Accessibility links

Newsline - October 19, 1998


Russian stocks on 19 October continued the rise begun last week, inching up 1.5 percent, according to the benchmark stock index. Last week, the index rose more than 50 percent, although it dropped 3.6 percent on 16 October. Bloomberg cited traders as saying certain companies are a still good buy, despite the country's current economic crisis. Shares in Unified Energy Systems rose 13.2 percent. JAC


The Federation Council has rejected amendments to the laws on taxes and custom tariffs that would have extended tax and customs breaks enjoyed by media holdings until 2001. According to "Segodnya" on 17 October, the custom exemptions are essential for many publications since 56 percent of Russian magazines and 15 percent of newspapers are printed abroad. Also on 17 October, 22 media executives published an appeal in "Kommersant-Daily" lambasting proposed amendments to the law on mass media that have already passed in the first reading in the State Duma. According to the appeal, the amendments would introduce a series of "absurd" restrictions on the activities of journalists and publishers and give state organs new grounds for suspending or terminating a publication or broadcast. "Segodnya" on 15 October quoted Vsevolod Bogdanov, head of the Russian Journalists' Union, as saying that Russia ranks first in the world for murders and persecutions of journalists. JAC


Some private newspapers in Russia's regions have been forced to close, while others are reducing staff and publishing less frequently because of the nation's economic crisis, the Moscow-based National Press Institute reported, citing its informal survey of publishers in early September. Even before the decline of the ruble, private regional newspapers were having difficulty attracting advertising revenue and faced stiff competition from state-funded news outlets, the institute concluded. JAC


During his one-day visit to the Russian capital on 17 October, Masahiko Komura met with Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who stressed that Russia's policy toward Japan has not changed despite the shuffle in the Russian government. Komura, for his part, commented that the changes in the lineup of the Japanese government will not affect warming relations between Moscow and Tokyo, adding that Japan is still prepared to help Russia with reforms aimed at alleviating the current financial crisis. Komura and Primakov discussed the upcoming November summit between Prime Minister Keidzo Obuchi and President Boris Yeltsin, saying "it will mark an important phase in the development of true partnership between the two countries," Interfax reported. Primakov accepted an invitation to visit Japan, but the date is still being discussed. BP


Komura also met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to discuss work on a formal Russo- Japanese peace treaty. At a news conference following their talks, Ivanov said the Kuril Islands had been discussed but that the issue should be resolved "without damaging Russia's sovereignty and territorial integrity." Ivanov noted that Japan is not pressuring Russia over that issue. Ivanov and Komura also discussed the situation in Kosova, Afghanistan, and on the Korean Peninsula. Later, he met with First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov, co-chairman of the Russian-Japanese Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation. Maslyukov said those problems will be worked out by November, when Obuchi is scheduled to visit Moscow. Maslyukov, however, received no answer about Japan's release of two tranches each worth $800 million that were promised to Russia under the IMF bail-out package. BP


Only when Komura arrived in Moscow on 16 October did he discover that the Duma had approved adding a holiday to the Russian calendar to commemorate Victory Over Militarist Japan, ITAR-TASS reported. Komura declined to comment about the new holiday, saying "the establishment of a holiday is an internal affair for a country." He commented that the purpose of his visit was "improving Russo-Japanese relations and a normalization of those relations before the year 2000." Earlier this month, the Duma voted to adopt the new holiday, which falls on 3 September. BP


A delegation from the Duma headed by deputy speaker Sergei Baburin (People's Power) met with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on 16 October. Milosevic reportedly said that the delegation's presence in Belgrade demonstrates the Russian people's support for Yugoslavia. A member of the delegation, Aleksei Arbatov, deputy chairman of the Duma Security Committee (Yabloko), told reporters the following day that it will be necessary to leave part of the Serbian security forces in Kosova to ensure the security of OSCE observers there. JAC


