democracy and served notice to Central Asia's entrenched leaders that change was in the air. But there, as elsewhere, early enthusiasm soon gave way to political infighting.
Ak Jol, the party of Kyrgyzstan's postrevolution president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, by December 2007 had won all but 11 of 90 parliamentary seats, amid a media clampdown and claims of dirty tricks. Some blame the West for the relative failure of the Tulip events; unlike Georgia and Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan received not a single Western leader in the wake of its revolution. Russian officials, by contrast, were plentiful.
Frozen In Time
In October 2000, Serbia was far ahead of Georgia and Ukraine in its progress toward Western integration. That chance has been missed; democratically, it is now the laggard. Unlike the colored-revolution countries, no single, charismatic individual has dominated Serbia's political scene since Djindjic's death. There has been no equivalent of Saakashvili or Tymoshenko with the strength to set Serbia on a definitive path.
While those countries have, with varying degrees of success, made the transition from personality- to process-based government, Serbia remains mired in contradictory political impulses. As presidential elections approach on January 20, it finds itself at a crossroads: will it head East, West, or just deeper within itself?
The three main figures -- President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Kostunica, and Tomislav Nikolic, the head of the dominant Serbian Radical Party -- all have very different, often incompatible views of what the country should become. At least two of the three -- Kostunica and Nikolic -- would rather see Serbia in Russia's sphere of influence and consider NATO membership anathema. Tadic is clear about his wish to see Serbia in the EU, but the overwhelming political sentiment in Serbia is one of looking to the past, rather than the future.
Pro-Western reforms have been thrown out, replaced by nationalist rhetoric very much in the Milosevic mold. The former Yugoslavia has continued its disintegration, with Montenegro declaring independence and Kosovo, by all appearances, soon to follow. When the collapse of the former Yugoslavia began in 1989, Serbia's per capita GDP was $3,000 and Slovenia's was $5,000. Today, Ljubljana is in the EU and per capita GDP has shot up to $23,000. In Serbia, amazingly, the figure remains largely unchanged since 1989.
This weekend's contest will pit Tadic, Djindjic's pro-European successor as head of the Democratic Party, against Nikolic, a fervent nationalist. A second round is likely, and likely to favor Nikolic. Kostunica will support neither Tadic nor Nikolic in the first round, and has been cagey about whom he'd back in a second. For supporters of a Western future for Serbia, the prognosis at time looks dim.
It took a generation of 20-year-olds with no manifesto or leader to shake Serbia out of its lethargy the first time around. Armed only with slogans and spray paint, they dealt a fatal blow to a dictatorship. Milosevic died in a jail cell in The Hague, awaiting trial for crimes against humanity. But Serbia remains largely unchanged. His great supporter, Radical Party founder Vojislav Seselj, himself remains in a Hague cell, even as his party's candidate, Nikolic, may well win the presidential ballot.
Is a new generation of 20-year-olds waiting in the wings? What will be their color of choice?
(Nenad Pejic is RFE/RL associate director of broadcasting)