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Newsline - May 15, 1998




COAL MINERS TAKE EXTREME MEASURES TO PROTEST WAGE ARREARS

Some 1,000 unpaid miners in Anzhero- Sudzhensk (Kemerovo Oblast) blocked the Trans-Siberian Railroad on 15 May, the eighth day of their strike, ITAR- TASS reported. In Komi Republic, more than 100 miners are on hunger strike and hundreds more have blocked the Vorkuta-Moscow Railroad since 13 May, although they allowed some passenger trains through on 15 May. Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov met with representatives of miners' unions in Moscow the previous day and promised that the government will take steps to help the coal industry. He estimated total wage arrears to miners at 3. 5 billion rubles ($573 million). RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 13 May that since ordinary strikes and demonstrations gain little attention, coal miners more frequently stage hunger strikes, block railroads, and blockade coal enterprise directors and city officials in their offices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 1998). LB

RADIOACTIVE CESIUM STOLEN IN VOLGOGRAD, TULA

Police in Volgograd Oblast have discovered that six lead containers of radioactive cesium have been stolen from a local oil refinery, NTV reported on 14 May. The theft may have occurred as long as a week ago, the network said. Citing a representative of the Federal Security Service, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 May that two containers of cesium were stolen in Tula Oblast but have already been found. The official said the containers are not dangerous if they remain sealed but would release high levels of radioactivity if opened. ITAR-TASS said similar containers were stolen from a chemical factory in Volgograd in 1994. Six people who allegedly intended to sell the cesium abroad were arrested and convicted for that crime. LB

DUMA TO HOLD CLOSED HEARINGS ON START-2

The State Duma voted on 14 May against a proposal by its Foreign Relations Committee to form a 20-strong commission to conclude the Duma's review of the START-2 treaty and to prepare ratification documents relating to the 1972 U.S.-Soviet agreement on limiting anti-ballistic missile systems. At the same time, the lower house instructed the committee to hold closed hearings on 9 June on ratifying START-2, Russian agencies reported. Speaking in Moscow on 14 May, Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev argued that the Duma does not have the right to begin debating ratification until the Russian government allocates the necessary funding for implementing the treaty. No such funds are included in the 1998 budget. Former Russian Deputy Defense Minister and Duma deputy Boris Gromov argued in favor of ratification on the grounds that it would cost more to maintain Russia's "exhausted" nuclear potential than to reduce it, Interfax reported. LF

TURKEY WARNS RUSSIA OVER S-300S

Defense Minister Ismet Sezgin told journalists in Izmir on 14 May that Ankara will purchase arms only from those countries that "support our causes." He condemned as "madness" the planned deployment in southern Cyprus of Russian S-300 air defense missiles. The Russian Foreign Ministry and the arms export concern Rosvooruzhenie said earlier this week that Moscow intends to proceed with the planned deployment, which Turkish Chief of Staff General Ismail Hakki Karadayi has called the most serious threat to Turkey's security since World War II. LF

DUMA CONCERNED ABOUT CHUBAIS APPOINTMENT...

The Duma on 14 May instructed its committees on legislation, privatization, and industrial policy to examine the Audit Chamber's findings on an April shareholders' meeting at the electricity giant Unified Energy System (EES), Russian news agencies reported. The board of directors elected at that meeting later chose former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais as the company's chief executive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April and 7 May 1998). The Audit Chamber says the meeting was conducted in violation of Russian legislation and the EES charter. Also on 14 May, the Duma appealed to President Boris Yeltsin to reconsider his decision to eliminate the State Committee on Youth Affairs, which was among several committees abolished under a recent presidential decree (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 1998). LB

...FORMS COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE FALL 1993 EVENTS

The Duma on 14 May formed a commission to investigate the events that took place in Moscow in September-October 1993, ITAR-TASS reported. On 21 September of that year, Yeltsin issued a decree disbanding the Supreme Soviet. His opponents did not comply with the decree, which the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional, and sought to replace Yeltsin with then Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi. Yeltsin ultimately settled the standoff by ordering tanks to shell the parliament. According to official estimates, almost 150 people died during the street fighting in the capital (other estimates put the figure at several hundred). LB

