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Newsline - October 27, 1997




RUSSIA, LITHUANIA SIGN BORDER TREATY...

Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Lithuanian counterpart, Algirdas Brazauskas, on 24 October signed a border demarcation treaty in Moscow. It is the first such agreement signed between Russia and one of the Baltic States. After handing Brazauskas a statement offering Russian security guarantees to the Baltic States, Yeltsin commented that "if anyone decides to threaten Lithuania, he will have to deal with us." Moscow has offered such guarantees as an alternative to NATO membership for the Baltics (see also Part 2). In addition, Yeltsin and Brazauskas signed an agreement on use of the Baltic Sea continental shelf and issued a joint statement on measures to liberalize bilateral trade and economic cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported.

...BUT DUMA LOOKS SET TO BLOCK RATIFICATION

State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev commented on 24 October that the Duma recently adopted a Communist-sponsored resolution appealing to Yeltsin not to sign a border treaty with Lithuania, BNS reported. He said deputies support good relations with neighboring countries but fear that concluding a border treaty will pave the way for Lithuanian accession to NATO. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov echoed Seleznev's sentiments in a speech in St. Petersburg the next day, RFE/RL's correspondent in the city reported. In an article for the 24 October issue of "Pravda-5," Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin of the Popular Power faction used similar arguments against ratifying the treaty. The Communist faction and the allied Agrarian and Popular Power factions have a virtual majority in the Duma. The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia faction is also expected to oppose ratifying the treaty with Lithuania.

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN ISRAEL

Arriving in Israel for a tour intended to revive the Middle East peace process, Yevgenii Primakov again denied as "baseless" charges that Russia is helping Iran to develop medium-range ballistic missiles. But Primakov said that "Russia has and will continue to have political and economic relations with Iran," according to AFP on 26 October. The previous day, Primakov held talks in Beirut with the Lebanese leadership, whom he assured of Russia's support for Lebanon's territorial integrity, Interfax reported. Following talks in Damascus the same day with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, Primakov told journalists that an Arab-Israeli peace agreement is possible only on the basis of the "land-for-peace" formula.

MOSCOW TO CONVENE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON CHECHNYA

Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov reached agreement in Moscow on 25 October on convening an international conference in Moscow to discuss Chechnya's future status vis-a-vis Russia, Russian agencies reported. But a fifth round of Russian-Chechen talks in Moscow on 24-25 October failed to resolve differences over the Russian-Chechen customs agreement, the status of Grozny's airport, and what Rybkin termed the "unacceptable" delay in releasing federal funds for Chechnya.

CHECHNYA-DAGESTAN BORDER CLOSED TO MOTOR TRAFFIC

Chechen presidential press spokesman Kazbek Khadzhiev complained on 25 October that Russian has imposed a "virtual blockade" of Chechnya that prevents the delivery of food and medical supplies, Interfax reported. Russia closed the Chechen-Dagestan border to motor traffic earlier the same day following the murder of one Dagestani policeman in the border area and the abduction of eight others.

COMMISSION REVISES MAIN BUDGET PARAMETERS...

The trilateral commission of government, Duma, and Federation Council representatives finished revising the main parameters of the draft 1998 budget on 24 October, Russian news agencies reported. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said the commission agreed to increase projected revenues to 367.5 billion new rubles ($62.5 billion), up from the government's original figure of 340 billion rubles. Chubais remarked that the new revenue projection "strains the limits of common sense" and cannot be increased further. Planned expenditures total 499.9 billion rubles (472.1 billion rubles in the government's original draft), and the projected budget deficit 132.4 billion rubles (132 billion rubles). Planned revenues from privatization sales were increased from 6.1 billion rubles to 8.1 billion. The Duma is expected to consider the revised budget in the first reading on 31 October.

...AGREES TO RAISE TAX ON FOREIGN-CURRENCY PURCHASES

In order to increase planned 1998 revenues, the trilateral commission agreed to raise the tax on foreign-currency purchases from 0.5 percent to 1 percent and to apply that tax to non-cash transactions, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 October. Commercial banks are likely to strongly oppose those plans. The changes will require the passage of amendments to a law on taxing foreign-currency purchases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June and 25 July 1997).

