Accessibility links

Newsline - November 7, 1997




COMMUNISTS MARK REVOLUTION ANNIVERSARY

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov led a demonstration of several thousand protesters through Moscow on 7 November, the 80th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Addressing the rally, Zyuganov slammed policies pursued by President Boris Yeltsin and his government, charging that Russia now has some 4 million homeless children. (Others have estimated the number of homeless children in Russia at 1 million [see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1997].) Zyuganov also said that supporters of the opposition govern many Russian regions, singling out Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev, Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev, and Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko. Workers' Russia leader Viktor Anpilov and State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin also addressed the rally. Self-styled "White Guards," dressed in pre-revolutionary style military uniforms, staged a smaller anti-Bolshevik demonstration in Moscow the same day. LB

YELTSIN RECALLS VICTIMS OF CIVIL WAR...

In a nationwide television address on 7 November, Yeltsin called on Russians to remember all the victims of the Civil War that followed the 1917 revolution and to forgive those who "committed a fateful historical error" by putting a "utopian idea" above human lives. He said he has signed a decree on establishing a monument to all Civil War victims, both those who supported the revolution and those who fought against it. He also reminded viewers that while he did not remove the 7 November holiday from the calendar, he decreed in 1996 that the day should be marked as the Day of Accord and Reconciliation. LB

...PRESENTS AWARD TO SELEZNEV

The previous day, Yeltsin stopped by the State Duma to congratulate Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, a leading Communist, on his 50th birthday. Yeltsin gave Seleznev the second-level "order for services to the fatherland" and praised Seleznev's role in helping develop parliamentarism in Russia. First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov accompanied Yeltsin, Russian news agencies reported. Communist Party leader Zyuganov told journalists he was surprised by Yeltsin's visit, which, he said, shows that Kremlin officials have "begun to understand that there is no alternative to dialogue" between the legislative and executive branches. LB

JUSTICE MINISTER ON ROLE OF ANTI-EXTREMISM COMMISSION

Sergei Stepashin, who is also the chairman of a new presidential commission on fighting political extremism, has sought to allay fears that the commission will be used to persecute opposition groups, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 7 November. Stepashin told an RFE/RL correspondent that the commission will be a consultative body that develops general proposals for fighting extremism. Legal action against specific groups or individuals will be taken by law enforcement authorities, not the commission. Stepashin also noted that Viktor Zorkaltsev, the Communist chairman of the Duma Committee on Public Associations and Religious Organizations, has been named to the commission (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1997). LB

ANTI-COMMUNISTS CRITICIZE ST. PETERSBURG AUTHORITIES

Graffiti painted on three Lenin monuments and a hospital formerly named after Lenin in St. Petersburg includes offensive comments directed at the city's governor, Vladimir Yakovlev, RFE/RL's correspondent in St. Petersburg reported on 6 November. Political observers believe the vandals were responding to Yakovlev's decision to allocate 250 million rubles ($42,000) from the city budget for celebrations connected to the 7 November holiday. Vitalii Sychev, head of the St. Petersburg branch of Yegor Gaidar's party Russia's Democratic Choice, says taxpayers' money should not be used to pay for political actions. Four major demonstrations are planned in St. Petersburg for 7 November, including a pro-communist rally outside the Winter Palace, which was stormed by the Bolsheviks, and an anti-communist rally involving the symbolic exile to Finland of a Lenin look-alike. LB

LEBED ON BEREZOVSKII DISMISSAL

Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed said on 6 November that a "battle over property" lay behind the recent decision to sack Boris Berezovskii as Security Council deputy secretary, Russian news agencies reported. Lebed disputed claims that Berezovskii's efforts in the Caucasus region were ineffective, although he argued that Berezovskii always put his personal business interests before the government's. He also characterized Berezovskii's dismissal as a "temporary victory" for First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, predicting that Yeltsin will soon offer Berezovskii another post. Berezovskii contributed substantial funds toward Lebed's 1996 presidential campaign as part of Yeltsin's re-election strategy, but relations between the two men soon deteriorated. Since his own ouster from the Security Council, Lebed has repeatedly accused Berezovskii of profiting from the war in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 1997). LB

