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Newsline - September 24, 1998


In addition to the $473 million in interest payments that the Russian government owes on its defaulted treasury bills, the government also needs to find an additional $4 billion to service its foreign debts for the rest of 1998. Anatolii Chubais, former presidential envoy to international financial institutions, told "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 23 September that if the IMF does not provide the $4.5 billion tranche that was expected in September, then an economic crisis of more dramatic proportions than that accompanying the ruble's devaluation would be unleashed. JAC


Acting Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov on 23 September met with foreign and Russian bankers to discuss terms for restructuring Russian debt. Interfax reported that Zadornov told bank representatives that Russia will stick to the principle of equality for all investors. Analysts believe that Russia may suggest several alternative schemes and that cash payments in rubles may be increased. On 24 September, "Kommersant-Daily" quoted one representative of a Western bank as saying that Western bankers have the impression that the Russian government is trying to avoid or delay direct negotiations, explaining that one letter the bankers sent suggesting negotiations was never answered. The representative said "Russian authorities assure us that there will be no discrimination against foreign investors, but it has already happened" on 21 September when the Central Bank agreed to buy back Russian banks' defaulted treasury bonds JAC


The ruble stabilized at 15.73 rubles to $1 during the first half of trading on 24 September. The previous day, the ruble had unexpectedly strengthened, rising to 15.83 rubles per dollar from 16.21 rubles. On 21 September, the Central Bank prepared a list of Russian commercial banks that were banned from foreign exchange trading in part to prevent them from using their new liquidity to speculate against the ruble. Lehman Brothers obtained a court order seizing the UK bank accounts of one of those banks, Inkombank, according to Bloomberg. Inkombank failed to buy rubles from Lehman Brothers on 15 September, as it had agreed under a so-called forward currency contract. JAC


Moscow Mayor and likely presidential candidate Yurii Luzhkov has blamed the "bad advice" of the IMF for Russia's current economic crisis. He said "following the IMF's recommendations, [Russia] suppressed [its] own manufacturers and began to turn into a raw material appendage of the civilized world." He added that past Russian governments tried to carry out monetarist principles in Russia and this led to "an absence of a customs policy," robbing of companies, and unrestrained lending to commercial banks, according to Interfax on 23 September. "Finansovye izvestiya" on 22 September alleged that Western banks, knowing that Russia was heading for a devaluation and debt crisis, have carefully bided their time until Russia was desperate for new economic assistance. Now, these banks will make such aid conditional on adopting measures like those recommended by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, such as the adoption of a new tax code and restoration of the ruble's convertibility. JAC


Writing in "Segodnya" on 23 September, military analyst Pavel Felgengauer suggested that Russia has at least one alternative if Western aid is not forthcoming. He said that "if the West refuses to offer economic assistance to Russia, Moscow and its new premier...may renew deliveries of sophisticated weapons to Iran, Libya, and Iraq." He continued, "Of course, neither Iraq nor other anti-Western regimes of the Third World have the money to feed millions of hungry Russians, but it doesn't matter. Russia may deliver weapons for delayed payment or barter. What counts is giving Iraq and Iran missiles and other hardware that will be able to damage British and American navies in the Persian Gulf." JAC


"Moscow Times" reported on 24 September that Russia's smaller banks are attracting new customers away from the larger, failing institutions. Smaller banks, which in general did not participate in the government's short-term treasury bond market, are facilitating payments between companies in exchange for a modest service charge. The newspaper reported that the Chastnii Bank, which with 222 million rubles in assets is ranked 197th, has witnessed a sharp increase in both cash turnovers and new accounts. JAC


In his much publicized interview with the BBC about the Russian government misuse of IMF loans, the Auditing Chamber's chief auditor, Veniamin Sokolov, had actually been speaking about two World Bank loans, according to a subsequent clarification issued by the BBC (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1998). However, Michael Carter, the World Bank's representative in Moscow, said that Sokolov apparently misunderstood the nature of the loans that he was investigating, according to the "Moscow Times" on 24 September. Carter also noted that Sokolov has a history of making unsubstantiated charges. The "Moscow Times" also quoted Ivan Grachev, State Duma deputy and Yabloko faction member, who said that the investigation into the Central Bank's use of loans from financial institutions is primarily "political." Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 September that Audit Chamber Deputy Chairman Yurii Boldyrev, who has been making his own allegations about Bank loans, has launched his own political organization called the Yurii Boldyrev Bloc. JAC


