Accessibility links

Newsline - November 30, 1998




NEW CENTER-RIGHT BLOC FORMED...

A new center-right alliance has formed in the wake of the murder of Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova. The bloc includes Democratic Choice leader Yegor Gaidar, former First Deputy Prime Ministers Boris Nemtsov and Anatolii Chubais, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, and deputy head of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev, according to a statement circulated to the press on 27 November. Gaidar told reporters that a founding conference will be held sometime between 10 and 15 December. JAC

...DESPITE A MISTAKE AND A FEW OMISSIONS...

Despite the inclusion of his name on the statement, Ayatskov denied he was taking part or that Chubais or Kirienko had even discussed the idea with him. He told Interfax on 27 November that he remains a member of Our Home is Russia (NDR) and is not going to leave it to join any other party. Missing from the list of participants in the new alliance were the names of NDR leaders Aleksandr Shokhin and Viktor Chernomyrdin. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 November that Chernomyrdin was not invited to participate, while "Segodnya" reported two days earlier that Shokhin believes the "NDR should play 'first fiddle' in the new organization." JAC

...WHILE YABLOKO, DEMOCRATIC RUSSIA OPT OUT

Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii labeled plans to form a center-right bloc an "empty and useless idea." He told reporters on 29 November that Yabloko will not unite with either Gaidar or Chubais," who, he said, pursued policies that compromised the idea of market reform when they were in government. Meanwhile, Democratic Russia elected a new leader on 28 November. Georgii Khatsenkov, chairman of the board of directors of the Pressa-1 Publishing House, was a founding member of the movement. Khatsenkov ruled out an alliance with Gaidar, Chubais, or Kirienko, calling them "unviable." JAC

GOVERNMENT PROPOSES CUTTING VAT

Over objections from the Finance Ministry and IMF, the cabinet of Yevgenii Primakov approved on 27 November a package of tax measures including a new proposal to lower value-added tax from 20 percent to 14 percent and then to 10 percent by 2000. Federal Tax Service chief Georgii Boos said that even with the reduced VAT rate, the government will still be able to collect 485 billion rubles ($27 billion) as planned. However, tax experts are skeptical since the VAT is considered the most collectable tax in any economy, the "Moscow Times" reported on 28 November. Dmitrii Vasiliev believes that the proposed income tax scale is excessively complex and likely to slow the work of tax inspectors, according to "Segodnya." The newspaper suggested that the measures will meet with some resistance in the State Duma, since under the proposals, towns and villages appear to be inadequately compensated with new sources of tax revenue. JAC

RUSSIA, IMF TRY FOR LAST-MINUTE BREAKTHROUGH

A group of Russian economic specialists arrived in Washington, D.C. on 30 November for a special brainstorming session on Russia's economic crisis at IMF headquarters. The delegation, according to ITAR-TASS, includes former First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov and economists who once worked in government organs, such as Sergei Aleksashenko, Mikhail Dmitriev, and Andrei Illarionov. IMF director Michel Camdessus will himself arrive in Moscow on 1 December, only a few days after Prime Minister Primakov suggested that Russia "must listen to what the IMF is saying." Primakov added that he was irritated by "youngsters [from the IMF] coming here and telling us what to do, when they have only read a lot of books and know nothing of the real situation in Russia." Primakov also warned that without the $8 billion in IMF loans, Russia "may have to resort to unpopular measures," such as an "uncontrolled emission." JAC

KIRIENKO FORMS OWN PARTY

Former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko is forming his own political movement. According to Interfax, Kirienko plans to have his organization registered in time for the Duma elections in December 1999. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 November, Kirienko made only noncommittal responses to questions about the new rightist bloc, saying only "we will support anybody who will support the Russian economy. JAC

TATARSTAN CREDIT RATING TAKES A HIT

Standard & Poor's on 26 November lowered the credit rating of the Republic of Tatarstan in response to the republic's turning down a $100 million loan from ING Barrings to restructure its internal debt obligations, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 November. The republic fell into financial difficulty with the collapse of the market in short-term treasury bonds and the fall of oil prices. The oil company Tatneft is the main provider of hard currency to local government coffers. JAC

GERASHCHENKO TO HEAD NEW BANKING AGENCY

Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko will head the new Agency for Restructuring Lending Institutions "during its formative stage," Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik told reporters on 27 November. Kulik said that the Central Bank should maintain one or two banks in every region for servicing local budgets and financing local industries. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 November, Gerashchenko won out over the leading contender, Ashot Egiazaryan, who headed the Moscow National Bank and worked at Oneximbank and Diamant and was close to First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov. The Central Bank opposed Egiazaryan's candidacy in part because the bank he headed was stripped of its license long before the recent economic crisis. JAC

