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Saakashvili Critic to be Georgian President, Poland’s First Post-Communist Premier Dies

Plus, a dwindling number of marchers in Moscow demand the release of political prisoners, and Uzbekistan’s first daughter runs into legal trouble at home.

by Barbara Frye and Alexander Silady 28 October 2013

1. Ruling coalition’s candidate wins Georgian presidential election

 

Georgia’s next president will be Giorgi Margvelashvili, the candidate backed by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, according to preliminary results of the country’s 27 October presidential election.

 

Margvelashvili won a resounding victory with 62.09 percent of the vote. Davit Bakradze, the choice of outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement, was at 21.9 percent, and Nino Burjanadze, a one-time Saakashvili ally who became one of his harshest critics, came in third with 10.06 percent.

 

A former education minister, Margvelashvili is not likely to have the profile of his predecessor: the powers of the presidency have been much diminished thanks to a series of constitutional amendments passed since Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition won parliamentary elections a year ago.

 

Before joining the government Margvelashvili served two stints as rector of the respected Georgian Institute of Public Affairs. He was also a consultant for the National Democratic Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes democracy worldwide and counts prominent U.S. Democratic politicians among its directors.

 

Georgians were not excited by their choices, EurasiaNet.org reports, noting that only 46.6 percent of registered voters turned out, compared with nearly 61 percent for last year’s legislative elections.

 

The balloting got high marks from Western observers. “That process was conducted professionally and transparently in an amicable and constructive environment,” said Mati Raidma, head of a NATO observer mission. “Essentially, what we observed yesterday was a European election.”

 

Some Georgians who live on the other side of a fence being erected by Russian troops ostensibly separating the breakaway South Ossetia region from Georgia – but within internationally recognized Georgian territory – “were unable to enter Georgian-controlled territory to vote,” EurasiaNet.org writes, citing Georgia’s foreign minister.

 

Civil.ge reports that Saakashvili, preparing to leave the political stage, told his compatriots, “Regardless of how much we may agree or oppose this decision, that’s the rule of democracy. We all respect the law and the opinions of the majority participating in the elections.”

 

2. Mazowiecki, a major post-communist figure in Poland, dies

 

Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first prime minister of Poland during the post-communist period, has died at 86, the BBC reports.

 

Long a challenger of the Soviet-sponsored regime, Mazowiecki’s dissident career began in 1955, when he was kicked out of a Communist Party-run Catholic organization for being a suspected subversive. He later served as a member of parliament for the small Catholic opposition party, Znak, and lost his seat for demanding an investigation into the deaths of shipyard protesters in 1970.

 

Tadeusz Mazowiecki attended a

 

In 1980 Mazowiecki visited the Gdansk shipyard and eventually became a key supporter of the fledgling Solidarity labor movement. He served as the editor of Solidarity’s banned weekly magazine and was arrested under the martial law of 1981 for his protest activities.

 

Mazowiecki represented Solidarity at the so-called Round Table Talks of 1989 that set up Poland’s first post-Communist free elections and its market economy. Serving for 15 months on an interim basis, he lost his reelection bid due to the unpopularity of his economic reforms.

 

He had a large hand in the Polish lustration process, which aimed to loosen the Communist Party’s grip on existing power structures. Reuters notes that his “thick line” policy of allowing minor party functionaries to get government positions under the new regime was controversial.

 

Mazowiecki was appointed UN special envoy to Bosnia in 1992, reporting on the atrocities that took place in the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. He resigned in protest over what he saw as international apathy over the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, Deutsche Welle writes.

 

Solidarity leader and former Polish President Lech Walesa, who appointed Mazowiecki to the position of prime minister, lamented his loss.

 

“Polish democracy is failing a little bit now and we would need him here, but it seems that he is also needed on the other side,” Walesa told Polish public television, according to Reuters.

 

3. Moscow marchers demand release of political prisoners

 

Some 5,000 marchers took to the Moscow streets 27 October in a government-sanctioned rally calling for the release of those arrested after a May 2012 protest in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration. They also called for tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and two jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot to be freed, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

The most prominent figure at the rally was Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader who served as a deputy prime minister in the late 1990s and later as a member of parliament. He urged marchers to use the time before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to put pressure on the government.

 

“Putin is really afraid that European leaders will not come to his corrupt Olympics. Athletes will come, but the leaders might not come. And now is the best time to force him to release our guys,” Nemtsov said.

 

In May, Nemtsov issued a report alleging that $30 billion had been embezzled from Olympics-related funds. The games were originally supposed to cost $12 billion, but the price tag now sits at around $51 billion, making the Sochi games the most expensive Olympics ever.

 

The games are also under threat of a boycott as a means to protest Russia’s law against “gay propaganda,” although some gay activists living in Sochi have said people should come and wear rainbow shirts in a sign of solidarity, AFP reported earlier this month.

 

Regardless of the various sources of international ire over Putin’s human rights record, Russia’s opposition movement appears to be flagging. Radio Free Europe writes that the 5,000 marchers in the weekend’s protest were a mere quarter of the expected 20,000, and a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who came out against Putin in 2011 and 2012. In a recent survey, only 3 percent of Russians polled said they were active in politics, according to Russia Beyond the Headlines

 

4. Daughter of Uzbekistan president is target of domestic tax, legal probes

 

One week after television channels linked to Gulnara Karimova went off the air and a month after her sister took swipes at her in a BBC interview, the elder daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator president has run into legal trouble at home, EurasiaNet.org reports.

 

Gulnara Karimova
Citing Radio Free Europe’s Uzbek service, the website reports that tax and law enforcement officials are auditing Karimova’s Fund Forum charity network, “looking at whether the charity’s foreign currency proceeds were used for their intended purposes.”

 

Karimova’s various charities have given out scholarships to poor children, helped furnish schools and orphanages, and sponsored cultural events. Those activities, however, have not blunted her image as “a greedy, power hungry individual who uses her father to crush business people or anyone else who stands in her way,” in the words of a U.S. diplomat quoted in a 2005 WikiLeaks cable.

 

EurasiaNet.org notes that the investigations in Uzbekistan run counter to a long-held assumption that Karimova was untouchable. She is often mentioned as a possible successor to her 75-year-old father, although most close observers give her little chance of taking his place, and the legal proceedings cast a further shadow over her prospects.

 

In addition to the probes at home, Karimova is facing a money-laundering investigation in France, which is in turn linked to a probe by Swedish and Swiss authorities that she received bribes via an intermediary from a Swedish telecoms company seeking a license to operate in Uzbekistan.

 

5. Macedonian whiz kid named one of the world’s smartest teenagers

 

A 14-year-old Macedonian boy who earned his first computer systems administrator certificate at age 6 appears on a list of the world’s 50 smartest teenagers, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Marko Calasan holds 12 Microsoft certificates. He was installing Windows at age 3 and speaking English at 4, according to Balkan Insight, which cites education website The Best Schools’ listing of smartest teens.

 

The Macedonian government provided an IT lab to Calasan, who teaches computer classes in his elementary school, and published a book he authored on Windows 7 in 2010, according to The Best Schools.

 

Calasan takes his place alongside a 16-year-old who devised a new test for spotting cancer, 14-year-old and 16-year-old doctoral candidates (one of whom is working on “an expanded version of Einstein’s theory of relativity”), a 17-year-old who speaks 23 languages, and a 16-year-old from Sierra Leone who put together scavenged bits of metal and electronic components to launch a radio station.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Alexander Silady is a TOL editorial intern.
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