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Newsline - October 30, 1997




DUMA ASKS COURT TO RULE ON THIRD PRESIDENTIAL TERM

The State Duma on 29 October approved a motion to ask the Constitutional Court to decide whether President Boris Yeltsin is legally entitled to seek a third term, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Article 81 of the constitution says the president cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. However, some presidential aides have argued that Yeltsin could run for re-election in 2000, since he was first elected president in 1991 under a different constitution. The Duma wants the Constitutional Court to clarify the issue long in advance of the next presidential election, scheduled for 2000, in order to minimize possible political pressure on the judges. Yeltsin has given mixed signals about his intentions, but most recently, he ruled out running for re-election again (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 1997).

YELTSIN ASKS DUMA TO RATIFY CHEMICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION

Yeltsin on 29 October sent the Duma a new draft law on ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), urging deputies to pass the legislation by 1 November, Russian news agencies reported. In April, the Duma postponed ratifying the convention on the grounds that Russia currently lacks the funds to meet deadlines for destroying chemical weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 30 April 1997). Aleksandr Kotenkov, Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, argued that Russia must ratify the convention soon if it is to influence crucial decisions on the CWC's implementation. "Segodnya" on 17 October had accused the Kremlin of seeking to impede Duma ratification of various arms control accords in order to harm the lower house's image. In particular, the newspaper charged that Kotenkov on 14 October blocked the Duma Council from putting a draft law on ratifying the CWC on the Duma's agenda.

DUMA APPROVES SANCTIONS FOR ILLEGAL POWER CUTS...

The Duma on 29 October passed amendments to the criminal code that would impose fines or prison terms of up to five years on officials responsible for illegal power cuts to non-paying consumers of electricity, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking to the "Financial Times," an official from the electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems described the amendments as a "populist measure." In addition, the Duma rejected amendments on punishments for not paying wages,. pensions, or student stipends on time. Some deputies expressed concern that executives at cash-strapped firms would fire workers rather than risk prosecution for delaying wage payments.

...REJECTS BAN ON FASCIST PROPAGANDA

Also on 29 October, the Duma rejected a proposed amendment to the criminal code that would have banned the "public justification of, approval of, extolling of, or denial of crimes committed by national-socialist or fascist regimes," ITAR-TASS reported. Deputies from the Yabloko and Our Home Is Russia factions supported the amendment but were outvoted by representatives of the Communist, Agrarian, and Popular Power factions. Moscow City Duma deputy Yevgenii Proshechkin appealed to State Duma deputies to support the amendment, saying Russia needs the measure to fight people who praise Hitler. But Popular Power faction leader Nikolai Ryzhkov argued that the amendment would lead Russia "down a very dangerous path, toward fighting dissidence."

PRIMAKOV CONTINUES MIDEAST DIPLOMACY

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 30 October arrived in Egypt, the last stop on a tour aimed at boosting Russia's role as co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process. On 28 October, following meetings in Amman with King Hussein and other Jordanian officials, Primakov told journalists that reviving Syrian-Israeli talks will be difficult, since Syria "is ready to make peace with Israel" but "does not want to restart negotiations from zero," AFP reported. An unnamed Jordanian official quoted by the agency said Primakov had warned that Israel is planning a major offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon. At a press conference following a 27 October meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, Primakov criticized the Israeli government, which, he said, has not abided by agreements it and previous governments signed with Palestinian officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1997).

NEMTSOV REJECTS U.S. THREAT OF GAZPROM SANCTIONS

First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told journalists on 29 October that Moscow "rejects all attempts to influence Russia's Gazprom" and will protect that organization, Russian agencies reported. The U.S. administration has threatened sanctions against Gazprom in retaliation for the $2 billion deal that the company signed with French and Malaysian firms and the Iranian National Oil Company to exploit Iran's giant South Pars Caspian natural gas field. Nemtsov said the South Pars project "strengthens Gazprom's position not only on the Asian market but on the world market," Interfax reported.

REPORT CALLS FOR REVAMPED BALTIC POLICY

The influential Foreign and Defense Policy Council has issued a 50-page report, titled "Russia and the Baltic States," that calls for Russia to revamp its policy toward Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 October published excerpts of the report, which argues Russia should seek cooperation with the Baltics and alternatives to NATO membership for the three states. The council's report also says Moscow should continue to apply pressure to protect the interests of Russian-speaking populations in Estonia and Latvia. According to the 29 October "Izvestiya," the report argues that Baltic membership in the EU could bring economic benefits to nearby Russian regions.

