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Newsline - November 20, 1997




YELTSIN SACKS CHUBAIS AS FINANCE MINISTER

President Boris Yeltsin on 20 November dismissed Anatolii Chubais as finance minister in a bid to end a scandal over payments for an unpublished book on privatization. Following a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin earlier the same day, Yeltsin's press service released a statement saying Chubais retains his post as first deputy prime minister. Mikhail Zadornov, head of the State Duma's Budget Committee and a member of Yabloko, has been named to take over the Finance Ministry. Observers say the move is largely symbolic since Chubais will retain his much more influential post of deputy premier. On 15 November, Yeltsin sacked Privatization Minister Maxim Boiko, bankruptcy agency head Pyotr Mostovoi, and Kremlin deputy chief of staff Aleksandr Kazakov over the $90,000 advances each received for the privatization book. But he turned down a resignation offer by Chubais, who had also received such payment. AW

RESPONSES TO ZADORNOV'S APPOINTMENT

Gennadii Seleznev, the communist Duma speaker welcomed Yeltsin's appointment of Zadornov as finance minister, calling it a "good decision," ITAR-TASS reported. Seleznev said Zadornov could become a "strong" finance minister, noting that his first task will be to tackle the 1998 draft budget. Meanwhile, Grigorii Yavlinskii, the leader of Yabloko, said the movement had initially expressed opposition to Zadornov's acceptance of the finance portfolio. But he noted that faction members on 20 November accepted Zadornov's request to leave the movement. Yabloko passed a resolution the previous day calling on members not to join the cabinet. AW

YELTSIN TO BAN DEPUTY PREMIERS FROM HOLDING OTHER POSTS

President Yeltsin is to ban deputy prime ministers from holding other posts, RIA-Novosti reported on 19 November. Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told the news agency that Yeltsin has "accepted and approved" ending a practice whereby deputy prime ministers can also head ministries. He said the decision will affect all deputy prime ministers who hold another post. This suggests that Boris Nemtsov, one of two first deputy prime ministers and fuel and energy minister, will lose one of those positions. AW

CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS GOVERNMENT TO STAY COURSE OF REFORM

Prime Minister Chernomyrdin told Russian Television on 19 November that the government will continue its reformist course. Chernomyrdin noted there will be no changes in economic policy as long as he remains in office. "Everyone seems to have decided that everything is changing, everything is bad and that the departure of one or two persons means a catastrophe. Nothing of the sort," Chernomyrdin said.

DUMA REJECTS MOTION ADVISING CONFIDENCE VOTE

The Duma on 19 November rejected a motion advising the government to ask the lower house of the parliament to call a confidence vote in the cabinet, Interfax reported. The motion was introduced by the Yabloko reformist opposition group and Sergei Yushenkov, the deputy chairman of Russia's Democratic Choice. The issue was raised in connection with a non-binding resolution, passed by an overwhelming majority, calling for Chubais's ouster and praising Yeltsin's decision to sack the three other officials involved in the book payments scandal. The Duma also rejected a motion by Yabloko faction member Anatolii Golov asking the president to dismiss the cabinet. AW

DUMA ADOPTS BILL ON CONTROL OF "SIGNIFICANT EXPENDITURES."

The Duma approved in the third and final reading a draft law establishing government oversight of "significant expenditures" by private citizens, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Under the bill, buyers would be obligated to notify the government of purchases of certain items that exceed more than 83.5 million rubles ($14,000). The law would apply to purchases of real estate, automobiles, stocks and bonds, and cultural artifacts. In such cases, the buyer would have to present Russian tax collectors with documents indicating the source of the income used in the purchase. AW

UN SECURITY COUNCIL APPROVES RUSSIA-IRAQ AGREEMENT

Meeting in Geneva early on 20 November, the permanent members of the UN Security Council approved the agreement reached between Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz during talks in Moscow on 18-19 November. Under that agreement, Iraq consents to the immediate return of the UN weapons inspectors in return for written guarantees that Moscow "will vigorously contribute" to the earliest lifting of sanctions imposed on Iraq. LF

TURKEY READY TO EASE RESTRICTIONS ON TANKER TRAFFIC?

