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Newsline - December 3, 1998




RUSSIA'S POPULATION TO PLUNGE

Russia's population will shrink by one half by the middle of the 21st century according to the State Committee for Statistics. Regions likely to witness the largest population drops are the Far East, Western Siberia, and Central Russia, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 December. Residents of Eastern and Western Siberia have the shortest life span, 64 years. Meanwhile, Russia's birth rate dropped by 6 percent from 1989 to 1997, Interfax reported on 2 December. During the same period, the death rate jumped 3.5 percent and is reportedly as high as that of a country engaged in war. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that Russian men live 13 years fewer than women, a larger difference than in any other country. JAC

INFLATION ACCELERATES SLIGHTLY

Inflation in November measured 5.7 percent, up from 4.5 percent in October, according to the State Statistics Committee, agencies reported on 3 December. Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told the Federation Council on 2 December that the money supply would grow at the rate of 18-26 percent and inflation would be confined to 30 percent a year. JAC

IMF TELLS RUSSIA MAYBE NEXT YEAR

IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus completed two days of meetings in Moscow on 2 December, telling reporters that the Russian government and the fund have agreed to continue their dialogue, despite differences over tax and budget policy. He also reported that a new IMF mission will arrive in Moscow in January. Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov said that he and Camdessus did not discuss specific loans or their terms, nor did they touch on the subject of rescheduling Russia's debt payments to the fund. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters the next day that Russia should no longer request the "services" of the IMF. He said, "Look how they abuse our government. They send one group of representatives, then another one. Camdessus again comes over and again says wait until tomorrow." JAC

GOVERNORS REACT TO ECONOMIC PROGRAM

Members of the Federation Council responded to the government's presentation of its anti- crisis program to that body on 2 December with mild expressions of support. According to ITAR-TASS, both Perm Oblast Governor Gennadii Igumnov and Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov emphasized that implementation of the program would be at least as important as its contents. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov was more critical, saying that the idea of strengthening vertical authority in the country would usher back the centrally planned economy and totalitarianism. Vladimir Fedotkin, speaker of Ryazan's regional legislature, said that "the more the government prepares its plans..., the more it drifts in the direction of previous reforms, the "Moscow Times" reported. "Izvestiya" on 3 December also noted a similarity between the government's presentation and that of an earlier one by then Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko. JAC

DUMA ASKS YELTSIN TO SUBMIT MEDICAL RESULTS

The State Duma passed a non-binding resolution on 2 December asking that a report on President Boris Yeltsin's health be sent to the legislature within 10 days. The resolution passed with 247 votes in favor and 33 against. Meanwhile, Yeltsin's former heart surgeon Renat Akchurin told "Argumenty i fakty" that Yeltsin's continuing series of health problems are unlikely to be related to his heart and may instead stem from a weak immune system. JAC

NEW LIGHT SHED ON STAROVOITOVA CASE?

Duma deputy and leading liberal activist Galina Starovoitova may have been killed by amateurs rather than professionals, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 3 December, noting that the assassins used "sloppy firearms" and had their getaway car parked at a great distance from the crime. According to the daily, St. Petersburg businessman Ruslan Kolyak, whom the authorities earlier announced they are seeking for questioning, told NTV that the St. Petersburg criminal world had nothing to do with Starovoitova's death (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 1 December 1998). Kolyak is considered to be the "kingpin" of the criminal Tambov gang. JAC

PRIMAKOV BLAMES GOVERNORS FOR UNPAID WAGES

In his address to the Federation Council on 2 December, Prime Minister Primakov repeated an earlier accusation by Finance Ministry officials against regional officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1998). He charged some governors with diverting federal funds intended to pay wages of state workers to support their own pet projects He also called on regional leaders to wage their own fight against crime and corruption. JAC

KRASNODAR OBLAST ON WATCH LIST FOR ATTACKS ON JEWS

International human rights groups have put the Krasnodar Oblast on a watch list following dozens of attacks on Jews, the "Moscow Times" reported on 2 December. Krasnodar Governor Nikolai Kondratenko recently made a number of remarks supportive of Duma deputy and Communist party member Albert Makashov (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 24 November 1998). The same day, Duma deputy and popular singer Iosif Kobzon announced that he will boycott Duma sessions until Makashov is properly sanctioned for his anti-Semitic remarks. Earlier, the press spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Moscow told Interfax on 30 November that emigration to Israel has increased by 10-15 percent in the last three months. JAC

