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Newsline - September 19, 1997


During a one-day visit to Orel Oblast, President Boris Yeltsin highly praised Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, who is also governor of the region, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 18 September. Yeltsin said Stroev has brought "calm" and "prosperity" to Orel, expressing confidence that Stroev will be re-elected governor in October. The president also attended a signing ceremony between German company representatives and Orel officials on a DM 114 million ($64 million) loan for grain production in Orel. The Russian government will guarantee that loan. RFE/RL's correspondent noted that Yeltsin needs Stroev's backing in part because the Kremlin wants the upper house to block initiatives of the State Duma, in which opposition groups have a majority. Yeltsin also needs Stroev as a counterweight to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov within the Federation Council. Luzhkov has criticized some of the government's key economic policy initiatives (see below).


Yeltsin praised the activities of First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, RFE/RL's correspondent in Orel reported . He repeated that he had told Russian bankers not to attack Chubais and Nemtsov, although he said no one in the government should be safe from justified criticism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 1997). Yeltsin also hailed the admission of Russia into the Paris Club of creditor nations and congratulated Chubais on being named finance minister of the year by the magazine "Euromoney."


Yeltsin also noted that Russia would like to see U.S. involvement in European security issues curbed. He said NATO is the means by which the U.S. exercised its influence on European security. He again expressed his opposition to NATO's eastward expansion, noting that "Russia advocates a multi-polar world in which no single country exercises a diktat," ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. Yeltsin warned he will stress at the upcoming Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg that Europeans should take responsibility for their own security.


Yeltsin announced in Orel that he will not sign a tax code or land code unless they include a uniform land tax and guarantee full land ownership rights to Russian farmers, RFE/RL's correspondent in the oblast reported. Federation Council Speaker Stroev, appearing alongside the president, remained silent. He has spoken out against the unrestricted purchase and sale of farmland. Yeltsin repeated his support for private land ownership in a 19 September nationwide radio address, Russian news agencies reported. He also predicted a "bumper crop" this year of nearly 80 million metric tons. That would be roughly equivalent to the 1994 harvest and up from both last year's harvest of 69.3 million metric tons and the 1995 harvest of 63.5 million metric tons (the worst harvest in 30 years), but below the 1991 harvest of 90 million metric tons.


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Interfax on 18 September that although his party supports in principle efforts to reclaim debts owed to Russia, Russia's admission to the Paris Club of creditor nations cannot be evaluated until the terms under which Russia was admitted are known. State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin said joining the Paris Club will enhance Russia's authority and help it recover some debts. But Lukin said that unlike First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais, he is not in "a state of euphoria" about the implications of club membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 1997). Chubais on 18 September said Paris Club membership, along with an upcoming debt rescheduling agreement with the London Club, will improve Russia's credit rating and help corporate borrowers in particular, ITAR-TASS reported.


Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told journalists on 18 September that debts owed to Russia by 55 nations total $112.7 billion, Reuters reported. Of that amount, $111.8 billion is from loans granted by the USSR and $880 million from credits extended by Russia since 1991. Russia expects to receive $26-$30 billion of the $111.8 billion in debts inherited from the USSR, according to Kasyanov. Figures released by government officials earlier this year suggested that debtor countries owed Russia up to $140 billion. Speaking in Orel Oblast on 18 September, Yeltsin claimed debtor nations owe Russia $190 billion.


Two men convicted of murdering three people were publicly executed by firing squad in Grozny on 18 September. It was the second such public execution since the beginning of the month. The first drew strong protests from Russian leaders and the international community. First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov told Ekho Moskvy that future executions will not be carried out in public. The Russian Procurator-General's Office, Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, deputy Security Council secretary Boris Berezovskii all condemned the public killings. Yeltsin, meanwhile, made no reference to the incident in his 19 September nationwide radio address.


Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov, commenting on the recent Oslo conference on banning anti-personnel mines, said such a measure must not be taken "hastily," Russian media reported on 18 September. Tarasov said Russia respects efforts against the use of such weapons but believes consideration should be given to special "geo-strategic situations of different countries and the length of their borders." A Foreign Ministry official commented that while Moscow is in favor of continuing discussion on the issue, it gives higher priority to the "nonproliferation of nuclear weapons." Russia, which was an observer nation at the Oslo conference, did not sign the draft convention banning land mines.


Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin of the Popular Power faction has criticized former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed's statements urging the Kurile Islands to be eventually returned to Japan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 1997), Russian media reported. Baburin said the four islands "were, are, and must remain Russian territory," adding that "no one ever gives away territory." He went on to compare Lebed's comments to Yeltsin's "sad" view but added that Lebed's ideas were "much coarser" because "Aleksandr Ivanovich is a military man with no diplomatic polish." Yeltsin had said that relinquishing ownership of the islands is possible but that it will "require a generation" for the idea to become acceptable to the Russian people.


Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 18 September signed a government directive on recalculating prices, wages, and other payments in line with the ruble redenomination scheduled for 1 January 1998, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The newspaper said that contrary to a recent assessment by a presidential administration official, Chernomyrdin expects the parliament to agree to make the necessary technical changes in laws setting fixed ruble amounts for taxes, tariffs, wages, and pensions. The government directive also instructs the Central Bank to determine by 1 October how bank accounts will be recalculated. Yeltsin on 18 September said the redenomination will probably not be applied to saving accounts opened in Sberbank before 1992, Russian news agencies reported. Opposition politicians have advocated not removing three zeroes from the old Sberbank accounts, which were rendered virtually worthless by high inflation in the early 1990s (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 August 1997).


First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais and several of Russia's most influential businessmen discussed investment projects with a high-level U.K. business delegation in the British embassy in Moscow on 18 September. British Ambassador Andrew Wood said the motto of the meeting was "transparency, predictability, and stability" in economic relations, AFP reported. The Russian businessmen attending the meeting included Oneksimbank President Vladimir Potanin, Rosprom group head Mikhail Khodorkovskii (founder of the Menatep bank), Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii, and Security Council Deputy Secretary Berezovskii, who represented the LogoVAZ group. Media outlets influenced by Gusinskii and Berezovskii have sharply criticized Chubais and Oneksimbank in recent months. "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 September argued that the recently bitter enemies needed to appear together at the British embassy in order to convince prospective foreign investors that the so-called "bank war" has ended.


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 18 September announced that some 200 Duma deputies have signed a letter to Federation Council deputies asking for cooperation with various Duma initiatives. In particular, the letter asks the Federation Council to support opposition demands for a "round table" to be held this fall, attended by representatives from parliament, the executive branch, the judiciary, and the trade unions. The letter echoes many points from an appeal recently issued by the Communist, Agrarian, and Popular Power Duma factions, "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 19 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1997).


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov has criticized the Moscow authorities for spending too much money to subsidize payments for rent and utilities, Russian news agencies reported on 18 September. After a cabinet meeting on housing policy, Nemtsov told journalists that Muscovites pay just 17 percent of the costs of housing and municipal services. The proportion of those costs paid by Russian citizens on average has risen this year from 26 percent to 35 percent, he said. Meanwhile, Moscow spends 17.5 trillion rubles ($6 billion), or 43 percent of the city budget, on subsidies for housing and municipal services. Nemtsov's criticism is likely to be welcomed by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who has repeatedly criticized the government for shifting too much of the burden for rent and utilities payments onto citizens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May and 2 July 1997).


Moscow Mayor Luzhkov has again strongly criticized the government's draft 1998 budget, which would eliminate subsidies to the city of Moscow for the cost of maintaining federal facilities. In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 19 September, Luzhkov vowed to appeal to the Constitutional Court if the subsidies for Moscow are not added to the budget. Luzhkov also argued that the government's proposed new tax code, on which the 1998 revenue targets are based, would hurt regional governments. Other regional leaders have also criticized the tax code. During a recent visit to Kazan by State Tax Service chief Aleksandr Pochinok, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev objected to the plan to give the federal government all sales tax revenues, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 September. Proceeds from the profit tax, which is far more difficult to collect, would be earmarked for regional coffers.


