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Newsline - December 3, 1997




YELTSIN SAYS RUSSIA READY TO CUT TROOPS ON NORTHWESTERN BORDER...

President Boris Yeltsin has said that Russia is ready to unilaterally cut its land and naval forces in the northwest of the country by more than 40 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin, who was addressing the Swedish parliament on 3 December, said the reductions would take place by 1 January 1997. He did not say, however, exactly how many troops would be cut or which areas would be affected. Yeltsin also proposed introducing "a regime of confidence" in the Baltic region. He said Russia wants "a border of peace, not strife" with its Baltic neighbors. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia all rejected Russia's recent offer of security guarantees, while Sweden has said it does not support the initiative. According to Yeltsin in his address to the Swedish parliament, only the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe can serve as the basis for a sound security system in Europe. JG

...MAKES SURPRISE STATEMENT ON NUCLEAR WARHEADS

The previous day, Yeltsin had announced at a press conference in the Swedish capital that Russia will unilaterally reduce its nuclear warheads by another third. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii explained later that Yeltsin was simply proposing to go beyond reductions already discussed with the U.S. in preliminary talks on a START III treaty. Under the START II treaty, Russia and the U.S. agreed to cut their strategic nuclear arsenals to some 3,500 warheads each by 2000. That treaty still has to be ratified by the Russian parliament. U.S State Department spokesman James Rubin responded that while Washington would welcome unilateral reductions in Russia's nuclear arsenal, the main item on the U.S.-Russian arms control agenda is the Russian parliament's ratification of START II. JG

RUSSIA, SWEDEN AGREE TO RESTRUCTURE SOVIET DEBT

Also on 2 December, Yeltsin and Swedish Premier Goran Persson attended the signing of several agreements, including one on restructuring the former Soviet Union's debt to Sweden, Russian news agencies reported. Russia is repaying that debt, which is estimated at $50 million. Other agreements were on fighting money-laundering and tax evasion, closer cooperation between the two countries' Justice Ministries, and cooperation in space research and nuclear energy. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who is accompanying Yeltsin, met with Swedish Finance Minister Erik Asbrink and called on Swedish businessmen to increase their investments in the Russian economy, ITAR- TASS reported. Yeltsin's visit to Sweden is the first by a Russian head of state since 1909. JG

RUSSIA, WESTERN CREDITOR BANKS CONCLUDE LANDMARK DEAL

Russia and its Western creditor banks concluded a landmark $32.3 billion deal on 2 December. Andrei Kostin, the chairman of state-owned Vneshekonombank, told a news conference in London that Russia considers the London Club deal another step toward the stabilization of Russia's financial situation and increased investments. He added that Russia can now look forward to an improved credit rating in the first quarter of next year. Meanwhile in Moscow, IMF representative Martin Gilman said the Russian government needs to do more to expedite the release of a $700 million loan from the fund, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that a decision on issuing the delayed loan would not be taken until February. On 1 December, the Central Bank had issued a statement saying it expects the IMF to release the loan by the end of the month following the government's new fiscal measures. JG

RUSSIA EXTENDS BAN ON EXPORT OF LAND MINES

The presidential press service announced on 2 December that Russia has extended its moratorium on the export of land mines for another five years, Interfax reported. The extension of the ban was decreed by Yeltsin. In October, the president had said Russia supports a world ban on anti- personnel land mines and that he does not rule out being among the signatories of such a treaty at the international conference in Ottawa, which began on 2 December. The Kremlin, however, said no date has been set for Russia's accession to the treaty. JG

67 PEOPLE KILLED IN KEMEROVO MINE BLAST

The Emergencies Ministry has announced that a methane gas explosion killed 67 people in a southern Siberian mine on 2 December, Russian news agencies reported. The blast occurred in the Zyryanovskaya mine in Kemerovo Oblast, but its cause was not immediately known. The blast is said to be Russia's worst mining disaster in decades. Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev said it indicates the critical plight of the regional coal industry. JG

