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Newsline - February 10, 1998


President Boris Yeltsin and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi on 10 February signed a "plan of action" for Russian-Italian cooperation, an RFE/RL correspondent in Rome reported. The plan calls for bilateral cooperation over the next 10-15 years in various spheres, including aviation, space travel, telecommunications, and conversion of the defense industry, Interfax reported on 9 February. Several agreements between Russian and Italian companies are to be signed during Yeltsin's visit to Rome, his first foreign trip since he was hospitalized for two weeks in December. Italy is Russia's second-largest European trading partner, after Germany. Shortly after arriving in Rome on 9 February, Yeltsin met with Italian President Oscar Scalfaro. Few details about their talks have been released. LB


The plane bound for Baghdad with State Duma deputies and humanitarian aid aboard remains on the runway at Yerevan airport, Armenia. Russian representatives at the UN sought on 9 February to obtain official permission from the UN Sanctions Committee to fly to Iraq. But representatives from the U.S. and the U.K. have asked for a list of the plane's 207 passengers and requested that UN officials be allowed to inspect the humanitarian cargo. In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov accused the deputies in Yerevan of "theatrics" by departing Moscow before UN permission had been obtained. On 10 February, the Duma voted to reduce to 30 the number of people flying to Baghdad in order to facilitate UN official permission. BP


State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 9 February that the list of passengers required by the UN is being prepared. Seleznev said there is nothing unusual in the request as "when 207 people appeared, naturally questions were asked." The speaker also said it would be difficult to file a protest with the UN if the plane is not allowed to land in Baghdad "because Russia also participates in the sanctions." Meanwhile on the ground in Yerevan, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said permission has been granted "in New York, Moscow, and Tehran" for the flight to continue but that air-traffic controllers in Yerevan have not yet been informed of this. BP


President Yeltsin said on 9 February that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will soon travel to Iraq, Interfax reported. But in New York, Annan said that while he does not rule out making such a trip, he has no such immediate plans. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, accompanying Yeltsin on the trip to Italy, met with his counterpart, Lamberto Dini, to discuss the Iraqi crisis. While Dini said his country is concerned and would welcome a peaceful settlement, he also made it clear that Iraq must comply with UN resolutions. Diplomatic pressure toward that end is justified, he argued. BP


An interview in the 10 February issue of the official government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" offers an alternative view of the U.S.'s motives for a possible attack on Iraq. Lieutenant.-General Leonid Gulev, described as one of Russia's "leading military specialists on the U.S.," says Washington is ready to replace military testing sites in the state of Nevada with new "firing ranges" in Iraq. Gulev said it is better for the U.S. to test the effectiveness of weapons on targets in Iraq because the "firing ranges" in that country are "inhabited by people." He added that the U.S. needs to test its smart bombs and stealth aircraft. According to Gulev, there are "significantly more" ground troops, planes, and naval vessels in the area than was the case during the 1991 UN operation against Iraq. BP


First Deputy Defense Minister Anatolii Kvashnin said in Duma hearings on 9 February that the armed forces need a budget of 400 billion rubles ($67 billion), Russian news agencies reported. The draft 1998 budget, which the Duma recently approved in the third reading, foresees 81.76 billion rubles in expenditures for "national defense." The Duma also voted to allocate 1 percent of budget spending toward military reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1998). Kvashnin noted that defense spending in the U.S. this year is projected at some $250 billion. According to "Izvestiya" on 10 February, experts in the Fuel and Energy Ministry have calculated that this year, the Defense Ministry will receive only 20 percent of the funds needed to pay for heating and electricity supplies to military installations. LB


Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has sharply criticized the military reform plans endorsed by Yeltsin and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 February. Speaking to a meeting at the Academy of Military Sciences on 7 February, Kulikov spoke out against transforming the army into an all-volunteer force. Instead, he argued, the army should be 70 percent staffed with contract soldiers and 30 percent with draftees. Yeltsin pledged in 1996 to create an all-volunteer army by 2000, and top military officials have not backed away from that goal (although they have conceded that it will not be achieved by 2000). Kulikov also called for raising the draft age to 19 and conducting the draft year-round in response to the declining quality of conscripts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998).


