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Newsline - November 24, 1997




CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS CABINET RESHUFFLE OVER...

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 22 November said there will be no more cabinet reshuffles, Interfax reported. Two days earlier, First Deputy Prime Ministers Boris Nemtsov and Anatolii Chubais had been forced to give up their posts of minister of fuel and energy and of finance, respectively. Chernomyrdin stressed there was "no question" that Labor Minister Oleg Sysuev, Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, Agriculture Minister Viktor Khlystun, and Economy Minister Yakov Urinson--all of whom are deputy prime ministers--will similarly be forced to give up their portfolios. The reshuffle involving Chubais and Nemtsov came after President Boris Yeltsin had reportedly approved a plan to bar deputy premiers from holding ministerial posts. That move was seen by some observers as a way of saving face amid opposition pressure to remove Chubais from office altogether. Chubais is involved in a scandal over payments for an unpublished book on privatization. AW

...ANNOUNCES ZADORNOV WILL REPORT TO HIM

At a 21 November meeting with senior Finance Ministry officials, Chernomyrdin said new Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov will report directly to him, Reuters reported. Chernomyrdin reassured Chubais he will not be cut off from the work of the ministry, although he stressed Zadornov will not report to him. "I think this is also no secret, the minister of finance works directly with the prime minister," he said. Chernomyrdin insisted the decision to remove Chubais as finance minister was taken to ease his work load and not in connection with the book scandal. Noting Zadornov will be under a lot of pressure, Chubais, who also attended the meeting, said he will continue to work with him. "The situation on the financial markets is complicated and of course, responsibility rests on the shoulders of the finance minister," he added. AW

CHERNOMYRDIN, NEMTSOV DIFFER OVER MEANING OF GOVERNMENT CHANGES

Chernomyrdin on 21 November said his government has emerged more stable than ever as a result of the recent cabinet reshuffle, Interfax reported. "Russia has entered a new stage of political maturity," Chernomyrdin said. "The state is getting stronger and its role is growing in every sphere, especially in the economy." But while introducing Sergei Kirienko as his successor at the Fuel and Energy Ministry, Nemtsov said the same day that the shake-up is the result of a much deeper, "ideological" crisis. "This is about a choice of ways--either free privatization benefiting a narrow circle of people or privatization for great sums of money benefiting all who honestly participate in auctions run under state rules." Nemtsov had been discussing the planned privatization of the state oil company Rosneft before making that remark. AW

RUSSIAN PRESS DECLARES CHERNOMYRDIN VICTOR IN RESHUFFLE

Russian newspapers on 21 November generally agreed that Chernomyrdin has emerged as the winner in the cabinet shake-up. "Chernomyrdin, who has long been in the shadow of his first deputies, has sharply changed the balance of forces in his favor," the business newspaper "Kommersant-Daily" said. The newspaper noted that Mikhail Zadornov, who has replaced Chubais as finance minister, "is on very good terms with Chernomyrdin." The daily "Russkii Telegraf," which is owned by Chubais ally Vladimir Potanin, admitted on 22 November that Chernomyrdin has come out on top. The prime minister is now striving to "capitalize on his victory" and to draw "concrete benefits" from it. In a sign of his diminishing role, Chubais was passed over in favor of Nemtsov as acting prime minister during Chernomyrdin's visit to Vietnam, which began on 23 November. AW

CHUBAIS TO SUE JOURNALISTS FOR LIBEL

Chubais is planning to sue for libel two Russian journalists who accused him of corruption, Chubais spokesman Andrei Trapesnikov said on 21 November, according to Interfax. Legal action will be taken against "Novaya Gazeta" correspondent Aleksandr Minkin and Russian Public Television journalist Sergei Dorenko, who claimed that the payments Chubais received for the unpublished privatization book were bribes. AW

AUTHOR OF TAX REFORM PLAN QUITS

The official who drafted the long-stalled new tax code has confirmed that he is quitting his post as deputy finance minister, Interfax reported on 24 November. Sergei Shatalov has devoted most of the last five years to drafting the tax code, which will replace the ineffective tax law. It is unclear whether Shatalov's departure is linked to the recent scandal involving Chubais. AW

CHERNOMYRDIN URGES LARGER REVENUES, PASSAGE OF BUDGET...

