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Newsline - August 19, 1998




YELTSIN PROJECTS CALM

President Boris Yeltsin returned to his residence outside Moscow on 18 August, but his aides noted that he continues to monitor the situation, Interfax reported, Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko told journalists that the government was forced to take the recent steps and would have control over the situation from now on, according to ITAR-TASS. (The same day, he asked Japan to extend Russia the $800 million credit Tokyo had agreed to last month.) Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Fedorov said it is important to prevent panic, noting that "today we have to pay for mistakes in the economic policy that were made in the past two years," ITAR-TASS reported. PG

RUBLE, EQUITY MARKETS CONTINUE TO FALL

The ruble fell against the U.S. dollar on 19 August but rose slightly against the German mark at the Interbank Currency Exchange, Interfax reported. At the close of trading, the rate was 6.99 rubles to the dollar and 3.96 rubles to the German mark. The Central Bank announced that it is increasing its control over currency exchanges, where the ruble has fallen further, and has established a 15 percent maximum difference between foreign-currency buying and selling rates. Equity markets also fell on 19 August, with demand "practically non-existent" and investors trying to sell for dollars, Interfax reported. And because of declining demand, the Russian privatization agencies announced on 19 August that they will delay the offer of a 5 percent share in Gazprom, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

GOVERNMENT MEMBERS PROMISE BETTER FUTURE

Speaking in Rostov-on-Don, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said on 18 August that expanded exports, which are likely following the fall in the value of the ruble, and funds released by debt restructuring will help the government to pay back wages, Interfax reported. He also said that the Russian government has no plans to drive the ruble down, as some observers have suggested, according to ITAR-TASS. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told Interfax on 18 August that tax collections continue to improve. PG

ZYUGANOV CALLS FOR YELTSIN'S RESIGNATION

Arguing that Yeltsin had been "absolutely devalued" by the decisions announced on 17 August, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov demanded that the president resign, Interfax reported on 18 August. He said that he and his faction at the 21 August State Duma session will call on Yeltsin to step down and allow for the formation of a responsible government. Only such steps may allow the country to escape from its current predicament and avoid civil war, Zyuganov said. He added that his faction is prepared for "an emergency dialogue" with all groups opposed to Yeltsin's actions. PG

OTHER POLITICIANS DEMAND CHANGES

Fearing that the ruble's decline will trigger more inflation and greater uncertainty, other political leaders called on the president and his government to make changes. Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev proposed the formation of a coalition government, Interfax reported on 18 August. He indicated that the Duma may ask for the current government to be reshuffled if that does not happen. Meanwhile, Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev said he favored a roundtable meeting, but Yeltsin's spokesman rejected that proposal, at least for the time being. PG

RUSSIAN MEDIA SLAMS GOVERNMENT MOVES

On the day after the de facto devaluation of the ruble, commentators in the Moscow press attacked the move in the strongest terms. Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 August, Tatyana Koshkareva and Rustam Narzikulov argued that "those who are chiefly to blame for the financial crisis are again trying to evade responsibility." They even suggested that "August 1998 bears a remarkable resemblance to August 1991. Seven years ago, there was a putsch in Moscow; yesterday there was a coup in economic policy." In "Segodnya," Yuliya Ulyanova entitled her article "Russia goes bankrupt" and argued that Yeltsin and his team are playing word games to avoid assuming responsibility,. adding they no longer deserve anyone's trust. But perhaps the sharpest comment came in "Komsomolskaya pravda." Its editors featured a list of six ways to survive the current crisis, noting that these could be ignored by those who already have hard-currency accounts. PG

CENTRAL BANK OUTLINES FREEZE RULES

The Central Bank on 17 August suspended for 90 days all payments by residents to non-residents in settlement of the principal on financial loans whose term exceeds 180 days. It also suspended for the same period insurance payments on loans backed by securities, Prime-Tass reported. But the bank outlined a number of exceptions, including loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and certain other loans guaranteed by the government. Other Russian banks announced that they were scheduling talks with foreign partners to reschedule debt payments, ITAR- TASS reported. And Deputy Prime Minister Fedorov told Interfax that he has invited representatives from JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank to help reschedule Russia's domestic debt. PG