During his 7 February speech, Kulikov also criticized the idea that the Russian military should focus on preparing to fight small localized conflicts, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 February. He argued that "we are obliged to prepare the army and the state to conduct a prolonged war." Last May, Yeltsin said that Russia's military doctrine should focus on potential localized wars, not global conflicts, as the main military threat to the country. That concept was incorporated into a new military doctrine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1997). LB


A Moscow municipal court on 9 February delayed proceedings in First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais's libel lawsuit against the journalist Aleksandr Minkin and the Ekho Moskvy radio station, Russian news agencies reported. Neither Chubais nor his attorney, Mikhail Barshchevskii, turned up in court. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy last November, Minkin first raised the allegations that Chubais and several other officials each accepted a $90,000 honorarium from a book publisher linked to Oneksimbank. In the aftermath of that scandal, Chubais lost the post of finance minister and several of his associates were fired. Chubais is seeking 250 million old rubles ($42,000) in damages from Minkin for claiming that the book payments were bribes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1997). Chubais also wants Ekho Moskvy to retract the allegation. LB


The Prosecutor- General's Office on 10 February confirmed reports that a suspect was recently arrested in connection with the October 1994 murder of journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, ITAR-TASS reported. Kholodov, an reporter for "Moskovskii komsomolets" who was investigating military corruption, was killed when he opened a booby-trapped briefcase. Law enforcement officials have repeatedly claimed to be on the verge of solving the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1997). The arrested suspect, a retired colonel, has not officially been named, but Interfax on 9 February quoted unnamed sources identifying him as Yakov Popovskikh, who formerly served in military intelligence. LB


Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov has proposed a compromise over the electoral law, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 9 February. Yushenkov, a member of the Russia's Democratic Choice party of Yegor Gaidar, favors electing half the Duma in single-member districts and half using proportional representation, as under the current system. But he has called for the seats allocated proportionally to be distributed among all groups that gain more than 5 percent of the vote or win more than 10 single-member districts. (Currently, those seats are divided only among groups that win more than 5 percent of the vote.) Yushenkov has also called for tightening the registration rules to make it more difficult for tiny groups to compete. Forty-three electoral blocs were registered for the December 1995 Duma elections, and 26 of them gained less than 1 percent of the vote. LB


No Kremlin official has commented on Yushenkov's proposal, but there are signs that Yeltsin may not insist that the 1999 elections to the Duma be carried out only in single- member districts. Although some officials have suggested holding a referendum on changing the law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 1998), Mikhail Komissar, the deputy head of the presidential administration, recently argued that it might be better to improve the proportional representation system than do away with it. In an interview with "Russkii telegraf" on 7 February, Komissar said more criminals would win seats in the parliament if the entire Duma were elected in single-member districts. In addition, he argued that separatism would increase if the Duma consisted mostly of deputies who would lobby for narrow regional interests. LB


Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ruslan Abdulatipov told ITAR-TASS on 9 February that the first meeting of the Russian Security Council interagency commission on Chechnya, scheduled for 11 February, will focus on guaranteeing security along the Chechen-Russian border. Abdulatipov also commented that the two sides are beginning "real work" to overcome the tragedy of the war, but he added that there are powerful forces in both Russia and Chechnya opposed to any peace agreement. Those forces, he said, continue to profit from the impasse. PG


President Aslan Maskhadov on 9 February said that all Chechen negotiating contacts with Moscow must be coordinated by the State Negotiating Commission, ITAR- TASS reported. That commission is headed by Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov, who said he expects Russia and Chechnya to sign an accord by the end of this year, according to Interfax. PG


The Moscow-based private radio station Russkoe Radio, which broadcasts to more than 200 Russian cities, has been unable to broadcast in Belgorod for nearly two months, an RFE/RL correspondent in that city reported on 9 February. The Belgorod Oblast Commission on Television and Radio Broadcasting has denied the station a license, citing "the special mentality of residents of the oblast." The commission charged that Russkoe Radio programs "contradict the moral and ethical foundations of Belgorod residents" and harm the young generation. Supporters of Russkoe Radio, which broadcasts exclusively Russian music and mainly cultural news, have collected more than 3,000 signatures demanding that the station be granted a license to broadcast in Belgorod. They argue that the station is entitled to a license under the federal law on the mass media and the constitutional guarantee of free distribution of information. LB


