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Newsline - November 18, 1997




DUMA DELAYS BUDGET VOTE IN WAKE OF BOOK SCANDAL

The State Duma Council has postponed for two days a debate on the draft 1998 budget, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 November. That debate had been scheduled for 19 November. The Communist Party, which controls the largest Duma faction, issued a statement on 17 November demanding that First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais be sacked before the Duma debates the budget. Chubais is at the center of a growing scandal over fees paid for a book on privatization. But Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev announced the next day that the Duma will consider the budget on 21 November even if Chubais has not been fired, AFP reported. Seleznev failed to convince Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin during a 17 November meeting that sacking Chubais would facilitate passage of the budget and several government-backed tax laws in the Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. LB

COMMUNISTS PUSH FOR 'COUNCIL OF FOUR' MEETING...

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 18 November that his party is seeking a meeting of the president, prime minister, and speakers of both houses of parliament on 20 November, Reuters reported. Seleznev suggested convening the "council of four" during his meeting with Chernomyrdin the previous day. President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 18 November did not rule out a possible meeting of the "council" within the next few days, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. However, he advised the opposition not to try to force Yeltsin to fire Chubais by linking the passage of laws to personnel changes in the government. Yastrzhembskii commented that it is "hopeless" to talk to the president "in terms of ultimatums and demands." LB

...BUT NOT CONFIDENCE VOTE

During the 18 November meeting of the Duma Council, no faction sought to put a confidence motion on the agenda for the following day's Duma session, ITAR-TASS reported. Instead, Duma deputies will consider a non-binding resolution calling for Chubais's dismissal. Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the pro-government Duma faction Our Home Is Russia, argued on 17 November that the book scandal may lead to renewed efforts in the Duma to pass a no-confidence vote, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. (Shokhin, a former government minister, has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Chubais.) However, Valentin Kuptsov, the deputy head of the Communist faction, told ITAR-TASS that the Communists are not yet seeking a no-confidence vote. In October, the Communists dropped a planned confidence motion after obtaining some concessions from the Kremlin. LB

PROSECUTORS ORDER RAPID INVESTIGATION INTO BOOK SCANDAL

The Prosecutor-General's Office has instructed the Moscow Prosecutor's Office to complete "in the shortest possible time" an investigation into fees paid to officials for a book on privatization, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 November. The book's seven authors allegedly received payments from a publishing house co-owned by Oneksimbank, but of the seven, only Chubais and Federal Securities Commission Chairman Dmitrii Vasilev retain official posts. Yeltsin has already fired Aleksandr Kazakov as deputy head of the presidential administration, Maksim Boiko as state property minister, and Petr Mostovoi as Federal Bankruptcy Agency head. The other two authors, former State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh and former Chubais aide Arkadii Yevstafev, did not hold state office when the scandal broke. LB

FATE OF TAX CODE UNCLEAR

The Duma Council agreed on 18 November to schedule a debate on government-backed tax laws for 20 November, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The Duma recently passed some tax laws in the first reading, but rejected several others (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 1997). The laws provide the basis for planned 1998 budget revenues, as a new tax code is unlikely to be adopted before spring 1998 at the earliest. Meanwhile, Duma Budget Committee Chairman Mikhail Zadornov says the lower house will consider the tax code in the first reading on 19 November, ITAR-TASS reported. The Duma approved the code in the first reading in June, but since then several thousand amendments to it have been proposed. Consequently, deputies voted on 14 November to return the tax code to a first reading, after which a conciliatory commission of presidential, government, and parliamentary representatives will be formed to work out a compromise. LB

RTR CHAIRMAN DENIES NETWORK LINKED TO ONEKSIMBANK

Nikolai Svanidze, the chairman of fully state-owned Russian Television (RTR), says his network has "no relationship with Oneksimbank or with any other banks," ITAR-TASS reported on 17 November. A report the previous day on the private network NTV listed RTR among media outlets that are partly owned or financed by Oneksimbank. However, Svanidze said RTR's funding comes only from the state budget and from advertising revenues. RTR's news coverage is considered to favor First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais. A program hosted by Svanidze on 16 November took a sympathetic view toward Chubais in light of the scandal over book fees, calling attention to the likely consequences on Russian financial markets if Chubais were dismissed. LB