REACTION OF RUSSIAN REGIONS TO RUBLE'S FALL VARIES WIDELY

According to a survey in the 18 August "Kommersant-Daily," the Russian Federation's far-flung regions reacted very differently to the change in government policy on the ruble. Some remained "icy calm," while others faced runs on foreign currency and goods. In St. Petersburg on 17 August, most banks simply refused to exchange currency at all, and people eagerly bought up durable goods and jewelry. The same pattern held in Novosibirsk and a number of other regions. In Novokuznetsk and Stavropol, on the other hand, there was little reaction at all. In most places, ever more people tried to convert rubles or buy durable goods as word spread about the de facto devaluation of the ruble. PG

INTERNATIONAL REACTION CALMS

Political leaders, bankers, and investors in most countries suggest that Russia's economic difficulties will not have a serious immediate impact on their economies, Russian and international news agencies reported on 18 August With the exception of Belarus which is tightly linked to Russia and Ukraine (where officials are concerned about the fall of the hryvnya), leaders in the other former Soviet republics, the Baltic States, and Eastern European states indicated that they do not expect much damage. And in news that will be welcome to many Russian investors, the Cypriot Central Bank told ITAR-TASS on 18 August that the new Russian currency corridor will not have a "serious negative effect" on the activities of Russian off-shore companies there. PG

NEMTSOV PRESENTS FIRST SUBSIDY TO DISPLACED MINERS

Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov on 18 August presented the first 30,000 ruble (some $400) subsidy to a miner who is seeking to go into business, ITAR-TASS reported. Nemtsov also chaired a meeting looking into charges that mining company officials have failed to live up to their obligations to pay workers. PG

RUSSIAN REVENUES FROM OIL, GAS SALES FALL

Revenues from the sale abroad of natural gas were down 18.4 percent and from oil exports down 23.4 percent in the first half of this year, compared with the corresponding period in 1997, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 18 August. The fall in revenues from the sale of natural gas reflects both a decline in price and a decline in exports; the decrease from the sale of oil reflected only the decline in price, as oil exports rose during this period. PG

MOSCOW PLACES GREAT HOPES ON CLINTON-YELTSIN SUMMIT

Yeltsin's foreign affairs adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, told ITAR-TASS on 18 August that the Russian government has high expectations of U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to Moscow on 1-3 September. Prikhodko said Yeltsin is "set to do serious work" on a wide variety of issues from economics to strategic arms reduction to the resolution of a variety of international problems, including Kosova. PG

YELTSIN AIDE DRAWS 'RED LINE' AGAINST NATO

Also on 18 August, Sergei Prikhodko told ITAR-TASS that Russia will modify its approach to Western countries if NATO invites invite any former Soviet republic into the alliance and thus crosses the "'red line'" formed by the border of the former Soviet Union. Prikhodko also suggested that failure to make progress on modifying the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty could "jeopardize not only the amendments but the CFE in its present form." Meanwhile, Russian Defense Ministry officials again spoke out against any use of force in Kosova without UN Security Council approval, Interfax reported. And a commentary in the military newspaper "Krasnaya zvezda" said that "NATO declares war on Yugoslavia," which the newspaper described as "one of the countries most friendly toward Russia." PG

NEW SHAKEUP IMMINENT AT ROSVOORUZHENIE?

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 August quoted unidentified sources as predicting that Yevgenii Ananev may soon be replaced as director-general of Rosvooruzhenie and that his replacement will be a deputy director of the Russian presidential administration who it claims has little experience in the field of arms exports. The newspaper recalls that the driving force behind Ananev's appointment one year ago and the concomitant restructuring of Rosvooruzhenie was Finance Minister Yakov Urinson, whom Yeltsin recently harshly criticized. LF

YELTSIN URGED TO AID RUSSIA'S 2 MILLION HOMELESS CHILDREN

A group of public figures have called on the Russian president to take "energetic measures" to help the country's some 2 million homeless children, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 August. Their appeal said that "not only the future of the children rejected by society is threatened, but society itself." Among those signing the appeal were Raisa Gorbachev. Also on 18 August, Moscow's Commission on Vagrancy Prevention reported that there are some 30,000 homeless people in Moscow, the most prosperous city in Russia. At present, the Russian capital has facilities to handle only 1,505 of the homeless. PG