Elections to local government bodies in St. Petersburg on 8 February were declared valid in all districts despite an average citywide turnout of just 16.4 percent, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 February. In the first attempt to elect local councils in the city's 111 districts last September, turnout reached the required 25 percent in just 32 districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 1997). The St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly subsequently abolished the mandatory turnout requirement so as not to waste funds on holding new local elections. LB


The St. Petersburg legislature recently defied the city's governor, Vladimir Yakovlev, when deputies adopted a new city charter and refused to adopt amendments to that charter supported by Yakovlev, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 January. The charter gives the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly the power to confirm some of the governor's cabinet appointments and stipulates that the assembly will be a full-time legislature following elections to be held later this year. It also limits the governor's power to issue directives and retains a two-round system for gubernatorial elections. (Past elections in Russian regions show that incumbent governors tend to do better when elections are held in one round.) According to the 5 February edition of the "IEWS Russian Regional Report," the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly is rare among Russian regional legislatures in that it has significant influence. LB


Vladimir Protopopov, the director of an automobile factory in Neftekamsk, easily won an 8 February by-election in Bashkortostan for a seat in the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 February. Protopopov gained 46.7 percent of the vote in a field of nine candidates. His closest rival, Communist-backed candidate Firgat Khabibullin, won just 23.9 percent. Proptopopov takes up the seat vacated following the death of Alzam Saifullin, who was elected to the Duma in 1995 as an Agrarian Party candidate. ITAR-TASS reported on 8 February that some local observers consider the by-election a "rehearsal" for the presidential election to be held later this year in Bashkortostan. Current President Murtaza Rakhimov has said he will not seek re-election. LB


Eduard Shevardnadze escaped unharmed from an assassination attempt against him while he was returning to his residence on 9 February. Two presidential guards and one attacker were killed during the attack, ITAR- TASS reported the next day. Shevardnadze, who survived an assassination attempt in August 1995, told journalists that "international terrorism" was behind this latest bid on his life. He speculated that one possible motive is the desire of "very powerful forces" to prevent Caspian basin oil from transiting Georgia. The attack came shortly after Shevardnadze had said in his weekly radio address that "there is no alternative to peace and stability in the southern Caucasus." PG


In the wake of the assassination attempt on President Shevardnadze, the Georgian parliament called for a blockade of Russian military bases in the country, Georgian media reported. Deputies suggested that the possibility could not be excluded that those who launched the attack on Shevardnadze were dispatched to Georgia from Russia. Meanwhile, Shevardnadze went on national television to appeal for calm, and Georgian security agencies have sealed the border, according to Georgian media. PG


In a statement released on 10 February, the Armenian Foreign Ministry has denounced suggestions that new hostilities with Azerbaijan are imminent and stressed Yerevan is committed to observing the May 1994 truce, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement said that predictions of new hostilities are a "deliberately distorted interpretation" of events in Armenia since the resignation of President Levon Ter-Petrossyan. PG


Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharian said on 9 February that he will run in the 16 March presidential elections, ITAR-TASS reported. A native of Nagorno-Karabakh, Kocharian would seem to face one major obstacle: the Armenian Constitution stipulates that the president must be an Armenian citizen. Meanwhile, Khosrov Arutyunyan, the speaker of the Armenian parliament, said that the recent political changes in Yerevan will not affect Armenia's close relationship with Moscow. PG


Exxon Azerbaijan, a subsidiary of the U.S. petroleum company, and SOCAR, the state oil company of Azerbaijan, signed an agreement 9 February to explore the gas resources on Azerbaijani territory, Interfax reported. The research study is scheduled to last for one year. PG


At least eight people were killed in the western city of Tursun Zade on 9 February. A group of armed men broke into the house of a Tajik businesswoman, killing her and her two sons. The gunmen then opened fire on a group of people waiting at a nearby bus stop; at least five were killed in that attack. An investigation is under way. During the five-year civil war in Tajikistan, Tursun Zade was often controlled by outlaw groups and was the scene of shoot-outs between rival gangs competing for possession of the aluminum factory there. That facility is Tajikistan's biggest money-making enterprise. BP


