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Newsline - October 14, 1997


Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told ITAR-TASS on 14 October that if the State Duma approves a vote of no confidence in his government, the cabinet will respond quickly "within the framework of the constitution" and will not wait three months, "as some are hoping." Chernomyrdin said he favors "direct dialogue" between the government and the parliament, "not [no-confidence] votes and squabbles." At a 15 October plenary session, the Duma is scheduled to consider a Communist proposal to put a no-confidence vote on the agenda. Chernomyrdin's remarks suggest that if the Duma passes a no-confidence vote, the government will request that deputies consider a second confidence motion within 10 days, as the government did following such a vote in June 1995. President Boris Yeltsin can legally dissolve the Duma and call new parliamentary elections if two no-confidence votes are passed within three months.


Chernomyrdin neither confirmed nor denied a statement by Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the pro-government Duma faction Our Home Is Russia, who told Interfax on 14 October that the prime minister will resign if the Duma approves a no-confidence vote. Shokhin said Chernomyrdin informed Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev of his plans the previous day. Although government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told ITAR-TASS that Chernomyrdin does not plan to step down, Seleznev confirmed that Chernomyrdin told him he will "probably" resign if the no-confidence motion is approved. Seleznev also said that the Duma's likely no-confidence vote will be directed against First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, not against Chernomyrdin. For his part, Nemtsov charged on 14 October that the Duma will do enormous damage to the Russian economy if it provokes a government crisis.


Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 14 October announced that while the Duma is constitutionally entitled to pass a no-confidence vote, such a move would solve no problems and yield no "positive result," Russian news agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin will speak with Seleznev before the Duma's 15 October session, but the spokesman refused to speculate on the president's possible reaction to a no-confidence vote. (In a recent radio address, Yeltsin told Duma deputies they should cooperate with the government, because his patience has limits.) Yastrzhembskii also said Yeltsin is counting on Duma deputies to show "reason" in their approach to revising the 1998 budget in order to reach a mutually acceptable compromise.


Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Anatolii Lukyanov, a prominent Communist, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 14 October that the Communist Party does not fear the dissolution of the Duma. If early parliamentary elections are held, Lukyanov added, the left opposition will win even more seats. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced the same day that his party will insist on a no-confidence vote on 15 October despite rumors that Chernomyrdin may resign, Interfax reported. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin on 13 October said his Movement in Support of the Army also favors a no-confidence vote, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Rokhlin predicted that if Yeltsin disbands the Duma, "patriotically-minded forces" will win a majority of seats in the next parliamentary elections. Opinion within the Communist Duma faction is reportedly divided over whether to pass two no-confidence votes and risk the Duma's dissolution.


Duma speaker Seleznev on 13 October rejected as "absolutely unacceptable" the Chechen draft of a treaty between Russia and the Chechen Republic that provides for establishing bilateral diplomatic relations, Russian agencies reported. But Duma Defense Committee Chairman Rokhlin told journalists the same day that attempts to "tie Chechnya to Russia" are wrong and that "the sovereignty of Chechnya must be recognized", according to Interfax. Vladimir Zorin, who is chairman of the Duma's Committee for Nationalities, said the closed Duma hearings on 14 October are intended "not as a confrontation but as a search for consensus on settling the problems Russia faces in the North Caucasus." Grozny announced on 12 October that it will not send delegates to attend the Duma hearings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1997).


The trilateral commission seeking a compromise on the draft budget for 1998 held its first meeting on 13 October, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais said the representatives of the government, Duma and Federation Council are to finish revising the budget in nine days. Duma Budget Committee Chairman Mikhail Zadornov of Yabloko told ITAR-TASS on 13 October that the government has already agreed to revise its projection for 1998 GDP up from 2.75 trillion new rubles ($470 billion) to 2.8 trillion new rubles. The second session of the commission is scheduled for 14 October. However, Zyuganov told Interfax that negotiations over the 1998 budget are "completely senseless." He charged that the trilateral commission is not operating as Duma deputies had anticipated. He also accused Chubais of trying to "force through" his own budget figures.


