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Newsline - November 19, 1998




PRIMAKOV TO FILL IN FOR YELTSIN IN INDIA...

Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on 18 November that while U.S. Vice President Gore did not promise direct support for Russia with IMF during their meeting the previous day, he did suggest that the U.S. will look for some way to back Russian interests vis-a-vis the fund. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who attended the meeting in Malaysia, said Gore mentioned that the U.S. has trusted the Russian government repeatedly in the past only to have loans wind up in foreign bank accounts. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushin announced that Primakov will fill in for Yeltsin during an official visit to India that had been scheduled for 6 and 7 December. Originally, Yeltsin had been scheduled to go to Kuala Lumpur. JAC

...AND ON A MORE PERMANENT BASIS?

Meanwhile, the Russian press is carrying speculation that an "understanding" among presidential staff exists that Prime Minister Primakov is the de facto president of Russia. "Segodnya" cited "rumors" on 17 November that the presidential staff have received a directive not only to give Primakov their full support but also to "'place him a little bit ahead of Yeltsin.'" The next day "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued that Yeltsin is isolated from real political processes and has a minimal involvement in state affairs. It added "for the 18 months until the elections the president will have to function 'as simply a guarantor.'" The next day, the newspaper attacked Primakov, suggesting that he cannot ensure stability in the country judging by the increasing radicalization of the left opposition and his inability to check its advances. Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most Group owns "Segodnya," while "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial support from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JAC

KALMYKIA'S LEADER RETREATS FROM SECESSION THREAT

President of the Republic of Kalmykia Kirsan Ilyumzhinov backed down from his earlier suggestion that his republic should seek "associate membership" in the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1998). On 19 November, he told NTV that his remarks were meant only to dramatize the plight of his region and not as an official statement. Ilyumzhinov was widely condemned for his earlier statement in the State Duma, provoking Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko) to comment, "I will be very disappointed if the authorities let him get away with it." Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev suggested that Ilyumzhinov be questioned at Matrosskaya Tishina or Lefortovo prisons. Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov declared the statements unconstitutional. "Izvestiya" predicted on 19 November that Ilyumzhinov would be removed from power because this is a "unique matter on which both branches of the government agree." JAC

TEACHERS' STRIKES SPREADING

Fifteen thousand teachers in Primorskii Krai went on strike on 17 November to demand more than eight months' back wages, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 November. In some cities and raions, teachers plan to be out only three days, but strikers in the northeast region, where some teachers participated in a two-week work stoppage last month, are threatening to stop work indefinitely. More than 10,000 teachers in Chita Oblast and 2,000 teachers in Sverdlovsk Oblast are on strike to protest unpaid wages, according to ITAR-TASS. The debt owed in Chita totals 110 million rubles ($6.5 million) and 450 million rubles in Sverdlovsk. Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel said that regional resources are insufficient to cover the debt since tax collections dropped in October. Teachers have also launched protests in Leningrad and Kemerovo Oblasts and the Republic of Udmurtia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 18 November 1998). JAC

DUMA APPROVES EMERGENCY MEASURES

The Duma approved the government's bill on budget and policy measures in the first reading on 18 November. The vote was 272 in favor and six against A second vote will likely take place in early December. Under the bill, the Central Bank will advance 25 billion rubles ($1.5 billion) to the Finance Ministry by buying state securities. JAC

RUSSIANS EARNING LESS...

Incomes adjusted for inflation and tax dropped 26.9 percent in October, compared with the same month the previous year, Interfax reported on 18 November. Real wages plunged 34.9 percent. Meanwhile, unemployment reached 11.5 percent at the end of October, a 4.7 percent increase compared with the same month last year, according to estimates of the State Statistics Committee, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 November. "Nezavisimaya gazeta--Krug zhizni" reported in its November issue that 70 percent of Russia's unemployed are women and that only 12 percent of Russian women, who are "among the world's best educated," can afford major medical assistance. JAC

...AND EATING POORLY

While experts continue to debate whether food aid from the EU and U.S. is necessary to avert hunger, there appears to be some agreement that Russians are eating less well owing to the economic crisis. Gennadii Romanenko, head of Russia's Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told Interfax on 18 November that poor families will have to switch to less nutritious diets based primarily on potatoes, cabbage, and carrots and forego milk and meat. At the other end of the economic spectrum, "Vechernaya Moskva" reported on 17 November that less than 2 percent of the capital's residents now go to restaurants, almost half of which have closed. JAC

ORT HEADED FOR BANKRUPTCY?