A resolution submitted by the Defense Ministry for the president's approval would reduce the number of colonels in the armed forces by 20 percent. Currently, colonels make up 8 percent of total military personnel, compared with the 3-4 percent in European armies, "Izvestiya" reported on 16 October. Citing the spokesman for the Federal Security Service, "Vremya MN" reported on 15 October that the UK Defense Office's program for retraining Russian reserve officers is headed by an "operative working for the British military intelligence structure," Royal Air Force officer Maxwell Patrick Jardeem. The newspaper noted that Jardeem collects data about the location of Russian military units and their future disbandment, adding that while he "never does anything illegal..., he has a very clear picture of the situation within the entire armed forces." "Vremya MN" is close to several banks, including the Sberbank savings bank, that are providing indirect financial support. JAC


Several thousand industrial enterprises across Russia are already losing their power supply at regular intervals, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 October. The newspaper claimed that only member of the cabinet to "sound the alarm" about the coming energy crunch this winter is Minister of Fuel and Energy Sergei Generalov, who has warned that supplies of mazut and coal are only 85 percent of the necessary level. When faced with a shortage of fuel, power plants traditionally cut off industry rather than residential consumers, but the newspaper warned that "if the fuel deficit escalates residential areas may also be cut off." Interfax reported on 19 October that Viktor Ott, first deputy of minister of fuel and energy and former vice president of Rosneft, resigned last week. JAC


A second assassination attempt on persons close to Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev occurred on 16 October, when Mikhail Osherov, his adviser and Duma representative in St. Petersburg, was seriously wounded. Both attempts have been dubbed "politically motivated" by the chairman's office. The previous week, Dmitrii Filippov, director of the St. Petersburg Fuel Company, was killed. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 October, both men were expected to lead Seleznev's reelection campaign for the Duma in 1999. Seleznev said the killing and attempted murder will not affect his future political plans in any way. According to Interfax, he declared "I have become even more resolved to run for the Duma in 1999 and for president in 2000." JAC


General Vladimir Potemkin told Interfax on 18 October that the Russian army's combat efficiency has fallen three-fold compared with the former Soviet Union's armed forces. He noted that 70 percent of the equipment used by land troops is outdated. And he added that the armed forces and navy combined must have a minimum of 1.2 million servicemen. JAC


Duma Chairman Seleznev has proposed that control over Novosti press agency be shifted from the presidential administration to a Trustee Council composed of members of the government, legislature, and Supreme Court, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 16 October. Seleznev reportedly made this suggestion so that the government can make better use of Novosti's extensive network of correspondents around Russia "to neutralize the influence of private media," which, according to him, subject the population to constant propaganda not in the interest of the state. The newspaper predicted that Prime Minister Primakov will likely agree to Seleznev's suggestion. JAC


Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed has hinted again that he will run for president in 2000 by reaffirming an earlier statement that he may reconsider his decision not to run. In an interview with "Novye izvestiya" on 17 October, Lebed also spoke out against Russian tariff policy, accusing the government of "strangling the nation's manufacturers" by "raising railway tariffs twice as fast as the average growth in prices." Lebed's brother, Alexei Lebed, who is governor of Khakassia, told Interfax that he too is considering running for president. When asked about his brother's plan, Lebed commented to Rusian Television only that "my brother has a good sense of humor." Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the Republic of Kalmykia, told Interfax that he will also run for president. Ilyumzhinov added that he will meet with members of the Republican Party while in the U.S. Another likely presidential candidate, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, told an audience in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, on 16 October that the party that he is creating will occupy the center of Russia's political spectrum. JAC


In Ufa, two U.S. missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints were attacked on 17 October. One of them died while the other sustained serious injuries. A local police official told ITAR-TASS that the act was one of random hooliganism and was not targeted at the Mormon Church. JAC