RYBKIN BECOMES YELTSIN'S ENVOY TO CIS

Yeltsin has appointed Ivan Rybkin as his envoy to the CIS states, Russian news agencies reported on 14 May. According to presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii, the holder of the new post in the presidential administration will have a rank equivalent to that of deputy prime minister. In March, Yeltsin transferred Rybkin from Security Council secretary to deputy prime minister in charge of CIS issues, but that government post no longer exists. Last month, the CIS presidents voted to appoint Boris Berezovskii, an ally of Rybkin, as CIS executive secretary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 April 1998). LB

NEMTSOV TO HEAD STATE REPRESENTATIVES IN GAZPROM

Yeltsin has appointed Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov as chairman of the 10-member collegium of state representatives in the gas monopoly Gazprom, Russian news agencies reported on 14 May. Yeltsin created the collegium in May 1997, and then First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov repeatedly promised to increase the state's influence in managing the company. (The state owns a 40 percent stake in Gazprom.) But Yeltsin removed Nemtsov from the collegium last December in a move seen as a signal of the rising influence of then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 23 December 1997). Chernomyrdin headed Gazprom before joining the government in December 1992. LB

CHERNOMYRDIN CONSIDERING BID FOR DUMA SEAT

Aleksandr Shokhin, the head of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) Duma faction, announced on 14 May that Chernomyrdin, the NDR leader, is considering a bid for the State Duma, Russian news agencies reported. Several NDR deputies want him to run for the seat in Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug that has been vacated by Vladimir Goman, who left the Duma's Russian Regions faction to become chairman of the State Committee on the North. Shokhin said the former premier has not decided whether to run. Yamal-Nenets has immense gas reserves, and Gazprom has vast political influence in the okrug. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 May that Vladimir Babichev, head of the NDR's political council and former head of the government apparatus, plans to compete in a Duma by-election in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. LB

NEWSPAPER ASSAILS 'DEBT PYRAMID,' CENTRAL BANKER

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 May charged that the federal government's system of issuing treasury bills (GKOs) has created a dangerous "debt pyramid." Noting that new GKOs are issued to repay the holders of old GKOs and that one-third of federal expenditures are currently spent on internal debt servicing, the newspaper drew repeated comparisons between the GKOs and Sergei Mavrodi's infamous MMM pyramid scheme, which defrauded millions of investors in the mid-1990s. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" also slammed Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin, saying that under his leadership the bank has failed to create a stable banking network, make the ruble fully convertible, or protect Russian financial markets from "shocks" in the world economy. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is financed by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ empire, has accused the Central Bank of contributing to instability on Russian financial markets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 1998). LB

BANKER FINED FOR REFUSING TO DISCLOSE CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION

A city court in Vladivostok has fined Valentina Panteleeva, the acting head of the Primorskii Krai branch of the Central Bank, for refusing to reveal confidential information about a local commercial bank, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 May. Panteleeva refused to comply with a request from krai prosecutors to send information obtained during a Central Bank audit of the commercial bank. The case highlights the contradictions between the federal law on the activities of Russian prosecutors (which gives prosecutors the right to demand information necessary for conducting an investigation) and the federal law on banking secrets (which does not list the prosecutor's office among the agencies that have the right to ask for confidential information about banks). LB

KRASNOYARSK INCUMBENT WAGES ACTIVE CAMPAIGN

In the final days before the runoff gubernatorial election in Krasnoyarsk Krai, incumbent Valerii Zubov is waging a far more active campaign than is his challenger, Aleksandr Lebed, RFE/RL's correspondent in Krasnoyarsk reported on 14 May. The pop singer Alla Pugacheva arrived in Krasnoyarsk on 14 May and held a press conference and television interview in support of Zubov. Although she did not attack Lebed, she said he would not be a good governor. Another famous singer, Lyudmila Zykina, has come to the krai in order to give two concerts in support of Zubov, Russian news agencies reported. Meanwhile, Lebed and his supporters continue to express confidence about the election. A newspaper published by his campaign staff has appeared with a headline heralding "the final hours" of the current authorities. LB