OTHER MAJOR NETWORKS MORE CRITICAL OF CHUBAIS

In their coverage of the book scandal, NTV and 51 percent state-owned Russian Public Television (ORT) have been far more critical of Chubais than has RTR. ORT journalist Sergei Dorenko devoted 40 minutes of his 15 November program "Vremya" to the scandal. Among other things, he referred to Chubais as a "self-interested machine," a "mercenary," and a "manipulator." ORT is partly financed by former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, and Dorenko has frequently blasted Chubais and Oneksimbank on the air in recent months. NTV, which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most company, has also criticized Chubais and Oneksimbank, although its attacks have been less severe than Dorenko's. LB

COURT NOT TO HEAR APPEALS ON ELECTORAL LAW

The Constitutional Court has refused to hear two appeals against the proportional representation system currently used to elect half of Duma deputies, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 November. A student organization and a group of Duma deputies charged that dividing up half the Duma seats only among electoral blocs that gain at least 5 percent of the vote violates the rights of voters who support other groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July and 28 August 1997). The court decided that since the student organization did not compete in the 1995 parliamentary election, its complaints against the electoral law are merely "abstract." Judges rejected the Duma deputies' appeal on the grounds that it is the parliament's prerogative to amend legislation. The Constitutional Court has tended to sidestep highly controversial issues since it reconvened in March 1995 following an 18-month lapse. LB

GAZPROM SIGNS COOPERATION AGREEMENT WITH SHELL

Gazprom on 17 November signed a cooperation agreement with Royal-Dutch Shell, the world's largest oil company. The accord provides for a joint venture to develop oil and gas deposits, beginning with the Zapolyarnoye field in western Siberia. Shell is also to invest up to $1 billion in Gazprom convertible bonds, Interfax reported. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 November, Gazprom board chairman Rem Vyakhirev said Russia currently has "a unique chance" to move into "virgin territory" by expanding into the south Asian market and exporting gas to Pakistan, India, China, and South Korea. Also on 17 November, Gazprom, Shell, and LUKoil signed a memorandum of understanding on drawing up a joint proposal on participating in the Rosneft tender, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

BRITISH PETROLEUM BUYS INTO SIDANKO

British Petroleum signed an agreement in London on 18 November on purchasing 10 percent of the shares in one of Russia's largest oil companies, Sidanko. BP will pay $571 million to Oneksimbank, which owns the controlling stake in Sidanko. It will also buy 45 percent of Sidanko's 60 percent stake in Russia Petroleum, which has a license to develop the Kovytkinskoe gas deposit in Irkutsk. That deposit is one of the largest in Russia, with estimated reserves of 1.5 trillion cubic meters. BP will invest $172 million in developing the deposit. During Yeltsin's recent visit to China, Russian and Chinese officials signed a memorandum on exporting gas from the Kovytkiskoe field to China. Some of that gas will be re-exported to Japan and South Korea. LF

ABDULATIPOV TRIES TO CALM CHECHEN-DAGESTANI TENSIONS

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov on 17 November appealed to Aslan Maskhadov and Magomedali Magomedov, the leaders of Chechnya and Dagestan, to sign a treaty on good neighborly relations in order to resolve tensions on their common border, Russian agencies reported. Also on 17 November, Magomedov asked Dagestani Minister for Nationality Affairs Magomedsalikh Gusayev to propose such a treaty to the Chechen leadership. A treaty was drafted in November 1996, but the Chechen side has failed to comment on it. LF

TESTS CONFIRM AUTHENTICITY OF TSAR'S REMAINS

Forensic tests have confirmed the authenticity of the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, Interfax reported on 17 November, citing Sergei Abramov, a forensic expert with the Health Ministry. The tests were carried out in Yekaterinburg, after the Prosecutor-General's Office postponed a decision on whether the remains should be transported to Moscow for testing. In January, Yeltsin is expected to announce whether the remains will be buried in Moscow, St. Petersburg, or Yekaterinburg, where the tsar and several family members were executed in 1918. LB

