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Newsline - August 15, 1997




NEW PRIVATIZATION CHIEF PROMISES FAIR RULES

State Property Committee Chairman Maksim Boiko has promised that under his leadership, privatization auctions will be "honest, effective, and open," Russian news agencies reported on 14 August. Boiko said he will not make major personnel changes in the committee. Both he and his predecessor, Alfred Kokh, are considered close to First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais. Although Russian officials have hailed this summer's privatization auctions as the most honest in recent years, some observers have criticized the conditions under which sales were held. Several key businessmen met with Chubais shortly before the sale of 25 percent plus one share in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest. In addition, the terms of the auction for a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel were said to favor Oneksimbank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July and 4-8 August 1997).

YELTSIN, CHUBAIS EVALUATE KOKH'S WORK

President Boris Yeltsin on 15 August said scandals arose over the Svyazinvest and Norilsk sales because "some banks are apparently closer to the heart of Alfred Kokh, and this is not proper," ITAR-TASS reported. (A consortium involving Oneksimbank won the Svyazinvest auction, and a company linked to Oneksimbank submitted the winning bid for Norilsk Nickel.) Yeltsin's comments contradicted statements by First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais on 14 August. He said Kokh had planned to leave the government long before he was replaced and that Kokh's departure was "unrelated to the latest developments in privatization," Interfax reported. Chubais also argued that thousands of pensioners, doctors, teachers, and military personnel should thank Kokh, without whom the state would lack the funds to pay wage and pension arrears.

CHERNOMYRDIN WARNS AGAINST "JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS"

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has warned against "jumping to conclusions or making hasty allegations" about the legality of recent privatization auctions, Interfax reported on 14 August. Chernomyrdin confirmed that he has ordered the appropriate government agencies to examine the Svyazinvest and Norilsk deals. He added that the only matter of concern is whether laws were broken: "Who said what to whom, who visited whom and what they agreed or did not agree on are private affairs of individual representatives of the banking community, which do not interest me," "Nezavismaya gazeta" reported on 15 August. Chernomyrdin on 4 August had called for the Norilsk auction to be postponed, but he reportedly agreed that the sale should take place on schedule the next day following meetings with several government officials and Oneksimbank President Vladimir Potanin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4-6 August 1997).

NEMTSOV ON PRIVATIZATION SALES...

First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov has acknowledged that controversy surrounded the recent Norilsk Nickel sale, but he says the auction was conducted "more democratically and openly" than a May auction of a stake in the Sibneft oil company, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 14 August. A company with ties to Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii won the Sibneft auction. In an interview with RFE/RL in Sochi, where he has been vacationing, Nemtsov said the Norilsk sale caused a scandal because of the way regulations governing "loans-for-shares" deals had been drafted. Those rules were established before Nemtsov joined the government. (A new privatization law that went into effect on 2 August prohibits loans-for-shares deals.) Asked whether Berezovskii should remain in the Security Council, Nemtsov said people "who have direct business dealings" should not take up state posts.

...SUGGESTS CHANGES IN STORE FOR ORT

In the same interview with RFE/RL, Nemtsov said the state should establish control over both the finances and the "ideological foundations" of Russian Public Television (ORT). Although the state owns a 51 percent stake in ORT, Berezovskii has wielded substantial influence at the network since ORT began broadcasting on Channel 1 in April 1995. In July, ORT broadcast sharp criticism of the Svyazinvest auction, and Nemtsov slammed the losers of that auction for staging "hysterics on television." Speaking to RFE/RL, Nemtsov again charged that some businessmen had tried to pressure government officials before the Svyazinvest sale and had used their influence to provoke the "biggest scandal of the summer" after losing the auction. Russian media recently speculated that the state plans to change ORT's management structure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28-31 July and 6 August 1997).

GUSINSKII DISCUSSES SVYAZINVEST AUCTION...

Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii announced on 14 August that he has no complaints regarding the Svyazinvest sale. In an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station, Gusinskii said Most group -- not Media-Most -- had participated in the Svyazinvest auction. (Gusinskii founded the Most group but resigned as director-general when he created Media-Most in January.) He acknowledged that he had met with Berezovskii, Oneksimbank head Potanin, and First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais in France two days before the auction. But he claimed that Chubais and the businessmen had discussed only the "general rules of the game," not the Svyazinvest deal. Gusinskii also denied that Berezovskii had been involved in the consortium that submitted the losing bid for Svyazinvest, saying Berezovskii had attended the meeting in France because the telecommunications sector affects Russia's national security. Potanin has claimed that Gusinskii and Berezovskii tried to strike a back-room deal to acquire the Svyazinvest stake at a bargain price (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 1997).

