IMF CHIEF RECOMMENDS FURTHER LOAN
DISBURSEMENTS, WITH CONDITIONS.
Director Michel Camdessus says he will recommend that the
fund release the next $340 million tranche of its $10 billion
loan to Russia soon, provided that the government submits a
new tax code to the parliament, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau
reports. Following a friendly meeting with President Boris
Yeltsin, Camdessus praised the Russian government's
commitment to economic reforms. He signed a joint statement
with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin saying that 1997
"could see the beginning of sustainable economic growth" if the
government sticks to its reform program, AFP reported.
However, Camdessus warned that further IMF support will
depend on the government's ability to improve tax collection
and crack down on corruption. Camdessus also met with
leading State Duma deputies. Opposition representatives
denounced the IMF's recommendations, which they said would
harm living standards in Russia.
AMNESTY CONDEMNS WIDESPREAD "TORTURE" IN
Amnesty International charges that Russian law
enforcement agencies and security services systematically
violate human rights and subject thousands of prisoners,
especially members of ethnic minorities, to torture. Mariana
Katzarova, one of authors of a new Amnesty report, told
RFE/RL's Washington correspondent yesterday that prison
conditions in contemporary Russia are worse than in the
Soviet period, primarily because of severe overcrowding.
Beatings and diseases have killed thousands of prisoners,
especially in pre-trial detention cells. Amnesty charged that
several anti-crime decrees issued by Yeltsin since 1993 violate
international human rights standards. Katzarova also
denounced the widespread hazing that continues to claim the
lives of many young Russian soldiers. Interfax ignored the
Amnesty report entirely, while the official ITAR-TASS agency
reported only on Amnesty's condemnation of the abduction of
journalists in Chechnya.
PROCURATOR-GENERAL SAYS CHUBAIS PAID TAXES.
Yurii Skuratov has informed parliamentary officials that First
Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais paid 517 million
rubles ($95,000) in taxes on his 1996 income, which totaled
$278,000, Interfax reported. The State Duma asked Skuratov
to investigate whether Chubais broke the law after Novaya
gazeta alleged in January that Chubais evaded his taxes.
Chubais paid his taxes soon after the story broke, saying he
earned the money through "lectures and consultations" before
he was appointed presidential chief of staff last July. However,
Skuratov said Chubais earned most of his 1996 income on the
stock market. Meanwhile, Chubais has been appointed to head
the government's Interdepartmental Commission on the
Socioeconomic Problems of Mining Regions, ITAR-TASS
reported. He replaces Vladimir Potanin, who was sacked
during last month's cabinet reshuffle.
LABOR MINISTER RESIGNS.
Labor Minister Gennadii
Melikyan, a survivor of the March cabinet reshuffle, has
resigned, citing "different tactics" from the new first deputy
prime ministers, Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. He told
ITAR-TASS that he decided to step down after last week's
nationwide demonstrations against wage arrears, which
involved an estimated 1 million people across Russia. Melikyan
is expected to contest a by-election for a State Duma seat in
Rostov Oblast, which Sergei Shakhrai left when he was
appointed presidential representative to the Constitutional
Court. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev, who joined the
government last month, is likely to replace Melikyan as labor
An OSCE spokesman announced
yesterday that Tim Guldimann, head of its mission in
Chechnya since January 1996, has resigned. Danish diplomat
Rudolf Thorning-Petersen has been appointed to replace him.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said today there is no need for
further OSCE mediation in Chechnya because the Russian
and Chechen leaderships are now engaged in direct talks.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii
Seleznev and Duma Security Committee chairman Viktor
Ilyukhin have criticized Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's
appointment of field commander Shamil Basaev as first deputy
premier. Seleznev said Basaev was not a capable
administrator, while Ilyukhin called him "odious."
REPORT SAYS RUSSIA HAS NEW ANTHRAX TOXIN, NERVE
The latest issue of Jane's Land Based Air Defence 1997-
98 claims that Russia has developed a new form of the anthrax
bacteria and three new types of nerve gas. The report cites
both Russian defectors and Western intelligence agents, who
say the new anthrax toxin is resistant to all known antibiotics.
