Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Russian Patriarch's Visit Creates Storm In Ukraine


By Claire Bigg
Some see him as their spiritual father. Others say he is merely doing the bidding of his Kremlin masters.

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, is in Ukraine on a ten-day visit that has once again underscored the country's deeply ambivalent feelings toward Russia's main religious authority.

The Russian Orthodox Church retains formal authority over Ukraine's Orthodox Christians, but is losing growing numbers of faithful to Ukrainian splinter churches.

Kirill's arrival in Kyiv on July 27 unleashed passionate reactions.

Scuffles and heated arguments erupted as the patriarch prepared to hold a liturgy at one of Kyiv's churches on July 28.

One demonstrator condemned what he said was "the ongoing expansion of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church on Ukraine's Orthodox territory."

Nearby, a worshipper voiced her anger at the protesters' attempt to disrupt the prayers.

"I came here to pray, but these bastards are preventing me from doing so with their screams," she complained. "They are trying to discredit the Orthodox people, and this disgraceful behavior will be punished at the first occasion."

Disputed Motives

Kirill is on his first visit to Ukraine since being enthroned as patriarch in February following the death of his predecessor, Aleksy II.

The patriarch, aware of the deepening political tensions between the two ex-Soviet nations, has insisted that his 10-day tour of Ukraine is spiritual, not political.

But protester Oles Shevchenko, for one, is not convinced. Shevchenko, one of 5,000 demonstrators who marched against Kirill’s visit in Kyiv, believes the patriarch is in Ukraine to promote the Kremlin's agenda.

"This visit has nothing to do with religion. It is fully in line with the imperial policy of Kremlin," he said. "He has a KGB attitude. When he arrived, he said that 'everything here is ours, that for us there are no political borders.'"

Despite Kirill's assurances that his sole aim is to unite fractious Orthodox Christians, his latest statements have added fuel to the political, religious, and economic disputes pitting Ukraine against Russia.

Speaking on Ukrainian television on July 28, Kirill said Russians and Ukrainians were one and the same people and called on them not to sacrifice their values in the pursuit of closer ties with Europe -- a veiled jab at Ukrainian efforts to move away from Russia's orbit and join NATO.

Such comments are likely to anger many in Ukraine, who claim the Moscow Patriarchate is bent on undermining Ukraine’s independence from its former imperial master.

"The Moscow patriarchate is a church of Russian people, and we have a different state. Ukrainians are not Russians, and Ukraine is not Russia," Bishop Yevstrat Zorya, a spokesman for the Kyiv Patriarchate, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

During his three-day visit in Kyiv, Kirill also condemned attempts to "falsify" history, echoing earlier Kremlin criticism of Ukraine's campaign to have the Holodomor, a Stalin-era famine that killed millions of Ukrainians, recognized internationally as genocide.

The patriarch's itinerary, too, is raising eyebrows. He is currently visiting the Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine before heading to the Crimean Peninsula, home to a majority Russian-speaking population and a mounting separatist movement.

Competing Churches

But what makes Kirill's visit most controversial is his claim to spiritual authority on Ukrainian territory -- an issue that has strong political overtones due to the Moscow Patriarchate's coziness with the Kremlin.

Orthodox Christianity, born from the 1054 Great Schism with Rome, is the dominant faith in Ukraine.

But the country's Orthodox Christians are split between parishes loyal to the powerful Moscow Patriarchate and an autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church that broke off from Moscow in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Moscow continues to consider the Kyiv Patriarchate schismatic.

Advocates of an independent Ukrainian church contend that while the Russian-backed church controls the majority of parishes in Ukraine, the country has more Orthodox faithful than Russia and deserves its own, separate church.

Ukraine's Western-leaning president, Viktor Yushchenko, has long urged Russia to formally grant independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, which many Ukrainians regard as a key element of their nation's post-Soviet national identity.

He has sought the support of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the word's 250 million Orthodox believers, but has not received a clear response.

Yushchenko's renewed call for an independent Church during talks with Kirill Monday met with an icy rebuff.

"This Church already exists, Mr. President. It is the local Church of Ukraine, and if it did not exist, Ukraine would not exist today," Kirill hit back. "There is no imperialism here, no domination over others. There is only a clear Orthodox doctrine: the patriarch is everyone's father, regardless of the color of passports in people's pockets or the state in which they live."

The patriarch went on to describe Kyiv as the "southern capital of Russian Orthodoxy," and dismissed Ukraine's breakaway churches as "wounds" on the body of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Some Ukrainians, weary of the ongoing feuding between Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians, have welcomed Kirill's message of unity.

Former deputy Inna Bohoslovska, now a candidate in the 2010 presidential election, said she was inspired by the religious service held by Kirill in Kyiv on July 27.

"If at least a few thousand people felt the way I did during the service, I'm sure this will be the biggest positive effect of this visit," she said. "The speculations and fights that surround Orthodoxy in Ukraine are a disgrace for our country."

Despite his strong following in Ukraine, Kirill will have trouble dispelling doubts about the motives behind his Ukrainian pilgrimage.

His visit comes as a resurgent Russia seeks to boost its influence on the international scene, including in the religious sphere. Russian political leaders have staunchly backed the Moscow Patriarchate's campaign to bring its foreign offshoots into the fold.

These efforts saw the formal reunification in 2007 of the Moscow church with its main dissident branch, the U.S.-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, whose founders fled Bolshevik rule almost a century ago.

Soviet-Era Documents Shed Light On Suppression Of Ukrainian Catholic Church


By Brian Whitmore
Patriarch Kirill's recent high-profile visit to Ukraine was interrupted by an unwanted visitor from the past: Josef Stalin's ghost.

A five-decade-old letter from the Soviet Communist Party archives, made available to RFE/RL's Russian Service this week as Kirill was wrapping up his 10-day visit to Ukraine, illustrates the extent to which the patriarch's predecessors were involved in Stalin's efforts to wipe out the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in the 1940s.

The letter, from then-Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksy I to the head of the Soviet Council on Religious Affairs, Georgy Karpov, was dated December 7, 1945, when the Kremlin was consolidating control over territories in heavily Catholic western Ukraine after World War II. Karpov was a colonel in the NKVD, a predecessor to the Soviet KGB.

In the letter, Aleksy informs Karpov of an "initiative group" that was being formed in Greek-Catholic dioceses in western Ukraine that would pressure clergy to agree to disband their church and convert to Orthodoxy.

"More than 800 priests have already joined the initiative group, and it is expected that by the New Year the entire clergy will have done so with the exception of a small number of diehards," Aleksy wrote.

At the time of the letter, all of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church's bishops had been either imprisoned or exiled, making the clergy especially vulnerable to pressure as Stalin sought to eradicate the Vatican's influence.

"What strikes me most about that letter is that, within the context of the particular power relationships that were in place, [Patriarch Aleksei I] really sounds like he was trying to give a semblance of ecclesiastical credibility to what was otherwise clearly a blatant act of state intervention in Church affairs," says Andrii Krawchuk, the former president of the University of Sudbury in Ontario, Canada and the author of the book "Christian Social Ethics in Ukraine."

In another letter, published this week by the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress, Nikita Khrushchev, then a member of the Soviet Politburo and a high-ranking Ukrainian Communist Party official, informed Stalin of "work undertaken to dismember the [Ukrainian Greek-Catholic] church and transfer the...clergy to the Orthodox Church." That letter was dated December 17, 1945, just 10 days after Aleksy's correspondence.

Father Ihor Yatsyv, press secretary for the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, Lubomyr Huzar, tells RFE/RL's Russian Service that the documents shed important light on efforts by Soviet authorities to liquidate Catholicism in western Ukraine.

"The most important thing this letter illustrates is that these initiative groups were not established by the Greek-Catholic dioceses themselves, as had been previously claimed, but rather that they were inspired by the Soviet authorities," Yatsyv says.

Echoes Of The Past

Stalin allowed the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been suppressed following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, to operate officially again from 1943 -- albeit under tight Soviet supervision -- in an effort to intensify patriotic support for the authorities during World War II and after.

"In Stalin's regime the idea was to subsume everything into one centralized aegis, namely the Russian Orthodox Church, which itself was subject to strict controls and even repression by the state," Krawchuk says.

The letters came to light as Patriarch Kirill was completing a visit to Ukraine amid criticism that the Russian Orthodox leader was carrying out the Kremlin's political agenda to bring Russia's southern neighbor back under Moscow's control.

In controversial remarks on Ukrainian television on July 28, Kirill said Russians and Ukrainians were one and the same people. He also called on Ukrainians not to forsake their values in the pursuit of closer ties with Europe.

Yatsyv was critical of Kirill's conduct during his visit, which took place from July 12-August 5, which he said "was more political than religious," and suggested that he saw echoes of Moscow's past attempts to dominate Ukraine.