Turkish diplomats have told Moscow that Ankara is preparing to ease restrictions on tanker traffic through the Turkish straits to facilitate the export of oil from Russian ports, AFP reported on 19 November, citing the Anatolia News Agency. In July 1994, Ankara imposed restrictions on tankers transiting the straits. Russia argued that those restrictions violated the 1936 Treaty of Montreux, which guarantees free passage through those waters. Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin is scheduled to visit Turkey on 15 December, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 20 November. LF

NUCLEAR SUBMARINES, WASTE SITES POSE THREAT...

Nuclear submarines and nuclear waste sites in northern Russian could cause a large-scale nuclear disaster, AFP reported, on 19 November, quoting the head of the Duma Committee on Northern Russia. "A new Chornobyl threatens the north of Russia, as well as Norway, Sweden, and Finland," Vladimir Goman told a press conference. He said the danger emanates from old nuclear submarines and deposits full of nuclear waste that can be found in the region. The Russian Arctic Fleet has 90 nuclear submarines on dry docks, of which 75 percent are dangerous, Goman said. "The reprocessing of all the waste accumulated in Russia is going to cost at least $100 billion," he added. Russia intends to organize an international conference on the reprocessing of nuclear waste in 1998. AW

...AS DO AGING NUCLEAR REACTORS

If Russia does not act quickly to replace its aging nuclear reactors, the country could witness an accident possibly worse than the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, according to Aleksei Chadaev, the editor of "Slavia." Chadaev wrote in "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" on 20 November that only 1 trillion out of the 10 trillion rubles (some $2 billion) budgeted to modernize Russia's nine nuclear power stations has been allocated. He noted the reactors at the Bilibin nuclear power station will be outdated by 2006 and claims that the situation is also critical at the Kursk, Leningrad, and Novovoronezh nuclear facilities. The government envisions replacing obsolete equipment at already operating facilities and constructing new nuclear stations by 2010. AW

SUICIDES, DEATHS IN ARMED FORCES

A total of 314 Russian servicemen have committed suicide in the first nine months of this year, Interfax reported on 19 November, quoting Chairman of the Army and Society Association Nikita Chernov. Chernov said another 1,037 servicemen were killed and 2,106 injured during the same period, even though Russia's war in Chechnya ended last year. He attributed some of the deaths to brutal hazing and "inhuman conditions" in the ill-financed armed forces. Some 500 Russian officers committed suicide in 1996, according to figures announced in March by the chief of staff of the armed forces. AW

DID SWISS ACCOUNT BELONG TO LENIN?

An account belonging to Vladimir Ulyanov has emerged among the list of names of owners of dormant Swiss bank accounts, Reuters reported on 19 November. The Ulyanov account contains less than 100 Swiss francs, Whether it belonged to the Bolshevik leader Lenin or to someone else with the same name is unclear. "We don't know whether it is the real Lenin," said a spokeswoman for the Swiss Bankers Association. She did not say which Swiss bank held the account. Lenin lived in Zurich during his exile. In April 1917, he left Switzerland to return to Russia shortly before the Bolshevik revolution. AW

RUSSIA HOPES TO KEEP TO "ALPHA" STATION SCHEDULE

Boris Ostromov, the deputy director of the Russian space agency (RKA), said on 19 November that Russia may still meet the deadline for supplying a service module for the "Alpha" international space station. Ostromov admitted that the RKA is five months behind schedule in completing work on the module, but he blamed delays in funding. He said the RKA and Russian enterprises are working "round the clock" to finish their part of the project. The launch date for the "Alpha" station is December 1998. BP



IRAN SEEKS IMPROVED TIES WITH AZERBAIJAN

Iranian Minister for Cooperation Morteza Haji, who is co-chairman of the Azerbaijani-Iranian commission on economic cooperation, told President Heidar Aliyev in Baku on 18 November that Tehran attaches "special importance" to bilateral relations with Azerbaijan, ITAR-TASS reported. Azerbaijani state television has also reached a preliminary agreement with Tehran whereby each country will air a daily one-hour program on the other's national network, according to Turan on 19 November. Iranian television broadcasts on Azerbaijani state television were discontinued in May 1997 on the grounds they were "propagandistic." LF

UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER POSTPONES BAKU VISIT

Valeriy Pustovoytenko has postponed a visit to the Azerbaijani capital scheduled for 20 November, ANS-Press reported, quoting a Ukrainian consular official in Baku. No reason was cited for the postponement. Pustovoytenko and the Azerbaijani government were to have discussed prospects for exporting part of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Ukraine. LF

GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ TALKS OVER

Following three days of talks in Geneva, Georgian and Abkhaz delegations agreed on 19 November to Tbilisi's proposal to create a coordinating council to oversee further talks. That body will be headed by UN special representative to Georgia Liviu Bota and will have three committees addressing the repatriation of displaced persons, security, and economic issues. The first session of the council will take place in December, according to Reuters. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov said the atmosphere at the talks was far more cordial than at earlier rounds of negotiations. He added that Moscow "will spare no effort" to reach a political solution to the conflict but does not claim any monopoly on peacekeeping operations in the region. The October CIS summit in Chisinau extended the mandate of the peacekeeping force in Abkhazia until 31 December 1997. LF

WHO WILL MEDIATE KYAPAZ DISPUTE?

Turkmenistan has lodged an appeal with the UN for assistance in settling its dispute with Azerbaijan over ownership of the Kyapaz/Serdar Caspian oil field, Interfax reported on 19 November, quoting an unnamed official from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry. The official said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had reacted "with understanding" to the Turkmen request. He added it is "senseless" to expect an objective ruling on the issue from other littoral states. On 18 November, however, ANS-Press quoted LUKoil chairman Vagit Alekperov as saying the Kyapaz dispute will be resolved through the mediation of the Russian government. Meeting in Ashgabat recently with President Saparmurat Niyazov, U.S. Energy Secretary Federico Pena expressed his country's willingness to help resolve the dispute, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 November. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT HOPES FOR BIG PROFIT FROM U.S. DEALS

Nursultan Nazarbayev was quoted by Interfax on 19 November as saying two oil and gas deals signed in Washington the previous day will bring Kazakhstan $600 billion over the next 40 years. Nazarbayev is currently in the United States on an official visit. Meanwhile, Vagit Alekperov, the president of Russia's LUKoil, has said that oil and gas condensate from the Karachaganak field, in western Kazakhstan, will be shipped to Western markets via Russian transport networks. LUKoil has a 15 percent stake in the Karachaganak project. According to Alekperov, Kazakh hydrocarbons from the Karachaganak field will exported via the Novorossiisk port by September 2000. BP

FIRE DAMAGES KAZAKH POWER PLANT

A fire broke out at the Ekibsztuz Thermo-electric plant, in northern Kazakhstan, on 18 November, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. The fire was extinguished after two-and-a-half hours, but one 500-watt generator is in need of repair and will be out of operation for a week. As a result of the power outage, passenger trains were delayed and television broadcasts from Almaty and Moscow temporarily halted. Shortages will continue until the damaged generator has been repaired. BP

KYRGYZ GOLD PROJECT AHEAD OF SCHEDULE

Kyrgyzstan's largest joint venture, the Kumtor gold mine, announced on 17 November that it has exceeded its goal of producing 12.7 tons of gold this year, according to RFE/RL correspondents. So far this year, 13.2 tons of gold have been produced. Cameco corporation of Canada and Kyrgyzaltyn, who are partners in the project, expect production to reach 20 tons annually by the end of the century. The gold mine began operations this year. BP

UN PLEDGES FURTHER SUPPORT TO TAJIKISTAN

Following UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal to increase aid to Tajikistan, the UN Information Center in Tehran has released a report saying up to $65 million in humanitarian aid will be allocated to the Central Asian country, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 November. That decision will be confirmed at the donor countries conference in Vienna on 24-25 November. In addition, the UN observer mission in Tajikistan is to be increased from 44 to 120 members, but no time frame was announced for that increase. BP




