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Newsline - November 10, 1998




INFLATION DOWN IN OCTOBER BUT READY TO SOAR?

Yevgenii Primakov's government has achieved some measurable success in economic policy-making, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" claimed on 10 November. According to the newspaper, inflation in October fell to 3 percent from 36-38 percent the previous month. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day that the fourth quarter budget deficit in the revised budget will total 103 billion rubles ($6.9 billion), assuming that no credit from the IMF is forthcoming. The newspaper reported that the government decided to discuss the budget at a closed session of the State Duma because this version differs from the one that Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov showed the fund. Earlier, First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov told reporters that the amount of money to be printed will not exceed 15 billion rubles in 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1998). JAC

EU TO SEND OWN FOOD SHIPMENT

The EU and Russia have reached a preliminary agreement on a food assistance package for Russia worth 400 million ECU ($470 million), Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik told reporters on 10 November. According to Kulik, Russia will purchase the food and receive humanitarian aid worth 10-2 million ECU. EU Commissioner Hans van den Broek told reporters the previous day that the package will include wheat, rye, pork, beef, skimmed milk, and rice. JAC

JAPAN MAKES LOAN CONDITIONAL ON IMF COMPLIANCE

Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said on 10 November that a $800 million loan tranche to Russia will not be granted until Moscow has meet demands by the IMF, ITAR-TASS reported. Japanese Prime Minister Keidzo Obuchi had promised that the tranche would be released before the end of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1998). But Komura said that unless IMF conditions are met and delays on loans from that organization lifted, "Japan will not grant credit alone." BP

NEW COMMAND PROPOSED FOR NUCLEAR FORCES

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, who was once the commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, has proposed forming a new "joint main command for strategic nuclear deterrent forces," "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 10 November. The new command would include strategic missile forces and the ministry's 12th Main Directorate, which has operational control over maritime and aviation nuclear forces. According to the newspaper, generals in the navy and air force are "irked" by the notion of forming a new body at a time when their services are having to slim down. They also dislike the fact that the proposal seems to upset the established order, according to which the General Staff commands and controls the country's nuclear forces. The daily also reported that Sergeev recommended the current head of the Strategic Rocket Forces Lieutenant-General Vladimir Yakovlev for the post of strategic forces commander-in-chief. JAC

COMMUNISTS GET MORE VERBAL HEAT OVER MAKASHOV

Former Deputy Prime Minister and head of the Unified Energy Systems Anatolii Chubais has joined other members of the Moscow political elite calling for the Communist Party to be banned for its support of State Duma Deputy Albert Makashov and his anti-Semitic remarks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1998). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" concluded on 10 November that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov wiped out a "splendid collection of personal tactical and strategic victories" through the Communist Party's demonstration of support for Makashov. Meanwhile, "Komsomolskaya pravda" speculated that President Boris Yeltsin's sudden return to Moscow was motivated by the president's desire to "strike back" at the Communist Party. The newspaper reported that according to a presidential staff source, the Kremlin considers a ban on the party "unproductive" but the possibility of the White House's initiating legal proceedings against the party has not been ruled out. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial support from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, while Oneksimbank is a major shareholder in "Komsomolskaya pravda." JAC

RUSSIAN ELITE OFFERS SUGGESTIONS ON CONSTITUTION

The working group of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy has issued its recommendations on how to amend the constitution while preserving stability. The group, which consists of a number of leading politicians, academics, and journalists, published a statement in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 November. That statement was also signed by dozens of their peers from other professions. According to the group, the "demand for amendments to the constitution is essentially political rather than juridical" and "calls to change the balance of powers in the constitution in favor of a parliamentary republic are exceptionally dangerous." The authors condemn efforts to amend the constitution before presidential elections or after such a ballot without the participation of the federal government. They suggest that amendments be introduced over a short period before the end of this year. The amendments would include increasing the Duma's role in the formation of the cabinet. JAC

RUSSIA, BELARUS COOPERATE ON CRIME-FIGHTING

After meeting with his Belarusian counterpart, Valyantsin Ahalets, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin told reporters on 9 November that they had discussed among other things, the unification of Russian and Belarusian legislation, in particular the criminal and criminal- procedure codes. According to Stepashin, the two countries are already cooperating on fighting crime and are creating a joint criminal database. Russian Television reported that the two Interior Ministries have conducted joint operations against criminal gangs in border districts in Smolensk and Lipetsk Oblasts. JAC

ROSSEL BUYS GOOD PRESS COVERAGE?

