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Newsline - October 22, 1998




YELTSIN'S TRAVEL PLANS 'TIGHTENED'

President Boris Yeltsin's trip to Austria is now scheduled to last only one day, instead of two, as originally planned, presidential press secretary Dmitrii Yakushin told reporters on 22 October. Yakushin said that the trip will be very intensive and dismissed the suggestion that it had been shortened, saying that "the schedule has simply been tightened." In its October issue, "Argumenty i fakty" cited Foreign Ministry sources as saying Russia will be able to procure money from the EU only if Yeltsin shows up in Austria in person. The publication claimed that "some Kremlin officials understood the importance of the trip" and that "Boris Nikolaevich is now being pumped full of medicines to put him in good shape for at least a couple of days." JAC

DUMA PROTECTS INDIVIDUALS' SAVINGS

The Duma on 21 October passed a law guaranteeing individuals' private deposits in Russian banks. The legislation guarantees payment in full of dollar or ruble savings plus interest. It also protects wages or pensions deposited to bank accounts after 1 September. JAC

RUSSIAN STOCKS FLOAT UPWARDS

Russian stocks continued to strengthen on 21 October, profiting from overall bullishness on world markets and the perception of traders that some Russian companies are "bargains" at current share prices. Among the top performers was Rostelecom, which gained 11 percent. The benchmark stock index rose 3 percent, according to Bloomberg, and the Russia index has become the world's seventh-best performing index, having risen 25 percent since 22 September. Despite reports of tightened government control over Russian oil company financing (see below) shares in LUKoil and Surgutneftegaz surged, gaining 10 percent and 14 percent respectively, according to Interfax. JAC

ARE TAXES COLLECTED PAPER OR REAL?

Federal Tax Service head Georgii Boos told reporters on 21 October that tax collection improved this month because the government successfully negotiated agreements with the country's largest enterprises. For example, the tax service froze the bank accounts of 14 of the country's oil companies and will unfreeze them only if the companies agree to make payments every 10 days. Boos's estimation of the work accomplished by his service apparently conflicts with that of the Finance Ministry. "Izvestiya" reported on 21 October that Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov wants "taxes paid into the budget and not 'paper' taxes based on mutual offsets as Boos wants to report." And Deputy Defense Minister Oleg Vyugin said that "the government has taken no substantial steps to improve tax collection" and that a significant increase in tax revenue should not be expected. LUKoil and Oneksimbank are major investors in "Izvestiya." JAC

OIL COMPANIES LOSING BATTLE OR WAR?

Russian oil companies are being pressured not only by the Federal Tax Service. Finance Minister Zadornov told Ekho Moskvy on 21 October that his ministry wants to impose an export duty of $6.50-$7.00 per ton of crude oil. According to Zadornov, the tax would reduce net profits by no more than 30-40 percent. "Izvestiya" reported on 15 October that the oil companies had won an earlier battle to squash higher taxes by appealing to Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak. The newspaper argued that the "victory of the oil dealers" was likely to be only "temporary." It also noted that a draft law on the critical situation in the oil industry failed to pass in the State Duma, primarily because not enough deputies were present to vote for it. JAC

GOVERNMENT AWAITS WORD FROM IMF, PARIS CLUB

Finance Minister Zadornov told Ekho Moskvy on 21 October that he expects Russia to receive part of the scheduled $4.3 billion tranche from the IMF this year. He added that even if Russia does not receive any credits, it still plans to set aside "more than $2 billion from the fourth-quarter budget to service foreign debt." According to Reuters, this amount would cover only payments for recent debts and not those inherited from the Soviet Union. The Russian government hopes to persuade the Paris Club to accept a postponement of any payments of the latter until the end of the year. Like the IMF, the Paris Club is waiting for Russia to produce an economic program that would explain how the debt would ultimately be repaid. JAC

RUSSIAN POSITION ON KOSOVA OUTLINED

Russian diplomats continue to object to what they perceive as NATO interference in tasks more appropriately performed by the OSCE. Russian diplomatic sources told Interfax on 21 October that Russia will not take part in the air monitoring of Kosova as long as the NATO decision to put its forces on high alert for a strike in Yugoslavia remains in force. The sources claimed that they were taken aback by statements of U.S. diplomats that NATO forces stationed outside Kosova will be available to assist in the rapid evacuation of monitors. They pointed out that Yugoslav authorities have already agreed to provide security for the observers and assist them with evacuation. They emphasized that the OSCE rather than NATO must provide for security for the observer mission. JAC