LUZHKOV WANTS FEWER, LARGER REGIONS

During a meeting with Lithuanian President Brazauskas, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov again advocated dividing Russia into 10-13 large economic zones rather than 89 regions, as the constitution stipulates, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 October. Luzhkov commented that "it is impossible to rule 89 [Russian] Federation subjects from the center." According to Luzhkov's plan, which he first advocated in February, Moscow would be a separate zone. Most of the others would be created on the basis of Russia's eight geographical regional associations, which unite regions in the Far East, Siberia, the Urals, the Volga region, central Russia, northwestern Russia, the Black Earth area, and the North Caucasus. Meanwhile, Luzhkov on 25 October blamed the federal government for a "shameful" shortage of funds for rebuilding the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Reuters reported.

STROEV WINS LANDSLIDE VICTORY IN OREL

Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev won the 26 October election to retain his post as Orel Oblast governor with 97 percent of the vote, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported the next day. Stroev's only opponent, collective farm head Vera Yenina, expressed hope during the campaign that Stroev would win (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 1997). Two other would-be candidates were denied registration by the Orel electoral commission. According to RFE/RL on 23 October, local newspapers and electronic media displayed a strong pro-Stroev bias during the campaign. The media, most of which are subsidized by the regional administration, publicized numerous appeals from citizens to vote for Stroev. There was virtually no media discussion of economic problems facing the oblast or of alleged official interference to keep potential competitors out of the race.

COMMUNIST-BACKED CANDIDATE WINS KHAKASSIA DUMA SEAT

Georgii Maitakov, who most recently was economic adviser to the Khakassian Cultural Center, defeated 11 rivals in a 26 October election for a State Duma seat representing Khakassia, Interfax reported the next day. With turnout at 37 percent, Maitakov, a career sailor until 1994, ran as an independent and gained some 20 percent of the vote. His candidacy was supported by the Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia, an umbrella movement formed last year from the alliance that backed Communist Party leader Zyuganov's presidential bid. The Duma seat was previously held by Aleksei Lebed, the younger brother of former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed. He gave up the seat in December 1996 after being elected head of the Khakassian government.

COMMUNISTS MARK REVOLUTION ANNIVERSARY

Communist Party leader Zyuganov led a delegation of some 20 Communist politicians to St. Petersburg, "the cradle of the revolution," to mark the 80th anniversary of the October Revolution, RFE/RL's correspondent in St. Petersburg reported on 24-25 October. Although the anniversary of the revolution was celebrated on 7 November during the Soviet period, the Bolsheviks seized power in St. Petersburg on the night of 25-26 October 1917, according to the calendar used at the time. In an interview with Reuters on 25 October, Zyuganov said, "Today is a new era and we must avoid such revolutionary uprisings." Speaking to a group of supporters, Zyuganov praised the achievements of the Soviet period, including the victory in World War II, the space program, and the New Economic Policy introduced by Vladimir Lenin in 1921.

YELTSIN PROMISES TO HELP CHILDREN

Yeltsin promised to force government agencies to address the problems of Russia's youth in a 24 October nationwide radio address. He asked rhetorically, "How did we let it happen that we have a whole army of homeless children, who sleep not in their parents' homes, but in basements, attics, and manholes?" Yeltsin also cited the need to fight the growing problem of teenage drug addiction, which, he said, contributes to an estimated 200,000 crimes committed annually in Russia by juveniles. Regarding state financial support for children, Yeltsin said only needy families should receive child benefits. The government has proposed means testing for many social payments, including child benefits, but the Duma has rejected such plans.