NEW HEAD OF ROSVOORUZHENIE APPOINTED

As widely anticipated, Yevgenii Ananev was fired on 27 November as head of the arms export company Rosvooruzhenie, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1998). Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Grigorii Rapota was appointed to replace Ananev. Rapota, who is 54, served as deputy director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service. Security Council spokesman Yurii Kobaladze characterized Rapota as "highly competent, experienced, charming, and easy-going," adding that he has "a good knowledge of everything to do with the arms trade." Rapota denied that he would implement a radical personnel reshuffle. LF

ANTI-CRIME MEASURES APPROVED

The Primakov government approved a package of anti-crime measures on 27 November. The measures include stripping legislators of immunity from criminal prosecution, requiring candidates for political office to disclose more information, increasing sentences for gun- trafficking, and imposing tighter controls on private security firms. Prime Minister Primakov characterized the measures as a response to the recent assassination of Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova. He also suggested that the government "may be talking about the physical elimination of those who raise their hands against society, the public, and children." Primakov said that this package of draft laws was only the first intended to combat crime, Interfax reported on 27 November. "Izvestiya" argued that some of the laws may have the undesired effect of purging honest political candidates from running, since many candidates may have served time in prison for violating political articles of the Soviet-era penal code. JAC

GOVERNMENT PROMOTES MOTHERHOOD

Seven out of 10 pregnancies in Russia end in abortion, while 70 percent of Russian women suffer from health problems after their abortions, according to Russian Health Ministry statistics, Interfax reported. The Russian government used the occasion of the country's first official Mother's Day on 29 November to announce that it wants to achieve a 10 percent drop in the abortion rate by 2000. The number of abortions performed in 1997--2.5 million--represents a decline of almost one-quarter since 1992. Deputy Prime Ministry Valentina Matviyenko told reporters that the government is seriously concerned that in recent years the status of motherhood has diminshed and the number of women who want children has decreased. JAC

DIPLOMATIC FEATHERS RUFFLED OVER GUARD REMOVAL

A diplomatic row is flaring up between the U.S. and Russia over the removal of a 24-hour security guard from the residence of Russian ambassador to the U.S. Yulii Vorontsov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 November. According to the newspaper, the guard post was removed "without warning" to save budget resources. A Russian diplomatic source told the newspaper that "it is entirely possible that there is a lack of coordination between Washington, D.C. city officials and the State Department." The source added that if the guard is not reinstated, it will show that "the Americans want to unofficially lower the status of our diplomatic mission." JAC

RADUEV AGAIN DEFIES CHECHEN AUTHORITIES

Maverick field commander Salman Raduev inspected his General Dudaev army in Grozny on 26 November, Interfax reported. Raduev later told journalists that he will not comply with a ruling by Chechnya's Supreme Shariah Court that he undergo a medical examination. Earlier this month, the court sentenced Raduev to four years' imprisonment for an alleged coup attempt but then indicated that it may rescind that sentence if provided with evidence of Raduev's poor health. Speaking on his private YTV channel on 26 November, Raduev claimed that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov embezzled profits from the sale of Chechnya's oil. Raduev proposed conducting a census of the Chechen population and sharing the republic's oil wealth among its citizens. LF




ARMENIA, KARABAKH ACCEPT OSCE PLAN, BUT BAKU REJECTS IT

The foreign ministers of Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic said on 26 November in Yerevan that they have officially accepted the latest OSCE Minsk Group's Karabakh peace proposals as a basis for further talks, despite unspecified reservations, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Karabakh Foreign Minister Naira Melkumian said that the guarantees envisaged for Karabakh's future security and economic development need further clarification. She also noted that Stepanakert will not make any further concessions to Azerbaijan. The previous day, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev had told visiting OSCE chairman-in-office Bronislaw Geremek that Azerbaijan "will never accept" the proposal that Azerbaijan and Karabakh form a common state. Aliyev complained that the new peace plan puts Azerbaijan "in a difficult position" ahead of the 2 December Oslo meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers. LF

RUSSIA WILL CONTINUE SUPPLYING ARMENIA WITH NUCLEAR FUEL

Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov told journalists in Moscow on 25 November that Russia will continue supplying nuclear fuel for Armenia's Medzamor nuclear power plant "out of political necessity," despite that country's debt of 180 million rubles ($10 million) for earlier deliveries, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov said the following day that an agreement on the supply of fuel elements will be signed within days, according to Interfax. Armenian Prime Minister Armen Darpinian said in Moscow on 26 November that he reached agreement during talks with Gustov and Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on the release of $7-11 million in earthquake relief funds frozen in Armenia's former Soviet Vneshekonombank, Interfax reported. LF

