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Newsline - June 9, 1997


During a one-day visit to St. Petersburg, President Boris Yeltsin called for a "fight for the Russian language," Russian and Western news agencies reported on 6 June. The president said Russian should be cleansed of many foreign words and added he was considering a nationwide ban on foreign-language advertising. A similar ban imposed by the Moscow city government has not been enforced in the capital. Yeltsin also met with local cultural figures and advocated turning St. Petersburg TV Channel 5, which broadcasts largely in European Russia, into a nationwide educational and cultural network. In addition, Yeltsin called for holding a referendum on whether Vladimir Lenin's body should be removed from the mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square and buried in St. Petersburg. Yeltsin recently issued a decree declaring 6 June, the birthday of the 19th-century poet Aleksandr Pushkin, a national holiday.


Also in St. Petersburg, Yeltsin signed a decree to build three new cargo terminals on the Gulf of Finland, Russian news agencies reported on 6 June. The facilities will handle crude oil, petroleum products, and dry cargo. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the new terminals will reduce Russia's need to use ports in the Baltic States and added that "the Baltic countries should think hard about their policy toward Russia." Also on 6 June, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin told reporters in Kaliningrad Oblast that Russia plans to increase its "defense capability" in the Baltic region, but he gave no details.


Yeltsin announced in St. Petersburg that state benefits for working pensioners would soon be cut by 50%, Russian news agencies reported on 6 June. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev said the planned reductions would save some 4.5 trillion rubles ($780 million) annually. Sysuev explained that benefits to working pensioners receiving the maximum benefit would be cut more than payments for those receiving smaller pensions. Both Yeltsin and Sysuev insisted the government will pay all pension arrears by 1 July. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov recently denied that the government plans to cut the income of working pensioners (see RFE/RL Newsline, 5 June 1997). Meanwhile, the government approved plans to have the Pension Fund audited, Interfax reported on 6 June. The audit is a condition of a proposed $800 million World Bank loan, which is expected to be approved in late June.


First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov arrived in Tokyo on 9 June and met with Japanese Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka, Russian agencies reported. Nemtsov said Russian would welcome Japanese investment in the timber and food industries. He also said that he would provide his personal phone number and "direct support" to Japanese businessmen who decide to invest at least $100 million in Russia. Nemtsov later met with Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda to sign a 15-point memorandum on boosting bilateral trade and an agreement on a $95 million loan to Russia to finance projects in that country's Far East. Nemtsov is scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto on 10 June before departing the next day.


Following talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in Nazran on 6 June, Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii told Interfax that the normalization of the situation in Chechnya would be a protracted process and that the top priority is currently restoring the region's oil complex. Berezovskii endorsed the proposed creation of organization for the Caucasus modeled on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also on 6 June, Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov accused his Chechen counterpart, Kazbek Makhashev, of seeking to avoid cooperation in combating crime, including abductions. Two days later, ITAR-TASS cited Maskhadov's press spokesman Kazbek Khadzhiev as saying that an Islamic banking and court system will be established in Chechnya.


Federal officials are stepping up pressure on Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, whom they blame for persistent energy crises in the krai. Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Yevgenii Savostyanov arrived in Vladivostok on 6 June to present krai authorities with a recent presidential decree transferring extensive powers to Yeltsin's representative in Primore, Viktor Kondratov, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported. Kondratov, who heads the krai branch of the Federal Security Service, is now charged with implementing presidential decrees and instructions, overseeing the distribution of federal funds in the krai, and supervising Primore's energy, timber, and fishing industries. Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov rejected Nazdratenko's request to join a government delegation visiting Japan, ITAR-TASS reported. Nazdratenko has vowed not to step down, although he admitted that First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais recently gave him two weeks to resign voluntarily.


Coal miners in Vorkuta (Komi Republic) have voted to continue the strike they began on 1 June, despite promised government assistance to meet some of their demands, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 June. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais pledged an emergency aid package of 150 billion rubles ($26 million) to Vorkuta on 4 June and raised the promised aid to 250 billion rubles the next day. However, Viktor Semenov, the chairman of Komi's Independent Trade Union of Miners, told ITAR-TASS that the miners are demanding broader, "strategic measures" to solve the problems of the Pechora coal basin. Semenov noted that a May 1996 presidential decree on "stabilizing the situation in the Pechora coal basin" has never been implemented. Yeltsin issued that decree during a campaign swing through Vorkuta (see OMRI Daily Digest, 27 May 1996).