DUMA ISSUES APPEAL OVER AIDS

The Duma on 14 November voted unanimously to appeal to the government to take "urgent measures" on combating the spread of AIDS in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Deputies heard a report claiming the number of patients registered with AIDS reached 6,232 in 1997, of which 3,600 were reported this year. The number of HIV-infected people in Russia has risen twelve-fold "in the last few years," and the situation is worse in cities such as Moscow, Kaliningrad, Novorossiisk, Tver, and Nizhnii Novgorod. The report also noted that 90 percent of registered cases are drug users. BP

SVERDLOVSK GOVERNOR OPPOSES REGIONS BASED ON ETHNICITY

Eduard Rossel told journalists in Yekaterinburg that he believes Russia's regions should be divided on purely geographical lines, without marking out territories for certain ethnic groups, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 November. Russia has 21 republics named after various nationalities, such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, along with 10 autonomous okrugs representing smaller ethnic groups. Rossel, himself an ethnic German, argued, "We should have only one nation: citizens of Russia. We should not divide people by categories." Some governors of Russia's oblasts and krais resent the special privileges and greater economic autonomy that the federal government has granted to certain republics. LB

RESISTANCE TO NEW PASSPORTS CONTINUES

Aslan Djarimov, president of the Republic of Adygeya in the North Caucasus, has followed Tatarstan in suspending issue of the new Russian passports, ITAR-TASS reported. Djarimov told journalists he objects to the fact that data in the new passports is only in Russian, while Adygeya has two state languages. Altai Republic government chairman Vladilen Volkov told journalists on 14 November that he considers the omission of the holder's nationality in the new passports "premature" and contrary to the wishes of many Russian republics and regions, ITAR-TASS reported. Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov told Ekho Moskvy on 14 November that people are afraid that replacing old passports will be followed by "liquidation of the non-Russian republics tomorrow and of the non-Russian nationalities the day after." LF

COURT REFUSES TO RELEASE POET ACCUSED OF DRUG DEALING

A Moscow court has refused to order the release of poet Alina Vitukhnovskaya, who is accused of selling drugs, Interfax reported on 17 November. Vitukhnovskaya wrote an article on drug-taking for the magazine "Novoe vremya" in 1994. She was accused of selling drugs after she refused to provide the Federal Security Service with additional information about drug use in Moscow, since such information would reveal her sources. Vitukhnovskaya spent nearly a year in custody before being released pending trial in 1995 (see "OMRI Daily Digest, 13 October 1995). However, she was re-arrested last month. Her attorney says Vitukhnovskaya's continued detention is unjustified, since during a three-year investigation she has committed no new crimes and made no efforts to flee Moscow. LB

VLADIVOSTOK MAYOR ON HUNGER STRIKE

Viktor Cherepkov continued his hunger strike for the second day on 18 November, ITAR-TASS reported. He is demanding the dismissal of Primorskii Krai prosecutor Valerii Vasilenko and some court officials. In a letter to Yeltsin, Cherepkov vowed to continue his protest until officials responsible for corruption and "arbitrary rule" in Primore have been punished, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 November. The krai administration has responded by accusing Cherepkov of trying to pass the blame for his own poor management of the city. Krai authorities have also convened a commission on emergency situations and charged it with running Vladivostok. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Rozanov, Russia's deputy prosecutor-general, told ITAR-TASS on 17 November that there are no plans to fire Vasilenko. Cherepkov, a long-time opponent of Primore Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, recently announced that he plans to resign. He has called early mayoral elections for March 1998. LB

PROBLEMS STILL PLAGUE SPACE STATION

Another computer failure aboard "Mir" on 14 November caused a temporary loss of the space station's orientation toward the sun, but the problem was repaired within two days, Russian media. During that period, the temperature aboard the station rose to 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). Scientists explained the rise was a natural consequence of the station's orbit, which "twice a year puts it...under the direct rays of the sun." They added, however, that the station's cooling system did not function "well enough." BP