...PLANS MEDIA HOLDINGS

In the same interview with Ekho Moskvy, which is owned by Media-Most, Gusinskii denied that he has agreed to finance a new publication to be founded by former "Izvestiya" editor Igor Golembiovskii, Interfax reported on 14 August. However, Gusinskii said he would be willing to consider offers to participate in Golembiovskii's project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1997). He added that he "would want to help and support the 'Izvestiya' team for purely emotional reasons." Gusinskii also said Media-Most has been invited to become a shareholder in the weekly "Obshchaya gazeta," which recently changed its format and is seeking investment. During the 1996 presidential campaign, when most of the Russian media rallied around Yeltsin, "Obshchaya gazeta" generally supported Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. It was one of the few Moscow-based newspapers that continued to publish sharp criticism of the president.

"MIR" COSMONAUTS RETURN TO EARTH

Vasilii Tsibliev and Pavel Lazutkin landed in Kazakhstan on 14 August after six months in the "Mir" space station. A series of misfortunes struck the station while Tsibliev and Lazutkin were on board, the worst of which was the collision in late June with a cargo ship during docking procedures. On 20 August, the new crew will attempt to repair the damage to the station's solar power units caused by that collision. It has already repaired the station's oxygen-generating systems. Tsibliev's first comment after emerging from the station was "Thank God we're home."

CHECHEN PRESIDENT TO DEFEND RIGHT TO INDEPENDENCE

Speaking at a press conference in Grozny on 14 August, Aslan Maskhadov said that at his upcoming meeting with Yeltsin he will insist on Chechnya's right to independence and to receive financial compensation for war damage, RFE/RL reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 August that Yeltsin and Maskhadov have agreed by telephone on a date for their meeting, which will take place in Moscow. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin will meet with Chechen First Deputy Premier Movladi Udugov on 16 August to prepare for the two presidents' meeting. Meanwhile, Chechen security forces failed in their attempt on 14 August to secure the release of a Russian TV crew held hostage in Chechnya, NTV reported.

MORE VIOLENCE IN NORTH OSSETIA

One person was killed and six seriously wounded on 14 August when unknown assailants opened fire on a busload of workers in a suburb of the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, "Izvestiya" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 August.

INTERFAX DIRECTOR JOINS PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION

Mikhail Komissar, a founder of the private Interfax news agency and its director-general since 1989, was appointed deputy head of the presidential administration on 14 August. He replaces Maksim Boiko, who now heads the State Property Committee. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 August, Komissar will deal with political issues and will handle public relations for the presidential administration. He informed the Interfax board of directors that he will give up the post of director-general while serving in the administration. However, "Kommersant-Daily" suggested that Komissar will remain involved in some management questions related to Interfax.

POLLS SHOW PUBLIC SKEPTICAL ON PROMISES...

In a Public Opinion Foundation poll of 1,500 citizens throughout Russia, 55 percent of respondents do not believe the government will be able to pay back wages to military personnel by 1 September, Interfax reported on 14 August. The same percentage do not believe the government will manage to collect taxes from debtor companies, while 54 percent do not believe wage arrears to all state employees will be paid by 1 January 1998. Less than one-third of respondents believe the government will keep those promises.

...NEMTSOV'S POPULARITY DECLINING

In other nationwide polls conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation, the percentage of respondents who said they trust First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov dropped from 45 percent in April to 33 percent in July, Interfax reported on 14 August. The proportion who distrusted Nemtsov rose from 19 percent to 30 percent during the same period. The polls indicate that Nemtsov would still win hypothetical presidential races against Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. However, in all three cases he would win by narrower margins than polls had been the case in April.




SITUATION IN KURGAN-TEPPE WORSENS

The situation in the southern Tajik city of Kurgan-Teppe has worsened.. Rebel commander Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that there was an attack on his home in that city on 14 August, following his dismissal by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov as commander of the army's First Brigade. While Khudaberdiyev initially said he would comply with that decision, he has since indicated he may refuse to step down. He argued that the government has not fulfilled its part of the cease-fire agreement, which includes the return of government forces to their barracks in Dushanbe. Khudaberdiyev confirmed there are armed groups in Kurgan-Teppe but said it was unclear to which side they belong. He also said the armed groups are looting and pillaging and that his unit has asked him to reassume command and restore order. Khudaberdiyev threatened that if the government is unable to restore order, he may seek the help of the United Tajik Opposition.