LUKASHENKA TIGHTENS CONTROL OVER PRIVATE FIRMS

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a degree giving government bodies the right to intervene in the affairs of private joint-stock companies, Interfax reported on 19 November. The decree means that the government will be able to force firms to remain open even if they are unprofitable. As a result, Belarus will become even more unattractive for Western investors. PG

KUCHMA SEES OFF UKRAINIAN COSMONAUT

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was in Florida on 19 November to watch the launch of a U.S. shuttle carrying the first Ukrainian cosmonaut, Leonid Kadenyuk, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Kadenyuk, who will conduct botanical experiments during the 16-day flight, is part of a growing U.S.-Ukrainian space cooperation program. Meanwhile, Ukrainian and U.S. military personnel began a computer simulation of peacekeeping in the imaginary republic of Govinia as part of the "Peace Shield 97" exercises between the two countries. PG

UKRAINIAN GROUPS LAY CLAIM TO NAZI GOLD

Two Ukrainian organizations representing victims of the Nazi occupation of their country released a communique to Western journalists asserting their right to part of the Nazi gold deposited in Swiss banks. "Not all the stolen goods belonged only to Jews," the release said, asserting that "goods and jewelry from Ukrainian prisoners were confiscated and once dead, their gold teeth were torn out." PG

PILOTS STRIKE CRIPPLES UKRAINE'S DOMESTIC AVIATION

Pilots of Ukraine Airlines, who have been on strike since early November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 1997), stepped up the pressure on 19 November by picketing the parliament, Ukrainian media reported. The pilots are demanding the payment of back wages as well as increased salaries and better pensions. Their strike has shut down virtually all domestic flights and some routes to Eastern Europe as well. PG

ESTONIAN OPPOSITION SABOTAGES BUDGET DEBATE

Opposition deputies used their slim majority at the 19 November parliamentary session to vote into the 1998 budget bill several amendments that would result in a 220 million kroon ($15.7 million) deficit. Ethnic Russian deputies supported that move because one of the amendments provided more funds for Estonian-language teachers in Russian schools. The reading of the bill was suspended two hours after the session began. Under Estonian law, the state budget must be balanced. JC

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS STATE LANGUAGE LAW

Lawmakers on 19 November passed amendments to the language law requiring parliamentary deputies and local government officials to prove knowledge of the Estonian language if they do not have at least elementary schooling in Estonian. The amended law also allows the government to regulate the use of the state language in the services sector. All six ethnic Russian deputies voted against the amendments, claiming they contradict the constitution and international conventions. The law is to go into force on 1 January 1998. JC

LATVIAN RULING PARTIES CLING TO COALITION ACCORD

Faction leaders of the coalition parties have rejected President Guntis Ulmanis's 18 November call to revise the government cooperation agreement, which, he said, is acting as a brake on the process of naturalizing non-citizens. They stressed, however, that they support discussing other ways to amend the citizenship law in order to speed up that process, BNS reported on 19 November. Under the government coalition agreement, the citizenship law can be amended only with support of all coalition parties. The Fatherland and Freedom party remains strongly opposed to such a move. JC

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS LAUNCH CAMPAIGNS

The seven candidates for the December presidential elections went on nationwide television on 19 November to present their election programs. Leading the field in recent polls are former Prosecutor-General Arturas Paulauskas and Valdas Adamkus, a U.S. citizen of Lithuanian origin. Parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis has placed a distant third, while incumbent President Algirdas Brazauskas is not running for re-election. All candidates are entitled to access to state-run media and to raise money for their campaigns. JC

POLES SEEK SECURITY

Marek Siwiec, the chief of the Polish presidential National Security Bureau, met with Russian officials in Moscow on 19 November, Interfax reported. Polish Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz met with his visiting Romanian counterpart, Victor Babiuc, the same day to seek closer military cooperation between their countries, Polish media reported. And Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek met with his German and French counterparts in Germany. The three agreed to a summit among the leaders of their countries in early 1998. PG

WILL POLAND PAY ITS FOREIGN DEBTS ON TIME?