"One would expect a politician from Russia or some other country that wants to establish a sphere of influence in Ukraine to use such a tone. If it is a spiritual person, the head of a church, he should be addressing spiritual and moral issues," Yatsyv says.

Yatsyv says the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church had no role in leaking the Stalin-Khrushchev letter to Kathpress. He says, however, that after the publication the church discovered that it had a copy of the letter, which it has since posted on its website.

In a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev upon returning to Moscow, Kirill called his visit to Ukraine "one of the most striking memories of my patriarchal service" and appealed for closer ties between Moscow and Kyiv.

"We must do everything we can to ensure that our people always feel a mutual closeness, while respecting the sovereignty of nations and taking into account the reality of modern politics," Kirill said.

"The people of Russia and Ukraine should feel comfortable in this common spiritual space, being a part of different nations and being the citizens of different states, but still being the sons and daughters of the Russian Orthodox Church."

Medvedev responded that "in spite of what has happened and in spite of our division into separate states, the special brotherly relations between our peoples must remain, regardless of who is in power."

Underground Seminaries

The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, which was formed by the Union of Brest in 1596, is under the authority of the Vatican but observes Byzantine rites similar to those of the Eastern Orthodox Church . It is considered an important component of national identity in western Ukraine.

According to documents from Ukrainian archives, obtained by RFE/RL's Russian Service, Stalin's security chief Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the NKVD, approved the decision to liquidate the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in January 1941.

Those plans, however, were delayed when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. The Soviet Union regained control over western Ukraine in the summer of 1944.

Initially, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishops were asked by Soviet authorities to endorse a union with the Russian Orthodox Church, but all of them refused -- and were subsequently arrested and sent into internal exile.

Under the supervision of Soviet authorities, new, more pliant, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishops were ordained, but this was never recognized by the Vatican.

In March 1946, just three months after the Aleksy-Karpov and Khrushchev-Stalin letters, the clergy who had joined the initiative group convened in the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv to annul the Union of Brest, dissolve the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, merge its clergy with the Russian Orthodox Church, and turn its property over to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Some clergy, however, went underground to keep the faith alive, conducting services in forests and in homes.

"The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church ceased to [officially] function in the Soviet Union, but it continued illegally, in the catacombs as we say," Yatsyv says. "There were new bishops and underground seminaries."

The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church remained underground until for more than four decades until December 1989, during Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalization, when it was allowed again to function officially.

Russia's Message To Ukraine Echoes Across Former Soviet Union


By Robert Coalson
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's chief of staff has denounced the "aggressive tone" of an open letter from his Russian counterpart that sent shock waves through Ukraine's political elite.

Vera Ulyanchenko accused the Russian leadership of being "hostage to old imperialist complexes" and capable of speaking to its neighbors only "in the language of insults and threats."

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin countered by saying the missive reflects Moscow's "concern" about deteriorating relations, accusing Ulyanchenko of "willfully misinterpreting" Medvedev's message.

In the letter, Medvedev accuses Kyiv of adopting policies intended to undermine a 1997 bilateral agreement on friendship and partnership, and says he hopes "the new political leadership of Ukraine" that emerges after the presidential election in January takes steps to improve relations.

Medvedev offers a litany of specific complaints against Yushchenko, including the claim that Kyiv provided arms to Georgia in the run-up to the war in the Caucasus last August and that Ukraine is "distorting" Soviet history by insisting the Great Famine of the 1930s was an act of "genocide" against Ukrainians. He also complains that Yushchenko's government is suppressing the Russian language and "obstructing" the activities of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which is based in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol.

"I am certain that new times will come. But in the current situation, I have decided not to send our ambassador to Ukraine," Medvedev says in a video blog post filmed at Medvedev's Black Sea residence in Sochi. "He will begin work later. Exactly when will be determined by the real dynamics of our relations."

Medvedev goes on to say he's "certain that the multifaceted connections between Russia and Ukraine will return, and on a qualitatively new level -- on the level of strategic partnership."

"Such times are not far off," Medvedev adds, "I hope that the new Ukrainian leadership will be ready for this."

Medvedev's blunt message comes shortly after a controversial 10-day visit to Ukraine by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, a trip that was marred by protests by Ukrainian nationalists and complaints that the visit was part of an attempt to exert Russian authority in Ukraine.

It also comes as politicians in Ukraine prepare for the country's January 17 presidential election. Opinion polls show Yushchenko with just 4 percent support, trailing Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko by 10 percent and Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych by 20 percent.

Just The Start?

Many observers see Medvedev's initiative as an attempt to influence the campaign and the election.

"This is an attempt to make a direct and forceful intervention in Ukraine's domestic politics, and this is an open attempt to give Russia's aggressive politics a decisive influence on the outcome of the upcoming elections in Ukraine," says Andro Barnov, the head of the Institute for Strategy and Development in Tbilisi. "Russia has much more resources and leverage in Ukraine than in Georgia, and so the possibility that this Russian policy will be successful there can not be excluded."

Marek Siwiec, a Polish member of the European Parliament, echoes that sentiment.

"[This is] the beginning of the Russian involvement in the election process in Ukraine," Siwiec says. "I think the language of imperial policies is very well recognized in Europe. The Russians want to be active in the presidential election process and they demonstrate it. That's it."

But former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk dismisses such concerns, saying it's the voters -- not the Kremlin -- who will decide who the next president of Ukraine will be.

"God forbid that our relations should come to a conflict, to a confrontation, or bring about a situation where people are suffering because there is no heat in their homes, where rather than working on overcoming our economic crisis we are worrying about how to please Russia and Russia is thinking how to change the ruling powers in Ukraine," Kravchuk tells RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. "The Ukrainian people will vote for that president, which it wants to elect. This is our right and Russia must accept this, just as we must accept what is happening at the highest level of Russian politics. This is not our business, just as it's not Russia's business to dictate to Ukraine."

Getting Their Attention

Still, most observers are taking Medvedev's signal seriously. Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on August 12 that Medvedev is sending "an unambiguous message to pro-Russian forces in the neighboring country: Moscow would like to see the Ukrainian government re-formed." The moderate daily added that the capitals of all the other former Soviet states are watching these developments closely and warned that such actions could "lead to our close and not-so-close partners distancing themselves further from Russia."

Writing last week in "The Moscow Times," former Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov argued that "Russia's leaders have managed to alienate even its strongest allies." He discusses Moscow's "policy failures" vis-a-vis Belarus, Armenia, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan. In Ukraine, Ryzhkov wrote, "Moscow's actions have helped consolidate Ukrainian society around an anti-Russian platform."

Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, however, says Medvedev's letter is primarily aimed at a domestic audience. He says the Kremlin feels the situation at home -- he mentions the violence in the North Caucasus and growing discontent at the economic crisis worsens and unemployment rises -- is "getting out of control."

As a result, Oreshkin says, Russia's leaders are resorting to the old tactic of building domestic support by convincing Russians their country is surrounded by enemies.

"Over the last few years, we are constantly being encouraged to hate some enemy -- [whether] it is Estonia, or Georgia, or Belarus, or, now, Ukraine," Oreshkin says.

Oreshkin adds that, most likely, Medvedev's open letter to Yushchenko is only the beginning of a new period of heightened tensions.

"I think that since Russia's leaders have decided to ratchet things up like this, this is only the first step and most likely there will be some further steps to come," Oreshkin says.

What is a ‘conflict of interest’?


The financial crisis is awash in so many specialised terms that their sheer number seems to rival the amount of bail-out money being doled out to shore up the faltering economy.

One word that is constantly being bounced around, from the Bundestag to the White House, from Wall Street to High Street, is ‘conflict of interest’. It has been used to describe everything from company boards setting their own salaries to a decision by the US Federal Reserve Bank to hire asset management companies to manage the government’s bailout funds.

But what is a ‘conflict of interest’? Is it something that only happens in companies or does it also occur in government? The components of the phrase can be easily broken down and defined, but when seen as a whole… that’s where the trouble begins. What does the term mean in practice?

For Transparency International (TI), ‘conflict of interest’ is defined as:

A “situation where an individual or the entity for which they work, whether a government, business, media outlet or civil society organisation, is confronted with choosing between the duties and demands of their position and their own private interests.”

For TI, this dilemma can occur both in the public and private sector. An example from the public sector is that of Bosnia Herzegovina. The country passed a conflict of interest law that restricts elected officials, executives, and advisors in government institutions from certain activities, including promising employment, granting privileges based on party affiliation, giving gifts, and providing privileged information on state activities.

‘The Anti-Corruption Plain Language Guide’

plain_language_guideTI has tried to make this and other key terms easier for everyone to understand by producing ‘The Anti-Corruption Plain Language Guide‘. The guide is the result of discussions within the TI movement and consultations in six countries - Bangladesh, Kenya, Lebanon, Romania, South Korea and Zambia - that included stakeholders from government, business, civil society and the media. Drawing from these contributions, a list of 45 terms was compiled accompanied by definitions and practical examples. Each term has been chosen for its influential role in defining and shaping the work of TI, and is open to continued debate and revision.