RUSSIAN STOCK MARKET POSTS GAINS

The Russian Trading System index rose some 16 percent on 29 October following a 19 percent drop the previous day. Shares of leading companies, such as the oil company LUKoil, the regional utility Mosenergo, and the electricity giant Unified Energy Systems, posted even stronger gains. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told reporters in London that "the roots of the present financial crisis lie in the economies of the South Asian countries and have nothing to do with Russia," according to ITAR-TASS. He added that shares in Russian companies are still undervalued and will remain attractive to investors, RFE/RL's correspondent in London reported. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin commented that there was no "crisis," but merely "panic," which, he said, may have been created deliberately, Russian news agencies reported.

COMMISSION ON EXTREMISM INTENDED TO 'WARN' OPPOSITION?

"Russkii telegraf" on 29 October argued that a new presidential commission on fighting political extremism was created as a "final warning to oppositionists." Under a presidential decree issued the previous day, the commission is to enforce a ban on organizations that seek to change the constitutional structure through violence, to violate Russia's territorial integrity, or to incite social, racial, ethnic, or religious hatred. Justice Minister Sergei Stepashin will chair the commission, which will also include Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Kovalev and Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 October that the commission may target Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, who recently vowed to seek the removal of Yeltsin and his "hated regime" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1997).

LUZHKOV KEEPS UP ATTACK ON GOVERNMENT

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 29 October denounced the government's proposed tax code and other economic policies supported by First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais, Interfax reported. Luzhkov remarked that "monetarists are not interested in how the economy operates; what they want is to collect as much in taxes as possible at any price." He argued that the tax code would "bleed the entire country dry," adding that if the state had sold property for its real value rather than at giveaway prices in recent years, "the proceeds would have sustained the country for 30 years." Speaking to journalists in London on 28 October, Chubais charged that "Nothing of what Luzhkov has done in Moscow...could have been done without the economic policy which he is attacking."

SUSPECT DETAINED IN ST. PETERSBURG MURDER

Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov on 29 October announced that a suspect has been arrested in the murder of St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Mikhail Manevich, Russian news agencies reported. Manevich, who headed St. Petersburg's Property Committee, was killed by a sniper on his way to work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 August 1997). Skuratov noted that it would be premature to say the authorities have solved the crime. Virtually no high-profile slayings in Russia have been solved in recent years. Meanwhile, Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Kovalev announced on 29 October that eight people suspected of involvement in the Manevich murder are in custody. However, Kovalev said, they were all arrested on different charges, such as forgery or illegal weapons possession.

MASSIVE PROTEST STAGED IN PRIMORE

Trade union officials estimated that up to 200,000 residents throughout Primorskii Krai took part in a protest action on 30 October, Reuters and RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported. Several thousand demonstrators picketed the city and krai administration buildings in Vladivostok. Total wage arrears in Primore are estimated at nearly 500 billion rubles ($85 million), and some parts of the krai are afflicted with water shortages. The protesters also demanded the resignations of Yeltsin, the federal government, and the Primore administration. Meanwhile, energy workers are threatening more strikes in November, which could cause a resumption of power cuts. Workers at the Zvezda submarine repair plant, which has not been paid for various defense orders, are threatening to blockade the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

NO QUORUM, NO VOTE ON CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S POWERS

Owing to the lack of a quorum, the Chechen parliament on 28 October was unable to vote on Aslan Maskhadov's second request that his powers be increased to suspend legislation, rule by decree, and impose a state of economic emergency, Russian agencies reported the following day. The parliament had voted against Maskhadov's first request five days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline", 24 October 1997). Parliamentary speaker Ruslan Alikhadzhiev told ITAR-TASS that deputies will vote on the issue on 4 November.

ALTAI REPUBLIC TO BECOME 'SECOND CHECHNYA'?

"Trud" on 29 October reported that corruption in the Altai Republic, which is entirely dependent on federal subsidies, has reached astronomically high levels even by Russian standards. It also warns of secessionist tendencies among the region's 200,000 population, of whom some 70 percent are ethnic Russians. Yurii Antaradonov, the head of the republic's off-shore economic zone, which was created in 1995, is said to have siphoned off billions of rubles each month to fund his election campaign for the head of the local administration. "Trud" warns that the combination of secessionist tendencies and corruption may mean the region will become a "second Chechnya."