KAZAKH TV BEGINS BROADCASTING IN KAZAKH

RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty on 14 August reported that commercial television stations in Kazakhstan have begun broadcasting some programs in Kazakh in compliance with the new law on languages. According to that legislation, all media outlets must disseminate information in both Kazakh and Russian. Previously, only state-owned television channels broadcast in Kazakh, while private stations broadcast exclusively in Russian.

GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA ABJURE USE OF FORCE

Eduard Shevardnadze and Vladislav Ardzinba, the presidents of Georgia and Abkhazia, held lengthy talks in Tbilisi on14 August on resolving the conflict between the two countries. The same day, Foreign Ministers Irakli Menagharishvili and Sergei Shamba met to discuss the same issue. On 15 August, Shevardnadze and Ardzinba signed a joint statement pledging to refrain from the use or threat of force and not to allow the resumption of hostilities, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement also said that the two sides reached agreement on further unspecified issues but that differences remain over Abkhazia's future political status and the repatriation of ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war, AFP reported.

ARMENIAN RULING COALITION SETS UP COORDINATING COMMITTEE

The Hanrapetutyun bloc, which comprises the Armenian Pan-National Movement and five smaller parties, has announced the establishment of a Political Committee for Inter-Party Cooperation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 14 August. Parliamentary deputy speaker Ara Sahakyan was elected coordinator of the new body, which will meet regularly to discuss the alliance's activities and "make proposals and draw up documents on the formation of Armenia's political system," according to Armenpress. The leader of the Republican Party of Armenia, which belongs to the Hanrapetutyun bloc, told RFE/RL on 14 August that the setting up of the committee is not connected with the bloc's preparations for the July 1999 parliamentary elections.

TRIAL OF GEORGIAN WARLORD POSTPONED

The preliminary hearings in the trial of former Mkhedrioni leader Djaba Ioseliani, which were scheduled for 12 August, have been indefinitely postponed, according to "Izvestiya" on 15 August. Ioseliani -- who is charged with high treason, murder, banditry, and terrorism -- went on hunger strike on 6 August to demand his release from detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1997).




RUSSIAN TV JOURNALIST ENDS HUNGER STRIKE IN BELARUS

Pavel Sheremet, one of the Russian Public Television (ORT) journalists under arrest in Hrodno, on 14 August ended the hunger strike he began the previous day, ITAR-TASS reported. His lawyer told the news agency that he had convinced Sheremet to stop for health reasons. Officials at the Hrodno detention center responded by putting a television in Sheremet's cell and promising to provide him with periodicals and medical attention. Meanwhile in Yerevan, journalists and human rights organizations have issued a statement condemning the harassment by the Belarusian authorities of Sheremet and his colleague Dmitry Zavadsky as a "violation of free speech and of democracy in general," Noyan Tapan reported on 14 August.

ONEKSIMBANK EMPIRE BUYS MINSK BANK SHARES

Russia's Oneksimbank and an affiliated company have purchased 49 percent of the Belarusian National Bank's second issue of shares in MinskKompleksBank, according to Belapan on 13 August. Oneksimbank now owns 33 percent of the shares, and its affiliate, the International Financial Corporation (MFK), owns 16 percent. Of the remaining shares in MinskKompleksBank, 32 percent belong to Belarusian state-owned industrial companies, 10 percent to Belarusian citizens, and the remainder to Belarusian private companies. In other news, the Belarusian National Bank has raised the limit for individual purchases of foreign currency from $200 to $500 a day. National Bank officials refused to comment on the reason for this measure.

RUSSIA TO SEND OBSERVERS TO U.S.-UKRAINIAN MANEUVERS

Russia has decided to send observers to a U.S.-Ukrainian military exercise that it earlier described as a threat to its security and to that of the Crimean peninsula, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Ukrainian Chief of Staff and First Deputy Defense Minister Olexandr Zatynajko said that Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev has approved the participation of Russian observers in the "Sea Breeze '97" exercise, although Moscow continues to oppose the maneuvers. Naval forces from Turkey and Bulgaria will also participate in the exercises, which are taking place in August in the western part of the Black Sea. Greece, Georgia, Romania, and Italy are also sending observers.