The head of the information department of a new television station in Yekaterinburg told local legislators that Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel founded the station in order "to assure appropriate coverage during the upcoming 1999 gubernatorial race," "EWI Russian Regional Report" reported on 5 November. The station receives 2.5 million rubles ($167,000) a year from the local budget and was designated a public broadcaster. The station is a "de facto commercial" channel, and station management refused to give local legislators air time, saying their company is a commercial enterprise. The report added that funding for public media rose more than 500 percent in last year's oblast budget, while public health and education programs have been chronically underfunded. In his speech on 6 November, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott called Sverdlovsk Oblast one of Russia's "oases of liberalalization" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1998). JAC

FAR EAST LEADERS WANT TO SET UP OWN BANKS

The trend towards regions "nationalizing" banks on their territory is continuing. "Izvestiya" on 6 November suggested that in the Far East, the real aim of the proposed effort may be to provide financing for local campaigns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 1998). Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko and Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov have both declared their support for merging large local banks in their region into one controlled by the local authorities, the daily reported. Nazdratenko said that his plan was personally approved by Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko when he recently visited Moscow. Cherepkov said he wants to establish a municipal bank for servicing the accounts of the city budget. The daily quoted "local experts" saying that soon new banks will emerge that are "patronized by the krai's political elite." JAC

TEACHERS STRIKE IN ST. PETERSBURG

Teachers at 25 schools in Leningrad Oblast did not return to work after the close of the fall vacations to protest a backlog of unpaid wages over the past three to four months, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 November. According to Vladimir Podolyan, chairman of the local union of education workers, unpaid wages total about 60 million rubles ($4 million). JAC

COURT FAVORS BREAKUP OF COMMUNAL APARTMENTS

The Constitutional Court lifted a ban on the privatization of rooms in communal apartments last week. "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 4 November that the ruling does not mean that all residents of communal apartment will immediately become owners of their own rooms. The court did not rule out the possibility that the right to privatize individual rooms will face more legal challenges. An uncompromising neighbor could hold up a planned privatization by lodging a legal complaint that his rights have been violated, since under the constitution, the fulfillment of one citizen's rights cannot come at the expense of another's. JAC

SUPPORTERS, OPPONENTS OF CHECHEN PRESIDENT CONVENE ...

Former Chechen acting Premier Shamil Basaev convened a meeting on 9 November of the Pan-National Congress of the Chechen People, which was officially dissolved by deceased President Djokhar Dudaev. The session, held in violation of an agreement reached between Basaev and current President Aslan Maskhadov at a meeting of field commanders the previous day, was attended by some 1,000 Maskhadov opponents, AP reported. Also on 9 November, Maskhadov convened a rally of his supporters in the village of Gekhi-chu, where Dudaev was killed in April 1996, to mark the seventh anniversary of the latter's inauguration as Chechnya's first president. Former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev has appealed to both Maskhadov and Basaev to refrain from actions that could exacerbate the continuing tension in the republic. LF

...AS MOSCOW EXPRESSES SUPPORT FOR MASKHADOV

Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian Interior Minister Stepashin said on 9 November that "Maskhadov is supported by Russia and other countries" and is able "to consolidate his authority," Interfax reported. Stepashin told journalists that at a meeting earlier that day with Prime Minister Primakov, the latter had assured him that funds had been allocated from the federal budget for the social sphere in Chechnya. Stepashin said that receipt of those funds, which Moscow has repeatedly promised over the past year, would enhance Maskhadov's prestige. LF




MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN IN BAKU

The Russian, French, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group met with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev in Baku on 9 November and presented new proposals for resolving the Karabakh conflict. Those proposals are based on the concept of a "union-state" comprising Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, according to Reuters. They also focus on the problem of displaced persons. ITAR-TASS quoted Aliyev as saying that "the principle of a single state deserves attention" but that the new initiatives need to be thoroughly studied before the Azerbaijani side can express a formal opinion. Aliev's foreign policy adviser Vafa Gulu-zade told journalists that Baku regards the new proposals "very negatively" as the term "union-state" is ambiguous. Gulu-zade said Azerbaijan will not retreat from the so-called Lisbon principles, which provide for Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan. LF

NEW AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION MOVEMENT FORMED

Twenty-three Azerbaijani opposition parties have announced their alignment in a new Movement for Democracy, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 November. The primary objective of the movement is to campaign for new presidential elections. The movement does not recognize the outcome of the 11 October presidential poll, in which Aliyev was reelected with 76 percent of the vote, according to official returns. The Azerbaijan National Independence Party, headed by Etibar Mamedov, one of the defeated presidential candidates, has not joined the new movement. But Mamedov and representatives of 27 other parties signed a declaration on 9 November condemning the elections as falsified and affirming that "Heidar Aliyev and his entourage have usurped power." LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ACCUSES LEADERSHIP OVER VIOLENCE

The leadership of the opposition Democratic Party and of the Movement for Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections have released official statements claiming that a group of young men in civilian clothes who attacked and beat up opposition leaders at the 8 November Baku rally are employees of a company owned by the brother of President Aliev, Turan reported on 9 November. Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General Eldar Hasanov condemned the attack at a 9 November meeting with Azerbaijan Popular Front Party board member Alimamed Nuriev, assuring him that criminal proceedings will be brought against the attackers. LF

ARMENIA, RUSSIA TO RESUME DIAMOND COOPERATION

Russian officials, including the president of Almazy-Sakha-Rossii, met on 9 November in Yerevan with President Robert Kocharian to discuss the prospects for renewing cooperation in diamond-cutting, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Armenia was one of the leading centers of the Soviet diamond-processing industry before the collapse of the USSR, and diamonds remain one of its main export items. But since the early 1990s, South Africa's De Beers corporation has replaced Russia as Armenia's main supplier. A formal agreement whereby Russia will provide Armenia with uncut diamonds for processing is to be signed by the end of this year, according to Noyan Tapan. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT DECLARES DAY OF MOURNING...

Imomali Rakhmonov declared 10 November a day of mourning for victims of an attempted rebellion in the northern part of Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Red Cross workers visited some of the scenes of the fighting the previous day. They report that more than 500 victims of the fighting are in Khujand hospitals, some 40 families are without shelter, and more than 2,000 houses are damaged. The Tajik government issued a statement the same day requesting that other CIS countries help apprehend the leaders of the rebellion, who are believed to have fled the country. Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov has said there are unconfirmed reports that some of the rebel leaders have escaped to Uzbekistan. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry released a statement calling such statements "slanderous." The UN mission to Tajikistan also criticized reports on Tajik Television claiming the UN knew about the rebellion in advance. BP

...WHILE INVESTIGATORS SEEK TO PIECE TOGETHER FACTS

Tajik investigators examining the attempted rebellion in Leninabad Region say they have documents that support Rakhmonov's assertion that the rebels planned a coup, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 November. Investigators found rebel maps indicating strategic targets not only in Leninabad Region but also in Dushanbe, the southern city of Kurgan-Tyube, and the Karategin Valley, east of Dushanbe. The attacks were planned "outside the country" and some of the rebels trained in Afghanistan, the investigators say. Some media reports during the rebellion claimed that among the rebels were soldiers of Afghan General Abdul Rashid Dostum. The Tajik government has released a list of those suspected of planning the attack. They include former Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullojonov, former army Colonel Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, and former Customs Committee Chairman Yakub Salimov. BP

RUSSIAN RUBLE DOING WELL IN KAZAKHSTAN

ITAR-TASS on 9 November reported that there is a growing demand for Russian rubles in Kazakhstan. The ruble's value on the Almaty stock exchange climbed 15 percent in the last week and is currently exchanged for 5.1-5.3 Kazakh tenge ($1=81 tenge). At currency exchange offices, the ruble can be bought at 4.5 tenge; it can then be sold at rates18-20 percent higher. Over the past week, the total volume of ruble transactions at the Almaty stock exchange amounted to 1.65 million rubles, the largest amount since before the Russian economic crisis began. BP