Of the seven registered factions in the State Duma, only Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko opposed ratification of the Russian-Belarusian union treaty and charter on 6 June. The Duma ratified the documents by a vote of 363 to two with 19 abstentions. Yabloko deputies who were present abstained. Duma deputy Sergei Ivanenko explained that while Yabloko is not opposed to closer ties with Belarus in principle, integration should not be "built on the basis of an illegitimate parliament" in Belarus. The lower chamber of the Belarusian parliament unanimously ratified the documents on 30 May. Yabloko members have repeatedly criticized Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's policies toward opposition politicians and the media.


The Duma has passed by a vote of 265 to 15 with two abstentions a law on the "development budget," ITAR-TASS reported on 6 June. The development budget seeks to augment federal budget spending by channeling private investment into targeted projects. Communist Duma deputies have long supported the project. Revenue shortfalls have left the government unable to meet spending targets outlined in the 1997 budget, let alone attract additional funds for a development budget. Also on 6 June, the Duma passed draft amendments to the Criminal Code to ban power cuts to facilities "of strategic importance to the country's national security," such as military units and nuclear centers. The same day, the Duma passed by 229 to 10 a preliminary version of a Communist-sponsored resolution declaring there are no "objective reasons or preconditions" for dissolving the lower house of the parliament.


Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed says Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will soon be sacked from the government and made a "scapegoat" for all Russia's problems, Interfax reported on 8 June. Chernomyrdin left Moscow on 30 May for a three-week vacation, fueling speculation in the Russian media that he may soon be forced out of office. However, spokesmen for the government and presidential administration, along with other high cabinet officials, have vigorously denied the rumors. On 5 June, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais described reports of Chernomyrdin's imminent ouster as "absurd," while Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev said such rumors are "a ridiculous provocation." Other observers have argued that the prime minister's vacation was timed to force Duma deputies to deal with Chubais, who is chairing the government in Chernomyrdin's absence.


The new television network TV-Center began broadcasting on 9 June on Channel 3. TV-Center is informally known as "Luzhkov-TV" because it is being financed largely by the Moscow city government. Commentators have viewed its appearance as a sign that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov is seeking media support in preparation for a presidential bid (See "End Note," RFE/RL Newsline, 22 May 1997). TV-Center is currently broadcasting only to Moscow and Ryazan but reportedly will soon be relayed to 19 other Russian cities.


In Russia, only 54% of men over 16 are likely to live to the age of 60, according to data released by the State Statistics Committee, Interfax and Reuters reported on 8 June. At the end of the 19th century, the corresponding figure was 56%. The data indicate that Russian men aged 16-60 are most likely to die of accidents or alcohol poisoning. Meanwhile, a nationwide doctors' congress in Moscow on 7 June passed a resolution warning that because the country's death rate continues to exceed its birth rate, "Russia is losing its main asset: its citizens."


Nikolai Sevryugin, who was governor of Tula Oblast from October 1991 to March 1997, has been arrested on corruption charges, Russian news agencies reported on 6 June. He is accused of taking $100,000 in bribes. Sevryugin's son and an unnamed representative of a Moscow-based bank were also arrested. Prominent opposition figure and Agrarian Vasilii Starodubtsev defeated Sevryugin in a March gubernatorial election. On 6 June, Yeltsin warned in a radio address that regional leaders would not be exempt from the government's anti-corruption campaign.


Participants at a conference in Tbilisi on 6 June expressed concern that failure to extend the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia will result in the renewal of hostilities, a spokesman for Britain's NGO Vertic, which organized the conference, told RFE/RL Newsline on 8 June. "We are balancing on the brink of war," according to Zurab Erkvania, chairman of the Abkhaz government in exile. Georgian Deputy Parliamentary Chairman Vakhtang Kolbaia said Tbilisi is ready to start negotiations with Sukhumi at all levels and in any form. Kolbaia reiterated Georgia's offer to give Abkhazia the broadest possible autonomy within a unified Georgian state. Meanwhile, Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, accused Russia of making its assistance in resolving the conflict contingent on Georgian help "to rebuild the Soviet Union."