Jane's said the lethal nerve gases could be manufactured
without using any of the chemicals that are banned by the
1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.
NON-PAYMENTS LEAD TO MASSIVE POWER CUTS IN
The largest power plant in Primorskii Krai has run
out of fuel, causing power cuts across the region and
blackouts for up to 12 hours a day in the city of Vladivostok.
The city was already experiencing power cuts for a few hours
each day. The power plant cannot buy more coal because
Primore's coal mines, which are unable to pay for fuel, have
suspended production. Maintenance workers at Vladivostok's
State Automobile Inspectorate warned the mayor's office that
they will switch off all traffic lights in the city if they are not
paid back wages for the past six months by 9 April, RFE/RL
ARMS SUPPLIES TO ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN.
Moskva yesterday cited a November 1993 letter allegedly sent
by then Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisyan to his
Russian counterpart, Pavel Grachev, requesting assistance in
acquiring spare parts for hardware supplied by Russia and
guaranteeing payment. This follows Lev Rokhlin's revelations
at a 2 April closed session of the State Duma on the extent of
clandestine Russian arms shipments to Armenia. Moskovskii
komsomolets quoted Rokhlin as saying shipments continued
after Grachev's dismissal last summer but without the
knowledge of his successor, Igor Rodionov. Meanwhile,
Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev has called on Yeltsin to
launch a new investigation into Rokhlin's disclosures, ITAR-
TASS reports. Nezavisimaya gazeta's Armenian correspondent
claimed yesterday that in 1994, Turkey purchased arms from
Russia worth over $3 billion and passed them on to
DE CHARETTE ON KARABAKH TALKS.
Minister Herve de Charette told Armenian President Levon Ter-
Petrossyan in Yerevan earlier this week that he favors direct
talks between Baku and Yerevan and possibly between Baku
and Stepanakert in order to expedite a solution to the
Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL reported. De Charette also
disclosed that Iran, which is not an OSCE member and is
therefore excluded from the mediation process, is pleased
France has become one of the three co-chairmen of the OSCE
Minsk Group. Gasparyan praised Russia's role as "an honest
and impartial" co-mediator, but he complained that Azerbaijan
is trying to undermine Russia's role in the mediation process.
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH OPPOSITION
Levon Ter-Petrossyan says his talks
earlier this week with representatives of the Armenian
Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsyutyun were "very
positive and constructive," Armenpress reported. Ter-
Petrossyan suspended the activities of the opposition ARFD in
1994 on the grounds that the party was implicated in terrorist
activities. Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan also met with
ARFD members earlier this week. He affirmed his readiness to
cooperate with all Armenian political parties, according to
Asbarez on Line.
GEORGIA ADOPTS NEW SECURITY CONCEPT.
parliament has adopted new foreign-policy guidelines aimed at
expediting the country's integration into European structures,
Russian new agencies reported yesterday. Parliamentary
speaker Zurab Zhvania said the new concept reflects the
current state of Georgia's relations with Russia, which he
termed the main threat to Georgian security. Zhvania said that
if Russia fails to assist Georgia in restoring control over the
breakaway republic of Abkhazia, Georgia will revise its present
policy of military cooperation with Russia.
NEW PLANS FOR KAZAK OIL.
Kazakoil, the new national oil
company, says it plans to export more than 1 million tons of
oil to Iran this year, AFP and Interfax reported. This is in
keeping with a 1996 deal providing for 2-6 million tons to be
shipped to Iran annually over a 10-year period. Kazakstan has
already sent 70,000 tons of oil to Iran so far this year.
Kazakstan also intends to start sending oil to China beginning
in the second half of 1997. Shipments will initially go by rail
but eventually through planned pipelines.
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON ECO.
says Kyrgyzstan considers relations with the 10-country
Economic Cooperation Organization extremely important.
