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Newsline - August 10, 1998




YELTSIN TO REMAIN IN CONTROL IN SICKNESS OR IN HEALTH

On 8 August, Russian President Boris Yeltsin firmly rejected a draft law submitted by the Duma that would have allowed the prime minister to assume the president's duties in case of either illness requiring a hospital or sanitoria stay, or even a vacation. According to Interfax, Yeltsin believes that the proposed law is unconstitutional, because it allows a temporary removal of the president from office. Article 92 of the Constitution permits the prime minister to act as president when the head of state is unable to perform his duties, but hospitalization alone is not sufficient grounds for a president to delegate his duties to the prime minister, he argued. JAC

RUSSIAN MEMBERSHIP IN WTO STILL LONG-TERM PROSPECT

Russian chief negotiator to the World Trade Organization Georgii Gabunia told Interfax on 7 August that there is little chance that Russia will join the WTO in 1998. According to Gabunia, Russia and the WTO still need to work out a compromise on a detailed market-access proposal that the Russian government submitted in March. Last year, President Clinton promised Yeltsin at their March meeting in Helsinki to help Russia get into the WTO by the end of 1998. However, US trade officials have urged Russia to lower its proposed import duty levels on agricultural products, particularly on poultry, the US's largest export to Russia. The next round of talks between Russia and the WTO is scheduled for December. JAC

MIR TO REMAIN OPEN UNTIL MID-1999

On 7 August, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov announced that the space station Mir will remain operational until mid-1999 when the Alpha international space station will come online. According to Interfax, the next crew to visit Mir will depart on 13 August. The first segment of Alpha will enter space in November 1998, and in April 1999 a service module will be launched. Last year, the launch of the first module of Alpha was postponed from November 1997 to June 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1997). Nemtsov told reporters that both Mir and the Alpha programs would get part of their funding from the private sector through charging cellular providers for use of communication satellites and the sale of Russian space industry property. JAC

RUSSIAN TITANIUM MONOPOLY ESTABLISHED

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 August that one industrial holding has control over 100% of Russia's titanium production, which accounts for almost one third of total world output. The holding is the result of amalgamating two Russian companies, Avisma, located in Perm oblast, and the Verkhne-Saldinskoye Metallurgisheskoye Proizvodstvennoye Obyedineniye (VSMPO) in Sverdlovsk oblast. The process was initiated by Austria's Kreditanstalt Bank, which owned Avisma. The bulk of Russian titanium is exported. In March 1998, Boeing agreed to buy $175 million worth of titanium from VSMPO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). JAC

CHELYABINSK MINERS END BLOCKADE

After Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov agreed to transfer 25 million rubles in back wages, coal miners in Chelyabinskugol company agreed on 7 August to end their two-week long blockade of the Trans-Siberian railroad. According to Interfax, Chelyabinsk governor Petr Sumin arranged for debtors to the local budget to provide another 12 million rubles to the striking miners. Yeltsin administration officials have suggested that money to compensate the railroad for the financial losses caused the miners' blockade be taken out of state monies for the coal industry. JAC

GOVERNMENT TRIES TO REDUCE ENERGY CONSUMERS' DEPENDENCE ON BARTER

On 8 August, the government decided to offer industrial enterprises and consumers who rely on government funding an incentive to settle their energy bills with cash. According to ITAR-TASS, the government approved a draft resolution offering enterprises a 1% reduction and consumers a 3% reduction in the price of gas if they pay 20% or more of their bill in cash. JAC

GOVERNMENT TO SELL MORE OIL COMPANY STAKES

On 8 August, Yeltsin signed a decree authorizing the auction of additional stakes in Russian oil companies, Interfax reported. These companies included Vostsibneftegaz, Eastern Oil, SIBUR, Tyumen Oil, KomiTEK, and NORSI Oil. The government is currently in the process of trying to sell Rosneft for the third time and an additional %5 stake in Gazprom. JAC

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR MEETS NEW SOUTH KOREAN FOREIGN MINISTER

Russia's ambassador to South Korea, Yevgenii Afanasev, met South Korea's new foreign minister, Hong Soon-young, in Seoul on 7 August, ITAR-TASS and the "Korean Times" reported. Hong told Afanasev that good relations with Russia are "very important" to his country. Hong was appointed as foreign minister on 4 August when his predecessor Park Chung-soo was sacked for mishandling the July spy scandal between Russia and South Korea. One of those caught up in that scandal, Russian diplomat Oleg Abramkin, was expelled from South Korea, but Park hinted to Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov at the ASEAN conference in Manila at the end of July that Abramkin would be allowed back. The "Korean Times," however, reports that is no longer the case as Primakov's public interpretation of Park's remarks as an official apology "hurt the national sentiment" in South Korea. BP

RUSSIA, INDIA GROWING CLOSER?