RUSSIANS SPLIT OVER MEANING OF AUGUST 1991 COUP

On the seventh anniversary of the August 1991 coup, the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion released a poll highlighting deep divisions in Russian society about that event, Interfax reported. Of the 1,600 people polled, 46 percent said the events were "just an episode in the struggle for power," while 31 percent said the coup was "a tragic event with catastrophic consequences for Russia and its people." Only 8 percent said the events had allowed democratic forces to "put an end to communist rule" (see also "End Note" below). PG

PROTEST RALLY IN KALMYKIA

Some 500 people staged a demonstration in the town of Priyutnoe on 10 August to protest catastrophic living conditions, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 August. Water supplies to the town have been cut off, some workers have not been paid for over a year, and some families have been reduced to eating animal fodder. The demonstrators demanded the resignation of Kalmyk President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Russian presidential representative in Kalmykia V. Bembetov, and Russian President Yeltsin for his protection of Ilyumzhinov's "illegal" regime. They also addressed a letter to the Russian Chess Federation to protest the fact that funds allocated for paying child allowances are being used to finance the construction of facilities for the 33rd Chess Olympiad in Elista, the Kalmyk capital. LF




RUSSIAN BORDER GUARD CHIEF VISITS TAJIKISTAN...

The head of Russia's Federal Border Service, Colonel-General Nikolai Bordyuzha, arrived in Tajikistan on 18 August, ITAR-TASS reported. Bordyuzha described the situation along the Tajik-Afghan border as calm and said there is no immediate need to reinforce units already there. He added that Russian troops in Tajikistan are "ready" should the Taliban threaten the CIS border. Bordyuzha met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov behind closed doors. Later, Rakhmonov's defense adviser, Mizrob Kabirov, said Bordyuzha assured Rakhmonov that Russia will give Tajikistan all necessary help, including military, Interfax reported. The defense and foreign ministers of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are scheduled to meet in Tashkent on 22-23 August to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. BP

...FOLLOWED BY CHIEF OF STAFF, DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER

A Russian delegation led by the army chief of staff, Anatolii, Kvashnin and First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov arrived in Tajikistan on 19 August, ITAR- TASS reported. The delegation visited the headquarters of Russia's 201st Motorized Division and peace-keeping forces stationed in Tajikistan. The delegation then met with President Rakhmonov to discuss how to improve security along the Tajik-Afghan border. BP

COMMANDER OF TAJIK INTERIOR MINISTRY FORCES SACKED

President Rakhmonov on 18 August dismissed the commander of the Interior Ministry's military forces, Major-General Shovali Saidamirov, ITAR-TASS reported. Saidamirov was fired because of "serious deficiencies in management of the troops, poor military discipline in units of the ministry's forces, and failure to enforce presidential orders on measures to consolidate law and order." BP

KYRGYZ NEWSPAPER EVICTED FROM BUILDING

The Kyrgyz weekly newspaper "Asaba" has been evicted from the building in which it was located for nearly 60 years, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported on 18 August. That building was transferred to the Interior Ministry in 1991. Former Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov allowed "Asaba," now an opposition newspaper, to continue using its offices in the building, but incumbent Premier Kubanychbek JumAliyev supported the ministry's call to evict the newspaper. A government decree was issued in late may ordering the newspaper to vacate the building by 15 August, on which day the newspaper organized a protest in Bishkek's central square. Some 500 people, including members of the parliament, took part in the rally. The Interior Ministry responded by sealing off the newspaper's offices and releasing a statement saying "Asaba" is under private ownership and can "provide itself with its own building." A member of the newspaper's editorial board said new office space has been found and this week's issue of the newspaper will appear on time on 21 August. BP

WOULD-BE AZERBAIJAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES PROTEST IRREGULARITIES

A spokesman for Azerbaijani businessman Ilgar Kerimov, whose application to register as a candidate for the October presidential elections was rejected, told Turan on 18 August that members of the Central Electoral Commission had hinted they expected a bribe in return for registering Kerimov as a candidate. The spokesman rejected as "unfair" the commission's claim that 70 percent of the signatures collected in support of Kerimov's candidacy were forged. A second would-be candidate, Umid [Hope] Party chairman Abulfat Akhmedov, claimed that the commission deliberately "lost" lists of signatures submitted in support of his registration. He said he intends to appeal to the Supreme Court against the commission's refusal to register his candidacy. LF