Local officials in the southern city of Kentau met with demonstrators outside government offices on 9 February, AFP reported. The demonstrators, mostly mothers and their children, are protesting poor living conditions and unpaid wages and child support. The officials promised that overdue wages will be paid, but demonstrators remained skeptical about that promise and vowed to continue their protest. The same day, some 150 health-care workers who have not been paid in 10 months joined the demonstrators. BP


The U.S. State Department said it has made clear its "strong desire" that Ukraine not provide turbines for an Iranian nuclear station, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 9 February. Russia, despite Washington's objections, is helping Iran build a nuclear power station in the central city of Bushehr. The turbines needed to power the station are slated to be purchased from Ukraine. State Department spokesman James Foley said the U.S. would like to continue its many cooperative efforts with Kyiv. He said the U.S. could compensate Ukraine for losses it might sustain for scrapping the deal, and said that it was not threatening Ukraine with a loss of aid should it complete the deal. Ukraine received $225 million in aid from the U.S. last year. PB


A Belarusian official says his country has no weapons-grade uranium or plutonium, thereby contradicting a Belarusian Television report the previous day, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 February. Alyaksandr Mikhalevich, the director of the Institute of Energy Problems at the Belarus Academy of Sciences, said the country has 15 grams of plutonium and 500 kilograms of enriched uranium for scientific purposes but that they are not weapons- grade. Belarusian Television reported on 8 February that Minsk has two tons of weapons-grade material, which would make Belarus a "nuclear-threshold" state, like India, Pakistan, and Israel. PB


Three Russian-language newspapers in Latvia have strongly criticized an amendment to the labor code whereby an employee can be fired for insufficient knowledge of the Latvian language (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1998), BNS and Interfax reported. "Biznes & Baltija," "SM," and "Panorama Latvii" urged President Guntis Ulmanis to veto the amendment. Ulmanis, for his part, told "SM" that he will carefully examine the legislation, but at the same time, he describe the reaction of the Russian-language press as "excessively dramatic." Under the Latvian Constitution, the president can return a bill to the parliament within seven days of its adoption. If lawmakers decide not to alter the returned bill, the president has no further recourse. JC


U.S. Attorney-General Janet Reno on 9 February welcomed what she called the Lithuania prosecutor-general's "landmark" decision to bring charges against alleged war criminal Aleksandras Lileikis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1998). "It is vital that the nations of the world leave no stone unturned in pursuing justice on behalf of the millions of victims of Nazi genocide," she commented. Lileikis, who was head of the Vilnius security police during World War Two and is alleged to have ordered the deaths of scores of Jews, was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1996 following charges brought by the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations. Also on 9 February, the Lithuanian Prosecutor-General's Office announced it has submitted genocide charges against Lileikis to the Vilnius Regional Court. JC


Former presidential candidate Arturas Paulauskas has announced his decision to set up a center-left political party. Paulauskas told Interfax on 9 February that a working group has been instructed to draft the statutes of both a public movement and a party. He added that the documents drafted for a founding conference, scheduled to take place in mid-March, will be based on his election program. In the second round of the presidential elections early last month, President-elect Valdas Adamkus beat Paulauskas by a margin of less than one percentage point. JC


Thousands of small business owners in Poland used cars to block a highway leading to Belarus in protest at Warsaw's tighter visa restrictions on foreigners, Reuters reported on 9 February. Protesters near Bialystok say regulations imposed at the beginning of the year have reduced both the supply of goods at outdoor markets and the number of customers from Belarus. The EU has pressured Poland to increase security on its eastern borders, a move that has angered Belarus and Russia. PB


Following the financial scandals involving the Civic Democratic Party and the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) is reported to have received some 10 million crowns (about $292,000) from the Communist Party in 1990, "Respekt" said on 9 February. The weekly also noted large discrepancies between the financial report submitted by the CSSD leadership to the party's national conference in March 1996 and a report presented to the Chamber of Deputies two weeks later. Miroslav Grebenicek, the chairman of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, confirmed the 1990 payment. ODA Chairman Jiri Skalicky, meanwhile, said that if party colleagues were to put pressure on him to reveal the names of the 1995 donors, he would rather resign than do so, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1998). MS