Russian Public Television director Igor Shabdurasulov warned on 18 November that his company may have to declare bankruptcy if the government, which owns 51 percent of ORT's shares, does not pay its debts. A Moscow court ordered marshals to take an inventory of the network's property in a suit filed against them for unpaid loans. An ORT spokesman told the "Moscow Times" that the station is now operating on a emergency programming schedule, which means relying on re-runs, and has made severe cuts in the budget of its politically influential news service. The spokesman also noted that left-wing political groups have targeted the broadcaster--as well as others--for "blackening" the reputation of the Communist Party. JAC

LEGAL ACTION TO BAN RELIGIOUS GROUP DELAYED

A Moscow judge on 18 November postponed hearing the case to ban Jehovah's Witnesses because of insufficient evidence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1998). The case will reopen on 9 February. According to Interfax, a previous suit against the religious group was dropped in April because of lack of evidence. JAC

NDR, FATHERLAND CONSIDERING ALLIANCE...

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told reporters on 18 November that his new political movement, Otechestvo [Fatherland ], might cooperate with the Our Home is Russia (NDR) party under "certain conditions." Luzhkov said that his movement is open for cooperation with all healthy forces in Russian society. The previous day, NDR leader and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that such an alliance with Luzhkov's new movement is possible. Chernomyrdin also confirmed his plans to run for president again. "Segodnya" reported that "rumors are circulating" that Chernomyrdin is considering an alliance before upcoming parliamentary elections that would unite other former prime ministers, such as Sergei Kirienko and Yegor Gaidar. JAC

...AS GOVERNORS CONSIDER DEFECTING?

Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, who recently openly criticized Chernomrydin's leadership of the NDR, said that Otechestvo and the regional lobby that is being formed for the State Duma elections will compose the most powerful centrist faction in Russia, "Vremya MN" reported on 18 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). The newspaper claimed that as soon as the new movement was announced, "its cell organizations began appearing in the provinces." For example, one such organization was formed on 17 November in Bashkortostan, the daily reported. JAC

YASTRZHEMBSKII TO JOIN LUZHKOV'S TEAM

Former presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii is likely to replace retiring Deputy Mayor of Moscow Ernest Bakirov, Russian agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii would be in charge of international, interregional, and public relations. Shortly before Yastrzhembskii's dismissal from the Kremlin, Russian newspapers reported that along with then Security Council chief Andrei Kokoshin, Yastrzhembskii had been advising Yeltsin to nominate Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov as prime minister rather than Viktor Chernomyrdin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 1998). JAC




MORE EDITORS JOIN HUNGER STRIKE IN AZERBAIJAN

Eighteen editors from independent newspapers have joined the hunger strike begun six days earlier by "Yeni Musavat" editor Rauf Arifoglu, Reuters and Turan reported on 18 November. The editors are protesting criminal cases brought against "Yeni Musvavat" and other papers for insulting the honor and dignity of Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev. They say those cases are politically motivated and intended to "strangle the independent press." Meeting with Arifoglu and "Azadlyg" editor Gunduz Tairli on 18 November, Prosecutor-General Eldar Hasanov offered to drop the criminal cases and to impose only minimal fines if the editors published apologies. The two editors, however, rejected that offer, according to Turan. Hasanov reminded the editors that President Aliyev personally controls the right of Azerbaijani citizens to free speech and freedom of the media, according to ANS-Press. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT WILL NOT JOIN LIBEL SUIT WAR

Former President and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey told Turan on 18 November that he will not start libel proceedings against "Yeni Azerbaycan," the newspaper of the eponymous party created by Aliyev as his personal power base. The previous day, "Yeni Azerbaycan" reported that an Azerbaijan Popular Front Party emissary had departed for Rome to hold talks with detained Kurdistan Workers' Party chairman Abdullah Ocalan in the hope of thwarting construction of the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline. The Azerbaijan Popular Front Party had issued a statement on 16 November affirming its support for that project as one of several export routes for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. LF

OPPOSITION ACTIVIST ON TRIAL OVER ALLEGED COUP PLAN

The trial of Fuad Gakhramanly, a senior member of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, opened in Baku on 18 November on charges of inciting crimes against the state, Turan reported. Those charges are based on an unpublished article entitled "Meeting Tactics of the Opposition," which was confiscated during a raid on the premises of the independent newspaper "Chag" in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 30 June 1998). The prosecution claims that the document was intended as a blueprint for overthrowing the present leadership and was drafted by a think-tank affiliated with the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party. Senior members of that party, including Elchibey and deputy chairman Ali Kerimili, have denied the existence of such a think-tank and sought to distance themselves from Gakhramanly. LF