The 100,000-strong Chechen community in Dagestan, who live on territory that was part of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR until late 1944, has appealed to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to create a free and independent Chechen state that would incorporate those districts, Interfax reported on 17 October. The Chechens in Dagestan returned after 1956 to the villages from which they were deported on Stalin's orders in November 1944. They claim they are treated like second-class citizens in Dagestan. In April 1998, then acting Chechen Premier Shamil Basaev created the Congress of Peoples of Chechnya and Dagestan, whose declared aim is to unite the two republics in an independent North Caucasus state. LF


Supyan Akhmadov, first deputy head of the Chechen Interior Ministry's anti-kidnapping unit, told Interfax on 18 October that Russian presidential representative Valentin Vlasov has been taken by his kidnappers to Dagestan, where he may soon be released for a multi-million dollar ransom. Vlasov was abducted close to the Chechen-Ingush border on 1 May. LF


Under the command of Akaki Eliava, some 100 supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia attacked an army base in the west Georgian town of Senaki during the early morning of 19 October, seizing 10 tanks and 23 armored personnel carriers, Caucasus Press reported. Some 200 Georgian army troops defected to the Zviadists. The combined rebel forces took hostage National Security Minister Djemal Gakhokidze, who was sent to negotiate with them, and advanced towards the city of Kutaisi. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has called on the mutineers to lay down their arms. The Georgian armed forces have been placed on alert, and Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze has been sent to the region. LF


Georgian and Abkhaz delegations led by the respective prime ministers concluded three days of talks in the Greek resort of Vouliagmeni on 18 October, Reuters reported. Georgian presidential adviser Levan Aleksidze told Reuters that some progress has been made on conditions for the repatriation to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion of ethnic Georgian displaced persons who fled the fighting in 1992-1993 and again in May 1998. The Abkhaz leadership has until now demanded substantial economic aid from Tbilisi as a precondition for allowing repatriation, while the Georgian side refuses to grant such aid before the repatriation process is completed. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 October that Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba was also in Athens, but it is unclear whether he held meetings there with Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze. LF


Heidar Aliyev was sworn in for his second term as president on 18 October, Reuters and Interfax reported. In a two-hour speech, he promised to defend and serve his country and maintain its territorial integrity. He also affirmed his readiness for "constructive dialogue" with the opposition and to devote greater attention to social issues. The presidents of Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan and the leaders of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo- Cherkessia attended the ceremony, as did Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who handed Aliyev a personal message of congratulation from President Boris Yeltsin. LF


The Azerbaijan Supreme Court on 17 October began considering the appeal lodged by Azerbaijan National Independence Party chairman Etibar Mamedov against official election returns giving Aliyev 76.1 percent of the vote and Mamedov 11.6 percent. Mamedov says that those figures reflect massive falsification, claiming that he polled 26 percent of the vote and Aliyev no more than 60 percent. A candidate must garner two-thirds of the vote for a first-round victory. Central Electoral Commission chairman Djafar Veliev charged that violations of the voting procedure were committed by supporters of both Aliyev and Mamedov but that the number of such incidents was too small to alter the outcome of the poll, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 October. LF


Opposition parliamentary deputy Vahagn Khachatrian of the second largest Hanrapetutyun [Republic] faction has accused the authorities of blackmailing him to withdraw his libel suit against the chief of President Robert Kocharian's staff, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 16 October. Earlier this month, Khachatrian also asked the Office of the Prosecutor-General to open criminal proceedings against Aleksan Harutiunian, chief of the presidential staff, who has implicated Khachatrian in a 1995 corruption case. Harutiunian told the "Aravot" daily that former President Levon Ter-Petrossian sacked Khachatrian, then mayor of Yerevan, to "save him from prosecution." Khachatrian has rejected those allegations, saying that he resigned as mayor. He claimed that the state prosecutors have been ordered to turn a blind eye to the "slander" committed by Harutiunian, who is close to President Kocharian. LF


The leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has welcomed an official invitation from the Council of Europe to participate in hearings in Strasbourg next month on the long- running conflict with Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported on 16 October. The foreign ministers and parliamentary speakers of Armenia and Azerbaijan will also attend. An Karabakh presidential spokeswoman described the invitation as a "gesture of good will" that reflects growing international understanding of the need for direct contacts between Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijan. LF


The chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission, Sulaiman Imanbaev, said on 18 October that 2.27 million people or 96.26 percent of eligible voters in the country cast ballots in the referendum the previous day on amendments to the constitution. Of those, 2.07 million or 90.92 percent voted in favor of those amendments. Kyrgyzstan thus becomes the first CIS Central Asian state to introduce private ownership of land, although there is a five-year moratorium on the sale and purchase of agricultural land. Under the other amendments, the parliament cannot discuss budget spending without approval from the government and the number of deputies in the Legislative Assembly is changed from 35 to 67 and in the People's Assembly from 70 to 38. In addition, deputies can be stripped of immunity in some cases and greater freedom of speech has been granted. The referendum questions were was offered as a package, meaning it was not possible to vote on individual amendments. BP


Uzbek President Islam Karimov, during a one-day visit to Turkmenistan on 16 October, met with his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The two leaders said they support UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's initiative for resolving the Afghan conflict peacefully. They also discussed use of a major river that runs through both countries, the Amu-Darya, but no other details were available. Also on the agenda were terrorism and combating the international drug trade. BP


According to deputy chairman of the Kazakh National Security Committee Alnur Musayev, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin has "broken the law," Interfax reported on 16 October. Musayev said Interpol has been investigating purchases made by Kazhegeldin's wife, Natalia, in Belgium that amount to more than $4.5 million. He added that there is information about other property owned by the Kazhegeldins in the U.S., Australia, and Great Britain. Musayev said that a person under investigation "has no moral right to govern the country." And he also argued that the assassination attempt against Kazhegeldin last week was "no murder attempt" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1998). BP


Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Holubchenko told AP on 17 October that Kyiv does not plan to increase charges for the transport of Russian natural gas across its territory but will seek lower prices for the fuel Ukraine buys from Russia. He noted that Ukraine has succeeded in reducing its gas debt to Russian from $1.2 billion in January 1998 to $740 million now. And he added that Ukraine will reduce its debt still further by sending food to Russia. PG


Following a 16 October meeting in Vienna with European Commission President Jacques Santer, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said that the inclusion of Poland in the EU could lead to tighter visa restrictions against his countrymen and thus cut Ukraine off from Europe, Western agencies reported. Santer responded that the EU has no such intention and will support Kyiv's efforts to reform and join the World Trade Organization. He also announced an additional 150 million ecu balance-of-payments loan to Ukraine, adding that the EU is prepared to help complete two nuclear reactors in Ukraine if Kyiv closes the troubled Chornobyl by the year 2000. PG


The Belarusian government has agreed to pay off its $250 million debt for Russian natural gas by sending foodstuffs to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 October. The agreement was announced following a meeting in Moscow between Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Belarusian Premier Siarhiej Linh. The same day, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and his Belarusian counterpart, Aleksandr Chumakov, agreed to expand military cooperation in response to NATO's eastward expansion and the Western alliance's threat of force in Kosova. PG


Several hundred people marched through Minsk on 18 October to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Belarusian Popular Front, Reuters reported. Many carried the now banned red-and-white Belarusian flag or banners calling for Belarus to join NATO. BNF leaders denounced the country's authoritarian president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and his pro-Russian policies. One BNF leader, Vinsuk Vyachorka told the crowd that "Belarusians are a full-blooded European nation. But we cannot be subject to any neighbor pretending to harbor motherly thoughts for us. Lukashenka is fed straight from the Kremlin." PG


Speaking at a dinner given by Turkish President Suleyman Demirel in Ankara, Estonian President Lennart Meri commented that "Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's recent critical remarks about the inadmissibility of NATO's enlargement to comprise territories of the former Soviet Union do not concern us as Estonia never belonged to the Soviet Union," ETA reported on 16 October. He added that Estonia has always been able to rely on the support of Turkey, which never recognized the Baltic States' annexation by the Soviet Union. The previous day, Demirel had stressed that Turkey backs Tallinn's aspirations to join NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 1998). Meri returned to Estonia on 18 October. JC