TRUCKERS STALLED

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Russian truck drivers and their vehicles are stranded throughout Western Europe because they cannot finance their return home. The companies who hired them have canceled planned shipments following the devaluation of ruble. This has left the truckers they hired without any financial means of returning to Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry has instructed its embassies in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, and Ireland to provide financial support to the drivers, Interfax reported on 21 October. JAC

LUKASHENKA LANDS IN SIBERIA

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka began a three-day trip to Siberia on 21 October, stopping first in Omsk. According to ITAR-TASS, Lukashenka is expected to sign an agreement on economic, trade, scientific, and cultural cooperation with Omsk Oblast. Belarus wants to supply Siberia with trolley-buses, shoes, and furniture in exchange for tires, airplanes, aircraft engines, as well as communications and farm equipment. On 22 October, Lukashenka declared his firm support for President Yeltsin and for the strongest possible union between Russia and Belarus. According to Interfax, he urged the Russian press and politicians to stop "toying with the idea of early resignation" for Yeltsin (see also Part II). JAC

ILYUMZHINOV TO SEEK ANOTHER PRESIDENCY

Just days after reaffirming his intention to run in the Russian presidential elections in 2000, Republic of Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinkov declared that he will also seek the presidency of the Russian Soccer Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 1998). Ilyumzhinov is already president of the World Chess Federation and hinted that he will bolster the soccer league's current budget of $5 million. Ilyumzhinov built what some have described as lavish facilities in his republic to host this year's chess matches. Ilyumzhinov said, according to ITAR-TASS, that he was "ashamed" by the nation's soccer team, particularly by its loss to Ukraine. "How is it possible in a nation of 150 million that 11 good players could not be found?" he asked. JAC

BROADCASTING BLACKOUT IN EASTERN SIBERIA

More than 1 million residents in Chita Oblast have been greeted with blank television screens and silent radios since striking workers at a regional broadcasting center stopped all television and radio transmissions to protest unpaid wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 October. Regional authorities are appealing to the workers to employ some other tactic to publicize their cause. JAC




FIVE GEORGIAN INSURGENTS ARRESTED

Five suspected participants in the 19 October mutiny have been arrested in the west Georgian region of Mingrelia, but rebel leader Akaki Eliava and several supporters are still at large, Caucasus Press reported on 22 October. Abkhaz security officials told Interfax and ITAR-TASS on 21 October that they have strengthened controls on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia and can guarantee that Eliava has not crossed into Abkhaz territory. If he and his supporters attempt to do so, they will be arrested or killed if they resist arrest, Abkhaz Security Minister Astamur Tarba told Interfax. LF

RUSSIA, ZVIADISTS DENY INVOLVEMENT IN MUTINY

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov and an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman have both denied any Russian involvement in the Georgian insurrection, Interfax reported on 21 October. Georgian State Chancellery official Archil Gegeshidze told Interfax that there is indirect evidence that "some forces" in Russia provided assistance to the rebels, whom he identified as former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia supporters who arrived in Georgia from Moscow with large amounts of U.S. dollars. But the Round Table-Free Georgia coalition, founded by Gamsakhurdia in 1990, has denied any role in the mutiny, which it suggests was stage-managed by the Georgian authorities, Caucasus Press reported on 21 October. Georgian presidential adviser Levan Aleksidze pointed out that Russian political analysts Andranik Migranian and Konstantin Zatulin had earlier predicted an attempt to destabilize Georgia to thwart oil exports (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," vol.1, no. 31, 29 September 1998). LF

ABKHAZIA TO ISSUE OWN PASSPORTS

The unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia is currently having its own passports printed in France, Caucasus Press reported on 21 October, quoting Georgian deputy parliamentary chairman Vakhtang Kolbaya. Kakha Chitaya, chairman of the Georgian parliament committee on foreign affairs, said that the willingness of a French company to print the passports constitutes non-recognition of Georgia's territorial integrity. He hinted that Georgia may make a formal protest to the French government. LF

