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Newsline - August 13, 1997




LEGALITY OF SVYAZINVEST PRIVATIZATION QUESTIONED

NTV and the RIA-Novosti news agency on 12 August reported that the Federal Service for Currency and Export Controls has determined that the recent sale of 25 percent plus one share in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest was illegal. The Mustcom, Ltd. consortium won the Svyazinvest auction with a bid of $1.875 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28-31 July and 1 August 1997). The service reportedly found that the deal involved violations of laws on hard currency transactions. But while Iosif Rogol, acting head of the Federal Service for Currency and Export Controls, confirmed the Svyazinvest sale is being examined, Rogol denied that his service had already reached a conclusion or prepared a preliminary report. Rogol told Interfax on 12 August that his service and the State Anti-Monopoly Committee had been ordered to examine the Svyazinvest auction by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

OFFICIAL DENIES LAWS WERE BROKEN DURING SVYAZINVEST SALE

Igor Lipkin, chairman of the Russian Federal Property Fund, has denied that any currency laws were broken during the Svyazinvest sale. The Federal Service for Currency and Export Controls had reportedly concluded that the Central Bank did not authorize Lipkin's fund to perform hard currency transactions. But Lipkin told Interfax on 12 August that the sale of the Svyazinvest stake to Mustcom was carried out in Russian rubles. Mustcom representative Leonid Rozhetskin told the 13 August edition of "Kommersant-Daily" that the consortium complied with all Russian currency laws. NTV quoted a spokesman for the State Property Committee as saying that only a court ruling could force the Svyazinvest sale to be annulled. Many Russian and Western media have hailed the Svyazinvest auction as the fairest of recent privatization sales.

"SEGODNYA" VIEWS LATEST SVYAZINVEST DEVELOPMENTS

The 13 August edition of "Segodnya" praised an "impressive" six-page preliminary report on the Svyazinvest sale allegedly prepared by the Federal Service for Currency and Export Controls. The newspaper lauded the "courage" of the officials who prepared the report, despite the stance taken by many "highly-placed officials and influential bankers." But it predicted that the service will be pressured to alter its conclusions before releasing an official report. "Kommersant-Daily" also suggested on 13 August that a "behind-the-scenes battle" is being waged over the final conclusions of the investigation into the Svyazinvest sale. "Segodnya" is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most group and has strongly criticized the Svyazinvest auction in recent weeks. Gusinskii and Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii are believed to have participated in the consortium that submitted the losing bid for Svyazinvest, although neither has admitted being involved.

BEREZOVSKII, GUSINSKII TO FINANCE NEW VERSION OF "IZVESTIYA"?

Igor Golembiovskii, former editor-in-chief of "Izvestiya," hopes to found a new newspaper called "Novye Izvestiya," and media magnates Berezovskii and Gusinskii are rumored to have agreed to finance the project, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 August. Dozens of journalists have either left "Izvestiya" or been fired since the paper's board of directors sacked Golembiovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 10, and 21 July 1997). For instance, former deputy editor Sergei Dardykin and former head of the political department Stepan Kiselev -- who had both been leading efforts to revive a trade union for "Izvestiya" staff -- were served with dismissal notices. Although he was not among those fired, prominent commentator Otto Latsis may also join Golembiovskii's new project. Journalists who have quit "Izvestiya" include the paper's former chief economic correspondent Mikhail Berger, who has been appointed deputy editor of "Segodnya."

NEWSPAPERS CLOSE TO CHERNOMYRDIN CRITICIZE PLANNED CURRENCY REFORM

The redenomination of the Russian ruble planned for 1 January 1998 will help neither the public nor the economy and will serve only the interests of the government's "young reformers," according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 12 August. The paper claimed the government embarked on currency reform because it had "exhausted its reserves for supporting the appearance of stability in the economy." In recent months, "Nezavisimaya gazeta," partly financed by Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, has increasingly praised Chernomyrdin and criticized the government's "young reformers" -- code words for First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June and 29-30 July 1997). "Rabochaya tribuna," also seen as close to Chernomyrdin, argued on 9 August that the redenomination will hurt ordinary people, since shops are unlikely to cut prices by 1,000 times following the disappearance of three zeroes from the ruble.