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS FOR SCIENCE

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 24 October pledged that the government will soon pay some 2.4 trillion rubles ($408 million) in back wages to workers at scientific establishments, Russian news agencies reported. Speaking to a government meeting on reforming the scientific and technological sector, Chernomyrdin also said the 1998 budget foresees 13.5 billion new rubles ($2.3 billion) in funding for science: 4.8 billion rubles for fundamental research, 5.6 billion rubles for the development of promising technologies, and 3 billion rubles for the space program. At the same meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak said the government will reduce the number of organizations with the status of "research institutions," which entitles them to state benefits and budget funding. Currently Russia has 4,364 such institutions, but Bulgak argued that some of them merely duplicate the work of other institutions or no longer conduct scientific research.

VIEWERS' JURY TO DECIDE ON CONTROVERSIAL FILM

The private network NTV will let a "jury" of television viewers decide whether Martin Scorsese's controversial film "The Last Temptation of Christ" should be broadcast, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 October. In March and April, NTV cancelled planned broadcasts of the film following protests from the Russian Orthodox Church. Church representatives and legal experts have been invited to debate the merits of the film in a 1 November NTV program, after which a "jury" will decide whether the film should be shown on 9 November. A local television company in Novosibirsk Oblast recently aired "The Last Temptation of Christ" despite protest letters and demonstrations outside its studios, according to the 16 October issue of "IEWS Russian Regional Report."



NEW CONSORTIUM TO BUILD TURKMEN GAS PIPELINE

The Turkmen government and a group of international companies, including Russia's Gazprom, signed an agreement in Ashgabat on 25 October to build an export gas pipeline via Afghanistan to Pakistan. Turkmenistan will have a 10 percent stake in the consortium, the U.S. company Unocal 36.5 percent, Saudi Arabia's Delta 15 percent, and Gazprom 10 percent. The remaining 28.5 percent is shared between several South Korean, Japanese, Pakistani and Indonesian companies, according to Interfax. Construction of the 1,464 kilometer pipeline from Dauletabad, Turkmenistan, to Multan, Pakistan, is estimated at $2 billion and may begin in 1998. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has reached agreement with the various warring factions in Afghanistan on ensuring the security of the pipeline.

IS UZBEK MILITARY BACKING TAJIK OPPOSITION?

Kasim Babayev, a former senior official from Tajikistan's southern Khatlon region, has told Tajik security forces that elements within the Uzbek military have backed the Tajik opposition, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 October. Babayev specifically mentioned renegade Colonel Khudoiberdiev, adding he believes the Uzbek officers have acted without the knowledge or approval of the country's top leadership. Babayev, an associate of Khudoiberdiev, recently surrendered to the Tajik authorities. Tajik security officials contacted on 27 October by RFE/RL's Dushanbe bureau declined to comment on the ITAR-TASS report.

ANOTHER CLASH ON TAJIK-UZBEK BORDER

One man was killed and eight wounded in a 27 October attack by unidentified armed men on a border post in Tursunzade. Additional Tajik border guards have been dispatched to that sector of the Uzbek-Tajik frontier. Meanwhile on 25 October, the repatriation of Tajik refugees from Afghanistan via Uzbekistan got under way, Reuters reported.

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT IN TURKEY

On his third official visit to Turkey since 1991, Askar Akayev and his Turkish counterpart, Suleyman Demirel, signed an "eternal friendship" and cooperation treaty on 24 October, the "Turkish Daily News" reported. Four other bilateral cooperation agreements were also signed. Akayev acknowledged Turkey's assistance in implementing reform in Kyrgyzstan and endorsed the secular, free-market "Turkish model." Addressing the Kyrgyz-Turkish Business Council on 24 October, Demirel called for increased Turkish investment in Kyrgyzstan. To date, some 250 Turkish companies have invested a total of $350 million in that country.

KAZAKH PROTEST MARCHERS CLASH WITH POLICE

Police on 23-24 October drove back the 2,000 or so workers from Achisay's Polymetal Plant who tried to break through barricades preventing them from crossing the Arys irrigation canal and continuing their protest march to Almaty, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kazakh capital reported. No one was injured. The protesters began their march on 1 October to demand the payment of wage arrears totaling 100 million tenges ($1.35 million). They are now also demanding free parliamentary and presidential elections, according to the 19-26 October issue of "Moskovskie novosti."