NEW SIBERIAN MOVEMENT FORMED, LEBED SNUBBED

The new Union of the Future political movement wants to elect a Siberian faction to the State Duma, "Vremya MN" reported on 2 December. The movement will hold its first congress on 12 December. The election of former Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Valerii Zubov to the post of chairman of the organizational committee of the union indicates the dislike among other Siberian leaders of the current governor of Krasnoyarsk, Aleksandr Lebed, the newspaper concluded. Zubov and Lebed are bitter rivals. A number of Zubov's former deputies have recently been arrested on a variety of corruption charges by the local prosecutor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 1998). JAC

DUMA PUTS DZERZHINSKII ON PEDESTAL...

The Duma on 2 December gave its preliminary approval to a draft resolution calling for the return of the statue of the Cheka's first chairman, Felix Dzerzhinskii, to Lubyanka Square in Moscow on 2 December. The bill now goes to the Culture Committee, which will finalize it before presentation at the Duma's next plenary session, ITAR-TASS reported. The monument, which had been torn down by crowds on the nights of 22-23 August 1991, would symbolize anti-crime efforts in Russia, "Segodnya" reported on 3 December. JAC

...GUNS FOR BEREZOVSKII

Also on 2 December, the Duma voted by 226 to one to appeal to CIS heads of state to remove Boris Berezovskii from his post as CIS executive secretary, AP and Interfax reported. The Duma resolution said Berezovskii's call for a ban on the Russian Communist Party is incompatible with his official position and "aimed at destabilizing the political situation in the Russian Federation." LF

NEWSPAPER SAYS COMMUNISTS POISED FOR ANOTHER TAKEOVER

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 2 December argued that the Communist party is close to seizing power in the country because it has a "controlling interest in at least every second region of the country," with 43 governors backing the Communist party. According to the newspaper, the Communist Party has "the majority in regional legislatures" if one excludes the national republics, which "are rather indifferent to the political colors dominating the capital." And with elections approaching in a number of regions, such as Karachaevo-Cherkassia, Udmurtia, Komi, Kemerovo, the Communists are likely to further cement their power. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial support from Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JAC

IVANOV, SERGEEV ON SECURITY PRIORITIES

Addressing the OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Oslo on 2 December, Igor Ivanov again advocated enhancing the role of the OSCE as a pan-European security structure and a counterweight to NATO, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Ivanov called for a more active OSCE role in launching peacekeeping operations. He acknowledged that "it will not be easy to work out a consensus on many key points in drafting a Charter of European Security" but predicted that "given the political will," that charter could be signed at the 1999 OSCE summit, Interfax reported. And he expressed concern at the delay in adapting the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. Also on 2 December, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told journalists in Moscow that the 1992 CIS Collective Security Treaty must be extended when it expires in 1999, Interfax reported. Sergeev did not rule out Yugoslavia's accession to that pact. LF

MOSCOW ABANDONS IDEA OF POWER-SHARING TREATY WITH CHECHNYA

President Yeltsin has annulled his directive of September 1997 that provided for drafting a treaty with Chechnya on the mutual delegation of powers, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 December. The newspaper quoted former Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin as saying that the Chechen leadership is currently considering accepting the 1996 Russian proposal to establish a free economic zone in Chechnya. In a 2 December interview with ITAR-TASS, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov underscored that Chechnya is an independent state but added he is ready for "any dialogue" with the Russian government and hopes for the signing of "a full-fledged treaty" between Moscow and Grozny. Maskhadov also said he is ready to assume "a certain responsibility for defending the strategic interests of the Russian Federation in the Caucasus." LF

INGUSH FUGITIVES REJECT RELOCATION OFFER

Ethnic Ingush who were forced to flee their homes in North Ossetia's Prigorodnyi Raion in November 1992 to escape ethnic-cleansing by the local authorities have reacted with alarm and suspicion to a Russian government proposal to rehouse them elsewhere in Russia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 December. An estimated 46,000-64,000 Ingush fled their homes at that time. The Russian Federal Migration Service is currently conducting a survey of all Ingush families who left North Ossetia for neighboring Ingushetia in order to identify possible volunteers. The Ingush parliament has condemned that initiative as potentially destabilizing, and it insists on the right of the Ingush to return to Prigorodnyi Raion. Ingush observers attribute the new Russian government initiative to Prime Minister Primakov's former ties with North Ossetia, from where he was elected a deputy to the USSR Supreme Soviet. LF




SEARCH FOR SOLUTION TO KARABAKH CONFLICT CONTINUES...