RUSSIA REJECTS GEORGIAN CRITICISM OVER ABKHAZIA

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 17 November rejected as "unfounded" Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's criticism of Chernomyrdin's recent decree allowing the export to Russia of agricultural produce from Abkhazia. Shevardnadze charged that the measure creates "hot-house conditions" for Abkhaz separatists and is aimed at bolstering the dwindling authority of the CIS. Russian government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov denied that Russian imports of agricultural produce from Abkhazia violate previous Georgian-Russian agreements on resolving the Abkhaz conflict. Speaking in Tbilisi on 17 November, Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Ukleba reaffirmed that Georgia will not lift economic sanctions on Abkhazia until a political settlement of the conflict has been reached and ethnic Georgian displaced persons allowed to return to their homes in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. LF

ARMENIA WANTS COOPERATION WITH TURKEY ON NUCLEAR SAFETY

Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian on 17 November reaffirmed Armenia's commitment to both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the safe functioning of the Medzamor nuclear power station. Gasparian said Yerevan is ready "to reasonably address Turkey's concerns about the safety of our WWER-type reactor." He proposed confidence-building measures, including the regular exchange of information with Turkey. Ankara has claimed that leaks of radio-activity from Medzamor have affected areas of northeastern Turkey. In September, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov charged that Medzamor is unsafe and can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. Armenia has denied both those charges. LF

ARMENIA RELUCTANT TO BAN LAND MINES

Gasparian also said on 17 November that while Yerevan welcomes international efforts to ban the production and use of anti-personnel land mines, it will not accede to the international convention banning such weapons unless other states in the region do so. At the same time, Gasparian expressed concern at Azerbaijan's refusal to join the convention. He noted that some 6,000-8,000 land mines are concentrated along the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier. There are also heavily mined areas on the former front line between Karabakh Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. The draft peace proposal drawn up by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe Karabakh requires Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan to cooperate in clearing those areas in order to allow the deployment of OSCE peacekeeping forces. LF

KARABAKH PREMIER ON SETTLEMENT TIMETABLE

Leonid Petrossian has hinted that Nagorno-Karabakh may drop its insistence on a "package" rather than a "phased" solution to the conflict. Speaking on 17 November, he suggested that if the latter option is chosen, Karabakh's status vis-a-vis the central Azerbaijani government should be decided first, Noyan Tapan reported. Petrossian said the second stage should involve "determining borders" and the third the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gasparian said on 17 November that Yerevan will use its right of veto if Azerbaijan pushes for adopting a document that reaffirms Baku's sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh at the December meeting of OSCE foreign ministers, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT POSTPONES DEBATE ON ELECTION LAW

The parliament has voted to postpone discussion of two draft election laws until February 1998, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 17 November. The opposition Hayrenik faction called for the issue to be included on the fall session's agenda. It opposes the draft law prepared by the ruling Hanrapetutyun coalition, which it says provides for the appointment rather than the election of deputies. Hayrenik leader Eduard Yegoryan has prepared an alternative draft. Adoption of a new election law is a precondition for Armenia's admission to full membership in the Council of Europe. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT IN U.S.

Nursultan Nazarbayev held talks with US officials in Washington on 17 November, according to RFE/RL correspondents in the U.S. capital. Nazarbayev met with U.S Vice President Al Gore, with whom he later attended the opening of the fourth session of the Kazakh-U.S. joint economic commission. Gore stressed the need for multiple pipelines to bring Kazakh oil and gas to markets both in the West and East. While Gore avoided mentioning Iran, Nazarbayev said later at a Pentagon news conference with U. S. Defense Secretary William Cohen that if a pipeline were to run through either Iran or Iraq, "I will have to talk about security." BP

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS RUSSIAN BROADCAST "PLANNED"

Askar Akayev has said the recent broadcasts by Russian television stations of footage showing a Kyrgyz children's home were "planned" to coincide with the 13 November visit of U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1997), ITAR-TASS reported. He complained that the footage inaccurately portrayed Kyrgyzstan as a country where "children die because of the absence of medicines and food." He added that "no one explained this was a children's home where there were sick children." Kyrgyzstan has sent official protests to both the Russian government and the Russian television stations that ran the footage. BP

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER RETURNS TO BISHKEK

Topchubek Turgunaliev, the chairman of Kyrgyzstan's opposition Erkin Kyrgyzstan Party, has been moved from a prison in Leilik to the capital, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported on 17 November. Earlier this year, TurgunAliyev was found guilty of abuse of power while dean of the Bishkek University of Humanities in 1994. TurgunAliyev will serve the remainder of his four-year sentence in a Bishkek detention center. BP

TAJIK OPPOSITION SOON TO RECEIVE GOVERNMENT POSTS?