AZERBAIJAN'S OIL EXPORT PIPELINE COMMISSIONED

Oil from Azerbaijan has begun flowing into the Russian Federation through the recently repaired Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk pipeline, Russian agencies reported on 25 October. Speaking at a ceremony marking the event, Natik Aliev, the president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, said "Today Azerbaijan resumes the export of its own oil to Western markets after a break of 65 years." Several months earlier, SOCAR began filling the Azerbaijani section of the pipeline with oil extracted onshore. The first "early oil" from the Chirag Caspian field being exploited by the Azerbaijan International Operating Committee will begin to flow on 12 November, one week later than previously announced, ANS reported on 24 October, quoting a senior AIOC official.

COUNCIL OF EUROPE DELEGATION IN ARMENIA

A delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe met in Yerevan on 23-25 October with President Levon Ter-Petrossyan as well as with various political parties and parliamentary deputies, Armenian and Russian agencies reported. The delegation's objective is to assess the domestic political situation and determine whether Armenia fulfills the requirements for full membership in the Council of Europe. Currently, Armenia has "special guest" status in the council. Some Armenian journalists who requested to accompany the delegation on its tour of Yerevan's Nubarashen prison were barred from doing so, "Azg" reported on 24 October.




CZECH COALITION IN CRISIS

Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus on 24 October rejected Deputy Premier Josef Lux's demand to draw up a new government program and to ask the parliament for another vote of confidence in the government, CTK reported. Lux, the leader of the junior coalition People's Party (KDU-CSL), said hopes for a change in the government's policies have been "significantly reduced" by the sudden resignation of former Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec, economic problems, and the earlier departure of Interior Minister Jan Ruml. The leader of the third coalition partner, Michael Zantovsky of the Civic Democratic Alliance, said he agrees with Lux. Klaus said Lux's demands are "tantamount to a diktat" and that the KDU-CSL must make "absolutely clear" whether it wants to stay in the coalition or leave.

HAVEL ON GOVERNMENT CRISIS...

President Vaclav Havel on 26 October said in his weekly national radio address that he doubts a new government program "would solve anything because the coalition lacks the energy and the [political] will to act." He added that the government "merely lives from one day to the next." The previous day, Milos Zeman, the chairman of the Czech Chamber of Deputies, told journalists in Trieste, Italy, that the two chambers of the legislature will hold presidential elections on 20 January, CTK reported. Havel's term expires on 1 February. He has said he will agree to serve another term provided he has the support of the four mainstream government and opposition factions represented in the chamber and in the Senate.

..ON VISAS FOR CZECHS VISITING BRITAIN

In the same radio address, Havel said he intends to phone British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a bid to avert a decision by London to reintroduce visa requirements for Czech citizens. Havel said such a move might lead to requirements being reintroduced all over the EU. British authorities in Dover have said up to 800 Czech and Slovak Roma have arrived there recently seeking asylum. The Slovak Embassy in London said the arrivals were triggered by two Czech television programs claiming British social security and asylum systems are easy to abuse.

ANTI-TERRORIST MEASURES TAKE EFFECT IN BELARUS

Parts of a Belarusian presidential decree on combating "terrorism" have gone into effect, RFE/RL's Minsk bureau reported on 24 October, citing the government newspaper "Zvyazda." Among those offenses the decree classifies as terrorism are not only arson, bombing, and assassination but also the threat or use of violence against government employees and police. Persons suspected of planning terrorist acts may be detained for up to 30 days. At the same time, the maximum term of imprisonment for violent crimes is increased from 15-20 years to life.

BELARUSIAN HELSINKI COMMITTEE LEADER RELEASED

When Tatiana Protska appeared in court on 24 October, the charges against her were first changed from "interfering with a police investigation" to "illegal personal assumption of government authority" and then dropped altogether after witnesses had testified in her defense, RFE/RL's Minsk bureau reported. Protska told a news conference on 24 October that she had been arrested while trying to clarify the circumstances of the recent dismissal of agricultural firm director Vasil Starovoitau. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had ordered Starovoitau's sacking.

UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER GEARS UP FOR ELECTIONS

The third congress of the Popular Democratic Party, which took place in Kyiv on 25-26 October, named Valery Pustovoytenko to head its list of candidates for the 1998 parliamentary elections, Russian agencies reported. Addressing the congress, Pustovoytenko called on parliamentary deputies to vote in favor of the government's planned tax reform, which he said is necessary to augment budget revenues. He also pledged to "spare no effort" to pay wage and social security arrears.

UKRAINE OVERRULES CRIMEA ON MOSCOW TIME

President Leonid Kuchma has issued a decree overriding the Crimean parliament's 15 October decision to switch clocks to Moscow time, Reuters reported on 25 October, citing Ukrainian media. The decree said the move was unconstitutional. Crimea observed Moscow rather than Kyiv time between 1994 and early 1997.

BALTIC RESPONSES TO YELTSIN'S SECURITY OFFER

Responding to President Boris Yeltsin's offer of security guarantees for the Baltic States (see Part 1), Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas said in Moscow on 24 October that Vilnius will carefully discuss the offer. He added, however, that "our foreign-policy priorities will remain unchanged," Interfax reported. Latvia's President Guntis Ulmanis turned down the offer, noting that security guarantees are not the "sort of thing that one side chooses for another." And Eino Tamm, the chairman of Estonia's parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, dismissed the offer as a "tactical" ploy aimed at weakening the Baltic States' desire to join NATO, according to AFP.

RIGA, VILNIUS STOCK MARKETS TUMBLE

The stock markets in Latvia and Lithuania tumbled one day after the crash in neighboring Estonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 1997). Riga's stock market index dropped 11.5 percent and Vilnius's indices between 3 and 6 percent, as Estonian investors sold Latvian and Lithuanian holdings to improve the Tallinn market's liquidity. Analysts said the drops are necessary corrections after a summer of over-valuation and that they expect both countries' markets to recover. Meanwhile, the Estonian TALSE index regained five percentage points on 24 October. Two days later, the Central Bank in Tallinn announced that beginning 1 November, the obligatory reserve of Estonian banks will be increased from 2 to 4 percent.

MOSCOW-LOYAL ORTHODOX CONVENT REGISTERED

Estonia's Interior Ministry has registered a convent in the northeastern village of Kuremae that is loyal to the Russian Orthodox Church, ETA reported on 24 October. Legal registration of the Phtitsa convent was repeatedly delayed, as the officially recognized Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (which follows the Constantinople patriarchy in Istanbul) and the Russian Orthodox Church sparred over the division of Church property. The Estonian government has ruled that property restituted to the Orthodox Church would belong to the Estonian branch, but most Orthodox believers in Estonia, who are ethnic Russians, prefer to remain under the Moscow patriarch.

STRIKING POLISH DOCTORS REJECT BUZEK'S APPEAL

Anesthetists in nine Polish provinces have rejected an appeal by Prime Minister-designate Jerzy Buzek to suspend their protest over pay until his government has been installed and can tackle their problems, PAP reported on 26 October. The anesthetists are refusing to eat solid food in order to make themselves too weak to attend patients and thus bring hospital surgery to a standstill. The head of their trade union said the anesthetists will wait until 4 November for concrete proposals from Buzek. If none are forthcoming, they will expand their protest action, he said.

NEW ELECTORAL ALLIANCE IN HUNGARY

The national board of the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) on 25 October accepted the Independent Smallholders' offer to set up an electoral alliance, Hungarian media reported. The board rejected setting up a Christian Democratic union with the Democratic Forum, as reformists within the party had demanded. At the same time, it did not rule out cooperating with that party in the second round of the 1998 elections. Some reformists' membership in the KDNP was suspended, while deputy chairman Zsolt Semjen, and honorary chairman Sandor Keresztes both resigned.