In a 9 February interview with Hungarian Television, Gyula Horn denied accusations that the government is willing to make "obstinate and hasty decisions" over the Nagymaros-Gabcikovo Danube hydropower project. Horn said that working out a solution will take four years and that another fours years will be needed to carry out the project in line with the International Court of Justice's ruling. He also denied that the project would cost 600 billion forints ($3 billion), arguing that half of that sum would suffice. Meanwhile, Hungarian media reported that Hungarian and Slovak negotiators, meeting in Budapest on 9 February, failed to reach an agreement on the mutual waiving of compensation claims. MSZ


Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs told journalists in Washington on 9 February that Hungary advocates a political solution to the Iraqi crisis but is prepared to support "the international coalition with all available means," as, he stressed, it did before and during the Gulf War. He confirmed that U.S. requests for Hungarian support in logistics, transportation, and overflight permission have been received from Washington, Hungarian media reported. Czech Foreign Minister Jaroslav Sedivy said the Czech government will discuss "appropriate support" for a U.S. strike against Iraq but added that no action has so far been decided, CTK reported. Kovacs, Sedivy, and Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek briefed U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on their countries' preparations for joining NATO. They are in Washington to lobby for ratification by the U.S. Senate of their countries' membership in the alliance. MS


The leaders of the two largest ethnic Albanian political parties in Macedonia--the Party for Democratic Prosperity and the Party of Democratic Prosperity of the Albanians--have appealed to the international community to start a dialogue between Belgrade and the Kosovar leadership, BETA news agency reported on 9 February. The party leaders warned that Kosovo could be sliding toward war and that any conflict there would affect the stability of Macedonia. Last month, President Kiro Gligorov said that Macedonia will create a corridor through its territory in the event of war in Kosovo to enable ethnic Albanian refugees to flee from there to Albania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998). PM


Nenad Canak, the president of the opposition League of Vojvodina Social Democrats, said in Novi Sad on 9 February that army officers have denied his recent accusations that young reservists in Vojvodina are being called up and sent to Kosovo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1998). Canak says the officers told him that the army does not have the money to finance a mobilization, the Belgrade daily "Danas" reported. But the newspaper added that "citizens [nonetheless] maintain that they have received call-up orders." PM


Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said in Vienna on 9 February that his government will allow the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to open an office in Banja Luka. But Dodik noted that Bosnian Serb law prevents the extradition of war criminals and that the disputed town of Brcko must be assigned to the Serbs or else his government will fall. He also stressed that "we are for the return of all refugees to Brcko. We want to turn Brcko into a demilitarized free-trade zone.... Our government is the only government that could implement such a thing." The prime minister argued that his cabinet has done more to implement the Dayton agreement than its predecessors did in two years. Meanwhile, his Austrian counterpart, Wolfgang Schuessel, said that Dodik is "working behind the scenes" to persuade indicted war criminals to go to The Hague voluntarily. PM


Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said in Paris on 9 February that Brcko must remain under Bosnian Serb control if the international community expects Serbian cooperation in implementing the Dayton accords, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Plavsic also said that the Republika Srpska is no longer in danger of splitting "into an eastern and western part because the Republika Srpska now has, for the past month and a half, its own parliament..., a single police force across its territory, and a single set of policies." A spokeswoman for President Jacques Chirac said that "France, at a crucial moment in the peace process, intends to strongly encourage those who play the card of moderation and cooperation with the international community." PM


The heads of Bosnia's Islamic, Jewish, Serbian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic communities asked European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Hans van den Broek in Brussels on 9 February for EU funding to reconstruct mosques, synagogues, and churches destroyed or damaged in the 1992-1995 war. They made no specific requests but said they will submit a plan soon. Van den Broek told his visitors that the EU will provide them with assistance. The four Church leaders also promised to promote religious tolerance and the return of refugees. PM


Some 700 Bosnian Serbs blocked a road near the Sarajevo suburb of Lukavica to protest the arrest of Goran Vasic by police from the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation nearby on 6 February. Vasic is wanted in Sarajevo for allegedly killing Bosnian Deputy Prime Minister Hakija Turajlic on 8 January 1993. A spokesman for UN police said in Sarajevo on 9 February that the federal police used unnecessary violence in arresting Vasic. Two days earlier, Dodik criticized the arrest on the grounds that it would discourage other non-Muslims from returning to Sarajevo. PM