On the sidelines of the OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Oslo, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian met with the head of the U.S. delegation, Stephen Sestanovich, and with his Italian and Spanish counterparts to discuss the latest OSCE proposals for resolving the Karabakh conflict, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Norwegian capital. Italy is a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, but Spain is not. Addressing the OSCE meeting, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov repeated Azerbaijan's rejection of the proposals, which he termed a violation of Azerbaijan's sovereignty. Armenia and Stepanakert have said they will accept the proposals, despite reservations. LF

...AS ARMENIAN OPPOSITION QUESTIONS CONTENT OF LATEST PEACE PLAN

Armenian parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Hovannes Igitian told journalists in Yerevan on 2 December that the new proposals do not, as widely reported, advocate Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic creating a "common state." Igitian claimed that the new proposals would give Karabakh only broad autonomy within Azerbaijan, and he expressed his bewilderment that Baku has rejected them, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Former Armenian parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsian had told journalists on 26 November that the most recent Minsk Group proposals "contain nothing new," but he suggested that Azerbaijan's rejection of those proposals was motivated by a desire to delay indefinitely a solution to the conflict. Both Igitian and Ararktsian are members of the former ruling Hanrapetitiun coalition,. which supported Levon Ter- Petrossian. The former president's stated willingness to accept a compromise solution to the conflict precipitated his resignation under pressure. LF

WESTERN AMBASSADORS TRY TO EXPEDITE ABKHAZ AGREEMENT

Ambassadors to Tbilisi from the five Western countries that are members of the informal UN Secretary-General's Friends of Georgia group traveled to Sukhumi on 2 December for talks with Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba, ITAR-TASS reported. The talks were intended to clarify the reasons for the delay in the proposed meeting between Ardzinba and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze at which a protocol on the repatriation of ethnic Georgians to Abkhazia and a non-aggression pact is to be signed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 19 November 1998). Ardzinba's adviser, Astamur Tania, has accused Tbilisi of demanding last-minute amendments to the two agreements. The Russian Foreign Ministry has also issued a statement expressing the hope that the two agreements will be signed soon as well as its concern at continuing terrorist acts in Abkhazia by maverick armed bands, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 December. LF

KYRGYZSTAN, UZBEKISTAN DECLARE AMNESTIES

The Uzbek and Kyrgyz presidents on 2 December declared an amnesty for some prisoners in their countries, Russian media sources reported. In Uzbekistan, veterans of World War Two, emergency workers at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant after the disaster in 1986, women over 60, minors, and the handicapped will be released over a four-month period beginning on 8 December, the sixth anniversary of the Uzbek Constitution. Other prisoners may have their sentences reduced. In Kyrgyzstan, 2,000 prisoners will be released on 10 December in honor of the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. Those to be released are mainly minors and women, although some jailed for economic crimes may be set free if they can pay three times the amount of money they were charged with misappropriating. BP

KAZAKH COURT ORDERS OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER CLOSED

Almaty City Court ordered the opposition newspaper "DAT" closed because of bankruptcy, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The court appointed a liquidation commission to seize the newspaper's assets and warned its owners to stop publishing or face a criminal case. The case against "DAT" on charges of unpaid taxes was opened this summer. Tax officials seized some of the newspaper's assets, but "DAT" had issues published in Russia and transported into Kazakhstan. Customs officials have confiscated those issues several times. The announcement of the newspaper's closure coincides with the start of the Kazakh presidential race. "DAT" has been connected with candidates running against incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev. BP

SMUGGLING ON THE RISE IN KYRGYZSTAN

Prime Minister Kubanychbek JumAliyev signed a decree on 2 December aimed at stepping up the fight against smuggling, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Smuggled goods that have been confiscated are now subject to excise taxes and customs duties. A government official told RFE/RL that 60 percent of cigarettes, 30 percent of alcohol, and 30 of oil products in Kyrgyzstan are brought into the country illegally. BP