ARMENIA SEES COMPETITION FOR OIL PIPELINE AS DESTABILIZING

Addressing journalists in Geneva on 18 November, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that Caspian oil will remain a factor for instability in the Transcaucasus until agreement is reached on the route for the Main Export Pipeline and on the division of the Caspian Sea into national sectors, ITAR-TASS reported. Oskanian also described the Russian military base in Armenia as a crucial component of Armenia's security and a source of stability in the Caucasus. Oskanian termed Armenia's relations with Russia "perfect," referring to the recent exchange of instruments of ratification of the treaty on friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance, signed in August 1997. Also on 18 November, Armenian Prime Minister Armen Darpinian told officials at the International Court in The Hague that developing regional cooperation, both political and economic, in the Caucasus is one of Armenia's top foreign-policy priorities. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CONDEMNS NEW ELECTION LAW

Ten opposition parliamentary parties issued a joint statement on 18 November condemning as undemocratic the election law passed in the first reading two days earlier, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1998). Under that law, the majority of seats in the new parliament would be allocated in single-mandate constituencies. The statement expressed concern that the new law, which was drafted by the majority Yerkrapah group, "enables the authorities to form an obedient National Assembly through [vote] falsification." It added that, "We, the undersigned parties, announce that, temporarily disregarding our political differences, we will continue our struggle for the establishment of democracy." Also on 18 November, the Communist Party of Armenia, which similarly opposes the new law, announced it will hold separate talks with Yerkrapah on the new law. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT, BEREZOVSKII DISCUSS ABKHAZIA

CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii held talks in Tbilisi on 18 November with President Eduard Shevardnadze, Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze, and Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze told journalists after the talks that he has invited Berezovskii to attend his meeting with Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba, which is tentatively scheduled for late November. At that meeting Shevardnadze and Ardzinba are to sign two agreements paving the way for the repatriation to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgians forced to flee during the 1992-1993 war and the renewed hostilities in May 1998. Berezovskii, who has undertaken two attempts to mediate between Tbilisi and Sukhumi, said that a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict could serve as an example for resolving other conflicts within the CIS, Interfax reported. LF

KAZHEGELDIN RECEIVES ANOTHER FINE...

Former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin appeared at the Medeu district court on 18 November, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Last month, that court fined him for participating in an unsanctioned rally. Kazhegeldin had been hoping the court would overturn that ruling, but instead it imposed a fine for "disrespect" toward the court in failing to attend his first trial. This creates another obstacle to Kazhegeldin's running in the 10 January presidential elections. Under Kazakh law, an individual found guilty of violating the law may not compete in such elections for one year. Kazhegeldin's case is due to be heard by Kazakhstan's Supreme Court on 28-29 November. The last day to register as a candidate for the presidential elections is 30 November. BP

...GIVES INTERVIEW PRIOR TO COURT APPEARANCE

Speaking to RFE/RL correspondents before entering the court room. Kazhegeldin said he does not appreciate President Nursultan Nazarbayev's announcement that a request will be made to the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling against Kazhegeldin. The former premier said it demonstrates that the court is not truly independent. He also questioned the freedom of the press in Kazakhstan, noting that since the 8 October announcement of early elections, six independent newspapers have been closed down, while another independent newspaper, "DAT," is "in court every other day." BP

KYRGYZ CURRENCY CONTINUES TO PLUMMET

Kyrgyzstan's national currency, the som, continues to fall and was trading at 36-37 to $1 on 18 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1998), RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" links Kyrgyzstan's problem with the devaluation of the Russian ruble, noting that Kyrgyzstan and Russia "are economically, rather tightly bound." The newspaper quotes Kyrgyz National Bank Chairman Marat Sultanov as saying that the country's gold and hard-currency reserves have declined by 12 percent since 1 November. The chairman of the parliament's Policy Committee for Taxation, Customs, and Banks, Daniyar Usenov, said "it is expected that toward the end of February 1999, Kyrgyzstan will be on the verge of an economic catastrophe." BP