TURKMEN PRESIDENT IN GOOD HEALTH

The German cardiologist who performed cardiac surgery on Saparmurat Niyazov in September 1997, has re-examined the Turkmen president and said his health has significantly improved, ITAR-TASS reported. Dr. Hans Meisner said it helps that Niyazov has quit smoking but warned that the president often disregards doctors' advice not to overburden himself. BP




IMF TO SEND ANOTHER MISSION TO KYIV BEFORE DECIDING ON LOAN

The IMF will send another mission to Kyiv before deciding whether to continue disbursing the $2.2 billion loan to Ukraine, AP reported on 9 November. The IMF's team wrapped up negotiations with the Ukrainian government last week but left without signing any accord on the next loan tranche (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1998). Meanwhile, former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said in Kyiv on 9 November that the IMF cannot "save" either Russia or Ukraine, Interfax reported. Nemtsov criticized IMF experts for "imposing their liberal proposals" on Russia and Ukraine instead of accepting programs submitted by the governments of both countries. In Nemtsov's opinion, the reason for the crises in Russia and Ukraine is that the IMF imposed programs that "the authorities did not want to carry out." JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT TO PROPOSE ITS OWN 1999 DRAFT BUDGET

Yuliya Tymoshenko, chairwoman of the parliamentary Budget Committee, said on 9 November the budget committee has decided to work out its own 1999 draft budget as an alternative to the government's, ITAR-TASS reported. Tymoshenko argued that the government draft "has nothing to do with the reality." She said Ukraine will need some 8 billion hryvni ($2.3 billion) to service its domestic debt next year, while the government draft budget sets revenues at 32 billion hryvni and leaves only 3.9 billion hryvni to service that debt. Tymoshenko believes that the government needs to change the tax system to increase budget revenues. The budget committee proposes abolishing current corporate taxes next year and replacing them with a single sales tax on manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. JM

BELARUSIAN EXPORTS TO RUSSIA CONTINUE TO DECREASE

The Belarusian Ministry of Statistics and Analysis has reported that Belarusian exports to Russia continue to decrease, having dropped 30 percent during the period September to October. Over the last three months, the total volume of goods exported to Russia declined 2.4 times and amounted to $170 million in October. According to Belapan, government experts blame the Russian financial crisis and a decrease in the Russian population's purchasing power for the slump in exports. Russia accounts for 66.7 percent of Belarusian exports, while 7.9 percent goes to other CIS countries and 25.4 percent to countries outside the CIS. JM

ALLEGED DEPORTER PLEADS NOT GUILTY

At the opening session of his trial at the regional court of Parnu, western Estonia, on 9 November, Vasilii Beskov pleaded not guilty to charges of crimes against humanity, BNS reported. Beskov, who was indicted in May, is accused of having played a role in the 1949 mass deportations of Estonians to Russia. At the time, he was employed at the former State Security Ministry. Last week, Estonian security police formally indicted Mikhail Neverovskii on charges of ordering the deportation of 278 people in 1949. JC

MOST ALIENS WANT TO IMPROVE COMMAND OF LATVIAN

According to an opinion poll conducted by Baltijas Datu Nams in August and September, some 70 percent of non-citizens in Latvia want to improve their command of the state language, BNS reported on 6 November. That wish is strongest among people whose proficiency in Latvian is considered elementary and intermediate (80 percent and 75 percent). Among those who speak no Latvian at all, only 53 percent want to improve their knowledge of the language. In the age group under 35, 84 percent want to increase their ability to speak Latvian, while among those older than 50, the corresponding figure is 48 percent. However, about half pointed to difficulties in learning the language, citing their age (27 percent), financial difficulties (25 percent), or a lack of practice (23 percent). JC

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT UPBEAT ABOUT EU COMMISSION REPORT