NEW TURKMEN RULES ON HARD CURRENCY CONVERSION

The Central Bank on 2 December published new regulations on the conversion of hard currency, Interfax reported. The manat can now be converted into hard currency only by people who are leaving the country for medical treatment and have a medical certificate from the Ministry of Health Care. Also eligible to convert currency are those leaving the country to study at foreign schools and state employees on official visits abroad. The Turkmen Central Bank said the move does not represent a suspension of hard currency conversion but is necessary owing to lower budget revenues caused by the decrease in exports of natural gas. Interfax quotes "sources" as saying Turkmenistan's foreign debt is equal to 75 percent of the country's GDP. BP




UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT STARTS DEBATING AMENDED BUDGET

The Ukrainian Supreme Council on 2 December began debating the amended 1999 draft budget amid government warnings that most fiscal targets set by lawmakers will be impossible to meet, AP reported. The draft provides for a zero deficit and increases revenues to 35.1 billion hryvni ($10.2 billion) from the 23.1 billion forecast by the government. "Ukraine can produce a financial sensation by approving a deficit-free budget," Budget Committee Chairwoman Yuliya Tymoshenko commented. Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov said the proposed budget revenues and expenditures are unrealistic. Meanwhile, the government appealed to the parliament to reconsider its decision raising the monthly minimum wage from 55 to 148 hryvni, saying such an increase would be destructive for the economy. JM

UKRAINIAN MINERS ON STRIKE AGAIN

Hundreds of miners demonstrated outside the parliament building in Kyiv on 2 December, demanding increased state support for the mining sector and the payment of back wages, AP reported. According to Mykhaylo Volynets of the Independent Miners' Union, some 40,000 miners in 20 mines launched an indefinite strike in support of the demonstrators' demands. The miners want the parliament to increase budget allocations for their industry to 5.5 billion hryvni ($1.6 billion) from the projected 3.1 billion hryvni. Wage arrears to the mining sector, according to governmental data, amount to 2.4 billion hryvni. JM

KUCHMA EXEMPTS FARMERS FROM VAT

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has issued an edict exempting farmers from value-added tax for five years, Ukrainian Television reported on 2 December. The exemption extends to those who sell homemade goods, excluding those liable to excise tax. The only condition is that earnings from homemade products must exceed 50 percent of a farm's gross income. Money saved by not paying VAT is to be spent on improving equipment and production methods, otherwise the funds will be confiscated. JM

BELARUSIAN TRADE UNIONS POSTPONE PROTEST...

Five member organizations of the Trade Union Federation decided to postpone a mass protest action planned for 2 November in Minsk and other cities, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The decision followed consultations with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's chief of administration, Mikhail Myasnikovich (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1998), after which the government agreed to significantly increase wages as of 1 January, lower taxes, and support domestic producers. If the government fails to meet its commitments, the trade unions will launch a mass protest action on 27 January. Western and Belarusian independent media reported that the authorities applied pressure to many workers, including threats of dismissal, to prevent them from taking part in the protest. JM

...COMPLAIN ABOUT SLANDERING CAMPAIGN IN STATE MEDIA

The Trade Union Federation on 2 November adopted a statement accusing the state media of waging a campaign to discredit and intimidate trade unions. The statement said that the official media resort to "juggling with facts and bare lies, cynical misrepresentation of public opinion, and planting in people's consciousness distorted views of the true role and activities of trade unions." For several days before the planned protest, Belarusian Television strongly criticized the protest action and suggested that trade union leaders are pursuing private interests in inciting workers to take part in street protests. JM

LUKASHENKA MAKES NEW CABINET APPOINTMENTS

President Lukashenka has made several new appointments to the government and administration bodies, following his statement that he intends to deal "firmly" with the current crisis in the country, Belarusian Television reported on 2 December. Vasil Dalhalyou was appointed first prime minister and Agricultural Minister Ivan Shakola replaced by Yuryy Maroz. Minister of Statistics Uladzimir Nichyparovich was replaced by Uladzimir Zinouski. Minsk Oblast Governor Pyotr Pyotukh yielded his post to Mikalay Damashkevich, former chairman of the State Control Committee. Colonel Yuryy Barodzich was dismissed from the post of presidential security service chief and transferred to the KGB. JM