MILITARY PLANE CRASHES IN UKRAINE

A Ukrainian L-39 military aircraft crashed during a test flight near a military airfield at Uman, some 200 kilometers south of Kyiv on 14 August, Reuters reported. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense said the two pilots were killed. An investigation commission has been set up to examine the cause of the crash.

OSCE CRITICIZES ESTONIA OVER RUSSIAN EX-SERVICEMEN

Uwe Mahrenholtz, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe representative in Tallinn, has criticized the work of the Estonian government committee examining Russian former servicemen's applications for residence permits, BNS reported on 14 August. At a meeting with Prime Minister Mart Siimann, Mahrenholtz said it is regrettable that the cabinet failed to heed his recommendations in its 22 July decision not to grant residence permits to eight Russian former servicemen. Siimann responded that both he and Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who chairs the committee, accept most of Mahrenholtz's recommendations. The premier added that the government and the committee intend to define more precisely the criteria for refusing to issue residence permits.

LATVIAN ROUNDUP

The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 14 August that Indulis Berzins, the head of the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, is violating the anti-corruption law, BNS reported. Berzins broke the law by failing to declare his shares in the SIA Klubs company. In other news, a Moscow arbitration court on 13 August ordered the St. Petersburg tax police to unblock the account of Latvia's Parekss Banka with one of the city's banks, BNS reported. On 14 August, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said numerous "outrageous" violations of banking regulations and the withholding of value-added tax payments "gave grounds" for freezing the accounts of a number of Baltic commercial banks with Russian banks, ITAR-TASS reported. He said he hoped the Baltic States' authorities would take all "necessary measures" to ensure that their citizens and commercial structures engaging in business activities in Russia observe Russian legislation.

BRAZAUSKAS WANTS VILNIUS SUMMIT TO PRESSURE LUKASHENKA

Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas said on 14 August that he hopes the summit of Eastern European leaders in Vilnius in early September will speak out on the situation in Belarus, BNS reported. But he added that he does not think "hard measures" would be a proper way to solve "delicate issues." Vilnius has invited Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to attend the conference along with the prime minister of Russia and the presidents of 1O other East European countries. Also on 14 August, Brazauskas sent a letter to Lukashenka calling on him to respect freedom of the press. He also passed on a letter he had received from Lyudmila Sheremet, the mother of one of the ORT journalists being detained in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 1997).

POLISH ELECTION UPDATE

The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), which are currently leading in opinion polls, have released data on their candidates for the 21 September elections. The SLD will run 551 candidates for the Sejm and 84 candidates for the Senate. The AWS is fielding 845 candidates for the lower chamber and 66 candidates for the upper house. Under the Polish election law, all election candidates must state whether they collaborated with the communist-era secret services. All AWS candidates deny such collaboration, while some SLD candidates have admitted to cooperating with those services.

CZECH PREMIER MEETS WITH ROMA

Vaclav Klaus on 14 August met with representatives of the country's Romany community, CTK reported. At a news conference after the meeting, he called on the thousands of Roma preparing to emigrate to Canada because of racial and social discrimination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 1997) to reconsider their decision. Klaus acknowledged that the Roma are insufficiently represented in state bodies and said he is in favor of setting up a secretariat that will coordinate Roma problems at the government level. The Czech Helsinki Committee on Human Rights also called on the Roma to stay in the country and urged the government to strongly condemn attempts by local authorities to evict them.

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER CLEARED OF SECRET AGENT CHARGES

The panel of judges examining the past of all parliamentary deputies has ruled that Independent Smallholders' Party chairman Jozsef Torgyan was not involved in secret agent activities during the communist era, Hungarian media reported on 14 August. Torgyan has demanded Interior Minister Gabor Kuncze's resignation for allegedly violating the legal principle of presumption of innocence. In November 1995, Kuncze sent a document to the screening panel indicating that Torgyan had been involved in secret agent activities. The panel, however, found that police threatened and repeatedly tried to recruit Torgyan in 1957. Although Torgyan managed to avoid collaboration, he was registered as a secret agent under a code name. Torgyan subsequently spent some time in a psychiatric institute following a false diagnosis in an attempt to fend off further harassment by the secret police. His name was removed from the register on 29 May 1958.