Valdas Adamkus told journalists in Helsinki on 9 November that Lithuania will respond positively to criticism in the EU Commission report released last week (see "RFE/L Newsline," 5 November 1998). "The European Commission has indicated shortcomings [and] instead of looking for excuses or being unhappy, we are determined to take the advice and catch up," Reuters quoted him as saying. Adamkus said Lithuania must make more efforts in administrative and judicial reforms as well as energy sector restructuring. JC

LILEIKIS TRIAL POSTPONED INDEFINITELY AGAIN

The trial of alleged Nazi war criminal Aleksandras Lileikis has been suspended indefinitely because the defendant is considered too sick to appear in court. The judge presiding over the case said a doctors' report shows the 91-year-old Lileikis is suffering from a serious coronary disease and will be unable to leave the hospital for several weeks. Last week, Lileikis made a brief appearance in court before being rushed off to the hospital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 1998). JC

POLAND'S COALITION REJECTS TAX BILL TO AVERT CRISIS

In order to avert a coalition split, parliamentary deputies from Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW) voted on 9 November to reject the 1999 income tax bill that includes tax breaks introduced by the AWS three days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1998), Polish media reported. UW leader and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz said Poland cannot afford the proposed tax breaks for families with a large number of children because next year's budget revenues would be cut by 150 million zlotys ($44 million). The current tax bill provides for three income tax brackets of 19, 30, and 40 percent and maintains tax exemptions on investment in housing construction, private education, and health care. The parliament also voted to lower corporate tax from 36 percent to 34 percent and to keep corporate investment tax relief. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT ADOPTS BILL ON LOCAL BUDGETS

The parliament on 9 November passed a law on the budgets of communes, districts, and provinces within the framework of the administrative reform launched earlier this year, PAP reported. Under the law, local budgets will have a share of local tax revenues and receive subsidies and grants from the central budget for various projects. Communes will receive 26.7 percent of the revenues from private income tax and 5 percent of those from corporate tax. Districts will receive 1 percent of all local taxes, while provinces will be entitled to 1.5 percent of individual income tax and 0.5 percent of corporate tax. JM

GREEK PREMIER SAYS POLAND'S EU ASPIRATIONS NOT THREATENED BY CYPRUS'S BID

Greek Prime Minister Constantine Simitis said in Warsaw on 9 November that Poland's integration into the EU will not be threatened by Cyprus's bid to join the union at the same time, AP reported. Greece wants Cyprus to join the EU simultaneously with the East European candidate countries. Poland supports this idea but says it should not be a condition for its own entry into the EU. On 10 November, the EU opens membership negotiations in Brussels with Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia, and Cyprus. JM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN PRAGUE

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan on 9 November told journalists after meeting with his visiting Romanian counterpart, Andrei Plesu, that Prague does not intend to impose visa requirements on Romanian citizens before joining the EU, CTK reported. Kavan said the Czech Republic is under pressure from the EU to impose such visas, but he noted that Romania is "dealing seriously" with the problem of illegal immigration. Plesu was also received by Premier Milos Zeman, who told him that Czech companies should expand their role in Romania's privatization efforts. He also met with Chamber of Deputies chairman Vaclav Klaus, and is scheduled hold talks with President Vaclav Havel during his three-day visit. MS

RECORD SUPPORT FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP AMONG CZECHS

A public opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research in October shows that 57 percent of Czechs support the country's entry into NATO, CTK reported. This is the highest level of support registered since polling on that question began in 1991. MS

MECIAR WILL NOT RUN FOR PRESIDENT

Former parliamentary chairman Ivan Gasparovic, now a deputy representing the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), said on 9 November that HZDS chairman and former Premier Vladimir Meciar will not be the movement's candidate in the next presidential elections. Gasparovic said that Meciar will "work within the party but will not represent it," TASR reported. MS

HUNGARY SEEKS TO SETTLE PAYMENTS FOR EXPORTS TO RUSSIA

Russia does not intend to sign an inter-governmental barter agreement with Hungary, because 70 percent of its foreign-currency revenues come from energy exports, Peter Balas, deputy state secretary at the Hungarian Economics Ministry, said on 9 November in Moscow after meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak. The two officials were seeking to resolve problems related to Russian payments for Hungarian exports. The two sides signed an agreement to set up a joint team of experts whose primary aim will be to prevent an increase in Russia's $500 million state debts to Hungary. MSZ




UCK CONFIRMS CONTACTS WITH U.S.