Prime Minister Chernomyrdin was upbeat at a 13 October meeting of the Foreign Investment Advisory Council, comprised of government officials and representatives of major foreign companies. He said Russia attracted $6.7 billion in foreign investment during the first six months of 1997, more than triple the level for the same period in 1996. (Foreign investment was particularly low during the first six months of 1996 because of investors' fears that Communist Party leader Zyuganov might win the presidential election.) Chernomyrdin said accumulated foreign investment in Russia amounts to $20.2 billion. He pledged that the government hopes to attract up to $20 billion a year in foreign investment by 2000. To this end, he said the government is considering restoring customs duty reductions and tax concessions for foreign investors, which were suspended last year, Interfax reported.


Duma deputy Konstantin Borovoi on 13 October called for passing a law on lobbying to fight corruption in the Duma, which, he claimed, is rampant, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Borovoi said deputies frequently take bribes to lobby for legislation that benefits corporate groups or foreign countries. He did not name any specific corporations but said that state monopolies and companies in "the military-industrial complex" have paid Duma deputies to lobby on their behalf. One large corporation spent $3 million on buying the support of Duma deputies, he claimed. Borovoi, a wealthy entrepreneur, was elected to the Duma from a single-member district and does not belong to any faction. He has generally supported the government's economic policies and is a vocal anti-communist.


The Duma on 10 October passed a law on the minimum subsistence level, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the law, each Russian region would calculate the subsistence minimum every three months, based on the prices of essential consumer goods. Citizens whose incomes fell below the subsistence level would be eligible for financial assistance from the state. Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, hailed the law as the "foundation of the state's new social policy." The government has called for restricting most social benefits payments to those with low incomes rather than making payments to categories of citizens, such as relatives of veterans or law enforcement officials.


Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky has again accused First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov of taking bribes and embezzling a total of $18 million while serving as governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 October. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 October, the businessman Andrei Klimentev, who first lodged the accusations against Nemtsov, was scheduled to testify before a Duma commission on corruption and to give a press conference in the capital. However, the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Court did not allow Klimentev to leave the region, because he is under criminal investigation. Nemtsov's lawyer, Vitalii Khavkin, has dismissed the accusations as lies intended to damage Nemtsov's political career. Khavkin said that in the summer, Nemtsov requested that the Prosecutor-General's Office open a slander case against Klimentev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 1997).


Our Home Is Russia Duma faction leader Shokhin has expressed regret that compensation payments for Moscow were excluded from the government's draft budget for 1998, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 October. Shokhin noted that while there is a "certain envy" for Moscow--which "puts on celebrations, builds roads, and implements many projects"--the federal government should recognize that most foreign investment in Russia comes to Moscow. Consequently, the government should allocate expenditures to compensate Moscow for the costs of being the country's capital, Shokhin said. He argued that such a policy would help not just Moscow but the whole country. Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, a sharp critic of First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Nemtsov, has decried the government's plans to take away the compensation payments.


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov announced on 13 October that the Moscow city government will provide Russian-language textbooks for Russian-speaking students in Estonia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. The textbooks will also be sent to schools in Sevastopol, the Crimean port where the Black Sea Fleet is based. Russia renounced all territorial claims against Ukraine when Yeltsin signed a treaty with his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, in May. Luzhkov was an outspoken critic of that treaty and has repeatedly declared that Sevastopol was, is, and will remain a Russian city.


Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed says he hopes to cooperate with both Moscow Mayor Luzhkov and with Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii during the next presidential campaign, scheduled for 2000. In an interview published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 11 October, Lebed said he is also ready to work with First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov, who, he commented, has "many positive qualities." Lebed and Yavlinskii held unsuccessful consultations on forming an electoral alliance during the 1996 presidential campaign. Luzhkov has sharply criticized Lebed in the past, especially for the peace agreement Lebed negotiated with Chechnya in August 1996. Although Luzhkov has frequently denied harboring presidential ambitions, he, like Lebed, is seen as a leading contender for support from the "patriotic" wing of the Russian electorate.


Candidates representing the Communist Party made a strong showing in the 12 October elections to the Belgorod Oblast Duma, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Communists won 13 out of the 35 seats in the legislature. The remaining seats were won by candidates with no political party affiliation. Turnout was some 45 percent. The previous Duma approved virtually all the initiatives of Belgorod Governor Yevgenii Savchenko, but the new legislature is expected to be a force for the governor to reckon with. Communists candidates sharply criticized the oblast authorities during the Belgorod campaign.