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri have met to discuss which government posts the UTO will receive, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported on 17 November. Under the terms of the peace agreement, the UTO is to have 30 percent of government portfolios, but it remains unclear which ones it will receive. Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov is quoted by Reuters and Interfax as saying one of the government power ministries will be handed over to the UTO. According to RFE/RL correspondents, the UTO may instead receive the Ministry for Emergency Situations. Saidov also said the government reshuffle should take place within the next week. BP




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION CALLS ON LUKASHENKA TO RESIGN

Zianon Pazniak, the leader-in-exile of the Belarusian Popular Front leader, issued a statement on 17 November saying the organization's objective is to force the resignation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Interfax reported. Since impeachment is impossible in conditions of dictatorship, the front calls for "a forceful massive public assault in all spheres of life," the statement read. It also noted that the Front advocates the abolition of the presidency and the creation of a parliamentary republic. Pazniak said new parliamentary elections will be held after Lukashenka steps down. LF

HILLARY CLINTON IN UKRAINE

On the final day of her tour of former Soviet republics, U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton visited a synagogue in the west Ukrainian city of Lviv on 17 November. She also went to a neonatal center together with Ukrainian First Lady Galina Kuchma. Speaking at a memorial to victims of communism, Clinton affirmed U.S. support for the Ukrainian people's "fight for freedom and democracy," which she said entails "building a civil society where the rule of law, not the rule of crime and corruption, prevails." LF

CHORNOBYL CLOSURE STILL IN DOUBT

Energy Minister Yurii Kostenko on 17 November said that if Ukraine does not receive the estimated $2.5 billion funding needed to honor its commitment to close the Chornobyl nuclear plant by 2000, it may upgrade the third reactor and run it for another 10-15 years, Russian agencies reported. That reactor is currently being repaired and will be restarted in March 1998. Kostenko said Kyiv has neither the equipment nor the technology to remove the remaining nuclear fuel from the fourth reactor at Chornobyl, which was destroyed in April 1986. Meeting in Kyiv with Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Tigipko, UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor said his organization will provide funds for Ukraine to set up a laboratory to monitor the after-effects of the Chornobyl catastrophe, Interfax reported. LF

PREMIER SAYS NO EU PROPAGANDA IN ESTONIA

Mart Siimann told reporters on 17 November that the Estonian government has no intention of drawing up a plan to promote EU membership among Estonians, ETA reported. Siimann said that it would be time to ask for the opinion of the people when membership conditions have been clarified. According to a recent poll, Euro-optimism has grown among Estonians over the past year. Some 40 percent of Estonians would now vote for EU membership, compared with 29 percent in 1996. A large percentage of voters remain undecided. JC

POLISH, CHINESE PRESIDENTS SIGN COMMUNIQUE...

Aleksander Kwasniewski, who is on a five-day visit to China, and Jiang Zemin have signed a joint communique on improving relations. China's official Xinhua news agency reported that the communique expressed the countries' willingness to increase political dialogue and expand trade. The two leaders also pledged to cooperate in fighting terrorism and drug smuggling. Kwasniewski is the first Polish president to make a state visit to China since 1959. According to presidential spokesman Antoni Styrczula, Kwasniewski intends to discuss with his Chinese hosts both human-rights questions and the situation in Tibet. JC

...WHILE SOLIDARITY LEADER PROTESTS

Meanwhile in Warsaw, Marian Krzaklewski, the head of Solidarity Electoral Action, sharply criticized the Polish-Chinese communique for stating that "there is only one China and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory." Krzaklewski told journalists he is "outraged" by that statement and stressed that neither the Polish parliament nor government has expressed such a view. Officially, Poland recognizes only the People's Republic of China, but there is considerable sympathy for Taiwan within the Solidarity bloc, Reuters reported. China, for its part, stated in the communique that it "understands and respects" Warsaw's desire to integrate with NATO and the EU. JC