Bardhyl Mahmuti, who is a spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) in Switzerland, confirmed in Geneva on 9 November that representatives of the guerrillas recently met in Kosova with Chris Hill, who is U.S. ambassador to Macedonia and Washington's chief envoy in the Kosova crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1998). Mahmuti added that unnamed U.S. diplomats also brought Hill's proposals on an interim political settlement to UCK leaders in Geneva, which is where the UCK conducts most of its fundraising activities and makes its key political decisions, Reuters reported. Mahmuti said he and his colleagues "are studying the documents" that the diplomats brought them. He added that "our meeting shows that the Americans now have official contact with the UCK." PM

REVENGE KILLINGS IN KOSOVA?

Serbian police displayed to journalists in Malisheva on 9 November the corpses of two colleagues who had gone missing the previous Friday (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1998). Both bodies had been mutilated and had gunshot wounds to the head, which indicates they had been executed, a Serbian police spokesman said. "The Daily Telegraph" reported that the killings appear to have been carried out by the UCK in revenge for the recent death of five guerrillas, apparently in an ambush. In Prishtina, the Kosovar KIC news agency reported on 9 November that Serbian police shelled three ethnic Albanian villages in the area during the previous night. He added that unless what he called "international representatives" secure two main roads running through Malisheva by 11 November, the police will increase their patrols to "permit safe passage." He did not elaborate. PM

EU DISPLEASED WITH PACE OF DEMOCRATIZATION

The EU's Council of Ministers said in a statement in Brussels on 9 November that the Yugoslav authorities must "completely and fully" implement UN Security Council Resolution 1199 on Kosova, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Belgian capital. The ministers also called on Belgrade to grant full freedom of movement to the OSCE's monitoring mission in the troubled province and to allow the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to conduct investigations there. The ministers added that Croatia, Bosnia, federal Yugoslavia, Macedonia, and Albania have not made sufficient progress toward democratization for the EU to upgrade its relations with them. PM

CROATIAN LEGISLATORS CRITICAL OF EU

In Brussels, Croatian diplomats said on 9 November that they are not pleased with the ministers' statement on lack of progress toward democratization. At the same time, they said they are not surprised by it, either. In Zagreb, Croatian legislators attending a meeting of the Parliamentary Conference of the Central European Initiative said the EU has recently paid too little attention to the economic needs of the former communist countries and has instead been playing an ever-greater political role in the region. The legislators called the EU's policy an "economic game." And in Ljubljana, Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek said that the Slovenian government is "very much aware" that its "reforms are indeed [proceeding] too slowly." The EU warned Slovenia the previous week that it has not implemented key reforms as quickly as Brussels would like. PM

CROATIA, MONTENEGRO SEEK CLOSER TIES

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and Croatian Ambassador to Yugoslavia Zvonimir Markovic agreed in Podgorica on 9 November that there "is no rational reason for putting off a settlement to the question of the Prevlaka peninsula," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. They also called for "rapid normalization" of bilateral relations in the economic and cultural spheres. Djukanovic has repeatedly criticized Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for blocking the normalization of ties between Montenegro and Zagreb and for preventing the reopening of the border crossing at Debeli Brijeg. The Prevlaka peninsula belongs to Croatia but controls access to Yugoslavia's only deep-water naval base, which is located in Montenegro's Kotor Bay. Meanwhile in Zagreb, Economics Minister Nenad Porges confirmed that Croatia has begun exporting oil to Serbia from its facilities on Krk island. PM

ALBANIAN DEMOCRATS COMPARE CONSTITUTION TO 'ETHNIC CLEANSING'...

Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha told journalists in Tirana on 9 November that the Socialist-backed draft constitution will lead to a "process of massive changes in Albanian [nationhood]" and "a quiet and soft ethnic cleansing, not through massacres, hunger, or diseases but through visas, baptisms, money, and jobs." He added that the draft "destroys Albanian [nationhood]" because it allows citizens to change their declared nationality and religion. He suggested this will enable ethnic Albanians to declare themselves ethnic Greeks in order to improve their chances of emigrating to and finding a job in Greece. The Democrats have called for a boycott of the 22 November referendum on the constitution. FS

...WHILE SCHUESSEL CRITICIZES DEMOCRATS

In Vienna on 9 November, EU Presidency Chairman and Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel urged the opposition to call off the boycott, which he called "no constructive element of democracy," AP reported. Schuessel praised "serious efforts [of the parliament's constitution drafting commission] to ensure the broadest possible participation of all political parties." In Tirana, parliamentary speaker Skender Gjinushi told the "Albanian Daily News" that the Democrats are trying to find faults [in the new constitution] where they do not really exist." He pointed out that the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, which is a body of experts on constitutional law, rejected earlier claims by the Democrats that the draft violates the European Human Rights Convention (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1998). FS

ALBANIAN SMUGGLERS GO NORTH

"Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 8 November that speed-boat operators from Vlora have relocated their smuggling operations northward, to Shengjin. The move follows the arrival of Italian customs police on the southern island of Sazan the previous week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 1998). The newspaper added that most speedboat owners consider the northern routes across the Strait of Otranto to Italy to be safer than the southern ones, despite being longer. FS

'CARLOS' HAS BANK ACCOUNT IN ROMANIA

Chief military prosecutor Dan Voinea said on 9 November that a current bank account belonging to "Carlos the Jackal" (alias Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, the international terrorist serving a life sentence in France), has been discovered in Romania, Mediafax reported. Voinea said the terrorist's record is under investigation for "crimes against humanity" and "crimes against peace," which carry a life sentence. He added that among Carlos's communist-time contacts in Romania were former Securitate chief General Iulian Vlad, former chief of the Securitate's foreign intelligence service General Nicolae Plesita as well as former Interior Minister Tudor Postelnicu. Carlos is alleged to have been paid by the Ceausescu authorities to kill opponents of the regime abroad. According to some reports, he was behind the February 1981 bomb explosion at RFE/RL headquarters in Munich. MS

CLUJ UNIVERSITY SHUTS DOORS ON GOVERNMENT COMMISSION MEMBERS...

Gyorgy Tokay, minister in charge of minority issues, says the acting rector of Cluj University, Mircea Muthu, prevented members of the government commission examining the possibility of setting up a Hungarian-language university from entering his university's premises on 7 November, Mediafax reported two days later. Muthu responded that the commission's members "did not submit a written request" to conduct a meeting in the rector's office and that there has been an "alarmingly large telephone bill" for that office. MS

...AS STUDENTS PROTEST PLANS TO SET UP 'MULTICULTURAL' UNIVERSITY

On 9 November, students in Bucharest joined a protest strike by their colleagues in several other towns. That action began several days earlier. Most of the demands are related to poor conditions and a lack of funds, but the students are also demanding that the government revoke the decision to set up a Hungarian-German "multicultural" university. MS

EXPLOSION AT BULGARIAN NUCLEAR PLANT UNDER INVESTIGATION

Operators at Bulgaria's controversial Kozloduy nuclear power plant have belatedly reported a transformer explosion, and police are investigating whether sabotage was involved. The incident at the plant occurred on 5 November but was not reported publicly until four days later. In a statement to BTA on 9 November, Deputy Prime Minister Evgeni Bakardzhiev said the incident might be the result of an "act of sabotage by a plant worker" aimed at creating "political tension." BTA reported that after the explosion, output at one of the 440-megawatt reactors was halved until the transformer was repaired later the same day. MS

BULGARIA, TURKEY EXPAND MILITARY COOPERATION

Ismet Sezgin, Turkish deputy premier and defense minister, said in Sofia on 9 November that his country will expand military relations with Bulgaria and is willing to contribute to modernizing the Bulgarian army in accordance with NATO standards, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Bulgarian capital reported. Sezgin spoke at the end of a four-day visit, during which he met with President Petar Stoyanov, Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev, and other Bulgarian officials, as well as visiting several military installations. Sezgin said a Turkish military delegation will visit Bulgaria within the next 10 days to receive first-hand information on Bulgaria's military industries and will investigate prospects for that industry's privatization. Sezgin also repeated Turkey's support for Plodviv to be the headquarters of the multinational southeastern European peace-keeping force. MS




BUCHAREST'S ELECTORAL MESSAGE


by Michael Shafir

The electoral victory of the candidate of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) in runoff elections to the Bucharest mayoralty is hardly good news for the party on whose ticket he ran.