FORMER POLITICAL ALLY SLAMS LEBED

Duma deputy Dmitrii Rogozin, the chairman of the Congress of Russian Communities (KRO), sharply criticized Lebed at a 14 May press conference in Moscow, Russian news agencies reported. Lebed ran on the KRO's party list for the 1995 Duma elections, but relations soured after he became Security Council secretary in summer 1996 and especially after he negotiated a ceasefire agreement in Chechnya. Rogozin recently returned from a visit to Krasnoyarsk, where the KRO is campaigning against Lebed. He accused Lebed of spending $10 million, some of it foreign money, on his gubernatorial bid. Rogozin also charged that Lebed's campaign staff have broken campaign rules more than 60 times but have received only three warnings from the krai electoral commission. LB

CAMPAIGN HEATS UP IN KARELIA

Emotions are running high in the final days before the 17 May runoff election for the top post in the Republic of Karelia. The incumbent, Viktor Stepanov, has the backing of the Communist Party and the heads of many large enterprises. Supporters of former Petrozavodsk Mayor Sergei Katanandov include the Our Home Is Russia movement, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and the Moscow city government. In the first round, Katanandov narrowly outpolled Stepanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 1998). LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky blasted Stepanov during a recent appearance on local television. The incumbent subsequently announced plans to sue Zhirinovsky for going beyond "all acceptable boundaries" of human behavior and the television station "for providing air time during the campaign to a citizen having dubious personal characteristics," ITAR-TASS reported on 14 May. LB

NIZHNII COURT CONSIDERS WOULD-BE MAYOR'S APPEAL

A Nizhnii Novgorod raion court is considering Andrei Klimentev's appeal against the decision to annul the 29 March mayoral election in the city, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 and 14 May. Klimentev won the election by a narrow margin, but the city electoral commission canceled the results, citing violations committed by several candidates during the campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 1 April 1998). Klimentev is in custody facing trial for alleged embezzlement. Because of mistakes made by his representative in filing court papers, he is not allowed to attend the hearings on the election annulment. LB

DUMA CALLS ON CHECHEN PARLIAMENT TO EXPEDITE VLASOV'S RELEASE

The Duma Nationalities Committee appealed to the Chechen parliament on 14 May to take all measures to secure the release of abducted Russian presidential envoy to Chechnya Valentin Vlasov, ITAR- TASS reported. Russian government envoy to Chechnya Georgii Kurin said on 14 May after meeting with Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Kazbek Makhashev that he believes Vlasov may be freed within the next few days. Kurin also discussed with Makhashev the planned reopening of a Russian Interior Ministry mission in the Chechen capital. Sixty Chechen police officers are to undergo a training course in Moscow, Interfax reported on 14 May, quoting Russian Deputy Interior Minister General Valerii Fedorov. LF




UN PROLONGS OBSERVER MISSION IN TAJIKISTAN

The UN Security Council on 14 May voted unanimously to extend for six months (until 15 November) the mandate of its 70- strong observer mission in Tajikistan. The subsequent council resolution expressed concern at the recent renewal of hostilities between government and opposition troops. Meeting with Paolo Lembo, the UN representative in Dushanbe, United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri expressed reservations about UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal that parliamentary elections scheduled for later this year be postponed, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in the Tajik capital. LF

KYRGYZ RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS FORM COMMITTEE TO PROTECT ISLAM

A number of religious organizations have established a committee in Bishkek to counter anti- Islamic measures by the Kyrgyz leadership, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 14 May. Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov said that the Kyrgyz government is cracking down on religious organizations under the pretext of combatting Wahhabism, which, he claimed, does not pose a threat in Kyrgyzstan. Also on 14 May, Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii invited Kyrgyzstan to join the tripartite alliance created by Russia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan earlier this month to combat religious extremism, ITAR- TASS reported. LF

SHEVARDNADZE, BEREZOVSKII DISCUSS CIS, ABKHAZIA

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said after his 14 May meeting with CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii that their views on the CIS "are not contradictory" even if they do not coincide. The two men did agree, however, on the need to overcome what Berezovskii termed "political alienation" within the CIS and on priorities for reform within that body. Alluding to the unresolved Abkhaz conflict, Shevardnadze said the CIS cannot function effectively if it is unable to guarantee the territorial integrity of member states, an RFE/RL correspondent in Tbilisi reported. Berezovskii said he believes it is "quite possible" that a solution to that conflict can be reached. He called for increasing efforts to that end, including bilateral negotiations between the Georgian and Abkhaz leadership. LF