RUSSIA TO FILE SPY CHARGES AGAINST U.S. CITIZEN

Aleksandr Zdanovich, a spokesman for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), said on 2 December that Russia will file espionage charges against U.S. citizen Richard Bliss, Interfax reported. Zdanovich said that if convicted, Bliss faces between 10 and 20 years in prison. The FSB announced on 1 December that Bliss was detained the previous week in Rostov Oblast after he had been found taking land surveys of "sensitive sites" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1997). JG

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS CIS CRIME RATE HAS DOUBLED

Russia's Yurii Skuratov said on 2 December that the number of crimes committed in CIS member states has almost doubled over the past five to seven years, ITAR- TASS reported. Skuratov was speaking at a meeting in Moscow of CIS law-enforcement officials. Also on 2 December, a Russian Interior Ministry official said a total of 150 people were killed and some 470 injured in bomb explosions throughout Russia so far this year. Major- General Igor Khromov, the deputy chief of the ministry's criminal investigations department, told a Moscow news conference that the number of bombings increased from 185 to 740 over the past five years. JG

SKURATOV ON DEMAND FOR STANKEVICH'S EXTRADITION

Also on 2 December, Prosecutor-General Skuratov said Russia will take "appropriate measures" if Poland does not fulfill the Russian authorities' demand to extradite former Moscow Deputy Mayor Sergei Stankevich, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. He did not, however, specify what those measures would be. Skuratov said Russia will continue to insist that Stankevich be extradited, despite a recent Warsaw court decision that Stankevich is not liable for extradition under Polish law. "I do not think Poland wants to become a safe haven for international criminals," Interfax quoted Skuratov as saying. Stankevich is accused of bribe-taking. JG

YUGOSLAV FEDERAL PRIME MINISTER IN MOSCOW

Radoje Kontic arrived in Moscow on 2 December for a three-day official visit, ITAR-TASS said. Before leaving for Moscow, Kontic told reporters he expects trade turnover between Yugoslavia and Russia to triple by the end of the century, reaching $3-3.5 billion . Kontic and his Russian counterpart, Viktor Chernomyrdin, are expected to sign an agreement whereby Russia will extend a credit for federal Yugoslavia to buy Russian goods worth $150 million. They are also expected to sign several cooperation accords and to discuss a wide range of international issues, including implementation of the Dayton peace accords. JG

CHINESE GENERALS VISIT RUSSIAN WARSHIP

Six Chinese generals, led by the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese Armed Forces Xiong Guangkoi, have inspected the Russian destroyer "Admiral Vinogradov," ITAR-TASS reported on 3 December. The vessel is currently docked in Vladivostok, the headquarters of the Russian Navy's Pacific Fleet Command. The Chinese used the opportunity to discuss further military cooperation, including joint naval exercises. China has shown great interest in purchasing Russian naval military technology, such as destroyers and submarines. BP

CHECHEN PARLIAMENT OVERRULES PRESIDENTIAL VETO

The Chechen parliament on 2 December overruled President Aslan Maskhadov's veto of its October ruling that all Chechen officials who held power under pro- Moscow President Doku Zavgaev must be fired by 1 January 1998, Interfax reported. On three occasions, the parliament has postponed a vote on Maskhadov's request for expanded powers enabling him to rule by decree. Also on 2 December, Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev announced he plans to visit Chechnya later in December. But his Chechen counterpart, Ruslan Alikhadzhiev, told ITAR- TASS that Seleznev will not be admitted if he insists Chechnya is still a subject of the Russian Federation. LF

DUMA DEPUTY CONDEMNS "GUAM-2."

Speaking at a press conference in St. Petersburg on 2 December, Colonel-General Eduard Vorobev, a member of the State Duma Defense Committee, said the alignment of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova "cannot be seen as a friendly gesture toward Russia," Interfax reported. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev had said on 25 November that the new union "is not directed against anyone." But Vorobev claimed it aims to further the "military and strategic" interests of the four member countries. LF



OPERATION AGAINST TAJIK TERRORISTS CONTINUES...