So what does conflict of interest mean to you?

Do you agree with the TI definition? How should the definition be changed to capture the problems we have witnessed in the public and private sectors?

Every two weeks, TI will be posting another new term on the blog and you are invited to contribute your ideas to the discussion. Help us improve our understanding of the words used to describe what’s happening in our world.

General during Argentina's military dictatorship sentenced to life in prison


A former general who ran a detention centre during Argentina's military dictatorship has been sentenced to life in prison for human rights violations.

Santiago Omar Riveros was commander of the notorious Campo de Mayo prison near Buenos Aires where an estimated 5,000 prisoners were held during the 1976-83 dictatorship.

Santiago Omar Riveros was found guilty on Thursday of torturing and beating to death Floreal Avellaneda, a 15 year old boy, and of abducting his mother Iris.

The two were abducted one month after the 1976 military coup, in order to find out the whereabouts of Floreal Avellaneda's father, a Communist Party Union leader of the same name.

Iris was released after nearly three years of detention and torture; her son's body was found washed up on the Uruguayan coast, bound by the hands and feet, and with signs of beating.

"This sentence is an important achievement in the fight for justice for the victims of Argentina's 'dirty war' and the struggle against impunity enjoyed by so many of the perpetrators," said Javier Zuniga, Amnesty International's special adviser.

The teenager's father said he was satisfied with the verdict, but called for Santiago Omar Riveros to receive no clemency."The sentence must be served in a common prison. Even if he dies in prison, he will never suffer what we suffered," he said.

The former general, who is now 86, is accused of more than 40 crimes against humanity involving victims of the era's so-called "disappeared". During the years of military rule, headed by General Leopoldo Galtieri, around 30,000 people vanished at the hands of the security forces and are still unaccounted for.

Turkmenistan Blocks Students Attending Foreign Universities


Ahead of the academic year which starts in September, the Turkmen authorities have imposed new controls to prevent young people going abroad to study.

NBCentralAsia has been told of numerous cases where students have been prevented from leaving the country, placed on travel blacklists, under a new set of rules placing numerous obstacles in the way of foreign study.

The move represents a complete reversal of the policy President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov announced at the time of his inauguration in early 2007, when he said students would be encouraged to go abroad to study. At the time, his remarks were welcomed as a sign he was rolling back some of the worse policies of his predecessor Saparmurat Niazov, who did his best to stop students continuing their studies abroad, which in Turkmenistan’s case often means in Russia or another former Soviet state.

Reports of the new controls emerged late last month, after new instructions requiring students to obtain special permits for foreign study came into force on July 20.

According to a source in government, the rules entail a lengthy bureaucratic process in which the education ministry has to be furnished with documents including a letter of invitation from the foreign university; a copy of its license to operate as a state university; the student’s tuition contract; and a passport. Once the paperwork has been submitted, the student is referred to the Migration Service to be issued with an exit permit.

Students arriving at passport control at Ashgabat airport and overland on the border with Uzbekistan were unaware of the new regulations and were told they could not leave without an exit permit. Many were half-way through a course abroad and had only returned home for the summer.

"Students were unaware of the changes, and those who were prevented from leaving lost their air tickets," said a local media-watcher.

One young man studying at a private university in Kazakstan was told by border guards that he was now on a travel blacklist. The regulations make no explicit provision for those attending private institutes.

He was told there was no chance of him being allowed to travel.

Some students did apply for the exit permits, without success.

One young man said he travelled to the capital Ashgabat especially to get the document, but was refused. Staff at the education ministry accused him of having an "unpatriotic attitude".

"The official started abusing me and just about accused me of betraying Turkmenistan,” he recalled. “He said I hadn’t even tried to get into a university in Turkmenistan."

NBCentralAsia observers offer a number of explanations for the crackdown on foreign travel.

Some believe the authorities do not want liberal educational values and standards from outside undermining the status quo.

"They authorities are upset that our young people are learning how to think critically, and how to compare and analyse things,” said a resident of Mary region in southeastern Turkmenistan. “This [learning] makes them look at Turkmenistan and the policies pursued here differently.”

This woman’s daughter has been attending the American University in Central Asia, based in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, for some years now. When she returned for the summer holidays she is questioned by the security services, who want to find out more about her studies. The university currently has around 200 students from Turkmenistan, on scholarships funded by the United States government and other donors.

A local observer says the authorities may have instituted the clampdown because so few students are applying for places in higher education in Turkmenistan itself.

At a recent cabinet meeting, President Berdymuhammov blamed ministers for a situation where postgraduates prefer to study abroad. His comments may have spurred officials into curbing the exodus the only way they know how, through repressive rules.

"There are instructions in place not to allow young people over the age of 14 out of the country, and to conduct a thorough check on their motivation for studying abroad,” said the observer.

According to NBCentralAsia;s sources, the education ministry conducted a survey this spring which revealed that only one in four planned to enter higher education in Turkmenistan itself.

Independent estimates suggest that over 12,000 students from Turkmenistan are attending institutes abroad – in Russia, Turkey, Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan. Many graduates do not return for fear of suffering for their choice, and instead seek jobs abroad.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)

Tsibilisi tea-house gives glimpse of lost ethnic harmony.


Tsibilisi tea-house gives glimpse of lost ethnic harmony.

By Seymur Kazimov in Tbilisi (CRS No. 507, 21-Aug-09)
Tea might be just a drink to most people, but for the men and a few women who gather in a little tea-house in the centre of Tbilisi, it acts like a time machine.

As they sit and drink from the little cups, surrounded by the burble of the Armenian, Georgian, Azeri and Kurdish languages, they are transported back to the days before war split communities all across the Caucasus.

The little café sits in a small house in the heart of the winding streets of Tbilisi’s old centre, which is distinguished from the rest of the capital by its ethnic mix. Neighbours gather at the tables to drink tea every evening, and they call it the “Azerbaijani tea-house”, although its owners are in fact Armenian.

Margarita, 55, and Alexei Petrosian, 63, decided to open the café five years ago, looking for a way to make money from their house after Alexei became ill. They filled what had been their bedroom with tables, and now sell tea for 1.50 lari (about 90 US cents) a cup. It costs two laris if you want lemon too.

Margarita comes from the Azerbaijani town of Ganja, which had a sizeable Armenian population until the war started in Nagorny Karabakh in 1988. She is nostalgic for the age before the fighting when Azeris and Armenians ate each others’ food, enjoyed each others’ holidays and spoke each others’ languages. Her mother-in-law was Azeri, and Margarita still enjoys serving food the way her husband’s mother taught her.

“She came from the Agabekov clan. Apart from making tea, my mother-in-law taught me how to cook Azeri dishes,” Margarita said.

As is typical in Azerbaijan, but unusual in Georgia, most of the customers in the café are men. Women who want to drink tea gather in the kitchen. And that is not the only strange custom for any Tbilisi resident who wanders in. Whereas almost all cafes in the city are full of the guttural roar of Georgian, here as many as four different languages can be heard on any evening.

“Sadly though, we have had fewer clients in recent times. People don’t have money. They drink tea at home,” Alexei said.

There used to be an Azerbaijani flag on the wall of the café, but Alexei said one of the customers asked if he could have it. He said the Azeris and the Armenians here in the old town live together well, and do not mimic the problems surrounding Karabakh, which the ethnic Armenian rulers have proclaimed to be an independent state.

“In our café, we speak about everything except politics. Here we do not divide people up into nationalities,” Alexei said.

Customers say the easy atmosphere reminds them of Soviet times, when the whole South Caucasus was ruled from Moscow and everyone was a citizen of the same state. When they learned that this correspondent had come from Azerbaijan, they were careful to say that the war had made no difference to their friendships.

Albert Musaelian, for example, is a regular customer. He is an Armenian, but he loves Azeri poetry and music and has even written songs in the traditional Azeri folk style.

“This tea-house unites us,” he said, as he sat at a table with Azeri friends.

Margarita said that all the café’s customers enjoy each others’ national or religious holiday.

“I always go to the mosque for Kurban Bairam [the Feast of the Sacifice],” she said, referring to one of the two main Muslim holidays. “I sacrifice a sheep and give meat to all my neighbours even though I am a Christian. Our Azeri neighbours also celebrate all our holidays with us. Sometimes my relatives in Yerevan are surprised how I can live so closely with Azeris, and I tell them that Azeris are true friends.”

Her dream would be to go back to her home in Ganja and see her Azeri relatives who stayed behind when the Armenians fled, but there is little prospect of that.

Her neighbour, an Azeri woman called Fatmanisa, nodded her head.