At the 21 November meeting with senior Finance Ministry officials, Chernomyrdin called for a renewed push to boost government revenues and secure passage of the 1998 budget, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin said the improved collection of tax revenues is the ministry's most important task. "There's no justification for a finance minister if this does not happen," he said. Chernomyrdin accused opposition lawmakers of "artificially drawing out" the process to adopt next year's budget. He warned that further delays in passing the 1998 draft budget would cost the Russian economy as much as 50 trillion rubles ($8.4 billion) in the first months of 1998, although he did not explain how he made that calculation. The budget was to be debated 21 November, but the State Duma voted to put the budget draft on its agenda on 5 December. The lower house had been delaying discussion on the draft in the hope of putting pressure on Yeltsin to oust Chubais. AW

...SAYS GOVERNMENT PREPARING STOP-GAP SPENDING MEASURE

As the prospects of passing the budget by the end of the year grow dimmer, Chernomyrdin said on 21 November that the government is preparing a stop-gap spending measure for 1998, Interfax reported. Chernomyrdin ordered the government to draft the plan roughly in accordance with spending for this year, meaning that federal expenditures in 1998 would be much lower than projected levels in the draft budget. "Kommersant-Daily" said the same day that Chernomyrdin was not greatly upset about the Duma's decision to postpone debate on the budget until 5 December (see below). AW

SELEZNEV CALLS FOR COALITION GOVERNMENT

Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev has called for the creation of a coalition government that would take into consideration the communists' dominance in the lower house of the parliament, Interfax reported on 23 November. Communist Party member Seleznev called for a constitutional amendment allowing the government to be formed on the basis of either the majority party in the Duma or a coalition formed by the deputies. "It is time to speak frankly to the president about the creation of a government based on popular confidence," Seleznev said. AW

ZYUGANOV LASHES OUTS AT GOVERNMENT

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has criticized government policies as bankrupt, Interfax reported 22 November. "Within the next two months, the bankruptcy of their policy will become so evident to everyone that they will have to admit the choice to start seriously changing their course or go," Zyuganov said. Chernomyrdin later dismissed Zyuganov's remarks, saying the government "is not listening to threats." With regard to the Duma's decision to delay debate on the budget until 5 December, he accused the legislators of "saying one thing before lunch and something different after lunch." AW

DUBININ SAYS FOREIGN INVESTMENT FLOWS OUT OF RUSSIA

Central Bank President Sergei Dubinin told the Duma on 21 November that foreign investment totaling $5 billion has been pulled out of Russia's bond market as a result of recent worldwide market instability, Reuters reported. Dubinin was upbeat, however, saying if world markets stabilize in the coming weeks, the pressure on Russia also will ease. In his remarks about currency instability, Dubinin expressed optimism, saying the Central Bank and the government will be able to stabilize the situation to prevent sharp fluctuations in the value of the ruble. Speaking to reporters later, Dubinin said the Central Bank's gross foreign-currency and gold reserves totaled $21.5 billion as of 21 November. AW

GAZPROM HEAD CALLS FOR REDUCING STATE SHARE

The chairman of Gazprom has called for reducing the state's share in the natural gas giant from just over 40 percent to just over 25 percent, Interfax reported on 21 November. Rem Vyakhirev said the move will ensure government control over Gazprom but allow greater managerial flexibility. He also said it will reduce the number of seats the government has on Gazprom's board. According to Interfax, Vyakhirev claimed that frequent changes in the government mean state representatives on the board did not last long enough to be effective. AW

RUSSIA MAKES BID TO JOIN APEC

At their 22 November meeting in Vancouver, the foreign and trade ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Organization (APEC) postponed the question of admitting Russia , Vietnam, and Peru until the conference officially opens, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian media reports on 21 November that Russia had been admitted to the organization were denied the next day. A number of participants reportedly remain undecided about Russian membership, while agreement in principle has been reached on Vietnam's and Peru's entry. The official conference takes place from 24-25 November. BP

RUSSIAN, CHINESE REGIONS SIGN PIPELINE DEAL

The governor of Russia's Chita region and the deputy chairman of China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region signed an accord on 22 November to build a 12-kilometer pipeline that will transport petroleum products to China, ITAR-TASS reported. The news agency stated that the pipeline will run from Zabaikalsk to the Chinese city of Manchuria and will have a throughput capacity of 2,000 tons a day. BP

YELTSIN NAMES SERGEEV "MARSHAL."

Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 21 November gave Defense Minister Igor Sergeev the rank of "marshal of the Russian Federation," Reuters reported. Sergeev is the first member of the armed forces to receive that title since 1991. BP

CHECHEN PRESIDENT RETURNS FROM U.S. VIA BAKU

Aslan Maskhadov and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev met behind closed doors in Baku on 23 November, Russian media reported. Maskhadov was on his way home from the U.S. via Turkey. On arrival in Grozny later that day, Maskhadov told journalists he succeeded in convincing U.S. officials (whom he did not name) that Russia gives a distorted picture of the situation in Chechnya and that political dialogue with the Chechen leadership is both possible and necessary. He warned, however, that Grozny will not agree to concessions over its status and that Chechnya "is and will be independent," AFP reported. LF



AZERBAIJAN REJECTS PASSPORTS PRINTED IN FRANCE

The Azerbaijani government has refused to accept delivery of 4 million passports printed in France, arguing that the quality is unacceptable and pointing out that the Azerbaijani-language sections contain orthographic errors, AFP reported on 22 November. French Ambassador to Baku Jean-Pierre Guinhut told Turan that the Azerbaijani leadership had insisted on the lowest possible price. He commented that it is impossible to produce a world-standard passport for only $1. Azerbaijani citizens are still using Soviet-era passports, whose the validity has been extended by the parliament. LF

AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER IN LEBANON

Hasan Hasanov met with his Lebanese counterpart, Fares Bweiz, Prime Minister Rafic Al-Hariri and President Elias al-Hrawi in Beirut on 19-20 November. The Central Committee of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) in Lebanon issued a statement criticizing remarks Hasanov made to Lebanese media, Asbarez-on-Line reported on 21 November. Hasanov was said to have argued that the Karabakh conflict is an international one between Armenia and Azerbaijan. He was also reported to have exaggerated the number of Azerbaijanis forced to flee their homes during the fighting. Hasanov's visit was the second stop in a Middle Eastern tour aimed at rapprochement with Syria and Lebanon. Armenia enjoys cordial relations with both those countries. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS TO STEP DOWN

Ruben Hakobian, the leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) in Armenia, and Gagik Mkrtchian, the editor of the Dashnak party paper "Hayots Ashkhar," have asked to be relieved of those posts, Noyan Tapan reported on 21 November. A senior Dashnak party member told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 22 November that Hakobian's decision was prompted by purely personal reasons. The Armenian press, however, speculates that his resignation reflects serious differences within the party over how to resolve the Karabakh conflict. LF

WORLD BANK AID FOR ARMENIA NOT LINKED TO POLITICS

Vahram Nersisiantz, the World Bank's representative in Armenia, told an RFE/RL correspondent in Yerevan on 21 November that the bank would not reconsider its loan programs for Armenia if the government refused to recognize Azerbaijan's sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Nersisiantz said the World Bank's future aid to Armenia will be contingent only on "economic and not political criteria." He praised the Armenian government for its policies of economic reform, arguing that they have largely been a success, despite "some minor drawbacks." In recent years, the World Bank has granted Yerevan more than $200 million in credits and low-interest loans. Most of the aid has been used for reconstructing the country's infrastructure and covering its budget deficit. LF

DOES ARMENIA HAVE A DRUG PROBLEM?

Ashot Mkrtchyan, the government official in charge of monitoring drug-related crimes, has warned that Armenia is a center and transit point for international drugs smuggling, Asbarez-on-Line reported on 21 November, citing Noyan Tapan. Mkrtchyan said 500 people are currently serving prison sentences for drug-related crimes and that the volume of drugs confiscated has increased by 30 times during the past four years. But an Italian police official who recently visited Yerevan and met with Prosecutor-General Genrik Khachatryan concluded that, unlike other countries in the region (which he did not name), the situation in Armenia gives no grounds for alarm, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 November. LF

