Killing Casts Shadow On South Ossetia's 'Tskhinvali Spring'

July 28, 2012
July 28 will mark 100 days since former career KGB officer Leonid Tibilov's inauguration as de facto president of Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Over that period, Tibilov has gone a long way toward delivering on his inauguration pledge to "work for the unification and consolidation of the people of South Ossetia."
But several recent developments -- the disputes over the post of parliament speaker, and over the People's Party and its eponymous clone; the attack on July 3 on a former member of the State Security Service and his son; and the abduction and killing days later of an employee of the Prosecutor-General's Office -- raise the question whether and for how long Tibilov's "Tskhinvali spring" will last.
Tibilov was elected in April in the second round of a repeat ballot necessitated by the annulment of the outcome of the presidential runoff in November in which opposition challenger Alla Djioyeva defeated Moscow's preferred candidate, South Ossetian Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov. He moved immediately to replace or sideline many key officials who had served under his unpopular, inept, authoritarian, and reportedly corrupt predecessor, Eduard Kokoity.
Tibilov has named a new prime minister and first deputy prime minister and replaced the heads of four administrative districts, the justice minister, the interior minister, and the Security Council head.
Possibly more important, in what amounts to a government of national reconciliation, he named his defeated rival David Sanakoyev foreign minister; Djioyeva a deputy premier; and her election campaign manager, former Defense Minister and retired general Anatoly Barankevich, to head the government apparatus. Finally, Tibilov confirmed Bibilov in his post as emergency situations minister.
Prime Minister Rostislav Khugayev's government is drafting a new social and economic development program and a three-year plan for industrial development.
Eight new political parties, including Djioyeva's Iryston -- Saribardzinady Fazuat (Ossetia – Liberty Square), Sanakoyev's Nauag Iryston (New Ossetia), and Bibilov's United Ossetia, have applied to the Justice Ministry for registration, and a ninth is preparing to do so.
Some critics, however, argue that Tibilov has retained too many officials loyal to either Kokoity or his predecessor, Lyudvig Chibirov, rather than appointing equally competent and qualified new blood. Human rights activist and oppositionist Fatima Margiyeva accused Tibilov last month of failing to deliver on his election campaign promises. She complained that the media no longer enjoy the level of freedom they had briefly during the two successive election campaigns, and lambasted Tibilov for not having held a single press briefing since his inauguration.
Meanwhile, the Kokoity faction continues to act as spoiler whenever the opportunity arises. In mid-May, the Supreme Court annulled the parliament's October decision to replace its speaker, Communist Party of South Ossetia leader Stanislav Kochiyev, for criticizing Kokoity. Acting speaker Gennady Kokoyev, a member of Kokoity's Unity party and one of those who voted for Kochiyev's dismissal, appealed that ruling, arguing that the court was not empowered to annul a parliament decision. Kokoyev refused for weeks to surrender the keys of his office to Kochiyev, whereupon the Communist Party faction threatened to quit the parliament. Kokoyev conceded defeat and vacated his office only after the Supreme Court upheld its decision.
A second political dispute is proving more intractable. In the run-up to the May 2009 parliamentary elections, two deputies elected to the outgoing parliament from the opposition People's Party, who were not actually members of that party, convened a "congress" chaired by a member of the ruling Unity party, which Kokoity himself attended. That "congress" elected one of the two, Kazimir Pliyev, as People's Party chairman in place of Roland Kelekhsayev, thereby effectively appropriating the party name. The Central Election Commission then registered that "cloned" People's Party to participate in the May ballot and rejected a parallel application by the original People's Party. Kelekhsayev appealed the hijacking of his party to the Supreme Court, to no avail. The pro-Kokoity People's Party won nine mandates in the new parliament.
In mid-June, Kelekhsayev formally appealed to the Prosecutor-General and the Ministry of Justice to launch a criminal investigation into the appropriation of the People's Party by Pliyev and to recognize himself as its leader. The Justice Ministry reportedly promised a ruling within days, but only after four weeks formally confirmed that written records show Kelekhsayev to be the head of the People's Party.
Both the pro-Pliyev party and Pliyev personally challenged that decision, claiming that the Supreme Court acknowledges Pliyev as People's Party chairman and protesting that "no one has the right to impose on hundreds of members of the party a leader they don't want."
Pliyev further argued that the People's Party parliament faction which he heads has voted for and endorsed numerous political decisions over the past three years, and to deny he is the party's legal head is to call into question the legality of those decisions.
Justice Minister Murat Vaneyev responded that the ministry's letter to Kelekhsayev confirming he is the People's Party leader does not constitute an order that he should be reinstated in that post. Vaneyev said the rival factions themselves should resolve what he termed "an inner party conflict."
Kelekhsayev this week hit back at Vaneyev, saying he had no right to make such a statement before studying documents that the Pliyev faction had undertaken to submit in support of its claim to be the "real" People's Party. Kelekhsayev called on Vaneyev to "take the side of the law," warning that persons he declined to name "are seeking to legalize by your hands an illegal act that even Eduard Kokoity and [Supreme Court Chairman] Atsamaz Bichenov would not have resorted to."
Bichenov, one of the Kokoity-era holdovers whom Tibilov has not yet replaced, has not commented publicly on the Kelekhsayev-Pliyev dispute. Vaneyev has commented that he doubts it will have "any serious consequences for our statehood [or] for our parliament."
By contrast, the shootings earlier this month pose a more serious threat to political stability in a region where the number of crimes committed per week can often be counted on the fingers of one hand. On July 3, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a car in which Irbeg Beteyev, a former member of the State Security Service, was traveling with his 16-year-old son and a friend. All three were seriously injured.
Last September, Beteyev said publicly that Kokoity had asked him to find a hit man to kill Barankevich, Djioyeva, and Djambolat Tedeyev. Tedeyev at that juncture was regarded as the most serious potential opposition presidential candidate but was subsequently barred from registering for the vote.
Then on July 9, prosecutor's office staffer Roland Chitayev was abducted from his home and killed. Two of his colleagues were arrested within hours and charged with the killing. They have reportedly confessed but not divulged their motive.
Kochiyev's Communist Party issued a statement condemning the acts of violence as "a blatant challenge to the authorities, and intended to undermine the reputation of our young republic in the eyes of the international community." Blogger Alan Parastayev has predicted that instability and violence will continue until the new leadership "brings to account those representatives of the former authorities who committed a whole series of economic crimes and other violations of the law."