FALL-OUT FROM BAKU PROTEST RALLY CONTINUES

Azerbaijan's Movement for Democratic Elections and Democratic Reforms issued a statement on 18 August protesting alleged bias in the state television coverage of the 15 August opposition demonstration in Baku, Turan reported. The Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan reported that at least seven journalists were detained by police during the demonstrations in Baku and other cities, adding that four of them were beaten. The chairman of the Azerbaijani Council for Civil Defense and Sport said on 18 August that he intends to ask the Baku municipal authorities to demand that the leaders of the political parties who organized the demonstration pay a fee for the use of the motor sport stadium on the outskirts of Baku where the rally took place. The Baku mayor had refused permission to hold the demonstration on Baku's central Freedom Square. LF

ABKHAZ, GEORGIANS FORTIFY INTERNAL BORDER

Newly appointed Georgian State Minister Niko Lortkipanidze and Major-General Sergei Korobko, commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed under the CIS aegis along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, met in Tbilisi on 17 August, Interfax reported. Korobko expressed concern that trenches and other fortifications are being dug on the Georgian bank of the Inguri River, which forms the internal border. A member of the Abkhaz government in exile told Caucasus Press that the Abkhaz are erecting barbed wire fences on their side of the river and that they intend to electrify those fences. But Georgian deputy parliamentary chairman Vakhtang Kolbaya cast doubt on that report, pointing out that the topographical relief would make it difficult, if not impossible, to do so. Lortkipanidze asked Korobko to intensify his control over the border to prevent further incursions by Abkhaz militants into Georgian territory. LF

ARMENIAN EX-PRESIDENT READY FOR COOPERATION

Levon Ter-Petrossian's press spokesman, Levon Zurabian, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 18 August that Ter- Petrossian may cooperate with the present Armenian authorities in the future, despite "serious policy differences" on key issues. But he declined to predict whether Ter-Petrossian will return to active politics. Zurabian said that Ter-Petrossian could have taken "tough action" in response to pressure from then Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, which precipitated his resignation in February 1998. He added, however, that the former president refrained from doing so in the interests of democracy. Zurabian rejected charges that Ter- Petrossian's Karabakh policy was "defeatist," and he stressed the latter's achievements in winning the Karabakh war, stamping out racketeering and banditry, and ensuring macroeconomic stability. LF

KARABAKH TO ISSUE OWN PASSPORTS

The government of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic announced on 18 August that it plans to replace the old Soviet passports still in use with new ones, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. The process of exchanging passports will take approximately one year. Residents of Karabakh have until now used Armenian passports when traveling abroad. Azerbaijan is currently also issuing new passports. LF




UKRAINIAN CENTRAL BANK RAISES INTEREST RATE TO STABILIZE HRYVNYA

The Ukrainian National Bank has raised its Lombard rate to 92 percent annually from 82 percent, AP reported on 18 August. The step follows financial turmoil in Russia and aims at maintaining the stability of the national currency, the hryvnya. "It is rather a psychological form of reaction to the market's financial situation," National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko commented. At the same time, the bank left the discount rate unchanged at 82 percent from early July. Ukrainian financial experts are concerned that the dramatic plunge of the Russian ruble may also undermine the hryvnya, which fell significantly on 17 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1998). JM

BELARUS TO ALLOW WESTERN DIPLOMATS INTO DRAZDY AGAIN?

A source in the Belarusian Foreign Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 18 August that once repairs to its utility systems have been completed, the Drazdy residential compound may be divided into two, one part for President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the other for diplomatic missions. According to the source, authorities are now determining the border of Lukashenka's residence at Drazdy, and it is possible that a part of the compound will not be included in the "security zone of the head of state's residence." JM

ESTONIAN-RUSSIAN BORDER TALKS REMAIN STALLED

Estonian and Russian delegations met in Moscow on 18 August to discuss signing a border agreement, but it appears unlikely that the current deadlock over the issue is about to be broken, ETA reported. The talks are scheduled to continue on 19 August to discuss further meetings, mostly of experts. According to an Estonian Foreign Ministry statement, there is "no information" about a possible date for signing the agreement. JC

LATVIAN PARTY CLAIMS SUCCESS IN REFERENDUM SIGNATURE CAMPAIGN...