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ASSESSES ABKHAZ TALKS

Irakli Menagharishvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 21 November that since the recent talks in Geneva on the Abkhaz conflict created the foundation for ongoing negotiations, those discussions should not be termed a failure, Russian media reported. Menagharishvili disclosed that the Abkhaz delegation rejected the Georgian proposal to strike from the agenda the question of Abkhazia's future political status. He denied that the Georgian leadership's disapproval of the Russian decision to import agricultural produce from Abkhazia would prompt Georgian foreign policymakers to give greater priority to relations with the U.S. Menagharishvili also denied that Russia's role in mediating the Abkhaz conflict is being eclipsed by the growing involvement of the UN Secretary-General's "Friends of Georgia" group. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT DISCUSSES HOSTAGE-TAKING WITH FRENCH AMBASSADOR

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met with the French ambassador to Tajikistan on 21 November to discuss the two French nationals still being held by unknown abductors, Interfax reported. Tajik authorities confirmed that there have been two phone calls demanding the release of Bahrom Sadirov in exchange for the hostages. On 24 November, 11 suspects were taken into custody in connection with the kidnapping, and Deputy Prime Minister Abdurahmon Azimov said the area where Rezvon Sadirov and his gang are located, some 30 kilometers east of Dushanbe, has been surrounded, ITAR-TASS reported. BP

THIEVES CAUGHT OUTSIDE BAIKONUR SPACE CENTER

Troops from Kazakhstan's National Security Committee and Interior Ministry apprehended a band of thieves as they were stealing sections of electric power lines near the Baikonur cosmodrome, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 November. The thieves used tractors to fell 46 pylons and were loading some 2 tons of the aluminum wire onto trucks when they were caught. All are unemployed and pleaded poverty. Local officials say they do not have the money to repair the damage. BP

TURKMENISTAN TO AUCTION OFF STATE ENTERPRISES

President Saparmurat Niyazov announced on 21 November that his country will hold auctions from January to March 1998 for 50 state-owned enterprises, ITAR-TASS reported. Half of those companies are in the textile sector, while others in the energy, industry, construction, and food and fruit industries will be among those going on the block. By the year 2000, Turkmenistan hopes to auction off a total of 350 such enterprises. BP




UKRAINE MOUNTS DEFENSE OF NATIONAL CURRENCY

The Ukrainian Central Bank on 21 November announced a series of measures to defend the hryvna after the currency slipped below its current float rate of 1.70 to 1.90 to the U.S. dollar, Ukrainian media reported. After the bank indicated that it would raise key interest rates and also increase the reserve requirements for banks, the hryvna rebounded from 1.97 to the U.S. dollar early in the day to close within its range at 1.883, ITAR-TASS reported. In another piece of news that may have helped the currency, Russia and Ukraine have agreed to work out procedures for eliminating value-added taxes on exports to each other. According to the "Wall Street Journal Europe" on 24 November, interest rates will be raised again, from 25 to 35 percent. PG

KYIV READY TO START WORK ON CLOSING CHERNOBYL

President Leonid Kuchma said on 22 November that the $37 million pledged at a recent conference in New York was enough, combined with the $350 million already committed, for work to begin on reconstructing the sarcophagus at Chornobyl, ITAR-TASS reported. Kuchma said that the work will begin "no later than in two years." But in an indication that this schedule may slip, Ukrainian media reported the same day that the nuclear power station at Zaporizhia has been temporarily shut down following the discovery of a leak in its cooling pipes. PG

LUKASHENKA SUPPORTERS, OPPONENTS RALLY IN MINSK

Between 2,500 and 3,000 members of the Patriotic Union of Youth staged a rally in Minsk on 23 November to mark the first anniversary of the referendum on amendments to the constitution that expanded the powers of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Almost twice that number of opposition supporters later marched through the city to demand the reinstatement of the parliament dissolved by Lukashenka one year earlier. The oppositionists carried the banned red-and-white national flag. LF

ESTONIA'S RUSSIAN SPEAKERS APPEAL TO PRESIDENT OVER LANGUAGE LAW

The Coordination Council of Russian-speakers' organizations in Estonia has appealed to President Lennart Meri not to proclaim amendments to the language law recently adopted by the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 1997). Under the amended law, the government is to determine language requirements for all those working in the services sector. The council argued that the amendments are aimed at curbing Russian-speakers' business activities and will hinder the integration of the Russian-speaking community, BNS reported on 21 November. JC