RUSSIA PLANS MORE CONSULATES IN CIS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said Russia plans to open new consulates in some CIS countries, especially in cities with large Russian-speaking populations, Russian news agencies reported on 6 November. He said closures of some consulates will save enough money to open new ones. However, Tarasov said the Foreign Ministry has not yet sent the government any specific recommendations concerning consulate closures. "Izvestiya" reported on 5 November that the government is preparing to close 11 consulates in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE, as well as Scandinavia, in accordance with Foreign Ministry recommendations. The newspaper said closing those consulates will save an estimated $2.5 million. LB

'NOVYE IZVESTIYA' ON DUMA LOBBYING

"Novye izvestiya" on 6 November charged that "everything can be bought and sold" in the Duma, where, the newspaper said, financial and industrial groups routinely bribe deputies. It alleged that oil companies including LUKoil and Yukos "negotiated" with Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky to secure approval for a list of natural resource sites that can be developed under production-sharing agreements. The newspaper also claimed that lobbyists employed by Oneksimbank are offering Duma deputies bribes in exchange for passage of a law on Russian Federation property located abroad. LUKoil and Oneksimbank are major shareholders in "Izvestiya," which some 30 journalists left in the summer to form "Novye izvestiya." Former Security Council Secretary Berezovskii, a business rival of Oneksimbank President Vladimir Potanin, is reportedly helping finance "Novye Izvestiya" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1997). LB

NTV COMMENTATOR CRITICIZES CHURCH

A commentator on the private network NTV criticized the Russian Orthodox Church during a 6 November broadcast and announced that the network will broadcast Martin Scorsese's film "The Last Temptation of Christ" on 9 November, Reuters reported. The same day, the head of the Church, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II, issued another appeal urging the network not to "insult" millions of believers by airing the film (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 1997). The NTV commentator slammed "the temptation of top clerics in the Russian Orthodox Church," noting that the Church never denounced the Soviet regime or official communist ideology. LB

ORTHODOX COMMUNITY LOSES CHURCH IN RYAZAN

The Ryazan Oblast authorities have transferred a church building from a congregation affiliated with the Russian Church Abroad (founded by Orthodox believers who fled Russia after the 1917 revolution) to an affiliate of the Russian Orthodox Church, according to the 2-9 November edition of "Moskovskie novosti." The church, closed by Soviet authorities in 1939, had been used by the congregation linked to the Russian Church Abroad since 1992. Official attempts to take it away from that community began after Communist Vyacheslav Lyubimov was elected governor of Ryazan in December 1996, the newspaper said. The oblast department for protecting cultural and historical monuments filed a successful lawsuit in September, claiming that the congregation linked to the Russian Church Abroad damaged the building during renovations. The congregation is preparing to appeal the court ruling. LB

ACTIVISTS CALL FOR ACTION AGAINST SEX TRADE

Several human rights groups have called for an "immediate response" from governments to fight trafficking in women from Russia and other former Soviet republics, "Reuters reported on 6 November. Thousands of women are lured abroad each year with promises of employment, only to be forced into prostitution after traffickers confiscate their passports. Gillian Caldwell of the Global Survival Network estimated that trafficking in women brings in $7 billion annually for criminal groups. She called on Russia and other countries in the region to investigate alleged official links to the sex trade. A two-year undercover investigation by the Global Survival Network found evidence of cooperation between traffickers and officials from the Russian Foreign Ministry, Interior Ministry, and Federal Security Service, Caldwell said. LB

ENVIRONMENTALISTS SEEK REFERENDUM ON MOSCOW WOODS

Greenpeace activists seeking to conduct a referendum on clearing wooded areas in Moscow have appealed to the Moscow City Court, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 November. The city electoral commission recently refused to register a group seeking to conduct such a referendum, saying the wording of the proposed question violated the city law on referenda. If approved, the plebiscite would require "extreme measures to provide for the health and security of the population." Environmentalists say an estimated 45,000 trees are cut down legally each year in Moscow to make room for new buildings. In addition, more than 40,000 trees die each winter from salt spread on pavements to melt ice and snow. LB

CHECHNYA'S STATUS AMBIGUOUS

Chechen First Deputy Parliamentary Chairman Selim Beshaev told Interfax on 6 November that the legislature has not yet enacted legislation changing the republic's name, which, he added, remains the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Beshaev said the parliament is currently drafting constitutional amendments intended to eliminate contradictions between some of the basic law's articles and the Koran. But he denied that "laws will be passed modeled on Iran or certain Arab countries." President Aslan Maskhadov had announced the previous day in Antalya that Chechnya should be known as the Chechen Islamic Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 1997). LF

WILL BEREZOVSKII'S DISMISSAL IMPACT ON CHECHEN PEACE PROCESS?