The Fatherland and Freedom party claims that enough signatures have been collected to hold a referendum on amendments to the country's citizenship law, BNS reported on 18 August. The deadline for signing the petition for a referendum was 18 August. To force a referendum, 10 percent of the electorate--some 133,000 people--must back the initiative. A spokesman for the Fatherland and Freedom party, which was behind the initiative, told Reuters that "unofficial estimates on 17 August, one day before [the] deadline, allowed us to put the figure at around 129,000 [signatures] and with some 57,000 gathered [on 18 August] in Riga alone it seems we are past the line." JC

...WHILE FIRST OFFICIAL RESULTS NOT EXPECTED TILL NEXT WEEK

Also on 18 August, a representative of the Central Electoral Commission said on Latvian Television that it seems the necessary number of signatures may have been collected, RFE/RL's Latvian Service reported. But the commission says that it will demand precise figures for the number of eligible voters at the last general elections in order to determine the exact number of signatures needed. The commission is expected to release preliminary figures for the signature campaign on 24 August. JC

ADAMKUS, BRAZAUSKAS DISCUSS LITHUANIAN- JEWISH RELATIONS

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus has met with his predecessor, Algirdas Brazauskas, to discuss problems in Lithuanian-Jewish relations, BNS reported on 18 August, citing the Lithuanian daily "Respublika." The meeting reportedly took part at Brazauskas's initiative the previous day, and the two men agreed not to disclose the details of their conversation. Lithuania has come under criticism by Israel and international Jewish organizations for dragging its feet over bringing to justice Lithuanian citizens suspected of crimes against humanity during World War II. Also on 18 August, a U. S. federal judge stripped Adolphas Millinavicius of his citizenship, citing his membership in the Lithuanian security police in 1941 and his involvement in anti-Jewish actions. Millinavicius returned to Vilnius after the Justice Department started proceedings to revoke his citizenship in December 1996. JC

POLISH POLICE TO ACT 'MORE ENERGETICALLY' AGAINST PROTESTING FARMERS

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek has announced that the police will react "more energetically" to road blockades by farmers who are protesting grain imports, Polish Radio reported on 18 August. "Blocking roads is an action absolutely contrary to the law, and appropriate decisions that will put an end to actions of this kind have already been taken," he commented. Buzek said grain imports to Poland have decreased by some 400 percent in the last two weeks. Buzek pledged that if those imports increase, he will consider introducing a 76 percent customs tariff. He added that the current long lines outside grain procurement centers, which have sparked more farmers' protests, are due to the attractive prices offered by the Agricultural Market Agency. JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT TO ASSUME CONTROL OVER AUSCHWITZ CROSS SITE

Premier Buzek has said that the government this week will assume legal control over a field next to the former Auschwitz death camp in a bid to end the controversy over crosses set up there by radical Catholic groups, Polish Radio reported on 18 August. The government will annul a 30-year lease on the land held by the Association of War Victims, a group that has links to the protesters who have erected crosses in defiance of Catholic bishops and Jewish organizations. Government spokesman Jaroslaw Sellin said the association violated the lease contract by disobeying the Roman Catholic Church. Meanwhile, Poland's intelligence service--the State Protection Office--has launched an investigation into the Auschwitz crosses controversy. The daily "Zycie" suggested last week that the row over the crosses may be a political provocation staged by a communist-era secret service informer. JM

HAVEL MOVED OUT OF INTENSIVE CARE UNIT

Czech President Vaclav Havel has been moved to an ordinary hospital room after spending more than three weeks in intensive care following surgery to remove a colostomy, CTK reported on 18 August. His personal physician, Ilja Kotik, told the agency that Havel's recovery is "progressing well" but that he is still using a breathing machine to strengthen his lungs. In other news, the Chamber of Deputies on 18 August postponed for the next day the vote of confidence in Milos Zeman's cabinet because of the long list of speakers. Former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus said the government's program is full of "propaganda, alibis, and [empty] phrases." But he added that his Civic Democratic Party "will allow the Social Democrats to govern, despite their policies, not because of them." MS

HEAD OF SLOVAK PRIVATE TV STATION OUSTED...