UZBEK COTTON HARVEST DOWN AGAIN

Uzbekistan's Projections and Statistics Committee is expecting the 1998 cotton harvest to be more than 12 percent below target, Interfax reported on 18 November. Uzbekistan now expects to produce about 3.25 million tons of cotton this year, compared with 3.6 million tons harvested by 16 November last year (which similarly fell short of the target figure by nearly 10 percent). However, Uzbekistan is slowly weaning itself from long-time dependence on cotton. At an OSCE-organized conference in Tashkent in late September, diversification of agriculture was a central topic. BP

OSCE OPEN OFFICE IN TURKMENISTAN

OSCE Secretariat officials arrived in Ashgabat on 18 November, to work out final details for opening the organization's office there early next year, Interfax reported. The Ashgabat office will be headed by Austrian former ambassador to the OSCE Paul Ulman. BP




UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT TO REDRAFT 1999 BUDGET BY 1 DECEMBER

After all parliamentary caucuses rejected the government's 1999 draft budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1999), the parliament announced on 18 November that it is sending the draft to the parliamentary Budget Committee for redrafting by 1 December, Ukrainian Television and Ukrainian News reported. Deputies criticized the draft budget for its "anti-social character," saying it provides for the financing of only 10 percent of the country's social needs. Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko said deputies wanted to increase budget expenditures by 140 million hryvni ($41 million). Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko suggested a "limited and controlled" money emission to finance the budget deficit. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET DECREES ADDITIONAL BUDGET, PENSION FUND PAYMENTS IN 1999

The government has approved a program to boost budget revenues by 2.7 billion hryvni ($789 million) and payments to the state pension fund by 1.3 billion hryvni in 1999, AP reported on 18 November. To achieve that goal, the cabinet plans to force debtor companies to pay at least 30 percent of their debts to the state or face the seizure and sale of their assets. The government will also seek to privatize several energy companies, the Ukrtelecom monopoly, and several state-run hotels. JM

KUCHMA APPOINTS STATE TELEVISION HEAD...

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has appointed Information Minister Zinoviy Kulyk as president of the National Television Company, Ukrainian Television reported on 18 November. Kulyk replaces Mykola Knyazhytskyy, who headed the television company for only six weeks. Kulyk commented that Knyazhytskyy conducted a wrong personnel policy by appointing "a large group of officers...including a former USSR KGB officer and military intelligence officers" to the company's management. JM

...DENIES RAISING FUNDS FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

Kuchma has instructed the Ukrainian Security Service to investigate alleged cases of fund raising for the presidential election campaign, Ukrainian Television reported on 18 November. According to the presidential administration, unknown persons requested businessmen in some Ukrainian cities and regions to contribute money to the presidential election campaign. "Of course, the president has not charged anyone with such a task," presidential press secretary Oleksandr Martynenko commented. JM

LUKASHENKA HOPES FOR MARKET STABILIZATION BY JANUARY

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told workers at a Minsk plant on 18 November that the country is now witnessing the beginning of market stabilization, Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka expressed his hope that the market will be stabilized by January. He added that stabilization would be accompanied by significantly higher prices and promised to increase peoples' incomes in keeping with price hikes in December. JM

BELARUSIAN REGIONS TIGHTEN RESTRICTIONS ON FOOD SALES

Almost all oblasts in Belarus have recently imposed stricter food rationing, "Zvyazda" reported on 18 November. In Brest Oblast, an individual may purchase only 0.2 kg of butter, 1 kg of sugar, and 1 kg of sausage on any single occasion. Butter, eggs, and sugar may be purchased in the oblast only in the evening, after "the departure of the last trains to Ukraine," to prevent the smuggling of foodstuffs out of the country, according to the authorities. Similar restrictions have also been introduced in Homel and Vitsebsk Oblasts, on the border with Russia, as well as in some raions of Hrodna Oblast that border on Lithuania. JM

ESTONIAN LAWMAKERS PASS 1999 BUDGET IN FIRST READING...