CHURCH OFFICIAL SAYS RELIGION LAW WOULD NOT HURT CATHOLICS, BAPTISTS

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who heads the Moscow Patriarchate's department on foreign Church relations, has said the religion law recently vetoed by President Boris Yeltsin would not limit the rights of Catholics or Baptists in Russia, Russian news agencies reported on 12 August. Kirill described the Catholic and Baptist Churches as "traditional confessions" that have a 150-year history in Russia. (The law would give more rights to religious groups that can prove they have existed in Russia for at least 15 years.) Kirill argued that he had never seen a "more liberal" religion law, despite "stylistic problems" which made the law appear discriminatory. He also asked why Russia is "afraid" to mention the special historical role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the law's preamble, given that "nobody is offended when some countries say they are Catholic countries."

LUZHKOV CONTINUES TO BUILD REGIONAL, FOREIGN TIES...

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov signed a protocol with Leonid Potapov, president of the Republic of Buryatia, pledging that Moscow will invest up to 50 billion rubles ($8.6 million) in the Buryat economy, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 August. Luzhkov, who frequently tours Russian regions (before visiting Buryatia he stopped in the Republic of Tyva), is seen to be cultivating ties with regional leaders in part to strengthen his influence in the Federation Council, which is made up of top regional officials. He is also believed to be courting the regional elite in preparation for a future presidential bid, although he has denied having such ambitions. Luzhkov has also been developing contacts with foreign political and business leaders. Most recently, in late July he met with top local politicians and business leaders in Los Angeles, California.

...AS MOSCOW GOVERNMENT'S INFLUENCE IN BANKING, MEDIA SEEN INCREASING

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 August that the Bank of Moscow -- which is 51 percent owned by the Moscow city government -- has become one of Russia's 10 largest banks in terms of assets. During the last six months, the bank's assets have increased tenfold to 12.8 trillion rubles ($2.2 billion), largely thanks to deposits of city budget funds and proceeds from the city's recent sale of $500 million in Eurobonds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 1997). Meanwhile, a new radio station to be funded by the Moscow city government is scheduled to begin broadcasting on 1 September, "Segodnya" reported on 12 August. Like the recently established television network TV-Center, the new radio station is expected to support Luzhkov if he contests the next presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May and 9 June 1997).

POSSIBLE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF MILITARY REFORM

The implementation of Yeltsin's July decrees on downsizing the Russian military will create the opportunity for senior officials to embezzle huge sums of money by writing off equipment and privatizing property, according to military analyst Pavel Felgengauer. Writing in "Segodnya" on 12 August, Felgengauer also warns that failure to pay wage arrears to officers and servicemen could provoke "mass disobedience" this fall. Felgengauer suggests that the movement created by State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin to support the armed forces is intended as a "nationwide parallel system of control" over troops that will assume command over the military if the General Staff loses control in a crisis. In an article published in "Segodnya" on 22 July, Felgengauer argued that the proposals outlined in Yeltsin's decree were drafted by a small group of influential generals to protect their own personal interests.

RUSSIA'S CIVIL AVIATION SAFETY DETERIORATING

Air safety in Russia during the first six months of 1997 fell to its lowest level for three years, Russian media reported on 12 August, quoting senior civil aviation officials. A total of 66 people have been killed in seven crashes so far this year, compared with 43 people in five crashes over the same period in 1995 and 35 people in four crashes in 1996. The majority of crashes are still caused by human error. Both freight and passenger traffic also declined during the first half of 1997.

JAPANESE GOVERNORS WRAP UP VISIT

A delegation of Japanese governors ended their nine-day visit to Russia on 13 August, ITAR-TASS reported. The delegation included the governor of Saitama prefecture, the deputy governors of Kagowa and Kyoto prefectures, and the secretary-general of the National Association of Japanese Governors. On 7 August, at the 14th meeting of Russian and Japanese governors in Moscow, the Japanese met with the governors of Moscow, Leningrad, Volgograd, and Rostov Oblasts as well the president of Buryatia. The aim of the trip was to promote cooperation between regions within each country. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin said "a significant contribution" was made toward achieving that aim.