Acting Mayor Viorel Lis has been in charge of city hall since late 1996, when the previous incumbent, Victor Ciorbea, was appointed prime minister. (When Ciorbea was forced to resign as premier in late March, he refused to return to the mayoralty, hardly able to conceal his bitterness.) Having run city hall for two years, Lis was far better known to the electorate than his opponent, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) candidate Sorin Oprescu. A surgeon by training, Oprescu is a recent newcomer to politics and his election shows that the PDSR has learned its lesson of 1996, when it had placed its bets on former tennis star Ilie Nastase. Against this background, the narrow margin by which Lis won (50.5 percent compared with 49.5 percent for Oprescu) is hardly a victory over which the CDR can rejoice.

It is not Lis's personal performance, however, that appears to cause concern among a large minority of the electorate in the Romanian capital. Bucharest is not exactly on its way to becoming the "Little Paris" that its residents like to think it once was, but city hall is certainly not to blame for that. Arguably, Lis might have fared better had he run as an independent on the strength of his record over the past two years. The reluctance to back Lis reflected the general mood of the Romanian electorate more than one would have expected from a pre-term local election. This must provide food for thought for the CDR.

The city is known to be a stronghold of the main ruling alliance. It has been ruled by the CDR since 1992, that is, four years before the general elections that transformed the opposition umbrella organization into the main component of the ruling coalition. The urban electorate in general and in Bucharest in particular has been more inclined to support the CDR than voters in smaller settlements and the countryside. There are signs that this support may be eroding, and the main reason is undoubtedly the ruling coalition's economic mismanagement. If the urban electorate deserts the CDR, there is little hope that support will come from elsewhere.

Nationwide opinion polls appear to back that statement. In a survey conducted by the Institute for Research on Life Quality last month, the PDSR topped electoral preferences (29.1 percent), ahead of the CDR with 26.1 percent, for the first time since 1996. Over the previous four months, support for the CDR dropped 8 percentage points, while the PDSR's backing increased by 7 percentage points. Most worrying is the growing popularity of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), which the poll showed to have 17 percent support nationwide. One month earlier, a poll conducted by the Institute for Market and Social Analysis, confirmed both the surge in support for the extremists (15.2 percent in September) and the CDR's waning popularity, although in September the CDR was still ahead of the PDSR.

There are several ways in which electorates react to the failure of parties they have previously backed. One way is to turn to extremists who advocate seemingly simple solutions. This appears to be what is happening at the level of the electorate nationwide. The fact that the PRM candidate, former police General Niculae Nitu, scored slightly less than 7 percent in the first leg of the mayoralty elections on 25 October should not be underestimated for three reasons. First, his score was not that low. Second, support for the PRM is obviously less strong in Bucharest than elsewhere. And third, the PRM's backing of Oprescu in the other two rounds that followed this month suggest that the former PDSR-PRM alliance is about to be resuscitated.

Another way for the electorate to react to the failures of parties it has backed is simply to stay away from the polls--a sign of disenchantment with politics, which is dangerous in the democratic context. Turnout was low in all three rounds, although highest in the last one, at 37.8 percent. While local elections are not general elections and even less so when they are pre-term ones for a mandate lasting less than two years, the CDR would be well advised not to dismiss the significance of the ballot's results. After all, the harsh steps announced by the government to promote reform (if they are indeed implemented this time, which remains doubtful), the expected budget cuts, and the social unrest they are certain to trigger are all unlikely to boost the CDR's popularity. Had those steps come when they were first announced, the CDR might have begun drawing their political benefits. But as things stand now, the alliance is more likely to pay the political price come election year 2000.


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