"Nezavisimaya gazeta" has sharply criticized President Yeltsin's reorganization of the Russian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1998). According to the newspaper, this "administrative reform" is the fourth in the past two years and previous reshuffles have had virtually undetectable results: "No one in the government does any work for two to three months because everyone is getting to know one another, rearranging the desks, settling into offices, and hiring new secretaries." The newspaper added that if events continue this way, the government will be reformed twice a year with the change of seasons. In the spring, thrifty young reformers will come to power, and in the fall their actions "will be revised by yesterday's men." The government will acquire "an autumnal image with inflated staffs and portly old men," the daily concluded. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial support from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JAC


After his speech before the UN General Assembly on 23 September, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters that the West has stopped trying to attach political labels to Yevgenii Primakov's government and is prepared to judge the government by the content of its new economic program. On the Kosova crisis, Ivanov told reporters that the EU keeps extending humanitarian assistance to the region but that a "more radical solution" is needed. Ivanov expressed support for the draft resolution on Kosova though he said that Moscow was against military intervention in the province (see two related stories in Part 2). During his stay in New York, Ivanov also met with his counterparts from the U.S., Germany, Denmark, Austria, Poland, and Japan. JAC


Addressing the Iranian parliament on 23 September, the fourth day of his visit to Tehran, Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev pledged Russia's continued support for expanded bilateral cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear power. He also urged an end to the civil war in Afghanistan and a swift agreement among Caspian littoral states on the sea's legal status. Seleznev met with First Vice President Hassan Habibi and with former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who expressed interest in the causes and anticipated duration of the Russian financial crisis, according to Interfax. The Russian delegation also met with Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, who stressed the potential benefits to Russia of exporting oil via Iran, according to "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 23 September. LF


Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky intends to run for governor of Leningrad Oblast, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 24 September. JAC


Harvesting of Russia's grain crop has slowed this year because of cold weather and rain in Siberia and the Urals, Interfax reported on 23 September. According to the Ministry for Food and Agriculture, only 9.4 million hectares of cereals have been "threshed," compared with 11 million hectares on the same date last year. The area sown for winter crops -- 10 million hectares -- is 5 percent smaller than last year's area, because farmers received insufficient supplies of fuel and lubricants. JAC


On the annual "Corruption Perceptions Index" complied by corruption watchdog Transparency International, Russia ranked 76th, with the 85th country having the highest level of perceived corruption, according to questionnaires filled out by international businessmen. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 September that Russia has apparently made some modest improvement since 1996, when it occupied the next to last place, in front of only Nigeria. In 26th position, Estonia came out "cleaner" than any other country in Eastern Europe or the former Soviet space included on the list. JAC


The Chechen parliament convened an emergency session on 23 September to consider accusations leveled against President Aslan Maskhadov. In an open letter to parliamentary deputies, field commanders Shamil Basaev, Salman Raduev, and Khunkar Israpilov accused Maskhadov of usurping power and riding roughshod over the judicial system. They also charged that he violated the law on Chechnya's state sovereignty by holding talks with Moscow on Chechnya's status vis-a-vis the Russian Federation. They demanded that the parliament initiate proceedings against Maskhadov to save Chechnya from "total crisis and civil confrontation." But after listening to the president's rationale for his actions, the parliament dismissed the criticisms against him. Press-secretary Lom-Ali Mirsibiev told Interfax that "the occasional departures from the letter of the constitution are a minor matter." LF


Some 6,000 people congregated in Cherkessk, capital of the Republic of Karachaevo- Cherkessia, on 23 September to condemn a rally that began on 17 September to demand elections to the post of republican head, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The 23 September meeting was convened by organizations representing the ethnic Russian and Cossack population of the republic. Ethnic Russians are the largest ethnic group in the RChK, accounting for 42.2 percent of the population, followed by the Karachais (31.2 percent) and the Cherkess (9.7 percent). Speakers at the 23 September meeting accused participants of earlier demonstrations of attempting to provoke inter-ethnic bloodshed. "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 September quoted parliamentary deputy Murat Khachukaev as predicting that Khubiev will refuse to sign the law on direct elections of the republican head, passed by the parliament the previous day. LF