RUSSIA PROTESTS SPY REPORT IN POLISH MEDIA

The Russian embassy in Warsaw has delivered a note of protest to the Polish Foreign Ministry over a newspaper article claiming several Russian diplomats are spies (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 17 November 1997). The embassy called the article a "provocation" that was "absurd in content and brazen in form" and that sought to "poison" Russian-Polish relations. Russian Consul-General in Poznan Valerii Shvets, who was one of 23 Russians listed as a spy in the article, strongly denied the allegations at a press conference. Meanwhile, the Polish Intelligence Service has said it will investigate the newspaper allegations, while a Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman said it is too soon to give a response, according to dpa. JC

HAVEL TO BE RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL

Czech President Vaclav Havel is to leave hospital on 18 November and continue treatment at home, Deputy Health Minister Miroslav Cerbak told CTK. Meanwhile former Senator Robert Dole, who visited Havel in the hospital on 17 November, said that he is optimistic about the outcome of the vote in the U.S. Senate on NATO accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, Reuters reported. He said the vote could take place as early as April 1998. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION MARKS 'VELVET REVOLUTION'

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters took part in rallies in Bratislava and other towns on 17 November to mark the anniversary of the 1989 "velvet revolution," RFE/RL's bureau in the Slovak capital reported. The crowd in Bratislava jangled keys, as demonstrators had often done during anti-communist protests. Leader of the opposition Christian Democratic Movement Jan Carnogursky said at the Bratislava rally that the incumbents in the present government "have stolen November [1989] and we want it back." Opposition Democratic Party chairman Jan Langos commented that "not much has changed over the past eight years [because] Meciar's administration has introduced the same totalitarian methods as the Communists." MS

HUNGARY FORMALLY APPLIES FOR NATO ACCESSION

Andras Simonyi, Hungary's ambassador to NATO, has handed over a letter to NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, in which Hungary officially applies to join the alliance, Hungarian media reported on 17 November. The same day, Solana welcomed the Hungarians' overwhelming support for accession in the 16 November referendum. Steve Flanagan, chief Central Europe expert on the U.S. National Security Council, said in Washington that "the result of the referendum sends a very strong positive message to the U.S. Senate ahead of the ratification debate." MSZ




PALE SERBS REMAIN DEFIANT

The hard-line Bosnian Serb parliament on 17 November voted to condemn the behavior of NATO peacekeepers, whom the resolution said are acting "almost like an occupation force." The parliament also charged that the international community is trying to revise the Dayton peace agreement so as to limit the independence of the Republika Srpska. The legislature passed a package of 18 laws, which President Biljana Plavsic has said she will not sign. Plavsic declared the parliament dissolved in the summer and refuses to recognize its activities. PM

BOMB DESTROYS JOURNALIST'S CAR

A bomb demolished the car of Goran Matrak, the editor of the hard-line daily "Glas Srpski," in Banja Luka on 17 November. A bomb went off in another car belonging to Matrak last month. Meanwhile in Pale, Radio Sveti Jovan, which belongs to the daughter of Radovan Karadzic, resumed broadcasting on 17 November after an unexplained break of 24 hours. PM

BOSNIAN SERB ARMY LINKED TO BELGRADE, MOSCOW

Bosnian Serb army (VRS) chief-of-staff General Pero Colic said in Belgrade on 17 November that the VRS "is connected with the armies of Federal Yugoslavia and Russia, so we will not and must not make a single move without them." Colic was commenting on calls by Plavsic for the VRS to participate in the U.S.-backed "Train and Equip" program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1997). Colic said he feels that participation in "Train and Equip" would lead to "disintegration and disaster" for the VRS. PM

NEW JUDGES IN THE HAGUE

Five new judges joined the 11-member International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on 17 November. Outgoing tribunal President Antonio Cassese said the court begins its second four-year mandate as an established and internationally recognized institution, "Nasa Borba" wrote. Also at the tribunal, four Bosnian Croat war crimes suspects awaiting trial asked to be released, saying they are "family men" and were low-ranking soldiers who just followed orders during the war. PM