AZERBAIJAN, TURKEY SEND MIXED SIGNALS ON EXPORT PIPELINE

Azerbaijan State Oil Company President Natik Aliyev told Turan on 21 October that no firm commitment to proceed with construction of the so-called Main Export Pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil will be signed in Turkey on 29 October. Instead, Aliyev said, the presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, and Kazakhstan will issue a joint statement pledging their political support for Trans-Caspian and Trans-Caucasian oil and gas pipelines. Aliyev said that proposals for routing the MEP via Russia were submitted too late and that the routes being considered are via Georgia and via Turkey. Turkish Energy Minister Cumhur Ersumer told journalists in Baku on 19 October that a decision to route the MEP from Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan will be signed when Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev visits Turkey for the 75th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Turkish Republic on 29 October, Interfax reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, U.S. ENDORSE BAKU-CEYHAN VARIANT

Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbayev held talks in Tbilisi on 21 October with his Georgian counterpart, Vazha Lortkipanidze, and President Shevardnadze on the export of Kazakh oil via the existing pipeline from Baku to the Georgian port of Batumi, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Balghymbayev will also visit Baku, where his country's ambassador Rashid Ibraev told Turan on 21 October that one Japanese and one U.S. company have already committed a total of $500 million toward the construction of a Trans-Caspian oil pipeline. Ibraev said that at present, Kazakhstan exports some 50 million metric tons of crude by tanker and rail via Azerbaijan and Georgia. Speaking in Ankara on 21 October, U.S. Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat again affirmed the U.S. preference for the Baku-Ceyhan route, which he termed optimal from the environmental, economic, and strategic standpoints, AP reported. Ersumer said in Baku two days earlier that the cost of that project is far lower than media estimates of $4 billion. LF

ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT, BANKERS DISCUSS ECONOMIC SITUATION

The heads of commercial banks operating in Armenia met the country's leadership on 21 October to discuss the economic situation and the government's fiscal-monetary policies, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported, citing the presidential press service. The participants "stressed the need to improve banking legislation and tighten law and order in the banking sector." Responding to unspecified concerns expressed by the bankers, President Robert Kocharian called for the further strengthening of the "stable banking system," which he called one of Armenia's key achievements. Analysts suggest that the economic turmoil in Russia is affecting Armenia's market for short-term government bonds, which until recently was dominated by Russian investors who have now withdrawn their capital from Armenia. LF

KAZAKHSTAN REPORTS POOR GRAIN HARVEST

Kazakhstan's 1998 grain harvest was one of the worst in the last 40 years, Reuters reported on 21 October. According to preliminary figures, only 7.3 million tons are expected to be gathered this year, compared with 12.3 million tons in 1997. The 1998 plan was for 14 million tons but bad weather and problems with locusts during the summer have had a negative impact on the harvest. The head of the Agricultural Ministry's information service, Aleksandr Korablin, said next year's harvest may be worse, as banks and companies will now be reluctant to invest in the agricultural sector. BP

NAZARBAYEV MAKES NEW APPOINTMENTS

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev appointed Asylbek Beysenbayev as his press secretary on 20 October, RFE/RL correspondents in Astana reported. Beysenbayev replaces Kairat Sarybayev, who is now a deputy foreign minister. BP

UN APPEALS FOR AID FOR TAJIKISTAN

The UN has issued an appeal to the international community to give aid to Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 October. According to the UN, 80 percent of Tajikistan's population lives on the poverty line and nearly half are unemployed. Pensioners survive almost exclusively on aid distributed by UN organizations working in the country. So far in 1998, those organizations have raised $6.4 million in aid. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said $34 million is needed and has urged those who have promised aid to Tajikistan to fulfill their pledge. BP

KYRGYZ JUSTICE MINISTRY CLOSES DOWN THREE NEWSPAPERS

The Kyrgyz Justice Ministry has shut down three newspapers for "insulting the religious feelings of believers," ITAR-TASS reported on 22 October. The ministry claimed that "Limon," "Paishanba," and "Kattamadaidzhest" contained erotic material that could be considered offensive to some people. "Paishanba" is owned and published by the same group that put outs the well-known weekly "Asaba," which this year has also run into difficulties with the authorities. The founder of both newspapers, Melis Eshimkanov, said "it's just the latest attempt by the authorities to strike out at undesirable opponents." Eshimkanov added that "erotic publications can be banned on religious grounds, but first there is a need to change the Kyrgyz Constitution, in which it is written that the country is secular state." BP




UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TARGETS BARTER TRADE

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 21 October issued a decree that will give special tax breaks to companies that reduce the percentage of output bartered for other goods rather than sold during the first half of 1999, Reuters reported. The Ukrainian State Statistical Committee said that during the first eight months of 1998, more than one-third of the country's industrial output was bartered rather than sold. The same day, Ukraine's Agriculture Minister Borys Supykhanov complained that the country's farmers are increasingly reluctant to supply approximately 3.5 million tons of grain that they had pledged earlier in 1998 in exchange for seeds and machinery, AP reported. PG

OPPOSITION LEADER ACCUSES KYIV OF ASSASSINATION PLOT

Pavlo Lazarenko, a former prime minister and currently an opposition leader in the Ukrainian parliament, told the "Kievskie vedomosti" newspaper on 21 October that several high government officials are plotting to discredit and then assassinate him. "They want to throw me out of politics, out of Ukraine, and out of the circle of the living," he said. Meanwhile, Interfax reported the same day that Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko has ordered an investigation of a company associated with Lazarenko that benefited excessively from the privatization of an airfield. PG

CRIMEA APPROVES NEW CONSTITUTION

The Crimean Autonomous Republic parliament on 21 October approved a new constitution that gives that region neither separate citizenship nor a separate legal system, Interfax reported. The constitution--the fifth one to be proposed since 1992--must now be approved by the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv. PG

LUKASHENKA SEES UKRAINE JOINING BELARUSIAN-RUSSIAN UNION

Speaking in Omsk on 21 October, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said Ukraine would join the Belarusian-Russian Union "tomorrow" if the arrangement began to work efficiently, Interfax. He said that such a union of Slavic countries would "alter the geopolitical situation of the world." At the Russian Polyot defense plant, Lukashenka said that the Belarusian defense industry remains among the most powerful in the former Soviet Union: "We did not make our defense industries manufacture saucers; instead, we kept their production lines alive." Meanwhile, Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Vladimir Grigoryev told ITAR-TASS that Minsk wants to help restart the production of Kvarts television sets at an Omsk plant. PG

VEIDEMANN SAYS NO MORE OSCE DEMANDS ON ESTONIA

In an interview with BNS on 21 October, Andra Veidemann, minister without portfolio responsible for nationality issues, said that OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel told her earlier this week in Switzerland that the OSCE will not make any new demands on Estonia over the issue of ethnic minorities. Veidemann quoted Van der Stoel as saying that the OSCE recommendations made to date are "final and without any follow- up." They include simplifying the procedure for granting citizenship to children born in Estonia to non-citizens, which, the minister pointed out, is the only recommendation that Tallinn has so far failed to meet. JC

FEWER CASES OF HAZING IN LITHUANIAN ARMY

Lithuanian Defense Ministry officials say that the incidence of hazing in the armed forces is declining, BNS reported on 21 October. Whereas last year 57 such cases went to court, so far this year there have been only 34. Defense staff headquarters chief Colonel Antanas Jurgaitis said he believes it is essential to improve the living conditions of the troops and accelerate prosecution in criminal cases in order to combat hazing. In addition, officials hope that army discipline will be maintained by the Military Police. A law regulating the activities of that force is currently under discussion in the parliament. JC

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTRY WELCOMES GERMAN STANCE

The Czech Foreign Ministry said it is pleased that the new German government is focusing on the future in its approach toward the Czech Republic's prospective EU membership, CTK reported on 21 October. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Monika Pajerova said that comments by Foreign Minister-designate Joschka Fischer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1998) showed Bonn's support for the Czech- German declaration. She added that bilateral relations should not be "burdened with political and legal relations from the past." PB

SLOVAK PARTY WANTS ETHNIC HUNGARIANS IN COALITION...