ABKHAZ LEADERSHIP AGAIN REJECTS FEDERATION

Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba continues to insist that Abkhazia's status is already defined in the region's constitution and is not a subject for discussion with Tbilisi, Interfax reported on 14 May. Shamba ruled out the idea of a federation with Georgia. Shevardnadze has advocated that Georgia become an "asymmetric federal state" in which Abkhazia would have broader autonomy than Adzharia or South Ossetia. LF

MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN IN STEPANAKERT

The three co-chairmen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group met with the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic behind closed doors in Stepanakert on 14 May. Those taking part included the republic's Foreign Minister Naira Melkumian and President Arkadii Ghukasian, Noyan Tapan reported. Ghukasian stressed his commitment to a peaceful settlement of the conflict and appealed to the co- chairmen to ensure that negotiations resume. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER ARGUES AGAINST PRE-TERM ELECTIONS

Khosrov Harutiunian said on 14 May that there is no need to dissolve the parliament and hold pre-term parliamentary elections as there is no "internal political crisis" in Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said the current parliament should be allowed to complete its four-year term, which expires in the summer of 1999. Some of the political parties aligned in the Justice and Unity bloc, created in March to support acting President Robert Kocharian's presidential bid, want early elections as they are under-represented in the legislature. President Kocharian met on 14 May with members of the Justice and Unity bloc to discuss their proposal for creating a "consultative political council" on which all main political parties would be represented. LF




CRIMEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS SPEAKER, DISMISSES CABINET

By a vote of 52 to 39, the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea on 14 May elected Communist leader Leonid Hrach as speaker. According to ITAR-TASS, the standoff between the Communists and their adversaries (see RFE/RL "Newsline," 30 April 1998) was resolved in a political deal whereby the Communists will "pay" for Hrach's election by agreeing to the appointment of Serhiy Kunitsyn, leader of the bloc of parliamentary centrist factions, as prime minister. Immediately after his election, Hrach proposed a motion to dismiss Anatoliy Franchuk's government, and the legislature passed a resolution terminating the government's tenure and ordering the ministers to fulfill their duties until a new cabinet is appointed. Hrach is reportedly to meet soon with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to seek his approval for Kunitsyn's appointment as Crimean premier. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REGISTERS EIGHT FACTIONS

The Supreme Council has registered eight factions, ITAR- TASS reported on 14 May. The Communists have the largest faction, with 119 deputies. They are followed by the Popular Democratic Party (84), the Popular Rukh (47), the Hromada party (39), the Socialists/Peasants bloc (35), the Greens (24), the Social Democrats (24), the Progressive Socialists (17). Of the 430 approved deputies, 41 have not declared affiliation with any faction. JM

MINSK DEMONSTRATION SUPPORTS POLITICAL PRISONERS

Some 2,000 young people took part in an authorized march in Minsk on 14 May organized by the opposition Young Front in support of political prisoners, RFE/RL Belarusian Service and Western agencies reported. The demonstrators carried placards demanding the release of Alyaksey Shydlouski and Pavel Sevyarynets and protesting the official crackdown on independent media. A handful of arrests were reported; otherwise, the march took place without incident. JM

INDEPENDENT MEDIA FACE MORE PROBLEMS IN OBTAINING OFFICIAL INFORMATION

A poll conducted by the Belapan news agency among editors of non-state newspapers in Belarus shows that those publications have recently faced a growing number of difficulties in obtaining official information from the authorities. The editors link this situation to the directive prohibiting state bodies and officials from passing on information to independent media and from making comments to them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 1998). According to Belapan director Ales Lipay, the directive has primarily hampered the work of regional correspondents, since the regional authorities are particularly assiduous in rigorously fulfilling the order. JM

LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SURVIVES NO CONFIDENCE VOTE

Valdis Birkavs survived a vote of no confidence in the parliament on 14 May, BNS reported The motion was proposed by opposition deputies who said Birkavs had not shown enough initiative in solving disputes with Russia. It was defeated by a vote of 44 to 15. Also on 14 May, some 400 ethnic Russian students protested in Riga against the Latvian government's language policy. The students demanded the right to study in their own language and called for giving Russian the status of official language. JC