Former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak told journalists in Riga on 16 October that he sees no evidence of hostility between Latvians and ethnic Russians living in Latvia, BNS reported. "I am starting to comprehend that [the problems of the Russian-speaking minority are] to a great extent an object of political speculation. The parties use it to raise their political capital. In real life, I did not find even a trace of hostility or opposition between Latvians and [ethnic] Russians." He added that the recent referendum on amendments to the citizenship law is a "colossal step forward" and that there is "no other way for Latvia." Sobchak, who currently lives in France, was visiting friends in the Latvian capital. An investigation under way in St. Petersburg has established his involvement in "four incidents of bribery," according to Russian Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 1998). JC


On 16 October, Poland launched a week-long celebration of the Polish pope's first 20 years on the throne of St. Peter. Polish newspapers featured headlines such as "Twenty Years of Service" ("Zycie") and "We Thank You, John Paul" ("Rzeczpospolita"). Adam Michnik, a leading dissident in the 1980s, spoke for many when he wrote in "Gazeta Wyborza" that "the choice of Wojtyla to become Pope changed Poland and the whole world in one second." The celebrations will culminate on 22 October with a special Church service in Warsaw. PG


Czech President Vaclav Havel said on 17 October that the ability of Czechs and Roma to get along directly affects the country's reputation within Europe, CTK reported. Havel said if Czechs and Roma cannot coexist, then "we can forget about integrating into Europe and the European community." Havel said "everyone will pay" if they fail to live "alongside each other." Havel said the emigration of Czech Roma to Great Britain would be a major point of discussion during his trip to that country, which began on 19 October. PB


Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman said on 17 October that he wants to leave politics completely in three years, CTK reported. Zeman, who was speaking at an executive committee session of his Social Democrats (CSSD) in Hradec Kralove, said that by then, he will have accomplished his three political goals. The first two, to build the CSSD into the leading party in the country and to bring it to power, have been accomplished, he said. His third goal is for the CSSD to successfully govern, which, he commented, will have occurred by 2001. Zeman also warned fellow CSSD members that holding political office is not a "set of cushy jobs." PB


The chairwoman of the Czech Journalists' Association, Irena Valova, has accused Zeman of trying to scare journalists by threatening to include them in his "clean hands" campaign, CTK reported on 18 October. Zeman said the previous day that "journalists can be corrupt" and that they could be included in his anti-corruption campaign. Valova said she would seek advice from the European Federation of Journalists regarding the alleged threat, for which, she said, there was no precedent in Western Europe. PB


The Slovak Foreign Ministry said on 16 October that Ireland has decided to introduce visas for Slovaks, CTK reported. The ministry said the Irish Embassy in Vienna, which is responsible for Irish affairs in Slovakia, sent a note to the Foreign Ministry in Bratislava informing it of the decision. The note described the move as temporary, saying it is bound by an agreement with London to maintain a common border policy with the UK. PB


According to official preliminary results, Free Democrat Gabor Demszky has been elected mayor of Budapest for the third time. He won 58 percent of the votes, ahead of the Federation of Young Democrats- -Democratic Forum/Independent Smallholders joint candidate, Janos Latorcai, who tallied 39 percent. With some 91 percent of the ballots counted, the alliance of the Young Democrats and Smallholders won 39.8 percent of the vote for local councils, while the Socialists and Free Democrats took 34.6 percent, Hungarian media reported on 19 October. Turnout at the elections was the highest since the fall of communism, exceeding 48 percent (compared with 43.4 percent in 1994). MSZ