POLAND'S ANESTHETISTS SUSPEND NATIONWIDE PROTEST

Polish anesthetists have suspended their five-week protest after reaching a compromise agreement with the government whereby they will be allowed to work under special contracts, Reuters reported on 23 November. Health Minister Wojciech Maksymowicz said the agreement is the beginning of a reform of the health-care sector that will encompass all those who wish to contract their services, including doctors and nurses. Mariusz Piechota, the head of the anesthetists' trade union, said the agreement does not fully satisfy the union's demands but is the only one that is currently acceptable. The anesthetists' strike posed the first major challenge to Poland's new center-right government. JC

POLISH COURT CLEARS MARTIAL LAW POLICEMEN

Following a long trial in Katowice, a court cleared 22 ZOMO policemen who had shot nine striking coal miners in 1981 at the time of the imposition of martial law, PAP reported 21 November. The verdict, which confirms an earlier one reached before the collapse of communism in Poland, outraged many Poles. Former President and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa described it as "a scandal." PG

HAVEL DISCUSSES HIS POLITICAL FUTURE

Czech President Vaclav Havel, in his weekly radio address on 23 November, said he believes he would be able to carry out his presidential duties "normally" but noted that it is up to the parliament and his doctors to decide if he is fit for another term as president. Havel said he has asked his doctors to write a detailed report on the state of his health, which, he added, is expected to be completed by 5 December, CTK reported. MS

HUNGARY'S FREE DEMOCRATS HOLD CONGRESS

At its 23 November congress, the Alliance of Free Democrats announced that party chairman and Interior Minister Gabor Kuncze will be the party's candidate for prime minister in the 1998 parliamentary elections, Hungarian media reported. Minister of Culture Balazs Magyar said those elections will pit the ruling Socialist-Liberal coalition against the alliance of Independent Smallholders and Young Democrats. In other news, some 300 Roma in Szekesfehervar demonstrated against a local government decision to remove 13 Romani families from a dilapidated building to container homes. They were joined by writer Gyorgy Konrad and Socialist parliamentary deputy Ivan Vitanyi. MSZ




SLOVENES RE-ELECT KUCAN

President Milan Kucan easily won a second five-year term on 23 November. He took 55 percent of the vote in a field of eight candidates. Parliamentary speaker Janez Podobnik placed second, with 18 percent. Kucan said he will work to bring Slovenia into European institutions, particularly the EU and NATO. PM

BOSNIAN SERBS GO TO POLLS

Voters across the Republika Srpska went to the polls on 22 and 23 November to vote in an election aimed at breaking the power deadlock between President Biljana Plavsic and her hard-line rivals, led by Radovan Karadzic. Monitors from the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which supervised the vote, said that no major incidents were reported. Well over half of the eligible 1.1 million voters turned out to elect 83 legislators. A 50 percent turnout was necessary for the elections to be valid. Muslim and Croatian refugees were eligible to vote by absentee ballot. Results will not be announced for two weeks in order to allow enough time for mail votes from abroad to be received and counted. PM

CROATIAN UNION THREATENS DOCK STRIKE

Leaders of the dock workers' union said on 22 November that union members will strike in Ploce, Split, Zadar, Sibenik, and Rijeka if the government agrees to lease the port of Ploce to Bosnia for 30 years, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the port city. Union leaders said that leasing the port would violate Croatian sovereignty. The U.S. government recommended the leasing arrangement to break the deadlock between Zagreb over the use of Ploce, which is Croatian territory but Bosnia's natural outlet to the sea. PM

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES AMENDMENTS

The lower house on 21 November approved a package of constitutional amendments that President Franjo Tudjman proposed at the beginning of the month. The upper house has already passed the measures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1997). One provision bans Croatian membership in any new Yugoslavia or Balkan regional grouping of states. PM

CROATIA WANTS UN POLICE IN SLAVONIA

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement in Zagreb on 21 November calling for UN police to remain in eastern Slavonia after that area is fully reintegrated into Croatia on 15 January. The statement added that Zagreb fears "possible incidents and provocations and attempts to blame the Croatian side for such unacceptable acts.... [The Croatian government thus] thinks that a [UN] monitoring presence could be useful and could also be a clear message to all rabble-rousers to refrain from obstructing the completion of peaceful reintegration." PM

SOROS ORGANIZATION BLASTS CROATIAN GOVERNMENT

The Open Society Institute (OSI) issued a statement in New York on 21 November slamming a Zagreb court ruling the previous day that convicted two leading employees of OSI's Zagreb branch of tax fraud. The statement said that "Croatia has distinguished itself as the first state in the former communist world to criminalize the work of our foundations. It is now unmistakably clear that a systematic campaign is being directed from the highest levels of the state to drive independent organizations out of Croatia." PM