ADAMKUS PROPOSES NEW SECURITY CHIEF

Following the resignation of Jurgis Jurgelis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 1998), Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus has proposed Mecis Laurinkus as director-general of the State Security Department, Interfax reported on 14 May. A deputy chairman of the ruling Conservative Party, Laurinkus has headed the parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee since late 1996. From 1990-1991, he was chief of the State Security Department. JC

LITHUANIA SIMPLIFIES VISA PROCEDURES FOR NEIGHBORS

Lithuania has simplified its visa procedures for citizens of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, Lithuanian Foreign Ministry official Arturas Zurauskas told ITAR-TASS on 14 May. He said that citizens of the three countries wishing to make business or other trips for up to 10 days no longer need a written invitation. They must still, however, prove they can pay $60 a day per person for lodging and medical insurance. A consular fee must also be paid. The official said the streamlined procedure aims to boost business and tourism links with Lithuania. JC

POLISH DEPUTY PREMIER DENIES ALLEGED COLLABORATION

Janusz Tomaszewski, Polish deputy premier and minister of internal affairs and administration, has denied media allegations that he falsely declared he had not collaborated with the communist-era secret police. (Under a law adopted in 1997, Polish senior officials are obliged to make written declarations on whether they were secret police agents.) Tomaszewski has demanded apologies from the media. To date, one radio and three television journalists have been suspended for reporting the allegation. According to "Rzeczpospolita" on 15 May, Wieslaw Walendziak, chief of the Prime Minister's Office, who is reportedly seeking Tomaszewski's job, originally made the allegation to the media. JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT TO PRIVATIZE OIL SECTOR

The government on 14 May approved a plan to privatize the oil sector. Shares will be sold in Koncern Naftowy, a new company merging the Petrochemia Plock refinery and the CPN fuel retailer, "Zycie" reported. Poland's second- largest refinery, Rafineria Gdanska, is also to be privatized after some 200 gasoline stations have been transferred to it from CPN. JM

CZECH POLL SHOWS SOCIALIST SUPPORT WANING

A public opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research in late April and early May shows that support for the opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD) is waning, Reuters reported on 13 May. The CSSD's backing dropped from 25 percent in early April to 22 percent at the beginning of this month, while support for the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) rose from 11 percent to 14 percent. The newly formed Pensioners' Party has doubled its backing from 5 percent to 10 percent. The Freedom Union, which broke from the ODS, lost three percentage points to achieve 9 percent support, while the Christian Democrats lost two percentage points and are now backed by 6 percent. MS

FIDESZ LEADER SEEKS TO REASSURE BOURSE

Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ-MPP) leader Viktor Orban on 14 May visited the Budapest stock exchange in an attempt to reassure investors that if his party wins the elections, the economy will not suffer, Reuters and Hungarian media reported. Stock exchange prices sharply dropped after the 10 May electoral runoff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 1998). Orban said that the FIDESZ-MPP's economic policies mean stronger growth and a boost for small and medium-sized enterprises but will not affect investors in the financial sector. In another development, Christian Democratic Party chairman Gyorgy Giczy has offered to resign "if most county organizations wish so," assuming responsibility for the poor performance of his party on 10 May. MS

WITHDRAWAL AGREEMENTS REACHED AHEAD OF HUNGARIAN RUNOFF

The Socialist Party and their Free Democrats coalition partner have concluded an agreement whereby their candidates will withdraw from the 24 May runoff in favor of the best placed candidates, Hungarian media reported on 14 May. Fifteen Free Democrats are stepping down in favor of Socialist candidates, while two Socialists are to do same for the benefit of the Free Democrats. Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Forum has withdrawn its regional lists in favor of FIDESZ-MPP in Szaolcs-Szatmar and Hajdu Bihar, the two counties where elections are to be repeated owing to an insufficient turnout on 10 May. The Christian Democrats pulled out of the single-member constituency runoff in Nyireseg in favor of the Smallholders but will retain its county list. Finally, the People's Party has withdrawn all its candidates in single-member constituencies in favor of FIDESZ-MPP. MS




YUGOSLAVIA STRESSES KOSOVAR INDEPENDENCE NOT AN OPTION...