NO CHANGES IN ESTONIAN CABINET, FOR TIME BEING

Estonian Prime Minister Mart Siimann has said he currently has no plans to change the lineup of his cabinet but does not rule out such a possibility in the future, ETA reported on 2 December. Siimann told journalists that any such changes will depend on the "climate" within the government coalition and on agreements likely to be concluded with the Rural Union and the Pensioners and Families Party whereby those parties will run on the Coalition Party's election lists. Speculation about a possible government reshuffle emerged last month when the fourth coalition partner, the Country People's Party, voted with the opposition in favor of banning electoral alliances. JC

KALLAS TRIAL KICKS OFF IN TALLINN

The trial of former Central Bank President and former Foreign Minister Siim Kallas began in the Tallinn City Court on 2 December, ETA reported. Kallas, together with former bank adviser Urmas Kaju, is charged with, among other things, abuse of power and intended embezzlement in the so-called $10 million affair, which began with the Central Bank lending $10 million to the North Estonian Bank in November 1993. That sum was intended to be invested in a Swiss fuel company, El Paradiso SAL, with an anticipated one-year interest of some 107 million kroons ($8.2 million). However, the Swiss firm failed to repay the investment, and the Central Bank received only $2 million in interest. Kallas denies the charges, arguing that Bank of Estonia officials were guilty only of having transferred the funds to the commercial North Estonian Bank, which has since been liquidated. JC

KRISTOPANS HOPES FOR MEETING WITH PRIMAKOV EARLY NEXT YEAR

Latvian Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans said after talks with Russian Ambassador to Riga Aleksandr Udaltsov on 1 December that he believes he may meet with his Russian counterpart, Yevgenii Primakov, as early as the beginning of next year, "Diena" reported the next day. Kristopans underlined in his talks with Udaltsov that good relations with Russia are a main priority of the new Latvian government's program. According to the daily, the three main topics of their talks were organizing a meeting at government level, resuming the work of the intergovernment commission, and preparing for signature several bilateral accords, including the Latvian-Russian border agreement. JC

LITHUANIAN PEASANTS' PARTY TO OPPOSE EURO-INTEGRATION

Peasants' Party Chairman Ramunas Karbauskis has said his party will oppose Lithuania's integration into NATO and the EU if those aims are pursued at the expense of the agricultural community, BNS reported on 2 December. He pointed out that the country's defense budget is being increased at the expense of agriculture, noting that funds for the latter sector have been slashed by 200 million litas ($50 million) in next year's budget. The Peasants' Party currently has less than 1 percent of the vote in opinion polls. Lithuania is considered to have the best chances of the three Baltic States to be included in the next wave of NATO expansion. JC

BALCEROWICZ ASSESSES POLAND'S ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE IN 1998

Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz told journalists on 2 December that the Solidarity-led government increased budget discipline in public finances and decreased the budget deficit this year, PAP and AP reported. Balcerowicz said Poland is better equipped than a year ago to deal with global problems such as the Asian and Russian economic crises. "We have prevented growing signs of crisis in our economy and strengthened our credibility among other emerging markets," he commented. He added that Poland has maintained a high rate of growth, reduced inflation, and improved its creditworthiness. Poland's priorities next year will be lowering unemployment, reforming the tax system, and stepping up privatization, he concluded. JM

ZEMAN SAYS NO PLANS FOR CHANGES TO GOVERNMENT

Czech Premier Milos Zeman said on 2 December that the government is not considering the formation of a new coalition or a reshuffling of the cabinet, CTK reported. Responding to comments made the previous day by Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky that a "national unity" government would be formed next year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1998), Zeman said that despite a worsening economic situation, the leadership of his Social Democrats is not discussing "a reconstruction [of the cabinet] or a new coalition." Zeman said Rychetsky's statement reflected his personal opinion. Former Premier Vaclav Klaus, accused by Rychetsky of not wanting to govern the country because he knew that bad economic times were ahead, said the Czech National Bank is responsible for the Czech Republic's economic woes. Klaus added that perhaps his Civic Democratic Party "understands economics better than Mr. Rychetsky." PB