MORE STREET PROTESTS SLATED FOR MONTENEGRO

In Podgorica on 26 October, the faction of the Democratic Socialist Party loyal to President Momir Bulatovic called for his supporters to stage mass meetings across the country. The previous day, the Constitutional Court rejected Bulatovic's demand that the court invalidate the 19 October presidential elections, which he lost. U.S. and EU officials earlier recognized Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic as the winner of the presidential vote and warned Bulatovic to call off his immediate post-election street protests, which he did on 23 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 1997).

DJUKANOVIC SAYS BELGRADE GUILTY FOR OWN ISOLATION

Montenegrin President-elect Milo Djukanovic told "Der Spiegel" of 27 October that the federal Yugoslav government is largely to blame for its own international isolation. Djukanovic charged that Belgrade has so far failed to promote the democratization of Kosovo or to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. He said, however, that Montenegro is not interested in leaving Yugoslavia and will do so only if what he called authoritarian tendencies in that country continue to rise or if Belgrade neglects Montenegro's vital interests and does not end the country's international isolation.

YUGOSLAV PRIME MINISTER ADMITS MISTAKES

Radoje Kontic said in Belgrade on 26 October that Yugoslavia's reintegration into international political and economic structures is proceeding very slowly, BETA reported. Kontic added that political problems are much to blame for that slow pace. He singled out Yugoslavia's failure to resolve the Kosovo issue or to settle the question of the debt of the former Yugoslavia with the other successor states. He also noted that the international community feels that Belgrade is not cooperating sufficiently with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Kontic argued nonetheless that the international community judges Yugoslavia by tougher standards than it applies to most other countries.

OPPOSITION LEADER WANTS ANTI-MILOSEVIC COALITION

Zoran Djindjic, the president of Serbia's Democratic Party, said in Bijeljina in the Republika Srpska on 25 October that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's opponents everywhere must unite. Djindjic called for an alliance between himself, Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic--with whom he met in Bijeljina--and Montenegro's Djukanovic. Djindjic charged that Milosevic is actively backing the hard-line rivals of Plavsic and Djukanovic. Meanwhile in Belgrade, six Serbian parties formed the League of Democratic Parties on 26 October. The league unites representatives of the Hungarian and Muslim minorities, as well as regional parties from Vojvodina, Sandzak, and Sumadija.

BOMB DAMAGES SERBIAN CHURCH IN BRCKO

UN police spokesmen said in Sarajevo on 27 October that a bomb damaged a Serbian Orthodox church building under construction in the strategic north Bosnian town of Brcko. Police are investigating the incident, in which no one was injured. The church is close to the site of a mosque destroyed by the Serbs in the war.

KLEIN THREATENS TOUGH ACTION AGAINST BOSNIAN LEADERS

Jacques Klein, the international community's second highest representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 25 October that it might be necessary to "lock up in the National Museum" the leaders of the Croatian, Muslim, and Serbian communities in order to force them to conclude long over-due agreements on joint citizenship, a common currency, and state symbols. Observers noted that Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the joint presidency, has been the main obstacle to an agreement. The governing Bosnian Serb party does not believe in a unified Bosnia and would prefer to partition the country.

BOSNIAN SERB POLICE LEADER CHANGES SIDES

Spokesmen for Plavsic announced in Banja Luka on 25 October that hard-line Deputy Interior Minister Dragomir Jovicic has resigned his post in Pale and defected to Plavsic. The spokesmen said Jovicic decided to change sides when his superiors refused to let him arrest an aide of hard-line leader Radovan Karadzic on smuggling charges.. Plavsic claims that Karadzic's entire power structure is based on crime and corruption.

BOSNIAN PENSIONERS STAGE PROTEST

Thousands of retirees marched in Sarajevo on 25 October to demand an increase in state pensions. The average monthly pension is about $75 and the minimum guaranteed pension is $50, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital.

CROATIA TO DEFEND INTERESTS IN BOSNIA

President Franjo Tudjman said in Zagreb on 26 October that Croatia has vital interests in Bosnia and will protect them. He added that those interests include not only the security of the ethnic Croats in that republic but also what he called Croatia's strategic interests. He pledged that the long-delayed agreement between Zagreb and Sarajevo to regulate bilateral relations will be ready soon.