Midhat Haracic, the governor of Sarajevo canton, told Reuters on 9 February that Sarajevo has launched a campaign to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. Haracic added that he is "an optimist about both the political and economic possibilities of holding the Olympic games in Sarajevo." President of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch "strongly supports this initiative," the governor stated. Sarajevo officials want to regain some of the positive image their city won by hosting the 1984 games. The officials also hope that hosting the Olympics would attract the necessary foreign investment to rebuild the area's tourist infrastructure. PM


Slovenian authorities said in Ljubljana on 9 February that the Alpine republic has donated 49,562 liters of vegetable oil and 14,009 cans of beans to the Republika Srpska under the auspices of the World Food Program. Most of the food will to go the Banja Luka area. PM


Representatives of the newly formed ethnic Bulgarian cultural society Caribrod said in Dimitrovgrad on 9 February that recent criticism of Caribrod by Serbian state-run television indicates how intolerant the Serbian authorities are of ethnic minorities. The broadcast claimed that Caribrod is a vehicle for disseminating greater Bulgarian nationalism, BETA news agency reported. Caribrod officials said that the Serbian government finances or otherwise supports Serbian cultural clubs in many countries but that it will not allow the Bulgarians in Dimitrovgrad to enjoy the same free cultural development that Belgrade seeks for Serbs abroad. PM


Daan Everts, the chief representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Tirana, has mediated an end to a 25 day-old hunger strike by nine former political prisoners. The men were protesting a recent amendment to the lustration law that will enable former secret police employees and informers to hold state jobs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1998). The strikers and government representatives accepted Everts's suggestion that foreign and Albanian experts review and discuss the legislation. PM


Despite a provision in the new government protocol stipulating that coalition partners must refrain from criticizing one another, the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) and the Democratic Party have accused each other of breaching that protocol. PNTCD chairman Ion Diaconescu said the Democrats must stop declaring that the cabinet is a "transition solution." The Democrats objected to a PNTCD Deputy Chairman Vasile Lupu's accusation the previous day of corruption within their ranks. They also said they had not been consulted about the nominations for the new ministers and "did not know" whether they would support the new incumbents when the parliament debates those nominations on 11 February. Meanwhile, the influential Civic Alliance Movement, a member of the Democratic Convention of Romania, said the new protocol is "undemocratic" and gives unacceptable veto-power to the Democrats, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see also "End Note" below). MS


Alexandru Sassu, the chairman of the Democratic Party faction in the Chamber of Deputies, told Mediafax on 9 February that his party wants the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania to "make a political declaration" pledging it will "insist that all ethnic Hungarian children learn Romanian." Sassu said this would contribute to "lowering the expected tension" of the debates about to begin in the chamber on the amended version of the 1995 education law. The Democrats are signatories to a December 1997 protocol in which all coalition parties pledged to support amendments that are more liberal than those passed by the Senate the same month. Observers say the Democrats' latest shifts toward more nationalist positions suggest they are contemplating early elections (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1998). MS


Data released by the National Statistical Commission on 9 February shows inflation in 1997 was 151.7 percent, almost double the level the previous year. GDP decreased by 6.6 percent and industrial production by 5.9 percent, while investments were down some 19 percent. Also on 9 February, members of the Sanitas trade union federation of nurses and other medical staff staged a two-hour warning strike to demand a 100 percent wage increase, instead of the 25 percent approved by the government. Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea , meanwhile, met with members of two other unions to discuss means of covering higher living costs. Radu Colceag, the leader of the Democratic Confederation of Syndicates, said after the meeting that his union will give the government a grace period of two or three months to improve the economy. MS


In his weekly radio address to the nation, Petru Lucinschi on 9 February called on the population to render every possible assistance to the elderly. Lucinschi said that of Moldova's 750,000 pensioners, 80 percent receive pensions totaling 60-100 lei ( $13-21) a month. He said the Pension Fund was expected to have revenues of 3 million lei a month to pay out pensions but that it receives less than half that amount. Lucinschi said that the situation can be changed only after an improvement in the economy. He called on all those able to help to do so and said it was necessary to set up charity funds that would accept donations from both Moldova and abroad. MS


by Michael Shafir

With the 5 February signing of the new government protocol and with the appointment the following day of five ministers to replace Democratic Party cabinet members withdrawn from the executive by the Democrats' leadership, the coalition crisis in Romania appears to have come to an end. But on closer examination, that crisis may have simply been put on hold.