ARMENIA DROPS OBJECTIONS TO OSCE SUMMIT IN TURKEY

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told journalists in Yerevan on 26 November that the Armenian leadership has withdrawn its objections to the choice of Istanbul as the venue for the next OSCE summit, due in 2000 or 2001, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Armenian leadership had argued earlier that Turkey is not a suitable venue for the summit in the light of its poor human rights record and its refusal to open its frontier or establish diplomatic relations with Armenia. Oskanian said the Armenian decision was motivated by the desire to promote regional cooperation. On 27 November, ITAR-TASS reported that the previous week Turkish border guards had shot dead an Armenian citizen who tried to cross the Armenian-Turkish frontier in the mistaken belief that he was a Kurdish suicide bomber. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONIST SENTENCED FOR ALLEGED COUP PLAN

A leading member of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party, Fuad Gakhramanly, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on 27 November for authoring an article allegedly outlining ways to overthrow President Aliev, Reuters and Turan reported. Gakhramanly was arrested in June after the unpublished article was confiscated during a search of the premises of the opposition newspaper "Chag" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 19 November 1998). LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS' PROTEST FORCIBLY DISPERSED

Police broke up a picket in front of the presidential administration building in Baku on 25 November. The action had been organized by editors of opposition publications protesting the recent crackdown on the independent media, Turan and Interfax reported. Meeting the following day with some 20 editors who had launched a hunger strike earlier this month to protest libel cases brought by leading officials against independent newspapers, OSCE chairman- in-office Geremek pleaded with them to end their action, which, he said, "has demonstrated the dramatic state of freedom of speech in Azerbaijan." Some editors stopped their hunger strike later that day on medical advice. Meanwhile, 13 senior officials and members of President Aliev's family have opened separate libel cases against the newspaper "Azadlyg," demanding a total of $462,000 in damages. The newspaper claimed they had acquired real estate abroad, Turan reported on 25 November. LF

UN EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER ABKHAZIA

The UN Security Council issued a statement on 25 November expressing concern at the possibility of renewed fighting in Abkhazia and calling for the planned meeting between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba to take place as soon as possible, AP and dpa reported. Shevardnadze told journalists on 26 November that the reasons for the postponement of that meeting, originally planned for the first half of November, was that agreement had not been reached with the Abkhaz leadership on security guarantees for ethnic Georgians returning to Abkhazia. Shevardnadze also expressed surprise at a statement earlier that day by Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile. Nadareishvili claimed to have information that the Abkhaz were planning to shoot down Shevardnadze's airplane if he flew to Sukhumi to meet with Ardzinba, according to Caucasus Press. LF

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT IN TBILISI

During his visit to Tbilisi on 26-27 November, Petar Stoyanov met with his Georgian counterpart, Shevardnadze, to discuss implementation of the TRACECA project, including the projected ferry link from Poti to Varna, and the prospects for exporting Caspian oil via Bulgaria. On 27 November, Stoyanov visited both Poti and the oil terminal at Supsa. Georgian and Bulgarian officials signed a number of bilateral agreements on defense and frontier cooperation, combating drugs and crime, and avoiding double taxation. LF

TAJIK REBELS IMPLICATE UZBEKISTAN

At a 27 November press conference in Dushanbe, 16 rebels who were captured during fighting in Tajikistan's northern Leninabad Oblast earlier this month claimed they were trained in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, Russian agencies reported. The rebels said they crossed into Afghanistan via the Uzbek border city of Termez and were trained in Uzbekistan by members of former Tajik Army Colonel Mahmud Khudaberdiyev's troops and "military specialists of Uzbekistan's special forces." They later received additional training in Uzbekistan's Jizzak Oblast before entering northern Tajikistan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 30 November denied that Uzbekistan has any links to the rebels. According to Interfax on 27 November, 114 government servicemen died and 431 were wounded during the fighting in Leninabad Oblast, while 220 rebels were killed and 215 wounded. BP

UZBEK FOREIGN MINISTER IN IRAN, PAKISTAN

Abdulaziz Kamilov was in Iran and Pakistan from 24-27 November to whip up support for a conference on Afghanistan in Tashkent, ITAR-TASS reported. Meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, he extended an invitation to both Kharrazi and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to visit Uzbekistan. IRNA reported on 24 November that while Kharrazi described Uzbekistan as a country that has "close ties with Iran," this does not mean the two countries hold identical views on issues. On 27 November, Kamilov met with Pakastani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and handed over a letter from Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Kamilov also met with Taliban representative Wakil Ahmad to discuss Taliban participation in the Tashkent conference. Ahmad, however, said his movement will participate only if it is invited as the legal government of Afghanistan. BP

KAZAKHSTAN, UES AGREE ON DEBT PAYMENT

Kazakhstan on 28 November announced it will pay off its $229 million debt to Russia's Unified Energy Systems (UES) by turning over the Ekibastuz Power Plant No. 2, the Ekibastuz-Omsk power line, and the Severny coal pit to the Russian company, Russian agencies reported. UES board chairman Anatolii Chubais, who was in northern Kazakhstan for discussions with Kazakh officials, called the decision a "breakthrough" and said it paved the way for the creation of powerful joint industrial conglomerate that would export electricity from Kazakhstan to Russia. BP