PARLIAMENT BACKS NEW SLOVAK GOVERNMENT

The Slovak parliament voted in favor of the new government's program, which focuses on revitalizing the economy and integrating with Euro-Atlantic structures, Reuters reported. Deputies voted 88 to 50 for the program. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said the result was a vote of confidence in his government and will allow the cabinet to implement its domestic and foreign policies. Dzurinda has said the government will encourage foreign investment, restructure and privatize banks, and revive the depressed equity market. PB

SLOVAKIA SEEKS, RECEIVES PRAISE

Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan called on support from Germany and other EU members for the new direction of the Slovak government, TASR reported on 3 December. Kukan, in Oslo for the annual OSCE Ministerial Council meeting, said his government wants "to prove that now there is a new situation in Slovakia..., a government determined to strive for democratic development." Kukan added that he hopes Germany will issue a statement showing its support for the new government and will begin discussions on Slovakia's EU prospects in April, when Bonn takes over the EU presidency. He also said Slovakia feels it is headed in "the right direction, but we also want to hear it from the EU." In Brussels, Jan Wiersma, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Slovakia, praised the new government in Bratislava and called on the European Commission to adopt a more flexible position on Slovakia with regard to its chances of joining the fast-track to EU membership. PB

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION WITHDRAWS SUPPORT FOR NATO DEAL

Two Hungarian opposition parties has withdrawn support for an amendment to the constitution that is necessary for the country's armed forces to cooperate with NATO, AFP reported on 2 December. The Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats withdrew their support because of the ruling coalition's failure to allow committees to investigate government appointments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1998). Opposition support for the amendment is needed for its passage. The amendment would extend the government's authority in sending the military abroad and in allowing troops from other countries to be deployed on the country's territory--both of which are considered necessary activities for a NATO member. Socialist Party chairman Laszlo Kovacs said his party continues to back full NATO membership for Hungary but added that his party cannot support the government if it refuses to cooperate with the Socialists. PB




NATO ARRESTS BOSNIAN SERB GENERAL...

U.S. SFOR troops arrested Radislav Krstic near Brcko on 2 December and sent him to the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal. Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour said that the court indicted Krstic in October but did not announce the indictment lest he know that the tribunal was seeking to arrest him. She called his capture "very significant." Krstic is wanted for genocide and violations of the Geneva Convention on the conduct of war because of his direct personal involvement as commander of the Drina Corps in the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995 and in the alleged subsequent massacre of some 7,000 Muslim men. At the time, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said that Krstic "planned...the action on Srebrenica. He has done an extraordinary job." Krstic is the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb officer to go to The Hague and the fifth person to be captured for war crimes by peacekeepers. PM

...WHILE BOSNIAN SERBS TO LIMIT TIES TO SFOR

Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen told the parliament in Banja Luka on 2 December that Krstic's arrest "embittered and upset" all Bosnian Serbs and could adversely affect the implementation of the Dayton peace agreement. Poplasen added that the Republika Srpska will reduce its contacts to SFOR "to the necessary minimum." Parliamentary speaker Petar Djokic said that the arrest "brings uncertainty to people, a feeling that every citizen of the Republika Srpska can be regarded as a potential war criminal in the eyes of the tribunal," the London-based "Daily Telegraph" reported. PM

U.S. ADOPTING TOUGHER POLICY TOWARD WAR CRIMINALS?

Washington has adopted a "get tough" strategy toward indicted war criminals and placed a $5 million bounty each on Karadzic, General Ratko Mladic, and former Krajina Serb leader Milan Martic, "The Guardian" reported on 3 December. Unnamed Western diplomats told the London-based daily, however, that Karadzic is unlikely to "ever make it alive to The Hague" because he knows too much about the wartime roles of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other leaders in the former Yugoslavia. Other observers suggested that the new U.S. policy may be linked to a tough line against Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1998). The observers added that the key factor may be a desire to put an end to instability in the former Yugoslavia by removing from the scene those most responsible for that instability. PM

BOSNIAN SERBS PASS PROPERTY LAWS

The Republika Srpska parliament approved a bill on 2 December that confirms the right of former occupants to their homes and gives the government 30 days to respond to demands by Muslims and Croats for the return of their apartments and houses. Poplasen's Radicals opposed the measure, but legislators belonging to Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) voted for it. SDS spokesmen told AFP that they backed the bill as "the lesser of two evils" because it allows Serbian refugees living in Muslims' and Croats' former homes to appeal their eviction and requires the Bosnian Serb government to rehouse them if they lose. The SDS officials added that they feared that the international community's Carlos Westendorp would impose a "far worse" law if the parliament voted down the draft. PM