Interfax reports from 8 August say a "large-scale treaty of strategic partnership" could be signed when President Yeltsin pays a visit to Delhi late this year. Besides that treaty, a memorandum on arms trade and related services through the year 2010 is being planned. Yeltsin's India trip was originally planned for January 1998, but was postponed "under a mutual understanding." Interfax "sources" in Moscow noted that details of the original agreements are being changed to reflect the new realities on the Asian sub-continent, notably India's tests of nuclear weapons in May. Russia is officially opposed to imposing sanctions on Delhi for conducting the tests. BP

CHECHEN PRESIDENT IN U.S.

Aslan Maskhadov told journalists in Washington on 7 August that Chechnya has a right to be an independent state, but is ready to conclude a single economic and defense space with Russia, according to ITAR-TASS and an RFE/RL correspondent. Maskhadov termed U.S. interest in events in the Caucasus justified, noting that the U.S. policy towards Chechnya is "cautious." Maskhadov said he hopes for foreign investment to help rebuild Chechnya's devastated infrastructure, and that Chechnya is prepared to repay such investement, which he has asked Russian officials not to interfere in, with crude oil. Chechen domestic oil production in the first three months of 1998 was 320,000 metric tons. LF

CHECHENS CLAIM, RUSSIANS DENY CLASH ON DAGESTAN BORDER

Acting Chechen Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev told Interfax on 7 August that Chechen forces had been placed on the alert following an incident early that morning on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan. Atgeriev claimed that there were casualties on both sides when two Russian armored vehicles opened fire on a Chechen customs post, after which Russian combat helicopters subjected several Chechen posts to heavy machinegun fire. Both the Dagestan Interior Ministry and Russian Deputy Interior Minister Colonel-General Leontii Shevtsov, who is commander of the Russian Interior Ministry force in the North Caucasus, denied that any such incident had taken place. A joint Chechen-Russian commission is to investigate the alleged clash. LF




TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN STRENGTHEN DEFENSES ALONG AFGHAN BORDER

The commander of the Russian border guards in Tajikistan, Nikolai Reznichenko, said on 8 August that "stand-by" rapid reaction forces are being formed in Tajikistan to bolster defenses along the Tajik border with Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Reznichenko's comments followed reports that troops of Afghanistan's Taliban movement had entered the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif the same day. Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Abdurakhmon Azimov told ITAR-TASS on 10 August that armed Taliban troops have been seen as close as 20 kilometers from the border with Tajikistan. The Russian Border Guard Service commander, Col-General Nikolai Bordyuzha, is expected in Tajikistan on 18 August. Uzbekistan is also taking extra precautions along its border with Afghanistan, but reports from Tashkent indicate there is no fighting near the Uzbek-Afghan border, though Mazar-i-Sharif is located 60 kilometers south. BP

TAJIK OPPOSITION PROTESTS ARRESTS

The United Tajik Opposition (UTO) released a statement to local and foreign media on 8 August protesting the arrests of several UTO members in northern Tajikistan's Leninabad Region, two days earlier, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. Eight UTO members, including the chief cleric of the mosque in the city of Isfara, were arrested by police on 6 August for illegal possession of weapons. The statement from the UTO claims that even during the Tajik civil war UTO members in the Leninabad Region did not have weapons, and that the charges against the eight are "a pure lie." The statement demands the Tajik government release the eight men and "stop any steps aimed at undermining the peace process." BP

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN CALLS FOR CONSENSUS ON ELECTION LAW

Addressing the presidential human rights commission on 7 August, Robert Kocharian again called on Armenia's political parties to overcome their differences over the new election law, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian declined to say whether he supports the preference of the Yerkrapah union of war veterans, the largest parliamentary group, for the majority of seats to be allocated in single-mandate constituencies, or that of most remaining parties for proportional representation. "I am ready to accept whatever political parties and the National Assembly agree upon," he said. But Kocharian warned that if a consensus is not reached in September, the government, which shares responsibility for ensuring that the 1999 parliamentary elections are free and fair, will propose an alternative draft in October or November. Kocharian again said that he would only consider dissolving parliament in the event of a "political crisis." LF