RADIOACTIVE CONTAINER FALLS INTO SEA OF OKHOTSK

A 2,300 kilogram lead container in which strontium-90 was being transported fell from a helicopter into the Sea of Okhotsk about 150 meters from the northern coast of Sakhalin Island, according to Russian media. Russian experts said there was no danger posed to the environment as the lead container could not break from its fall. Ships from the Pacific fleet arrived in the area on 13 August to recover the container, believed to be some 20 meters under the water. The strontium-90 is intended for use in a battery at an automatic weather station.

ABDUCTED FRENCH AID WORKERS HELD IN CHECHNYA

Dagestani Security Council Secretary Magomed Tolboev has confirmed that the four French aid workers abducted in Makhachkala in early August are being held captive in Chechnya by members of a Chechen-Dagestani criminal group, according to Ekho Moskvy on 12 August and "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 August. The captors refused to negotiate terms for their release and have not demanded a ransom.

CHECHEN RECEIVES STATUS OF SOLE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE

The Chechen parliament enacted a law on13 August making Chechen the only official language in the republic, AFP reported on 13 August, citing Interfax. Parliament chairman Ruslan Alikhadzhiev said the law was adopted in response to public demand but that it would be difficult to implement given the lack of skilled teachers who could draft school programs in the Chechen language. The law contravenes Article 68 of the Russian Constitution, which stipulates that Russian has the status of official language in all subjects of the federation but that the indigenous language may also be granted official status.

TATARSTAN TO ISSUE EUROBONDS

Tatarstan's Ministry of Finance signed an agreement on 8 August with Russia's Alfa bank and the Netherlands' ING Bering Bank on issuing Tatar Eurobonds, according to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau and "Izvestiya" on 13 August. The bonds will be sold on European financial markets beginning November 1997, and will later be traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Prime Minister Farid Mukhametshin estimated that the Eurobonds will raise between $200 -250 million. Meanwhile, Russian President Boris Yeltsin met with his Tatar counterpart, Mintimer Shaimiev, in Moscow on 12 August to discuss relations between Tatarstan and the federal center, Russian Public Television (ORT) reported on 12 August.




TAJIK MUTINEERS REGAIN LOST GROUND...

The Tajik Army's First Brigade, under the command of Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, retook the Fakhrabad Pass 25 kilometers south of Dushanbe after a counter-offensive against government troops on 12 August. Khudaberdiyev's unit retreated from the strategic pass when troops loyal to the government began what the Russian press described as a "large offensive" supported by planes and helicopters. In an interview with RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Kosym Boboyev, the deputy governor of Khatlon Oblast, denied that government troops were engaged in fighting with Khudaberdiyev's troops in the Kurgan-Teppe and Sarband region but confirmed that the area had been bombed by "unidentified planes." Khudaberdiyev's forces shot down one military helicopter. Boboyev also said there were casualties among the population but did not give any figures.

...PROMPTING GOVERNMENT TO NEGOTIATE

The Tajik government and Col. Khudaberdiyev have agreed to hold talks on 13 August aimed at finding a peaceful settlement to the fighting between the First Brigade and forces loyal to the government, according to RFE/RL corespondents in Tajikistan. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov is scheduled to travel to the Kurgan-Teppe area to meet with Khudaberdiyev at the headquarters of the Russian Army's 191st Regiment, which is mediating in the conflict.

IRAN OPPOSES DEPLOYMENT OF PEACEKEEPERS IN NAGORNO-KARABAKH

The Iranian leadership believes that the "intrusion of a military contingent," even a peacekeeping force, in the region of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will only destabilize the situation, according to Aram Sargssian, the chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of Armenia. Sargssian briefed journalists in Yerevan on 12 August on his recent 10-day visit to Tehran at the invitation of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Armenian agencies reported.