More than 1,000 people demonstrated in Leninsk-Kuznetskii, Kemerovo Oblast, on 12 October demanding the release of Mayor Gennadii Konyakhin, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 13 October. Konyakhin was recently arrested in Moscow on embezzlement charges and is in custody in Kemerovo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 1997). In a telephone interview with RFE/RL, acting Leninsk-Kuznetskii Mayor Mark Guskov said more demonstrations in support of Konyakhin are planned. State Duma deputy Teimuraz Avaliani, the leader of the Kemerovo branch of the Communist Party, has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to release Konyakhin pending trial, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 October. Vladimir Popov, the chairman of the Kemerovo Electoral Commission, has also said that Konyakhin has the right to continue to serve as mayor, despite the criminal case opened against him, according to the 14 October "Kommersant-Daily."


U.S. citizen Boris Jordan, the head of the investment bank MFK and the Renaissance Capital fund, has denied Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii's claim that his visa was revoked because he gained access to classified information, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 October. At a Moscow press conference, Jordan blamed "unscrupulous competitors" of the Oneksimbank group, which includes MFK, for the incident. He also warned that the "provocation" against him will hurt Russia's image with foreign investors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 October 1997). "Nezavisimaya gazeta," partly financed by Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, reported on 14 October that MFK services accounts of the Russian arms exporter Rosvooruzhenie. The newspaper also said Jordan's investment activities have long been monitored by Russian security services. It suggested that Jordan's September appointment as head of MFK prompted the decision to revoke his visa.


Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev met with Iraqi Deputy Minister of Petroleum Faiz Abdulla Shakhen and Iraqi Ambassador to Moscow Hassan Fahmi Djuma in Kazan on 13 October, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported, citing Radio Tatarstan. An agreement was reached whereby specialists from the Tatar national oil company Tatneft will participate in petroleum production in Iraq and provide production equipment in exchange for the assembly in Iraq of Kamaz trucks. An April 1995 agreement on cooperation in the oil sector was never implemented because of the lack of relevant Russian legislation.


First Deputy Prime Minister Akhmetzhan Yesimov, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Pavlov, Foreign Minister Kasymjomart Tokaev, and Interior Minister Kairbek Suleimanov retain their posts in the new Kazakh government, Russian agencies reported on 13 October. President Nursultan Nazarbaev has appointed a new minister of justice and upgraded the national press and media agency to the status of ministry. Despite having told the parliament in his10 October address that the new government would have no more than15 ministers, Nazarbaev apparently did not abolish any ministries. Meanwhile, many of the protest marchers halted by police near the southern city of Turkestan have begun a hunger-strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1997), ITAR-TASS reported on 13 October.


During his one-day visit to Turkmenistan on 13 October, Kamal Kharrazi met with President Saparmurad Niyazov to discuss cooperation in the oil and gas sector, Russian agencies reported. The talks focused on the export of Turkmenistan's oil and gas via Iran. Turkmen Oil and Gas Minister Batyr Sardzhaev told Interfax that when construction of the Korpedzhe-Kurd-Kui pipeline is completed in December, Turkmenistan will begin exporting to Iran 3 billion cubic meters of gas each year. Niyazov and Kharrazi also discussed the possibility of constructing a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran and an oil pipeline from Turkmenistan through Iran to the Persian Gulf. Niyazov proposed creating a joint commission for exploiting Caspian mineral resources.


Apas Djumagulov on 13 October confirmed he will not allow the rebroadcasting of Russian Public Television (ORT), Russian Television (RTR), and Radio Mayak programs to be halted, ITAR-TASS reported. Kyrgyz TV and radio relay stations had decided to stop retransmission until the three broadcasters pay their outstanding debts to the Kyrgyz Ministry of Communications. Oruzbek Kaiykov, the head of the Kyrgyzstan Information Agency, told journalists in Bishkek on 13 October that ORT owes some 3 billion Russian rubles ($600,000) RTR 837.5 million rubles, and Radio Mayak 869 million rubles, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in the Kyrgyz capital. Kaiykov said Djumagulov asked the parliament to include in the 1998 draft budget some 6 million soms ($350,000) toward the cost of rebroadcasting Russian television and radio programs in Kyrgyzstan.


Levon Ter-Petrossyan has ratified the 30 August agreement creating the Hairusgasard joint venture, Interfax reported on 13 October . The agreement, concluded by the Armenian government, Russia's Gazprom, and the ITERA international gas transportation company, covers the construction of a pipeline network and the use of that network to export Russian gas via Armenia to Turkey and from there to other countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1997). The Armenian government ratified the agreement on 23 September.