MOTIVES FOR ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR'S MURDER STILL UNCLEAR

On 7 August the Armenian Prosecutor-General's office isisued a statement denying media speculation that a third person may have been present at the killing of Prosecutor-General Henrik Khachatrian the pervious day. Khachatrian was apparently shot dead by his subordinate, former transport prosecutor Aram Karapetian, who then committed suicide. According to a second statement carried by Armenpress on 8 August, an investigation opened by the transport procuracy at the time it was headed by Karapetian was later inxplicably shelved. One of Khachatrian's predecessors, former procurator-general Vladimir Nazarian, told the daily "Aravot" on 8 August that relations between Khachatrian and Karapetian were "not tense." Nazarian added that Karapetian and Armenian railways director Arbartsum Ghandilian, whose murder in 1994 was never solved, witnessed largescale embezzlement in the rail sector in the early 1990s. LF

AZERBAIJANIS COMMENT ON ABOLITION OF CENSORSHIP ...

Opposition party leaders and newspaper editors have greeted President Heidar Aliev's 6 August decree abolishing political censorship, Turan reported. Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar termed the move "the result of joint efforts by democratic forces," while Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey says he believes it is irreversible. But Yashar Aliyev, assistant editor of "525 gazeti," wondered if the move is indeed permanent, and Democratic Party Secretary-General Sardar Djalaloglu expressed doubt that the abolition of censorship will resolve the problem of the lack of press freedom, given that "moral censorship still exists." LF

... AS OPPOSITION PROTESTS RENEWED HARASSMENT

The Azerbaijan Popular Front Party issued a statement on 7 August reporting the arrest of four of its activists in three rural districts for their refusal to endorse Heidar Aliev's presidential candidacy, Turan reported. The party's Ordubad branch was prevented by Nakhichevan police from holding a planned meeting on 7 August, after the chairman of the Nakhichevan branch was interrogated and physically attacked by a local police official the previous day. Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Elchibey told Turan in an interview that the necessary conditions for holding democratic elections still have not been created. Elchibey accused Aliyev of insincerity in calling for dialogue with the opposition while condoning the arrest of its local representatives. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT DENIES PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRATIONS

In Moscow, former president Ayaz Mutalibov said President Aliev's abolition of media censorship is "a wise decision," adding that he would also have released political prisoners "in order to promote national unity." Mutalibov denied media reports that he either plans to contend the upcoming presidential election or that he has established contact with the five opposition leaders who intend to boycott the poll, Turan reported on 8 August. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES FOUR NEW MINISTERS

Meeting in emergency session on 8 August, the Georgian parliament confirmed four of five candidates nominated by President Eduard Shevardnadze for vacant cabinet posts, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Former First Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Ukleba was confirmed as State Property Minister, National Library Director Aleksandre Kartozia as Education Minister, law professor Lado Chanturia as minister of justice, and Tbilisi mayor and former Georgian Communist Party functionary Badri Shoshitaishvili, who served as first secretary of a Tbilisi raion party committee in the mid-1980s, as industry minister. Deputies also approved the candidacy of Foreign Trade Minister Konstantine Zaldastanishvili as ambassador to the EU, but rejected Otar Zumburidze's candidacy for the post of communications minister.LF

THREE ABKHAZ POLICE OFFICERS KILLED IN CLASH

Three Abkhaz police officers were shot dead by Georgian police in Khurcha village in Georgia's Zugdidi raion on the evening of 8 August, Russian agencies reported. The Abkhaz had reportedly crossed the Inguri river, which marks the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, by car and opened fire at houses in Khurcha. On 7 August, General Sergei Korobko, who commands the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under CIS auspices in Abkhazia, called for that force to be doubled from its present strength of 1,500 to 3,000 men, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 7 August, the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry issued a statement querying why the Georgian authorities allow the leader of the "White Legion" guerrilla force, Zurab Samushia, to give interviews to local media instead of arresting him, Caucasus Press reported. LF




