Who’s left from the Class of ’91?

Spun off an earlier post.

Remember the first generation of post-Communist leaders? The guys who took power immediately after Communism collapsed? Well, here’s a question: almost 20 years later, how many of them are still running things?

Not so many. A fair number of them are dead: Croatia’s Tudjman, Bosnia’s Izetbegovic, Hungary’s Jozsef Antall, Russia’s Yeltsin. Some are too old to do much — Romania’s Iliescu, Hungary’s Arpad Goncz. A few have retired from politics — Bulgaria’s Zhelev and Dimitrov. And quite a few are still alive, and active in politics, but will never reach positions of real power again.

– I should clarify my definitions here. I’m looking only at the top guys (they’re all guys). Presidents or other heads of state, Prime Ministers or other heads of government, or those who held equivalent levels of executive power. So, to qualify, you must have been President or PM in the first post-Communist government, and still be President or PM today.

So who qualifies? It’s a short list, but interesting. Continue reading

Wait, where did the astroturf go?

I just noticed that a number of pro-Russian astroturf websites — including some that I used to read regularly — have gone dark.

First off, there are the Transnistria pages. The Tiraspol Times used to provide a weekly dose of happy, upbeat news about the good times in Transnistria. It’s gone now — “account suspended”.

Then there was transnistria.co.uk, a more or less daily blog that did the same thing, interspersed with some whining about how nobody was nice to Transnistria. That’s gone too. I can’t find archives for either of them, which is a shame — there was some wonderfully wacky stuff in there.

Visitpmr,com, the site for Transnistrian tourism (really) is still up, but it hasn’t been updated for a long time now. Pridenestrovie.net, same thing — still exists, nothing new since 2007. EODE.org, purporting to be an NGO, published one “report” about the wonderful state of Transnistrian democracy three years ago and has been “under construction” ever since. And transnistria.info hasn’t updated its news feed since March.

Okay, so someone was funding a disinformation/propaganda campaign for Transnistria, and they stopped. That’s no big deal. But some of the louder voices of the pro-Russian disinformatsiya have also fallen silent. Remember the British Helsinki Human Rights Group? Their website is gone, as is their “partner” OSCE Watch. (BHHRG’s loudest voice, professional nuisance John Laughland, has moved to Paris, where he’s working for a Russian-funded think tank. Can’t find what’s happened to the rest of them.) And ICDISS — the “International Council for Democratic Institutions and State Sovereignty” — hasn’t updated their website in over a year.

It was always obvious that these various outlets were pieces of the same organism. It’s a little weird to see it confirmed this way, though. Wonder if we’ll ever find out how it all fit together behind the scenes. Eh, probably not.

Meanwhile: does anyone know a good English-language source for news about Transnistria? There’s a German-language site that’s still live, but it doesn’t update very often. There’s the Transnistrian Parliament’s website, which is interesting to look at — basically it’s like glimpsing an alternate universe where the USSR survived into the age of the internet — but not very informative. Otherwise, it’s a lot of scavenging among blogs and human rights reports and other such odds and ends.

I never thought I’d miss the Tiraspol Times and its friends, but it’s surprising how little is left now that they’re gone.

Transnistria: underwater?

It’s sometimes hard to get solid news about Transnistria. No international news agencies report regularly from there, and it doesn’t have a good English-language site. News stories about the breakaway state tend to come out of Russia, Moldova or Ukraine, often in the local languages.

So it’s not clear what impact the recent flooding is having there. (For our non-European readers, the last week has seen huge floods across southeastern Europe. There are at least 13 people dead in Ukraine and several more in Romania and Moldova, thousands of people have been evacuated, and the damage is in hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars.) Since Transnistria is basically a thin sliver of low-lying land along the bank of the Dniester river, you would expect they’d have problems, but it’s not easy to find out what’s going on.
Continue reading

Transnistria: a solution?

A recent article over at Radio Free Europe suggests that Moldova and Russia may be getting close to a solution of the Transnistria conflict. (For some background on Transnistria, here are some articles I wrote last year.)

Now, RFE tends to be pretty Russophobe, so there’s a certain amount of mouth-breathing: Moldova has turned back to Moscow and away from the West! It’s going to become a satellite of Russia once more!

Well… perhaps. But in terms of settling the Transnistrian conflict, the deal described in the article makes a lot of sense. Continue reading

The new great game

Our next anniversary guest post is written by the the great Jonathan Edelstein.

It’s starting to look like the season of referenda in the near abroad.

On September 17, less than a week from today, voters in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, located between Moldova and Ukraine, will be asked to vote on whether to “renounce [their] independent status and subsequently become part of the Republic of Moldova” or “support a policy of independence… and subsequent free association with the Russian Federation.” The option of “free association” with Russia, which is widely considered a prelude to outright annexation, is reportedly backed by a large number of Russian-financed business and political organizations, some with long-standing presence in Transnistrian politics and others apparently formed for the occasion. In the meantime, South Ossetia, which had earlier explored the possibility of petitioning Russia’s constitutional court for annexation, has just announced its own referendum for November 12, and although Abkhazia currently denies similar plans, there are rumors that a plebiscite may be in the works there as well.

The referenda, which are rather transparently supported by Moscow, represent something of a change in policy for the Russian Federation. It’s certainly nothing new for post-Soviet Russia to attempt to maintain its influence over the countries comprising the former Soviet Union, and it has at times used Russian citizenship to cement the “soft” annexation of neighboring territories; for instance, at least 90 percent of Abkhazians and South Ossetians now hold Russian passports. Nevertheless, up to now, it has soft-pedaled the issue of de jure territorial expansion. The forthcoming vote on whether Transnistria should become a second Kaliningrad suggests that policymakers in Moscow are at least starting to think seriously about taking formal responsibility for the territories that have broken away from other former Soviet republics.

At first glance, it’s hard to see why Russia would push such a policy at the present time. All three of the breakaway republics have substantial minorities who oppose union with Russia; Transnistria is almost evenly divided between ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians, and despite post-Soviet ethnic cleansing, South Ossetia and Abkhazia retain Georgian minority enclaves. The recent wave of terrorist bombings in the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol may well be linked to the referendum, and Russian annexation of the Georgian breakaway republics would only intensify border conflicts such as the Kodori Gorge. Nor would successful plebiscites lend a veneer of legitimacy to a Russian annexation; indeed, given the current international attitude toward non-consensual secessions from recognized states, this would only make Russia’s legal position worse by transforming it into an occupying power.

In other words, the referenda seem like a recipe for stirring up ethnic conflict within the breakaway republics, making Moldova and Georgia even more alarmed over Russian political ambitions than they already are, and creating new diplomatic and legal problems for Moscow. Which leads naturally to three questions: why now, what does Russia stand to gain in compensation for these risks, and how much should the rest of the world (and particularly Europe) care?
Continue reading

Kosovo, Kosovo, Kosovo…

Just ran across this article at Radio Free Europe. Short version: Russia has decided that independence for Kosovo is probably inevitable, and has decided to milk it for maximum benefit to Russia. Putin’s saying, fine, independence for Kosovo — but then apply “universal principles”, and give independence to the Russian-supported breakaway republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and TransDnistria.

Once you get past the initial reaction (“Wow, what a jerk”), this bears a little thinking about.
Continue reading