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Newsline - April 6, 1998


The Constitutional Court ruled on 6 April that the president must sign laws after both houses of parliament override his veto, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The court instructed President Boris Yeltsin to sign the trophy art law, which would prohibit the transfer abroad of cultural valuables seized by the Soviet Union during World War II. Yeltsin had refused to sign that law, saying the State Duma and Federation Council used illegal procedures to override his veto (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 March 1998). The court emphasized that its ruling does not validate the substance of the law or the procedure by which it was adopted. Sergei Shakhrai, the president's representative in the Constitutional Court, commented that Yeltsin has already appealed against the way the trophy art law was adopted and will soon file a court appeal challenging the constitutionality of the law itself. LB


Yeltsin called Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto on 3 April to postpone their informal meeting in Kawana, Japan, from 11- 13 April to a week later because of "domestic political reasons," ITAR-TASS and Japan's Kyodo news agency reported. Yeltsin was referring to Russian Duma delays in approving his candidate for prime minister, Sergei Kirienko. Hashimoto, who was in London, accepted the change and said he "will welcome Yeltsin when he makes the weekend visit to Japan on April 18 and 19." The duration of the meeting also was changed from three days to two and questions were raised about the site. On 6 April, ITAR-TASS quotes Aleksandr Losyukov of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Asia Department as saying Russia opposes a change of venue. BP


Opposition deputies in the State Duma hope to persuade Yeltsin to nominate someone other than Sergei Kirienko for prime minister, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 3 April. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, a Communist, argued that Kirienko lacks enough experience to head the government, particularly in light of the fact that he would become acting president if Yeltsin became incapacitated before the end of his term. Seleznev said Duma deputies would support Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev if Yeltsin nominated him for prime minister, but predicted that the Duma would reject the candidacy of its former speaker, Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin. The Agrarian faction, which usually votes with the Communists in the Duma, has said it will propose Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev as prime ministerial candidates during roundtable talks scheduled for 7 April. LB


Acting Prime Minister Kirienko on 5 April suggested that crucial policies will not be on the bargaining table during the upcoming negotiations with parliamentary representatives and regional leaders. In an interview with Russian Television, Kirienko acknowledged the need to gain "public support" for the government's program but added that "some convictions are not subject for compromise." Aleksandr Livshits, deputy head of the presidential administration, announced on 3 April that Russia's economic policies will not be affected by the changed composition of the new government, Interfax reported. Livshits noted that the president laid out those policies during his message to parliament in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 February 1998). Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced that despite the president's willingness to hold roundtable talks with parliamentary leaders, Yeltsin still rejects opposition demands for a coalition government or a "government of popular trust." LB


Kirienko announced on 4 April that the government has found funds to settle wage arrears to state employees, Russian news agencies reported. During a meeting with some trade union officials, Kirienko promised that the Finance Ministry will allocate the money to regional governments in time to reach unpaid workers before 9 April, when trade unions and opposition leaders are planning to stage protest rallies nationwide. He added that the government's work "will not end on 9 April" and said plans on financial support for coal miners and settling government debts to the defense industry will soon be completed. LB


"Novye izvestiya" on 2 April accused Kirienko of unethical and possibly illegal financial deals when the acting prime minister headed the Garantiya Bank and the Norsi-oil firm in Nizhnii Novgorod. The newspaper again alleged that Kirienko increased Garantiya's assets by devising a scheme to avoid cash payments to the Pension Fund (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1998). It also charged that money from the Pension Fund mysteriously disappeared from a Moscow-based commercial bank that was a founder of Garantiya. In addition, "Novye izvestiya" said, Kirienko concluded insider deals through which Garantiya paid huge sums to local firms for "consulting." In one such alleged deal, Garantiya -- which owed money to the Pension Fund -- paid 1.3 billion old rubles ($210,000 at today's exchange rate) to a consultant for a report that was only a few dozen pages long. Boris Berezovskii reportedly finances "Novye izvestiya." LB


Duma Speaker Seleznev on 3 April announced that the Duma has requested information from the government on whether Kirienko has Israeli as well as Russian citizenship, Interfax reported. In an interview with NTV on 24 March, Kirienko was asked about his ethnic background and replied that his father is Jewish, his mother is Russian, his surname is Ukrainian, and he was born in Abkhazia. While criticizing Kirienko's lack of experience, Duma leaders have so far remained quiet about allegations that the acting premier attended a seminar offered by the Church of Scientology three years ago in Nizhnii Novgorod (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). LB


Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin discussed his possible rivals in the next presidential election in an interview with NTV on 5 April. He praised acting First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov's decision not to run in 2000 and said he takes Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov at his word when Luzhkov says he is not planning to run for president. Chernomyrdin criticized former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed as lacking experience but said little about Communist Party leader Zyuganov, except to predict that Zyuganov will run for president again. The former premier did not rule out cooperation with Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. (Yavlinskii has ruled out cooperation with Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia movement.) Meanwhile, Chernomyrdin on 3 April said he has no "need" to return to work at the gas monopoly Gazprom and does not intend to do so, ITAR-TASS reported. LB


Former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais was elected to the board of directors of the electricity giant Unified Energy System (EES) during a 4 April shareholders' meeting, Russian news agencies reported. Chubais' candidacy was supported by foreign shareholders. He was not nominated by the government, which owns a controlling stake in the company. Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kudryavyi, a Kirienko ally, was elected to replace Anatolii Dyakov as chairman of the board. Of the 15 EES board members, 11 are officials at the federal or regional level. The other four include Gazprom deputy head Petr Rodionov and Boris Brevnov, a protege of acting First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov who stepped down as EES chief executive on 3 April. Like Chubais, Brevnov was elected to the board with the support of foreign investors. His successor as chief executive will be chosen later this month. LB


Acting First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov's spokesman Andrei Pershin on 3 April denied an NTV report that Nemtsov facilitated the transfer of bank accounts of the Central Customs Excise Service from the commercial bank Rossiiskii Kredit to Oneksimbank, Russian news agencies said. Pershin charged that influential businessmen are "slinging mud" at Nemtsov through the media they finance. (NTV is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most group.) Pershin noted that on 25 March, two days after the government was dismissed, Nemtsov chaired a session of a government commission that decided to return the Central Customs Excise Service accounts to Rossiiskii Kredit. A tender for the right to service those accounts will be held by 10 May. Chubais, who is considered close to Oneksimbank, has admitted that it was "unwise" to transfer the accounts to Oneksimbank without a tender (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 24 March 1998). LB


Yeltsin has reprimanded Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Ivan Sklyarov for not ensuring that the law was observed during the recent mayoral campaign in Nizhnii Novgorod, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 April. The local electoral commission annulled the 29 March election, which was won by controversial businessman Andrei Klimentev. It ruled that all five candidates in the race violated legislation during the campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 1 April 1998). On 4 April, Yeltsin sacked his representative in the oblast, Yurii Lebedev. The president also reprimanded Viktoriya Mitina, deputy head of the presidential administration, who supervises the Kremlin's territorial department. Yeltsin issued a "severe reprimand" to Sergei Samoilov, who heads the territorial department. Meanwhile, during a 5 April interview with Russian Television, acting Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin advocated passing a law to prevent "bandits" and "swindlers" from running for public office. LB


Local media in Nizhnii Novgorod have charged that the decision to annul the mayoral election was unjustified and politically motivated, RFE/RL's correspondent in the city and "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Headlines in local newspapers on 2 and 3 April included the following: "Moscow decided the fate of the election." "Will we keep voting until we vote the right way?" "All [candidates] broke the rules, only one is punished," and "We were mocked on 1 April." Both Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Prosecutor Vladimir Shevelev and Yevgenii Sevostyanov, deputy head of the presidential administration, have accused the press of turning Klimentev into a hero and have blamed the press for public disturbances in Nizhnii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 April 1998). LB


The heads of seven North Caucasus republics and regions, the governors of several south Russian regions, and representatives from Georgia and Azerbaijan met in the Chechen capital, Djokhar-gala (former Grozny) on 4 April, Russian media reported. The leaders expressed concern that failure to sign a formal treaty regulating relations between Chechnya and the Russian Federation could precipitate a new war in the North Caucasus. They also expressed support for Russian President Boris Yeltsin's stated intention to visit Chechnya, and for the Chechen proposal (first made last year) to create a Caucasian regional security organization analogous to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. LF


Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin told ITAR-TASS on 5 April that Chechnya "was, is and will remain" an inalienable part of the Russian Federation. Rybkin was commenting on a statement by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov earlier the same day affirming that Chechnya "has left Russia for good" and that it is up to Moscow to resolve the legal aspects of bilateral relations. On 3 April, Russian acting Deputy Premier Ramazan Abdulatipov told ITAR-TASS that changes in Russia's policy towards Chechnya are inevitable, since the current negotiations are deadlocked. LF


Unknown assailants opened fire and threw a hand grenade at a crowd of 1,000 mourners on 5 April at the funeral in Zugdidi of Gocha Esebua. The attack killed five people and wounded seven. Esebua was leader of the group of supporters of former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia that took four UN observers hostage in February. Georgian police shot him on 31 March when he refused to surrender. Zugdidi Governor Bondo Djikia on 6 April said that the town is calm, but that security measures have been intensified, ITAR-TASS reported. LF


On 4 April the Georgian National Security Council lodged a protest with the government of the breakaway Black Sea region of Abkhazia. The protest followed an incident in Abkhazia's Gali region on 2 April in which Abkhaz guerrillas shot dead three Georgians and abducted 19 others. The statement called on the Abkhaz authorities to secure the release of those kidnapped and apprehend and punish those responsible. It warned that if such instances of "ethnic cleansing" continue, Tbilisi will resort to retaliatory measures in order to protect Gali's Georgian population. LF


The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe announced on 3 April that it will extend its election observer mission in Armenia for an unspecified period, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. An official ODIHR statement said that "new evidence of serious irregularities" during the 30 March presidential runoff continues to come to light, but gave no details. The mission says it will release a final report this week. LF


The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry issued a statement on 4 April denying reports that Baku plans to buy an unspecified number of U.S. F-16 bombers from Turkey, Interfax reported. The previous day, Interfax had quoted unnamed military sources in Baku as saying that the Azerbaijani air force commander, Major General Ramil Rzaev, had announced the planned purchase during an official visit to Ankara. LF


President Askar Akayev reformed the Kyrgyz government on 4 April, RFE/RL correspondents reported. A text of Akayev's structural and personnel changes showed the number of ministries cut from 17 to 14 and the number of deputy prime ministers from three to one. Kubanychbek JumAliyev remains prime minister, and his new deputy is Bishkek Mayor Boris Silayev. The ministers of foreign affairs, defense, interior, health care and ecology remain the same. Among the changes are Kemelbek Nanaev, replacing Jan Fisher as CIS affairs minister; Nelly Beishenalieva, replacing Larisa Gutnichenko as justice minister; Sovetbek Toktomyshev, replacing Askar Kakeev as education, science and culture minister; Orosmat Abdykalykov, replacing Andrei Iordan as minister of industry and foreign trade, and Imankadyr Rysaliev, replacing Asylgul Abdurekhmenova as minister of labor and social affairs. BP


Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem was in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat on 3-4 April, ITAR-TASS reported. ITAR- TASS said Cem met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and that "the participants expressed appreciation for economic interaction... in the textile industry and the field of construction." Ankara TRT television reported on 4 April that Cem told reporters upon his return that he conveyed a message from the Turkish president to Niyazov on natural gas. The message was "Turkmen must act speedily... as the Turkmen need to export their gas is as great as Turkey's need to import it." BP


Government and opposition forces began withdrawing from the Kofarnikhon region on 6 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Representatives from the government, National Reconciliation Commission and UN observers have been negotiating with leaders of armed groups following the outbreak of fighting in the area 30 kilometers east of Dushanbe on 24 March. While the latest talks were being held, fighting erupted in a village ten kilometers west of Kofarnikhon on 5 April. One officer from the Interior Ministry was killed and two wounded. This prompted the government to issue an ultimatum demanding the armed groups of the opposition leave Kofarnikhon by 2:00 p.m. local time or face retaliation by government forces. BP