PUSTOVOYTENKO THREATENS TO SEND TAX DEBTORS TO TENT CAMP

In order to force tax debtors to pay, Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko has threatened to bring managers and top regional executives to a tent camp for civil defense training, Ukrainian News reported on 8 August. Pustovoytenko, who is head of Ukraine's Civil Defense, told a 7 August cabinet session that 3,000 tents have been prepared at Pereyeslav Khmelnytskyy near Kyiv. "We will train by manuring gardens," the agency quoted him as saying. Pustovoytenko's threat follows his 5 August attempt to force unpaid taxes from some 2,000 managers by locking then up in the Ukrayina palace in Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 1998). The managers have paid only 81 million hryvni ($40 million), leaving Pustovoytenko, according to Ukrainian News, "dissatisfied." The total tax and pension fund arrears in Ukraine in July reached 8.9 billion hryvni. JM

KUCHMA REDUCES 1998 BUDGET DEFICIT, TAX BURDEN

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree reducing the 1998 budget deficit from 3.3 to 2.5 percent of GDP, Ukrainian Television reported on 7 August. The decision meets the IMF's main requirement for providing Ukraine with a $2.2 billion loan, which was agreed last month. The budget spending in 1998 will be reduced by 4.7 billion hryvni ($2.2 billion). By another decree Kuchma has abolished obligatory payments to the state-run Chornobyl Fund, which amounted to 5 percent of the wages paid by each enterprise. The president also reduced mandatory payments to the Social Security Fund from 4 to 3 percent of the wage fund. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT HONORED BY CIS LEADERS ON 60TH BIRTHDAY

Leonid Kuchma on 9 August welcomed high ranking- officials from the former Soviet republics who came to his 60th birthday party at his summer residence in Crimea. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Russia's Deputy Premier Ivan Rybkin, CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii, and former Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin paid their respect in person. Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent a congratulatory telegram to Kuchma. Shevardnadze termed bilateral relations with Ukraine "verging on the ideal," while Aliyev assured Kuchma that Ukraine "is assuredly part of the program" for the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. JM/LF

FOOD TO BE RATIONED IN HOMEL THROUGHOUT 1998

The Homel City Executive Committee has introduced new norms for the sale of foodstuffs at city shops until the end of 1998, Belapan reported on 8 August. The former restrictions on food sales were set in February. According to the new directive, individuals are allowed to buy no more than 3 liters of milk, 0.5 kg of cheese, O.4 kg of butter, and two items of canned products at any one time. JM

BALTIC COUNTRIES TO PARTICIPATE IN NATO EXERCISES

Lithuania is sending troops to a NATO exercise in Albania that will take place August 16-22, BNS reported on 7 August. Estonia and Latvia are sending troops and Lithuania is sending observers to a NATO exercise in Macedonia scheduled to occur September 10-18. PG

LATVIAN PREMIER MARKS FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

On the first anniversary of his election, Latvian Prime Minister Guntars Krasts said that he and his government have succeeded in providing a "period of stability" despite efforts by "malevolent persons abroad" to undermine the country's development, BNS reported on 7 August. In other remarks, Krasts said that he hopes to develop better relations with Moscow in the future. PG

RUSSIAN RADAR SITE IN LATVIA TO CLOSE ON SCHEDULE

On 7 August, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin said that Moscow will abide by to its commitments and shut down the Skrunda radar site as required by the 1994 accords, BNS reported. (On 6 August, Nesterushkin had suggested that Moscow might drop its most-favoured-nation approach to Latvian trade unless Riga agreed to extend Skrunda's operational life.) The radar site will now cease operations on 31 August and be completely dismantled by September 29, 2000. PG

LATVIAN REFERENDUM PETITION DRIVE GAINS MOMENTUM

As of 6 August, some 36,000 people had signed a petition calling for a referendum on recent changes in the country's citizenship legislation, BNS reported on 7 August. Organizers need to collect approximately 97,000 more signatures by the 18 August deadline. In a related development, Latvian citizens living abroad have asked Riga to increase the number of polling places where they can vote in this fall's general elections, a request the Central Election Commission has referred to the foreign ministry for review. In the last round of voting, there were 28 such polling places in foreign countries. PG

LITHUANIAN MP ASKS FOR IMPEACHMENT BEFORE TRIAL

A Lithuanian legislator charged with corruption has asked his colleagues to conduct an impeachment investigation before he is brought to trial, BNS reported on 7 August. Only if he is convicted, something that would require a three-fifths vote, and loses his parliamentary immunity would Audrius Butkevicius be tried as an ordinary citizen. The Center Union, which earlier expelled Butkevicius from its ranks, has agreed to act as his lawyer in any parliamentary proceedings. PG