Khozh-Ahmed Yarikhanov, one of the Chechen team negotiating with Moscow, told Interfax on 6 November that he feared the dismissal the previous day of Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii may hinder the ongoing peace process. Yarikhanov said Berezovskii was "the politician who had the best understanding of the status quo and...of the need to defuse the tension in the Caucasus in general and Chechnya in particular." Also on 6 November, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and Russian President Yeltsin discussed by telephone Berezovskii's dismissal and the Chechen situation, according to council spokesman Igor Ignatev. Ignatev said Yeltsin praised recent steps toward stabilizing the situation in Chechnya, but the spokesman did not specify what those steps were.

DAGESTAN TO BUILD TRENCH ALONG ITS FRONTIER WITH CHECHNYA

Deputy Interior Minister Magomed Omarov told Interfax on 6 November that the Dagestani government has already provided funds and equipment for digging a trench along the low-lying sector of its frontier with Chechnya. Omarov said the measure is necessary in the light of rising crime along the border region. Stavropol Krai had considered digging a moat along its border with Chechnya in the spring. LF

U.S. EX-IM BANK TO OPEN BRANCH IN TATARSTAN

First Deputy Prime Minister Ravil Muratov and Ex-Im Bank Executive Committee Chairman James Harman, meeting in Kazan on 6 November, signed a memorandum on opening a Regional Development Bank in Tatarstan , RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. According to Tatarstan Television, the Tatar government will have a 50 percent stake while the remaining 50 percent will be shared between the U.S. Ex-Im Bank and the private sector. Ex-Im Bank will grant Tatarstan a $270 million credit to finance the production at the YelAZ plant of Chevrolet Blazer automobiles as part of a joint venture between YelAZ and General Motors. LF



NAGORNO-KARABAKH PARLIAMENT TO DEBATE OSCE PEACE PLAN

The parliamentary presidium of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has decided to debate the most recent draft peace plan proposed by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported on 6 November. The group of deputies who called for the debate oppose the plan's provisions' for a "phased" rather than a "package" settlement. Also on 6 November, the Nagorno-Karabakh Foreign Ministry accused Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan of misrepresenting Karabakh's position by saying in a 1 November newspaper article that Karabakh first rejected the "package" and then the "phased" approach. The statement explained that Karabakh supports the package approach in principle but rejected the OSCE draft package plan because that document "predetermined" Karabakh's status within Azerbaijan. LF

ARMENIAN PREMIER ALSO VOICES DISSENT

Robert Kocharyan told the parliament on 5 November that he opposes the proposed "phased" solution of the Karabakh conflict but added he does not think the mediation process is in a "critical" state, ARMENPRESS and Interfax reported. Kocharyan was prime minister and then president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic from August 1994 until his appointment as Armenian premier in March 1997. He noted that responsibility for Armenian foreign policy lies with the president and the Foreign Ministry. Meeting in Baku on 6 November with the three Minsk Group co-chairmen, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev expressed approval of Ter-Petrossyan's most recent statements, Turan reported. Aliyev noted that "no real progress" in resolving the conflict has been made so far in 1997, but he added he hopes there will be "real results" by the end of the year. LF

ARMENIAN COMMUNISTS STILL WANT TO JOIN RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION

Communist Party chairman Sergei Badalyanon 6 November urged Armenia to hurry to join the Russia-Belarus union before Azerbaijan and Ukraine, which, he predicted, will do so "sooner or later," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Badalyanon said accession to the union constitutes a security "guarantee" for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. He also demanded that the Armenian authorities heed "the people's will," pointing to the 900,000 signatures the Communist Party has collected in support of accession. Meanwhile, a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union in Kaliningrad on 4 November granted the Armenian National Initiative observer status, ARMENPRESS reported. In April, the National Initiative launched a campaign to lobby for Armenian membership in the Union. LF