AZERBAIJAN WANTS CLOSER COOPERATION WITH NATO

President Heidar Aliyev and Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov held talks in Baku on 12 August with Nicholas Kehou, the deputy chairman of NATO's Military Committee for International relations, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Hasanov argued that NATO should not regard the Transcaucasus as a single entity but should adopt a differentiated approach to the three Transcaucasus states that takes into account the presence of Russian troops in Armenia. Kehou gave a positive assessment of Azerbaijan's participation in the Partnership for Peace program and promised NATO's assistance in improving relations between countries of the region embroiled in conflicts, according to ITAR-TASS. During his recent visit to the U.S., Aliyev signed an agreement with a joint statement on military relations with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen that provides for U.S. assistance in the training of the Azerbaijani armed forces, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 6 August.

GEORGIAN COMMUNISTS AT ODDS OVER REBURYING STALIN

Georgia's two rival communist parties espouse diametrically opposing views over Stalin's final, or possibly next, resting place, according to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 7 August. Grigol Oniani, the head of the Stalinist Communist Party of Georgia, has begun collecting contributions from the inhabitants of Stalin's home town, Gori, in order to finance the transportation there from Moscow of Stalin's remains should the Russian leadership decide it is time to remove Stalin from the Kremlin wall and Lenin from his mausoleum on Red Square. Oniani has the support of Stalin's daughter Svetlana. But Gen. Panteleimon Giorgadze, the head of the United Communist Party of Georgia, argues that both Lenin and Stalin should remain where they are.




BELARUSIAN LAWYER DEFENDING RUSSIAN JOURNALIST MAY BE BARRED FROM PRACTICE

The Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office has requested that the Ministry of Justice revoke the license of lawyer Garry Pogonyailo, who is defending the Russian Public Television (ORT) journalist Pavel Sheremet, Belapan reported. Pogonyailo was summoned to the Ministry of Justice on 12 August, the day when a court in Hrodno was to consider his petition for releasing Sheremet. The court subsequently ruled against his release, Interfax reported. Belarusian deputies issued a statement saying they hope the detention of the Russian TV crew will not worsen relations with Moscow or become "the reef on which the wishes and hopes of millions of Belarusians and Russians for a common future are smashed." Sheremet is to start fasting on 13. August in protest at his continued detention, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting an ORT spokesman in Minsk.

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT DENIES OFFER TO HOST RUSSIAN-CHECHEN TALKS

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has denied Russian news reports that he had offered Belarus as a venue for a meeting between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1997), ITAR-TASS reported. But Lukashenka added that if Belarus is asked to host the talks, "we will give our consent." In other news, Lukashenka criticized the Cabinet of Ministers for failing to work with their Russian colleagues on "an equal footing," Interfax reported. Lukashenka said the president, his administration, and the cabinet should imagine "they are serving in a military organization in which order and discipline should be higher than at the Defense Ministry."

UKRAINE ISSUES BONDS ABROAD WORTH $450 MILLION

Ukraine has issued its first foreign fiduciary state bonds, worth $450 million, UNIAN reported 12 August. The bonds are to be placed through Bankers Trust Luxembourg S.A. The leading manager of the bond placement is Nomura International London.

FLOODS IN CRIMEA

Floodwaters have inundated 13 homes, a kindergarten, a sports school, city militia headquarters, and a car park in the town of Alushta in Crimea, killing one person. Militia rescued 35 detainees from a flooded jail house, UNIAN reported on 12 August.

LATVIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES NEW CABINET

Guntis Ulmanis, addressing the first session of the new government, urged the coalition parties to refrain from "cheap, populist statements and decisions" ahead of the 1998 general elections, BNS reported on 12 August. He added that the cabinet's chief goals should be to continue with education and health care reform and to implement social security policy. He also stressed that Riga's top foreign policy priorities remain joining the EU and NATO. Premier Guntars Krasts warned that balancing the state budget could create disagreements among the coalition parties. Meanwhile, in an interview with RFE/RL's Latvian Service, Interior Minister Ziedonis Cevers said his goals include improving the image of the police and combating organized crime. He also denied allegations by some politicians that he had gathered compromising material about his political rivals while serving as interior minister in the government of Ivars Godmanis.