“Here in Tbilisi, we share our happiness and our sadness. We always support each other,” she said.

Crisis in Darfur


The Darfur conflict has changed radically in the past year and a half. While there are fewer deaths than during the high period of fighting in 2003-2004, the conflict has mutated, the parties have splintered, and the confrontations have multiplied. Violence again increased in 2008 while access for humanitarian agencies became more difficult. International peacekeeping is not yet effective and a political settlement remains far off.

Attacks by both government and rebel forces continued throughout the year, including major aerial bombardments and ground attacks launched by the government in West Darfur in February 2008. In turn, an assault on Khartoum by Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels in mid-May 2008 left at least 200 dead and was a milestone in the Darfur conflict, constituting the first military strike on the capital since 30 years. An attack by government troops on an IDP camp in Kalma, southern Darfur in August 2008 killed more than 30 IDPs and drew widespread international condemnation.

Meanwhile the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum continued to deny the gravity of the situation and pursue destructive policies in Darfur. At the same time it has continued to resist key provisions in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North-South war, thus triggering a crisis in that process, with heavy fighting between government and southern troops paralysing oil-rich Abyei in June 2008.

The 14 July request by the ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo for an arrest warrant against President Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur precipitated a redoubling of international pressure on Khartoum to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, including efforts initiated by the Arab League in late 2008 to bring the the government and different rebel groups together for peace talks in Qatar. In spite of rhetoric from Khartoum emphasizing that it is serious about peace talks, including a November 2008 “Sudan People’s Initiative”, government and rebel attacks have continued.

The NCP wants Darfur in chaos to limit the room for an opposition to emerge, while resettling key allies on cleared land and defying Security Council resolutions by integrating its Janjaweed irregulars into official security structures instead of disarming them. Rebel signatories of the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), particularly the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Minni Minawi (SLA/MM), have been responsible for attacks on civilians, humanitarians, the AU mission (AMIS) and some of the violence in the internally displaced person (IDP) camps. Their leaders have been given government jobs and land and, as ardent supporters of the status quo and without a clearly defined role in the new negotiations, are potential spoilers. Rebel movements that did not sign the DPA have further splintered. As they divide along tribal lines, their messages become more fragmented and less representative of constituencies they claim to speak for.

The IDP camps are increasingly violent, with residents manipulated by all sides while Khartoum also tries to force them to return to unsafe areas. Inter-Arab dissension has added new volatility to the situation on the ground. Some tribes are trying to solidify land claims as the UN/AU hybrid peacekeeping operation in Darfur (UNAMID) establishes itself. This has led to fighting with other Arab tribes, which have realized the NCP is not a reliable guarantor of their long-term interests and have started to take protection into their own hands. There is now a high risk of an Arab insurgency, as well as potential for alliances with the predominantly non-Arab rebel groups. A spillover of the conflict into Kordofan has also started.

The May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement was a failure, too limited in scope and signatories. Those who signed – the government and a few rebel factions – hurt the peace process. After a highly publicised opening ceremony in Sirte, Libya, on 27 October 2007, new peace talks were put on hold. A new joint AU/UN mediator, former Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso Djibrill Bassolé, was appointed in June 2008, and the Arab League in September 2008 initiated a new effort to resolve the crisis with peace talks in Qatar.

The new realities emphasise the necessity of broadening participation in the peace talks to associate the full range of actors and constituencies involved in the conflict, including its primary victims, such as women, but also Arab tribes. Incorporating broader and more representative voices can help remedy the uneven weight the process now gives the NCP and rebel factions. Core issues that drive the conflict, among them land tenure and use, including grazing rights, and the role and reform of local government and administrative structures, were not addressed in the DPA but left to the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation process that was supposed to follow the negotiations. They need to be on the agenda of any new negotiations if an eventual agreement is to gain the wide support the DPA has lacked.

UNAMID began deploying on 31 December 2007. The mission has faced difficulties in its first months, including staff shortages, and seven peacekeepers were killed in an attack on 9 July 2008. It continues to face troop and equipment shortages, and a number of its peacekeepers were killed in attacks during 2008 UNAMID must build upon lessons learned from its predecessor AMIS, including being more pro-active in protecting civilians and responding to ceasefire violations. Its leadership should also engage actively in the peace talks so as to ensure coherence between what is agreed and its capabilities. The international community must give it more support than it did AMIS, including strong responses, with sanctions as necessary, to further non-compliance by any party, as well as to actions that obstruct the peace process or violate international humanitarian law.

Can Cyprus Buck the Partitionist Trend?


"Everyone in my community is clairvoyant," a Belfast politician is quoted as saying in Divided Cities, a new book by Jon Calame and Esther Charlesworth (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009). "My community knows how evil and devious the other side is going to be even before the other side has thought about being evil and devious."

Participants in every conflict believe their dispute is unique, especially in cities where divisions reflect old wars, different ethnicities and interests of outside powers. In fact, the Belfast politician could have hailed from any of the apparently disparate situations in Calame and Charleworth's study -- Nicosia, Jerusalem, Beirut, Mostar and Belfast -- and inbred, irrational suspicion is just one of many patterns that communities in these cities share.

In the case of Nicosia, there's plenty of reason to take a deeper look, and not just because of the lessons to be learned from the histories of the other conflicts. Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are in talks that, over the next year, will decide whether the two divided sides of the Mediterranean island will reunite, or whether, after three decades of keeping the peace and failing to negotiate, they will simply continue the slide to full partition. As this book points out, partition is avoidable, but takes a tremendous effort of will. As for rooting out dividing walls completely, well, nobody seems to have managed to do that yet.

Dividing lines in cities are often surprisingly deep-rooted. In the Cypriot example, Nicosia has been basically divided into northern and southern sections along the same line since Roman times. At first it was the river that used to run through the settlement, which became, in Ottoman times, the division between the southern Christian and northern Muslim quarters. The river has long been diverted and its old route paved over, but, as Hermes and Paphos Streets, it was where the first barricades went up in the mid-1950s, and has hardened into the line we know today.

The authors also show how these divisions are not bolts out of the blue, like the Soviet drive into Europe after the Second World War that ended up in the division of Berlin. It is an "incremental, slow, predictable process" in which physical partition generally comes towards the end. For them a good example of such a build-up is "the tireless plotting of [Greek Cypriot] George Grivas and EOKA in Cyprus" against Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Clearly, the 1974 Turkish invasion played a role, but it came relatively late in the story.

Psychologically, there are patterns too. Since the dawn of time, settlements have put up walls around their houses, chiefly to defend an urban population's accumulated wealth against outside barbarians. Today's urban partitions are therefore the great grandchildren of city walls like the remarkable Venetian bastions surrounding old Nicosia -- and are close cousins to gated communities, abandoned city cores, racial ghettos or invisible zoning lines for mortgage lending. Walled and partitioned cities are not all bad. They engender a sense of togetherness for the residents involved and helped Greek city states achieve their cultural heights. Some argue that partition may be an attempt to bring a community down to a more manageable size, and that good fences can make good neighbors, especially when other methods of managing cities have broken down.

Nevertheless, divisions breed the same problems as walled cities did long ago. They can also lead to a "siege mentality" and a "morbid insularity". Medieval cities were ready to bankrupt themselves to get the latest fortifications (just as today's Cypriots are ready to sacrifice economic advantage in order to avoid sharing a common space with the other.) These losses are difficult to quantify, partly because, in the short-term fever of conflict, the first thing everyone wants is security. Calame and Charlesworth believe, however, that "partition is not an effective long-term reply to discrimination and violence." In Nicosia, "the Green Line has sealed an ethnic dispute in amber without providing an inroad to the root causes of conflict." The authors show that in each city the loss of rent, urban blight, missed opportunities, duplication of urban services and psychological stress of unsolved tensions costs more than the short term fix for security fears. Popular sentiment often demands segregation, but it is contrary to a growing city's economic interests. A lose-lose dialectic sets in, undermining the morale and professionalism of even the highest-minded urban planners and architects, let alone the partitionists who profit from the situation.

Many believe division is inevitable due to ethnicity, but the authors argue that this usually only comes into play when stirred up in defence of class privileges. In several cases, fences are put up to take economic advantage of a subgroup while denying it political or social rights. The earliest walled-off subdivision for workers, who were probably racially discriminated against, has been found in third-millennium BC Egypt. Venice formalized its prejudice against Jews with a first ghetto in 1515, even if it was done in the name of protecting them from hostility. In the Cypriot example, elements of such a situation can be seen in the 1963-74 period (when Turkish Cypriots were forced into ghettos or groups of villages and, as UN Secretary General U Thant put it, lived under a "veritable siege.")