The parliament on 18 November passed in the first reading an amended version of the draft 1999 budget, ETA reported. That draft provides for a total volume of 17.65 billion kroons ($1.36 billion) and is based on projected economic growth of 4 percent. Finance Minister Mart Opmann told the parliament that the amended draft is a "very conservative version" of the bill. He added that the government has considerably cut planned investments and the operation costs of the state apparatus. The opposition had rejected the original draft budget, arguing that its forecast of 6 percent economic growth was "overly optimistic." JC

...SEND CITIZENSHIP LAW AMENDMENTS TO THIRD READING

Following a heated debate on 18 November, lawmakers decided to send the bill on amendments to the citizenship law to its third reading, BNS reported. Those amendments facilitate the granting of citizenship to stateless children born in Estonia after 26 February 1992 (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1998). According to BNS, it is likely that the bill will be put to the final vote early next month. JC

LITHUANIAN, LATVIAN LAWMAKERS PLAN CLOSER TIES

Stressing the need for closer cooperation with their Latvian counterparts, Lithuanian lawmakers have set up a group for promoting Lithuanian-Latvian parliamentary relations, BNS reported on 18 November. Rimantas Smetona of the Nationalist Party was elected chairman. He noted that the Latvian parliament plans to form a similar group. JC

BUTKEVICIUS SENTENCED FOR BRIBE-TAKING

The Vilnius District Court has sentenced Audrius Butkevicius, a parliamentary deputy who earlier this year was found guilty of accepting a $15,000 bribe, to five-and-a-half years in prison. Prior to sentencing, Butkevicius spent 13 months in detention. His attorney has said he will appeal the court's verdict on the grounds that 13 months of pre-sentence detention undermines Lithuanian norms of due process. Butkevicius was one of the signatories of Lithuania's 1990 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union and later became defense minister. JC

KWASNIEWSKI WARNS AGAINST EU 'STEREOTYPES'

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 18 November that Western Europe should not fear the negative impact of EU eastern expansion, AP reported. According to Kwasniewski, EU countries have formed a "whole range of stereotypes" and unjustified fears regarding EU expansion. One stereotype, he said, is the idea that Eastern Europeans will flood the EU labor market once they become EU citizens. "Today, there are more Poles returning to their homeland than leaving it," he commented. Kwasniewski also rejected the fear that EU enlargement will destabilize the EU agricultural market. He admitted that Poland has a sizable agricultural sector but added that only half of Polish farms sell their products on the domestic market. JM

POLISH MINERS PROTEST CLOSURES, DEMAND WAGE INCREASES

Some 300 miners from the leftist Miners' Trade Union demonstrated outside the parliament building in Warsaw on 18 November to protest mine closures and demand wage increases, PAP reported. Their protest coincided with a parliamentary debate on a government bill that would decrease coal production from 137 million tons in 1997 to 112 million tons in 2002, reduce the number of miners from 245,000 to 138,000, and limit wage increases. In a petition to the parliamentary speaker, the protesters demanded that every miner who loses his job because of mine closure receive a guarantee of new employment. JM

FRENCH PREMIER IN PRAGUE

Lionel Jospin met with his Czech counterpart, Milos Zeman, during a one-day trip to Prague on 18 November, CTK reported. Jospin, who was accompanied by a delegation of French businessmen, reconfirmed France's support for the Czech Republic's accession to the EU. Czech exports to France have risen by 30 percent so far this year, compared with 1997. France is the sixth largest investor in the Czech Republic. PB

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS TO COOPERATE WITH COMMUNISTS?

Senate Deputy Chairman Ivan Havlicek said on 18 November that he supports the lifting of a Social Democrats (CSSD) ban on cooperation with the Communist Party (KCSM), the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported. Havlicek said "a political party that creates a barrier against another political party is not a complete party." The KSCM has 24 of the 200 seats in the parliament. The daily "Pravo" reported that Havlicek and some other CSSD members have called on voters who supported Social Democrats in the first round of elections on 13-14 November to support Communist Party candidates in races where CSSD candidates did not qualify for the 20-21 November second round. PB

OECD SEES ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN FOR SLOVAKIA IN 1999

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in its latest forecast that the Slovak economy will grow by 3 percent next year, TASR reported on 19 November. Slovakia's economy registered 6.5 percent growth last year and is on schedule to grow by 4 percent this year. The OECD cited Bratislava's high deficit on its current balance of payments as the major reason for the slower growth. PB

HUNGARY TOPS EU ASPIRANTS' LIST

Hungary is in first place among the countries seeking EU membership, EU Industry Commissioner Martin Bangemann said on 18 November in Budapest. He told Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that the EU does not intend to slow down the expansion process, adding that the admission of applicants depends on the pace of talks between the EU and individual countries. According to "Magyar Hirlap," Bangemann advised Hungary not to link its aim of EU accession with that of other aspirant countries. MSZ