Georgian police on 23 September prevented ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war from approaching the Philharmonic building in Tbilisi, where they had intended to hold a two-day congress, Caucasus Press reported. The police also arrested the son of the congress's organizer, Boris Kakubava, who heads the Coordinatig Council of Political Parties and Organizations of Abkhazia and Samachablo (South Ossetia). Other organizations representing the displaced persons and the Abkhaz government in exile had expressed disapproval of the proposed congress, but Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze had endorsed it and promised to attend, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 September. An attempt by Kakubava in November 1997 to convene a congress in the Philharmonic building was similarly thwarted by police. LF


Georgian presidential representative in Svaneti Iveri Chelidze, a journalist, and one other person were injured on 21 September when their car was fired on in the Kodori gorge, in southeastern Abkhazia, ITAR-TASS reported. LF


President Shevardnadze has ordered an investigation of the company IVERIA +, which is headed by his nephew Nugzar, AP and Caucasus Press reported on 23 September. Several Georgians newspapers had printed allegations the previous day that Nugzar Shevardnadze had failed to repay debts to a Greek company. IVERIA + issued a statement rejecting the allegations as part of a smear campaign directed against the Georgian president in the runup to local elections scheduled for November. LF


Nuclear safety experts who attended a two-day seminar on the Medzamor nuclear power station told journalists in Yerevan on 23 September that continued exploitation of the plant does not pose a threat to the environment, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The plant was reactivated three years ago after being moth-balled in 1989. Working at 85 percent capacity, it currently generates some 35 percent of Armenia's electricity. The plant's director, Suren Azatian, said Medzamor can operate for another 10 years after 2004, the tentative closure date set by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development as a condition for advancing a 10 million ECU ($8.5 million) loan to finance the reactivation of and safety measures at the plant. LF


Visiting Rome on 22-23 September, Nursultan Nazarbayev held talks with his Italian counterpart, Oscaro Scalfaro, Prime Minister Romano Prodi, the chairmen of both houses of the Italian parliament, and the management of Italy's Agip corporation, which is engaged in oil and gas projects in Kazakhstan. Nazarbaev's talks with Salfaro and Prodi focused on expanding bilateral economic cooperation, closer cooperation between Kazakhstan and the EU, the situation in Afghanistan, and Russia's economic crisis, which Nazarbayev again said has not affected his country. LF


Meeting on 22 September, the National Commission on the State Language discussed a new 10-year program and compliance to date with the 1989 law on the state language, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported the following day. That law designates Kyrgyz as the state language in Kyrgyzstan and envisages that beginning in 2000, all official documentation in the country will be in Kyrgyz. Kambaraly Bobulov, president of the Kyrgyz Til [Language] Society, told RFE/RL that the Kyrgyz language is still "very weak" and requires government support. He said that if Russian becomes a second state language, it will significantly further weaken the Kyrgyz language. The Kyrgyz parliament has rejected proposals by some public organizations and politicians to give Russian the status of a second state language or of a language of inter-ethnic communication. Ethnic Russians account for approximately 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population. LF


Imomali Rakhmonov met with Iranian Ambassador Saidrasul Musavi on 23 September to discuss the domestic political situation in Tajikistan as well as developments in Afghanistan and their possible impact on the region, Interfax reported. Rakhmonov acknowledged Iran's contribution to ending the civil war in Tajikistan and pledged that isolated actions by "destructive forces" will not deter the Tajik government from honoring its obligations under last year's peace agreement. The two also discussed preparations for a Tajik- Iranian summit, which may take place before the end of this year. Also on 23 September, Rakhmonov met with visiting World Bank Vice President Johannes Linn, to whom he stressed Tajikistan's commitment to economic reform and appealed for increased international aid. In addition to the $142 million that the Bank has granted Tajikistan since 1993, the Bank approved a three-year $165 million loan this summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 1998). LF


The final contingent of Tajik opposition fighters has succeeded in crossing the Pyanj River and returning from Afghanistan to Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 September. The crossing had been delayed after a bomb was discovered on the barge that was to transport the returnees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1998). The fighters are to be escorted by Russian peacekeeping troops to a military base near Dushanbe. LF


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told a meeting of regional newspaper editors in Kyiv on 23 September that Ukraine is facing the worst crisis in its seven years of independence, Ukrainian Television reported. Stressing that the government is keeping the current situation under control, Kuchma said he is ready to take "the toughest and most unpopular" measures to fight the crisis. He added that although he intends to seek re-election, he gives priority to maintaining the course of reform over his own election victory. Kuchma argued that the Russian crisis has proven the CIS's inability to react to emergencies. Instead of working out a joint strategy, CIS countries have chosen "to die on their own," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying. JM