The greatest loss, Calame and Charlesworth say, is that "partitions also postpone or even preclude a negotiated settlement … because they create a climate of dampened violence" and then become "the emblem of threat as much as a bulwark against it." As such, they are a self-fulfilling prophecy and a lazy substitute for equitable governance. The authors believe religious differences are just a symptom of underlying problems, not the cause. All five cities were "outwardly defined by conflict between rival religious communities" but "none reveals upon close inspection the skeleton of a theological or even ideological dispute." The true suspects are usually economic strife or "sovereignty, political influence, territory, property, and opportunity." The real origins of the dispute are lost to most local participants, and outside powers easily project their own interests into the conflict. In each case, politicians and militants learn to live off the culture of division -- not to mention people who find unexpected meaning and self-esteem in the struggle -- and it is the poorer or working classes who suffer most. The authors believe that dividing the political sphere into a rigid ethnic framework -- a proclivity shared by Cyprus, Lebanon and Bosnia -- is a major factor favouring and then reinforcing partition. And just removing physical elements of partition - as happened in Jerusalem in 1967, in Mostar in 1994 or in Nicosia in 2003 - has proved to do little to end divisions in politics, society or people's minds.

Nicosia is not as grimly divided as other examples. The Nicosia Master Plan is admired, as are projects to fund walking paths and restore monuments in the old city. For years, both sides of the city have shared one joint sewage treatment plant, on the Turkish Cypriot side. (Indeed, the Greek Cypriot side, which needs much water, would do well to join up with the Turkish Cypriots to construct a water pipeline to the Turkish mainland.) Planners for future joint projects should to study the book's section on "professional responses". One section deals with nostalgic mistakes made in Mostar, where foreign funders preferred symbolic projects of reunification to ones that would actually have done good for people, or in Beirut, where one company controversially took over the whole ruined downtown. Still, Nicosia's divisions remain. Over the many decades of partition, Cypriots' old mutual tolerance and affinity have been badly
damaged by outside manipulation, the confrontational insularity of education systems, and nationalist leaders. And as with all the other divided cities, both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sectors are heading into what the authors call "regional cul-de-sacs."

Even more compelling is the way the Divided Cities show that Nicosia, Jerusalem, Beirut, Mostar and Belfast are the unlucky vanguard of at least 13 other major cities identified by the authors as showing the symptoms of partition. Dividing walls may be short-sighted, but they are increasingly popular as the world becomes uneasy. Cincinnati, Kirkuk and Baghdad are already partway there. Singapore, Montreal, Kigali and even Washington D.C. are not far behind. The current reunification talks in Cyprus have the potential to show that, in at least one case, the trend to partition can be reversed. But do Cypriots really have the will to do so?

Nepal’s Future: In Whose Hands?


Nepal’s peace process is in danger of collapse. The fall of the Maoist-led government, a mess largely of the Maoists’ own making, was a symptom of the deeper malaise underlying the political settlement. Consensus has steadily given way to a polarisation which has fed the more militaristic elements on both sides. While all moderate politicians still publicly insist that there is no alternative to pursuing the process, private talk of a return to war – led by generals of the Nepalese Army who have never reconciled themselves to peace – has grown louder. Outright resumption of hostilities remains unlikely in the short term but only concerted efforts to re-establish a minimal working consensus and a national unity government including the Maoists can avert the likelihood of a more dangerous erosion of trust. Strong international backing, with India eschewing short-term interference in favour of longer-term guardianship of the process it itself initiated, will be essential.

The immediate cause of the Maoists’ departure from government on 4 May 2009 was their bungled attempt to dismiss the army chief. As the consent for action that they had secured from coalition partners unravelled under external pressure, they pushed ahead unilaterally. Their legally dubious sacking order prompted an even more contentious intervention by the ceremonial president to countermand it. Maoist leader Prachanda quit on grounds of principle; the question of the balance of power between prime minister and president remains in dispute.

The Maoist resignation made the formation of a new administration an urgent necessity and, by Nepal’s standards, the transition was relatively prompt and smooth. However, the new government, led by the centrist Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), UML, is inherently unstable and incapable of addressing the most pressing challenges. Backed by 22 parties, it is yet to take full form and its major constituents are internally riven. Many UML leaders are openly sceptical of the new government, while the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) is now formally split. Between them, they have achieved the unlikely feat of making the Nepali Congress (NC) look the most cohesive and internally democratic of the non-Maoist parties.

The Maoists had not proved as effective in power as many had hoped. Moreover, they alienated two important constituencies: India (both by appearing to make overtures towards China and by refusing to become a pliant, moderate force) and the Kathmandu upper middle classes (by making them pay taxes and failing to deliver basic services, in particular electricity). Yet their main problem is their own refusal to give clear and credible assurances on their commitment to political pluralism and non-violence. Prominent ideologues within the party have given added credence to the argument that they will never alter their strategic goal of state capture and de facto totalitarian rule. In response, the leadership’s insistence that the party has embraced multiparty democracy has been less than fully convincing.

On the other side, the army has adopted a more overt, assertive political role. It is encouraged and supported by many who see it as the only credible opposition to the Maoists. It not only survived the republican transition but has thrived. Helped by timorous parties, it has successfully pushed for a substantial budgetary increase, protected its de facto autonomy, retained its full strength and pressed for new lethal arms imports – in breach of the ceasefire.

Behind much of the recent instability lies an Indian change of course. New Delhi framed the peace deal and acted as its de facto guarantor, pressing all parties to comply with its terms. Never able to digest the Maoist victory and uncomfortable with popular demands for change, it has pursued increasingly interventionist tactics through proxies in Nepali political parties while continuing its policy of ring-fencing the army as the most reliable bastion against Maoist takeover or anarchy. Its resolute opposition to all but token People’s Liberation Army (PLA) integration has unbalanced the peace equation without offering any alternative.

The background against which Kathmandu’s incestuous intrigues are played out is neither stable nor unchanging. Public security remains weak, alarmingly so in several areas. Local governance remains patchy at best and non-existent in places. Peace committees bringing together parties and civil society representatives are functional in some districts but lack a coherent agenda. Identity-based and other newer political movements are impatient with a constitutional process that, while not stalled, looks less and less likely to deliver a broadly acceptable new constitution on schedule. Civil society, a crucial force in the early stages of the peace process, is divided and demoralised.

India’s perceived partisanship has not helped international cohesion. From being the leader of the pack, successfully lining up other international players behind its strategy, it has become something of a lone wolf. It continues to criticise the UN mission, whose credibility was dented by a videotape showing Maoist leader Prachanda boasting that he had duped them into accepting vastly inflated PLA numbers. The UN would like to claim success and get out but cannot refuse requests to monitor arms as long as the situation – over which it has no direct influence – remains unresolved. In the meantime its role in preserving a fragile peace and affording Nepal some shelter from total Indian domination is under-appreciated.

Donors are keen to return to normal development activities and have been willing to fund the peace process. But their patience is wearing thin, conditions for business as usual are yet to materialise and international funding is subsidising a bloated and unaffordable security sector. The army alone far outnumbers the national civil service; it, cantoned PLA combatants and the paramilitary armed police are of no use in addressing the basic need for law and order.

It is true that all parties are still talking and there is a tradition of last-minute deals to stave off disaster. The same could happen again. But that should not obscure the fact that the rifts between the major players have grown wider and the grounds for compromise narrower. Averting a slide back to conflict will require a clear-sighted recognition of the dangers, genuine cooperation between Nepal’s parties to address them and much more solid international backing for the process, starting with a decisive lead from India.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To All Political Actors Party to the Peace and Constitutional Processes:

1. Recognising that political consensus and a broad-based government are essential to the peace process,

a) work without delay to form a national unity government, acknowledging that the democratic mandate to lead it still rests with the Maoists;

b) give shape to the proposed high-level political coordination committee for purely peace process-related issues, ensuring it has a clear agenda, regular meetings and the necessary support to monitor and implement decisions;

c) prioritise cooperation at the local level, in particular by working together to make local peace committees effective bodies for dispute resolution and pursuit of reconciliation;

d) work urgently towards a deal on the long overdue re-establishment of local government bodies or all-party mechanisms alongside formation of a national government; and

e) put in place an overall peace process monitoring mechanism.

2. Build confidence by:

a) adhering to the principle of consultation and consensus, focusing on practical measures to monitor and implement existing agreements;

b) recognising that unfulfilled commitments on all sides have contributed to a loss of trust and agreeing that reciprocity will be needed to move forward;

c) addressing the serious and substantive concerns over the president’s role by agreeing a clarification of his powers and ensuring his ceremonial office does not become a competing political power centre;

d) dealing with critical areas unaddressed by past agreements, in particular by developing plans for broader demilitarisation of armed groups, criminal mafias and party youth militias, not just the PLA; and

e) keeping the constitutional process on track and minimising the knock-on effects of delays that have already occurred.