A subdivision of the government-controlled Slovak Telecommunication, which owns all television and radio transmitters in the country, has shut down Radio Twist, the only domestic private station in Slovakia covering news, Slovak media reported on 13 October. Radiocommunication said it took this step because Radio Twist has failed to pay some 170,000 Slovak crowns ($5,300) for using the company's transmitters. RFE/RL's Slovak service reports that Slovak Television and Radio currently owes Slovak Telecommunication $1 billion crowns (some $30 million), as does the private, government-close television station VTV. A spokesmen for Radio Twist said the station is current in its payments and that Radiocommunication's action is politically motivated. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar recently accused Radio Twist of "lying" and said he favored new legislation to prevent it from continuing to operate the way it had been to date.


A Minsk court on 13 October fined Pavel Serinets and Yevgeniy Skochko $10 each for taking part in the 12 October demonstration, at which an effigy of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was burned, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, speaking at the opening of a hospital established near Minsk to treat victims of the Chernobyl accident, Lukashenka praised Austria for its assistance in setting up the facility and chided Russia and Ukraine for not doing more, Belarusian media reported.


Leonid Kuchma will veto the election law passed by the parliament in September unless lawmakers make small changes to bring the bill into line with the constitution, Interfax reported on 13 October, quoting presidential administration chief Yevhen Kushmaryov told . Kuchma has until 16 October to sign the bill if the parliament modifies it or veto the measure if it does not.


In an interview with the daily "Eesti Paevaleht" on 13 October, Lieutenant Jaanus Karm accused the commanders of the Estonian peacekeeping company and the Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion of negligence, ETA reported. Karm was head of the unit that lost 14 members during a training exercise in mid-September. While not seeking to shift the blame from himself, Karm said he had not received any instructions from his immediate superiors. "There was a total confusion about who was responsible for what," he told the newspaper, adding that he was forced to take over the duties of the company and battalion commanders. The security police have found Karm to be solely responsible for the tragedy, but no official charges have been brought so far.


During his visit to Vilnius on 13 October, Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van Mierlo advised Lithuania not to push for inclusion in early negotiations on EU membership, BNS and dpa reported. Van Mierlo told reporters that negotiations are a waste of time and energy for countries that still have a long way to go to meet EU requirements. But he stressed that The Netherlands' is willing to continue helping Vilnius prepare for EU entry. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas said his country will take the Dutch recommendations seriously but added that the criteria for EU membership are not specific enough for Lithuania to comply with. During his two-day visit, Van Mierlo met with President Algirdas Brazauskas, Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius, and parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis.


Solidarity Electoral Action leader Marian Krzaklewski has said he will present a candidate for prime minister to President Alexander Kwasniewski by 16 October, Polish media reported. But Krzaklewski said he is unwilling to give his coalition partner, the Freedom Union, the two posts it has demanded: the deputy premiership for Leszek Balcerowicz and the foreign portfolio for Bronislaw Geremek. Such appointments, Krzaklewski said, would fly in the face of the electorate's will.


Forty percent of Poles currently put their savings in banks, the highest figure since the fall of communism in Poland, according to the results of a September poll published in the 13 October issue of "Rzeczpospolita." The poll also found that only 3 percent of Poles now keep their savings at home. In other news, intelligence chief General Andrzej Kapkoski has issued instructions that no Polish spy should spend more than six hours a day on surveillance if the weather is bad, no pregnant spy should work more than eight hours a day, and no spy should put in more than 40 hours a week, PAP reported on 11 October.


The Constitutional Court on 13 October ruled that the parliament's decision to use the government's wording of the referendum on land ownership by foreigners is unconstitutional. The court pointed out that the opposition-backed wording had been supported by more than 200,000 signatures and argued that, under the basic law, the opposition version must take priority over the government one. The government coalition responded by announcing it wants the 16 November referendum to be on NATO accession only. The opposition, however, insists that the referendum include the one question on NATO entry and the two questions on foreign land ownership as formulated by the opposition.