Kuchma also said Russia has promised to help Ukraine fund the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Rivnenska and Khmelnytska power plants to replace the only working reactor at Chornobyl, Reuters reported. "We fully agreed in Moscow [last week] that there will be $180 million in the Russian 1999 budget for this work," he said, referring to his meetings with President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. Ukraine promised in 1995 that it would close Chornobyl by 2000 with Western assistance. But it has recently grown impatient as the deadline approaches and only a fraction of the required $2 billion has been raised so far. "We will complete the reactors ourselves or together with Russia whether or not the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development assists us," the news agency quoted him as saying. JM


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told journalists on 23 September that the 1992 decision of the Belarusian leadership to allow the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from the country was "a crude mistake, if not a crime," Interfax reported. Lukashenka said the withdrawal was under way in 1994 when he was elected president so he could not stop it. But he added that he "kept the process on the slow track for 18 months." Lukashenka commented that the withdrawal had an impact on Russian-NATO talks by making Russia more "pliable." He denounced NATO for installing "three powerful radar stations" on the Belarusian border, AP reported. "Slowly, slowly, this block is becoming more and more impudent," the agency quoted him as saying. JM


A delegation of the Latvian parliament headed by speaker Alfreds Cepanis paid a visit to Minsk on 23 September and held talks at the Council of the Republic, the upper house of the Belarusian legislature, ITAR-TASS reported. The current Belarusian legislature was appointed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka after the controversial constitutional referendum in November 1996 and is not recognized by European parliaments. "We have always opposed the policy of isolationism, including in relation to the Republic of Belarus," Cepanis said. JM


Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters in New York on 23 September that Russia is exerting "diplomatic pressure on Estonia and Latvia to remedy the current situation with the legal status of the Russian-speaking population" of those countries, ITAR-TASS reported. "We have chosen a more complicated tack, yet the right one," Ivanov said, explaining that Moscow is pressing for "official respect for the rights of the Russian-speaking population not by means of threats, sanctions, or repressions but via our membership in international organizations, including the Council of Europe and the OSCE." He added that this approach was approved by the Russian State Duma. JC


ETA reported on 24 September that the government is ready to support producers and farmers who have been hit by the Russian financial crisis and this year's bad weather conditions but will not allocate any money for that purpose. Prime Minister Mart Siimann told a government session that the stabilization fund will not be touched and is to be used only in case of a "real crisis." But he said the government intends to help enterprises by extending the period for paying taxes and other financial obligations and by reducing the fine for delays in making such payments. At the same session, Finance Minister Mart Opmann said the government is unable to increase the stabilization fund to 1.9 billion kroons ($140.7 million) this year, as agreed on with the IMF. The volume of the fund is currently 1.83 billion kroons, and some 53 million kroons have been added so far this year. JC


Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek announced on 22 September that the government will postpone introducing major tax reforms until 2000. Buzek's statement concluded a three-week discussion between the coalition partners, Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW), over Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz's proposal to replace the current three-level tax system with a two-level one in 1999 and a flat tax in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 1998). Balcerowicz, who is also UW leader, argued that the proposed reform will boost economic growth and create new jobs. But both the AWS and the former communist opposition reject the flat tax proposal, saying that it will hit primarily low- income earners. The government has only slightly changed taxes for 1999, reducing corporate tax from 36 percent to 32 percent and abolishing some tax exemptions. JM


Leszek Miller, chairman of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance, told Polish Radio on 23 September that the law on making communist secret service files available to the public (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1998) guarantees access to those files only to right-wing political parties. "The real idea behind [the law] is to allow the political opposition that existed in the Polish People's Republic to check who informed on whom within the opposition [at that time] and play some political game in relation to the present opposition," Miller commented. He added that the material gathered in the communist-era secret service archives is "problematic and often questionable." JM