Tajik government security forces are continuing their operation against a terrorist group responsible for several kidnappings, despite the death of the group's leader, Rezvon Sadirov. The government wants to eliminate the group and free 12-15 hostages believed to be held by the outlaws. Authorities in Dushanbe believe that among the hostages are the two sons of the head mufti of Tajikistan, who were kidnapped in the summer. BP

...WHILE GOVERNMENT SAYS FOREIGNERS SAFE

Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Abdurahmon Azimov on 2 December told diplomats and heads of international organizations that they need not worry for their or their co-workers' safety, ITAR-TASS reported. Azimov said there is now a "90 percent probability" that there will be no repetition of the recent hostage-taking incident in which one French woman was killed. Security Minister Saidamir Zuhurov, however, noted that "bandit groups" may be among repatriated United Tajik Opposition members and even representatives of Tajikistan's law enforcement agencies in Dushanbe. The next day, the UN observer mission in Tajikistan announced it is operating as normal. BP

ONE AZAMAT LEADER FINED IN ALMATY...

Murat Auezov, the co-chairman of Kazakhstan's Azamat movement, was fined 2,480 tenge ($33) by a district court on 2 December for "organizing and participating in an unauthorized rally," Interfax reported. Azamat called for the 30 November demonstration in front of the Kazakh parliament building to protest the government's "arbitrary rule " (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1997). BP

...WHILE ANOTHER BEATEN IN BISHKEK

Peter Svoik, also a co-chairman of the Azamat movement, was beaten in a hotel room in the Kyrgyz capital on 1 December, RFE/RL corespondents in Bishkek and Almaty reported. Four masked men entered Svoik's room, hit the Kazakh politician on the head, and also injured his wife. Svoik was in Bishkek to attend a conference on "Democratic Changes in Central Asia." Several of Kazakhstan's opposition movements and parties have sent a protest letter to the Kyrgyz embassy in Kazakhstan. BP

SHELL CHOSEN TO HEAD TURKMEN PIPELINE CONSORTIUM

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov met with Royal Dutch Shell President John Parsley on 2 December in Ashgabat, ITAR-TASS reported. Niyazov proposed that Parsley's company form a consortium to build a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran. The British-Dutch company's president agreed to head such a consortium. The results of France's Sofregaz company feasibility study on the project are expected to be made available by year's end. BP

GEORGIAN WARLORD TO BOYCOTT TRIAL

Djaba Ioseliani, the leader of the banned Georgian paramilitary formation Mkhedrioni, has refused to attend further sessions of his trial on charges of terrorism and attempting to assassinate then parliamentary chairman Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995, Interfax reported on 2 December. In a letter addressed to the chairmen of the Supreme Court and the parliamentary Commission on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Ioseliani said the requirement that he and the other 14 defendants sit in steel cages during the court proceedings constitutes "arbitrary rule and a tragic farce." LF

TBILISI-BATUMI TENSIONS INCREASE

Adjar Supreme Soviet Chairman Aslan Abashidze has declared his intention to institute criminal proceedings against Rostom Dolidze, the chairman of the Georgian parliamentary committee on procedures, Caucasus Press reported on 3 December. In October, former Batumi Mayor Temur Kharrazi accused both Dolidze and parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, Dolidze of conspiring to oust Abashidze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 October 1997). But Anzor Tsutsunava, the chairman of the Georgian parliamentary commission created to investigate those accusations, told Caucasus Press that the Adjar Prosecutor's Office is not empowered to start proceedings against Dolizde and Zhvania. Dolidze complained on 2 December that the investigative commission has failed to demonstrate that Kharrazi's charges were fabricated. LF

ESTONIAN, GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKERS MEET

Estonian parliamentary speaker Toomas Savi and his Georgian counterpart, Zurab Zhvania, signed a cooperation agreement in Tbilisi on 2 December, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Savi told journalists later that Georgia has "great economic potential," adding that he is certain Georgia will soon become a member of the EU. Zhvania again charged that Georgia's relations with Russia are reverting to the level of a "Cold War" owing to Moscow's failure to expedite a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. He suggested that Georgia may reconsider its membership in the CIS, which, he said, has failed to bring "anything positive." LF