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zividan Jovanovic on 14 May stressed that Belgrade has not altered its position and that it rules out independence for Kosova, AFP reported. Jovanovic made his comments in Amsterdam on the eve of the meeting in Belgrade between Kosova shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. He said that some degree of autonomy for Serbia's southern province is possible, but he did not elaborate. Veton Surroi, a member of Rugova's delegation in Belgrade, said he considers the meeting as the beginning of "political talks that should pave the way for political negotiations." In Strasbourg, the European Parliament urged both sides in the conflict to agree on international mediation to help reach a settlement. Belgrade has refused outside mediation, while leading Kosovar officials have insisted on it. The absence of international mediators at the talks in Belgrade has caused a divide within the Kosovar leadership. PB

...WHILE FIGHTING CONTINUES IN PROVINCE

Fighting between Serbian police and ethnic Albanians was reported outside Prishtina on 14 May. Heavy artillery fire was audible and smoke visible from an area southwest of the capital near Djakovica. Serb police said the fighting started after ethnic Albanians attacked a police station, injuring three officers. The Kosova Information Center, which has links to the Kosovar leadership, said that in the Orahovac region, Serbian forces attacked several villages. Neither report was independently confirmed. The Kosova leadership on 14 May called for Serbian military forces to withdraw from the province. PB

BOSNIAN SERB HARDLINER TO RETIRE FROM POLITICS

Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian representative of the Bosnian presidency, said on 14 May that he will leave politics when his term expires, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Krajisnik made the announcement during an address to the Bosnian Serb parliament in Banja Luka. Krajisnik equivocated later, saying he "will try" to avoid being named as a candidate in the future. The Bosnian presidential election is scheduled for September. PB

SFOR TROOPS INSPECT BOSNIAN SERB INSTALLATIONS

NATO-led peacekeeping troops completed a sweeping inspection of Bosnian Serb government and security forces sites in the Republika Srpska on 14 May, AFP reported. Some 500 soldiers and 30 armed vehicles from NATO's Stabilization Force (SFOR) took part in the operation. A statement by NATO said the inspections were necessary because of the relocation of the Bosnian Serb parliament from Pale to Banja Luka. The office of Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the Bosnian presidency, was occupied during the sweep, as were police stations, military barracks, and the new parliament building in Banja Luka. UN police aided in the operation. Dragan Kalinic, the president of the parliament, called the inspections "illegal." PB

BOSNIAN SERB GOES ON TRIAL IN GERMANY

Maksim Sokolovic, who is accused of murder, rape, and complicity in genocide, went on trial on 14 May in Dusseldorf, AFP reported. Sokolovic, who has lived in Germany since 1969 but returned to Bosnia for the war from 1992-1995 to head a paramilitary unit, denies the charges. He is the fourth Bosnian Serb to be arrested in Germany for war crimes. At The Hague, judges have decided to drop several charges against Goran Jelisic, who refers to himself as the "Serb Adolf." Amending the indictment against Jelisic is expected to speed up his trial. He is still indicted on 18 counts of crimes against humanity and 19 charges of war crimes. PB

CROATIA RELENTS ON REFUGEE LEGISLATION

The Croatian government has issued revamped guidelines on the return of Serbian refugees to Croatia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 14 May. The new policies were approved at a regular government session after international pressure was put on Zagreb to accelerate the return of Serbian refugees to their pre-war homes in Croatia. William Montgomery, the U.S. ambassador in Zagreb, said the new guidelines should allow Croatia to avoid sanctions that had been threatened by Western countries if changes in refugee return policies were not made. In other news, President Franjo Tudjman celebrated a low-key 76th birthday in Zagreb, in sharp contrast to the country-wide gala celebration that was staged last year. Tudjman is reported to be suffering from cancer, although he officially denies those reports. PB

CROATIAN OPPOSITION PARTY CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO RESIGN

Mato Arlovic, the chairman of the Social Democratic Party's parliamentary group, has called on the government to resign from office or face a confidence vote, AFP reported. Arlovic set a deadline of next week for the government to resign. The call comes after the Constitutional Court ruled that the government has deprived more than 800,000 pensioners of some $5 million in pension payments over the last five years. The government rejects the court's decision. Rudolf Mazuran, the chairman of a pensioners' union, said he will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if Zagreb fails to abide by the court decision. PB