GEORGIAN FUGITIVES FROM ABKHAZIA DIVIDED OVER TACTICS

Boris Kakubava, a leader of the Abkhazeti faction in the Georgian parliament, told Interfax on 6 November that representatives of the more than 200,000 ethnic Georgians forced to flee their homes in Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 hostilities will demand Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's dismissal at their congress on 10-11 November. Kakubava accused Shevardnadze of "pursuing a pro-Russian policy" and the Abkhaz parliament in exile (all of whose deputies are Georgian fugitives from Abkhazia) of ignoring the interests of the Georgian displaced persons. Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of parliament in exile, said its deputies will not participate in the planned congress, which, he said, is intended to destabilize the internal political situation in Georgia. The Georgian Interior Ministry plans to prevent displaced persons converging on Tbilisi to attend the meeting. LF

AZERBAIJANI COMPANY BEGINS EXPORTING TURKMEN OIL

The private company Transchart has begun transporting oil from Turkmenistan by tanker across the Caspian for rail shipment to Batumi, Interfax reported on 6 November. Transchart President Fuad Rasulov said his company will ship 30,000 metric tons of Turkmen crude in November and increase its exports from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to 600,000-700,000 metric tons per year. Also on 6 November, Azerbaijan's parliament ratified a $2.5 billion agreement between SOCAR and Russia's LUKoil to develop Azerbaijan's Yalama Caspian oil field, AFP reported. LF

RFE/RL TURKMEN STRINGER DETAINED

Yovshan Annakurbanov remains in a Turkmen prison, despite appeals from human rights and journalists' protection organizations, RFE/RL's Turkmen service reported on 7 November. Annakurbanov was arrested by police in Ashgabat on 30 October as he attempted to board a flight to Prague to attend a journalists' training program. Amnesty International, the Glasnost Foundation, and International PEN have all issued appeals for his release. Those organizations note that while police have alleged that Annakurbanov was carrying a computer disc with material from Turkmen opposition parties, no mention was made of the disc at the time of his arrest. The appeals also refer to Annakurbanov's claim that members of the Turkmen Committee of National Security threatened in June 1997 that something might happen to him or his children if he continued to work for RFE/RL. BP




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS AMENDMENTS TO MEDIA LAW

Meeting on 6 November with the speakers of both chambers of the parliament, Alyaksandr Lukashenka defended as "absolutely normal" the proposed amendments to the media law recently rejected by the lower house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1997). One amendment makes media accountable for publishing information "insulting to the honor of the president," while another empowers a registration agency to suspend the activity of media outlets, Interfax reported. LF

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSES PARLIAMENT OF POPULISM

Addressing the parliament on 6 November, Leonid Kuchma accused deputies of populism and chronic absenteeism, Interfax reported. He said the parliament's productivity has "sunk to its lowest point." Kuchma further argued that the "regular" practice of putting several issues to a vote simultaneously "gives rise to doubts about the legitimacy of decisions that are important for the country." LF

UKRAINIAN AIRLINE STRIKE

Some 500 pilots and technical staff of the national airline Air Ukraine launched an indefinite strike on 6 November to demand payment of wage arrears since May, Reuters reported. All Air Ukraine flights from Kyiv's second airport, Zhulyany, to international and domestic destinations were cancelled. LF

TALLINN STOCK EXCHANGE NOSE-DIVES AGAIN

The TALSE index plunged 14.41 percent on 6 November, its third double-digit fall in two weeks, ETA reported. Experts say the Estonian money market is still plagued by a lack of free capital but that share prices have now bottomed out. Martti Singi, head of Hoiupank analysis center, told the news agency that an influx of fresh money to the market can be expected in the coming days. Meanwhile, Price Waterhouse predicts in its quarterly review that GDP growth in Estonia will slow down in the last quarter of 1997, resulting in an annual figure of 9-10 percent. GDP growth in the second half of the year was recently reported at 11.7 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 1997). JC

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT APPEALS TO EU

The parliament on 6 November passed an appeal to the EU to be included in the first wave of EU entry talks. Lawmakers said they wanted to know what concrete steps it needs to take to begin negotiations. Reuters quoted the appeal as saying "we suggest establishing clear criteria for starting negotiations and [applying] an effective and regular (biannual) review mechanism for candidate states taking into consideration rapid changes in those countries." JC

POLISH ANESTHETISTS' HUNGER STRIKE SPREADS

Anesthetists have stepped up their hunger strike since the collapse of pay talks on 4 November, Reuters reported two days later. A union official said the fast is crippling the work of hospitals in about 20 of the country's 49 provinces, adding that other regions are ready to join the protest. The anesthetists are refusing solid food so that they will be too weak to attend patients, while selected doctors are working round the clock to deal with emergencies. The three-week-old protest is the first major challenge to the new center-right government, which is scheduled to discuss the issue on 7 November. JC