GEORGIA, UKRAINE TO FORM JOINT PEACEKEEPING UNIT

Meeting in Tbilisi on 29 October, Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze and his Ukrainian counterpart, Aleksandr Kuzmuk, agreed to create a joint peacekeeping battalion, CAUCASUS PRESS reported. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who is also on an official visit to Tbilisi, told journalists that the peacekeepers' primary task will be to safeguard transportation routes through Abkhazia, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 October. The two defense ministers also signed a protocol on developing military-technical cooperation. ITAR-TASS reported that Ukraine intends to purchase an unspecified number of modernized Su-25 military aircraft from Georgia.

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN KAZAKHSTAN

Igor Sergeev has met with his Kazakh counterpart, General Muhtar Altynbaev, and President Nursultan Nazarbayev to discuss the terms under which Russia will continue to lease the Baikonur space complex. and other military bases. Russia's owes some $486 million for the use of Baikonur, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 29 October. Last year, Russia undertook to pay $28 million a year for the use of Kazakh defense facilities, but Sergeev had suggested that Moscow instead supply Kazakhstan with military equipment and train Kazakh officers. Visiting Almaty in early October, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin failed to reach an agreement with Nazarbayev on Baikonur. Meanwhile, Sergeev and Kazakh leaders agreed Russia will give Kazakhstan four Su-27 military aircraft as partial compensation for Soviet military hardware withdrawn after 1991.

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTIES TO JOIN FORCES

Representatives of several opposition parties and movements met in the Kazakh capital on 28 October to discuss forming an opposition alliance that will be called the National Front, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported the next day. Azad, Azamat,. the Communist Party, and the Workers' Movement of Kazakhstan announced their readiness to join such a grouping.

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT REJECTS DRAFT BUDGET

Ignored an appeal by President Askar Akayev, the upper chamber of the parliament has unanimously rejected the 1998 draft budget, the Russian press reported. The draft almost doubled funding for the country's bureaucracy while slashing funds for agricultural projects. Deputies called on the government to submit a new draft budget by 1 January 1998.

TURKMENISTAN, UKRAINE TRY TO RESOLVE GAS DEBTS

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Holubchenko is in Ashgabat for talks with his Turkmen counterpart, Rejep Saparov, on resuming Turkmen natural gas exports to Ukraine, RFE/RL's Ashgabat bureau reported on 30 October. The two deputy ministers are also trying to determine exactly how much Ukraine owes for gas received in 1996-1997. Turkmenistan cut gas supplies to Ukraine in March 1997 because of Kyiv's failure to pay. A spokesman for the Itera company, which acted as an intermediary to export and sell Turkmen gas to Ukraine, said a large share of that debt, which is believed to exceed $300 million, would be settled by means of barter trade.




BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS MEDIA LAW AMENDMENTS

By a vote of 49 to one, the upper house of the parliament on 29 October rejected 22 amendments to the media law, including one that bans the dissemination of information defaming the president, Reuters and RFE/RL's Minsk bureau reported. Deputies told the news agency that the government-proposed amendments are unconstitutional. Meeting with delegates to a Council of Europe conference on journalism in Minsk the same day, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka maintained that he is "personally against censorship." He went on to say that "no journalists in Belarus have ever been harassed for criticizing my government."

DETAILS OF RUSSIAN-LATVIAN BORDER ACCORD FINALIZED

Wrapping up 18-month talks, Russian and Latvian delegations finalized the technical details of a border demarcation agreement at a meeting in Pskov on 29 October, BNS reported. That accord still has to be considered by the governments of both countries. A sticking point in the border negotiations was Latvia's insistence that a reference to the 1920 Riga Treaty be included. Latvia eventually dropped that demand, but recently the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Prime Minister Guntars Krasts of seeking to revive territorial claims by suggesting that the law ratifying the agreement may refer to the treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1997).

BUTKEVICIUS BEHIND BARS

Former Defense Minister and independent deputy Audrius Butkevicius has been detained in a Vilnius jail following a parliamentary vote to allow his arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1997), BNS reported. Butkevicius is accused of accepting a bribe to use his influence to end a criminal investigation. Deputy-Prosecutor General Kestutis Betingis told reporters Butkevicius can be held for up to 48 hours, after which the Prosecutor-General's Office must either release him or give reasons for his continued detention.