Early returns in the 18 October parliamentary elections give a comfortable lead to the coalition of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) of Ljubco Georgievski and the Democratic Alternative of Vasil Tupurkovski. The coalition has already elected 19 deputies to the 120-seat legislature, while the governing Social Democrats have elected only seven. Some 19 VMRO-DPMNE candidates have already qualified for the second round on 1 November, as opposed to 15 Social Democrats. Final results are expected by 20 October. Georgievski and Tupurkovski promised to end corruption and promote economic development. They will probably need the support of one of the larger ethnic Albanian parties in order to form a government. Observers in Skopje noted that the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) of Arben Xhaferi, which previously made local power-sharing agreements with VMRO-DPMNE, is the most likely partner. PM


Several hundred Kosovars fled their homes in the Komoran area, west of Prishtina, on 18 October after Yugoslav army troops and at least 50 vehicles arrived from the provincial capital. Guerrillas of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) killed three Serbian policemen in the area the previous day. An unnamed Western diplomat told Reuters in Prishtina that "the Serbs are going to try to clean the area up." The Kosovar news agency KIC reported on 18 October that Serbian forces fired on several villages in the Mitrovica area. There has been no independent confirmation of the KIC account. The following day, Tanjug reported that its journalist Nebojsa Radosevic and photographer Vladimir Dobricic have gone missing on the Prishtina-Magura road. Two months ago, Radio Prishtina's journalist Djuro Slavuj and his driver, Ranko Perinic, disappeared and have not been heard of since. PM


An advance team of 20 international monitors arrived in Prishtina on 18 October. Two days earlier, OSCE chairman Bronislaw Geremek signed an agreement in Belgrade that provides for 2,000 members of the international Verification Mission to deploy to the Serbian province. Elsewhere, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke told CNN that the international community must act more quickly to send the full contingent of monitors into the region. He added that NATO remains ready to launch air strikes if the Serbian authorities do not carry out the agreement he negotiated with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic the previous week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1998). On 16 October, NATO agreed to extend its deadline for compliance by an additional 10 days, until 27 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 1998). PM


Spokesmen for the independent media said in Belgrade on 18 October that the parliament will soon pass a law that will incorporate key parts of a recent government decree that shut down three independent dailies as well as Radio Index, Radio Senta, TV Pirot, Radio Kontakt, and Radio City (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 1998). The law will make permanent the ban on rebroadcasting foreign radio programs in Serbo-Croatian, including those of RFE/RL, VOA, the BBC, and Deutsche Welle. Elsewhere, supporters of the Democratic Party collected 5,000 signatures in opposition to the ban. The previous day, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said that the authorities will soon take similar measures against independent Albanian-language media in Kosova. PM


Dragan Veselinov, who is president of the "Vojvodina" coalition of opposition parties, said that Serbia's northern province should receive the same autonomy that Kosova will have as a result of the recent Milosevic-Holbrooke pact, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 17 October. Veselinov stressed that the agreement opens the way for a complete restructuring of Serbia's political system, beginning with the restoration of parliamentary autonomy to Vojvodina. Milosevic forced the province's leaders from office in October 1988 and subsequently abolished its autonomy. Vojvodina has a large ethnic Hungarian minority and smaller groups of Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Romanians, and others. Vojvodina Serbs long lived under Habsburg rule and generally regard themselves as distinct from Serbs, who were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. PM


Officials of the Zagrebacka Banka announced on 18 October that the bank will pay $170,000 to anyone providing information as to how the independent daily "Jutarnji List" recently obtained information about the account of Ankica Tudjman, who is the wife of the President Franjo Tudjman. The paper wrote that she has a bank balance of $160,000. Ms. Tudjman recently filed an official declaration in which she said that her property consists only of her car. PM


In the Croatian capital on 16 October, the director of the Miss Croatia pageant declared invalid the recent election of Lejla Sehovic. He charged that there were irregularities in the voting and that one ballot was invalid. Sehovic said that the real reason that the pageant organizers oppose her election is that she is a Muslim. Sehovic add that the organizers "will have to take the crown from me physically if they want it," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