GLIGOROV, GEORGIEVSKI WELCOME NATO OFFICIALS

U.S. Admiral James O. Ellis, who is commander-in-chief of NATO's Allied Forces Southern Europe, and French paratroop General Marcel Valentin, who is likely to command the alliance's rapid-reaction force to rescue endangered monitors from Kosova, met in Skopje on 18 November with President Kiro Gligorov. The Macedonian leader said that he supports NATO's request to station the force in Macedonia because of the "humanitarian aspect of the mission" and because of Macedonia's "strategic plans [to seek membership in] NATO" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1998). Ljubco Georgievski, who is most likely to be prime minister in the government currently being formed, also met with the visitors. AP quoted unnamed "sources close to Georgievski" as saying that he will agree to NATO's request. PM

SKOPJE REBUFFS BELGRADE

The Macedonian Foreign Ministry lodged a "sharp protest" with the Yugoslav authorities on 18 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The statement said that a recent Serbian warning to Skopje not to provide a base for NATO's rapid-reaction force is "interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). PM

SERBIA'S MILUTINOVIC REJECTS HILL PLAN...

Serbian President Milan Milutinovic said in Prishtina on 18 November that U.S. envoy Chris Hill's proposed interim political settlement for Kosova is unacceptable because it treats the province as an entity distinct from Serbia and because it gives the ethnic Albanians, who make up over 90 percent of the population, control over Kosova through the principle of majority rule (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998). Milutinovic wants the Serbian minority and additional, smaller minorities to enjoy full political equality with the Albanians. Serbia favors autonomy for Kosova only at the local community level. In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin criticized Milutinovic for attempting to hold talks on Kosova's future in Prishtina without the agreement of ethnic Albanian leaders. Kosovar spokesmen called Milutinovic's visit to Prishtina a propaganda ploy. The Serbs staged similar "talks" without Albanian participation earlier this year. PM

...THREATENS TO 'NEUTRALIZE' GUERRILLAS

Milutinovic also said in Prishtina on 18 November that "terrorist groups will be energetically neutralized by the security forces" if they continue what he called attacks on army and police units, AP reported. Spokesmen for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) have repeatedly said that they are only responding to attacks by the Serbs. The international community has warned both sides to end the violence. Elsewhere, UCK political spokesman Adem Demaci told the VOA's Croatian Service that the guerrillas are willing to accept a transition period of "two to three years," rather than immediate independence, provided that the transition is followed immediately by a "guaranteed" referendum on independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1998). PM

INDEPENDENT SERBIAN RADIO TO BROADCAST TO KOSOVA

Veran Matic, who is the editor-in-chief of independent Belgrade Radio B-92, said in London on 18 November that his station will soon begin broadcasting to Kosova from a site in Montenegro. Matic added that he fears that the Serbian authorities may try to shut down his Belgrade station as part of their ongoing campaign against the independent media, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MASS GRAVE FOUND IN BOSNIA

A team of international and Bosnian forensics experts accompanied by Norwegian peacekeepers discovered a grave holding the remains of six persons in Modrica in northern Bosnia on 18 November. Local people told the forensics experts that there are other mass graves in the area. The remains are most likely those of local Muslims and Croats killed by Serbs in 1992. PM

CROATIAN JOURNALIST CALLS FOR FREE MEDIA

Damir Matkovic, who is an editor at Croatian Television and the president of the independent journalists' organization Forum 21, said in Washington on 18 November that he wants to "remove politics from the news" and end the influence of political parties over journalism. Matkovic added that "in the seven years since Croatia became independent, neither the ruling party nor the opposition has proposed any meaningful changes to state-controlled broadcasting and its transformation to the public service." He stressed that "impartial, responsible, and professional journalism is essential for the development of democracy in Croatia.... The media can promote a certain idea of a civil society where citizens are there, not only to fulfill orders, but also to discuss the issues of general concern," an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington quoted him as saying. PM

ALBANIAN DEMOCRATS CRITICIZE OSCE OVER REFERENDUM

Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Jozefina Topalli from the Democratic Party told journalists in Tirana on 17 November that the OSCE is overstepping its mandate by "joining the campaign" for the 22 November referendum on the new constitution. Topalli charged unnamed Council of Europe officials with conducting "propaganda for the people to vote in the referendum." She added that "we Albanians should organize our constitution by ourselves and not listen only to what foreigners say about it," "Albanian Daily News" reported. OSCE Ambassador Daan Everts dismissed the accusations, saying that the OSCE advises the Central Election Commission and encourages popular participation in the referendum. He stressed that "we will never invite the people to vote for one side or the other." Meanwhile, President Rexhep Meidani on 18 November turned down an opposition request to postpone the referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1998). FS