Tomas Klestil on 23 September told journalists after meeting his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Havel, that controversy over bilateral issues will not undermine Austria's support for the Czech Republic's membership in the EU, AP reported. Klestil said that for Austria, which currently holds the EU rotating chairmanship, it is important to "carry the talks with all candidates as far as possible." The two presidents also discussed such thorny issues as the post-war expulsion of the Sudeten Germans and the controversial nuclear reactor at Temelin, near the Austrian border. In other news, Havel on 23 September said he would like Czech-born U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to succeed him. Havel said he has not discussed the idea with Albright because "it occurred to me on the plane on my way back" from his recent visit to the U.S. MS


The International Advisory Committee on 23 September accused the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar of bias and unfair practices in the run-up to the Slovak elections, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. In a letter to Meciar, the committee says a "climate of anxiety" has been created through acts of violence against independent journalists. The letter also accuses the government of deliberately hindering independent civic groups and media in their efforts to participate in or cover the election process. The letter's signatories include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former German Economic Affairs Minister Otto Graf Lambsdorff. The committee was formed by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs to monitor the Slovak elections. The election campaign officially closed on 23 September, 48 hours before the polls open. MS


In a report issued on 23 September, Monitor '98 says that Slovak State Television "has completely failed to live up to its obligations to the Slovak public by substituting objective news coverage with biased and distorted stories advancing the interests of the ruling power and unscrupulously attacking any opposition activities" (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 1998). Reuters, reporting on the Monitor '98 findings, said STV is in a particularly powerful position because the new electoral law forbids campaign spots in private broadcast media. This, the agency said, means the opposition "can only put its message across in a context deeply hostile to its interests." Monitor '98 also criticized TV Markiza for pro-opposition bias but said this was less marked than the pro-government bias on STV. MS


Laszlo Kover, secret services minister without portfolio, dismissed General Jozsef Vajda as deputy director-general of the National Security Office on 23 September. The private television station TV2 reported that Vajda was a board member of a security technology firm that deals with private investigations. "Magyar Hirlap" cited secret service circles as denying that his dismissal is connected with the ongoing scandal over the illegal surveillance of Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party leaders. MSZ


The UN Security Council on 23 September approved a resolution calling for a cease-fire and political dialogue in Kosova and warning that failure to comply will result in "further action and additional measures," an RFE/RL correspondent in New York reported. China abstained from voting on the measure, which passed 14-0. Russia's ambassador to the UN, Sergei Lavrov, said "no measures of force" are being introduced at this stage. But the resolution says military action in the province is "excessive and indiscriminate" and calls on the ethnic Albanian leadership to condemn all "terrorist action." On 24 September, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said alliance ambassadors, who are meeting in Vilamoura, Portugal, have issued an "activation warning" that includes both a limited air option and a phased air campaign for Kosova should the fighting there not cease. U.S. Defense Minister William Cohen said NATO members would commit forces for the possible military action. Germany and Holland officials committed specific numbers of planes before the NATO meeting. PB


Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic described the UN resolution as "groundless" and "counterproductive," Tanjug reported. Jovanovic said the crisis in Kosova cannot be settled "with force." Serbian President Milan Milutinovic said in Prishtina on 23 September that "terrorists and their foreign helpers and supporters are mistaken if they believe that they can violate the integrity of our country without having to suffer the consequences." He said the Yugoslav army has acted "honorably, responsibly, and professionally." Milutinovic also accused Albania of training and arming "terrorists" to fight in Kosova. Meanwhile, heavy fighting continues in Kosova's central Drenica region and in the northwest of the province. Both sides reported casualties, although numbers were unconfirmed by independent sources. PB


Tanjug reported on 23 September that a delegation of ethnic Albanian politicians has been released by Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) forces. Djerdj Dedaj, the speaker of the unofficial Kosova assembly, said the group gained released with the help of the International Red Cross. It had been detained since 19 September. Dedaj said the politicians were told they had been detained for not alerting the UCK about their visit. The politicians represented several different ethnic Albanian political parties. PB


Nicole Szulc, the Sarajevo spokeswoman for the OSCE, said on 23 September that technical problems have forced another delay in the release of the final results in Bosnian general elections, AP reported. Szulc said power outages and other technical problems are the reason for the postponement. She said the string of delays should not taint the "integrity of the process," adding that she did not believe it would hurt the OSCE's credibility. The Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje," reacting to comments by officials on presumed wins by two hard-line candidates to executive posts, said that "Bosnia took a step back from democracy...and came closer to the option of the final ethnic division, which represents a failure of U.S. policy." PB