ARMENIA'S MANUKYAN SAYS DEMOCRACY KEY TO KARABAKH CONFLICT

National Democratic Union chairman and former presidential candidate Vazgen Manukyan told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 2 December that democratization and public trust in the government, together with a strong army, will help Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to secure a "just solution" to the Karabakh conflict. Speaking about his recent visit to South America (where an estimated 100,000 ethnic Armenians live), Manukyan said he was primarily interested in those countries' peaceful transition to democracy after decades of military rule. He said their experience is very useful for Armenia, which "has retreated from democracy since 1991." LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION REJECTS PRESIDENT'S CRITICISM

Spokesmen for Azerbaijan's three leading opposition parties have taken issue with President Heidar Aliev's statements at a 29 November meeting, Turan reported three days later. Aliyev accused the opposition of "hostility" and called for the "normalization" of relations between the leadership and the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1997). Azerbaijan Popular Front Deputy Chairman Mirmahmud Fattaev noted that Abulfaz Elchibey, the front's chairman, recently called for establishing "civil peace" in Azerbaijan. Fattaev said the present Azerbaijani leadership is a "guarantee not of democracy but its suffocation." Party of National Independence Secretary-General Elshad Musaev said it is "abnormal" that the Azerbaijani leadership is ready for talks with Armenia but not with its own opposition. And Musavat Party secretary Sulhaddin Akper charged that, contrary to Aliev's assertion, it is the leadership, not the opposition, that demonstrates hostility. LF




CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS WANT NEW ELECTIONS

Stanislav Gross, the parliamentary faction leader of the main opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD), announced on 2 December that his group has worked out a draft providing for new elections no later than 30 June, CTK reported. CSSD leader Milos Zeman told Czech Radio that he will meet President Vaclav Havel on 5 December to inform him about the bill. He said he believes Havel will agree to new elections when he realizes that trying to form a new coalition government is "more difficult than trying to wake up Vladimir Ilich Lenin." Outgoing Finance Minister Ivan Pilip said that the chances of rebuilding the collapsed coalition are fading but that the possibility cannot yet be ruled out. MS

HAVEL TO REPLACE KLAUS AT EU SUMMIT

A presidential spokesman announced on 2 December that Havel will head the Czech delegation to the EU summit in Luxembourg on 13 December in place of outgoing Premier Vaclav Klaus. The spokesman said Havel consulted his doctors before taking that decision. On 13-14 December, Klaus will be attending an extraordinary congress of his Civic Democratic Party, which is to decide on the future of the party's leadership. MS

UKRAINE WON'T SIGN LAND-MINE CONVENTION--FOR NOW

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Viktor Nagaichuk said on 2 December that Kyiv will not sign the land-mine convention in Ottawa, Interfax reported. But he added that Ukraine's decision was motivated by a lack of money with which to comply rather than by opposition to the ban on land mines. Nagaichuk noted that Ukraine might accede to the agreement sometime in the future. PG

BELARUS, RUSSIA AGREE TO INCREASE JOINT EXPENDITURES

Following a one-day summit in Minsk on 2 December, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his Belarusian counterpart, Sergey Ling, announced they have agreed to spend $10.2 million in 1998 to promote the integration of their countries, ITAR-TASS reported. But they did not specify how those funds would be used. PG

ESTONIAN OPPOSITION REJECTS GOVERNMENT OFFER

The opposition has rejected the government's offer to allocate 109 million kroons ($7.3 million) from next year's budget to finance a wage hike for teachers, ETA reported on 2 December. The two sides are due to meet again on 3 December in a bid to hammer out a compromise over the draft budget, which the opposition brought into imbalance by voting in a 200 million kroon allocation for the country's teachers. Under Estonian law, the budget must be balanced. JC