SLOVENIA REDEFINES ECONOMIC PRIORITIES

Economics and Development Minister Marjan Sanjur said in Ljubljana on 24 October that his country will concentrate on improving its economic relations with the Balkan countries, including with the other successor states to the former Yugoslavia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Ljubljana. Observers noted that, since gaining independence in 1991, Slovenia has focused on promoting economic links with the EU.

MACEDONIA, ALBANIA BOLSTER SECURITY TIES

Albanian Defense Minister Sabit Brokaj and his Macedonian counterpart, Lazar Kitanovski, signed an agreement in Skopje on 24 October to improve security on their common border. Armed gangs and smugglers have often crossed the frontier since law and order broke down in Albania early this year. On 26 October, the two ministers announced they will soon conclude an accord on military cooperation.

CIA HELPS REORGANIZE ALBANIAN SECRET SERVICE

An unspecified number of CIA instructors have arrived in Albania to help reorganize SHIK, the secret service, "Koha Jone" reported on 26 October. SHIK head Fatos Klosi was appointed on 21 August with the mandate to reorganize the highly politicized service. He has since replaced most high-ranking officers (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 22 August). Beginning in November, the CIA specialists will give three-month courses for new SHIK employees to help reorganize the service along Western lines.

ROMANIAN PREMIER ON POSSIBLE RESHUFFLE

Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea on 25 October said a reshuffle of the government before the end of 1997 "cannot be ruled out," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The next day, President Emil Constantinescu appealed to the "revolutionaries" to end their 18-day hunger strike. Constantinescu said their protest has not been "without echo" and that upcoming parliamentary debates on the amendment to the law granting them benefits are likely to take into consideration the strikers' objections to the draft. But strike leader Dan Iosif said the hunger strike will continue until Ciorbea guarantees their demands will be met.

IMF DISSATISFIED WITH ROMANIAN PERFORMANCE

IMF chief negotiator for Romania Poul Thompsen says he is "not satisfied" with the pace of economic reforms in Romania, particularly that of privatization, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 24 October. Thompsen had just concluded a week-long fact-finding visit to Bucharest. In other news, Adrian Nastase, the deputy chairman of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, has condemned what he termed the "enforced Magyarization" of Romanians who live in counties where ethnic Hungarians are in a majority, according to the bureau on 26 October.

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN TIRASPOL

Igor Sergeev met in Tiraspol on 23 October with the leader of the breakaway Transdniester region, Igor Smirnov, BASA-press reported. Vladimir Atamanyuk, the deputy chairman of the separatists' Supreme Soviet, told the agency two days later that Smirnov and Sergeev discussed "bilateral cooperation" in non-military spheres and reached agreements on "mutual debts," which are to be submitted for Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin's approval. Atamanyuk also said Smirnov agreed that the Russian military equipment in Transdniester must be evacuated from the region, but he stressed this must happen "in line with bilateral accords between Tiraspol and Moscow."

SMIRNOV 'EXPLAINS' TRANSDNIESTRIAN POSITION

Smirnov told journalists in Tiraspol on 24 October that the Tiraspol leadership does not accept the compromise document that the experts from both sides recently worked out under Russian mediation (see "RFE/RL Newsline", 10 October 1997). He explained that the document was "imposed" on the two sides by President Yeltsin's special representative Yurii Karlov, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. In an interview with the Transdniester official state television on 24 October, Smirnov accused the leadership in Chisinau of "attempting to use Russia's authority in order to pressure Transdniester."

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT ON RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA

The parliament on 24 October unanimously approved a resolution calling for "friendly, equal, and mutually advantageous relations" with Russia, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. The resolution said Sofia's relations with Moscow must develop in line with Bulgaria's "national interest." It also emphasizes that Bulgaria's "integration in Euro-Atlantic structures" is one of its fundamental foreign-policy aims. The resolution was adopted against the background of growing tension between Bulgaria and Moscow over economic and foreign-policy differences. President Petar Stoyanov thanked the deputies for adopting the document, saying it will strengthen his position during his scheduled talks with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow on 18-19 December.