LITHUANIAN FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER DETAINED ON SUSPICION OF BRIBE-TAKING

Audrius Butkevicius, a former defense minister and currently an independent parliamentary deputy, was detained briefly on 12 August for alleged bribe-taking, BNS reported. At the time of his arrest, Butkevicius was found in possession of $15,000, which he is suspected of accepting in return for promising to mediate at the Prosecutor-General's Office in an ongoing legal case. Prosecutor-General Kazys Pednycia is to request that Butkevicius's parliamentary immunity be lifted so that legal action can be brought against him. Butkevicius, who served as defense minister from 1991 to 1993, has denied any wrongdoing, saying his arrest may have been aimed at stemming his sharp criticism of government policy.

POLISH PEASANT PARTY MOVES TO OUST PREMIER

Just weeks before parliamentary elections, the Peasant Party (PSL), the junior partner in the ruling coalition, on 12 August took steps toward a parliamentary no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz over differences in agricultural policy, a PSL spokesman told reporters. But the PSL insists that it does not want to leave the left-wing coalition. Meanwhile, Polish farmers blocked a key highway south of Szczecin to protest government agricultural policy and to demand better conditions for selling grain to the state, PAP reported on 12 August.

CZECH COURT REVERSES RULING IN DISPUTE BETWEEN OPPOSITION LEADER, FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHIEF

The High Court on 12 August reversed the ruling of a lower court that had ordered opposition Social Democratic Party chairman Milos Zeman to pay former acting director of the Security and Information Service (BIS) Stanislav Devaty 1 million crowns ($29,400). The court also ordered Zeman to apologize for having said that the BIS had set up a unit to spy on Czech politicians. Czech media reported that Devaty intends to appeal the new ruling. They quote him as saying the ruling means that any public official could now be "stripped of all civil rights."

FLOODS IMPACT ON CZECH ECONOMY NOT AS BIG AS INITIALLY FORECAST

Ivan Sujan, the deputy chairman of the Czech Statistical Office (CSU), on 12 August said the recent floods will not have as big an impact on the economy as originally forecast. He said the CSU has revised its forecasts and expects the economy to perform as the CSU had predicted just before the floods. He added that GDP will grow by 2 percent as a result of increased exports due to the crown's weak exchange rate. At the same time, he said unemployment is expected to rise to 5 percent. Meanwhile, an environmentally protected area along the Morava River near Litovel has experienced an explosion in the frog population, a reaction to the large numbers of mosquitoes in the area resulting from the floods, CTK reported on 12. August. Local environmentalist Ivo Machar says "there are millions and millions of different frogs and their croaking is unbearable."

SLOVAK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CALLS ON PARLIAMENT TO RESTORE DEPUTY'S MANDATE

The Constitutional Court on 12 August concluded that the ruling coalition acted unconstitutionally in withdrawing Frantisek Gaulieder's mandate. It called on the legislature to restore the deputy's mandate, Slovak media reported. Parliamentary speaker Ivan Gasparovic told Slovak Radio that the legislature violated neither Gaulieder's rights nor the constitution. He also commented that the judges of the Constitutional Court do not respect the rights of certain state organs. Meanwhile, the secret service (SIS) on12 August denied allegations by opposition politicians and news media that one of its agents, the son of a senior SIS official, was killed in an explosion three weeks ago while handling explosive materials in a car near Bratislava.