POLAND CALLS FOR COMPROMISE IN DISPUTE OVER AUSCHWITZ CROSSES

The Polish Foreign Ministry has told the Israeli ambassador to Poland that the Polish authorities are in favor of a compromise solution to the Polish-Israeli dispute over the Catholic crosses erected near the former Auschwitz death camp (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 August 1998), PAP reported on 7 August. According to the ministry, the compromise should be worked out by representatives of the Polish government, the Polish Catholic Church, and "interested organizations and institutions on the Jewish side." The appeal follows a 6 August open letter sent to PAP by Jan Nowak- Jezioranski, former director of the RFE/RL Polish Service. Nowak- Jezioranski urges a quick solution to the cross controversy in order to prevent "extreme elements active on both sides" from harming Poland's international interests and rising a wave of "anti-Jewish and anti-American moods in Poland." JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT BACKS OFF IN ROW WITH FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION

Just minutes before midnight on 7 August, Jacek Debski, chairman of the Office of Physical Culture and Tourism, withdrew his earlier decision suspending the members of the Polish Soccer Association (PZPN) board. The International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) had set a deadline for the government's withdrawal at midnight of that day, threatening to exclude Poland's national and club teams from international soccer events (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 1998). FIFA rules say that national soccer associations must be independent of governments. Debski suspended the PZPN leadership in May, accusing it of incompetence in managing Polish soccer. JM

ZEMAN CABINET PUBLISHES PROGRAM

The Czech cabinet headed by Milos Zeman on 7 August officially released its political and economic program, which will be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies on 18 August. The program emphasizes the need to fight economic-related crime, to revive economic growth, to support Czech exports and to complete bank privatizations by 2000. It also calls for swift integration into the European Union and NATO in cooperation with Hungary and Poland, but also calls for a referendum on EU entry before the country is admitted, Reuters and dpa reported. On ties with neighboring Germany, the program states that these must be "forward-looking". On 8 August, Reuters reported that German Finance Minister Theo Waigel, addressing a meeting of the organization representing the Sudeten Germans, called on Zeman to officially apologize for his remarks on the organization. MS

HAVEL'S HEALTH IMPROVING, DANGERS NOT YET BEHIND

President Vaclav Havel's condition improved on 9 August, but doctors said he is to remain in intensive care for another week. Havel's personal physician, Ilja Kotik, said that the president is still breathing with the occasional aid of a respirator and that "the time to celebrate victory has not yet come." He said that laboratory findings "are not normal yet," Reuters reported. Havel's wife Dagmar said the president is watching movies, reads newspapers and communicates through written notes. MS

ORBAN COOLS ON WESTERN LIBERALISM

Prime Minister Victor Orban, in an interview with the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung", said certain elements of west European liberalism can not be "simply transferred" to Central Europe, and such attempts might "do often more harm than good," Hungarian media reported. He said some "stringent measures" envisaged by the government are viewed with concern in the West, but do not worry Hungary's own liberals, who understand that the country's high crime rate and public concern over it means that "tough action" will have to be taken this year. Orban also said that his own ruling Federation of Young Democrats- Hungarian Civic Party is now "much more than a liberal party," as it includes Christian Democratic elements and it is "just a matter of time" before closer links with the Democratic Forum coalition partner are forged. MS




WEU CALLS FOR INTERVENTION IN KOSOVA

Fighting continued in western Kosova during the 7-9 August weekend, particularly along the Decan-Gjakova road. In Paris, the Western European Union's Presidency on 7 August called on NATO to intervene "immediately" to prevent the war from spreading throughout the region, Reuters reported. WEU president Luis Maria de Puig said in a statement headlined "Enough is Enough" that "it is now clear that the use of force is the only means of bringing about a political agreement, with which the parties must be forced to comply...The limits of what the international community can tolerate without intervening have been reached. We are in the midst of a catastrophe with more than 600 dead, over 5,000 taken prisoner, 200,000 refugees and 300 villages destroyed: This is Bosnia all over again...The international community has yet again been deceived by [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic...The time has come for military action." PM