Akayev was speaking after his meeting with the organization's
Secretary-General Ondar Ozal earlier this week. He noted that
45% of Kyrgyzstan' s foreign trade is with ECO member states
but that the potential for trade "was far from being exhausted."
The construction of the Karakorum highway is one of
Kyrgyzstan's top priorities because it would create a trade
route stretching from China to the Indian Ocean, Akayev said.
Besides Kyrgyzstan, the ECO member states are the other four
former Soviet Central Asian republics, Azerbaijan, Turkey,
Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
TURKMEN CHIEF PROSECUTOR FIRED.
Saparmurat Niyazov has sacked the country' s chief
prosecutor, Bayrammurat Ashyrliyev, RFE/RL reported.
Niyazov criticized the country's prosecutors in general, saying
they too often failed to sentence real criminals and instead
prosecuted " innocent people." He said failures among law
enforcement officials were to be blamed for the level of crime
and corruption in Turkmenistan. Prosecutors were all too
susceptible to bribery, Niyazov commented.
FOREIGN JOURNALISTS DEMONSTRATE IN MINSK.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antonovich today advised
correspondents not to attend unsanctioned rallies. Otherwise,
he said, Belarusian authorities could not guarantee their
safety. He said the new rules could outlaw Belarusian citizens
from working as correspondents for foreign news agencies. His
comments come after several dozen foreign journalists
demonstrated yesterday outside the Foreign Ministry in Minsk
calling for the government to honor press freedom. ITAR-TASS
says that the demonstration followed reports that police had
beaten and detained journalists covering an anti-government
rally yesterday in Minsk. More than 100 protesters were
beaten by police in what was called the worst violence in the
past six months.
INTERNATIONAL CONCERN OVER SITUATION IN
The EU says it plans to urge all 15 EU
ambassadors in Minsk to meet with Belarusian Foreign
Minister Ivan Antonovich to express concern about what the
EU calls the deteriorating situation there, RFE/RL's West
European correspondent reported. Meanwhile, President
Alyaksandr Lukashenka says he achieved more than he had
hoped for in his 2 April meeting with Russian President Yeltsin
in which the union agreement was signed.
BAN ON RUSSIAN MILITARY FLIGHTS IN UKRAINE.
Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman says the prohibition
on Russian military planes from entering Ukrainian air space,
which came into effect, on 2 April is indefinite, pending a reply
to Ukrainian inquiries from the Russian Defense Ministry.
RFE/RL's correspondent in Kyiv quotes the official as saying
today that if a Russian military plane entered Ukrainian
airspace while the ban is in effect, Ukrainian aircraft and
surface-to-air missiles have the right "to use force" to compel
such aircraft to change course. Groups of Russian military
aircraft entered Ukrainian air space without prior warning on
three occasions last week. The Russian Air Force today denied
that it had violated Ukrainian flight rules in a series of flights
over the Black Sea. An unnamed spokesman for Russia's Air
Force General Staff told Interfax today that the flights were
over neutral waters and were part of an exercise plan. The
spokesman said the Russian Defense Ministry will send an
official message to Ukraine over the ban.
INFLATION IN UKRAINE.
Economics Minister Yuri
Yekhanurov says monthly inflation rate for March was 0.1%--
the lowest since July and beneath the projected figure.
Yekhanurov told journalists in Kyiv yesterday that the
government aims to keep annual inflation at 25%. Inflation
has dropped from more than 10,000% in 1993 to just under
40% last year.
BALTIC DEFENSE MINISTERS AGREE ON DEFENSE
The defense ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and
Lithuania have issued a communique dividing jurisdiction over
Baltic defense projects in the West, BNS reported. The
ministers met in Vilnius yesterday. Latvia will preside over the
formation of the joint Baltic peacekeeping battalion BALTBAT.
Estonia will be home to the staff headquarters of the BALTRON
mine-sweeper squadron, and Lithuania's air control center in
Karmelava will become the major air control headquarters of
the Baltic States.