Marian Krzaklewski, the leader of the Solidarity faction in the parliament, said Poland should renegotiate its debt repayments in order to finance the clean-up following the summer floods and to make necessary social reforms. His statement contradicts the positions of Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, the leader of Solidarity's coalition partner, Polish media reported. Balcerowicz and his Freedom Union say any suggestion that Poland may fail to pay what it owes would undermine foreign confidence in its economy. PG

SLOVAKIA MOVES TO MEET EU DEMANDS

Lawmakers on 19 November voted to allow members of the opposition to sit on committees overseeing the country's intelligence services, thus meeting an EU demand. The previous day, the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee had sharply criticized Slovakia for its lack of democracy. It proposed that Slovakia should not be included in the first round of negotiations for EU membership until it makes a number of changes, including opposition participation in those committees. PG

HUNGARIAN SCREENING PANEL CALLS FOR SPEAKER'S RESIGNATION

A panel of judges investigating the communist past of Hungarian top officials has called on parliamentary speaker Zoltan Gal to resign within 30 days. If he does not comply, his activities under the communist regime will be made public. The panel found that Gal received information from the notorious III/III domestic secret service while serving as deputy interior minister from December 1987, as state secretary from May 1989, and as acting interior minister from January 1990, Hungarian media reported. Gal has refused to resign, saying the ruling does not contain anything about which the public is not already aware. He added that he was twice elected to the parliament, although the country knew about his past. MSZ

HUNGARY, CROATIA TO IMPROVE ECONOMIC COOPERATION

Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn and his visiting Croatian counterpart, Zlatko Matesa, agreed in Budapest on 19 November to step up economic cooperation. Horn expressed dissatisfaction with the small number of Hungarian companies involved in Croatia's privatization process and infrastructure development. He also said Budapest has a strong interest in using the port of Rijeka and in building a Rijeka-Zagreb-Budapest highway. Matesa told reporters that war refugees in Hungary can return to Croatia next summer. MSZ




PLAVSIC "WELCOMES" BACK MUSLIMS, CROATS

Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, meeting with Sadako Ogata, the UN high commissioner for refugees, in Banja Luka on 19 November, said that Croatian and Muslim refugees are "welcome" to return. Ogata noted that "real peace will not come while people are still displaced." Plavsic's position in recent months has been that refugees may return once all Serbs living in temporary shelters have received homes of their own. During the war, Banja Luka was known as "the heart of darkness" because of the ruthlessness with which Serbs drove Croats and Muslims from the region. PM

BOSNIAN SERB ELECTIONS SET TO GO AHEAD

Robert Frowick, the head of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission, which will supervise the 22-23 November Bosnian Serb parliamentary vote, said in Banja Luka on 19 November that he expects the elections to go ahead without any difficulty. In Sarajevo, an EU spokesman said the union will spend $1.4 million to help make the vote a success. The EU will fund the work of 600 short-term monitors as well as 134 longer-term personnel, who will stay on through mid-December to complete the final tally. PM

CHARGES OF MASSIVE FRAUD IN BOSNIA

Muslim authorities may have diverted millions of dollars this year to illegal agencies, including an Iranian-trained spy network, the "Los Angeles Times" wrote on 20 November. European investigators called the diversion of funds through fraud and tax evasion "systematic and almost routine." Muslim officials deny the charges, which international officials in Sarajevo have also made (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 14 November 1997). Meanwhile in London, "The Guardian" reported that an official of the British charity Medjugorje Appeal sent troop carriers, hand-cuffs, and other military or police equipment to the Bosnian Croat militia during the war. PM

MIXED SIGNALS ON CROATIAN TV REFORM

The parliament on 19 November rejected an opposition request to place a discussion of the television law on the legislative agenda, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. The opposition and a group of prominent radio and television journalists, known as Forum 21, recently called for the government to loosen its control over the electronic media. Meanwhile, top officials of state-run television (HTV) discussed reform with members of Forum 21. The reform-minded journalists said they were "pleasantly surprised" by HTV's receptiveness to their proposals, "Novi List" wrote. PM