3. Support the Army Integration Special Committee (AISC) in its task of determining options for the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants by:

a) cooperating in reconstituting the AISC, recognising the need to offer balanced representation to major parties and to move promptly to substantive discussion of the major sticking points;

b) encouraging the technical subcommittee to continue its work while recognising that it is not in a position to resolve major political questions;

c) clarifying requests for international support to the AISC and its technical subcommittee, in particular by fully exploiting the capacity of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) to channel technical assistance; and

d) tackling the most contentious questions, in particular by discussing the numbers of combatants that could be integrated into the Nepalese Army or other forces, seriously considering benchmarks and timetables for substantive progress and being realistic about the near impossibility of meeting the latest six-month deadline.

4. Make the most of international assistance, bearing in mind the risks of fading patience, by:

a) making full use of the UN and other international actors’ good offices as well as facilitating the work of UNMIN and ensuring it can complete its role in Nepal as soon as possible;

b) setting and adhering to benchmarks to achieve this, offering international backers evidence of progress and more solid indications that remaining elements of the peace deal are moving towards implementation; and

c) demonstrating in practice that unity across parties is the best way of preventing external intervention and prolonged, potentially intrusive, political engagement.

5. Cooperate in boosting the legitimacy of the state and political parties by:

a) increasing internal democracy, building on successful examples such as the internal elections carried out by the UML’s general convention and the Nepali Congress’s parliamentary party;

b) bringing an end to party youth wings’ illegal activities, developing local mechanisms to ensure inter-party disputes do not lead to violent clashes and denouncing the use of violence for political ends;

c) without barring constructive debate, using party disciplinary measures to rein in senior leaders who make destabilising public comments that undermine the peace process; and

d) putting repeated commitments to greater inclusiveness and socio-economic transformation into practice, paying particular attention to the prospects for establishing new standards for implementing the goals of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women’s participation in peacebuilding.

To the Government of Nepal:

6. Abide by the constitutional requirement to take important decisions on the basis of consensus among the major parties, including those not in government.

7. Address public security concerns by recognising that political consensus is essential to restoring law and order and using all appropriate mechanisms, national and local, to build all-party support for effective policing and ending of political interference in operational matters.

8. Address critical questions of justice and impunity by pursuing investigations and prosecutions, responding substantively to the most serious documented allegations of war crimes and basing new legislation on disappearances and the truth and reconciliation commission on wide consultation and international standards.

9. Demonstrate commitment to establishing effective democratic control over the Nepalese Army (NA) and respecting the provisions of the November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and Interim Constitution (IC) by:

a) bringing the NA under meaningful democratic control, including establishing parliamentary oversight, fully auditing expenditure and developing the constitutionally mandated work plan for democratisation and right-sizing of the army;

b) respecting the unambiguous ceasefire commitment to refrain from recruitment and weapons purchases;

c) carefully considering the conflict and development risks of increasing security budgets and focusing instead on fulfilling the constitutional commitment to determining the appropriate size of the NA and devising a sensible plan for reaching it;

d) issuing and enforcing clear orders to the NA to advise on national security policy when requested but refrain from expressing opinions on broader constitutional and political issues; and

e) making a first step towards full human rights vetting by refusing promotion to those accused of grave violations unless and until credible independent investigations have been carried out.

To the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist):

10. Recognise that concerns over Maoist strategic intent are genuine and well founded and can only be addressed by concrete steps such as:

a) giving more solid guarantees of commitment to political pluralism both in theory (for example by reconsidering the proposal to ban political parties accused of supporting feudalism and imperialism) and in practice (for example by taking stern action against cadres who threaten, assault or obstruct members of other parties);

b) clarifying the specific questions raised by the Shaktikhor video, which appeared to substantiate charges of deception over combatant numbers and plans to use “democratisation” to politicise the national army; and

c) reaffirming the ceasefire and CPA conditions on ceasing all political violence, in word and deed.

11. Convince other parties and the people at large of genuine intent to abide by the peace process, for example by:

a) ending the militarised structure and paramilitary activities of the Young Communist League (YCL), including its occupation of public buildings as de facto barracks;

b) promptly discharging ineligible personnel in the cantonments in line with repeated public promises, cooperating with government and international efforts to design and successfully deliver appropriate rehabilitation packages;

c) implementing other unfulfilled past commitments such as the return of seized property; and

d) cooperating with investigations and prosecutions of crimes committed during the conflict and ceasefire periods.

To the International Community, in particular India, China, the U.S., EU, UN and Donors:

12. Publicly support the peace process and underline international expectations for its successful conclusion by:

a) emphasising the need for all parties to adhere to all aspects of the CPA, IC and other agreements;

b) supporting effective governance, while recognising that this will only be possible under a broad-based national government and urging all parties to make the compromises necessary to achieve this;

c) underlining that significant development and budgetary assistance is at risk should stable governance not be established;

d) pressuring all parties to use only non-violent methods to pursue protests and to avoid excessively disruptive tactics such as blocking the functioning of the CA; and

e) continuing to urge investigations into the worst alleged conflict abuses and offering technical support as appropriate.

13. Strengthen international consensus and coordination by:

a) addressing the rift between India, which appears to have revised its interpretation of the peace deal, and other major players, who still support the agreements initiated and endorsed by New Delhi;

b) dispelling impressions of waste and confusion by getting a grip on the multiple, overlapping programs supporting critical areas like the constitutional process and security sector reform; and

c) maintaining a common strong emphasis on human rights, political pluralism and conflict resolution at the heart of all policies, including development aid and military cooperation.

14. Recognising that delay in reforming the security sector is continuing to compromise all development efforts by draining resources and undermining political progress:

a) seek unambiguous assurances that affordability and accountability will be key criteria in any consideration of security sector budgets and policy, and that development funds will not be used in effect to subsidise an unsustainably large army;

b) push for democratic control of the security sector and discuss detailed plans for appropriate assistance;

c) urge prompt measures to address the pressing need for improved public security and offer support to such steps; and

d) explore ways to help train integrated NA and other security forces, in particular by offering conversion training for former PLA combatants, including at officer level if requested, and joint training to integrated units on working under democratic control, respect for human rights, etc.

To the Government of India:

15. Given the enduring tradition of intimate Indo-Nepal links, use the special relationship constructively to secure both Nepal and India’s core interests without attempting to dictate, for example by:

a) making a clear, public recommitment to the fundamentals of the peace process;

b) offering public endorsement of the principle of PLA integration into the NA and other security forces, if agreed by Nepal’s parties and in the manner of their choosing;

c) building on India’s leading example of successful civilian control of the military and unique army to army links to offer support in areas such as building a functional defence ministry and training army officers and civil servants to work effectively alongside one another;

d) sending firm messages to the Indian army to support government policy on Nepal and communicate appropriate messages to counterparts in the NA;

e) considering positive steps to support security sector reform, including training for former Maoist combatants joining the security forces and assistance in reshaping policing to meet the needs of federalism and improved public accountability; and

f) supporting the UN’s role and using Indian influence constructively to assist in creating the conditions for the winding up Security Council-mandated operations.

To Members of the United Nations Security Council:

16. The Security Council should underline its commitment to supporting the peace process but also its concern about weakening consensus and delays in addressing key steps by:

a) considering a Security Council visit to Nepal to understand the complex situation and hear directly from the main political actors how they propose to address challenges;

b) encouraging member states represented in Kathmandu to scrutinise progress, offer support as necessary and report publicly on progress or concerns;

c) making stronger public messages of support for UNMIN’s mission and for Nepal’s parties in taking prompt steps to conclude the peace process and restructure UN involvement to reflect the longer term needs of a successful post-conflict transition; and

d) engaging more closely with India to narrow differences in perspective and build more solid common ground on outside support for the peace process

The Power Horizontal


Siloviki vs. Cyberspace

Sovereign Democracy vs. Social Networking

The Vertical vs. The Horizontal

There's been plenty of material on the tubes over the last week marking the ten-year anniversary of Vladimir Putin's rise to power.

But the piece that really caught my eye was a commentary titled "Two Anniversaries" by Igor Yakovenko, which was published this week in "Yezhednevny Zhurnal." (h/t to Paul Goble over at Window On Eurasia for this post that brought it to my attention.)

Yakovenko, the general secretary of the Russian Journalists' Union, notes that Putin's rise a decade ago coincided with the establishment of the blog Live Journal, which has since become a sounding board and platform for a wide range of political opinion and commentary. Live Journal's appearance, Yakovenko argues, was the true beginning of the Internet era in Russia.

Over the past ten years, as Putin and his team siloviki have been painstakingly building their authoritarian power vertical, and justifying it with the ideology of sovereign democracy, Yakovenko says a quiet counter-revolution has been gathering steam below the decks:

Putin's 'vertical' has cut itself off from the population by eliminating elections and erecting a border between itself and the population...a border much more effective than the state borders of the Russian Federation. As a result, the population has begun to build their lives and channels of communications independent of the authorities. They have begun to build their 'horizontal.'