It is not easy to make sense of what caused the crisis in the first place. The resignation of former Transportation Minister Traian Basescu on 29 January, which was apparently the main cause, at first seemed to have been a deliberate provocation by the Democrats aimed at facilitating former Foreign Minister Adrian Severin's return to the government. Thus, the Democrats' criticism of the cabinet's unsatisfactory performance in implementing reform was not taken very seriously--with good reason.

But on 6 January, Severin told journalists that the party leadership had not done enough to defend its own ministers in the government. He pointed out that it was "not normal" that the party with the "best members of the cabinet" should have been forced to agree to the dismissal of three of its ministers and should have put up no resistance. That criticism was clearly directed at party chairman Petre Roman, as became even more obvious on 30 January, when Severin blamed Roman for not having done enough to ensure the continuation of the coalition. Roman should have "sacrificed himself" and should have accepted the status quo in coalition relations, Severin argued.

Inherent in those two statements was an obvious contradiction: according to Severin, the party leadership should have both defended its ministers (which, in fact, it did when withdrawing the remaining cabinet members from the government) and it should have swallowed its pride and let the coalition continue. But how could it do both? While Severin eventually had to pay the price for his attacks on Roman (he was assigned no responsibilities when the party's Standing Bureau redistributed the duties of its vice chairmen last week), he had unwittingly triggered a chain of reactions that neither he, nor Roman, had expected. That made it difficult for observers to "put two and two together." For example, how to explain why Roman, who was obviously reluctant to leave the coalition and on several occasions had made conciliatory statements to his coalition partners, contradicted himself and adopted a bellicose posture? The answer seems to rest in a "democratic revolt from below," that is, among the Democrats' lower echelons.

When the party's Standing National Council on 14 January virtually gave an ultimatum to replace Victor Ciorbea as premier by 31 March, that decision reflected, above all, frustration among that body's members. The decision was all but imposed on Roman in the knowledge that the ultimatum would be viewed by the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) as an unacceptable act of "political blackmail."

There were several reasons for the frustration among the lower echelons of the Democratic Party. Those Democrats were often treated with disdain by their coalition associates at county level. All too often the PNTCD--both at central and local government level--made clear (and publicly so) that it intensely disliked, and hoped soon to end, the "marriage of convenience" with the Democrats. Also, opinion polls showed the Democrats were losing much of their popularity. They had garnered 13 percent in the November 1996 elections but were backed by only 8 percent some two years later, in December 1997. The Democratic Convention's (CDR) support, on the other hand, had grown from 30 percent to 42 percent within the same period, although the popularity of Ciorbea's cabinet had decreased.

In other words, the Democrats' electorate was deserting the party and its regional leaders, who have the largest number of seats on the National Council, believed the desertion was of a mainly ideological nature. The Democrats' electorate is largely middle-aged, well- educated, and opposed to the full restitution of property, which is backed by leading elements within the CDR.

The PNTCD's adamant rejections of the Democrats' demands to replace Ciorbea should fool no one. When they signed the new government protocol, the Democrats refused to pledge they would refrain from either initiating or backing a no confidence motion in the cabinet. The PNTCD had to save face and keep Ciorbea as premier, but it is highly unlikely that the cabinet will survive beyond the end of March, when the Democrats' Standing National Council will convene again.

Moreover, the further "belt-tightening" measures announced by Ciorbea on 6 February may provoke social unrest and provide the Democrats with an early opportunity to get rid of the prime minister. Unless the Democrats contemplate a realignment of political forces and joining an alliance with Iliescu's party and the extreme nationalists (an unlikely scenario), they would merely have lost precious time for what they continue to claim to be their main objective--the promotion of reforms.