POLAND'S BUZEK SUBMITS CABINET LINEUP

Forced to postpone the announcement of his cabinet lineup for several hours owing to last-minute haggling between the coalition parties, Prime Minister-designate Jerzy Buzek submitted his government candidates to President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 29 October. In addition to those candidates announced the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1997), Buzek proposed Janusz Tomaszewski, a former car mechanic and deputy chairman of Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), as a deputy premier and interior minister. Two other AWS members, Janusz Steinhoff and Longin Komolowski, are named as economy and labor ministers and Eugeniusz Morawski of the Freedom Union as transport minister. The cabinet is expected to be sworn in on 31 October, the constitutional deadline for forming a new government.

CZECH GOVERNMENT ASKS ROMA TO STAY...

The government on 29 October called on Roma not to leave the country and urged Czechs to improve relations with the Romani community. Twelve ministers have been assigned tasks to help integrate Roma into society. Following a meeting with President Vaclav Havel, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus announced that the government "considers the Romani community a natural part of our society" and "fully respects Romani culture and its contribution to our country," CTK reported. Havel, meanwhile, appealed to Czech citizens to "fight against all unconscious and hidden elements of latent racism, which is dormant in our society."

...WHILE BRATISLAVA SAYS ROMA SEEK SOCIAL ADVANTAGES

A spokesman for the Slovak government on 29 October said the emigration of the country's Roma community is motivated by social, not political factors. He added that Roman are seeking to take advantage of Britain's political asylum system, the RFE/RL Slovak service reported.

SLOVAK PUBLISHERS PROTEST VAT INCREASE

Milos Nemecek, the chairman of the Slovak Publishers' Association, has protested the government's plan to increase value-added tax on publications from 6 to 23 percent, Slovakia media reported on 29 October. The increase will apply to those publications in which advertising accounts for at least 10 percent of the contents. Nemecek said the plan is an "attack on the plurality of the press" because readers with small incomes will have to give up their daily newspaper. The opposition sees the plan as an attempt to silence criticism of the government, Slovak media report. In March 1995, most Slovak dailies protested a similar government proposal by printing a blank page.

HUNGARY'S LARGEST BANK PRIVATIZED

With the sale of more than 7 million shares, the privatization of Hungary's Savings Bank has been more successful than expected, Hungarian media reported on 30 October. The two rounds of privatization of the country's largest bank generated 52 billion forints ($267 million) in revenues for the State Privatization and Holding Company. That sum is more than half of the total revenues from the privatization of all other Hungarian banks.




HAGUE COURT CANNOT SUBPOENA STATES

The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ruled on 29 October that the tribunal has no right to issue injunctions threatening sanctions against a state or an official of a state. The Appeals Chamber said that the tribunal must ask the UN Security Council to issue such injunctions if it feels that a state or its officials are not cooperating with it. The tribunal had threatened to impose sanctions on Croatia and its defense minister, Gojko Susak, for their refusal to provide the court with documents related to the case of General Tihomir Blaskic, who is on trial in connection with war crimes against Muslims in 1993. Observers said the ruling is a setback for the tribunal in its efforts to make governments comply with their obligations under the Dayton agreements.

U.S. WARNS BOSNIA OVER ARMS...

A spokesman for the State Department announced on 29 October that the army of the mainly Croatian and Muslim federation must destroy 100 older artillery pieces before the U.S. delivers a similar quantity of new howitzers under the "Train and Equip" program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1997). The spokesman stated that Washington strictly adheres to the arms limits set down in the Dayton agreements.

...AND OVER INCIDENTS AGAINST CROATS

Also on 29 October, the State Department issued a written statement noting that Washington "strongly condemns and is deeply concerned by the growing number of violent incidents...targeted at Bosnian Croat individuals and cultural institutions." The statement followed the recent killing of a Croatian man near the Muslim-held town of Travnik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1997). Meanwhile in Sarajevo, Interior Minister Mehmed Zilic said three men have been arrested in the case. He described one of the three as a well-known criminal, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital.

OSCE TELLS CROATIAN JOURNALISTS TO APOLOGIZE

The Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Sarajevo office sent letters on 29 October to Croatian Mostar Television and Radio Livno to demand that they publicly apologize for having "failed to meet even the minimally acceptable standards for accurate, complete, fair, equitable, and unbiased broadcasting." The OSCE requested that Mostar TV anchormen read a letter on the air saying, "We deliberately wanted to divide the peoples of Bosnia and spread national hatred." An anchorman for the Croatian station in Mostar refused to read the statement. He said that if he admitted spreading national hatred, he could be tried for war crimes in The Hague.