Pavol Rusko, director-general and co-owner of Markiza TV, Slovakia's largest private television station, says that "political motivations" were behind his ouster on 18 August, "38 days before the elections." Sylvia Volzova, a Slovak businesswoman residing in Germany who is the other co-owner of Markiza TV, announced that as a result of a court order, her company has become the new majority share owner of Markiza. Later the same day, private security guards barred Rusko from entering the station's headquarters, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. Markiza TV has a reputation of being critical of Premier Vladimir Meciar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. Also on 18 August, the government approved extending an invitation to OSCE observers to monitor the 25-26 September parliamentary elections. MS

...WHILE HUNGARIAN-LANGUAGE PROGRAMS ON SLOVAK TV HALTED

The Bratislava Hungarian-language daily "Uj Szo" reported on 18 August that Hungarian- language programming on Slovak state television has been halted, effective immediately. An editor of the program said that management had explained the move by charging that the one-hour weekly program did not meet the expectation that half of its coverage be devoted to the Slovak government and the parliament. Management announced that the broadcast will be replaced by an "all- nationality program in which Croats, Gypsies, Poles, Serbs, Ukrainians, and Hungarians will be allotted 10 minutes each," Hungarian media reported. MS

HUNGARY'S TORGYAN STILL OPPOSED TO LAND OWNERSHIP BY FOREIGNERS

Agriculture and Regional Development Minister Joszef Torgyan on 18 August said there is "no question" of changing his Independent Smallholders' Party's position on the ownership of land by foreigners, adding that present restrictions on land purchasing will not be lifted. He also announced that sanctions will be imposed on landowners who lease out land to foreign farmers by exploiting legal loopholes and on those who have sold land illegally, Hungarian media reported. In other news, Gabor Bencsik resigned his position on the governing board of the Journalists' Association after TV2 filmed him selling videocassettes that denied the Holocaust took place. MS




KOSOVARS TELL SERBS TO 'STOP PROPAGANDA GAME'

Fehmi Agani, who heads shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova's negotiating team, wrote chief Serbian negotiator Ratko Markovic in Prishtina on 18 August that the Kosovars will not take part in talks until the Serbian offensive stops. "I have pointed out the necessity that violence stop against the [Kosovar] civilian population and that the police repression" is halted, Agani wrote. "If you have nothing to say about this, maybe it would be beneficial to stop this game with invitations to meet, apparently timed to serve propaganda." U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Christopher Hill, who is Washington's chief negotiator in the Kosova crisis, continued his shuttle diplomacy between Serbian and Kosovar politicians, saying that he will "stay at it...until we succeed." On a visit to Zagreb, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic, argued that "dialogue, and not violence and terrorism, is the only way to solve the problem." PM

REFUGEES APPEAL FOR ESCAPE CORRIDOR

Reuters on 18 August reported from western Kosova near the Albanian border that Serbian forces have cut at least 10,000 ethnic Albanians off from any possible escape route and that the refugees want a safe corridor to enable them to flee to Montenegro or Albania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 1998). "Menaced by random shelling, suffering increasingly from malnutrition and vulnerable to disease for lack of medicine, the ethnic Albanian refugees, mostly women and children, are desperate for an escape route," the news agency wrote. "We're living like beasts here. We need a humanitarian corridor out of here because all routes now are blocked by police who would kill us," one man told Reuters. Roughly 20,000 people have fled dozens of villages bombarded and possibly overrun by Serbian troops in their thrust eastward from the main road between Peja and Decan. PM

KOSOVAR ANGER WITH WEST GROWS

London's "The Guardian" reported from Prishtina on 19 August that "the ethnic Albanian leadership--its politicians, journalists, and human rights workers--have never been so angry and frustrated with the West's failure to protect civilians from military onslaughts from the Serbs." The daily added that Albanians also resent the "racist-sounding implication" that their personal feuds and failure to agree are "typically Balkan," as some foreign observers have suggested. Veton Surroi, who is Kosova's leading journalist, added that the West is using Russian objections to NATO intervention in Kosova as an excuse not to intervene militarily. "No one has seriously asked the Russians to support intervention. If they see everyone else means business, they may not say no. You can always have trade-offs. Kosova is not a high priority for them," Surroi concluded. PM

ALBANIA PARTIALLY EVACUATES BORDER REGION

Albanian authorities have begun evacuating children and elderly persons from villages near the border with Kosova after three Serb shells hit about 1,000 meters inside Albanian territory on 18 August, an unidentified Interior Ministry official told AP. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told visiting Luxembourg Interior Minister Alex Bodry that NATO intervention on the ground is needed to stop the fighting in Kosova, ATSH news agency reported. Milo added that "there are no clear prospects for the start of...talks [between Belgrade and Prishtina] because of the ethnic cleansing policy of [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic and the Serbian military offensive." FS