KOSOVARS TO VOTE

A spokesman for the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the main ethnic Albanian political organization in that Serbian-ruled province, said on 22 November that LDK leader and shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova will call parliamentary and presidential elections before the end of the year, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Pristina. The LDK's claim to be the leading Kosovar political organization has been challenged recently by critics who argue that its tactics of passive resistance and seeking foreign support have led nowhere (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 1997). PM

ALBANIA PLEDGES CRACKDOWN ON MIGRANTS

Interior Minister Neritan Ceka said in Tirana on 22 November that the authorities will soon draft and pass legislation regulating private boat ownership and maritime traffic. He added that four Italian ships will help patrol Albania's coast and discourage illegal migrants from sailing to Italy, "Koha Jone" reported. Italian coast guards rescued 11 Albanians in a damaged speed boat in the Adriatic on 21 November but also found five bodies in the water. Albanian police said that another 17 people may have drowned when a second vessel sank. Italian police in Brindisi on 22 November arrested a 26-year-old man, whom they believe to be the organizer of the latest wave of illegal migration, "Zeri i Popullit" reported. FS

MORE ARMS SMUGGLING FROM ALBANIA TO GREECE

A Greek army patrol seized an Albanian smuggling anti-tank missiles across the border on 22 November. The Greeks confiscated the weapons, but the smuggler fled back into Albania. Meanwhile in the central Albanian town of Rrogozhina, masked gunmen killed Artur Murrani, a local Democratic Party politician. A Democratic Party statement in Tirana accused the governing Socialists of being behind the attack. Socialist spokesmen denied the charges. PM

ROMANIA DROPS BID TO REHABILITATE ANTONESCU CABINET MEMBERS

Prosecutor-General Sorin Moisescu on 22 November announced his office is halting the judicial procedure for the rehabilitation of members of Marshal Ion Antonescu's wartime cabinet. The decision came in the wake of protest in the U.S. against that procedure. Two days after Moisescu had said "collective responsibility" did not apply to those about to be rehabilitated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 1997), his office issued a statement saying that a "re-examination" of the case had concluded that "collective political rather than administrative responsibility" does apply to seven out of the eight former ministers. The exception is Toma Petre Ghitulescu, who resigned from Antonescu's government in May 1941, before it stepped up its anti-Jewish policies and joined Nazi Germany's campaign against the Soviet Union. MS

SPLIT AMONG ROMANIAN EXTREME NATIONALISTS IN OFFING...

Meeting in Cluj on 22 November, members of the National Council of the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) who back former party chairman Gheorghe Funar invalidated the PUNR's decision in early November to expel Funar from the party. The meeting, attended by 128 of the council's 243 members, also suspended PUNR chairman Valeriu Tabara and 11 other council members and announced an extraordinary PUNR national convention in Cluj on 29 November, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. PUNR Executive Secretary Valentin Iliescu said the Cluj gathering's decisions were illegal and contravened party statutes. He added that the statutory National Council will meet on 29 November in Bucharest, adding that a split in the PUNR cannot be ruled out. MS

...WHILE MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY STEPS INTO THE BREACH

The leadership of the main opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), meeting in the Transylvanian town of Sfantu Gheorghe on 21 November, announced that nationalism is to be given "priority" in the party's "political discourse." The party noted that its nationalist policies are "constructive" and not identical with the "extremist positions" of the PUNR and the Greater Romania Party, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The PDSR said it will rally all citizens to the defense of the "national, unitary, sovereign, and independent" character of the Romanian state. It added that it wants the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania to "clarify its positions" on the issue of autonomy for ethnic Hungarians. MS

RUSSIAN CIS MINISTER WRAPS UP MOLDOVAN VISIT

Russian Minister for CIS Affairs Anatolii Adamishin told journalists in Chisinau on 21 November that while all the military arsenal stationed in Moldova is Russian property, Moscow is ready to make a "good-will gesture" and share with Chisinau and Tiraspol the profits from selling part of that arsenal, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He said trilateral negotiations should begin immediately to find a formula for sharing those profits. He also stressed that the transfer of the weapons to either Chisinau or Tiraspol was "out of the question." Adamishin said Tiraspol's fears for its security after the Russian withdrawal are "exaggerated" but a solution must be found to appease the separatists. Negotiating the region's special status remains the most difficult problem, he added. MS