RIGA AUTHORITIES QUERY REPORT ON STREET KIDS

Child protection and education authorities are calling into question a recent report claiming some 30,000 children live on the streets of the Latvian capital and engage in "begging, stealing, and prostitution," BNS reported on 2 December. Some officials suggest that a more accurate number would be 200 and say that nongovernmental institutions may have given inflated figures in a bid to receive funding. The report, published in mid-November in the Norwegian newspaper "Aftenpost," was drawn up by a group of parliamentary deputies from the Nordic states. JC

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES 1998 BUDGET

Lawmakers in Vilnius have approved next year's budget, which foresees revenues totaling 6.89 billion litas ($1.72 billion) and expenditures 7.58 billion litas ($1.89 billion), BNS reported on 2 December. The budget deficit is estimated at 1.6 percent of GDP. Finance Minister Algirdas Semeta argued that the budget will be more socially oriented than in previous years. He also promised that corporate and income taxes will not be raised, although there will be increases in taxes on alcohol, fuel, and tobacco. JC

WALESA PARTY REGISTERS IN POLAND

Lech Walesa, former Solidarity leader and ex-president, has officially registered his Christian Democratic Party of the Third Republic, PAP reported on 2 December. Walesa has said his party will seek to generate support among the nearly 50 percent of voters who did not participate in the last elections rather than to challenge Solidarity Electoral Action for the votes it received. The registration of his party suggests, however, that Walesa may in fact run in the next presidential elections. PG

HUNGARY, BOSNIA CONCLUDE TRADE AGREEMENT

Hungarian Industry and Trade Minister Szabolcs Fazakas and Edham Bicakcic, the premier of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Federation, met in Budapest on 2 December and signed a trade agreement that could lead to Hungarian investments in Bosnia totaling several hundred million dollars, Hungarian media reported. Fazakas said the agreement would increase Hungarian exports to Bosnia from the current $100 million a year to $200 million or more in the future. The two leaders also discussed building a "superhighway" to connect Budapest and the Adriatic Sea via Sarajevo. MSZ




MILUTINOVIC REMAINS FIRM ON "SERB JERUSALEM."

Serbian presidential candidate and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic said in Pec on 2 December that Serbia will never give up Kosovo. "Kosovo is the Jerusalem of all Serbs, who will never be a minority in their own country. The [Albanian] separatists had better understand this. We will never allow anybody to interfere in the Kosovo issue or in our internal affairs. Kosovo is our land and will not be the subject of bargaining with anybody." Milutinovic is the candidate of a coalition led by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. France and Germany recently called upon Serbia to grant autonomy to the mainly ethnic Albanian province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 December 1997). PM

SESELJ FEARS ELECTORAL FRAUD

Vojislav Seselj, the presidential candidate of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, said in Kosovska Mitrovica on 2 December that he expects to beat Milutinovic "without any problem." Seselj added, however, that he fears vote rigging in the 7 December vote, BETA news agency reported. He charged that the absence of a central body to coordinate voting lists has enabled some people to register in more than one place and that there are consequently 500,000 more names on the voting rolls than there should be. Seselj narrowly defeated Milosevic's candidate Zoran Lilic in the 21 September presidential vote, which was declared invalid because of insufficient turnout. PM

KOSOVO KIDNAPPING NOT POLITICAL?

The recent kidnapping of a high-ranking Serbian police official in Kosovo was the work of Serbian criminals who wanted to hold their victim for a large ransom, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 2 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1997). The criminals released their victim in Belgrade once they realized that he was not the man they had wanted to kidnap. Many observers had assumed the kidnapping was the work of ethnic Albanian guerrillas, who have claimed responsibility for an increasing number of acts of violence against Serbian officials and pro-Serbian Albanians this year. PM

WEU WANTS NEW BOSNIA FORCE

The parliamentary assembly of the West European Union on 2 December called on WEU officials to set up a new peacekeeping force for Bosnia when SFOR's mandate runs out in June 1998. The legislators argued that the new force should have a mandate of at least three to five years and work together with U.S. and Russian peacekeepers, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. The assembly also called on the WEU to set up a police force for Bosnia on the model of European police units that have served in Mostar and Albania. The legislators suggested that the WEU police unit could eventually replace the UN police currently serving in Bosnia. PM