CANDIDATES FOR KAZAKH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS ANNOUNCED

The Central Elections Committee announced on 30 November, the last day of registration for the January presidential elections, that incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev, chairman of the Customs Committee Gany Kasymov, parliamentary deputy Engels Gabbasov, and Communist Party chairman Serikbolsyn Abdildin have all registered to compete, RFE/RL correspondents in Astana reported. Abdildin had said at a 26 November press conference he has collected only 115,000 of the 170,000 signatures required to register and that he doubted he would be able to pay the registration fee of $30,000, which is 1,000 times the minimum average wage in Kazakhstan. Also on 26 November, the U.S. State Department criticized the ruling of the Kazakh Supreme Court two days earlier upholding a lower court's decision that in effect barred former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin from running in the elections. BP

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER RELEASED EARLY FROM JAIL

The chairman of the opposition party Erkin Kyrgyzstan, Topchubek Turgunaliev, was released from prison on 24 November, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. TurgunAliyev was sent to prison for four years on charges of abuse of power in February 1997. Those charges stemmed from the period when TurgunAliyev was rector at the Bishkek University of Humanities in 1994. BP

RUSSIAN STATE DUMA SPEAKER IN TURKMENISTAN

Gennadii Seleznev said at a press briefing in Ashgabat on 25 November that there must be a resolution to the dispute between Russia's Gazprom and Turkmenistan, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Gazprom and Turkmenistan have again failed to reach agreement on the price of Turkmen natural gas supplies delivered to Europe via the Russian company's pipelines. He also criticized Turkmenistan's delays in facilitating the granting of Russian citizenship to those who wish to have it. The two countries have an agreement on dual citizenship. BP




UKRAINIAN CABINET FORECASTS INFLATION AT 20 PERCENT NEXT YEAR...

The government has increased its projected inflation rate for 1999 to 20 percent from 7.8 percent, AP reported on 26 November. The revision came after President Leonid Kuchma criticized the draft 1999 budget the previous day, saying it was based on figures worked out before Russia's financial crisis impacted on Ukraine. Kuchma also repeated his former proposal that the government allow the hryvnya exchange rate to float freely. JM

...WHILE CENTRAL BANK VOICES WARNING

The Ukrainian National Bank on 27 November warned that the economy and the currency will collapse if the government allows the hryvnya to float freely and inflation to reach the projected rate of 20 percent. A floating exchange rate will "cause the currency to devalue, trigger inflation, and ruin the economy," AP quoted a bank representative as saying. Bank chairman Viktor Yushchenko said the same day that he sees "no fundamental reasons" to devalue the national currency. "The hryvnya is in a strengthening trend," Ukrainian News quoted him as saying. JM

KUCHMA ACCUSED OF INTERFERING IN MURDER TRIAL

Amnesty International has accused President Kuchma of violating the principle of the independence of the judiciary and the right of the accused to be presumed innocent. That accusation is in relation to the ongoing trial of a serial killer who has confessed to murdering 52 people. "As a human being I cannot see any punishment for him other than death," Kuchma said on 23 November. Amnesty International also said Kuchma's statement puts at risk the existence of a moratorium on executions in Ukraine. Kuchma's spokesman dismissed the criticism, saying that the president "has always considered Ukraine's judiciary to be independent," AP reported on 27 November. JM

BELARUS ADMITS 'SERIOUS MISTAKES' IN RELATIONS WITH WEST

Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antanovich told the 30 November "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that Belarus has made "serious mistakes" in its relations with the West and "deeply regrets" them. He added that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has assured U.S. President Bill Clinton in writing that these mistakes will not be repeated. The daily reported that "foreign observers" in Minsk reacted to Antanovich's statement skeptically, suggesting that it is the ongoing economic crisis, rather than remorse, that has forced Lukashenka to seek to normalize Minsk's relations with the West and the U.S. JM

MOSCOW MAYOR LUZHKOV IN MINSK

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov visited Minsk on 26 November and met with President Lukashenka, Belarusian Television reported. "I think [Luzhkov] will remain my greatest friend because no one else in Russia has provided greater support to our people and to me," Lukashenka commented after the meeting. Luzhkov visited a Minsk plant and a cancer research institute. The trip was widely considered an attempt by Luzhkov, a leading presidential hopeful in Russia's next elections, to enhance his international reputation. JM