YUGOSLAV AUTHORITIES SHUT RADIO STATION

The Association of Independent Electronic Media said in a statement in Belgrade on 18 August that officials of the Yugoslav Telecommunications Ministry and two policemen told the staff of independent City Radio in Nis to cease broadcasting immediately. The staff complied and the visitors removed some broadcasting equipment. The Ministry recently informed the station that its application for a frequency license is not in order, but officials refused to tell the journalists' lawyers exactly what the problem with the application is. PM

CROATIA, YUGOSLAVIA FAIL TO AGREE ON PREVLAKA

Jovanovic and his Croatian host Mate Granic signed agreements in Zagreb on 18 August dealing with trade and investment and with the exchange of some 41 remaining prisoners from the 1991 war. The two foreign ministers were unable to reach a deal, however, on the future of Croatia's Prevlaka peninsula, which controls access to Kotor Bay, Yugoslavia's only deep water naval base. Croatia has offered to demilitarize the peninsula, but Yugoslavia wants to negotiate about who will ultimately control it once UN peacekeepers leave. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman has indicated that he would be willing to exchange Prevlaka for Bosnian Serb territory near Dubrovnik, but public opinion is decidedly opposed to such a move. PM

WESTENDORP EXPECTS NATIONALIST ELECTION VICTORY

Carlos Westendorp, who is the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 18 August that he expects the nationalist parties among the Serbs, Muslims, and Croats to win the most votes in each of their respective communities in the general elections slated for 12-13 September. He added, however, that he predicts that more opposition legislators will be elected in each of the three communities than was the case in the last elections. PM

U.S. MARINES STEP UP SECURITY AT TIRANA EMBASSY

Fifty U.S. marines and navy commandos sent to Albania for a NATO exercise have begun guarding the embassy's residential area in Tirana, President Bill Clinton wrote in a letter to Congress on 18 August. Clinton said that the U.S. authorities have received "credible information of a possible attack" on the Tirana embassy "similar to the attacks against [the U.S.] missions" in Kenya and Tanzania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 1998). He did not elaborate about the threat but noted that U.S. military forces will continue to boost security at the embassy "until it is determined that the additional security support is unnecessary." Six marines normally guard the embassy. In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon told AP on 18 August that the U.S. still maintains "robust participation" in the maneuvers, with 650 American soldiers involved either on ships or on shore. FS

ALBANIA TIGHTENS BORDER CONTROLS

Milo told "Koha Jone" of 18 August that Albanian authorities are working to tighten controls on foreigners and bolster security around embassies. Milo made the pledges after the U.S. government evacuated non-essential embassy staff on 16 August amid fears of a possible terrorist attack. Milo blamed the government of former President Sali Berisha for enabling "a wave of terrorists" to enter Albania in recent years. A spokesman for Berisha's Democratic Party accused the current government of mishandling security and damaging relations with the U.S. FS

ROMANIAN FINANCE MINISTER WANTS TO REDUCE BUDGET

Daniel Daianu intends to propose cutting the current budget by some 8 trillion lei (almost $1 billion), or 2 percent of the country's GDP, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 18 August. Daianu said this cut is "drastic but not surprising," given that the 1998 budget deficit will likely be "way above the predicted 3.7 percent of GDP and might reach 5.5-6 percent." He said that the original forecast had been "overambitious" and that this year's deficit will be "at least 4 percent" of GDP. He also said inflation will probably be below the forecast of 46 percent. MS

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS U.S. OFFICIALS

Nicolae Tabacaru, on a four-day visit to the U.S., told an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington on 18 August that during his discussions with Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre one day earlier, it was agreed to establish a joint committee for improving military cooperation between the two countries. Agreement was also reached to establish a special program for the training of Moldovan soldiers by the U.S. military in both Moldova and the U.S. Tabacaru said he discussed with U.S. State Department officials the continued presence of Russian troops on Moldovan territory and that the U.S. promised to solve this issue as quickly as possible. MS