LAVENTS TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS LEGAL SHORTCOMINGS IN LATVIA


by Peter Zvagulis and Martins Zvaners

The long-awaited Banka Baltija fraud trial in Riga is a useful yardstick for measuring post-communist Latvia's progress in creating a modern judicial system. Unfortunately, by this measure, Latvia clearly has a long way to go.

On 13 October, Aleksandrs Lavents went on trial on charges of massive fraud while chief executive officer of the Banka Baltija . The next day, however, Judge Aija Saulite suspended the trial after Lavents fainted in the courtroom and had to be rushed to the hospital. She released him from police custody, ruling that his history of heart ailments meant he should be under only house arrest.

Saulite's actions drew sharp protests from Latvian leaders. In a joint statement, Prime Minister Guntars Krasts and Justice Minister Dzintars Rasnacs condemned her actions and urged that the government review the duties and responsibilities of the country's justices. The Prosecutor-General's Office also criticized the decision and appealed without success for Saulite to return Lavents to police custody.

On 16 October, Saulite removed herself from the case, arguing that "pressure from the government, the Prosecutor-General's office and the community" had made it impossible for her to continue to preside over the trial whenever it resumed.

But that action did little to halt the political controversy over her decision. Four days later, the opposition parliamentary deputies demanded a non-confidence vote in Justice Minister Rasnacs, a call that was echoed the same day by Latvia's Russian-language newspaper, "SM Segodnya."

Saulite may have been driven to her decision less by official statements than by concern for her own safety. Such fears would have been justified. On the day Saulite released Lavents from custody, Josef Kaedar, the former security consultant for Banka Baltija and a former Mossad agent named, was stabbed to death at his home in what investigators regarded as a contract killing. His death was reported in the Latvian press on 15 October--the day before Saulite withdrew from the case..

Saulite may also have concluded that she could be well served by the precedent of judges avoiding tough decisions under what they identified as political pressure. Earlier this year, for example, several local and regional judges refused to take up the case of popular Daugavpils Mayor Aleksejs Vidavskis, who had allegedly been involved in the Communist Party's efforts to block the recovery of Latvian independence. Had those justices confirmed his involvement, Vidavskis would have been ineligible for public office under Latvian law. But their unwillingness to consider the case ultimately forced the prosecutor-general to drop the charges altogether.

The chief motivation for Saulite's decision may be the growing power wielded by those involved in organized crime, a phenomenon evident in the Banka Baltija case.

When the Banka Baltija collapsed in 1995, one-fifth of Latvia's poorest residents saw their savings disappear and more than $400 million in bank assets were illegally diverted. According to auditors, most of that sum went to the nearly 50 subsidiaries of Finhold Ltd., Lavents's off-shore holding company. Lavents and Banka Baltija arranged large loans to the former state airline, the state electric monopoly, and the state-owned shipping enterprise Bentspils Nafta.

Those loans threatened the financial well-being of some of the country's largest companies. They also enriched Lavents's favored partners, including expatriate Latvian Armands Stendzenieks, who is now under arrest in Germany.

Moreover, Lavents counted among his closest business associates Moisejs Gurevcs, who was later murdered, Vladimir Leskov, the reputed boss of the Pardaugava organized crime syndicate, and alleged mafia enforcer Boris Raigorodskiy. None of those people or their friends would likely have wanted a trial that might highlight their misdeeds, and both of those still alive would undoubtedly be willing to use forceful measures to prevent such a trial.

The Lavents case thus highlights the unfortunate fact that Latvia still does not have a truly independent judiciary. But in contrast to the Soviet-era, the major threat to its independence comes not from the government but from organized criminal groups. Peter Avagulis is director of the RFE/RL Latvian Service. Martins Zvaners is an outreach specialist in RFE/RL's Washington office.


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