KARADZIC'S WIFE SAYS SFOR IS STALKING HER

Liljana Zelen-Karadzic told the Belgrade daily "Vecernje Novosti" of 29 October that NATO peacekeepers have recently begun following her as she goes about her daily activities. She called their alleged actions an invasion of privacy. Meanwhile, a spokesman for SFOR said in Mostar the previous day that SFOR military police have arrested seven peacekeepers suspected of smuggling cigarettes and alcohol. News agencies identified the men as Ukrainians whose activities had attracted the attention of local Croatian police.

PRISTINA PROTESTS PASS OFF PEACEFULLY

Some 15,000 ethnic Albanian students demonstrated in Pristina on 29 October. There were no incidents, and protesters dispersed when the police told them to do so. Student leaders warned, however, that they may abandon peaceful protests in the future if their demands for Albanian-language education continue not to be met (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 1997).

SERBIAN POLICE HARASS DIPLOMATS, JOURNALIST

Kosovo police forced their way into the office of the independent Albanian-language daily "Koha Ditore" in Pristina on 29 October, BETA reported. The police demanded identification papers from editor Ylber Hysu and from two U.S. diplomats who were visiting the newspaper's offices. The police left after checking the diplomats' passports as well as their diplomatic passes.

MONTENEGRIN COURT REJECTS ELECTION CHALLENGES

The Constitutional Court on 29 October dismissed five more complaints filed by outgoing President Momir Bulatovic over the validity of the 19 October presidential vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1997). In Bijelo Polje, up to 10,000 Bulatovic backers demanded that the legislature declare the elections invalid. The parliament is slated to meet in Cetinje on 30 October to discuss tensions in the wake of the presidential vote.

MACEDONIA, POLAND FAIL TO AGREE OVER NAME

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his visiting Macedonian counterpart, Kiro Gligorov, failed on 28 October in Warsaw to agree on a formulation for Macedonia's name in a cooperation agreement. Gligorov wanted his country to be referred to as the Republic of Macedonia. The Poles insisted on the name under which Macedonia was admitted to the UN: the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

ALBANIAN POLICE ARREST TWO ASSASSINATION SUSPECTS

Police on 29 October arrested two unidentified people who were allegedly preparing to shoot Socialist Party legislator Gafurr Mazreku as he left the court where his trial is taking place, "Shekulli" reported. Mazreku is charged with the attempted murder of Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari in the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 19 September 1997). Mazreku claims he did not want to kill Hajdari but only injure him.

PESTICIDE SCANDAL HITS ALBANIAN CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

A cement factory in Fushe Kruja, north of Tirana, has in recent years mixed some 25 tons of the highly toxic pesticide lindane into concrete used for buildings and roads throughout central Albania, "Dita Informacion" reported on 30 October. Construction workers using the materials told the newspaper that they were offered extraordinarily good wages. They added that trucks transporting the lindane were accompanied by two chemists who monitored the production of the concrete. During the communist era, Albania produced large amounts of lindane. Some 500 tons remain stored under unsafe circumstances.

BREAKTHROUGH IN ROMANIAN-RUSSIAN TREATY TALKS

Romania is no longer insisting that condemnation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact be included in the basic treaty with Russia, an RFE/RL Romanian service correspondent reported from Moscow on 29 October. Romanian and Russian delegations at expert level are meeting in the Russian capital to discuss the treaty. A Romanian Foreign Ministry spokesman in Bucharest said it is hoped the parleys will be concluded "in the first half of next year." Also on 29 October, visiting President Michal Kovac met with his Romanian counterpart, Emil Constantinescu, and other top officials. Kovac told journalists he is particularly interested to learn how Romania has improved its image abroad. He is the first Slovak head of state to visit Romania.

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS COMPROMISE WITH 'REVOLUTIONARIES'

The Standing Bureau of the Chamber of Deputies on 29 October rejected Senate Chairman Petre Roman's appeal to postpone the debate on amending the law on benefits granted to the 1989 "revolutionaries." Roman made the proposal after talking to those "revolutionaries" staging a hunger strike following an attempt by one striker to set himself ablaze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1997). Chamber of Deputies Chairman Ion Diaconescu said that, under house regulations, the government must officially withdraw the proposed amendments. The "revolutionaries" are threatening that, each day, one of their number will set himself ablaze.