A conference of the Lezgin National Council scheduled to take place in Derbent, Dagestan, on 20 September has been canceled following the murder of the wife of Council chairman Mukhuddin Kakhrimanov, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. The council was formed in late 1990 and advocates the creation of a separate Lezgin state that would include areas of southern Dagestan and northern Azerbaijan. The Lezgins, a Caucasian Muslim minority, have traditionally lived in those areas. Kahrimanov, a retired Soviet army general, has headed the council for several years.


Primorskii Krai was hit by power cuts for the fifth consecutive day, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported on 18 September. A coal miners' strike has left power plants short of fuel, and the plants lack funds to pay for coal shipments. Primore residents were without electricity for up to 12 hours. Krai officials have sent a letter to the president asking for federal subsidies to lower the cost of electricity in Primore. But Viktor Kondratov, Yeltsin's representative in Primore, refused to sign the appeal, saying the burden for Primore's high electricity tariffs should not be passed to the federal government or to other regions. Instead, Kondratov flew to Moscow on 18 September to seek some 60 billion rubles ($10.3 million) to pay wage arrears to coal and energy workers. The same day, Primore Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko met with local bankers to try to secure emergency funding to pay wage arrears.


Aleksandr Gelbakh, the press secretary of Primore's regional utility, Dalenergo, says the region is already behind schedule in amassing coal reserves for the harsh winter months and that the situation will worsen if the miners' strike continues. In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Russian service on 18 September, Gelbakh said Primore's coal reserves are sufficient only to supply power plants for 10-12 days. They are not being used to alleviate the current fuel shortage, because the weather is still warm. Asked why miners' strikes do not frequently lead to power cuts in other Russian regions or in Ukraine, Gelbakh noted that all Primore's power plants are coal-fired, whereas other Russian regions and Ukraine have nuclear or hydro-electric plants as well.


During a battle for control of the northern Afghan town of Khairaton, 10 rockets struck the Uzbek border city of Termez, seriously wounding three people, RFE/RL correspondents in Uzbekistan reported Khairaton and Termez are located on opposite banks of the Amu-Darya, which divides Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Uzbek security forces are positioning themselves to ensure there is "no repetition of the incident."


The trial of Yrysbek Omurzakov resumed in Bishkek on 18 September, following a three-month pause, RFE/RL correspondents in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Omurzakov, who is accused of libel by the manager of a Bishkek factory, told RFE/RL that the court claims to have lost documents on his case, particularly witness testimony in his favor. Two other people are also on trial for allegedly giving Omurzakov false information about conditions at the factory. The Committee to Protect Journalists has sent a letter of appeal to President Askar Akayev asking him to intervene in the case.


Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov returned to Ashgabat from Germany on 19 September, RFE/RL correspondents in Turkmenistan reported. Niyazov underwent heart surgery in Germany at the start of September, following an official visit to that country.


Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Gulu-Zade told Interfax on 18 September that the Azerbaijani leadership is not convinced by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov's statement that the Russian-Armenian treaty signed on 29 August is not directed against Azerbaijan or another third country. The previous day, Primakov proposed that Russia and Azerbaijan sign a treaty on friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance similar to the Russian-Armenian accord. Gulu-Zade pointed out that the agreement between Moscow and Yerevan focuses on military cooperation, specifically the Russian military base in Armenia. Russia has no bases in Azerbaijan. Yeltsin and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev signed a treaty on friendship and cooperation in Moscow in early July.