Addressing the closing session of the North Atlantic Assembly in Bucharest on 13 October, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said the costs of expanding the alliance are minor compared with the advantages of admitting new members. Solana called for a continued NATO presence in Bosnia, saying it would be a "political, military, and moral mistake" for SFOR to withdraw from the region (the peacekeepers' mandate runs out in June 1998). Earlier, the assembly adopted a resolution calling for expansion to continue so as to include Romania, Slovenia, the Baltic States, "and other southeast European countries." RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. that the reference to "other southeast European countries" was added at the insistence of the German delegation.


Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency, agreed in Belgrade on 13 October in talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to hold parliamentary elections on 23 November. Plavsic and Krajisnik had decided in Belgrade in September on a 15 November vote, but the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe asked for a later date so that it would have enough time to organize the elections. Krajisnik and the other hard-liners opposed the delay. In the summer, Plavsic dissolved the current parliament, which is dominated by her hard-line rivals. Krajisnik said in Belgrade on 13 October that elections for his job and for that of Plavsic will take place on 7 December, as he and Plavsic agreed in September. It is unclear, however, whether the presidential elections were included in the 13 October agreement.


A spokesman for Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 13 October that SFOR peacekeepers will not return four television relay stations to Krajisnik's hard-line Pale Television. Westendorp noted that the Serbs have refused NATO's demand that Pale sack the current television management before the transmitters are returned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1997).


Robert Farrand, the international community's chief administrator of the strategic town of Brcko, ordered on 13 October that Muslims and Croats be included in the Serb-run police force. He said that international experts will soon arrive to train the force, which will be headed by a Serb with Muslim and Croatian deputies. Local Serbian officials, however, called Farrand's order "drastic" and difficult to implement. In the 13-14 September local elections, Serbian nationalists won the single largest bloc of votes in the new town council, but no ethnic faction secured a majority. Serbs were in a minority in pre-war Brcko but have held the town since the start of the war in 1992.


The Sarajevo local authorities on 13 October announced a $30,000 reward for information leading to the uncovering of a presumed Muslim terrorist group that has recently attacked Roman Catholic institutions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1997). The federal government ordered the city authorities to install police video cameras in some parts of downtown Sarajevo in the wake of the incidents. Meanwhile in Tripoli, Libya formally protested Bosnia's recent decision to recognize Israel. And in Dhaka, Bangladeshi President Shahabuddin Ahmed told visiting Bosnian Gen. Rasim Delic that Bangladesh will help rebuild Bosnia's economy and defense forces. Some 20 Bosnian officer cadets are currently training in Bangladesh.


Josip Bozanic, Zagreb's new archbishop, said on 13 October that "the [Roman Catholic] Church does not wish to be close either to the government or to the governing party," the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. Bozanic's statement suggests that the Church intends to continue the policy of former Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, who resisted the government's and the HDZ's attempts to co-opt the Church as a political ally. Kuharic strongly defended Church interests in such matters as control over religious instruction in the schools and in the military. But he also tended to steer clear of overtly political issues, except when he repeatedly criticized the war with the Muslims in 1993.


Adil Carcani has died of heart disease in Tirana, state media reported on 14 October. Carcani was a protege of dictator Enver Hoxha and prime minister from 1982 until February 1991, when student-led protests ended communist rule. The postcommunist government imprisoned Carcani and some other former leaders for abuse of power, but Carcani was later freed because of poor health. During the anarchy earlier this year, Ramiz Alia, Hoxha's successor, fled Albania to join his son in France.


Victor Ciorbea told the North Atlantic Assembly on 13 October that his cabinet's aim is not to gain access to NATO but to turn Romania into a country that the Western alliance and the EU would like to have as one of their members. Ciorbea reviewed the economic and legislative reforms undertaken so far by the government as well as the administrative measures implemented to improve inter-ethnic relations. He said economic legislation aimed at attracting foreign investments and a revised penal code that meets international standards will be submitted to the parliament in the near future.


Following his meeting with representatives of high school students on 13 October, Ciorbea announced that matriculation examinations in 1997 will be conducted, as previously, in four compulsory subjects and an additional optional one. Under a new curriculum, students would have taken examinations in seven subjects (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1997). It was also agreed to set up a council composed of representatives of high school students and of the Education Ministry at county and central levels, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported.