MUSLIMS, CROATS AGREE ON REFUGEE RETURN

Top officials of the mainly Muslim and Croat federation agreed in Sarajevo on 2 December that some 120,000 Muslim and Croat refugees may return to 156 villages in central Bosnia under the control of the other nationality. The federal government will make $3 million available for the project, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo. In Mostar, a UN police spokesman said that Croatian authorities the previous week sacked three Croatian government officials who are married to Muslims. One of the three has since returned to work after proving that a close relative of his died fighting the Muslims in the Croatian army during the 1993 Croatian-Muslim war, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Mostar. PM

CRACKDOWN ON MUSLIM EXTREMISTS IN BOSNIA

A UN police spokesman said in Sarajevo on 2 December that federal police arrested "a number" of people in central Bosnia the previous week. He added, however, that the purpose and scope of the apparent crackdown are unclear. Local media reported recently that the arrests are part of a crackdown on foreign and Bosnian Islamic militants allegedly responsible for several armed incidents against local Croats in recent months. Western news agencies added that police found two arms caches and are investigating possible links between the extremists and senior Bosnian government officials. PM

SLOVENIA, EU LAUNCH $20 MILLION PROJECT

Representatives of the EU and Slovenia announced in Brussels on 2 December a $20 million program to help integrate Slovenia into the EU. The EU feels that Slovenia has made rapid progress in its transition to a market economy and no longer needs assistance to promote privatization or restructuring. The new project will focus on bringing Slovenian laws into line with EU standards as well as on promoting investments in small businesses and in environmental protection. Meanwhile in Ljubljana, electoral officials confirmed that President Milan Kucan was re-elected in the 23 November election with 55.5 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1997). PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLED

Premier Victor Ciorbea on 2 December replaced one-third of the cabinet's members, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Daniel Daianu, chief economist of the National Bank, took over the Finance Ministry from Mircea Ciumara, who is now minister of industry and commerce. Valentin Ionescu, a former presidential counselor, is head of the newly established Privatization Ministry, while Ilie Serbanescu, a well known journalist specializing in economic affairs and a frequent contributor to RFE/RL's programs, is minister of reform. Andrei Marga, the dean of Cluj university, takes over the education portfolio. MS

ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER WARNS NEW GOVERNMENT

Also on 2 December, Ciorbea told journalists in Bucharest that from now on, cabinet members will have to stop "acting like stars." He said differences of opinion must be solved within the government and not in the press, with ministers criticizing one another publicly. He added that those displaying "political infantilism" will either "find themselves out of the government" or he will submit his resignation, bringing down the entire cabinet. The failure to act as a unified team was one of the main reasons for the difficulties encountered by the government until now, Ciorbea commented. The premier noted that although he is not required to do so by the law, he will ask the parliament to approve the cabinet reshuffle on 4 December.

UKRAINIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO TRANSDNIESTER?

A Ukrainian peacekeeping unit will soon be stationed in the Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 2 December, citing the Russian-language pro-governmental daily "Nezavisimaya Moldova." The daily said that Russia, which previously opposed the stationing of the Ukrainian troops, has changed its position following the recent visit to Chisinau and Tiraspol of Russian Minister for CIS Affairs Anatolii Adamishin. The newspaper also commented that separatist leader Igor Smirnov hopes that the presence of the Ukrainian peace-keepers will result in a competition for influence in the Transdniester between Moscow and Kyiv. Moldovan presidential adviser Anatol Taranu, who heads the Chisinau team in the parleys with Tiraspol, said Moldova is ready to accept the Ukrainian contingent in order to "once more demonstrate its good will and readiness to accept a compromise." MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER SEEKS CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