The building blocks of the horizontal have evolved over time -- from Live Journal to Facebook to Twitter and Skype -- allowing like-minded Russians to stay informed, network with each other, and remain plugged into a global culture.

Yakovenko says the horizontal's battle against the vertical often "looks ridiculous" -- like "David fighting Goliath or Guttenberg challenging the church's monopoly on the truth." But he adds that when the vertical looks at the horizontal "it always sees its imminent death."

For most of the past decade, the Kremlin has concentrated most of its censorship efforts on controlling the macro narrative -- meaning television -- while largely leaving the Internet (and even a lot of print media) alone. Who cares if a few malcontents in Moscow vent their frustration online, they reasoned, as long as we control the airwaves -- and the masses.

But the role Twitter and Facebook played in the recent Iranian and Moldovan elections appears to be causing a rethink. And the first big target seems to be Skype and other Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone services.

Late last month, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs warned that Skype and other foreign VoIP services are a threat to national security (and their corporate profits), in part because they are resistant to eavesdropping by the intelligence services:

Without government restrictions, IP telephony causes certain concerns about security. Most of the service operators working in Russia, such as Skype and Icq, are foreign. It is therefore necessary to protect the native companies in this sector.

There is little doubt that the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs was working hand-in-glove with the authorities. The union has established a working group with the ruling United Russia party to draft legislation to safeguard against the risks posed by Skype and other VoIP services.

With the economy tanking, living standards eroding, and citizens getting restless, the last thing the authorities need is a for people to be Skyping and Tweating their discontent until it snowballs into uncontrollable social unrest.

And in case efforts to prevent cyber-discontent from turning into street action fail, the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi recently announced plans to form militias, made up of disadvantaged teenagers armed with stun guns, to patrol Russia's streets to quell potential unrest.

-- Brian Whitmore

Transition Team


Gleb Pavlovsky chooses his words very carefully. He doesn't make accidental statements to the media. He doesn't commit gaffes. Everything he says in public is calculated to serve the political needs of the moment.

Which is why this comment, at the tail end of an interview Pavlovsky gave to "Russky zhurnal" (which, by the way, he owns) and published online at Kreml.org, caught my attention -- big time:

[Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin's leadership has already ceased to function and its standing has changed. Putin is now an extremely popular person and people trust him. But what has gone before has come to an end for him. He is actively seeking a new political role and image, but has not yet found them. I think that a new political Putin is possible but, of course, not at the expense of weakening the president. This is a fundamental point. As a strong man and successful leader Putin must give President [Dmitry] Medvedev the opportunity to be a strong and, who knows, maybe great president.

This does not of course mean that Putin should depart into the shadows and not show his face. I see a future parting of the ways here. Medvedev must become a strong president and Putin as a politician who is not old and is not weak must reform the inertia of his leadership into something new. For the moment this is an open situation.

In many ways, Pavlovsky, a longtime Kremlin spinmeister who heads the Effective Policy Foundation, is a barometer of the Russian elite. He is the consummate insider who knows where the political winds are blowing. In fact, he is one of a handful of people who makes the political winds blow.

And he is saying, very clearly and very publicly, that the political winds are no longer at Putin's back and that he needs to step aside and let Medvedev come into his own:

If the Putin majority suspect that in 2012 a prolongation of the status quo awaits them, they will mutiny and cease to exist in their current capacity. Moreover, if it feels in 2010 that it has been locked in for a long time in the current more and more dangerous situation, it will also become more active in an unpredictable manner.

Writing on the increasingly influential website Slon.ru, the blogger Konstantin Gaaze opined that "for those in the know, all the signs of a policy text are present" in the Pavlovsky interview. Gaaze adds: "Pavlovskiy's message is simple: the time has come for Medvedev to hire a team. And then the 'Medvedev Majority' will be formed."

Pavlovsky's interview leaves me with a few questions that I suspect we will see answered soon enough.

Is this a trial balloon or some kind a provocation? If not, are a critical mass of the elite actually on board with Medvedev becoming a "real" president? Is Putin? Are the siloviki? And if they are, what did Medvedev have to promise to get them on board?

And if everybody is not on board, is a decisive showdown looming on the horizon?

At the very least, this puts Medvedev's recent moves against Russia's powerful state corporations and his efforts to get an ally named Prosecutor-General in a whole new light. Not to mention, that little bonding session the president and premier had in Sochi.

-- Brian Whitmore

Church And State


Russia and Georgia have no diplomatic relations. There are no commercial flights between Moscow and Tbilisi. And the Kremlin has made no secret of the fact that it wants to remove Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from power.

But nevertheless, one of Russia's top public figures plans to visit Georgia soon and will no doubt be greeted with all the pomp and circumstance of a head of state. That public official is Patriarch Kirill. No date has been announced for the visit yet, although the Moscow Patriarchate says it will happen "by the end of this year."

Visiting Georgia so soon after his high-profile trip to Ukraine earlier this month is anything but subtle. Both countries are governed by pro-Western leaders who are desperately trying to navigate their way out of Moscow's orbit, and both have large, devout, Orthodox Christian populations.

Writing in "The Moscow Times" this week, Fyodor Lukyanov, editor in chief of the journal "Russia In Global Affairs," argues that with his visit to Ukraine, Kirill has emerged as an important new weapon in the Kremlin's foreign-policy arsenal:

The visit by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church showed that there's a new public figure in Russia whose political weight and diplomatic skills surpass those of the secular authorities. He combines tact and kind civility with a firmness of his ideological positions, and his address to worshippers calling for unity and reconciliation is a demonstration of the 'soft,' non-state power that Moscow has long been criticized for lacking.

Shortly after Kirill returned from his visit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev wrote a blisteringly critical letter to his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko informing him that Moscow would hold off on sending an ambassador to Kyiv.

The next day, Lukyanov notes, Kirill sent his own letter to Yushchenko -- thanking him for his hospitality during the visit:

Not only did Kirill thank the Ukrainian leader for his attention and help in organizing the visit, he also noted that 'despite all of the difficulties, Ukraine is successfully consolidating its statehood.' His letter to the president concludes: 'May God’s blessing be with the people of beautiful Ukraine, with its leaders and military, and with all of us.'

The patriarch's visit to Ukraine was hardly free of controversy. Thousands protested, arguing that he was using an ostensibly spiritual visit as cover for a political mission to further the Kremlin's political agenda.

Kirill did little to allay these fears when, in a speech on Ukrainian television on July 28, he argued that Russians and Ukrainians were one people. He also implored Ukrainians not to sacrifice their common values with Russia in the pursuit of closer ties with Europe, a clear reference to Kyiv's efforts to join NATO and the European Union.

Nevertheless, I think Lukyanov is right about Moscow's strategy, which is more sophisticated than a simple game of good cop-bad cop:

The patriarch addresses his congregation, which by its very definition should not be divided by citizenship or state loyalties. Medvedev appeals directly to the Ukrainian people, letting them know in no uncertain terms that the dialog with their political elite has become unproductive. In fact, the symbolic meaning of not sending a new Russian ambassador to Kiev also ties into this desire to reduce official dialog to a purely technical level.

And there are strong hints that a similar gambit is on the horizon with Georgia.

Back in July, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin met a Georgian Orthodox Church delegation in Moscow. Here's the Russian Foreign Ministry's statement on that meeting:

"In the current, uneasy situation existing in relations between the two countries, cultural-humanitarian ties between the churches of Russia and Georgia continue to be an important channel for maintaining tradition of friendship and mutual understanding between our people."

The delegation also met with Kirill, who called their visit "a new positive step towards brotherly relations of our churches and improvement of relations between our countries."

The phrase "brotherly relations," of course, has historically meant very different things for Tbilisi than it has for Moscow.

-- Brian Whitmore

'I Was Shocked To My Very Insides'


In a blog called "The Notes Of A Physician," a blogger called Ali writes about the accusations that some postelection protesters in Iran were raped while in detention:

Doctor Fazeli, one of the most famous surgeons in Iran, asked me to be his assistant yesterday morning. As his surgeries are always among the most complicated cardiac procedures, and I learn many new things each time, I was glad to accept the offer.

However, it was a much simpler surgery this time -- an anal cyst.

Dr. Fazeli didn't feel like performing the surgery himself, and it was I who slowly removed the cyst. Once I did, I realized that it was inflamed and wrapped it up for the pathology department.

Dr. Fazeli requested that I should personally go to the laboratories and get the results because the patient was a relative of his. It was only then that I realized why he had agreed to perform such a simple surgery.

Reluctantly, I went to the laboratories and got the results back within 40 minutes. Chlamydia is an infection, but this case was so critical that Dr. Fazeli decided to operate, instead of treating it with medication.

I ran with the reports to Dr. Fazeli and told him that it was chlamydia. Without paying much notice, he asked me if I knew why he had asked me to assist him.