ALBANIA EXPELS 150 KURDS

Albanian police on 17-18 November deported 150 Kurdish refugees to Greece, dpa reported. The refugees had been found in different parts of the country after being abandoned by Albanians who had promised to smuggle them into Italy. A police spokesman said that the Kurds "were wandering around with nowhere to go." Albanian smugglers have recently curtailed their activities owing to rough seas and the decision by Italian customs police to patrol Albania's southern waters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 1998). FS

ILLEGAL BUILDING ACTIVITY THREATENS ALBANIAN MONUMENT

Officials from the Institute of Cultural Monuments in Tirana told "Gazeta Shqiptare" of 18 November that the castle of Shkodra, parts of which date back to Greek and Roman times, is endangered by illegal building activity. They said locals have already damaged parts of the fortification and its grounds by building cafes, shops, and extensions to their homes. Furthermore, water has begun leaking into the museum as a result of the unregulated construction. The officials warned that the castle's interior will soon be endangered unless the government takes immediate action to protect the castle. Post-communist Albania has seen a rash of unregulated building activity. The government has little money for the upkeep and protection of museums, historical sites, and monuments. FS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS RECORD

On the second anniversary of his election as president, Emil Constantinescu said that his countrymen are too quick to condemn him, adding that there has been great progress since he took office, Reuters reported on 18 November. Constantinescu made those comments in Timisoara. He said he has kept most of his election pledges but that Romanians prefer "hasty judgment" to serious analysis. Before the president's arrival, some 5,000 people demonstrated in Timisoara calling for greater job security. PB

ROMANIAN PREMIER PLEDGES TO ADHERE TO ACCORDS

Radu Vasile on 18 November said that the government will stick to all the agreements it has made with the IMF, the World Bank, and the EU, Reuters reported. Vasile said Bucharest will also service its foreign debt regardless of the circumstances and will not seek a rescheduling. All three international organizations have criticized Romania for its slow-paced reform and the government's constant political infighting. Meanwhile, in western Romania, some 150 miners have barricaded themselves in a copper mine near Deva to protest unpaid wages. The miners vowed to stay underground until all their back wages are paid. PB

GOVERNMENT CONFIRMS CEAUSESCU SUPPORT FOR CARLOS

General Dan Voinea, the Romanian military prosecutor, said that former Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu actively supported international terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez, alias Carlos the Jackal, AFP reported on 19 November. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Voinea said that Ceausescu gave Carlos $1 million for organizing the bombing of RFE/RL headquarters in Munich in 1981. The Securitate also aided Carlos in an attack on a French cultural center in Berlin two years later by supplying him with travel documents and weapons. Carlos is serving a life sentence in a French jail and is currently on a hunger strike. PB

MOLDOVA RESTRUCTURES DEBT TO GAZPROM, ANGERS IMF

The Moldovan parliament agreed on 18 November to issue a long-term promissory note in an effort to keep the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom from cutting of gas supplies owing to Chisinau's huge debt, AFP reported. Chisinau will transfer $90 million worth of bonds to Gazprom. The securities will mature in seven years and bear an interest rate of 7.5 percent. Moldova's debt to Gazprom is some $614 million, and the gas company has threatened to stop supplying natural gas if Moldova does not partly repay the debt. The IMF said last week, however, that issuing the bonds would prevent Moldova from paying back its international debts of some $1.3 billion. It said it will withhold a $35 million tranche of a loan if Moldova issues the bonds. PB

MOLDOVAN PREMIER SIDELINED

Ion Ciubuc was hospitalized late on 17 November suffering from chronic fatigue and stress, AP reported. Ciubuc, whose government survived a no-confidence vote on 13 November, canceled a trip to Croatia to meet with other Central European leaders on 20-21 November. Deputy Premier Ion Sturza will replace him. PB

BULGARIAN MILITARY OFFICERS, BORDER GUARDS, OUT OF JOBS

The Defense Ministry said on 18 November that 1,153 generals and other officers have been discharged from the armed forces this year, BTA reported. Rusi Rusev, the chief of the ministry's policy department, said more than half have quit by mutual agreement. Rusev said that under a defense reform plan, another 1,377 officers are to be relieved from duty before January. Vyacheslav Dimitrov, the director of the national border police, said the same day that most top officers at border crossings in Bulgaria will be replaced within the framework of an anticorruption drive. He said a sting operation found that many border officials are involved in the trafficking of both illegal aliens and drugs. PB




IVIC PASALIC: THE SECOND-MOST POWERFUL MAN IN CROATIA


by Andrej Krickovic

In recent weeks, independent journalists, opposition politicians, and dissidents from the ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) have been claiming that Ivic Pasalic, the presidential adviser for domestic politics and leader of the hard-line nationalist faction within the HDZ, has maneuvered to become the second most powerful man in Croatia. Some go so far as to say that his power has eclipsed even that of President Franjo Tudjman.