Ivan Kostov on 2 December said the constitution should be amended to make judges and prosecutors more accountable, Reuters reported. Under the present system, they are immune from prosecution and discipline even if they fail to fulfill their duties. Moreover, their appointment cannot be revoked. Kostov suggested that constitution be amended to make it possible for the Supreme Judicial Council to discipline magistrates if necessary. MS




MISUSE OF MEDIA LAWS IN POST SOVIET STATES


by Yasha Lange

The countries of the former Soviet Union have all adopted constitutions that contain such pious phrases as "everyone is guaranteed the right to free expression of one's own views and ideas." In reality, media freedom remains a distant prospect in some of those countries. Laws alone cannot change that state of affairs. Worse, laws sometimes limit, rather than safeguard, freedom of expression.

Laws on defamation--or "harming the reputation of citizens"--are such examples. In addition, there are the provisions of the press law itself (on the obligations of journalists), of the civil code (on the protection of the dignity and reputation of citizens), and/or of the criminal code (on punishment for insulting officials or for slander).

Azerbaijan has a special law "on the honor and dignity of the president," which provides for the punishment of those damaging the reputation of the head of state. The Ukrainian law "on the protection of the dignity and business reputation" of legal entities and individuals allows those subjects to appeal to a court to demand the retraction of, or compensation for, allegedly defamatory or inaccurate information.

While adequate libel laws are clearly necessary, no country needs overly broad legislation protecting the reputation of officials or the head of state. On the contrary, the European Court for Human Rights has ruled that public figures (meaning politicians, among others) cannot expect the same protection as the public at large and will inevitably come under greater scrutiny.

In the former Soviet Union, however, legislation on defamation has all too often been used by state bodies, officials, and individuals to sue local media outlets. Those outlets have regularly had to pay very high fines. Recent findings shows that the majority of legal proceedings against the media in the former Soviet republics are for defamation.

Then there are legal provisions that place restrictions on the media in order to ensure the country's security. Such provisions typically state that the media are forbidden to disclose state secrets, to call for the overthrow of the existing state, or to propagate war or racial, national, or religious intolerance. True, the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 10.2) also curtails the activities of the media in the interests of national security. However, those restrictions are not nearly as far-reaching as some in the former Soviet Union.

Belarus, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, for example, have a special law on classified materials. The Ukrainian law states that all information pertaining to defense, the economy, foreign relations, national security, and the safekeeping of law and order constitutes a state secret. That law also lists various subjects that must remain classified in order not to endanger Ukraine's vital interests. In Azerbaijan, two decrees "on temporary military censorship" and a parliamentary resolution provide a long list of materials deemed to contain state and military secrets.

In those four countries, as well as in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, such provisions have been subject to opportunistic interpretation and have resulted in hefty fines for some media outlets. Control has also been imposed over media output.

At the same time, one law is conspicuously absent in the countries of the former Soviet Union, except for Moldova, Ukraine, and the Baltics: namely, one governing the electronic media, in particular, licensing procedures and frequency distribution. For want of such a law, some governments (including Russia's) have issued decrees on the licensing of private broadcasting outlets and the transmission of their programs. However, the lack of a sound regulatory framework remains an obstacle to the development of independent broadcasting in many post Soviet states.

Independent media oversight bodies could play an important role, but as yet, they are markedly absent throughout the region. The relevant authorities are directly subordinated either to the president or the government, while the executive branch reserves for itself major decision-making powers over media issues. Regime loyalists are appointed to positions of power in ministries, on committees, and within the state-owned media. There are virtually no non-political appointments.

An independent judiciary could also play a valuable role. However, most legal proceedings involving journalists or media outlets are libel cases in which the press is the defendant. Rarely do journalists or media outlets appeal administrative decisions (such as not to grant a license), undue interference by the authorities, or insufficient access to information. That state of affairs indicates a lack of confidence in the effectiveness and independence of the judiciary. It also suggests that most journalists in the former Soviet Union do not believe it is possible to successfully sue government officials or challenge their decisions. The author is project manager for the East-West Cooperation Program of the European Institute for the Media in Dusseldorf, Germany.


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