A powerful methane gas explosion occurred in the Skochinsky coal mine in eastern Ukraine's city of Donetsk on 4 April. A fire that followed the blast killed 63 people and injured 71. It was the worst mine accident since Ukraine gained independence in 1991. "It's scandalous," AFP quoted Deputy Coal Minister Dmytro Herasymchuk as saying. He said maintenance of mines has been neglected because of a lack of funds. The Skochinsky mine in Donetsk is notorious for its dangerous work conditions and gas emissions. The government has set up a commission to investigate the disaster. It proclaimed 5 and 6 April days of mourning. JM


Belarusian authorities arrested about 50 people in Minsk on 2 April after a demonstration against the Union of Belarus and Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 1998), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Lyavon Barshcheuski, acting chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), was arrested even though he says he did not participate in the rally and informed the authorities that he would not. At his trial on 3 April, two police officers testified they saw him at the rally, but RFE/RL correspondents say he was attending a cultural reading at the time. Vyachaslau Siuchyk, a BPF secretary, was given a 10-day sentence and Yan Abadouski, a BPF activist from Mahilyou, was sentenced to 15 days. Other detainees received warnings or fines. Yury Khadyka, a BPF deputy chairman who was also arrested and interrogated on 2 April, said the authorities' reaction constituted "hysterics on the part of the regime." JM


Belarusian police arrested a man they say was trying to detonate a homemade bomb near President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's office in Minsk on 3 April, Belarusian State Television reported. Police identified the man as Ryhor Byanchuk, an unemployed mechanical engineer from Homel. They said he threatened to kill himself in protest against corruption by government officials. Belarusian security officials said the bomb was made with World War II-era explosives. JM


The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 6 April blaming Latvia for encouraging a climate of opinion that the foreign ministry said had led to the apparent bombing attack on the Russian embassy in Riga earlier that day. The statement demanded that Riga take immediate action, Russian agencies reported. According to BNS, a bomb exploded at approximately 2:00 a.m. local time in a garbage bin some 50 meters from the embassy building. The explosion caused no injuries or damage except for the garbage bin itself. The Moscow statement said that "this terrorist act is the result of the spurring of anti-Russian hysteria in Latvia, of encouraging nationalism and extremism." It added that "blasts ring out, monuments are defiled, fascists are raising their heads. This has to be stopped. We demand that the Latvian authorities take decisive measures and punish those guilty." Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis also denounced the blast and called on his country's Interior Ministry to bring the perpetrators to justice," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs said that "any manifestations of terrorism are utterly unacceptable" and added that "the executors of this cynical and outrageous crime will be unable to destabilize the situation in the country and discredit the prestige of Latvia in the eyes of the international public." PG


The National Security Council on 3 April called for the dismissal of Juris Dalbins, armed forces commander, for participating in a parade last month of veterans of the former Latvian Waffen SS Legion. Earlier last week, President Guntis Ulmanis criticized Dalbins and other senior officers for taking part in the parade. Under Latvian law, the head of the armed forces is appointed and can be dismissed by the parliament. The council also called for the firing of police chief Aldis Lieljuksis for failing to take the steps necessary to prevent the bombing the previous day of the Riga synagogue. Also on 3 April, the head of Riga's criminal police was dismissed over the explosion at the synagogue, and the chief of the national criminal police resigned, BNS reported. JC/PG


Guntars Krasts on 3 April dismissed Economics Minister Atis Sausnitis, charging that Sausnitis had dragged his feet over privatization and had exaggerated the impact of possible economic sanctions by Russia. Several days earlier, Sausnitis had predicted that a further deterioration in Latvian-Russian relations might cause losses to Latvian companies of some 150 million lats (about $300 million). Krasts said those remarks were "hysterical" and had caused "ungrounded panic," BNS reported. He added that while it cannot be ruled out that prolonged tensions in bilateral relations would inevitably have an effect on Latvia's economy, he does not believe the damage would be as serious as Sausnitis predicted. On the same day, Russian Duma deputies played down suggestions that they were actually prepared to impose a complete sanctions regime on Latvia, Interfax reported. But Yaroslavl governor and head of the Central Russia Economic Association Anatolii Lisitsin said that he had asked all firms in his region to boycott Latvian goods, ITAR-TASS reported. JC/PG