Robert Fico, the deputy chairman of the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), said on 21 October that the SDL wants the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) in the government, TASR reported. Fico said talks on forming a government have been "complicated and difficult" but that the SDL wants the ruling coalition to have 93 seats in the parliament, meaning it wants all four parties involved in the negotiations to be included in the government. Ninety seats are required for the three-fifths majority necessary to change the constitution. Fico also announced that SDL chairman Jozef Migas will be nominated as parliamentary chairman. PB

...BUT HUNGARIANS DON'T FEEL WANTED

Bela Bugar, the chairman of the SMK, said on 21 October that the SDL continues to hamper negotiations on forming a government by insisting on a greater proportion of ministerial posts, CTK reported. Bugar said the SDL "wants to have more ministers than it is entitled to according to the election results." He added that the ethnic Hungarian party will "not sign the coalition agreement at any cost." Bugar hinted that the SMK's inclusion in the government is crucial to Slovakia catching up to its neighbors in the integration process. "Everyone should realize that our participation in the government ranks among the conditions of the resumption of our EU entry negotiations." Mikulas Dzurinda, the chairman of the Slovak Democratic Coalition and likely prime minister in the new government, agreed that the talks have been protracted, adding that "the people expect more from us." PB

PRIME MINISTERS REVIVE VISEGRAD GROUP IN BUDAPEST

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Czech and Polish counterparts, Milos Zeman and Jerzy Buzek, agreed on 21 October in Budapest to resume the Visegrad Group to coordinate the three countries' bid to join the EU and NATO. The premiers agreed to meet at least twice a year and welcomed the possibility of Slovakia's return to the group. Orban said cooperation will be extended to the spheres of culture and telecommunications. The Visegrad Group was formed in 1991 when the presidents of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland met in Visegrad, Hungary, and agreed to a framework of cooperation to integrate with Western Europe. MSZ




HOLBROOKE SAYS SERBS 'NOT COMPLYING'

U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke said in Paris on 21 October that "the Serbian forces [in Kosova] are not in compliance with the UN [Security Council] resolution, it's as simple as that. If the situation is not rectified in the next six days, it can only lead to the most dramatic consequences." In Belgrade, AFP reported that Serbian forces fired heavy artillery in the Mt. Berisha area west of Prishtina during the night of 20-21 October. The Kosovar news agency KIC wrote that Serbian forces have recently shelled 14 ethnic Albanian villages in the Drenica, Malisheva and Trapeza areas. Yugoslav army sources said in Prishtina, however, that the army has not carried out "any offensive action" in recent days. Elsewhere in Kosova, international monitors on 22 October continued to investigate reports of shellings and armed clashes. They sent their preliminary findings to NATO headquarters in Brussels the previous day but did not make them public. PM

KOSOVARS WARN COOK ABOUT SETTLEMENT

Fehmi Agani and Edita Tahiri, who belong to the Kosovar shadow state's negotiating team, told British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in Skopje on 21 October that the interim political settlement outlined in the recent agreement between Holbrooke and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is far short of the minimum that the Kosovars will accept (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," 21 October 1998). They added that U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Chris Hill's plan, which expands on the Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement, is not acceptable to the Kosovars, even as a basis for further talks. Cook told the two negotiators that Holbrooke obtained the best terms he could for the Kosovars in long and tough negotiations with Milosevic and that Hill also faces difficulties in his talks with the Serbs. PM

MACEDONIA OFFERS ITS AIRPORTS FOR NATO AIRCRAFT

Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski has offered airport facilities to an unspecified number of NATO aircraft to be deployed in the Balkans within the framework of NATO surveillance over Kosova, "Koha Ditore" reported from Skopje on 21 October. NATO asked Macedonia on 17 October to allow the deployment of unmanned spy planes and unspecified other aircraft as well as ground staff. Crvenkovski, however, stressed that the deployment "does not mean that Macedonia [itself] will participate in the NATO verification mission" in Kosova. Observers noted that Macedonia is anxious to prove itself worthy of full NATO membership but does not want to strain relations with Belgrade. The surveillance mission is slated to begin "in a few days" and will involve 20 intelligence- gathering aircraft, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. FS

SERBIAN JOURNALISTS DEMAND RELEASE OF COLLEAGUES

Some 100 journalists marched through Belgrade on 21 October to demand the release of Tanjug journalists Nebojsa Radosevic and Vladimir Dobricic. The protesters presented a petition to officials of the U.S. embassy that read: "only the U.S., as the creator and main guarantor of the [Milosevic-Holbrooke pact], can efficiently influence the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) political and military leaders to release all [Serbs who have gone missing], including our colleagues." The two Tanjug journalists disappeared recently in Kosova and are widely believed to have fallen into the hands of UCK, although the UCK's spokesman denies it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1998). PM