OSCE WANTS OPEN CROATIAN-YUGOSLAV BORDER

Spokesmen for the OSCE mission to Croatia said in Zagreb on 19 November that successful integration into Croatia of eastern Slavonia's Serbs will depend heavily on whether Croatia observes agreements allowing local residents free movement between Croatia and Serbia. UN authorities, which administer eastern Slavonia, said Croatian regulations on travel documents will go into effect on 1 December. After that date, Yugoslav citizens must have a Croatian visa or papers proving they live in the border area in order to enter eastern Slavonia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. PM

CHINA DENIES YUGOSLAV MISSILE SALE

A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing on 20 November denied reports in the Belgrade "Nedeljni telegraf" the previous day that China agreed to sell Yugoslavia an unspecified quantity of GSSM intermediate-range ballistic missiles and Red Arrow-8 anti-tank missiles during the recent visit of President Slobodan Milosevic. The spokesman said "the report on so-called sales of weapons by China in the Yugoslav media is not correct. China is not prepared to sell such kinds of weapons to Yugoslavia." The Belgrade newspaper said Milosevic agreed to pay for the weapons by spending $5.8 million to build a fruit processing plant near Beijing. PM

SANDZAK MUSLIMS TO HAVE OWN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

Sulejman Ugljanin said on behalf of the List for Sandzak coalition in Novi Pazar on 19 November that Yugoslavia's Muslims will field their own candidate in the 7 December Serbian presidential elections. Ugljanin added that no Serbian candidate has a platform that addresses Muslim concerns. Ugljanin's announcement indicates that there is little chance that Serbia's Muslim minority will vote for an opposition candidate against Milosevic's candidate Milan Milutinovic or Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj. Kosovo's political leaders have already said Serbia's ethnic Albanians will boycott the vote. PM

ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT MOVES TO CLAMP DOWN ON PYRAMIDS

The parliament on 19 November amended the constitutional law to allow the government to audit and administer private companies if the government concludes that their activities "endanger or harm the economic interests of the citizens," Albanian Television reported. The move came after the Constitutional Court ruled that the new pyramid transparency law violates the right to private ownership of businesses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 1997). Some legal experts fear that the parliament's move may set a precedent for the legislature to change the constitutional law every time a conflict with the Constitutional Court arises. The court can strike down ordinary laws, but not a constitutional change approved by the parliament. FS

BRITAIN REFUSES ALBANIAN DIPLOMATS ASYLUM

British authorities on 19 November turned down requests for political asylum by outgoing Albanian ambassador Pavil Mihal Qesku and his deputy Fillakti Piro. The BBC reported that London does not feel that the two will face political persecution if they return to Albania. PM

MAJOR DONORS PRAISE ROMANIAN ECONOMIC REFORMS

Following a 19 November meeting with Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara and other government officials, the G-24 group and the World Bank praised Romania's commitment to economic reform and pledged continued financial support, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. Reuters the same day cited an IMF statement saying the IMF is ready to soon release the third tranche of the $415 million credit agreed on in April. Meanwhile, the Romanian National Bank on 19 November announced that the country's foreign debt is $7.7 billion. Of that sum, $2.8 billion is owed to international financing institutions and $3.2 billion to private banks abroad. MS

ROMANIAN DEPUTY TO LOSE IMMUNITY?

The Judicial Commission of the Chamber of Deputies on 19 November voted to recommend that the house lift the immunity of Gabriel Bivolaru, a deputy from the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR). Bivolaru is suspected of having forged documents to obtain bank credits for himself and for companies with which he is associated, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. A similar request to lift Bivolaru's immunity was rejected by the chamber earlier this year, but the Prosecutor-General's Office says new evidence has emerged since then. The PDSR said it will not oppose lifting Bivolaru's immunity this time. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SETS ELECTION DATE

Petru Lucinschi on 19 November signed a decree stipulating that the next parliamentary elections will be held on 22 March 1998. The decree follows the recent decision of the Constitutional Court ruling that the legislature's mandate ends on 27 February (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1997). Lucinschi's decision was welcomed by the pro-presidential Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova (PMPD), the opposition Democratic Convention of Moldova, and the Socialist-Unity-Edinstvo faction. In other news, the extra parliamentary Moldovan Civic Party on 19 November announced it has joined the PMPD, BASA- press reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS BILL ON NATIONAL PROPERTIES REGISTER