International war crimes investigators, backed by 30 armored vehicles and a few hundred NATO peacekeepers, are searching for evidence in several buildings near the Herzegovinian town of Mostar, AP reported. NATO troops are said to have blocked access to several buildings, including the wartime headquarters of the Croatian Defense Ministry in Mostar, and retrieved several boxes of documents. The area around Vitez, the site of several alleged atrocities during the wars of Yugoslav succession, was also searched. PB


Nikola Grabovac, deputy economy and foreign trade minister in the Bosnian Council of Ministers, said on 23 September that it could take two decades before the country's GDP reaches pre-war levels, Reuters reported. Grabovac said that the economic situation is "alarming" and that more funds will be needed in coming years to revive Bosnia's industrial capacity. Most aid donated so far has gone to infrastructure and housing, he noted. PB


Albania's ruling Socialist Party said on 23 September that it will begin talks with the opposition Democratic Party only if its leader, former President Sali Berisha, is kept out of such discussions, Radio Tirana reported. The Socialist Party has accused Berisha of leading a failed coup d'etat against the government last week. It has stripped him of his immunity as a parliamentary deputy but has not arrested him. The Democratic Party, likewise, has broken off all communication with the Socialists and continues with a campaign calling for Prime Minister Fatos Nano to resign. Some 2,000 people demonstrated in Tirana's Skanderbeg Square on 23 September demanding that Nano step down. PB


A joint statement by the EU, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the Western European Union criticized both the Albanian government and the opposition for the renewed turmoil in the country and urged all parties to begin talks, Reuters reported. The statement said Nano's government has been lax in fighting crime and corruption and in reforming the justice system, the police, and the civil service. But they said "slow and unsatisfactory performance by the government does not justify all-out confrontation and use of violence by" the opposition. PB


The Tirana District Court ordered the release of Alfons Zeneli of Radio Kontakt and Ilir Zhilla, the former director of the Albanian Telegraph Agency (ATA), on 22 September, ATA reported. The court ruled that the two men must report to the judicial police every week. They were detained the previous day for allegedly participating in the violence in Tirana on 14 September after the murder of deputy Azem Hajdari. PB


The National Liberal Party (PNL) on 23 September announced that it has "withdrawn support" from Finance Minister Daniel Daianu for "failure to implement Liberal policies in public finances" and to restructure the ministry he headed. Daianu was politically non-affiliated and occupied in the cabinet a PNL slot. Prime Minister Radu Vasile the same day dismissed Daianu and replaced him with Traian Decebal Remes, who was sworn in as finance minister the same day. Remes, a PNL member, was chairman of the Budget and Finance Commission of the Chamber of Deputies until his appointment. He said he intends to reduce taxes and public spending and "bring the shadow economy into the open." Reacting to his dismissal, Daianu warned against endangering the country's "fragile macrostabilization" through "fiscal relaxation" that may have "dangerous consequences," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS


Deputies representing coalition parties on the Chamber of Deputies' Education Commission have asked the commission to amend the recently approved article on higher education included in the regulation that changes the education law. That article forbids the setting up of universities teaching in languages of the national minorities. The deputies want the legislation amended to make possible setting up such universities by special law, thus meeting the demands of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) The commission's chairman, Greater Romania Party deputy Anghel Stanciu, said the proposed amendment reflects "surrender to UDMR blackmail," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS


The government on 23 September approved the transfer of $90 million in state-guaranteed bonds to the Russian Gazprom conglomerate in settlement of the 1996-1997 debt. The bonds carry a 7.5 percent annual interest rate. The permanent representative of the IMF to Moldova, Mark Horton, said the measure will have a negative impact on the fund's decision (expected in October) on whether to release a $30 million tranche to Moldova. Horton said the government's decision was a "deja-vu phenomenon" that repeated the settlement of the debt to Gazprom two years ago. He continued that it also showed that the energy sector is not undergoing "real reforms" and that the burden of Moldova's external debt is growing, BASA press reported. MS


Under a broadcast media law adopted by the parliament on 23 September, the government will stop subsidizing state radio and television in 2008, AP reported. The subsidies will be reduced at the end of 2002, and viewers' fees will make up the difference until the end of 2007. No such fees exist at present. Households will be charged 0.6 percent of the government-set minimum monthly wage, while companies and institutions will have to pay 2.5 percent. All three opposition parties boycotted the debates and announced they will appeal the law. MS


By Christopher Walker

Despite Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's recent claim that "talk in Europe about Slovakia's lack of democracy will definitely come to an end" after the upcoming elections, there is serious doubt whether Slovakia will be able to overcome its poor image in the longer term should Meciar's ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) retain power. Such a result could arguably result in Slovakia's losing a full decade in its effort to join NATO and the EU. On the other hand, if the assembled opposition parties manage to pull together an electoral victory, Slovakia will have the chance to restore its credibility rather quickly and realign itself with the West.