HUNGARIAN PREMIER PRAISES ROMANIAN REFORM POLICY

Gyula Horn, in a 14 August telephone conversation with Romanian Premier Victor Ciorbea, praised the Romanian government's reform policy and its consistent efforts to meet what he termed the legitimate demands of the country's ethnic Hungarians, Hungarian media reported. Horn said the Hungarian government fully supports Romania's efforts to fulfill the conditions for Euro-Atlantic integration. Horn also hinted that Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland will discuss how to support Romanian goals at the 22 August meeting of the three countries' premiers in Krakow.




ALBANIAN POLICE CLAIM VICTORY OVER VLORA GANGS

Police officials said in Tirana on 14 August that three gang members died in fighting in Vlora. "We have neutralized and eliminated several gangs in the town and life is progressively returning to normal," Interior Minister Neritan Ceka said. He also noted that his men have found evidence of "inefficiencies" by the administrative and judicial authorities in the area. One police official added that gang boss Zani Caushi may have fled to Italy by sea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1997). Police rounded up large quantities of ammunition after an anonymous tip-off and found a cache next to Caushi's house. Some citizens handed in their arms voluntarily. Police say they will round up all illegally-held weapons in the port town by the end of September. In Elbasan, police said that five were killed and eight injured in a fight between rival gangs on 14 August.

UN MARKS END OF OPERATION ALBA

The UN Security Council on 14 August announced the successful end of the international operation to provide a minimum of security for the 29 June Albanian elections. Italian UN Ambassador Paulo Fulci said that if the international community had acted with the same speed and resolution in Bosnia and in central Africa as it had in Albania, "thousands of lives would probably have been spared and immense suffering and destruction prevented." Fulci added, however, that "the primary responsibility for Albania's future lies with the Albanian people and authorities." Italy led Operation Alba and, together with Greece, will keep a small security contingent in Albania to train the local military and police under bilateral agreements. Also in New York, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that the UN can soon begin scaling down its peacekeeping force in Macedonia. Plans to do so earlier were delayed because of the unrest in Albania.

SERBIAN OFFICIALS NERVOUS ABOUT KOSOVO

The official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug quoted army spokesmen as saying in Belgrade on 14 August that armed incidents on the border between Kosovo and Albania have been increasing lately. The spokesmen said that groups of people, including children, are trying to enter Yugoslavia with the assistance of armed persons on the Kosovar side of the border. Meanwhile, at a cabinet meeting in Pristina on 14 August, Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic argued that Kosovo will always be part of Serbia: "any concepts based on the secession of this part of Serbia are out of the question for ever." He also promised to promote Kosovo's economic development. Kosovo has 42 seats in the 250-strong parliament that will be elected on 21 September. The Albanians say they will boycott the vote. Local Serbs charge that the government has done nothing to alleviate poverty in the region.

KOSOVO ALBANIAN LEADER CALLS FOR TOUGHER TACTICS

Bujar Bukoshi, the prime minister of the Kosovars' government-in-exile, told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 15 August that the moderate tactics of the Kosovar leadership have reached a dead-end. Bukoshi says that the Kosovars must resort to stronger forms of civil disobedience to get the attention of the Serbian authorities and to make them pay a higher price for what he called the occupation of Kosovo. The international community must stop treating the Kosovo problem as a question of minority rights because the Albanians are not a minority in Kosovo, he added. Bukoshi also warned his countrymen that "an uprising against Serbia would be suicide" but admitted that the failure of shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova's moderate approach has led many Kosovars to sympathize with the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). Bukoshi says he suspects that the UCK consists of a small, determined group of young people.

BULATOVIC APPEALS TO BELGRADE TO SAVE CANDIDACY

Supporters of Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic said in Podgorica on 14 August that they will appeal to the Yugoslav Constitutional Court to overturn the decision of its Montenegrin counterpart to disqualify Bulatovic as the candidate of the governing Democratic Socialist Party (DPS). The pro-Bulatovic group maintains that the Podgorica court's decision violates Bulatovic's "constitutional right to be elected." In Belgrade, the spokesman of the governing Socialist Party of Serbia said his party supports Bulatovic's efforts to establish his candidacy. Meanwhile in Podgorica, parliamentary speaker Svetozar Marovic, who belongs to the reformist faction of the DPS opposed to Bulatovic, invited the Organization for Security and Cooperation to send observers to monitor Montenegro's 5 October vote.