Gennadii Tarasov told journalists on 18 September that unnamed leaders of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic are seeking to "frustrate the ongoing negotiations on a peaceful settlement of the conflict" by allegedly making statements on the need for a new war, ITAR-TASS reported. Although no Karabakh official has advocated a resumption of hostilities, Defense Minister Samvel Babayan has argued in several recent interviews that another war may be inevitable unless Azerbaijan makes compromises and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group proposes a peace plan acceptable to Karabakh. Asked by an Armenian journalist to comment on Babayan's statements, Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasyan on 17 September said the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh should "be ready to face the worst. But this does not mean that war is inevitable," ARMENPRESS reported.


The Department of Public Relations of the Armenian Interior Ministry has issued a denial that Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives have discussed joint efforts to combat crime in the area of their common frontier, ARMENPRESS reported on 18 September. Both the Armenian agency and Turan had earlier reported that such a discussion took place during the 11-12 September meeting of CIS interior ministers in Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1997).


President Aliyev on 17 September issued a decree prohibiting military censorship of the media, Turan reported . Abulfaz Elchibey, Aliev's predecessor, imposed such censorship in January1993, after Azerbaijan had experienced major military defeats in Nagorno-Karabakh. Aliyev imposed political censorship on the media in late 1994. Military censorship will continue to be applied pending the enactment of a law on state secrets, Jahangir Ildrym-zade, the head of the department for the Protection of State Secrets, told Turan on 18 September. Meanwhile, Minister of Information Sirus Tebrizli has informed the editor of the newly established weekly "Forum" that its second issue will not be published because the paper propagates opposition views, according to Turan. The first issue was published on 12 September, but all copies were withdrawn on Tebrizli's orders two days later.


Belarus has agreed to resume negotiations with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on sending an OSCE mission to Minsk to promote democracy, RFE/RL'S Vienna correspondent reported on 18 September. The decision was announced after a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council attended by Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antanovich. He said his country will now allow a European mission to set up a local office to monitor democratic and economic progress. OSCE Chairman and Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen said later that no date has been set for the mission to start work but talks will begin soon on the details. The agreement on an OSCE mission is "an important step forward in the efforts to promote democratic development in Belarus," he added.


Crimean Deputy Minister for Tourism Dmitry Goldich was shot twice in the head by unidentified assailants in Simferopol on 18 September, Reuters reported. The 26-year-old Goldich remains in a coma. Interfax quoted investigators as saying they suspect the attack was a contract hit. Crimean media have recently reported on several scandals involving the privatization of holiday resorts on the peninsula, which was once the favorite vacation destination of the Soviet elite.


Addressing Kazakh journalists in Almaty on 18 September, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said the CIS's shortcomings include its focus on political, rather than economic, problems and its attempts to unilaterally resolve unspecified problems between member states. He said all CIS member states share the blame for this state of affairs but that Russia is the biggest culprit. He also stressed that Kyiv favors "more active" bilateral relations between CIS members and rejects attempts to transform the CIS into a supranational organization. He conceded, at the same time, that the CIS facilitated the peaceful demise of the USSR and is "necessary," despite all its faults. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has frequently expressed similar reservations about the CIS.


An unnamed official at the headquarters of the Ukrainian air force told ITAR-TASS on 18 September that the strategic bombers inherited by Ukraine after the collapse of the USSR may be used for peaceful purposes. "They may come in handy when the International Ocean Safety Service is formed," the official said. But he conceded that it would be necessary to re-equip the aircraft for this purpose and that Kyiv has no money to do so. Ukraine has 19 Tu-160 and 23 Tu-95MS bombers based on airfields in Priluki, Chernigov Region, and in Uzina, Kyiv Region. It had planned to use the bombers as payment for Russian energy supplies. Russian Presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii, however, told journalists in Moscow on 16 September that Russia had no intention of purchasing the bombers.