EU COMMISSIONER SUPPORTS LATVIA'S EUROPEAN
Hans van den Broek, EU foreign affairs
commissioner for CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE, has expressed
his support for Latvia's EU integration efforts. Van den Broek
was speaking at a meeting with Latvian Minister for European
Affairs Aleksandrs Kirsteins, BNS reported. The commissioner
cautioned, however, that each country is responsible for
harmonizing its legislation with European laws. He said Latvia
should speed up adopting legislation on the abolition of foreign
trade barriers, customs, free competition, and money
LITHUANIA TO IMPLEMENT SAFETY MEASURES AT
Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas says
Lithuania will follow the recommendations of an international
panel and implement required safety measures at its Ignalina
nuclear plant. The plant, which supplies up to 90% of
Lithuania's electricity, has reactors similar to those at
Chornobyl, where the world's worst civilian nuclear accident
occurred in 1986. Ignalina's number two reactor is currently
shut down for maintenance. Saudargas said the unit will not
go back on line until safety measures are implemented.
POLAND CAUTIOUS ABOUT RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN
Poland's Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel
Dobrowolski says the scaled-down union agreement between
Russian and Belarus poses no immediate threat to Poland. He
told journalists yesterday in Warsaw, however, that it is in
Poland's interest that Belarus maintain its independence and
sovereignty. Bronislaw Geremek, head of the parliamentary
Foreign Policy Committee, is quoted by PAP as saying he is
wary about the long-term implications of the agreement since
it might mean a Russian military presence on the Polish-
POLISH MASS PRIVATIZATION ENTERS LAST PHASE.
Stock Market Commission is to allow shares issued by the
National Investment Funds to be traded publicly, RFE/RL's
correspondent in Warsaw reports. All NFI shares will be traded
on the stock-exchange beginning in June. The NFIs have
shares in 512 former state-owned enterprises. One third of the
shares in a given company are owned by one NFI, and the
remainder equally distributed among the other funds.
CZECH JEWS TO SEARCH FOR VALUABLES STOLEN BY
Interior Ministry spokesman Oldrich Sladek says his
ministry will help the Czech Jewish community find valuables
stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust. He cautioned,
however, that the ministry has no information on the
treasures' whereabouts. Tomas Kraus, a leader of the Czech
Jewish Community, said last week that Czechs Jews are
joining Jewish communities in neighboring countries to
discover what happened to paintings and other valuables that
went missing during World War II. He said there is now
information suggesting where some of the objects may be
located. But he refused to offer details, saying only that the
trail leads abroad.
NATO OFFICIAL ON SLOVAKIA.
In comments to journalists
in Bratislava on 3 April, NATO Deputy Secretary-General
Anthony Cragg said the U.S. and Russia have made no secret
agreement on excluding Slovakia from NATO enlargement,
RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. Cragg was talking to
journalists in the Slovak capital yesterday. His statement
follows Premier Vladimir Meciar's recent allegation that the
admission of Slovakia into NATO has been rejected by both the
U.S. and Russia. Meciar' s Movement for a Democratic
Slovakia (HZDS) repeated its chairman's claim yesterday. The
U.S. and Russia apply different standards to various East
European countries, HZDS Deputy Chairman Marian Huska
told journalists yesterday.
SLOVAK GOVERNMENT VOWS TO IMPROVE PRISON
Government spokeswoman Ludmila Bulakova
says Slovakia will ensure proper conditions for prisoners,
including stopping all forms of torture. According to Bulakova
the government has ordered the Minister of Justice to monitor
prison conditions and keep the government informed whether
police are abiding by the rules. The Council of Europe
yesterday issued a report critical of prisoner treatment in the
country. The report says a 1995 investigation found several
instances in which prisoners were tortured in police cells.