COOK: NO MILITARY VICTORY

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that the plans for Kosova that British Ambassador Brian Donnelly gave to the Serbian and Kosovar leaderships over the weekend are aimed at establishing a wide autonomy for the Kosovars within Yugoslavia, the "Guardian" wrote on 10 August. Cook added that the international Contact Group's proposal would give the people of Kosova "control of their own internal affairs, control over their own security and real autonomy....We are making it plain to both sides that this is not a war that either side can win." The Kosovars have repeatedly made it plain that, in the wake of the crackdown Milosevic launched in February, the only options are full independence or an international protectorate. Meanwhile in Tirana, a Kosovar shadow-state spokesman told an RFE/RL correspondent on 7 August that the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) is prepared to be a part of the Kosovar delegation in any future talks with the Belgrade authorities. PM

RUSSIAN VETO ON KOSOVA?

"NATO has completed preparations for military intervention [in Kosova], but this seems increasingly likely to remain a paper exercise," the "Guardian" wrote on 10 August. The London daily noted that U.S. President Bill Clinton and France's Jacques Chirac agreed in a telephone call on 7 August that they will not undertake any action in Kosova without Russian approval. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai Afanasevskii said in Belgrade on 8 August after several days of shuttle diplomacy in the region that "no one has yet explained what any foreign military interference would bring to [Kosova] and the people there." He added that the solution lies in preserving the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia while ensuring "a high degree of autonomy" for Kosova, the Belgrade daily "Danas" reported. PM

EXIT GELBARD?

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 7 August that U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard will no longer deal directly with the Kosova issue, at least not in Belgrade. U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Christopher Hill, who has been active in Kosovar diplomacy in recent weeks, will now handle the issue on Washington's behalf. The German daily reported that Gelbard had made some unspecified remarks that offended Milosevic, who declined to deal with him any further. PM

DEADLY DANCING WITH WOLVES

Serbian police in Kragujevac arrested an unnamed member of the State Security Service on 8 August after the man opened fire on the cafe "Kod Gileta," killing three people, the Belgrade daily "Danas" wrote. There was no apparent motive for the gunman's action, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Among the dead was Slobodan Miljkovic "Lugar," whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal wants in conjunction with deaths of at least 19 persons in Bosnia, where he was an officer in the paramilitary Gray Wolves. Meanwhile in Pale, unidentified masked gunmen killed Srdjan Knezevic in front of his home. Knezevic headed the paramilitary White Wolves during the Bosnian conflict but subsequently became deputy chief of police for the Serbian part of the Sarajevo area. He was a supporter of Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, who said in Banja Luka that Knezevic was "a hero" and a victim of mafia violence. PM

JOINT RETURN OF REFUGEES

SFOR peacekeepers accompanied 700 Muslims who returned to their villages of Sovici and Doljani in Croatian-controlled Herzegovina on 8 August after an absence of five years. At the same time, an unspecified number of Croats returned to their homes in nearby Jablanica. The Croatian news agency HINA reported that five Muslims beat up two Croats, who are members of the Bosnian federal army, on the road linking Jablanica and Doljani. PM

FIRES SWEEP DALMATIAN ISLANDS

Croatian Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa visited the island of Korcula on 9 August, where a fire destroyed large tracts of forests and olive groves in the course of the previous four days. Firefighters meanwhile succeeded in containing the blaze. Another fire engulfed about one-third of the surface of the neighboring island of Lastovo, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Korcula. PM

ALBANIA TO SCREEN ARABS

In the wake of the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on 7 August, Deputy Minister for Public Order Ilir Cano told "Zeri i Popullit" of 9 August that the Office of Foreigners' Control has already begun to screen "all" Arabs living and working in Albania. Cano noted that there has been a large influx of Arabs in recent years but that the authorities have not checked on each individual's background or activities. Parliamentary speaker Skender Gjinushi said, however, that "there are no Islamic fundamentalists in Albania." The governing Socialists recently criticized former President Sali Berisha for joining the Organization of the Islamic Conference and for inviting in Islamic charities during his presidency from 1992-1997, dpa wrote. Many Arabs and Iranians work with charities or businesses in Albania. While a majority of Albanians are of Islamic heritage, religious life is only slowly reemerging. Prominent is the moderate Bektashi sect. PM