Two mine sweepers donated by Germany to the Estonian Navy arrived in Tallinn on 18 September, BNS and ETA reported. At a welcoming ceremony attended by high-ranking German and Estonian officials, German Deputy Defense Minister Bernd Wilz said Bonn wanted to use the "opportunity to take part in ensuring security and stability in Europe, and we wish to offer that opportunity to Estonia as well." The two vessels, built in the late 1960s, have been completely overhauled, and their Estonian crews have received trained in Germany.


Vilis Kristopans has survived a vote of no confidence submitted by opposition deputies, BNS reported on 18 September. The vote was 44 to 16 with five abstentions. The opposition had criticized Kristopans for "unsatisfactory" public transportation policies and for alleged violation of the anti-corruption law. Kristopans was one of several ministers in the previous government whom the Prosecutor-General's Office found to have violated anti-corruption legislation by holding business posts. He retained his post in the government formed by Guntars Krasts in July. In its 19 September issue, "Diena" reported that Kristopans intends to prove his innocence in court, according to RFE/RL's Latvian service.


Deputies on 19 September voted unanimously to establish a European Affairs Committee, BNS reported. First deputy parliamentary chairman Andrius Kubilius was appointed head of the 24-strong committee. The news agency commented that the decision should help indicate that Lithuania is prepared for early negotiations on EU membership.


Poland's Solidarity-led alliance on 18 September announced plans to turn itself into a Christian-democratic that will seek to push ahead with market reforms. Marian Krzaklewski, the leader of the alliance, told journalists in Warsaw that the parliamentary party will unite many of the alliance's nearly 40 small rightist groups and those members of the Solidarity trade union who want to turn to politics. The alliance, named Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), was formed last year by the trade union that helped topple communist rule in 1989. In opinion polls, the AWS is running neck and neck with the postcommunist Democratic Left Alliance in the runup to the 21 September general elections (see also "End Note" below).


Vaclav Klaus said in a lecture delivered to an international conference in Zurich on the 51st anniversary of former U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill's "European" speech that "NATO amounts to the protection of a common idea and cultural and ethical values--not an organized search for a common enemy--and that is why the Czech Republic wants to belong to it." He argued that "we must not allow the collapse of communism to be considered the final victory of freedom and democracy and an "end to history,' as is sometimes indicated. There still exist new dangers, new conflicts, new threats, and they will unfortunately always exist." Klaus added that the Czech Republic as well as other countries invited to start NATO admission talks (Hungary and Poland) knew that their entry into the alliance "would not be free of charge."


Several hundred people took part in a demonstration in Bratislava on 18 September to protest French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen's visit to the Slovak capital, Slovak Radio reported. The demonstration was held outside the offices of the Slovak National Party (SNS), which invited Le Pen. The SNS is a member of the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. Meciar's spokeswoman said the previous day that Le Pen was not invited by the government and that Meciar has called on members of his cabinet not to meet with him. Le Pen's party is accused by mainstream French politicians of promoting racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia. But Le Pen's security guards told journalists that the French politician met with several government ministers on 18 September, including Education Minister Eva Sladkovska, Defense Minister Jan Sitek, and deputy parliamentary chairman Marian Andel.


On his arrival in Ankara on 18 September, Michal Kovac sought Turkish support for his country's bid to join NATO, Slovak news agencies reported. Turkey is a NATO member, and Slovakia was not included in the list of countries slated for the first wave of NATO expansion. Turkish President Suleyman Demirel said there are several fields in which the two countries could improve their bilateral cooperation. He said that Kovac's visit will provide an impetus to improve ties. A senior Turkish diplomat told the "Turkish Daily News" on 19 September that Turkey is interested in acquiring "defense equipment" from Slovakia.


The Hungarian Democratic Forum on 18 September asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether the law on referenda contravenes the constitution, Hungarian media reported According to that law, the government's proposed referendum on foreign ownership of land takes precedence over the opposition's referendum initiative, which has been supported by 282,000 signatures. Former Justice Minister Istvan Balsai, a member of the forum's steering board, said his party considers the present legislation to be in "disharmony" with both the electoral law and the constitution. He accused the government coalition of ignoring the will of those citizens who have signed in support of the opposition referendum.