EUROPARLIAMENT DEPUTY RECEIVES BELARUSIAN VISA

Belarus on 26 November granted an entry visa to Europarliament deputy Elisabeth Schroedter after initially ignoring her request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1998), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Schroedter told an RFE/RL correspondent that the Minsk OSCE mission chief and the Belarusian people must be credited with the reversal of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry's decision since they had exerted "big pressure" on the government to allow her to travel to Minsk. JM

MERI CALLS FOR SECURITY POLICY TO BE LEFT OUT OF ELECTION CAMPAIGN

Estonian President Lennart Meri has handed over to opposition leaders a document calling for security policy to be left out of the election campaign, BNS reported on 27 November. The document was given to the leaders of the Moderate Party, the Fatherland Union, and the People's Party. It also calls for a gradual increase in defense spending, a presidential spokeswoman told the news agency. Over the past two years, Estonia has spent 1.18 percent of GDP on defense. Also on 27 November, the 13th session of the Baltic Assembly opened in Tallinn, ETA reported. A draft declaration states that NATO's Washington summit in April 1999 would be the best opportunity to include the Baltic States in the second round of NATO expansion. Lithuania, which is considered the most likely of the three Baltic States to be invited to join, was the main force behind the declaration. JC

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW GOVERNMENT

Almost two months after general elections, lawmakers on 26 November voted by 59 to 24 with no abstentions to approve the minority government of Vilis Kristopans. Kristopans's Latvia's Way has seven portfolios, including foreign affairs (Valdis Birkavs) and finance (Ivars Godmanis). The Fatherland and Freedom party also has seven portfolios, including defense (Girts Kristovskis) and internal affairs (Roberts Jurdzs). Outgoing Prime Minister Guntars Krasts, also of the Fatherland and Freedom Party, has been appointed deputy prime minister for European integration. The New Party has the Justice Ministry (Ingrida Labucka) and the Economics Ministry (Ainars Slesers), while the agriculture portfolio has not yet been filled. Speaking to reporters after the vote, President Guntis Ulmanis said he believes one of the new government's main tasks in the near future is to expand its ranks to include members of other parties, BNS reported. JC

MOSCOW WELCOMES KRISTOPANS'S COMMENTS ON BILATERAL RELATIONS

Among the priorities outlined in the new government's program are seeking entry into the EU, the further privatization of state- owned monopolies, conservative fiscal policies, and improved relations with Russia. Kristopans has also said he himself intends to follow the political dialogue between Moscow and Riga, according to BNS. On 27 November, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told Russian news agencies that Moscow "positively assesses" Kristopans's comments about his intention "to actively help improve Latvian-Russian relations." Rakhmanin added that "we expect these words to be confirmed by concrete deeds in the nearest future--the more so since Latvia is well aware of our priorities and concerns." JC

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT TO APPEAL TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

The Lithuanian government is to appeal to the Constitutional Court to rule whether it needs new powers in order to continue in office, BNS reported on 27 November. That move follows the resignation last week of Transport Minister Algis Zvaliauskas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1998). More than half the members of the cabinet formed in 1996 have now been replaced. Ruling Conservative Party chairman and parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis said in a statement on 26 November that "we do not think new powers are necessary," commenting that "the Constitutional Court gave new powers to the cabinet at the beginning of this year, after the presidential elections." In a poll carried out earlier this month by the Vilmorius opinion and market research center, 61 percent of respondents were satisfied with the government, while 39 percent wanted it to be replaced. JC

POLISH PARLIAMENT ADOPTS MINING RESTRUCTURING PLAN...

The parliament on 26 November voted by 218 to 67 with 102 abstentions to approve a restructuring plan for Poland's coal mining sector, AP reported. The bill calls for reducing coal production from 137 million tons last year to 110 million tons in 2002. The number of jobs will be cut from the current 245,000 to 138,000 over the next three years. Of the 105,000 miners who will lose their jobs, only 30,000 will be laid off since the remainder will retire. Jan Kisielinski of the leftist opposition, which abstained from the voting, says the government failed to take into account workers in mining-related companies who will lose their jobs because of the reform. He estimates their number at 400,000. JM

...PASSES NEW PENSION BILL

By 194 votes to 123 with no abstentions, the parliament also approved a new bill that makes the size of pensions dependent on the duration of employment. The plan guarantees state pensions for workers over 50 and gives workers between 30 and 50 the option of splitting their pension contributions between state and private funds. Workers under 30 can choose between state, private, and mixed pension plans. Social security contributions will remain at the current level of 45 percent of the payroll, split evenly between employer and employee. The retirement ages are 65 for men and 60 for women. The new system is expected to ease the burden on the budget by eliminating subsidies for social security payments. JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT APPROVES DEFICIT BUDGET