Thus, in a fundamental way, the choice Slovaks make in these elections will determine if their country identifies with the West and is prepared to take part in its institutional structures or if it continues to orient itself toward less developed, slower reforming post-Soviet states to the East.

Slovakia's dubious image abroad has been shaped principally by the Meciar regime's parochial, immature, and often brutal political leadership. This behavior, ranging from petty political subterfuge to outright thuggery, has saddled Slovakia with an unfavorable image that in any case may be hard to shed.

Remarkably, it was not very long ago that Slovakia was considered to belong to the same "fast track" group of applicants for Western integration as Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. No longer perceived as a member of the original "Visegrad" group, Slovakia now runs the risk of slipping still farther. This time, however, the stakes are much higher. The very possibility that Slovakia will become more closely associated with its Eastern neighbors has significant implications: it may reinforce the belief of the outside world--as well as Slovaks themselves--that Slovakia's place is in the East. That belief would effectively freeze Slovakia's candidacy for admission to the EU and NATO.

While Slovakia's economy has proven resilient, its political development has been inconsistent with Western standards. In fact, as a result of its relative political immaturity, there is a larger question as to whether Slovakia can maintain its economic successes in the longer term without the necessary consolidation of democracy and international integration.

It is difficult to gauge precisely the opportunity cost of the Slovak leadership's preoccupation with internal rivalries and political intrigue over the past six years. One may conclude, however, that dawdling during the crucial initial "courtship" of Western institutions has set back Slovakia at least several years and has prevented the country from achieving the necessary degree of political soundness to advance into key Western clubs. The window for first-round NATO admission is already closed. The EU sent a strong message to Bratislava last year when Slovakia-- recognized by the European Commission for its strong economic performance--was pointedly left off the first-round invitation list as a result of its underdeveloped democratic institutions.

One of the most important, broad consequences of NATO and EU expansion is the salutary effect these institutions can have on relations among its member states. These clubs have been instrumental in forging a peaceful post-War transatlantic order and have contributed greatly to the prosperity enjoyed by its members. By remaining outside the positive influence of these institutions, Slovakia loses the opportunity to improve its own internal development and establish better working relationships with its neighbors.

The Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary--which are not only among the first-round candidates for EU admission but are also the first three to receive invitations to join the NATO alliance- -have broadly demonstrated their commitment to resolving difficult public-policy questions in a manner consistent with Western norms. One can already see these results. Poland is undertaking a number of important initiatives to improve regional cooperation, including difficult negotiations with Ukraine on border issues and steps toward deeper integration with Germany. The newly elected Hungarian leadership, while using rather heated rhetoric on minority issues, is not expected to deviate from acceptable political norms. That is in no small measure due to Hungary's accepted responsibilities in Western institutions.

Slovakia's choice in the elections is of regional concern. The Czechs, for instance, face the prospect of having their Moravian frontier form a portion of the new East-West divide. For Poland and Hungary--not to mention Austria--an unanchored and unpredictable Slovakia will hinder the effort to build an integrated regional economic and security structure.

Meciar has done a masterful job of dividing the opposition, but the political stunts and hardball tactics he has employed to maintain power have had a corrosive effect on Slovakia's political culture. During the period of HZDS control--where infighting and cronyism have been the rule, rather than the exception--there have been few steps taken to direct the young Slovak state toward political normalcy. On the contrary, the Meciar period has defined itself by its reliance on what it regards as foreign and domestic villains, thus limiting Slovakia's focus on more substantive matters and preventing the country from engaging in vital self-examination. That tactic is an integral part of a larger strategy aimed at blaming domestic deficiencies on foreign interference.

Slovaks, through their vote in the elections this week, can decide for themselves whether Meciar's HZDS is best suited for advancing Slovakia's real interests and where exactly they believe Slovakia's proper place is in Europe. The author is manager of programs at the European Journalism Network.