COMPENSATION FOR HUNGARIAN JEWISH HOLOCAUST
The Hungarian government has launched a
program to compensate Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It has
instructed the Finance Ministry to transfer money to a fund for
this purpose. Last month, the parliament voted to establish
the Hungarian Jewish Heritage Fund, which will pay out
lifetime annuities worth a total of 4 billion forints ($23.5
million) to Hungarian survivors of the Holocaust. The
government also gave the fund real estate and 10 paintings
worth 1.5 billion forints ($8.8 million) as well as 30 million
forints to cover operating costs. Additional sums will be
allocated in each year's budget.
ALBANIAN INTERVENTION FORCE TAKES SHAPE.
Vranitzky, the OSCE's special envoy for the Albanian crisis,
said in Athens yesterday that 12 April is the target date for the
multinational force to be operational. In Austria, Defense
Minister Werner Fasslabend said the mission will take place in
three stages. The first starts now and will secure Tirana
airport as well as the ports of Durres and Vlora; the second
begins in May to protect aid deliveries in the rest of the
country; and the third runs through June and July to ensure
the safety of the elections. A series of high-level multilateral
meetings is taking place in Rome this week to spell out the
strategy and mandate for the mission.
MAYHEM REIGNS IN ALBANIA.
Prime Minister Bashkim Fino
says he will step up contacts to southern insurgents. His job is
made difficult by the fact that armed criminal gangs have
intensified attacks throughout the south in the past two days.
Meanwhile in Tirana, unidentified persons fired at the U.S.
ambassador's home yesterday. Marine guards helped Albanian
police find the source of the shots but did not return fire. The
police arrested 10 people in nearby buildings and confiscated
dozens of automatic weapons. In Gjirokaster, near the Greek
border, people attacked the Greek consulate and demanded
MILOSEVIC'S PARTY TO BOYCOTT CONFERENCE ON
The ruling Socialist Party of Serbia says it will not
take part in an American-sponsored roundtable of Serbs and
Albanians slated for 7-9 April in New York, RFE/RL reported
yesterday. The party argues that any Serbs who go are "selling
out vital state interests" and playing into the hands of those
who want to cut Serbia down to the size of the tiny Ottoman
"Pashaluk of Belgrade." Nasa Borba adds that Serbian
opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, who is on a visit to
Washington, will also stay away from the talks.
UN TROOPS ON ALERT FOR CROATIAN ELECTIONS.
forces stationed in eastern Slavonia will be on full alert for the
13 April balloting, RFE/RL reported yesterday. This is the first
time since the breakup of Yugoslavia that the region's 120,000
Serbs will vote in Croatian elections. The Croatian Electoral
Commission said in Zagreb that the Independent Serbian
Democratic Party (SSDS) is fielding candidates for local and
county assemblies but not for the upper house in Zagreb. The
SSDS is a broad coalition aimed at concentrating the Serbian
vote. SSDS leader Vojislav Stanimirovic launched the party's
campaign yesterday by saying it will fight for Serbian interests
by political means only. Vjesnik writes that 53% of the
125,000 registered voters in eastern Slavonia are Croats and
CROATIAN OPPOSITION LEADER THREATENS TO SUE
Croatian Peasant Party leader Zlatko Tomcic says
he may sue President Franjo Tudjman for claiming in an
interview that Tomcic met with Serbian and Bosnian Muslim
political figures to discuss setting up a new Yugoslavia, Novi
list reports. Speaking in Rijeka yesterday, Tudjman slammed
his local opponents as neo-Communists working for a new
Yugoslavia. Croatia's northwest is home to a strong
autonomist movement, but Tudjman routinely calls such
groups "anti-Croatian." Also in Rijeka, a roundtable on press
freedom blasted Tudjman's party for manipulating election
coverage in the state-run media. Participants also criticized
the opposition for letting Tudjman set the rules.
MACEDONIAN PYRAMID SCHEME HAS $80 MILLION
The head of the Macedonian National Bank has given
all the bank's documents on the TAT pyramid collapse to the
state prosecutor, Nasa Borba reported today. TAT's obligations
total $80 million, but the bank director says sales of the
personal property of TAT's bosses should cover much of the
NEW SLOVENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER OUTLINES PLANS.