POLAND HOSTS CONFERENCE ON SOLIDARITY

A three-day international conference on the emergence in 1980 of the independent labor union Solidarity begins in Warsaw on 7 November, RFE/RL reported. Organized by the National Security Archive of Washington and the Polish Academy of Sciences, the conference will be attended, among others, by former U. S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Warsaw Pact commander Viktor Kulikov, and former Polish communist leaders Wojciech Jaruzelski and Stanislav Kania. JC

CZECH PARLIAMENT PASSES AMENDED BANK LAW

Czech National Bank spokesman Martin Svehla on 6 November said amendments to the banking law, which the parliament approved earlier that day, will lead to greater transparency in privatization deals involving investment funds, CTK reported. The revised legislation prevents commercial banks from owning stakes in non-financial and non-banking institutions, such as investment funds, that exceed 15 percent of their basic capital. Investment companies or pension funds controlled by or affiliated with a commercial bank will not be permitted to hold stakes exceeding 10 percent in a company. MS

CZECH COALITION TROUBLES CONTINUE

In a recent address to military commanders, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus accused the major coalition partner, the People's Party, and the main opposition Social Democrats of escalating domestic political tensions, which, he said, may jeopardize the Czech Republic's entry to NATO. In an article in "Lidove noviny" on 5 November, presidential adviser Jiri Pehe rejected Klaus's warning, saying it is "undignified" for a stable democracy to suggest a possible change of government might endanger the country's foreign-policy goals, including entry to NATO and the EU. MS

SLOVAK PRESS PROTESTS PLANNED VAT HIKE

With the exception of those backing Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, Slovak newspapers devoted the front pages of their 6 November issues to a protest by the Association of Newspaper Publishers. The association called on the parliament to reject the government's proposal to raise value-added tax from 6 percent to 23 percent for publications in which advertising accounts for more than 10 percent of their contents. It said the proposal is "economically implausible and politically unjustifiable" (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 30 October and 3 November 1997). MS

GONCZ URGES PUBLIC TO VOTE FOR NATO ENTRY

Arpad Goncz on 6 November urged citizens to vote for Hungary's NATO accession in the binding referendum scheduled for 16 November, Hungarian media reported. Goncz was addressing a forum in the parliament building designed to increase public interest and encourage participation in the NATO referendum. Recent opinion polls show that although some 65 percent of Hungarians support the accession, turnout for the referendum may be less than 50 percent. At least 25 percent of the registered electorate must cast a vote for the poll to be valid. MSZ




SERBIAN WAR CRIMINAL ARRESTED

Police in Vranje, southern Serbia, on 6 November arrested Slobodan Misic, who had given local media graphic accounts of his activities as a paramilitary volunteer in Croatia and Bosnia. He had said he killed as many as 80 Bosnian civilians, including women and children, as part of an organized "ethnic cleansing" campaign. Misic also gave evidence of links between the paramilitaries and the Yugoslav military. Police arrested him at the offices of a newspaper and confiscated tapes and texts in which he discussed his war crimes. In The Hague, a spokesman for the war crimes tribunal said that the court is seeking information on the case from the Serbian authorities. PM

OPPOSITION PARTIES BACK SERBIA'S DRASKOVIC

Representatives of nine small opposition parties agreed in Belgrade on 6 November to support Vuk Draskovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement in the December Serbian presidential vote. The Democratic Party, the Serbian Democratic Party, and the Civic League of Serbia, however, say they will boycott the vote because conditions for free and fair elections do not exist. Many opponents of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic hope the opposition will rally behind a common candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 1997). PM

SERBIA NOT TO DEVALUE DINAR

Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic said in Belgrade on 6 November that there will be no devaluation of the Yugoslav currency, which has recently lost value against the German mark on the black market (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1997). Marjanovic added that the government and the National Bank will take steps to bring the black market exchange rate back to under four dinars to the mark. Current rates are approaching five to the mark. PM