On 5-6 June, separate talks took place in Moscow between Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba and Russian Foreign Ministry officials and between Georgian ambassador Vazha Lortkipanizde and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov. Following his arrival in the Russian capital on 8 June, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba said again that he is prepared to sign a peace treaty with Georgia, similar to that concluded between Russia and Chechnya on 12 May, "if the Georgian side has goodwill," Interfax reported. He warned that the withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force could lead to a resumption of hostilities. Addressing the Abkhaz parliament the previous day, Ardzinba had ruled out talks with Georgia on Abkhaz autonomy and reiterated his demand that Abkhazia and Georgia have equal status.


Dzhamlet Babilashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 6 June that four men have been charged with treason in connection with the bomb attack on Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported. Babilashvili said that the assassination attempt was planned by former Georgian security service chief Igor Giorgadze and Mkhedrioni leader Dzhaba Ioseliani, who had worked with Russian intelligence agents to eliminate Shevardnadze and install Giorgadze as Georgia's leader.


The charges against five Armenians in connection with the attack on the parliament building shortly after the September 1996 presidential elections have been changed from inciting mass public disturbances to disturbing public order, Armenian agencies reported on 5 June. The five were subsequently sentenced to prison terms of between 18 and 30 months but were released under the terms of an amnesty proclaimed earlier this year. Dashnaktsutyun party member Kim Balayan still faces charges in connection with the incident.


Ara Sahakyan told journalists in St. Petersburg on 8 June that "our society demands that we take more effective steps for rapprochement with Russia," Interfax reported. He added that for this reason, the possibility of Armenia's accession to the Russia-Belarus Union "deserves attention and an analysis of all possible consequences." Sahakyan is the first Armenian leader to comment publicly on the campaign launched to this end by the Armenian Communist Party and endorsed by the Russian State Duma (see "End Note," RFE/RL Newsline, 29 May 1997).


Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov said during an official visit to Pakistan on 8 June that his country will not recognize the government of Afghanistan's Taliban movement until the UN does, international press reported. The previous day, Shikhmuradov and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan to discuss the Afghan situation. Pakistan's The Nation reported that Posuvalyuk was interested in meeting with Taliban officials in Islamabad. According to unconfirmed reports, the meeting took place, but neither Russia or Pakistan have made an official statement about it. Foreign Minister Khan is scheduled to visit Moscow on 7 July.


The Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition have agreed to sign a final peace agreement on 27 June in Moscow, according to RFE/RL's Tajik Bureau. The accord was due to be signed on 13 June but was postponed for "technical reasons."


Islam Karimov's new book went on sale in Tashkent on 6 June, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Titled Uzbekistan on the Threshold of the 21st Century, the book describes Uzbekistan as a "front-line state with hotbeds of tension in Afghanistan and Tajikistan close to its borders." Karimov blames this tension on "religious extremism and fanaticism." However, he argues that Islam and Islamic culture should not be viewed as the "new evil empire." Such a view could lead to "a tragic mistake" on the part of Western industrial countries in evaluating the Central Asian states in particular, according to Karimov.


Leonid Kuchma said on nationwide radio on 7 June that the political treaty with Russia, signed in Kyiv on 31 May, was a victory for "reason" and "common sense." Kuchma noted the treaty has been internationally acclaimed and rejected accusations that the agreements reached were to the detriment of Ukraine's national interests. Besides signing the treaty, Kuchma and Yeltsin concluded a deal on the division of the Black Sea fleet and the use of port facilities in Sevastopol. Ukraine's lawmakers have asked Kuchma to explain the treaty and clarify the Black Sea deal (see RFE/RL Newsline, 6 June 1997).


Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati arrived in Kyiv on 8 June for talks on expanding relations. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry told journalists the purpose of the visit is to discuss future political and economic cooperation between Kyiv and Iran. Ukraine halted the sale of tanks to Iran last year following protests by Israel. Meanwhile, Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian held talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, Olexander Kuzmuk, and other officials in Kyiv on 6 June at the start of his five-day visit to Ukraine. He is also scheduled to meet with President Leonid Kuchma and Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko.