MACEDONIAN BORDER GUARDS KILL ALBANIAN

One Albanian was killed on 14 May when Macedonian border troops opened fire on a group of Albanians attempting to cross into Macedonia, AFP reported. The Macedonian Defense Ministry said the body of the slain man has been returned to Albanian officials. It said border troops had prevented two other groups from entering Macedonia illegally. Ethnic Albanians make up some 25 percent of Macedonia's population. PB

SLOVENIAN OFFICIAL EXPECTS EU ENTRY IN TWO STAGES

Janez Potocnik, Slovenia's chief negotiator with the EU, said on 14 May that he expects the six countries in the first wave of EU accession to be admitted in two groups, Reuters reported. Potocnik said Slovenia hopes to be admitted by 2003 and to qualify for monetary union two years later. Potocnik said Ljubljana needs to reform its tax and pension systems and its public utility and financial sectors. Slovenia began membership negotiations with the EU in March. PB

OPPOSITION TO RUN JOINT CANDIDATE IN BUCHAREST MAYORAL RACE

Eight opposition parties on 13 May decided they will chose a joint candidate to run against Viorel Lis, the candidate of the Democratic Convention of Romania, in the Bucharest mayoral elections. The joint candidate will be designated after what has been called a "professional contest" among five candidates. The five are Sorin Oprescu of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, Valentin Iliescu of the Party of Romanian National Unity, Ion Sasu of the Socialist Labor Party, Constantin Popovici of the Socialist Party, and a candidate representing the Pensioners' Party, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

GOVERNMENT CRITICIZES FUNAR OVER MEMORIAL PLAQUE

The government on 14 May said a recent initiative of the extreme nationalist mayor of Cluj Gheorghe Funar was part and parcel of the "chauvinist and anti-Semitic phenomena" harming Romania's image abroad. Funar has had a memorial plaque hung on a building in Cluj that claims the Hungarian national poet Sandor Petofi was a Serb born as Alexander Petrovic and later forced to "Magyarize" his name. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI PARLIAMENT PASSES REGIONAL 'CONSTITUTION'

The Popular Assembly of the Gagauz- Yeri autonomous region on 14 May unanimously voted in favor of the region's basic law, Infotag and BASA-press reported. The vote had been postponed in March owing to objections from Chisinau that the law infringes on the Moldovan Constitution. The assembly approved the document after receiving favorable opinions from the Council of Europe, the Moldovan Ministry of Justice, and independent lawyers from the U.S., all of whom agreed that the document does not contradict the Moldovan Constitution and is in line with international provisions on local autonomy. MS

TRANSDNIESTRIAN MEDIATORS URGE RESTORED BRIDGE TO BE OPENED

In a joint statement released on 14 May, the representatives of the Russian and Ukrainian presidents and the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's permanent mission to Moldova said the recently restored bridge at Dubasari, which spans the Dniester River, is a "symbol of constructive co- operation and rapprochement of citizens living on either side of the river." They also expressed regret that its re- commissioning has been postponed owing to "reasons of secondary importance." The Tiraspol authorities are conditioning the re-opening of the bridge on the signing of an agreement never to use the bridge for military purposes. The reconstruction of the bridge, destroyed during the 1992 military conflict, was part of the agreement reached last May in Moscow. MS

TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER IN BULGARIA

Ismail Cem met with Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and his Bulgarian counterpart, Nadezhda Mihailova, in Sofia on 14 May to discuss economic and financial cooperation and finding a solution to the Kosova conflict, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Bulgarian capital reported. Cem said NATO must play a more active role in Kosova and help guarantee the security of the surrounding countries. He also said that without accepting Bulgaria among its members, NATO will remain an "unfinished circle." Cem and Mihailova signed an agreement of cooperation between their ministries. MS

ZHIVKOV IN INTENSIVE CARE

Former communist leader Todor Zhivkov is in intensive care, after being taken ill with heart and blood problems, AFP reported. BTA quoted a spokesman for the hospital as saying the life of the 86- year-old former president is not in danger, BTA reported. In other news, the president of the Miners' Insurance company was shot dead through the window of his car by an unidentified gunman. The assassination may be linked to conflicts within organized crime groups, according to a spokesman for the government agency that supervises insurance companies. MS




RE-DEVELOPING DEVELOPED SOCIALISM IN BELARUS


by Jan Maksymiuk

"Multistructural economy"--such was the term used by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to define Belarus's economic course during his annual address to the bicameral National Assembly on 17 April. The term supersedes (or may be used alternately with) the concept of "market socialism" proposed by Lukashenka in his annual address to the legislature in 1997. "We are building an economy of a multistructural type, where private ownership will exist along with state ownership," Lukashenka explained to lawmakers last month.