The trial of Claude Cheik Ben Abdel, a Muslim with French citizenship who in June killed his 22-year-old interpreter, has opened in the Albanian capital. Abdel says he murdered the interpreter because "that was the will of God." Abdel arrived in Albania early this year to join the UCK and posed as a journalist. He was one of a group of eight Muslim fundamentalists who acquired weapons but did not succeed in linking up with the guerrillas. He is believed to have killed his interpreter because the young man knew too much about the group's activities. In June, police began a crackdown on suspected Muslim fundamentalist terrorists from abroad. FS


Albania's High Defense Council on 17 October approved the creation of a battalion of 150 professional soldiers to protect army bases and arsenals against looters, ATSH reported. The troops will be charged with foiling armed attacks against military installations. People suspected of smuggling arms to Kosova have tried to break into weapons depots throughout the country several times this year. Meanwhile, unknown attackers have blasted a main high-voltage electrical power line in northern Albania. The blast caused a serious power outage. FS


The opposition Democratic Party and its allies on 17 October ended their boycott of the parliament and attended their first legislative session in months. The parliament discussed the draft constitution and asked the drafting commission to review four of the document's articles, ATSH reported. Zef Bushati, leader of the small opposition Christian Democratic Party, proposed changing the draft to provide for the president to be elected directly rather than by the parliament. The head of the drafting commission, Sabri Godo, welcomed the opposition proposals, stressing that he is confident that "we will reach an agreement satisfying everybody, through a consensus between representatives of all parliamentary forces." FS


A survey released on 18 October showed a decrease in the popularity of Emil Constantinescu and the Romanian government, Reuters reported. The poll, taken by the Life Quality Research Institute, showed Constantinescu with a 25 percent approval rating, down from 38 percent in June. Some 48 percent of respondents voiced dissatisfaction with the performance of Prime Minister Radu Vasile's cabinet, while 20 percent rated it "very bad." In other news, Constantinescu's political adviser, Zoe Petre, said the attempt at self-immolation by a homeless woman last week was "the most brutal expression of the deep economic crisis" in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 1998). She said "it has shocked us all." The woman was reported in critical condition on 16 October and was not expected to survive. PB


Romanian Agriculture Minister Dinu Gavrilescu said on 16 October that Bucharest had offered to trade food products to Russia for oil and gas, Reuters reported. Gavrilescu said the offer was being made because of the Russian government's hard currency shortage. Romania will offer 1 million tons of wheat along with some meat and edible oil in exchange for crude oil and gas. The food stocks are valued at some $200 million. PB


The ruling Union of Democratic Forces announced on 18 October that the 15-party alliance has become a single party, AP reported. Party leader and Premier Ivan Kostov said the UDF seeks to become a party similar to other Christian democratic parties in Europe and hopes to attract centrist voters. The alliance was formed by Kostov more than a year ago. Some 3,000 alliance members approved the change. PB


Bulgarian General Ivan Bachev said on 16 October that three of his country's air bases will be upgraded with NATO funds, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. Bachev said the upgrades, mainly in communications infrastructure, will allow the bases to be used by NATO aircraft. The bases at Kamenets and Bezmer, in northern Bulgaria, as well as the Graf Ignatievo, in the south, will benefit from the funds. PB


by Jan Maksymiuk

When the Russian economy began to melt down after the ruble's collapse in mid-August, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka launched yet another campaign for the closer integration of Belarus and Russia. The two countries have been unsuccessfully trying to consummate some kind of merger since Lukashenka came to power in 1994. But this time, the "third Slavic brother," Ukraine, has been drawn into the process.

Kyiv has been wary of any initiatives aimed at closer integration not only with Russia and Belarus but also within the Commonwealth of Independent States. Ukraine stresses that in relations with post-Soviet states, economic issues should take precedence over political ones, while asserting that bilateral accords are more important than multilateral ones. Ironically, the event that sparked a renewed outburst of integration propaganda was Russia's financial crisis and subsequent economic slump.