Moscow has strongly criticized the bombing of a World War II monument in Riga (see RFE/RL Newsline, 6 June 1997), BNS and Western agencies reported. One person was killed in the blast, which damaged the base of the monument. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said in a statement that "Moscow will judge the extent of Riga's real interest in developing bilateral relations with Russia by the Latvian government's reaction to the incident." He added that the explosion was an attempt to deal a blow to the "stabilization process" in Russian-Latvian relations. Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins urged that the incident not be allowed to have a negative impact on those relations. The 1985 monument commemorates the victory of Soviet troops over Nazi occupation forces in Riga during World War II. Russian nationalists have frequently held rallies there.


Valdas Adamkus, a U.S. environmental official of Lithuanian origin, has agreed to run for the Lithuanian presidency, BNS reported. Adamkus was in Vilnius on 7 June to attend a meeting of the Centrist Union, which is backing his candidacy and which has twice proposed amending legislation that stipulates candidates must have been resident in Lithuania for three years prior to the elections. The parliament rejected that proposal on both occasions. A recent poll showed Adamkus topping approval ratings, ahead of incumbent President Algirdas Brazauskas, former Prosecutor-General Arturas Paulauskas, and parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis (see RFE/RL Newsline, 30 May 1997)


Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz thanked Pope John Paul II on 8 June for not stirring up political debates during his trip to his homeland, which is taking place just four months before parliamentary elections. Cimoszewicz, whose Democratic Left Alliance has led the coalition government since 1993, told reporters after his 20-minute audience with the pope in Cracow that he had noted attempts to gain political capital from the pontiff's visit. But the premier added he would refrain from comment in order not to spoil the special atmosphere surrounding the papal visit. He did note, however, that he and the pope did not discuss the two issues that most divide the Polish Catholic Church and the former Communists--abortion and the still unratified Concordat treaty with the Vatican.


The Sejm has voted by 281 to 20 with three abstentions to abolish the death penalty, Reuters reported on 6 June. This measure is part of a new penal code that must still be signed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski before taking effect on 1 January 1998. Poland hanged its last convicted criminal in 1988. Since then, a moratorium on carrying out executions has been in force.


Vaclav Klaus said on Czech TV on 8 June that the parliament's failure to support his government in the 10 June vote of confidence would be a "leap in the dark." Klaus argued it would be relatively easy to bring the government down, but he pointed to the uncertainty of what would happen next. He said those who want the government to fall should propose a better alternative. Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and its two junior coalition partners--the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL)--hold just 100 votes in the 200-seat parliament. But the Christian Democrats have said they will support the government only if it first endorses a stabilization program recently approved by the three coalition leaders. They also suggested that the government postpone rent and energy prices hikes announced earlier this year (see "End Note" below).


The offices of the first private Slovak news agency, which is due to begin operations on 15 June, have been burglarized, director-general Pavol Mudry told journalists on 8 June. Mudry said that although the building had a security system, much of SITA's equipment was stolen. According to police, the burglary seems to have taken place on 7 June. SITA will employ some 30 people and will compete against the state-run Slovak Press Agency (TASR) on the Slovak media market. It has said it will focus on economic and domestic political news.


Vladimir Meciar told Slovak Radio on 7 June that no devaluation of the Slovak crown "is being prepared or considered." He said that devaluation would be of no benefit to the Slovak economy, and he called on Slovaks to put their trust in the national currency and deposit their money in Slovak financial institutions. According to Meciar, floating the Slovak crown, as has been done with its Czech counterpart, was an unfeasible economic instrument from Slovakia's viewpoint. "The fixed exchange rate is better in every way," he argued. The premier also said that Slovakia intends to reduce the mutual dependence of the Slovak and Czech economies.


In one of the biggest scandals in post-communist Hungary, eight officials associated with the Privatization and State Property Holding Agency have been charged with mismanagement, fraud, or forgery, Hungarian media reported on 6 June. One of those charged is Marta Tocsik, a consultant who was paid more than 800 million forints ($5.3 million) for mediating between the state privatization agency and local governments over the division of income from the sales of state enterprises. Charges also were filed against Laszlo Boldvai, a former treasurer of Hungary's governing party; Peter Liszkai, a former legal counsel for the privatization agency; and Imre Szokai, the privatization agency's former board chairman. In October 1996, Prime Minister Gyula Horn fired the agency's entire board and ordered a full-scale investigation.