U.S. TO INCREASE FORCES IN BOSNIA

A Pentagon spokesman said in Washington on 14 August that the U.S. will temporarily expand its SFOR contingent from 8,000 to 12,000 troops to provide security for the 14 September elections. In Vienna, Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima said that an armed international presence will be needed in Bosnia even after SFOR's mandate expires in mid-1998. Klima added that the three sides in Bosnia are not yet able to keep the peace themselves and that the U.S. in particular should realize its own interest in keeping Bosnia stable.

PLAVSIC SAYS BOSNIAN SERB COURT BALKING

Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 14 August that she will not respond to a summons from the Constitutional Court in Pale to testify in the court proceedings on the legality of her dissolution of parliament ("see RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1997). Plavsic says that the court is stalling and that it should instead make a decision. In Pale, a NATO spokesman stated that the alliance has completed its inspection of the Bosnian Serb police. A UN police spokesman added that a final agreement on the restructuring of the Bosnian Serb units could be ready as early as 31 August. In Banja Luka, a Bosnian Serb air force jet crashed on a routine training flight. Nobody was injured, and "technical problems" were the likely cause of the crash.

CROATIAN PROSECUTOR GOES AFTER TWO TUDJMAN CRITICS

The State Prosecutor's Office on 14 August asked the courts to launch an investigation into two prominent critics of Franjo Tudjman. The prosecutor said that ultra-nationalist Dobroslav Paraga and human rights activist Ivan Zvonimir Cicak have "spread lies" about Tudjman in recent statements on the role of the Croatian president in the Bosnian war. Paraga had said that Tudjman was actively involved in preparing and carrying out that conflict, while Cicak had commented that Tudjman plotted with Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic to partition Bosnia. If convicted for spreading disinformation, the men could be fined or sent to prison for six months. Cicak told RFE/RL that the authorities are now making trouble for him because they are trying to deflect attention from their moves under U.S. pressure to round up indicted war criminals and send them to The Hague.

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT LEADS POPULARITY POLL

An opinion poll conducted by the Bucharest-based Institute for Research of the Quality of Life shows Emil Constantinescu is the most popular politician in Romania, with the support of 71.1 percent of the respondents. He is followed by Teodor Melescanu, the leader of the recently formed Alliance for Romania (52.3 percent), Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea (50.2 percent), Democratic Party leader Petre Roman (49.4 percent), Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor (37.9 percent), and former President Ion Iliescu (33.1 percent), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The ruling coalition is backed by more than 55 percent of the respondents. The most popular party is the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (19.8 percent), followed by the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (12 percent).

U.S. ORGANIZATION PROTESTS ROMANIAN MONUMENT

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a U.S. Jewish civic rights organization, has sent a letter to President Constantinescu protesting a monument in memory of the interwar fascist Iron Guard movement. The monument was erected in Eforie Sud, on the Black Sea, at the end of a summer camp organized by followers of the revived movement. Foxman commented that the monument "exceeds the limits of freedom of speech in today's democratic Romania," adding that the local authorities in Eforie Sud "supported the project as a tourist attraction at the seaside resort." He urged Constantinescu to "do everything within constitutional rules to have this 'monument' removed."

ROMANIAN-U.S. NAVAL EXERCISE BEGINS

The U.S. Sixth Fleet and Romanian naval forces have begun a one-week sea and land exercise in the Black Sea, Radio Bucharest reported on 14 August. The joint exercises are designed to improve cooperation in humanitarian relief operations.

MOLDOVA, UKRAINE BOOST MILITARY COOPERATION

Moldovan officers will be trained at Ukrainian military academies as of the 1997-98 academic year, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 August. The agreement was reached at the end of a two-day visit to Kyiv by Moldovan Chief of Staff Gen. Vladimir Dontul. At a press conference, Dontul and his Ukrainian counterpart, Gen. Olexandr Zatynajko, announced that military cooperation in general will be expanded. The two sides also agreed that Moldova will supply Ukraine with electronic equipment for artillery systems and that joint artillery exercises will take place on Ukrainian territory. Kyiv will also allow Chisinau to test air defense missiles at Ukrainian testing facilities.

BULGARIA CRACKS DOWN ON CRIME

Slavcho Bosilkov, the director of the police force, told a press conference in Sofia on 14 August that the police have uncovered 17,000 more crimes in the first six months of 1997 than in the same period last year, Reuters reported. But he added that a true comparison cannot be made, because the previous administration had manipulated crime statistics to give lower figures for 1995 and 1996. Bosilkov also said that in the past, citizens had refrained from reporting racketeering and blackmailing attempts to the police because they feared they would not be protected.