Addressing the Ukrainian Supreme Council on 29 September, Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev called upon Ukraine to form a Slavic union with Russia and Belarus. Some 50 deputies of the right-wing Rukh party jeered at Seleznev and branded his speech a "provocation." But 120 or so Communist deputies received Seleznev's appeal with loud applause. In what seemed to be an attempt at damage control, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma immediately responded that he "categorically opposes" such a union. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, pointing out that Russia is a multiethnic country, said the first consideration should be how "tens of millions of non-Slavs" in Russia would react if their state became part of a Slavic union.

Nonetheless, the merger proposal was made by a high-ranking official and received much publicity in both Ukraine and Russia. In fact, it may well become a propaganda time bomb planted in Ukraine's fragile economic system. An impoverished population, large parts of which have not been paid for months, may eventually turn a deaf ear to Kuchma's promises to improve the situation in independent Ukraine and may begin to heed Lukashenka's nostalgic appeal to restore the former "unbreakable" union and state-regulated economy.

Lukashenka had his moment of triumph when Russia's financial market collapsed in August. The IMF recommendations, he argued, aim at "disrupting the national economic system of post-Soviet republics" rather than "curing" it. Belarus, in his opinion, has a successful state-regulated economy that fares well without foreign advice and assistance. Lukashenka even went so far as to offer to act as consultant to Russian President Boris Yeltsin by showing him how Belarus's economic experience can be applied in Russia.

A large amount of pro-Slavic union propaganda has come from other quarters within Belarus. The Chamber of Representatives, the lower house of the legislature, called on the Russian State Duma to urgently adopt bills on introducing a single Belarusian- Russian citizenship, joint state symbols, a Belarusian-Russian Union anthem, and direct elections to the Belarusian-Russian Union Parliamentary Assembly. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry announced that Minsk has "programs" to help Russia overcome its crisis, while Lukashenka vowed to supply foodstuffs to stave off famine in Russia.

Lukashenka used the September visit to Minsk of the Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia to try to secure the support of the Orthodox Church for his integration cause. "Orthodoxy is the only barrier that protects us from falling into abyss" he said, pledging to make Christian values "the state ideology of Belarus."

He also took advantage of the Kosova crisis to portray himself as a defender of the Slavic world as a whole, offering military help to Yugoslavia. And he strongly condemned Bulgaria and Romania for granting NATO the right to use their airspace in the event of military action against Yugoslavia and thus for "betraying Slavic [sic] unity."

So far, there have been no signs that any of those proposals have been treated seriously by other statesmen or had the intended effect. At another level, however, their effectiveness is more difficult to ascertain. Lukashenka's actions and statements are primarily addressed to ordinary people, to collective farm and industrial workers who are suffering most on account of the crisis in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Such people elected him president in 1994, and a September poll showed that amid Belarus's worst economic crisis since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Lukashenka's popularity jumped to 55 percent, up 11 percent compared with last December.

This measure of his popularity offers a clue to what Russian and Ukrainian workers may privately think about Lukashenka's idea of closer Slavic unity. At the same time, the appeal of such a union is not confined to the Slavic former Soviet republics. An Armenian initiative last year collected 1 million signatures in support for that country's accession to the Russia-Belarus Union. Similar, albeit more modest campaigns, have also been launched in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

Belarus is the only post-Soviet republic that has made reintegration a sustained, long-term policy. Unable to use any economic levers to promote his policy of integration, Lukashenka makes use of his greatest asset: an almost hypnotic populist appeal to the man on the street. In fact, he appeals directly to the deeply wounded pride of people confronted with their humiliating economic misery and what they perceive as their political decline following the demise of the Soviet Empire. Wounded pride seldom responds in a friendly or creative manner. That is why Lukashenka--although marginalized and isolated on the international scene--should be regarded with due concern as potentially one of the biggest troublemakers in the post-Soviet area.