The Chamber of Deputies on 25 November approved a deficit budget of just over $1 billion, AP reported. The budget was supported by deputies from the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), the Christian Democratic Party and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. In other news, architect Jan Kasl of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) has been elected Prague mayor, replacing Jan Koukal, also of the ODS, who gave up his bid for re-election after losing in the elections to the Czech Senate. Kasl was supported by the ODS and the CSSD. Mayors in the Czech Republic are elected not by direct vote but by their municipal assembly colleagues. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC SETS UP COMMISSION TO RETURN JEWISH PROPERTY

The government on 26 November set up a commission that is to draw up a list of all unrestituted Jewish properties by March 1999, AP reported, quoting a spokesman for the Jewish community. The commission includes representatives of the government and of the Jewish community. The Czech Republic has already returned some 80 percent of confiscated Jewish properties that it held. The government now plans to return to surviving Holocaust victims all remaining property confiscated by the Nazis and to create a fund for compensation where restitution is impossible. The Federation of Jewish Communities is demanding the return of properties whose ownership has been passed to municipalities and individuals. MS

SLOVAKIA TO INCREASE PRESSURE FOR NATO ADMISSION

Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda on 27 November said he plans to increase pressure on NATO for Slovakia to be admitted into the alliance, Reuters reported. Slovakia will "bang on the door as strongly as possible" after the April 1999 Washington NATO summit, he said. That day, Dzurinda met with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana in Brussels. Solana declined to set a date by which Slovakia might be admitted to the alliance but said that Bratislava will be well prepared for admission if it continues with reform. MS




GEORGIEVSKI ANNOUNCES CABINET LINEUP

Macedonian Prime Minister- designate Ljubco Georgievski said in Skopje on 27 November that his 27-member cabinet will consist of 14 members of his own Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, eight of Vasil Tupurkovski's Democratic Alternative, and five of Arben Xhaferi's Democratic Party of the Albanians. The foreign minister will be Aleksandar Dimitrov of the Democratic Alternative. Georgievski added that "all coalition partners have the good will to resolve [Macedonia's] economic and interethnic problems," Reuters reported. The parliament is expected to approve the cabinet on 30 November and to elect at least three deputies to Speaker Savo Klimovski, MIC news agency reported. Elsewhere, a spokesman for the IMF welcomed Georgievski's recent statement that he will try to hold the exchange rate of the denar at 31.5 to the German mark. PM

WALKER SEEKS EXPANDED ROLE FOR MONITORS

U.S. diplomat William Walker, who heads the international monitoring team in Kosova, said in Brezovica on 29 November that the Belgrade authorities interpret the agreement with the OSCE on the verification mission "in the narrowest possible way and we're reading it in the widest possible way," Reuters reported. He added that "the international presence, even in a feeble form, has had an impact and [as more monitors arrive] things will become more normal." Walker said that his group's mission will include preventing violations of human rights, reforming the police, preparing for elections, and giving the ethnic Albanian majority access to the electronic media. PM

SERBIA SAYS NATO FORCE MUST NOT INTERVENE

On 27 November, the Frankfurt-based independent Serbian daily "Vesti" quoted unnamed Yugoslav military authorities as saying that Belgrade will regard any intervention by NATO's rapid reaction force on Yugoslav territory as an "act of aggression." The spokesmen added that there is no provision in the agreement between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke for a rapid reaction force to cross into Yugoslav territory. NATO's Klaus Naumann had earlier said that the alliance expects the Yugoslav military to ensure the verifiers' safety from attacks by Serbs and that the Macedonia-based rapid reaction force will protect the verifiers from threats to their safety by the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). PM

PERISIC CALLS SACKING 'ILLEGAL'

General Momcilo Perisic said in a statement that Milosevic's recent decision to fire him as chief of the general staff was taken "without consultation, without preparation, and in an illegal fashion" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1998). The general added that his dismissal shows that "the current authorities do not wish to have [military] leaders who have a high degree of integrity and who think for themselves," "Vesti" reported on 27 November. Spokesmen for the government and for Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia called Perisic's removal part of a "routine rotation" of top officers. In recent years, Perisic has disagreed with Milosevic on a number of key issues and has refused to use the army against Milosevic's domestic enemies. PM

BELGRADE BLASTS HILL PLAN...

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Milovan Bojic said in Belgrade on 29 November that U.S. envoy Chris Hill's plan for broad autonomy for Kosova "is an indirect way to full succession" of the province from Serbia. Bojic added that the Kosova problem cannot be solved by what he called "chopping up Serbia" and that the Hill plan is "short-sighted and perfidious" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1998). PM

...WHILE UCK MOVES CLOSER TO IT

UCK political spokesman Adem Demaci told Belgrade's independent Radio B-92 on 28 November that the UCK is willing to "temporarily" drop its demands for independence. He said the guerrillas would accept a gradual transition lasting three years, during which Kosova would have equal status with Serbia and Montenegro within federal Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1998). Demaci stressed that the Kosovars must be guaranteed the right to a referendum on independence at the end of the transition period. He called the Serbian 11-point program for Kosova, which reduces autonomy to the local level only and gives Belgrade the last word in the province's affairs, "something that not even a dog would swallow." Demaci told the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" that the "UCK will accept nothing less than what was demanded in the 1991 referendum," in which Kosovars voted overwhelmingly for independence. PM