The Socialist Party has good chances of winning the 1998 general elections but must improve its policies and make fewer mistakes, party chairman and Prime Minister Gyula Horn told the fifth congress of his Socialist Party on 7 June. Horn called for party unity, saying it would not be "constructive" for small groups within the party to "question the authority of the leadership" less than a year before the elections. The success of Hungary's economic stabilization and its prospects of joining NATO and the EU were likely to help the Socialists repeat their 1994 victory, he said.


Franz Vranitzky, a mediator for the Operation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, paid a one-day visit to the Albanian capital on 8 June. He met with President Sali Berisha, Prime Minister Bashkim Fino, and OSCE field personnel. Vranitzky told a press conference that preparations for the elections topped his agenda, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. It nonetheless remains unclear in which regions OSCE monitors will be finally deployed. Fino said on 8 June that they might be limited to Tirana if the security situation outside the capital does not improve. Vranitzky noted the OSCE will not deal directly with local rebel chiefs in the south. Meanwhile, Berisha has extended the curfew by one hour to 10:00 p.m. and decreed that no curfew will be in effect on election day. The opposition, however, wants it abolished completely.


In the night from 6 to 7 June, a group of armed people attacked the prison hospital in Tirana. The shoot-out with police continued for about 30 minutes, but the unidentified assailants escaped. Two prominent prisoners were in the jail at the time, but it is unclear if the attack had to do with either of them. One of the prisoners is Ilir Ceta, who tried to assassinate President Berisha on 4 June. The other is Maksude Kademi, the owner of the collapsed Sudja pyramid scheme. No injuries were reported during the shoot-out, according to Dita Informacion on 8 June.


Constitutional Court judge Rustem Gjata on 7 June ruled that the current system for allotting 40 legislative seats on the basis of proportional representation is unconstitutional. The law allocates 10 of those to the two largest parties, while the other 30 go to smaller parties. This could have led to scenarios in which small parties with just over 2% of the vote have more seats than the party with the second-largest number of votes, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. In reaction to the decision, nine small parties threatened to withdraw from the coalition government and to boycott the election. An all-party round table convened in Tirana on 8 June to deal with the dispute, but no results have been announced. President Berisha will either have to decree an amendment to the law or recall the parliament to amend the legislation.


President Franjo Tudjman and 2,000 well-wishers went by train from Zagreb to Serb-held Vukovar in eastern Slavonia on 8 June. Tudjman said in the Danubian town that all ethnic Serbs who recognize Croatia as their home and obtain Croatian documents are welcome to stay, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the area. He stressed, however, that it is not possible for all Croatia's 150-200,000 Serbian refugees to return home lest "discord and war" break out once again. The president warned the remaining Serbs not to let themselves become instruments of Belgrade's policies. He added that while Croatia cannot forget what has happened since 1990, it must forgive. Eastern Slavonia is under UN administration but is slated to return to Croatian control in mid-July.


Vojislav Stanimirovic, the leading local Serbian political figure in Vukovar, said after Tudjman's departure on 8 June that the president's speech was not sufficiently conciliatory. Stanimirovic stressed that Tudjman's failure to welcome back all Serbs was particularly unhelpful. The Serbian leader emphasized that the key issues now are to ensure full respect for human and civil rights, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the area. UN administrator Jacques Klein, for his part, noted that all Croatian citizens must work together for reconciliation and that it would be "a great historical mistake" not to do so. As Tudjman's train passed through nearby Serb-held Borovo, some 20 men stoned it, breaking some windows. Journalists reporting from the area said Tudjman's speech should have been the most important one of his career but that he put electoral politics before statesmanship.


Vlado Gotovac, the Liberal and opposition coalition candidate for the presidency, left hospital in Zagreb on 8 June. He was being treated following a recent assault that left him shaken (see RFE/RL Newsline, 6 June 1997). Gotovac is now returning to the campaign trail, albeit on a reduced schedule, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. Authorities in Pula said on 6 June that the attacker was a drunken army captain who was subsequently arrested and suspended from duty. The local police admitted that security at the rally was lax. Meanwhile in Osijek, coalition leaders met on 7 June and slammed the attack on Gotovac as an "organized assassination attempt" that bodes ill for the future of Croatian democracy.