Tit Turnsek says that the Slovenian military will become
smaller, more cost-effective, and completely geared toward
acting in cooperation with other armies, the Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung reported on 2 April. This means Slovenia
will not expand its tiny air force or navy but will concentrate
on transforming its army for specialized tasks of international
peacemaking and peacekeeping. The military will not train to
"defend us from our neighbors but rather to work together
with those neighbors" on international projects. He stressed
that both the public and the parliament are strongly in favor of
NATO membership, and that Slovenia sets no conditions on
stationing NATO troops on its territory.
VAN DER STOEL ON ROMA MINORITY IN ROMANIA.
van der Stoel, the OSCE high commissioner for national
minorities, says ethnic tensions still prevail in relations
between the Romanian majority and the Roma minority. At the
end of his two-day visit to Romania, he proposed that a
department be set up to deal with the integration of the Roma
community. Senate Chairman Petre Roman told Van der Stoel
that Romania is concerned about the fate of Romanian
minorities in other countries. He singled out Ukraine where,
he said, ethnic Romanians have been subjected to " 50 years
of harsh Russification." Van der Stoel told presidential
counselor Zoe Petre that it is " desirable" for the pending
treaty with Ukraine to be concluded as soon as possible. He
added that no NATO member has so far opposed Romania' s
inclusion in the first wave of new members, RFE/RL reported.
ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY REORGANIZED.
government is to restructure the Ministry of Defense to bring it
into line with NATO standards, RFE/RL reported on 3 April. In
a significant departure from past practice, the ministry' s
structure will no longer be considered a state secret. It will
include a Directorate for European and Euro-Atlantic
Integration, subordinated to its Political and Defense
Department. The Directorates for Human Resources,
Information and Public Relations, and Medical Corps will be
directly subordinated to the Minister of Defense. Other
ministerial structures dealing with the military as a whole will
also come directly under the minister's jurisdiction.
MORE MOLDOVAN REACTIONS TO RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN
Moldovan Foreign Minister Mihai Popov says the
Russian-Belarusian union will help improve Moldovan trade
with the Baltic States and North European countries because
of the lifting of customs and other trade barriers, Radio
Bucharest reported. Vladimir Atamaniuc, deputy chairman of
the Transdniester Supreme Soviet, told Infotag that " common
sense" was now " winning over political ambitions." He said
that the " Transdniestrian republic" is extremely interested in
such integration because "80% of our economy is closely inter-
related with that of the Russian Federation." Alexander
Caraman, vice president of the breakaway region, says the
union will serve the interests of state-formations within the
CIS that have not yet been recognized and are more favorable
to the integration process.
SMIRNOV ON RUSSIAN MILITARY ASSETS IN
Igor Smirnov, leader of Moldova's
Transdniester breakaway region, says he has demanded that
Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov " follow the orders" of
Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin and set up a commission to
determine the future of the assets of the " former 14th Army."
As " head of state," Smirnov said, " I must think how to
defend my people" when the Russian military contingent in
the region is being reduced. Smirnov wants the commission to
determine how the assets of the departing Russian forces will
be shared with his own forces, BASA-press reported.
BULGARIA' S SOCIALISTS OPPOSE JOINING NATO.
Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski of the Socialist Party has
opposed the interim government' s decision to apply for NATO
membership, RFE/RL's correspondent in Sofia reported.
Pirinski was taking part yesterday in a televised debate on
national security. But all the participants supported efforts to
join the EU. Meanwhile, the interim government has approved
" in principle" Bulgaria' s participation in the international
mission for Albania. The Defense and Interior Ministries have
yet to work out detailed plans. After the general elections
scheduled for later this month, the parliament will have to
approve the plans.
DRASTIC CUTS IN PUBLIC JOBS IN BULGARIA.