ETHNIC HUNGARIANS IN SLOVAKIA APPEAL TO HORN

The coalition of ethnic Hungarian parties in the Slovak parliament have called on Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn to help improve the situation of ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia, Hungarian media reported on 12 August. In a letter handed over to the Hungarian ambassador in Bratislava, the parties said the situation of ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia has deteriorated significantly since the basic treaty was ratified in 1995, although they noted that several new border crossings have been opened and economic relations with Hungary slightly expanded. New laws, decrees, and government resolutions constitute violations of minority rights, the letter added. Slovak cabinet spokeswoman Magda Pospisilova told reporters that Slovakia has abided by the basic treaty in all areas and is not interested in heightening tensions between the two countries. Horn is due to meet with Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar in Gyoer on 15 August.

REFERENDUM ON FOREIGN OWNERSHIP OF LAND IN HUNGARY?

Four opposition parties and three agricultural interest organizations announced on 12 August that they will collect signatures for a referendum to decide whether foreigners be allowed to purchase land in Hungary. The Hungarian Democratic Forum, the Young Democrats, the Independent Smallholders, and the Christian Democratic People's Party, as well as the National Federation of Farmers' Societies, the Peasants' Federation, and the Agricultural Farmers Interest Advocacy Organization agreed to start a drive on 20 August to collect the 200,000 signatures needed for such a referendum. The campaign is launched against the government's planned amendment of the land law that would allow foreign companies to own farmland. The results of the referendum would be binding on the parliament.

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER BACKS AUTONOMY OF ETHNIC HUNGARIANS IN ROMANIA

Young Democrat chairman Viktor Orban told the Transylvanian Hungarian-language weekly "Erdelyi Naplo" that his party supports autonomy for ethnic Hungarians in Romania, Hungarian media reported on 12 August. He said that ethnic Hungarians need a university of their own and that the Hungarian Churches should have their confiscated properties returned. Orban accused the Hungarian government of being too cautious on those issues. In response, Free Democrat faction leader Istvan Szent-Ivanyi, who is also the chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, rather than Budapest, ought to decide about the needs of the ethnic Hungarian minority in Romania.




ALBANIAN DEMOCRATS END BOYCOTT OF PARLIAMENT

Democratic Party Vice President Genc Pollo said in Tirana on 12 August that his party will return to the parliament on 13 August. The Democrats have until now refused to attend sessions of the new legislature to protest what they called unfair elections. They claimed that they were not able to campaign in much of the south and that violence and irregularities elsewhere in the country hurt their electoral chances. Foreign observers said the vote was not perfect but was basically acceptable under the circumstances. The Democrats were routed in the elections and have only a handful of seats in the new parliament.

ALBANIAN GANG LEADER VOWS REVENGE

Security forces on 12 August continued their crackdown on criminal gangs in Vlora, Gjirokaster, Saranda, and Tepelena (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1997). An Interior Ministry spokesman said in Tirana that the "police forces are determined to act with firmness against eventual resistance by armed gangs." But in Vlora, gang leader Zani Caushi said he and his men will fight on, despite the arrest of three of their group. "We have some 40,000 people with more than 25,000 guns, bombs, and grenades.... We will fight until former President Sali Berisha is hanged in Vlora's main square," he told "Koha Jone." Vlora's police chief Haxhi Demiri called Caushi the most wanted man in town.

MONTENEGRIN COURT TO RULE ON PRESIDENCY

The reformist wing of the governing Democratic Socialist Party (DPS) appealed to the Constitutional Court in Podgorica on 12 August to overturn the Electoral Commission's ruling the previous day on the presidential election. The commission said that President Momir Bulatovic can run for reelection as a DPS candidate, even though the commission had earlier recognized the reformists' nominee, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, as the DPS candidate. Montenegrin law allows for only one candidate per party. The commission said it recognized both men's right to run for the office because the DPS is now, in effect, two parties, even though it has not formally split. Meanwhile in Belgrade, Yugoslav Information Secretary Goran Matic said on 11 August that the authorities will soon set up a Yugoslav-wide television station. The most likely aim of the project is to influence the upcoming Montenegrin vote.

DID U.S. OFFER KARADZIC SAFE HAVEN?

Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic told the 13 August "Financial Times" that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright offered Radovan Karadzic safe passage to a third country if he leaves Bosnian Serb territory. Plavsic said that Albright made the offer during her visit to the former Yugoslavia in late May but that U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke did not repeat the proposal on his recent trip to the region. Plavsic told the London daily that Albright said to her "that within two weeks [the U.S.] expected me to tell the media that Radovan Karadzic had left the Republika Srpska and that I didn't know where he was." Plavsic said she regrets that Karadzic rejected this "last chance" offer and treated her "with animosity" when she brought him Albright's message. The U.S. embassy in Sarajevo told the newspaper that it knows nothing about the offer.

ARE NATO COMMANDOS TRAINING TO CATCH KARADZIC, MLADIC?

ABC TV News reported from Washington on 12 August that U.S., British, and French commandos are training in Europe with the help of some other countries to capture top indicted war criminals. The broadcast said that no decision has been made to use the commandos but that they may well go into action in the fall. Meanwhile in Bosnia, SFOR troops began inspecting paramilitary police forces and demanding that tanks and other weapons larger than side-arms be stored under rules set down by the Dayton agreement. Any police units that have not registered with SFOR by 31 August will be considered illegal. In Banja Luka, Plavsic agreed with SFOR commander Eric Shinseki on reforms for the Bosnian Serb police.

BOSNIAN OPPOSITION SLAMS ANTI-CORRUPTION BODY

Associated List 97, a five-party non-nationalist opposition coalition, filed a formal protest in Sarajevo on 12 August against President Alija Izetbegovic's new anti-corruption commission. The coalition charged that the commission represents only Izetbegovic's party and the Muslims, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital. Associated List 97 demands an official inquiry into corruption dating from the beginning of the war and that guilty persons be put on trial.

WESTENDORP WARNS BOSNIAN SERB COURT

A spokesman for Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 12 August that the international community considers Plavsic's recent dissolution of the Bosnian Serb parliament to be legal. The Bosnian Serb Constitutional Court is about to rule on her move. Westendorp's spokesman did not say what the international community will do if the court overturns Plavsic's decision. In Banja Luka, Plavsic said that she fears that her opponents are putting political pressure on the court, which will be unable to reach an objective decision. In Pale, the anti-Plavsic government objected to her request for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the parliamentary elections she has called for October.

CROATS, MUSLIMS SAY REFUGEES CAN GO HOME

International mediators reached an agreement with Croatian and Muslim representatives in Jajce and Travnik on 12 August to enable Muslim refugees to return to Croat-held villages near Jajce by 25 August. A UN spokesman in Sarajevo added that the Croatian government guarantees the Muslims' security. He said, however, that he expects few Muslims to go home until it is clear that there will be no repetition of the recent attacks on the refugees by Croatian mobs. Meanwhile in Mostar, a spokesman for the UN police force said he is pleased with the progress made in setting up Croatian-Muslim police patrols, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Herzegovina's main town.

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION WANTS SPECIAL PARLIAMENTARY SESSION

A spokesman for the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 12 August said his formation will support the initiative of the Party of Romanian National Unity to hold a special parliamentary session to debate the two government ordinances amending the education law and allowing bilingual signs in localities where minorities make up 20 percent or more of the population. PDSR spokesman Ovidiu Musetescu said that his party also wants the session to debate the recent government decision to liquidate 17 non-profitable enterprises, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Also on 12 August, Iuliu Pacurariu, a deputy of the Democratic Party, which is a member of the ruling coalition, said the parliament should change the minimum percentage required for bilingual signs to "more than 22.7 percent" to prevent the use of such signs in Cluj, Mediafax reported.

TIRASPOL WORRIED ABOUT PLANNED MOLDOVAN-RUSSIAN JOINT MILITARY EXERCISE

The leadership of the breakaway Transdniester region is concerned about the Moldovan-Russian military maneuvers scheduled for October on territory controlled by Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 12 August. According to the media in the Transdniester, the separatist leader Igor Smirnov recently discussed the exercise with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev in a telephone conversation and proposed that Transdniestrian "peace-keeping" forces participate in the scheduled maneuvers. He also told Sergeev that "voluntary forces" from the Transdniester are threatening to prevent the Russian military from leaving their barracks in order to obstruct the exercise, which Tirapsol has called a "smoke screen" for transferring Russian military technology to the Moldovan forces. Gen. Valerii Yevnevich, the commander of the Russian contingent in the Transdniester, said the threats "do not come from an uncontrollable mob" but are "inspired" by the Tiraspol leadership.

