DID “INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS” ENDORSE REFERENDUM?
Pro-Kremlin media gave the impression on March 23 and March 24 that “international observers” had independently monitored the constitutional referendum and had found it to be free, fair and “in accordance with international standards.” Typical was a March 23 Interfax story. It quoted what it called a “final draft” report by the observers as concluding that “the authorities of Russia and the Chechen Republic have on the whole ensured that residents of Chechnya express their will through the referendum independently and freely.” If one read beyond the lead and headline, however, one learned that this draft had been proposed only by the observers from the former Soviet republics, not necessarily endorsed by those from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States. The second sentence from the end noted that “OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] representatives are to formulate their position separately.”
Even more misleading was a March 24 report from the Russian news agency Novosti, with the headline “All the observers recognized the referendum in Chechnya as legitimate.” But the only observers who were actually quoted came from the CIS, the Islamic Conference, and the Organization of Solidarity of the Peoples of Asia and Africa.
A well-informed Moscow source told Jamestown that, apart from the OSCE, all the “international observers” were from governments or organizations with little record of providing independent monitoring of elections, and often from countries without genuinely free elections themselves. Most of them were from former Soviet republics or from Muslim or Third World entities. Even the OSCE, according to its own statements to the media, sent only a modest fact-finding team rather than a substantial complement of observers of the sort that it normally assigns for serious election monitoring.
Jamestown’s Moscow source said that the OSCE team was delayed at a checkpoint and ended up spending less than half a day actually at work in Chechnya. A spokesman at the Warsaw office of the OSCE told Jamestown by telephone on March 25 that the team had no public report yet and would prefer not to speak with the media at that point. Thus, the only evaluation from the OSCE as of two days after the referendum continued to be the brief comments of its team leader, Hrair Balian, on March 23. He told journalists that “members of the election commissions, especially women, did a heroic job”–but that the overall conduct of the referendum was “not without shortcomings.”
According to the Russian website Gazeta.ru, the observers included the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States–but they also “limited themselves to general evaluations. As a result it turned out that the tone was set by ‘our own’ international observers, those from the CIS.”