Eight presidents representing the Central European Initiative countries met in the Slovenian town of Portoroz on 7 June and called for the swift integration of ex-communist states into NATO and the EU. Slovene President Milan Kucan added, however, that peoples must not lose their identity in the rush for European unity. CEI foreign ministers met the same day in Sarajevo, where they pledged to send observers to cover the Albanian elections. Also in the Bosnian capital, a controversy broke out over the weekend over attempts by the Bosnian police to block the sale of the bi-monthly magazine Politika. The magazine's editors charged that the authorities do not tolerate criticism of President Alija Izetbegovic, while the police argued that the magazine was vulgar and insensitive. In Croat-held Stolac, the Onasa news agency reported on 7 June that 11 Muslim homes were torched recently, shortly before their owners were due to return. And in Washington, the State Department on 6 June criticized Serbia for threatening to close down 500 radio and TV stations unless they obtain new permits.


By a vote of 227 to 158, a joint session of Romania's bi-cameral parliament rejected a motion of no-confidence in Victor Ciorbea's government on 6 June, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Before the vote, the opposition argued that the government has failed to keep its electoral promises to improve living standards, cut taxes, and help industry and agriculture. Ciorbea pointed to his government's achievements and said all the faults imputed to his cabinet were the lingering legacy of Nicolae Vacaroiu's government. Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of the Greater Romania Party, said the day marked the beginning of the Romanian people's "struggle of national liberation" against the ruling coalition. The parliament is due to debate a second no-confidence motion on 9 June.


The Supreme Court on 6 June reduced the sentences of 16 former officials and secret police commanders who were involved in the killing and wounding of demonstrators in Timisoara during the December 1989 uprising against the communist regime. Among those who received lighter sentences are Ion Coman, a former secretary of the party, and Cornel Pacoste, a former member of the Executive Committee. Radu Tinu and Gheorghe Atudoraie, former high-ranking Securitate officers in Timis County, were acquitted. However, the court sentenced Ilie Matei, a former member of the Communist Party's Executive Committee, to 15 years in prison for the role he played in the incident. Matei had been acquitted by a lower court.


Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel has submitted his country's proposals for the mechanism of the Austrian-Romanian-Hungarian "trilateral." Schuessel met with his Romanian counterpart, Adrian Severin, and Hungarian Deputy Foreign Minister Matyas Eoersi on 8 June in Sarajevo, where the three also attended a meeting of the Central European Initiative. The "trilateral" was officially launched when the three countries' foreign ministers met in Sintra, Portugal, one week earlier. Also in Sarajevo, Severin agreed with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko and Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Aurelian Danila to set up a "trilateral" of their countries. Meanwhile, it was announced in Bucharest that the presidents of Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania will meet in Izmail, Ukraine, in early July to officially launch the two "Euroregions" provided for in the recent Romanian-Ukrainian basic treaty, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 8 June.


Moldova's trade with CIS countries has dropped by 2.6% to $392 million since the beginning of 1997, a Ministry of Economy spokesman told journalists on 6 June. He added that Moldova now has a trade deficit with CIS countries totaling $52.2 million, saying that this poor performance was largely due to the tax deposits imposed by Ukraine for Moldovan exports transiting the country. The spokesman said the taxes--which are intended to guarantee that goods will not be illegally sold in Ukraine--have "paralyzed" trade with CIS countries for many weeks.


Ivan Kostov told the parliament on 6 June that Bulgaria must tighten laws against organized crime and corruption, Reuters reported from Sofia. Kostov suggested amendments to the penal code to fight domestic arms trade and the setting up of organized criminal groups. He said some members of the former state security services now "play a key role in crime." The next day, Kostov met with top security officials to discuss the fight against organized crime. Boiko Rashkov, the Director of the National Intelligence Service, told the press before the meeting that the government and law enforcement officials need to work closely to achieve better results.