According to Lukashenka, Belarus is about to witness the "harmonious interaction of the industrial and agricultural economic sectors, with the state preserving the right of regulation." The state that regulates and controls the transition to a market economy--in Lukashenka's opinion--is an "efficient" one. As for the strategic economic task of the government, Lukashenka said the cabinet is seeking to attain by 2001 the Soviet- era level of development in terms of basic economic indicators.

It is characteristic of both Lukashenka and Belarusian official sources to illustrate the country's economic growth by citing quantitative production indicators while bypassing qualitative figures like real income, the purchasing power of the average wage, newly created jobs, or investment. The reason for this is obvious. Last year, Belarus claimed the highest economic growth rate in Europe--some 10 percent of GDP. But that achievement has in no way been reflected in living standards.

Calculated in terms of U.S. dollars at the official exchange rate of the Belarusian National Bank, GDP last year decreased by 1.9 percent, compared with 1996. An economic-growth effect, if it indeed existed, was dispelled by inflation and the devaluation of the national currency. If the same means of calculation is applied to the nominal average monthly wage, there was a 6.3 percent decrease in 1997, compared with the previous year. Moreover, the average monthly pension fell by 13.4 percent and the average monthly unemployment benefit by 4 percent.

Nonetheless, Lukashenka's claims of industrial production growth--in both 1997 and 1998--may be to some extent valid. That growth continues to be artificially stimulated by large National Bank credits to enterprises that are subsequently ordered to sell their products at prices below production costs. This accounts for the official figure of a more than 40 percent increase last year in trade turnover with Russia, Belarus's main economic partner. It also accounts for unsold stock, most of it uncompetitive on international markets, worth $500 million. The most important effects of such monetary policies are the devaluation of the Belarusian ruble (almost 200 percent in 1997), inflation (60 percent), decreased consumption, and national pauperization.

Nor does the situation in the agricultural sector look rosy, not even according to official statistics. Agricultural production last year fell by 5.5 percent, primarily owing to a sharp decrease in the cultivation of potato and flax, Belarus's most important crops. The state subsidizes 80 percent of the sector's expenditures on fertilizers and 50 percent of fuel and electricity costs. Independent analysts assert that nearly 30 percent of the Belarusian collective farms would go bankrupt immediately if they were not subsidized from the budget. In his 17 April address, Lukashenka pledged that the state would continue to support the agroindustrial complex without discriminating between profitable and loss-making farms.

Lukashenka's address to the National Assembly-- which is fully subservient to the president--suggests a tightening of the administration's grip on the economy. While calling for a "multistructural economy," the Belarusian president has not made any proposals or expressed any ideas signaling that the authorities intend to steer toward economic diversity. In fact, some recent economic developments suggest just the opposite.

The Oblast Executive Committees in Minsk and Mahilyou have issued directives imposing restrictions on the sale of foodstuffs. Individuals in Minsk Oblast, for example, are not allowed to buy more than 0.4 kilograms of cheese and/or 2 kilograms of bread at any one given time. The old style of managing the economy, such as prevailed under developed socialism, gives rise to old ailments-- shortages of food and consumer products. Some Belarusian commentators have expressed fears that this may be a step toward food rationing .

Restrictions have been and will be imposed on other commodities as well. In March, the government prohibited both state-owned and private enterprises from exporting flax fibers. The practice of forcing producers to sell those fibers at prices below production costs has led to a significant decline in flax cultivation and a shortage of flax for domestic processing.

According to some reports, Lukashenka has already drafted decrees on monopolizing foreign trade in a wide range of commodities and on nationalizing--or, more precisely, re-nationalizing--trade in medicines. If those decrees are enacted, Lukashenka's revival of developed socialism will be a fait accompli. One of the final goals of such a policy is to eliminate consumers from economic decision-making. The Belarusian president has already chalked up several successes on this path, but will Belarusian consumers cheer him on to proceed even further?


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