TRANSYLVANIA'S GLASS STILL HALF-EMPTY


by Michael Shafir

It is well-established truism that different people can look at the same phenomenon and see different things, depending on what they want to see. In other words, the same glass can be "half-empty" on the pessimist's table and "half-full" in the hand of the optimist.

Transylvania is a case in point. Following the 1996 elections in Romania and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania's (UDMR) inclusion in the ruling coalition, the grievances of the Hungarian minority in that country seemed to have finally come to an end. The new government of Victor Ciorbea agreed to amend an education law to which the UDMR had objected as discriminatory. It had also agreed to bilingual signs in localities with a minority population of at least 20 percent. Moreover, the Hungarian consulate in Cluj, closed by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1988, was re-opened in late July, just two months after Hungarian President Arpad Goencz's visit to that city.

Those developments, however, did not occur without incident. Gheorghe Funar, the ultra-nationalist mayor of Cluj, was behind demonstrations against Goencz's visit; and, following the opening of the consulate, he twice engineered the theft of the Hungarian national flag from the building in which the consulate is temporarily quartered. During his visit to RFE/RL in Prague in early August, Goencz dismissed the significance of those incidents, pointing out that Hungary has "its own extremists." Goencz's glass was obviously "half-full."

In reality, the situation is less encouraging -- and the Romanian side cannot shoulder all the blame. The government was unable to pass the amended education law, prompting the UDMR to threaten to leave the coalition unless the amended legislation went into force as of 1 September. The cabinet was therefore compelled to pass an "ordinance," which made the amended law effective immediately but has not yet been approved by the parliament.

It is by no means certain that the legislature will give its approval, since it is not merely the extreme nationalists (the Party of Romanian National Unity, or PUNR and the Greater Romania Party) and the former ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) that oppose the amended law. The government was, in fact, forced to resort to the ordinance owing to the strong opposition of George Pruteanu, the chairman of the Senate's Education Committee. Pruteanu is a member of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), which is the most influential component of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), the main alliance in the ruling coalition. (When the original version of the education law was passed in 1994 by the former, PDSR-dominated legislature, it had enjoyed the support of many CDR representatives.)

Also contributing to the perception of the Transylvanian "half-empty glass" is the issue of the Hungarian-Romanian signs, which were similarly instituted by ordinance and, for this reason, may likewise not survive the vote in the parliament. Bilingual signs were painted over in the colors of the Romanian national flag twice in Targu Mures, at the obvious instigation of the PUNR. But in mid-August, a member of the Democratic Party, one of the ruling coalition formations, suggested that the percentage allowing bilingual street signs be changed to "more than 22.7 percent" to avoid their use in Cluj. The UDMR has wisely decided not to push with the attempt to have bilingual signs in Cluj as long as Funar remains mayor of that city.

Unfortunately, not all UDMR representatives have displayed such wisdom. In July, the local authorities in Odorheiul Secuiesc, where the UDMR has a majority on the local council, evicted the occupants of an orphanage set up with Swiss donations and run by the Greek Orthodox Church, claiming that the needs of the local (that is, Hungarian) community should come first. Such gestures only provide the opponents of reconciliation with "convincing arguments."

Yet another example shows that it would be wrong to reduce the camp of such opponents to known extremists. While on a visit to Transylvania in early August, Minister of Interior Gavril Dejeu (a PNTCD member), virtually exonerated Funar, saying that the opening of the Hungarian consulate in downtown Cluj had been a "provocation" against the ethnic majority. Dejeu argued that other, "more peripheral" premises should have been found. He "forgot" to mention that Funar had refused to provide any premises whatsoever and that the consulate is temporarily housed in a building owned by the UDMR.

On the other side of the Romanian-Hungarian border, Viktor Orban, the leader of the Alliance of Young Democrats, accused Gyula Horn's cabinet of insufficiently promoting the interests of Hungarian minorities abroad. Again, one is not dealing here with "extreme nationalists" but with a mainstream political party, which the latest polls show leading the field ahead of the 1998 elections.

This may be putting too much stress on the "half-empty" glass. But, as one East European joke has it, the optimists are convinced that this is the best of all possible worlds and the pessimists agree with them. That appears to be the case even in Transylvania.


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