Presidential counselor Anatol Taranu on 13 October denied media reports that Moldova's de facto federalization is provided for by the document on which experts from the two sides of the Transdniestrian conflict agreed in Moscow recently. Taranu said the document makes no mention of a Transdniestrian separate parliament, government, anthem, or state symbols. He said the document reflects the principle of "Transdniester [as] an integral part of the Moldovan republic," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He refused to reveal the contents of the agreement, saying that the two sides reached an understanding whereby details will be made public only after Moldovan and Transdniestrian leaders have approved the document. Constantin Lazar, a member of the Moldovan delegation to the 5-9 October negotiations in the Russian capital, said the agreement ensures Chisinau will have "sole competence [over] Moldovan citizenship, foreign policy, customs, and frontiers."


Nadezhda Mihailova and her Russian counterpart, Yevgenii Primakov, have agreed to meet in Moscow on 1 December for what the Russian Foreign Ministry described as a "working meeting." Bilateral relations have been particularly strained recently over accusations in the Bulgarian media that Russia is trying to impose unfair conditions for its natural gas deliveries and that the Russian ambassador to Sofia is trying to undermine Bulgaria's efforts to integrate into Euro-Atlantic structures. ITAR-TASS on 13 October said Mihailova's visit will be in preparation for a summit of the two countries' presidents later in December.


Yasha Lange

Serbian State Television's (RTS) coverage of the recent parliamentary and presidential election campaign was fundamentally flawed. The evening news featured endless rallies of the ruling party's candidate. Each day, several red ribbons were shown being cut (at the opening of highways, hospitals, construction sites, and so forth). Favorable economic figures were quoted by government ministers. And opposition candidates were heard criticizing one another but not the candidate from the ruling party. All in all, nothing very surprising.

What is more surprising, however, is that the attitude of some opposition members toward the media reveals similar intolerance. Despite the existence of various political parties, and despite diversity in the press, there is a marked lack of national debate in Serbia. Four problems contribute to this state of affairs.

First, RTS is the only nationwide television station in the country, and an estimated one-third of the population has no access to other electronic media. The failure by RTS to provide balanced coverage of the recent election campaign means that millions of Serbs may have gained a seriously distorted picture of the country's political landscape.

Second, Serbian viewers are strongly influenced by RTS newscasts--the "official version" of reality--in their perceptions of domestic politics, even when other sources of information are available to them. RTS conveys a message of completeness: it makes the viewer believe that he does not have to watch other newscasts Many ordinary Serbs remain reluctant to question that message, perhaps because during 40 years of communism, the gap between what people saw on television newscasts and their own experience of reality could easily be bridged. Unlike in some Soviet bloc countries, people did not automatically distrust what they saw on the evening news programs.

Third, the Serbian government is not alone in its desire to control the media. Some members of the opposition seem similarly reluctant to accept that television news can operate without the interference of political parties. The 30 September dismissal of the director and editor-in-chief of Studio B--the TV station controlled by the Belgrade municipal authorities--is just one case in point. Lila Radonjic, the editor-in-chief of Studio B says that during the last six months of her tenure, the television station received "as many as 10 calls a day" from Vuk Draskovic, his wife Danica, and senior officials from his Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO). Milan Bozic, the vice president of the SPO, is reported to have said, "We're not going to pay for a television station that does not work for us." The eventual outcome was the dismissal of the two Studio B officials.

And in Nis, the second largest city in Serbia, the SPO-controlled municipal television station did not allow the local mayor to express his point of view in his ongoing dispute with Draskovic. Such an attitude on the part of the SPO mirrors the atmosphere of intolerance that the RTS helped create.

Fourth, the criteria for licenses and frequencies continue to obstruct the development of private electronic media. There are some 70 local television stations in Serbia. Most are controlled by the local authorities, and no fewer than 58 operate without a license. Moreover, there are only three private television stations with a license. Since 1994, when the last licenses were distributed, discrepancies between laws on the federal and republican levels and the insurmountable difficulties in registering have prevented private broadcasters from acquiring a legal status. The non-distribution of frequencies and/or licenses and the fact that transmitters remain in the control of the state have been instrumental in preventing independent broadcasters from reaching their potential audiences.

The Serbian government's influence over the state-owned media is by no means unique in the region. Less common are the legal barriers for private electronic broadcasters, although some countries, such as Bulgaria and Croatia, likewise lack a regulatory framework. In Serbia, it is particularly regrettable that some opposition forces also want to impose control over the electronic media.

The author is project manager for the East-West Cooperation Program of the European Institute for the Media, Dusseldorf, Germany.