SEARCHES LEAD TO MASS GRAVES

A spokesman for Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 17 November that Croatian and Muslim officials recently found 30 bodies near Srebrenica on Serb-controlled territory. Bosnian Serb representatives exhumed the bodies of 18 uniformed Serbs in the Muslim-held Mount Ozren region, near Sarajevo. An agreement concluded on 1 November made possible the investigations. PM

CALL FOR FORGIVENESS IN VUKOVAR

William Walker, the UN's chief administrator in eastern Slavonia, said on 17 November at ceremonies marking the sixth anniversary of the fall of Vukovar that time has come for healing and forgiveness. Meanwhile in Orolik, a bomb exploded in an elementary school in the latest of a series of violent incidents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1997). PM

CROATIA TO CUT DEFENSE SPENDING

Finance Minister Borislav Skegro said in Zagreb on 17 November that Croatia will spend less on defense, refugees, and the police in 1998 and more on science, culture, agriculture, and infrastructure. The overall budget will be 8.5 percent larger than the current one. Skegro said the government's priorities will include keeping down labor costs in order to reduce unemployment and controlling the black market economy. PM

KUCAN AHEAD IN SLOVENIAN RACE

Slovenia's major dailies on 15 November showed President Milan Kucan ahead of seven challengers in the final polls published before the 23 November presidential vote. His lead over his main opponent, parliamentary speaker Janez Podobnik, varied considerably from poll to poll, however. Some polls, showed him securing more than 50 percent of the vote, while others suggested he will fall short of that figure and have to face a second round. PM

DID WASHINGTON REPROACH SLOVENIA?

Western diplomats told AFP in Ljubljana on 17 November that Washington's decision last summer not to back Slovenia for admission to NATO in the first round of expansion was a reproach for Ljubljana's failure to take a more active role in former Yugoslav affairs. The diplomats said Washington feels that Ljubljana is too preoccupied with joining Western and Central European institutions and that the prosperous Alpine republic has neglected its responsibilities toward less fortunate former Yugoslav republics. Slovenia has recently shown more interest in its Balkan neighbors and joined the Bosnian peace force early this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 1997). PM

GERMANY PLEDGES $18 MILLION FOR ALBANIA

Representatives of the German Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation told Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo in Bonn on 15 November that Germany will provide $18 million in aid to Albania next year. That sum, which constitutes roughly one-third of all EU aid to Albania in 1998, will be used for technical assistance and to help create jobs. Bonn also pledged to encourage German investments in Albania, ATA reported. Two days later, Dutch officials told Milo that The Netherlands will provide aid to agriculture, education, and the training of diplomats, "Zeri i Popullit" reported. FS

DISPUTE OVER ROMANIAN EDUCATION LAW CONTINUES

Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea on 17 November said he does not believe the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) will leave the coalition. He added, however, that the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) will not change its position on amending the education law. PNTCD Secretary-General Radu Vasile rejected UDMR leader Bela Marko's recent accusation of "blackmail," saying the UDMR itself is the only side guilty of blackmail, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. UDMR Senator Attila Verestoy compared the PNTCD to a soccer player who "is fouling a member of his own team." Meanwhile, the PNTCD faction in the Senate commented that Hungarian investments in Transylvania are "suspiciously high," Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN INDIA

Emil Constantinescu on 18 November wrapped up a three-day visit to India, during which he met with his Indian counterpart, Koheril Rahman Narayanan, and Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral. He also held talks with local businessmen to discuss possible Indian investments in Romania. On 17 November, the two countries' ministers of finance concluded agreements on the mutual protection of investments and on cultural and technical-scientific cooperation, Radio Bucharest reported. MS

BULGARIAN NUCLEAR MATERIAL TO TRANSIT NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES

Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova have reached a preliminary agreement on the transportation by land of nuclear material for the Kozloduy reactors. An official from the Bulgarian National Electricity company told Reuters on 17 November that the four-country agreement will be signed at a 25 November meeting of the Bulgarian-Russian governmental commission in Sofia. He said the four-country agreement is for ten years and will be automatically extended if there are no objections. A separate agreement has been reached with neighboring Romania, he added. MS