OSCE CALLS ON SERBIA TO RESCIND MEDIA BAN

Freimut Duve, who is the OSCE's chief spokesman on media rights and freedoms, appealed in Vienna on 21 October to the Serbian authorities to repeal the new media law that enables the government to shut down newspapers and broadcasters who offend it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1998). In Belgrade, spokesmen for the independent electronic media called the new law "scandalous and uncivilized" and argued that it will greatly harm Serbia's image abroad, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

OPPOSITION PARTY CALLS FOR TUDJMAN TO RESIGN

Radomir Cacic, who heads the Croatian People's Party (HNS), said in Zagreb on 21 October that his party wants President Franjo Tudjman to resign and call new parliamentary elections in the wake of the growing scandal over the undisclosed bank account of his wife, Ankica Tudjman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1998). Cacic added that the HNS and the Istrian Democratic Forum will table a motion in the parliament calling for an official investigation into the Tudjman family's wealth. Meanwhile, the leadership of the Croatian Peasants' Party issued a statement praising the courage of Ankica Lepej, the bank clerk who leaked details of Ankica Tudjman's bank account to the press, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

OPPOSITION WINS FIRST ROUND IN MACEDONIAN ELECTIONS

The coalition of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Democratic Alternative (DA) won 15 out of the 35 legislative seats at stake in the 18 October elections, according to the final official returns released on 21 October. The governing Social Democrats took 10 seats and the coalition of the two largest ethnic Albanian parties eight. The Liberals, who represent the interests of some members of the business community and of the ethnic Vlach population, took two seats. Observers suggested that in the second round on 1 November, which will decide 85 seats, the opposition coalition will likely maintain its lead and attract the support of smaller parties. The key question is which parties, if any, will join VMRO and DA in a coalition government. PM

ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES FOR REFERENDUM ON CONSTITUTION...

Albania's Socialist-dominated parliament on 21 October approved the draft constitution and agreed to put it up to a referendum. That vote will take place on 22 November. All 115 government coalition legislators in the 155-seat parliament voted in favor of the new basic law. There were no votes against the draft, but the Democratic Party did not take part in the vote. Former Prime Minister Fatos Nano hailed the document, saying it "embodies the aspirations of all Albanian progressive forces." He stressed that it will give Albania "stability in governing by averting government crises and [precluding] cabinets without parliamentary backing." Krenar Loloci, who is a legal expert from the constitution drafting commission, told Reuters that the draft makes clearer the distinction between the roles of the president, the national government, regional governments, and the judiciary. FS

...WHILE BERISHA PLEDGES TO PRESENT HIS OWN DRAFT

Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha told a press conference on 21 October in Tirana that his party will soon publish its own draft constitution, "Albanian Daily News" reported. Berisha said that earlier, the Democrats had wanted to merge the government- and opposition-sponsored drafts into one that would have the support of all political parties. He added that the Democrats' National Council will soon decide whether to call for a boycott of the referendum. The Democrats refused to submit to the parliament their suggestions on the draft because they do not regard the legislature as legitimate. They demanded instead that the Socialists discuss the constitution with them at a roundtable. The Socialists, however, refused to do so. FS

ROMANIAN PREMIER DEMANDS END TO INFIGHTING

Radu Vasile criticized his cabinet on 21 October for arguing more than any other government in Eastern Europe, Reuters reported. Vasile said upon his return from Brussels that EU officials "cannot understand what is happening in Romania." Vasile said no other government in the region spends as much time "criticizing steps taken by the government." In other news, Interior Minister Gavril Dejeu sacked ten top officers on corruption charges, AP reported on 22 October. The officers allegedly misused millions of dollars earmarked for public projects from 1993-1997, the daily "Libertatea" reported. PB