David Foley, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said on 19 September that the results of the 13-14 September Bosnian municipal elections will not be announced, as scheduled, on 20-21 September. Foley said the delay was caused by the need to open a second vote-counting center in Serb-held territory. He estimated that it may be possible to begin announcing results "in the middle of next week." The counting of votes was suspended temporarily in a suburb of Sarajevo on 18 September because of Serbian complaints about absentee voting.


Speaking at a news conference in Washington on 18 September, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said the alliance must concentrate on implementing the Bosnian peace accords now and must not be distracted by questions about what will happen after the scheduled departure of NATO troops next June, an RFE/RL correspondent in the U.S. capital reported. Solana said NATO's Bosnia Stabilization Force (SFOR) will not continue in its present form. But he stressed that the international community must not abandon Bosnia.


Several dozen people were injured, some seriously, when a car bomb exploded outside a police station in the Croat-controlled western half of Mostar on 18 September. A police official told Reuters the explosion was the worst in Mostar to date.


The UN Security Council on 18 September expressed concern at the Croatian government's "lack of substantial progress" toward creating conditions for the repatriation of Serbian and other refugees to Eastern Slavonia and the devolution of executive authority to the region. The Security Council called on Zagreb to remove administrative and legal obstacles to repatriation and take measures to integrate repatriates into economic and social life. The statement also called on Croatia "to cooperate fully" with the international tribunal investigating war crimes in former Yugoslavia.


Controversial Democratic Party deputy Azem Hajdari was hospitalized with serious injuries on 18 September after being shot several times by Socialist deputy Gafur Mazreku during an argument inside the parliament building. Hajdari and Mazreku had quarreled and engaged in a fist fight during a 16 September parliamentary debate on value-added tax but apparently had since been reconciled. President Rexhep Meidani denounced the shooting as a "primitive" incident that had "destroyed the climate of peace and tolerance we are trying to build," Reuters reported. Prime Minister Fatos Nano argued it was criminal and not political in nature. Former President and Socialist Party leader Sali Berisha, however, termed the shooting an attempted political killing by Meidani. Some 2,000 Democratic Party supporters convened a rally in central Tirana to protest the shooting. A U.S. government spokesman condemned the incident and endorsed Meidani's appeal for calm.


Just hours after the shooting of Hajdari, the Socialist Party headquarters in the northern city of Shkodra was destroyed by an explosion. No one was injured in the blast. Police officials said they suspected a link between the two incidents. Shkodra is a stronghold of the opposition Democratic Party.


Ion Diaconescu, the chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, met with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, and the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin in Moscow on 18 September, Radio Bucharest and Mediafax reported. Primakov said there are "good grounds" to believe the pending basic treaty between the two countries could be signed next year if both "make the last necessary efforts." He also expressed "surprise" at Romania's "lack of interest" in the Russian market, saying bilateral trade could and should be improved. During his meetings with Seleznev and Lukin, Diaconescu raised the issue of the Romanian state treasure unreturned since World War One as well as the situation in the Republic of Moldova. Romanian media reported that the positions of the two sides differed significantly over those issues.


During a two-day visit to Moscow, Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Valeriu Bulgari reached an agreement with his Russian hosts on gas deliveries to Moldova during the coming fall and winter, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 18 September. A communique issued by the Moldovan embassy in Moscow does not specify the quantities of gas to be delivered. As of 1 September, Moldova owed Russia's Gazprom company $238.7 million, while the breakaway Transdniester region owed $241.3 million. Moldova pledged to pay $68 million of its debt for supplies delivered in 1997. The embassy said that Bulgari also met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov to discuss, among other things, boosting economic cooperation between the two countries.