BULGARIA PRIVATIZES BLACK SEA RESORT

Bulgaria has sold a 33 percent stake in the Albena Black Sea tourist complex to a consortium that includes the French Banque Nationale de Paris. The consortium paid $10.1 million for its stake, dpa reported, citing BTA. Albena, one of the most attractive vacation sites on the coast, is the first Bulgarian tourist complex to be privatized. MS




UKRAINIANS SURVIVE ON POTATOES AS PARLIAMENT STALLS FARM REFORMS


by Ron Synovitz

Potatoes are the measure of Ukraine's agricultural crisis. Ukrainians are growing more potatoes than they have in years--and less of just about everything else.

Bumper potato harvests are not a success story for the cooperative farms that have emerged out of Ukraine's half-hearted agricultural reform. On the contrary, the decline of large farms means the country now produces half as much meat and grain as it did in 1990.

The real success in Ukrainian agriculture are the 11 million garden plots distributed among two-thirds of the population by presidential decree at the end of 1992. Data from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that although those private plots constitute only 14 percent of farmland, they accounted last year for 95 percent of the potato crop and 82 percent of all vegetables. Household plots also produced more than half of the country's meat and milk and two-thirds of its eggs.

Not only is private farming more efficient than the large agricultural cooperatives. But continued delays in agricultural reform also are forcing Ukrainians to survive, as they did under communism, by living off what they grow themselves . Poorly managed cooperatives simply are unable to feed the country.

Until the 1990s, Ukraine was a net grain exporter with a reputation as the breadbasket of the former Soviet Union. But today's cooperatives, stranded half-way between central planning and a market economy, are producing far less than their Soviet-era predecessors.

And the decline is continuing. Last year saw the worst grain harvest since the mid-1960s. Deputy Agriculture Minister Boris Supikhanov says this year's harvest will be better. But his projection of 37 million tons (cleanweight) still would be lower than most grain harvests since 1985. The sugar beet harvest last year was the smallest in 30 years and is expected to be even smaller this year. The OECD also notes declining numbers of livestock and large decreases in milk and egg production.

Britta Bjornlund, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says that although the majority of Ukraine's farms have been transformed on paper into joint-stock cooperatives, few have changed their managers, production choices, or methods of resource allocation. Because of corrupt and inefficient managers, most large-scale cooperatives are unprofitable and falling deeper into debt. The failure to create a competitive market economy also means there is little money to replace aging Soviet-era equipment.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said in a report this month that opposition from the parliament is the main reason for the failure of Ukraine's agricultural reforms. Acceleration of land and farm privatization is on the agenda, but the legislature is dominated by former Communists who continue to pass piecemeal laws to stall the creation of market-oriented agriculture. To date, there has been no restitution to former owners of property nationalized under communism.

Volodymyr Lanoviy, the embattled acting director of the State Property Fund, which oversees the privatization process, says stalled reforms benefit the political and economic allies of legislators. Many cooperative managers previously held power within local communist hierarchies and still maintain loyalty to ex-communist deputies. Reforms that rid the country of inept cooperative managers also would dismantle much of the current legislature's agrarian power base.

Bjornlund says the success of private gardens could be the foundation of an expanded private farming sector. Most produce from those plots is kept for personal use or sold by the growers themselves through farmers' markets and trade organizations. She says those channels must be expanded as private farming grows in importance.

She also says unclear legislation on privatization must be revised with the aim of creating a class of landowners out of farm workers, rather than groups of cooperative shareholders with little understanding of their rights and options. Uncertainties about land titles also must be clarified, official limitations on farm sizes must be removed and access to roads and irrigation systems must be provided to those who choose to farm outside of the collectives.

A credit system is necessary to help private farmers buy seed and fertilizers for large-scale planting. Bjornlund notes that competition must be introduced between agro-industrial firms. For years, the parliament has blocked the privatization of that critical market link by declaring agro-industrial firms as "strategically vital state interests."

Given the entrenched interests of the parliament, it could be years before market-oriented agriculture is allowed to evolve in Ukraine. Until then, most Ukrainians will have to remain content with less meat on their plates and more home-grown potatoes.

The author is an RFE/RL news editor.


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