EU EXTENDS LOAN TO BULGARIA

Bulgarian National Bank governor Svetoslav Gavriiski told journalists on 21 November that the EU has agreed to extend $285 million to support Bulgaria's balance of payments, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Gavriiski spoke after returning from a meeting in Brussels with a joint EU, World Bank and G-24 consultative group. Participants in the meeting praised Bulgaria's recent progress on economic reforms. MS

BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY LAUNCHES CORRUPTION PROBE

Deputy Interior Minister Bozhidar Popov on 21 November told an international conference on corruption in Sofia that some 100 state employees are currently under investigation on suspicion of corruption. Most of them work in the customs services and the Interior Ministry. Popov also said that the Bulgarian authorities are investigating some bankers suspected of involvement in money laundering. MS




ALBANIA'S GOVERNMENT: CONFUSION, INCOMPETENCE, AND LACK OF VISION


by Fabian Schmidt

Four months after the Albanian government took office and pledged to carry out administrative restructuring, international observers and advisers in Tirana are becoming increasingly impatient with the pace of reform. True, the elections in June proceeded peacefully and the government managed to quickly reestablish public order. But fear is now growing that the government will display the same incompetence and corruption as did its predecessor. If that proved the case, it is unlikely that the authorities would be able to solve the country's daunting economic problems.

The tiny elite of foreign-trained specialists in top government positions appears committed to change and is working hard to achieve that aim. But the government is not only nearly paralyzed because of a huge budget deficit; it is also under pressure from various lobby groups that are demanding small favors. Local government bodies are largely antagonistic toward the center because most mayors are from the opposition Democratic Party. Few Albanians, moreover, fully trust the judiciary, which has been a politicized institution throughout its history.

But the biggest obstacles to reform are probably the political cultural ones. Many state employees, from lowly clerks to high-ranking officials, lack a sense of duty and commitment. Many state officials at various levels display little concern either for the work ethic or the responsibilities of their office. Such an attitude have roots in the Ottoman era and account for the low productivity of much of the administration. Another problem is that government salaries are low, compared with those of international organizations, NGOs, or even some local newspapers, which prompts many qualified people not to take government jobs. Poor remuneration also makes the administration vulnerable to corruption.

The biggest dilemma for the government is how to restructure the administration. On the one hand, there is a pressing need to fire many incompetent employees, downsize the administration, and hire fewer but better qualified people. On the other, leading officials of the Socialist-led government know they must not appear to be conducting political purges of Democrats while bringing back communist-era specialists.

Some observers feel that a political purge has indeed begun. The Socialist Party rank-and-file are a strong pressure group demanding that the still strongly centralized government create jobs for them in the administration. Often the cabinet gives in, contributing to a perception of the government as "patron," as is customary in the Balkans. As was the case when the Democrats were in power, many Socialist Party members now appear to consider the state their property, not that of society as a whole.

Owing to a lack of tradition of civil society, most people are disinclined to fight for their interests outside the system of political parties and the patronage of those groups. Few are willing to organize themselves at the grass-roots level, to start local initiatives, or to defend their interests against either the government or big businesses. That passive attitude has been instilled by decades of authoritarian or totalitarian rule, during which people were unable to fight for their rights.

Another burden of the past is that many people associate any form of joint effort with communist collectivism and are thus reluctant to pool their resources for the common good. Agricultural productivity is stunted by the recent proliferation of dwarf holdings and unwillingness among peasants to form agricultural cooperatives. Thus, agriculture, which is potentially a source of wealth, remains underdeveloped. The peasants lack the necessary vision or leadership to help make the country more prosperous.

Both vision and leadership are also frequently absent in some government institutions, including state-run media. Politicians talk enthusiastically about transforming state radio and television as well as the news agency ATA into public corporations, like those throughout much of Europe. A new law regulating broadcasting is being drafted, but for the time being, nothing has changed. State radio and television do not even have a separate news room, while ATA still has its communist-era statutes. Until recently, no one seemed to have noticed that the news agency still obliges journalists to conduct "communist agitation and propaganda."

The author is a Balkan specialist based in Tirana.


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