BULGARIA ASKS AUSTRIA TO EXTRADITE FORMER COMMUNIST OFFICIAL

Bulgaria on 12 August asked Austria to extradite Ognyan Doinov, a former member of the Politburo. A Sofia prosecutor said Doinov is charged with selling his villa for a second time in 1990, having already sold it one year earlier. Austria rejected an earlier Bulgarian request to extradite Doinov on charges of channeling state funds to third-world communist parties while in power. Doinov was ambassador to Norway when the communist regime collapsed in 1989 and refused to return to Bulgaria.

WHEAT HARVEST IN BULGARIA DOUBLES

The government on 12 August said the country's wheat harvest for 1997 will be almost double that of last year, BTA reported. More than 3 million tons of wheat have been harvested this year, compared with 1.7 million tons in 1996.




A NEW DANGER OF MORAL EQUIVALENCY


by Paul Goble

The old notion that the Soviet and U.S. systems are somehow morally equivalent has resurfaced in an unexpected place, one where its widespread acceptance could have even more serious consequences than it has had in the West.

In an essay published in Tallinn on 8 August, Estonian commentator Jaan Kaplinski argues that there was no fundamental difference in the moral standing of the two systems represented by the former Soviet Union and the United States. He suggests that both systems sought to impose their will on others, despoiling the environment at home and dominating satellite states abroad. Moreover, he suggests that both systems are inevitably doomed by their hubris and overreaching. Because of this, he continues, Estonians should not view one of those systems as superior to the other or use the values derived from one to judge the other. Instead, they should develop their own ideas drawing from both sides.

This superficially attractive proposition revives a concept known in the West as the moral equivalence of the two systems. The concept was widely advanced by a variety of political figures and analysts during the last years of the Soviet Union and on occasion since that time. Most Westerners making that argument suggested that since their own countries were less than perfect, they should refrain from any demand that Moscow and its system be judged according to Western standards. Whenever anyone pointed to an outrage in the Soviet Union, such people would insist that some U.S. actions were as bad or even worse.

While such ideas may have contributed to a certain modesty, they also lead supporters of the idea of moral equivalency to argue that nothing should be done to promote Western values in the Soviet bloc as somehow superior and worthy of emulation. That attitude, in turn, often meant that not only was the West afraid to defend its own values but also that many in the communist bloc lost some of the faith they had in those Western ideals.

The collapse of communism in Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union have largely discredited this view in the West. Few Westerners are willing to insist on moral equivalency between a system that had failed and their own, which is still very much live.

But now the idea of moral equivalence between the two systems has reappeared in a country where one might least expect it, a country that has had experience with both systems and thus should be able to make comparisons. If many Estonians were to accept the ideas advanced by Kaplinski in his article, that in itself could mean that Estonia and other countries in the region would be exposed to three dangers potentially far greater than when the notion worked to restrain Western criticism of Soviet acts.

First, such acceptance could call into question for many people the value of the still unfinished and quite difficult task of reestablishing democracy in a country that saw that political and social system destroyed by the Soviet invasion in 1940. Second, it could serve as a cover for the return of non-democratic forces to power. To the extent that Estonians are encouraged to think that there is no difference between systems, they would be more inclined to accept leaders whose commitment to democracy is anything but secure. And third, the acceptance of this idea could easily contribute to a more general moral relativism that would make the recovery from the impact of the Soviet invasion far more difficult.

Consequently, all those concerned about the growth of democracy need to be worried when such ideas surface and remain uncontested. To paraphrase the great Russian memoirist Nadezhda Mandelshtam, unhappy is that country in which the despicable is not despised.


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