“This patient is one of my relatives and he has recently been released from prison,” he said. “Do you know how this infection may have been transferred?”

I was shocked to my very insides.

Dr. Fazeli told me to go and check on the patient while he contacted the health minister, Mr. Baqeri-Lankarani, to tell him everything.

Still in a state of confusion, I asked Dr. Fazeli who else knew about this. Does his family know, I asked?

He said no one but the two of us knew about it.

He asked me to sit in with the patient during a visit with Dr. Jaffari. (Dr. Fazeli always sends his patients to Dr. Jaffari for postsurgery psychotherapy.)

I was there with the patient at 6 p.m. when Dr. Jaffari came in. He asked the patient a couple of questions and got few responses. He then asked me to leave them alone for a little while.

It was half an hour later when the patient came out. He told me that he doesn't remember anything at all about what happened, saying it was the effect of rohypnol (commonly called the date-rape drug).

I was so shocked that I lost it for a moment and the nurse had to bring me some water. I couldn't believe that such things were happening under this Islamic government.

He told me that this act has two aims: creating fear in society and promoting violence.

Consider if you were raped while in prison while your hands were tied, incapable of doing anything at all to stop it. Most people would prefer to die. So either it happened to you and nothing except revenge would matter, or you wouldn’t care anymore.

Remember that violence is the enemy of peaceful movements. The heads of the government make sure that the seeds of violence are planted in society and that everyone is filled with rage against the government in order to get an excuse for welcoming them with bullets.

A more serious case goes on with the victim of abuse. The victim transforms into a depressed and ashamed soul. Rape is the only way to break down those who do not respond to any other torture -- those who are internally strong.

Usually, if such people are not medicated, they proceed toward committing suicide, as they believe they have failed to protect their own honor. This feeling of shame causes them to no longer be a threat to the government.

Proving such a case is extremely difficult as well. The detection of rape is done by medical means that are under the influence of the government. Also, evidence vanishes within a few days. It is almost impossible to detect such an act.

Interestingly, not all doctors agree to participate in medical inspections, police inquiries, and courtroom procedures. The culprit is never proven to be guilty by mere statements of witnesses in the court. There has to be some solid proof.

I called up Dr. Fazeli at once and explained the scenario to him, while insisting for his permission to allow me to publish this argument. He told me to wait in order to save my neck, and my patient's neck as well.

I told Dr. Fazeli of my intentions of sending a letter to the head of parliament, who denies that any sort of physical abuse occurred in the prisons, with the agreement of as many doctors as I could persuade after their checkup of the patient.

Please read the next sentence if you have any relative who has recently been freed from prison.

Please undergo the procedure that I mentioned above, even if he denies any physical abuse, as he might have been given a dose of rohypnol.

Poland Marks 20th Anniversary Of First Postcommunist Government


By Breffni O'Rourke
The momentous summer of 1989 was a time of disintegration and rebirth for Central and Eastern Europe. The once-impregnable Iron Curtain was cracking, and the edifice of communism was tottering.

The month of August saw a human chain stretching across the three Baltic states, as 2 million people joined hands to protest the Moscow-Berlin pact that had placed them inside the Soviet sphere of influence.

The same month, Hungary's opposition staged its "Pan-European Picnic," an event which led to a mass breaching of the Iron Curtain by hundreds of East Germans, who were allowed to cross into the West without hindrance.

And in Warsaw, a member of Poland's independent Solidarity labor movement became the first noncommunist leader of a Central or Eastern European country since World War II. The new prime minister was Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a dissident journalist who had edited Solidarity's journal.

August 24 marks the 20th anniversary of that first postcommunist government.

"I want to form a government that is able to help society, the nation, and the country. I want to be a prime minister for all the Polish people," Mazowiecki said in 1989, expressing hope to parliament that he could end the divisions in Polish society.

In long negotiations with the government, the union had earlier gained agreement that a full one-third of the seats in the Sejm would be freely contested in the June 4 national elections that year.

Non-Communists took all but one of those seats, and by September, Mazowiecki won a vote of confidence in parliament by a sweeping 402 votes to nil, with 13 abstentions. Solidarity had beaten the Communists, who saw no alternative to Mazowiecki.

By November, the Berlin Wall had fallen, and the division of Europe was over. In December 1990, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa became Poland's president.

Poles are sensitive to the fact that the fall of the Berlin Wall has captured the world's imagination as the moment when communism finally collapsed. But they say the appointment of Mazowiecki was, in reality, the moment when communism in Europe was vanquished and democracy restored.

What Did Medvedev Tell Voronin?


By Irina Severin
Communist Party leader and acting Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin met last week in Sochi with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

It was the same day that the new coalition, the Alliance for European Integration (which includes the four opposition parties that together hold a majority of seats in the new legislature) had planned to open a dialogue with the Communists, who control nearly half the seats in the legislature elected on July 29.

Just two days before leaving for Sochi, Voronin told Moldovan television, “We do not want to provoke early parliamentary elections, and we shall do everything possible in order not to step on the same rake again, as we did in the previous elections.” He hinted clearly that his Communist Party is ready to negotiate with the opposition coalition, and he complained that he had not yet received any official proposals for beginning a dialogue.

But shortly after the meeting with Medvedev was hastily announced, Voronin suddenly refused to accept an official invitation for talks that Liberal Democratic Party leader Vlad Filat, one of the key figures of the new alliance, tried to hand him at the ceremony for presenting identity cards to the new parliament deputies.

We’ll probably never know what happened between these two events to change the president’s mind so sharply. How was Voronin’s meeting with Medvedev – which was announced at the last moment without any agenda being offered – arranged? Why wasn’t anything more than a cursory announcement presented to the media?

Was it Voronin who pushed for the talks? If so, he must have had some extraordinarily compelling arguments.

At Medvedev's Insistence?

During the informal CIS summit in Moscow last month, Voronin was the only president there (not counting the leaders of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia) who was not granted the honor of a face-to-face chat with Medvedev.

“We do not recognize any alliance. We will hold talks with all the parties that entered parliament.
It seems more likely that the Sochi meeting was held at the insistence of Medvedev, and that most likely it was a Soviet-style encounter of a low-ranking functionary being called out on the carpet by the big boss.

What was so pressing that it was necessary to drop all the normal formalities? There was no press conference following the talks, a practice that has become the norm since Medvedev took office. Journalists had to make do with the bland statement that the two men discussed “issues of economic cooperation, in particular ways of overcoming the slowdown in trade and economic relations, and regional issues, including those related to a Transdniester settlement.”

Of course, with the Moldovan government in flux and a new president expected within days, it would seem a strange time for Medvedev to organize urgent talks on ongoing issues. After Voronin left Sochi, the Russian media tended to treat the event (which was the third Moldova-Russia summit since Medvedev became president last year) like a “farewell gesture” to the Moldovan leader.

No 'Irritation'

In Moldova, the overall handling of talks has given rise to reasonable speculation about the event among journalists and analysts. One of the most insistent ideas making the rounds is that it marked the last, crucial moment when Moscow could influence the process (one way or another) of negotiating an agreement between the Communists and the new pro-European alliance.

The Kremlin took some pains to cool down such speculation. The business daily “Kommersant” quoted an anonymous administration official as saying “the parties and members of the parliamentary majority in Moldova [the Liberal Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, the Democratic Party, and the Our Moldova Alliance] do not cause any irritation in Russia.”

“They do not call into question cooperation with us as a major trading partner,” he continued. “For us, the main thing is that the programs of this force show a positive attitude toward Russia.”

The source also said that “negotiations on the allocation to Chisinau of Russia’s $500 billion load will be pursued as soon as it becomes clear who has the authority to handle them from the Moldovan side. That is, after the election of a new president of Moldova.”

Recognize No Alliance

But maybe Voronin interpreted Medvedev’s message differently. After he returned to Chisinau, he convened a meeting of the party at which it was decided not to enter into talks with the Alliance for European Integration, but instead to try to create a left-center coalition on the basis of the Communist Party.

“We do not recognize any alliance,” Communist Deputy Mark Tkaciuc, a former adviser to Voronin, told RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service. “We will hold talks with all the parties that entered parliament.”

The Sochi meeting must have gone pretty rough to make the Communists so forgetful. In any event, it would seem the political situation in Moldova is now back to square one as parliament prepares to convene on August 29. If that is so, the likelihood of electing a president without new legislative elections is low – after all, if not one deputy was willing to cross lines and vote with the other side following the elections in April, what are the chances of several deciding to do so now?

If another stalemate emerges, how the Communists will react is unknown, with some observers even speculating the party might declare some sort of state of emergency and suspend normal political processes. With fears and rumors of this sort making the rounds, it really would have been a comfort to have some more concrete and believable accounting of what Voronin was doing in Sochi.