President Guntis Ulmanis acknowledged on 3 April that the way in which police handled a protest by ethnic Russians, and the participation of senior officials in a reunion of Latvian Waffen SS veterans, damaged Latvia's international reputation. He told Riga's "Diena" newspaper that Latvia must act decisively to correct the situation. He said that the government must do more to improve ties with Moscow. He called on the Latvian parliament to move quickly to amend the country's naturalization law so that more of the country's stateless population, much of which is ethnic Russian, can qualify for citizenship. PG


Latvian Prime Minister Guntars Krasts asked the United States to dispatch FBI agents to help investigate the bombing of the Riga synagogue, and U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said on 3 April that Washington would extend such assistance. Then, on 4 April, unknown assailants desecrated a monument to victims of the Holocaust in the Latvian city of Liepaja, Latvian Interior Ministry officials told BNS. PG


Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves on 5 April was elected chairman of the Estonian People's Party in Tartu, BNS reported on 6 April. The new party combines the Estonian Farmers' Party and the right wingers. The attitude of the new party toward the current government remains unclear. A week ago, the Estonian Farmers' Party announced that it would neither back the government nor support the opposition. But Estonian Prime Minister Mart Siiman said that it was "impermissible" for the party to "reap foreign policy laurels while refusing to take any domestic policy responsibility," an indication that Ilves may lose his current government position unless the party changes its position. PG


More than 16,000 people from the OPZZ trade union federation, the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance, and pensioners' organizations marched in Warsaw on 3 April demanding to be consulted on key reforms in health, education, pensions, and the country's administrative division, Reuters reported. The protesters, displaying anti-government banners, handed a petition to parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski and ended their peaceful march at the government headquarters. Government spokesman Tomasz Tywonek told Reuters that "The issues mentioned by OPZZ -- health, education, pensions -- are problems which they themselves failed to solve, areas of negligence of the previous government of which OPZZ was part." JM


Leaders of the opposition Social Democrats overwhelmingly voted at a meeting in Prague on 5 April to decline party leader Milos Zeman's resignation. Zeman had offered to resign two days earlier on charges of influence peddling during meetings with Czech-Swiss businessmen. Zeman admits attending the meeting in the German city Bamberg, but denies accusations he made any agreements in exchange for campaign donations. The Social Democrats lead all opinion polls and Zeman is a likely choice for prime minister after the mid-June elections. In other news, former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus said on 4 April that the parties that made up the coalition under his government should reform after the elections and rule again. He said this was necessary to avoid the "danger" of a Social Democratic-led government. PB


The Party for Civic Understanding (SOP) was founded in Bratislava on 5 April with the aim of defeating Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia in September elections. The SOP, to be headed by popular Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster, said at its founding congress that it will work with other opposition parties. Schuster said he believes the party will take votes away from the HZDS as well as garner support from undecided voters. Pavlo Hamzik, a former foreign minister under Meciar, is the deputy leader. The SOP is sponsored by Jozef Majsky, one of Slovakia's wealthiest businessmen. PB


Viktor Orban, the chairman of the Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party, topped a list of politicians people would like to see play a leading role after the general elections in May, a poll said. According to a Gallup opinion poll taken in March, Orban has 21 percent support, followed by Prime Minister Gyula Horn, with 19 percent, and Interior Minister Gabor Kuncze with 17 percent. Another poll, conducted by Szonda-Ipsos, shows the Socialist Party as the most popular political party among decided voters, with 35 percent, ahead of the Young Democrats with 26 percent, Hungarian media reported on 6 April. MSZ


The EU, NATO, the Kosovar leadership, the Albanian government and the United States quickly rejected as demagoguery and a delaying tactic Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's call for a referendum on international mediation in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 1998). A U.S. State Department spokesman said in Washington on 3 April that "President Milosevic's call... is... another in a long line of diversionary tactics, one that shows clearly that he remains defiant, unwilling to meet the minimum conditions set forth by the international community." The spokesman urged Milosevic to stop "gambling with his nation's future" and "put aside the dangerous games, put aside the diversionary tactics, and start focusing on what would improve the lives of his citizens and improve his nation's role in the world." Speaking in Prishtina, Kosovar shadow- state President Ibrahim Rugova called international mediation a necessity. PM


Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 3 April that the referendum "is a serious challenge to international factors and playing games with the destiny of the people." The next day he added that Milosevic follows a "policy of staying in power at any price... His only program is to isolate us even more from the world, and chained by the burden of sanctions, we will sink to the bottom." Djukanovic argued that "Kosova is a democratic, not a territorial issue" and warned the Yugoslav president that "playing with the emotions of citizens and inflaming national feelings ... is looking for trouble and can really lead to tragedy." Djukanovic said in response to Milosevic's assertion that isolation helps Yugoslavia retain its dignity: "We have already tasted how dignity looked on an income of $5 a month and we do not want to repeat the experience." PM


President Djukanovic, who took office in January on a platform of reform, autonomy, and good relations with the outside world, sent the Belgrade authorities a comprehensive reform proposal on 3 April, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. He stressed that Yugoslavia is "riding a train... that is rushing toward a wall." He said, "It will be smashed if we do not change the direction of the locomotive." His initiative centers on social and economic opening to the world, economic reform and privatization, respect for the rule of law, political democratization, social justice, and security. He urged Belgrade to join the Central European Free Trade Area (CEFTA) and the South East European Economic Integration Initiative (SECI). Djukanovic added that Yugoslavia should return to the Council of Europe and International Monetary Fund, apply to join the EU, and seek access to the EU's Phare aid program. PM


The Serbian authorities in Podujeva on 4 April returned to Kosovar representatives the first high school in Kosova to be given back to the Albanians under the March education agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). The first building to change hands, Prishtina's Albanian Studies Institute, did so on 31 March. The process of restoring public educational facilities to majority ethnic Albanian control is slated to end on 30 June. PM


The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and its affiliates from Kosova, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, and Greece issued a statement in Vienna on 3 April calling for an international preventive force for Kosova on the model of the Macedonia-based UNPREDEP. The statement dubbed Milosevic's call for a referendum "an ominous signal, recalling similar gestures that preceded ethnic aggression in Croatia and Bosnia. " It said, "We consider that such a proposal is aimed at kindling flames of nationalistic hysteria and xenophobic confrontation, as a prerequisite for increasingly autocratic policies." PM


The leading Independent Democratic Serbian Party, the Joint Township Council, and the Serbian People's Council condemned the arrest of three ethnic Serbs in Vukovar on 3 April. The three groups said in a statement there the following day that arrests for crimes allegedly committed during 1991 will only serve to destabilize the delicate political balance in the region, RFE/RL reported. The statement added that none of the three appears on a list of 25 persons formally charged with wartime offenses. PM


Croatian police arrested Neven Barac, the former director of the scandal- plagued Dubrovacka Banka, in Zagreb on 3 April. He is wanted in conjunction with losses totaling $250 million through questionable business practices, to which press reports have linked some officials of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). The independent weekly "Globus" wrote on 1 April that the bank at one point transferred $150 million to HDZ loyalists in Herzegovina. In recent days, spokesmen for the Croatian National Bank have issued a series of statements aimed at restoring consumer confidence in Dubrovacka. PM


The editors of the independent weekly "Feral Tribune" said in a statement issued in Split on 3 April that the paper is the victim of an ongoing campaign by state-run television and other HDZ-controlled media. The editors charged that the HDZ "wants to liquidate the weekly financially and physically." PM


Prime Minister Fatos Nano hinted in a press release on 3 April that some government ministers may soon lose their jobs in a reshuffle. He admonished them to improve their performance. Nano said there is a lack of coordination among ministers and added that "I do not doubt some of you are acting from interests other than our mandate and the responsibilities we have undertaken." President Rexhep Meidani said he hopes that the five- party coalition will remain intact following the expected reshuffle. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Neritan Ceka from the small Democratic Alliance Party told a party assembly in Tirana on 4 April that he has proof that some -- unnamed -- politicians are involved in smuggling, "Koha Jone" reported. He pledged to investigate all allegations and threatened to leave the coalition if he faces opposition from within the government. FS


Unknown assailants killed two off-duty policemen in the night of 4 April in Shkoder near the police headquarters, "Koha Jone" reported. In a separate incident, an unidentified man shot dead one man and wounded another in Tirana's central Skanderbeg Square. FS


Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 3 April made public his plan for boosting Romania's lagging reforms. Vasile, chosen last week to form a government, said he will lower income taxes, raise import duties, and subsidize the country's farmers. Vasile said that a decrease in salary taxes would lead to greater foreign investment. Vasile led negotiations with probable coalition parties on 4 April. Valeriu Stoica, the deputy president of the National Liberal Party, said he hoped talks on forming the cabinet would be finished and announced early this week. Under the constitution, Vasile has 10 days to submit a government to parliament. Vasile said he also will ask the parliament to reduce the number of ministries in an effort to streamline the government. PB


President Petru Lucinschi is in a Chisinau hospital for treatment of lumbago, AFP reported on 3 April. Lucinschi was admitted last week and is reported to be working while in the hospital. In Tiraspol, the capital of the separatist Transdniester region, secessionist leader Igor Smirnov has been hospitalized for several days after reportedly suffering a heart attack, INFOTAG reported on 4 April. In other news, the parliament in Tiraspol fired central bank President Oleg Natakhin and his deputy, Vladimir Kharchenko, INFOTAG reported on 3 April. The firings come on the heels of a three-fold devaluation in the Transdniestrian ruble, followed by crippling inflation. PB


by Paul Goble

The impressive showing of Communist Party candidates in the Ukrainian and Moldovan parliamentary elections has prompted some observers to make apocalyptic predictions about the future of those countries. The day after the Ukrainian vote, one Kyiv newspaper asked whether the results constituted a new "red dawn." Other commentators suggested that the vote for the Communists meant a return to the past and a reorientation toward Moscow.

But an examination of both the returns in those countries and what actually happened in the elections suggests that the future of the two states is unlikely to proceed in that direction.

On 23 March, the Communist Party in Moldova received 30 percent of the vote, far more than any other party but also far less than a majority in the parliament. Not surprisingly in such a situation, the party's leader, Vladimir Voronin, indicated that the Communist deputies would seek to form a coalition with the country's main centrist bloc and would not demand that a Communist be named prime minister. And while Voronin said that his party would seek to promote the economic "rebirth" of the country, he also said that the Moldovan Communists would not oppose privatization, a key part of the reformist program.

Six days later, on March 29, the Communist Party in Ukraine received approximately one vote in four, giving it 25 percent of the 225 seats allocated by party list, far more than any other political party in that election. But the Communists triumphed in fewer than 40 of the 225 parliamentary seats chosen in single-member districts and thus will be forced to seek allies among other parties if they hope to participate in the government or determine policy outcomes.

More to the point, in both countries, there are three important reasons to think that this increase in the vote for Communist deputies does not presage a return to the past, either domestically or internationally.

First, the Ukrainian and Moldovan Communists won in competitive elections rather than through the use of revolutionary methods. As such, they are far more like leftist parties in Europe than their Bolshevik predecessors. They have had to make promises to voters. They have not won a majority that would allow them to run roughshod over others. And they are forced to seek coalitions to be effective.

Second, the Communists won as the result of a protest vote by those who have suffered owing to social and economic dislocations of the past decade. As one of the more thoughtful Ukrainian newspapers said earlier this wee, "Ukraine voted in protest -- not for the Greens or other colors of the spectrum but against the way we are living." Pensioners and many workers there have not been paid for months. Many people are suffering from the decline in public services. And still more are frightened about what will happen next.

Not surprisingly, they voted for Communist candidates who promised to ease their situation. If those making promises cannot keep them any better than the parties they defeated, they too will lose at the next election.

And third, the vote for the Communists was not necessarily a vote for closer ties with Moscow, let alone a return to some kind of revived Soviet Union. While some people in both countries may have voted communist out of a misplaced nostalgia for the past, most voted the way they did out of domestic considerations rather than foreign policy calculations. And even if some Communist candidates did promise to improve ties with Moscow, they also spoke out in favor of strengthening the national governments they hoped to be elected to.

Indeed, precisely because of the legacy of the past, many of the Communists adopted campaign rhetoric as nationalist as any of the other candidates.

To say all this is not to welcome the votes for the Communists in either Moldova or Ukraine. On the one hand, the vote for them represents a repudiation, at least for a time, of those who have sought to promote democracy and free markets. On the other hand, Communist deputies in both countries are likely to be able to block or at least water down further efforts toward those two goals.

Rather, it is to suggest that this pattern of voting may be part of the birth pangs of a democratic system in Moldova and Ukraine, instead of its death knell as some fear.