MOLDOVA URGES RUSSIA TO WITHDRAW TROOPS

The Moldovan Foreign Ministry released a statement on 21 October urging Moscow to honor an agreement on the breakaway Transdniester region by withdrawing its troops from the area, AP reported. The statement asks the Russian State Duma to ratify the treaty that ended the five-month war in 1992. Chisinau approved the treaty in 1994. The agreement left some 5,000 Russian troops in Transdniester. The statement said Russia's failure to withdraw the troops could lead to a worsening of bilateral relations. PB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES BILL BANNING COMMUNISTS FROM HOLDING OFFICE

The parliament passed a law on 21 October that would ban top communists and secret service agents from holding top government and civil service posts for five years, Reuters reported. The vote was 133 to 79 and now awaits the signature of President Petar Stoyanov before becoming law. The Socialist Party, made up mostly of former Communist party members, boycotted the vote, saying the law violates human rights. It also commented that it will file an appeal with the Constitutional Court and international human rights organizations. PB

BULGARIA CLOSES CASE ON MARKOV MURDER

Nestor Nesterov, Bulgaria's chief prosecutor, said on 21 October that the state is closing the file on the murder of dissident Georgi Markov, Reuters reported. Nesterov said the time limit for the investigation had expired. Markov, a free-lancer for RFE/RL who also worked for the BBC, was poisoned in London in 1978 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1998). British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in Sofia the same day that "Communism has gone away with its secrets and the Markov case is one of them." PB




RUSSIA'S FINANCIAL CRISIS THREATENS REGIONAL PRESS


by Paul Goble

The slow but steady progress Russia's privately owned regional newspapers have made in the seven years since the collapse of communism has been undermined in less than a month by that country's financial crisis.

Across the country, some of these newspapers have been forced to close. Many more have cut back in size, frequency, and staffing. And still a larger number have been forced to drop links to the Internet and subscriptions to national and international wire services.

Not surprisingly, the publishers of many of those newspapers have concluded that the only way they can survive is to make deals with local businesses or seek government support. In such an event and if the crisis deepens, they are likely to be exploited by both local businesses and the government.

Taken together, these developments threaten the survival of freedom of the press across much of the Russian Federation. That sweeping prediction arises from the findings of a recent survey released by the National Press Institute, a Moscow-based press watchdog agency.

Last month, that body surveyed editors and publishers across Russia to see how they were coping with the collapse of the ruble, the banking system, and public confidence in key institutions. It reached three main conclusions.

First, the privately owned regional press was in trouble even before the current crisis hit. Most faced stiff competition from state-owned monopolies that denied them the necessary autonomy to do their jobs. Many of those newspapers were and are managed by journalists with little experience in running a business and who had done little to build the kind of cash and other reserves necessary to weather any serious downturn. And few had been able to attract the kind of advertising revenues that would free them from dependence on either subscriptions or subsidies.

There are several reasons for this: Russian enterprises have little experience with advertising. The country's tax system does little to encourage them to spend money on commercial advertising. And most publishers have done little to develop this market.

Second, the current crisis has already claimed its first victims and will claim more as it continues. Because so few newspapers had any cash reserves, the impact of the economic crisis was hard and immediate.

Faced with a decline or even complete loss of advertising revenue and dramatically higher costs for paper and printing, newspapers have laid off staff, cut back in their print runs, and eliminated subscriptions to major news organizations. And although relatively few of these newspapers have closed so far, the Russian public has lost an important window on the world at precisely the time when it most needs one.

Third, the consequences of this crisis, even if it is relatively short-lived, seem likely to prove far more severe to the future of freedom of the press in Russia than many appear to expect. By highlighting the volatility of advertising as a source of revenue, the crisis has led ever more publishers and editors to turn back to single businesses or governments for assistance.

That may save some newspapers in the short run but it guarantees that those rescued in this way will be less free to report the truth in the future. By underscoring the weakness of the privately-owned press to business cycles, the National Press Institute found, the crisis has undercut the authority of the press itself and thus sent much of it on a continuing downward spiral.

And by forcing so many journalists out of their traditional work, the crisis has called attention to something that few in Russia have wanted to take seriously: namely, the intimate relationship between the strength of the market and the strength of the media.

Indeed, the National Press Institute underscores this final point by quoting former U.S. President Herbert Hoover. Speaking just before the onset of the Great Depression in the United States in 1929, President Hoover said that "Free speech does not live many hours after free industry and free commerce die." That is a lesson the Russian regional press is learning in a most difficult school.


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