POLL SHOWS ALBANIAN CORRUPTION WIDESPREAD

Almost 90 percent of those questioned in an opinion poll said that they believe there is massive corruption, ATSH news agency reported on 8 August. Some 45.7 percent said they feel that corruption has spread throughout the civil service. Some 21 percent identified the state administration as particularly corrupt, while 17.7 percent said that the judiciary is the worst. Furthermore, many respondents said that they had paid bribes to employees in the health system. According to a report by the Albanian Consumer Association (SHKSH) that included the poll results, a doctor's house visit costs between $1 and $2, while operations can run up to $70, which is the equivalent of one month's salary. An average citizen may pay about $1 as a bribe to obtain a birth certificate and between $50 and $200 to receive a business license. FS

ALBANIA TO PRODUCE AMMUNITION FOR TURKEY

Albanian and Turkish defense ministry officials signed an agreement in Ankara on 3 August providing for the production of ammunition for Turkey in a factory in Polican. Turkey will assist the company by upgrading its machinery and technology. The deal will allow the metallurgical factory there to increase its number of employees from the current 300 to 800. Most Albanian factories of all sorts are have been gutted by looters or lie idle. FS

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ATTACKS PARTY COLLEAGUES

Defense Minister Victor Babiuc on 7 August said that those who suggest that "Romania should buy second-hand reconditioned helicopters are persuaded that a modern army can be equipped with weapons bought at the flea market." He reacted to declarations by fellow Democratic Party Transportation Minister Radu Berceanu and party vice chairman Bogdan Niculescu Duvaz, who said the deal with Bell Helicopters Textron for purchasing 96 helicopters under license with the US firm acquiring a 70 percent stake in the Gimbav Brasov factory that would produce the helicopters must be reviewed. Berceanu spoke after returning from Israel, where he accompanied premier Radu Vasile and where the hosts suggested that Romania might cut a better deal by buying U.S. helicopters reconditioned in Romania in a joint venture with Israel, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT WILL NOT INTERVENE OVER DISPUTED HUNGARIAN STATE UNIVERSITY

Presidential counselor Petru Berteanu on 7 August said President Emil Constantinescu will not attempt to "in any way influence" the decision on setting up a Hungarian state university, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the decision belonged to the parliament and the government. Berteanu also denied that Constantinescu supports the dismissal of Education Minister Andrei Marga, as demanded by the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) because of his opposition to the Hungarian state university. Spokesmen representing all of UDMR's partners in the ruling coalition said they oppose the project. Meanwhile, on 8 August, UDMR chairman Bela Marko again said that Marga's opposition makes his presence in the government "incompatible" with the agreement signed by UDMR's partners in the coalition. MS

MOLDOVAN-GAZPROM TALKS END IN CHISINAU

Moldova's debt for Russian gas deliveries will be paid mostly in cash, with barter payments being reduced to a minimum, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 August at the end of talks conducted in Chisinau by Vasilii Fadeev, a member of Gazprom Board of Directors. Moldova will transfer to Gazprom government bonds to the value of $90 million with an annual interest rate of 7.5 percent, as well as a controlling block of shares in the Gazsnabtransit joint enterprise, which will be set up with the participation of Russian gas producers. An agreement is to be signed in September. RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported the same day that Moldova pledged to pay $25 million by the end of the year, in monthly $5 million installments. The total Moldovan debt to Gazprom is $214 million, while the Transdniester, whose representatives attended the talks, owes $380 million. MS

ZHIVKOV FUNERAL ATTENDED BY SOME 10,000 IN SOFIA

Todor Zhivkov was buried in Sofia on 9 August, with some 10,000 mourners attending the obsequies organized by the Socialist Party, Reuters and AFP reported. The ceremony was held in Sofia's main square and a smaller crowd followed the coffin to the cemetery, where the former communist dictator was buried near the grave of his wife, who died in 1972. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party's daily "Duma" on 8 August reappeared in tabloid format after failing to be published for four days. An editorial on the same day said the government has ordered the Rodina printing company to stop the publication of "Duma," and claimed that other periodicals with large debts to Rodina were not subjected to the same treatment. MS

BULGARIA TO SLASH THREE ZEROS FROM CURRENCY

The government and the Currency Board on 6 August decided to drop three zeros from the Bulgarian national currency, the lev, as of 1 July 1999, BTA reported. National Bank governor Svetoslav Gavriiski said that as of that date, the lev will equal one German mark and that this will simplify financial transactions and reduced expenses for banks. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said the decision had been taken in coordination with the IMF and the World Bank and it symbolized the stability of the Bulgarian currency and financial system. MS