The parliament on 19 November rejected a government-proposed draft law setting up a national properties register. The register is among the conditions for the IMF and the World Bank to continue extending loans to Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1997). Under house regulations, the draft cannot be debated again during the current parliamentary session because it was rejected in the first reading. MS




LUKASHENKA PLAYS POPULIST CARD AT HOME AND IN "NEAR ABROAD"


by Christopher Walker

While many in the West have focused on Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's systematic crackdown on political opponents and independent media in Belarus, there is a potentially more destabilizing development that could create serious problems far beyond Belarus. As he holds back his own country's progress by ignoring the need for economic and social reforms, Lukashenka appeals to his countrymen's worst fears by using the difficulties posed by reform in other former Soviet republics, Russia in particular, to justify his course at home.

Moreover, he is doing his best to peddle a similarly seductive and possibly explosive populist message to the economically disenfranchised within Russia. To this, he adds a dose of Soviet nationalism and pan-Slavic revisionism.

Within Belarus, Lukashenka has used his overwhelming control of state-run media to make a simple, yet effective populist appeal to his core constituency outside urban centers. That constituency is, in fact, a "captive" audience. With only a handful of weakened independent or opposition newspapers publishing in Minsk, it is difficult for those outside the capital to receive alternative information. In Minsk, there is a palpable feeling of being cut off. Even at major hotels, one is unable to find a Western newspaper or magazine.

According to Lukashenka's prescription for reform, changes are necessary but he himself will manage to make changes differently. Or, as Lukashenka himself puts it, Belarus is taking all of the "best things" learned from Russia's reform experience and discarding the "worst."

But what he is unable to explain is how in the long term Belarus will function among its neighboring states that have advanced through the toughest stages of the reform process. With all of its warts, the Russian reform process has advanced to the point where most observers believe the results achieved to date have taken root. Clearly, a major shift in the Russian domestic political landscape may change that belief.

By exploiting the anxieties of the Russian masses, Lukashenka is a politician who may make an impact in Russia. There has been significant speculation about Lukashenka's ultimate ambition on the Russian political scene and how he hopes to achieve his objectives.

For Moscow, dealing with the peculiar reality of Russian-Belarusian integration is a delicate political issue. In many ways, Belarus, together with Armenia, is Russia's last genuine ally. Few politicians in Moscow are prepared to take on directly the charismatic Lukashenka for fear that it could be perceived by the Russian domestic constituency as a slap in the face of an ally. At the same time, the Russian leaders who suffer the brunt of Lukashenka's criticism are those who have led Russia's economic reform process, namely Boris Nemtsov and Anatolii Chubais. His attacks on those leading Russian reformers will only make the job of continuing reform in Russia more difficult.

While in Belarus, the recent campaign against corruption may in fact be a tool for settling internal political scores, it also serves as a populist instrument to underscore the fact that many in the Russian business and political elite have been able to enrich themselves during the transition.

Ironically, by accepting Lukashenka's unworkable prescription now, Belarusians will certainly face more painful economic and social dislocation in the foreseeable future, when the present approach proves no longer sustainable.

Few Belarusians can imagine domestic political life without their autocratic president; some may not want to imagine it. But the house of cards Lukashenka is busy building may collapse more quickly than expected. In the meantime, he is pursuing domestic and international policies that may ultimately destabilize the region.

By telling these economically and socially dislocated constituencies what they desperately want to hear, but not what is necessary to improve their material condition in the long term, Lukashenka is setting a trap into which unsuspecting Belarusians--and Russians--may fall.

While many Belarusians may be unable to imagine life without Lukashenka, Western observers may not fully appreciate the disturbing possibility of his influence becoming more pronounced in Russia. As one Belarusian journalist in Minsk put it, "Outside Belarus, people underestimate Lukashenka; inside the country, [Belarusians] overestimate him."

The author is manager of programs of the Connecticut-based European Journalism Network.


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