UCK FREES JOURNALISTS

Kosovar guerrillas on 27 November freed Tanjug journalist Nebojsa Radosevic and photographer Vladimir Dobricic in central Kosova in Walker's presence. The two Serbs said they had been well treated by the UCK, which captured them on 18 October. Uncertainty surrounds the fate of two other Serbian journalists, who went missing in August. Meanwhile in the Skenderaj region on 28 November, the UCK held a swearing-in ceremony for 300 fighters and a memorial service for a schoolteacher whom the Serbs killed one year ago. The man's funeral marked a milestone in the Kosova conflict because uniformed UCK fighters made their first public appearance there. PM

MONTENEGRO WANTS MONITORS

Miodrag Vukovic, who is a top adviser to President Milo Djukanovic, said in Podgorica that the Montenegrin authorities want an OSCE monitoring mission to come to the country, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 27 November. The following day, State Prosecutor Bozidar Vukcevic said that Montenegro recognizes the "legality and legitimacy" of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and will actively cooperate with it. PM

ALBANIAN SECRET SERVICE DISCOVERS BIN LADEN NETWORK

Secret Service chief Fatos Klosi told the "Sunday Times" of 29 November that the Albanian authorities have discovered a network of Islamist terrorists operated by Osama Bin Laden. Klosi confirmed earlier reports by a French terrorist suspect of Algerian origin that Bin Laden has tried to send units to fight in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 9 November 1998). He added that Bin Laden's agents include "Egyptians, Saudi Arabians, Algerians, Tunisians, Sudanese, and Kuwaitis...from several different organizations." Klosi also said that terrorists have already infiltrated other parts of Europe from Albania as illegal immigrants. Bin Laden visited Albania in 1994 as a member of a Saudi business delegation. FS

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS CONSTITUTION INTO LAW

Rexhep Meidani signed into law the country's first post-communist constitution on 28 November, which is Albanian Independence Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 25 November 1998). The final official results of the 22 November referendum showed 93.5 percent in favor of the law. Turnout, however, was only 50.57 percent. Representatives from the opposition Democratic Party, which boycotted the referendum and sessions of the parliamentary commission that drafted the constitution, claimed that the results have been falsified. They also refuse to recognize the new constitution, charging that turnout was only 39.6 percent. And they have recently urged their supporters to bring down the government through peaceful means. International observers say the referendum was carried out correctly. FS

ROMANIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER FIRED

Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 27 November dismissed Agriculture Minister Dinu Gavrilescu. Government spokesman Razvan Popescu said Gavrilescu was dismissed because of slow progress in reforming the agricultural sector and in meeting demands to qualify for World Bank agricultural credits, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He is replaced by Reform Minister Ioan Muresan, whose ministry is to be abolished under the government restructuring program approved in September. The previous day, six members of the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), including former Premier Victor Ciorbea, sent an open letter to PNTCD county organizations demanding that an extraordinary congress of the party be convened. The group wants to examine, among other things, relations with the PNTCD's Democratic Party coalition partner and the possibility of the PNTCD's withdrawing support for Radu Vasile's cabinet. MS

MOST ROMANIANS BELIEVE LIFE WAS BETTER UNDER CEAUSESCU

A public opinion poll conducted by the Media Metro Institute on behalf of the Soros Foundation indicates that 51 percent of Romanians believe life before 1989 was "better than now." Nineteen percent are of the opinion that the country would fare better if ruled "by a single person with clear-cut opinions" rather than by people who have different opinions. Sixty-four percent believe Romania is "heading in the wrong direction." The Democratic Convention of Romania heads electoral preferences with 29 percent, followed by the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (26) and the Greater Romania Party (16 percent). In a presidential contest, 34 percent would back Emil Constantinescu, 22 percent Ion Iliescu, and 18 percent Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor. MS

MEDIATORS SUBMIT DRAFT AGREEMENT ON TRANSDNIESTER'S STATUS

The international mediators in the Transdniestrian conflict have drafted an agreement for settling the conflict between Chisinau and the separatist region, Infotag reported on 25 November. John Evans, head of the OSCE permanent mission, and the Russian and Ukrainian presidential representatives on the mediation commission said they have submitted the draft agreement to President Petru Lucinschi and to Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov. They also said the document fully respects Moldovan sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, while envisaging a special status for the Transdniester region. The mediators stressed the two sides are free to submit their own proposals to improve the document. Addressing the parliament in Chisinau on 27 November, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe chairwoman Leni Fischer said the Council of Europe will support a summit aimed at solving the Transdniester conflict. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT MOVES TOWARD ABOLISHING DEATH PENALTY