Labor Minister Ivan Neikov says 160,000 state sectors jobs will
be eliminated by the end of the year in a bid to reduce budget
spending on loss-making firms, RFE/RL's correspondent in
Sofia reported yesterday. He said 100,000 industrial, and
60,000 administrative jobs will have to go. Those who lose
their jobs will have the choice of a one-time payment totaling
$250 or regular unemployment benefits over three months
equivalent to their wages. It was also announced yesterday
that 24 state-owned firms will be privatized, most of which are
Chirac Fails to Improve Franco-Czech Relations
by Joel Blocker
During his official visit to the Czech Republic this week,
French President Jacques Chirac clearly had one major
objective in mind: to improve the long-time parlous state of
Franco-Czech relations. My assessment of his trip gives Chirac
a nine--on a scale of 10--for effort, but only a meager three for
achievement. Here are the reasons why.
During his 24 hours in Prague, Chirac failed to do much
more than paper over the basic differences between the French
and the Czech governments in foreign-policy attitudes and
outlooks. Those differences have more to do with post-Cold
War happenings than with the historic events of 1938 (Munich
accord), 1948 (Czech Communist coup d'etat) and 1968 (Soviet
invasion) that Chirac twice publicly admitted had opened wide
gaps between the two nations. For all the credit he deserves for
his candor about previous problems, Chirac's admissions
served to conceal the core reasons for today's Franco-Czech
The coolness was created, above all, by the conservative
Chirac's late predecessor, Socialist Francois Mitterrand. In
1991, Mitterrand began a running political--but not personal--
quarrel with President Vaclav Havel. The dispute became
public when, during a visit to Prague the same year,
Mitterrand told reporters it would take "decades and decades"
for Central and East European former Communist nations to
qualify for entry into the European Community, the
predecessor of the European Union. The quarrel continued
through the end of Mitterrand's presidency in 1995, despite
Havel and Mitterrand's additional visits to each other's
As a result of the bad publicity, Mitterrand lost the good
odor he had earned in Prague--and elsewhere in Central
Europe--after having invited Havel, and several other Czech
anti-Communist dissidents, to breakfast with him at the
French Embassy in late 1988. That was 10 months before the
Velvet Revolution, and Havel famously came to breakfast with
his usual bag containing a toothbrush, in case he was
detained by Czech police after leaving the embassy. He was
not, but the event helped create Havel's excellent reputation
among the French, which he has never lost.
More important, Mitterrand's skeptical attitude about
integrating Central and East European nations into the West
was not only an echo of an aging politician's deep cynicism
about the possibility of changing classic European divisions. It
also reflected long-held views about those divisions by high
French Foreign Ministry officials. Czechoslovakia--and later
the Czech Republic--was seen by them, and manifestly by
Mitterrand as well, as being in "the American camp." As such,
Prague was considered not nearly as friendly to French
interests and French ideas of European independence than
Bucharest and Warsaw. What's more, the Romanians and
Poles also were--and remain--far more francophone than the
Such considerations continue to count for a great deal for
those who work at the Quai d'Orsay in Paris as implementers,
and sometimes constructors, of French foreign policy. An
inquiring reporter who spoke with some of them just before
Chirac's arrival in Prague was told that the Czech government
was more interested in the EU's single market than in its
continued integration. That may be true of Prime Minister
Vaclav Klaus, but it certainly does not reflect Havel's stated
views. The reporter was also told by high officials at the Quai
that Prague was more interested in U.S. protection than in
France's vision of the Union as the European pillar of NATO or,
as Chirac put it in Prague, "Europe's defense identity."
With all those old ideas in his baggage, Chirac was
doomed to failure in Prague. He did manage to renew what
both sides agree is a warm personal relationship with Havel.
But nothing Chirac said in Prague could quite erase the
impression among informed Czechs that France's president
was a victim of the Quai's, and his own, old thinking. Many of
them have in the past seven years become as cynical about
French motives as the Quai has been of Czech motives for
decades. That's why Franco-Czech relations still have a long
way to go before they become warm, not to mention close.