Pasalic is undoubtedly the number two man in the HDZ, but there is little evidence to suggest that Tudjman has lost control of the situation. Through his actions, Tudjman has shown himself to be the biggest backer of Pasalic and the hard-line option. With a worsening economic situation and an opposition that is gaining steam, this may prove the wrong choice and lead to the HDZ's defeat in the upcoming elections.

Three prominent liberal politicians in the HDZ were recently forced to resign after accusing Pasalic of orchestrating a smear campaign against them. Many expected Pasalic would be next and that Tudjman would look to punish him in some way. In the past, Tudjman has sought to balance liberals and hard-liners in the HDZ in order to cement his own grip on power. Yet Pasalic remained in his post and seemed to enjoy even greater prominence within the HDZ.

Reports in the independent press have suggested that Pasalic has managed to establish parallel structures within the government apparatus that are loyal to him and make him untouchable--even for Tudjman. The independent weeklies "Feral Tribune" and "Nacional" have detailed Pasalic's use of Military Intelligence (SIS) and the tabloid "Imperijal" to conduct smear campaigns against his political opponents, including the president. A few weeks ago, after claiming not to possess any significant assets, Tudjman's wife, Ankica, was reported to have deposited more than 200,000 German marks in cash into a bank account. Her explanation that the money came from sales of Tudjman's books was not very convincing. The affair has severely eroded the president's authority in the eyes of many, and there has been speculation that it was orchestrated by Pasalic as a warning to the president not to take any disciplinary action against him.

Such speculation, however, has not yet been confirmed. But there is no doubt that Pasalic and the hard-liners have significantly improved their position within the HDZ and the state apparatus over the last few months. The resignations of Hrvoje Sarinic, the head of the Office of the President, Franjo Greguric, vice president of the HDZ and Tudjman's special envoy for Bosnia, and Andrija Hebrang, minister of defense and head of Tudjman's medical team, have eliminated almost all their potential opponents from the party. And they remain comfortably in control of the Ministry of Defense and the state's intelligence-gathering services. Also, Pasalic's use of the SIS to conduct smear campaigns suggest that the hard-liners have at least some control over the media and are able on occasion to act without the president's permission.

While it is clear that Pasalic has installed himself as the number two man in the party and is currently the front-runner in the race to become Tudjman's successor, it is also clear that none of this would be possible if it were not condoned by Tudjman himself. None of the actors in the drama surrounding Pasalic's use of the SIS has ever dared directly criticize the president; rather, they have mostly accused one another of deceiving and misleading "the leader." Tudjman, in effect, has created an atmosphere where those who criticize his policies are immediately branded as traitors and anti-Croatian. In a speech earlier this year, Tudjman accused opposition politicians and independent journalists of being "genetically predisposed against Croatian independence." Pasalic, for his part, has accused his liberal opponents of being part of an international conspiracy to destabilize Croatia. Those words echo xenophobic comments Tudjman has frequently made in the past.

By not addressing the liberals' complaints about Pasalic's questionable tactics in defaming his opponents and building up his own grip on power, Tudjman in effect chose to support the hard-liners in the party against the liberals. Although Tudjman has been willing to make concessions to liberal interests and to the international community, he is at heart as big a nationalist as the hard-liners, especially with regard to maintaining the institutions of a separate Hercegovinian Croatian state. He appears to have chosen Pasalic and the hard-line option to determine Croatia's future and the party's stance in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

But the opposition is poised to do well in that vote. In an election year in which citizens are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the state of the economy, strikes have been announced and a "Russian-style" collapse in the banking system looms. Against this background, Tudjman's Pasalic option could be headed for defeat. Months from now the issue of Pasalic and his role in the HDZ may have become marginalized, if not irrelevant, in Croatian politics. The author is a free-lance journalist based in Zagreb.


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