PENSIONERS MARCH IN BELGRADE

Several hundred pensioners demonstrated in front of the Serbian government's offices on 6 November to demand payment of pension arrears. The pensioners want an increase in their payments and charge that the government is trying to cheat them out of their legal entitlements, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. Many pensioners in much of the former Yugoslavia live near or below the poverty level. PM

ALBRIGHT WARNS MILOSEVIC, TUDJMAN

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Washington on 5 November that the Serbian authorities "treat criminals like privileged citizens while they treat citizens like criminals." She added that Croatia has recently improved its cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal but still limits freedom of expression. Albright awarded the National Democratic Institute's Averell Harriman Prize to Serbian opposition leader Vesna Pesic, Tuzla Mayor Selim Beslagic, and Osijek Mayor Zlatko Kramaric. PM

CROATIA DENIES TUDJMAN'S ISRAEL TRIP OFF

President Franjo Tudjman's office said in a statement on 6 November that his planned visit to Israel will go ahead despite protests by two Israeli legislators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 1997). The statement charged that the two deputies have tried on earlier occasions to cause problems in relations between the two countries. PM

SARAJEVO CAUTIOUS ON ZAGREB'S PROPOSAL

A spokesman for the governing Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) said in Sarajevo on 6 November that the SDA is still studying Tudjman's proposal for closer economic and security links between the two countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1997). The spokesman warned that the SDA will not agree to any limitations on Bosnia's sovereignty or to any special relationship between Croatia and the mainly Croat areas of Bosnia. Several non-nationalist opposition parties took a similar view, "Oslobodjenje" reported. PM

RAILWAY STRIKE PARALYZES MACEDONIA

Locomotive drivers launched a strike on 5 November to demand prompt payment of wages and the authorization of per diem allowances for time the drivers spend in Serbia. The strike brought domestic and international rail traffic to a halt. PM

ALBANIAN PYRAMID DENIES BANKRUPTCY

At a press conference in Tirana on 6 November, VEFA owner Vehbi Alimucaj said his company would be able to pay investors if it were allowed to continue operating. VEFA owns several businesses in Albania, including supermarkets and a ferry-line. Earlier that day, Alimucaj allowed government officials to enter VEFA's offices in order to carry out an audit, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Pyramid scheme investigator Farudin Arapi responded by dropping an indictment against Alimucaj for obstructing the work of civil servants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 1997). FS

ALBANIAN REPUBLICAN LEADER QUITS

Sabri Godo unexpectedly resigned on 6 November at the Republican Party's congress in Tirana, "Republika" reported. Godo said that his duties as a member of the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and the commission drafting constitution do not allow him much time for party affairs. He will, however, hold a high party position. Deputy party leader Fatmir Mediu was elected as his successor. Godo noted that Mediu , who is only 32 years old, could give the party a new and younger image. The Republicans want to replace the Democrats as the largest right-of-center party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 1997). FS

ROMANIAN REFORM MINISTER OFFERS TO RESIGN

Ulm Spineanu has offered to hand in his resignation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 6 November. According to media reports, Spineanu is likely to be a victim of the planned reshuffle. Premier Victor Ciorbea said it is "premature" to discuss the reshuffle but noted that one possibility is to set up a Ministry of Privatization that would merge the State Property Fund (FPS) and the Ministry of Reform. Another possibility is that ministerial rank will be given to the head of the FPS, the premier said. Spineanu and FPS head Sorin Dimitriu are reportedly in conflict over the pace and method of privatization. Spineanu said he doubted that merging the fund and the Reform Ministry would be constitutional. He added that he refuses to become a scapegoat for failures that he is not responsible for. MS

ROMANIAN SENATE REJECTS OPPOSITION MOTION

By 77 votes to 50, the Senate on 6 November rejected an opposition motion accusing the government of mishandling agricultural policies, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The same day, the three opposition parties submitted a motion to the Chamber of Deputies criticizing the cabinet's policies in the industrial sector. That motion is scheduled to be discussed on 11 November. MS

BULGARIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES AGAINST GOVERNMENT

The Constitutional Court on 6 November ruled that the July appointment of the national radio and television chiefs by the parliament was unconstitutional. The court was responding to a complaint filed by the opposition Socialist Party. It said that under existing law, the two heads should have been appointed by a media council and not by the legislature. An RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia said the ruling creates a "legal vacuum" since such a council has not yet been appointed by the government. The Union of Democratic Forces is currently drafting amendments to the media law. MS