The lines of several Moldovan police stations in Chisinau have been cut because the Interior Ministry has not paid its debts to the Ministry of Telecommunications for the use of the phones, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported on 18 September. The phones of about one-third of the stations in the Moldovan capital were disconnected several days ago. Interior Minister Mihai Plamadeala said the police's work is seriously affected. He added that the Ministry of Finance, rather than the Ministry of Telecommunications, is to be blamed for the situation.


Former Bulgarian communist leader Todor Zhivkov was released from house arrest on 18 September, BTA reported. A military prosecutor said Zhivkov will have to report daily to the local police and notify them when traveling elsewhere in Bulgaria. He will not be allowed to leave the country. The 86-year-old Zhivkov is under investigation for channeling funds to procommunist groups in the Third World and for forcing Bulgarians of Turkish origin to change their names in 1984-1985. In September 1992, Zhivkov was sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty of embezzling public funds. His sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court in February 1996, however. The release from house arrest follows a recent amendment to the Penal Code stipulating that a defendant cannot be held in any kind of detention for more than two years without trial.


by Jan de Weydenthal

Poles will cast their ballots on 21 September in a parliamentary election that is likely to prove a political watershed.

The contest involves two large electoral alliances, the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the anti-communist Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). Several smaller parties are also taking part in the vote, the most prominent being the centrist Freedom Union, the non-communist leftist Labor Union, the Peasant Party, the nationalist Movement for the Renovation of Poland, and the newly formed Party of Pensioners and Retirees.

There is a 5 percent threshold for entry into the parliament. At stake are 460 seats in the Sejm (the lower chamber) and 100 seats in the Senate. There are more than 6,600 candidates running for the Sejm and 519 for the Senate.

The electoral campaign has been relatively peaceful, as most groups have basically similar views on several important issues. There is also general agreement that Poland should make major efforts to join such Western institutions as the EU and NATO and that the country should move more resolutely toward market economy. Some parties, however, favor a more gradual transition to the market, while others are pressing for a speedy resolution to such issues as privatization of state assets and modernization of enterprises.

At the same time, there is little doubt about the major differences between the contenders. Those differences are largely over two issues: the Roman Catholic Church, its mission, and its teachings; and past political developments, in particular the communist experience.

The right-wing AWS--an umbrella group of some 30 small nationalist and Christian parties, led by the increasingly populist Solidarity labor union--has closely identified with the Church. Its leaders have consistently supported views expressed by Church officials, particularly on the politically explosive issue of abortion. Moreover, the AWS also has received the unequivocal and public support of the Church hierarchy in the run-up to the elections. The Peasant Party and the Movement for the Renovation of Poland have also identified with the Church.

The Freedom Union, for its part, has expressed some reservations about the Church's teachings. Many of its leaders and activists have also supported the liberalization of abortion regulations. Meanwhile, the SLD and the Labor Union have insisted on the separation of Church and state, opting for the primacy of lay institutions in the judiciary and the executive.

More important and of greater political significance is the division between those groups that have a communist past and those that have always been anti-communist.

The former communists can be found among a variety of groups, including regional and trade unionists, state bureaucrats, and newly rich entrepreneurs. During four years of government dominated by the post-Communists, most posts in the administration, the judiciary, the armed forces and the security services have been filled by the followers of the SLD and its allies. Likewise, the SLD-led government has granted its supporters licenses for television networks and provided them with opportunities to profit from the privatization of state companies.

But such practices have only reinforced longstanding anti-communist tendencies among large sectors of the population and have turned the country's communist past into a major election issue.

Recent opinion polls show the SLD and the AWS running neck and neck, with the former Communists having a slight edge (32 percent, compared with 29 percent for the AWS). They are followed by the Freedom Union (about 12 percent), the Movement for the Renovation of Poland the Peasant Party (7-9 percent), the Labor Union (5 percent), and the Retirees (also 5 percent). If those percentages do not change, Poland's new parliament will be hopelessly divided, making the formation of a stable government exceedingly difficult.

The author is a senior RFE/RL correspondent.