Stefan Sofiyanski, who headed Bulgaria's interim cabinet before the April elections, says he has received a letter from U.S. President Bill Clinton praising his government's contribution to restoring stability in Bulgaria. Sofiyanski said Clinton lauded the "remarkable achievements" of the interim cabinet, which ruled Bulgaria for 99 days after taking over amid a severe economic crisis, an RFE/RL Sofia correspondent reported on 8 June.


by Jiri Pehe

For the first time since the fall of communism, the Czech Republic is about to test one of the fundamental mechanisms of democracy: a vote of confidence in the government. The cabinet has called for such a vote to take place on 10 June, following changes in the government and the announcement of a stabilization package aimed at bolstering the weakening currency and curing the ailing economy. The package, which provides for austerity measures, is likely to result in belt-tightening for many Czechs after several years of economic prosperity. The call for a vote of confidence came partly in response to the opposition Social Democratic Party's decision to propose a vote of no-confidence in the government. Under the Czech Constitution, a confidence vote initiated by the government passes if a simple majority of deputies present in the lower chamber vote in the government's favor. A no-confidence vote initiated by the opposition, on the other hand, requires an absolute majority of all 200 deputies in the lower chamber (101 votes). The problems facing the government are both political and economic. The June 1996 parliamentary elections resulted in the narrow defeat of the right-of-center coalition led by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. The fragmented opposition allowed Klaus to form a minority government, which has been under constant pressure. Accustomed over the previous four years to ruling unchallenged by the opposition, the government found it difficult to seek a broader political consensus for its policies. Moreover, the opposition Social Democrats have opted for a highly confrontational style that has made it increasingly difficult for the government to be conciliatory. After last year's elections, Czech politics quickly degenerated into constant battles between the opposition and coalition over minor questions. Major issues, such as completing privatization and reforming the educational, health, and housing sectors, had to be put on hold. Most analysts agree that the ruling coalition's biggest failing is its inability to communicate with the public and the opposition. There have also been serious problems within the ruling coalition. The two junior coalition partners of Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS)--the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA)--have found it difficult at times to work with the prime minister and his party. The constant political bickering both between the ruling coalition and the opposition and within the coalition itself has taken its toll. By the end of 1996, opinion polls showed that an increasing number of Czechs were disgusted with politics. The paralyzed government was unable to respond promptly to the growing number of negative developments, including banking and financial scandals as well as worsening macroeconomic indicators. Strengthened numerically by the expulsion of two Social Democratic deputies from their party, the coalition finally decided to act in April by announcing the austerity measures. However, this step did not have the desired result, partly because the acknowledgment of past mistakes was not accompanied by a government reshuffle. By mid-May, opinion polls suggested that the public's confidence in the government had declined to an all-time low. Calls for its resignation and Klaus's replacement began to intensify. To make matters worse, currency speculators responded to the growing political and economic malaise by attacking the Czech currency. Although the Central Bank spent some $2-3 billion to defend the crown, it was eventually forced to abolish the 15% fluctuation band, paving the way for a significant decline in the crown's value. The coalition's stabilization program, announced in the wake of the Central Bank's decision, can succeed only if it has the active support of all coalition parties and at least the tacit support of the trade unions and the opposition. Winning a vote confidence is a prerequisite for seeking such support. But the latest developments show that the coalition is severely disjointed. Josef Lux, chairman of the Christian (KDU-CSL), has called for replacing Klaus. Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec, who is also deputy chairman of the ODS, recently attacked the prime minister for allegedly failing to inform the government about a letter from the IMF enumerating what the fund considers to be the Czech Republic's main economic problems. Klaus and Zieleniec later announced they would put up a united front, but the ODS appears to be divided. The KDU-CSL has said it will support the government in the confidence vote only if the government approves the stabilization package--which is still a coalition document--beforehand. It has also urged the government to reconsider the rent and energy hikes announced earlier this year. Given that the ruling coalition controls 100 seats in the 200-member parliament, the government is likely to survive the vote. But when the population begins to feel the impact of the austerity measures,.the country may experience renewed social and political tensions. The government's continued existence will then depend on whether it is able to forge a broader social consensus for its policies. If the government falls, President Vaclav Havel is likely to give the coalition one more chance to form a government--but most likely without Klaus as premier. If a new government cannot be formed, the country is headed for early elections. According to opinion polls, such a vote would result in victory for the Social Democrats.