The parliament on 27 November passed in the first reading amendments to the penal code abolishing the death penalty, Reuters reported. The amendments are part of the effort to harmonize Bulgarian legislation with that of the EU. The vote was 128 to 30 with 20 abstentions (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1998). MS

EU APPROVES AID FOR BULGARIA

The EU on 25 November approved humanitarian aid worth $1.7 million for Bulgaria to help the needy through the winter. The funds will help provide food and medicine to individuals as well as to clinics, hospitals, and social institutions. The funding will be channeled through humanitarian organizations, AP reported. MS




UKRAINE'S LACK OF DIRECTION JEOPARDIZES REFORM


By Christopher Walker

Seven years into its post-Soviet experience as an independent state, Ukraine has distinguished itself as much by what it has avoided as by what it has accomplished. On the one hand, the country has managed to escape the deep ethnic divisions many predicted and, for the time being at least, has sidestepped the near total economic and social collapse Russia has undergone. But at the same time, Ukraine has also avoided many of the critical reforms necessary to pave the way for long-term prosperity.

Thus, Ukraine now finds itself at a crossroads, uncertain whether the belated implementation of strict reforms would generate Polish-style prosperity or Russian-style destabilization. The reluctance to proceed with an ambitious program of painful measures is in many ways understandable. Average Ukrainians have suffered enormous hardships since 1991. If asked to endure even more in a bid to achieve the promised, albeit theoretical prosperity, many Ukrainians would answer "no."

A kind of symbiotic paralysis has developed between Ukraine's political decision-makers and the country as a whole. Each knows action must be taken, but neither is able to identify the force that could act as the catalyst for change.

Recognizing this, the Communists, in cooperation with leftist forces in the parliament, point to Russia's difficult experience with Western-style reform to bolster their argument for taking a different course at home. The battle lines are visible in the current dispute over the state budget, in which members of the opposition are heavily attacking the government's proposed budget as endangering Ukraine's social safety net.

While Russia's difficulties loom large on Ukraine's eastern border, a more constructive example is provided by Poland, to the West. Poland's success did not come easily. The economic recovery, which began in 1992, was preceded by nearly three years of economic suffering and social dislocation.

After the fall of communism, Poland was indisputably in a better position than Ukraine to make the difficult post-Soviet transition, but despite the initial hardships, Poland has steadfastly stayed the reform course. It now is enjoying the rewards of its hard-fought efforts. Poland has achieved rapid private-sector growth, estimated at 10 percent annually from 1995 through 1997. Unemployment has been steadily declining and is now under 10 percent, down from a high of 16 percent in 1994.

Moreover, Poland has attained positive GDP growth annually over the past six years. Foreign investors have acknowledged Poland's commitment to economic reform. From 1990 to mid-1997, total foreign investment in Poland was $16.2 billion. By comparison, foreign investment in Ukraine from independence in 1991 through the third quarter of 1998 totals $2.6 billion. Of course, as long as the Ukrainian authorities dither over reform, foreign investors will be reluctant to commit significant resources to the Ukrainian market.

Ukraine should also consider the implications of Poland's growing prosperity and its entry into the Western sphere of influence. To both countries' credit, they have worked assiduously to forge a balanced and constructive relationship. However, the EU is asking Poland to take firmer steps on a number issues related to Poland's eastern neighbors. For example, Warsaw is facing considerable pressure from Brussels to tighten border restrictions with Ukraine, but for the time being it has refused to impose visa requirements on Ukrainians.

At home, Ukraine is beset by a host of other problems, including pension and wage arrears, rampant organized crime, and widespread official corruption. A burgeoning shadow economy has evolved in response to the dysfunction of the official market. The shadow economy, along with the many individuals and businesses that flout the law, accounts for a huge loss in desperately needed tax revenues. In fact, the authorities' frustration with widespread tax evasion payment was revealed last summer when Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko ordered 1,500 business executives to a tent camp outside Kyiv until they paid delinquent taxes.

Other evidence of Ukraine's economic weakness is observable in the vast number of Ukrainians who travel abroad in search of employment. Large numbers of Ukrainians work as manual laborers in the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, and other countries for periods of several weeks or months. Many of these jobs are run by Ukrainian gangs or criminal syndicates that claim to offer safe transport, employment documents, and a large amount of money by Ukrainian standards. After completing their terms of employment, many are disappointed to learn that they will receive only a bus ticket back to Ukraine, if that.

By venturing westward to countries that already belong to the EU or are within striking distance of joining that organization, these Ukrainian workers are implicitly acknowledging the direction their own country should take. The author is manager of programs at the European Journalism Network.


XS
SM
MD
LG