BULGARIA'S RIVAL SYNODS WANT SECRET POLICE FILES OPENED

The two Bulgarian Orthodox Synods on 6 November said they want the files of the communist-era secret police on the clergy to be open to the public, Reuters reported. A spokesman for the synod headed by Patriarch Pymen said the opening of the files would "make informers such as [rival Patriarch] Maxim and his gangs of cops step down and be replaced by real Christians, not slaves of the socialists." Officials from the synod headed by Patriarch Maxim, whom Todor Zhivkov's government appointed in 1971, said they have nothing to fear. They added that they are in favor of opening the files "to put an end to speculations." MS




RETURNING TO THE BALTICS


by Paul Goble

A group of senior Russian politicians, academics, and businessmen has urged President Boris Yeltsin to adopt a more active, differentiated, and sophisticated policy toward the three Baltic states. In a policy paper recently published in "Nezavisimaya Gazeta," the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy argued that such an approach would promote Russian interests both by keeping the Baltic governments off balance and by limiting their ability to draw on Western support.

The report is attracting particular attention now because it comes on the heels of Yeltsin's latest proposal that Moscow take responsibility for the security of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania--an idea all three governments have rejected. Moreover, it appears just as the United States and its three Baltic partners are putting the finishing touches to a U.S.-Baltic Charter. Its authors--who include State Duma international affairs committee chairman Vladimir Lukin, deputy director of the Institute of Europe Sergei Karaganov, and industrialist leader Arkadii Volskii--have frequently been bellwethers of Russian policy.

The report itself begins with a stinging indictment of Russia's approach to the Baltic countries since 1991. Not only has Russian policy been reactive, the report suggests, it has been clumsy, often alarming the West and preventing Moscow from achieving its goals. Such an approach is unforgivable on two counts, according to the report. On the one hand, Russia has fundamental interests in those countries. On the other, it has significant leverage there both on its own and because of the attitudes of the West.

But the most intriguing part of the report is its assessments of Russia's opportunities for increasing its influence in the region, which, it claims, have increased in recent times because of the attitude of Western countries. Not only have the three Baltic countries virtually fallen off the West's "radar screen," the report suggests, but Western governments have made it clear to the Baltic governments that they can join the West only if they have normal relations with Russia. That situation, the authors maintain, helps define the limits within which Russian policy toward the Baltic countries should proceed: avoiding threats that might raise the profile of the Baltic States but exploiting Western "conditions" to advance Russian interests.

The report then outlines how Moscow should do just that in three major areas. First, it suggests that Moscow should demonstrate a genuine interest in the fate of ethnic Russians in all three countries and take a hard line on border accords. In the past, the report states, Moscow did less for Russians in those countries than did the West, leaving itself open to the charge of hypocrisy. And it failed to acknowledge that the status of ethnic Russians in the Baltic States is "incomparably better" than in many CIS countries.

The report urges that the Russian government and Russian businesses spend more money on ethnic Russians there in order to show that those Russians are not a "'fifth column'" but rather "a weighty instrument of political and economic rapprochement of peoples." This formulation may not please the Baltic governments but it is likely to prove more acceptable in both Russia and the West. According to the report, Moscow should use the West's concerns about border agreements as another reason to press Russia's case.

Second, the report argues that Moscow must use its economic leverage to play off one Baltic state against the other. Because all three have an interest in gaining transit fees, Moscow can have a role in deciding through which Russian goods will pass. The authors of the report claim that Estonia, which they identify as the least friendly toward Russia, currently loses something like $500 million a year in transit because of its attitude. At the same time, they acknowledge some new limitations on Moscow's ability to conduct such a policy. The Russian government would indeed like to reward Lithuania, but Lithuania's tariff policies are not as favorable as those of Latvia. As a result, Russian businessmen will almost certainly use the Latvian route rather than the Lithuanian one, the report maintains.

Third, the report urges Moscow to adopt a "carrots and sticks" policy both to the Baltic countries as a group and to individual regimes, offering concessions with one hand even as it applies pressure with the other. It argues, for example, that Russia should welcome the inclusion of all the Baltic countries into the EU while opposing NATO membership for them.

Such a differentiated approach would likely serve Russian interests. At the very least, it would pose a challenge to both the Baltic countries and the West, neither of which until now has had to cope with such a sophisticated Russian policy toward the region.


XS
SM
MD
LG