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ON FOREIGN INVESTMENT

Addressing a two-day conference in Bucharest on foreign investment, Constantinescu said the reform process in Romania encounters bureaucratic resistance and suffers from unfamiliarity with modern forms of management. He added that the Romanian legislation on both domestic and foreign investment must be simplified and investors must receive guarantees that the amended legislation will not change. Nonetheless, he urged investors to display the same courage as the government has in pursuing reform, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported.The conference was organized by "The International Herald Tribune."

SELEZNEV WRAPS UP MOLDOVAN VISIT

At a press conference in Chisinau on 29 October, Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said Russia will not sell the weapons belonging its military contingent in the Transdniester to either Moldova or the Tiraspol separatists. He added that some of those weapons may be sold to third countries, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Given the continued conflict between Chisinau and Tiraspol, the presence of Russian troops in the Transdniester ensures peace and stability, Seleznev commented. Interfax quoted the Russian leader as saying that "the more constructive...and efficient [Chisinau's dialogue with Tiraspol...], the louder the voices of Russian deputies who favor ratification" of the 1990-initialed basic treaty with Moldova.




WHAT LIES BEHIND SERBIAN SKINHEAD VIOLENCE AGAINST ROMA?


by Patrick Moore

An RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade on 29 October that incidents of violence between skinheads and Roma are continuing unabated and that police have stepped up patrols of a working-class district in an attempt to prevent further clashes.

On 27 October, a group of skinheads severely beat Dragan and Dragica Sisic, a Romani brother and sister, in Belgrade. Later that day, groups of Roma assaulted skinheads, two of whom had to be taken to hospital. The preceding days also had witnessed several incidents between Romani and Serbian teenagers.

Romani spokesmen told RFE/RL on 28 October that police agreed to cancel a rock concert slated for 1 November because of Romani fears that the bands' lyrics might incite teenagers to violence against Roma. The spokesmen added, however, that many members of the Romani community are anxious for revenge against skinheads. They warned there might be more violence in Belgrade in the near future.

The attack on the Sisices came 10 days after Belgrade skinheads killed Dusan Jovanovic, a Romani teenager, in what observers called the first hate crime in which Serbian skinheads killed a Rom. On 20 October, some 2,500 people turned out for a silent march through Belgrade and Jovanovic's funeral. Leading clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church were present and strongly condemned skinhead violence against Roma.

Romani spokesmen say skinheads have harassed Roma in Yugoslavia for years. They charge that skinheads regularly taunt or beat Roma and sometimes set fire to their victims' hair. Romani organizations estimate the number of Roma in federal Yugoslavia at 140,000. Other observers say there are 2,000 skinheads in the country.

Political opposition groups and non-governmental organizations condemned the attacks on Jovanovic and the Sisices. They blamed the government of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for creating what they called a growing atmosphere of intolerance. They also called on the government to take a clear stand against racism and hate crimes.

Janja Bec, a Serbian sociologist from Novi Sad, told RFE/RL on 28 October that she believes the government could do more to combat intolerance. She noted that no major figure from the Serbian government was present at Jovanovic's funeral, while similar anti-racism demonstrations in France draw top government personalities. Bec added that Serbian society as a whole showed little solidarity with the Roma and that most of the people at the funeral were themselves Roma.

The sociologist stressed, however, that the skinhead attacks are the result of what she called the radicalization of society and the conditioning of the population to accept violence and racism as normal. That process has been going on for some 10 years--since the rise to power of President Slobodan Milosevic. Many Serbs have thus been conditioned to believe that problems can be solved through violence and that there is no need for discussion or compromise.

Bec added that Serbia's wars against its neighbors and its eventual defeat have intensified those trends. The war not only led to the impoverishment of most of the population; it also "taught" young people, in particular, that violence is normal. Belgrade's defeat, moreover, fostered feelings of inferiority, especially among young people. Such inferiority complexes can lead, in turn, to aggression, not least against those whom the aggressors regard as weak and as different in some way or another. For this reason, Bec concluded, the Roma have been targeted by the skinheads.

Social psychologist Borivoje Kuzmanovic agreed with her observations. He told RFE/RL, moreover, that under Milosevic, Serbian society has ceased to make a clear distinction between right and wrong or between that which is permissible and that which is not. Skinheads are a typical product of such an environment, he concluded.

A spokesman for an NGO stressed that the skinheads are not the only manifestation of aggressive intolerance in Serbian society. He argued that the impressive showing of the ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj in the recent Serbian presidential election is evidence of the widespread acceptance of nationalist bigotry.

And a statement by the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement warned that the violence now directed against ethnic minorities may soon be directed against anyone who opposes intolerance.


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