LANGUAGE ON TRIAL


by Jan Maksymiuk

In 1997, the Belarusian National Assembly passed a law "On the Press and Other Media," which allowed the government in May 1998 to issue a warning against the biweekly "Nasha Niva." An independent newspaper published entirely in Belarusian and with a circulation of some 5,000, "Nasha Niva" was launched by its chief editor, Syarhey Dubavets, in Vilnius in 1991. The newspaper is printed in Minsk and distributed by the state network of kiosks and, to a lesser extent, by the editorial staff. It uses the traditional Belarusian orthography, which was changed by decree under Joseph Stalin's regime in 1933. The media law, passed by the National Assembly in 1997 and amended in January 1998, explicitly prohibits the press from "distorting the generally accepted norms" of the language in which it publishes.

In a bid to forestall what seemed like preparations to close down his newspaper, Dubavets filed a lawsuit against the State Press Committee in June, demanding the warning be revoked as "groundless." He argued that the term "generally accepted norms" is void since there is no legally binding standards for spelling in Belarus. The case is to be heard at the Higher Economic Court on 12 August. If the newspaper loses the case and persists in using the pre- 1933 spelling, it can be banned after receiving another two warnings, according to the amended media law.

The "Nasha Niva" case, which in most countries would doubtless be regarded as a bizarre example of overregulation by the state, strikes a very tragic note in today's Belarus. Belarusians are gradually losing their language and cultural identity. The number of Belarusian- language books and periodicals has plummeted to a very low level since the May 1995 referendum, which granted Russian the status of an official language, along with Belarusian. The state, which from 1991 to 1994 did a great deal to promote both the formerly neglected Belarusian culture and education in the Belarusian language, has practically ceased to support either under Lukashenka.

For example, in 1994 there were 220 schools in Minsk whose language of instruction was Belarusian. Two years later, their number had shrunk to fewer than 20. Those students who want to receive a higher education in Belarusian will be hard put to achieve that aim, since Russian is the language of instruction in virtually all university departments in Belarus.

Lukashenka has made a point of ostentatiously promoting Russian-language and Soviet culture in Belarus. In a widely quoted statement, he once asserted that "one cannot express anything deep in Belarusian." Non- Sovietized Belarusian culture and the Belarusian language are developed and supported mainly by non-governmental organizations and an ever dwindling number of intellectuals. "Nasha Niva" is one of the champions of that movement.

Speaking Belarusian in Belarus is not only a means of communication but also a political declaration of loyalty to the country's indigenous cultural and historical heritage in defiance of the ruling regime. The fundamental dividing line in Belarus is not between "democrats in general" and the Lukashenka regime; rather, it is between democracy- supporting "Belarusian nationalists" and the Sovietized and Russianized segment of society led by former Communist Party functionaries.

"Having forced the national symbols--the coat of arms [knight-in-pursuit] and the [white-red-white] flag--to go underground, the government of the Republic of Belarus has now declared war against the non-Soviet Belarusian orthography," Dubavets wrote in the 15 June 1998 issue of "Nasha Niva." He also expressed bitterness toward those Belarusian intellectuals who "have voluntarily remained in the Belarusian SSR in terms of spelling." The pre-1933 orthography was used at schools among some 2 million Belarusians in pre-war Poland and has never been abandoned by the Belarusian Diaspora.

Dubavets is not the only one to oppose the 1933 orthography reform. The "Belarusian Language Encyclopedia," published in Minsk in 1994, states that the 1933 reform focused "not so much on reflecting the specifically national character of the Belarusian language as on bringing its orthography in line with the Russian orthographic tradition." In a wider sense, the 1933 ban on the traditional Belarusian spelling reflected Stalin's idea of merging the globe's cultures into one with a single language. Presumably, that culture was to be Soviet and the language Russian. In this way, the Belarusian language became a victim of Stalin's futuristic vision.

Some of the best-known Belarusian linguists have come out in support of the spelling used by "Nasha Niva." International human right organizations have protested, pointing that the State Press Committee's warning violates international law--in particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is a signatory. But such protests are unlikely to carry much weight with the court. Most "Nasha Niva" supporters fear that, as one columnist put it, "no linguistic or even legal arguments are of any importance" in this case. It is the language that is on trial, not the spelling.


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