BULGARIAN SOCIALIST NEWSPAPER CHANGES MASTHEAD

"Duma," the daily of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, will drop from its masthead the reference to its party affiliation and designate itself simply "the Left newspaper," editor in chief Stefan Prodev told BTA on 17 August. Prodev said the decision was taken with the knowledge and approval of the Socialist party's Supreme Council. He added that the step is aimed at increasing the circulation of the daily. In other news, the government on 17 August decided that average wages in the state sector will increase by 5 percent as of 1 September. MS

BULGARIANS DIVIDED OVER IMPLICATIONS OF RUBLE DEVALUATION

President Petar Stoyanov, who will pay a visit to Russia on 27-29 August, has expressed "extreme concern" over the devaluation of the ruble, saying the step might affect his visit and that the devaluation might "have ramifications in areas beyond Europe." But Bulgarian National Bank Governor Svetoslav Gavriiski said on state television that he does not expect the devaluation to have any negative impact on Bulgaria, BTA reported on 18 August.




A COUP THAT SHOOK THE WORLD


by Paul Goble

Seven years ago, a coup in Moscow set off a series of shock waves that continue to reverberate throughout the Russian Federation, its neighbors, and the world at large.

When the coup began on 19 August 1991, the Soviet Union still existed, Mikhail Gorbachev was its president, and the post-Cold War international system appeared to be in order. When it ended three days later, each had been called into question.

But despite the dramatic changes that followed, the coup attempt itself--why it was organized, why it almost succeeded, and why it ultimately failed--was in fact a manifestation of three underlying features of political life that continue to resonate there.

First, the August 1991 coup was staged and opposed by two relatively small groups of people, each of which was convinced that the country faced a crisis and that its future depended entirely on the outcome of that crisis. The Emergency Committee, as events quickly showed, had very few people behind it. But despite the heroism of the defenders of the Russian White House, the number of people involved was also small. Both groups were united in a sense that the country would be doomed if the other won and by an understanding that the number of people actually involved in the political struggle was and would remain small.

Most people in the Soviet government and in the country at large did not take either side. Instead, they adopted a wait-and-see attitude and probably would have been willing to support whoever came out on top. That absence of involvement and sense that the country will develop by crisis rather than organically continues to characterize political life across the post-Soviet space.

Second, the coup bid almost succeeded and inevitably failed because individual loyalties to particular leaders proved to be greater than any attachment to political institutions. The Emergency Committee that launched the abortive coup thought it could count on the deference of the population to anyone claiming to speak in the name of the government. And its members also believed they could reckon with the obedience of the subordinates the members of the committee nominally led.

While members of the committee may have been correct in their first assumption, they were clearly wrong on the second. Not only had the bonds of obedience already snapped, but their own all-too-obvious disobedience further severed the ties on which they had counted.

But those who opposed the coup, including Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, also adopted a personalist approach. On the one hand, Yeltsin sought to portray himself as a hero-leader rather than an elected representative. And on the other, his demand that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev be returned to Moscow clearly had little to do with his respect for the office of the presidency.

This absence of support for institutions independent of the people who occupy them continues to dominate political life in the region. Indeed, it remains one of the major reasons why the people in so many post-Soviet states have found it difficult to make the transition to democracy, a system that insists that institutions are more important than the individuals who occupy them.

Third, the coup bid inevitably failed not so much because of the actions of those who opposed it but because the collapse of the coup and the ensuing developments served the interests of those who many supposed would be its most interested defenders.

By mid-1991, many officials, both in Russia and other republics, on whom those behind the coup thought they could count had already decided they could profit more from reforms than from a return to the past. Such officials thus did not support the coup. But even though most did not oppose it either, they rapidly changed their political affiliations in its aftermath in order to continue to benefit from the new circumstances.

And that pattern, one not typically revolutionary, has had some very serious consequences for political life in the post-Soviet states. It has meant that there has not been a clean break with the past in terms of those in power or in the ways they do business.

It has increased cynicism both about the declarations of these now ex-communists leaders and about the ideals- -democracy and free markets, for example -- that they claim to support. And it has left many in these countries with the sense that once again the elite has found a way to take care of itself at their expense, an attitude that may produce a revolution but is certainly not the product of one.

On the seventh anniversary of the abortive coup, Russia and many of its neighbors are developing in ways that reflect both the shock waves of that event and the continuities it revealed--a collection of new bottles that in many cases contain old wine.


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