MACEDONIA APPROVES NATO BASE

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said in Skopje on 2 December that the government has made a "big decision" to allow NATO to base its rapid reaction force at Kumanovo near the border with Kosova. He stressed that the force's mission is humanitarian and is aimed at protecting the safety of 2,000 unarmed OSCE monitors in the Serbian province "in case of natural disasters or if [the monitors] become victims of extremists." Georgievski added that the government hopes that its decision "will contribute to Macedonia's speedier integration with NATO." In Brussels, unnamed NATO officials told Reuters that the force can begin to deploy to Kumanovo by 12 December. PM

ALBANIA, RUSSIA CLASH OVER KOSOVA

Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Bondevik told the two-day OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Oslo on 2 December that he hopes the monitoring mission will "contribute to paving the way for a political solution" in Kosova. OSCE ambassador to Albania Daan Everts dismissed Serbian warnings to the international community not to maintain contacts with the Kosova Liberation Army, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1998). The next day, Russian and Albanian diplomats differed over the proposed text of a final statement on Kosova. Russian officials want to avoid a reference to any one side--namely Serbia--as being to blame for the conflict. Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said his country cannot accept putting "on the same level the responsibilities of Milosevic and the Belgrade authorities with those of the Kosovar Albanian leadership for the crisis." PM

SERBIA BREAKS PLEDGE ON AMNESTY

The Serbian authorities have continued to detain some 1,500 Kosovars and have recently sentenced more than 20 others in connection with their alleged role in the recent conflict, the "Washington Post" reported on 3 December. A spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told the daily that there is also a "systematic pattern of abuse" and torture directed against Kosovars held in Serbian prisons. The October agreement between Milosevic and U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke includes an amnesty for all offenses except war crimes. The Serbian authorities claim that Kosovars, who say they were only defending their homes, are guilty of "terrorism" under Serbian law. PM

CROATIAN OPPOSITION BACKS OUT OF TALKS

Spokesmen for a coalition of six opposition parties said in Zagreb on 2 December that they will not take part in a breakfast meeting with President Franjo Tudjman that had been slated for the following day. The opposition leaders said that Tudjman would not agree to their precondition that he meet with them as head of his Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and not as head of state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1998). Vladimir Seks, who heads the HDZ faction in the parliament, said that Tudjman may yet agree to meet with the opposition in his capacity of party leader, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

BOMB BLAST BLACKS OUT SOUTHERN ALBANIA

Unknown persons blew up a high-voltage electricity tower near Durres on 1 December, blacking out several southern Albanian towns, dpa reported. Local police found another four unexploded bombs at the site of the explosion, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Artan Bizhga. Government officials called the bombing a "clear terrorist act" aimed at destabilizing the country. Police are investigating the incident but have found no suspects yet. Officials of the Electric Power Corporation estimated the damage to the high- voltage tower at around $25,000. FS

ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT TO CURB SMUGGLING VIA ADRIATIC

The government on 2 December sent a draft law to the parliament that will require owners of speed boats to register their vessels and limit their maximum speed to 40 nautical miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour). The measure is designed to curb smuggling across the Adriatic, Reuters reported. The Albanian and Italian coast guards began joint patrols along the Albanian coastline in early November to intercept smugglers before they reach the open sea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 1998). FS

FIRE BREAKS OUT AT KEY ALBANIAN INVESTMENT PROJECT

A major fire broke out on 2 December inside the warehouse of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Tirana. Fire brigades fought to control the blaze for nearly 12 hours. There were no injuries. Workers said the fire started after plastic boxes placed near huge spotlights melted and then ignited the blaze. The four-year-old plant is a $10 million joint venture involving Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Italy's Gruppo Busi, which also operates bottling plants in Italy. The Albanian plant produces about 100 million bottles annually or about 33 bottles a year for every Albanian. It represents the single largest foreign investment in Albania since the end of communism. The same day, another large fire destroyed parts of the Interior Ministry archives in the southern city of Skrapar, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 3 December. Circumstances surrounding the blaze are unclear. FS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN EXCHANGE RESERVES REACH NEW LOW

Mugur Isarescu, the central bank governor, told an economic conference in Bucharest on 2 December that the country's foreign exchange reserves have dropped to $1.85 billion, the lowest level so far this year, AP reported. At the end of October, they totaled $2.04 billion. Isarescu said the drop is owing to external debt payments and central bank intervention to support the leu, which has depreciated in recent weeks. In other news, Ioan Avram Muresan was sworn in as agriculture minister. Muresan had served until now as minister of reform. Defense Minister Victor Babiuc has been charged with adding the acting head of the Reform Ministry to his portfolio. PB

STOYANOV PRAISES ROMANIA FOR RATIFYING FREE TRADE AGREEMENT...

Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov said on 2 December that Romania has shown "exceptional understanding" in ratifying Bulgaria's accord with the Central European Free Trade Agreement, Bulgarian radio reported. Stoyanov said Romania is the first country to ratify the agreement even before Sofia has repaid its debts to Bucharest. He said Poland and Hungary first insisted the squaring of the money owed them before approving Bulgaria's accession to CEFTA. PB

...WANTS SOFIA TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY OVER NATO

Also on 2 December, Petar Stoyanov said that a distinction should be made between countries "seriously seeking" membership in NATO and those that have no chance of joining the alliance in the near future, dpa reported. Stoyanov, addressing the parliamentary assembly of the Western European Union in Paris, said that countries that have already applied for membership should be given a higher rank than those that have just expressed an interest. He suggested that an "action plan" be developed that would better define cooperation with NATO and pave the way for quicker accession to the alliance. PB




THE STRUGGLE FOR THE PAST CONTINUES


by Paul Goble

Efforts to write new national histories in the post-Soviet states are exacerbating ethnic tensions across the region, undermining national unity in several countries, and increasing cynicism about the value of history itself.

Each of these three developments threatens not only the possibilities for intellectual understanding of the states' complicated pasts but also the countries' prospects for evolving into stable, open, and democratic societies. Consequently at a time when most historians in the region assumed they could focus on correcting the distortions of the Soviet-era history, many are being forced to address post-Soviet challenges that may prove equally fateful.

These were the unexpected and unsettling conclusions of a remarkable conference of young historians from seven of the post- Soviet states that took place in Moscow earlier this fall but was reported in a supplement to the Moscow newspaper "Nezavisimaya gazeta" last week. The meeting was unprecedented in one way and unusual in a number of others. It was unprecedented in that it attracted scholars from so many of those countries to discuss their current common problems. And it was unusual in that it was sponsored by private groups rather than state institutions, attracted junior researchers rather than senior scholars, and focused on the ideological problems facing historians in the post-Soviet period.

While there were significant differences in emphasis among the participants, all agreed that efforts by national leaders to use history to bolster their authority and that of their country pose an extremely serious threat.

First, efforts to create new national histories are exacerbating tensions among the countries of the region and in some cases among the peoples within those countries.

That happens in several ways: Sometimes these historian- recruits to the national cause simply put a minus sign in front of Soviet views. Sometimes that approach seems reasonable. Many North Caucasians, for example, no longer celebrate the actions of the Russian generals who conquered them. But sometimes it is questionable. One speaker noted that some Georgians refuse to commemorate Hitler's defeat because a few historians there had suggested that the Georgian soldiers involved had fought in a foreign--that is, Soviet--army. In every case, such an approach offends many people even as it affirms the views of others.

But this "change of signs" from plus to minus and from minus to plus is by no means the worst aspect of the new national histories. According to Tamara Guzenkova of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, new national history textbooks devote little attention to anything except military history and enemies within and without. That, in turn, has the effect of creating an explosive cycle, one that not only builds up the image of the enemy, which all the participants said was an integral part of nationalism, but also infuriates the nation whose heroes are denigrated.

Not surprisingly, several participants blamed this new slant on history for the recent wave of ethnic violence. In the words of one, "many contemporary ethnopolitical conflicts have their roots in the pages of history texts."

Second, in some cases, attempts to foster national unity are turning out to be counterproductive, destroying the very social cohesion that the political sponsors of such histories hope to achieve. Efforts to create national histories, several conference participants said, often prove self-defeating. Many of the post- Soviet states are divided along ethnic and regional lines. And what some groups approve, others find offensive.

In every case, there is a generational problem. Older people tend to hold on to the heroes and enemies of the past, even the Soviet past, while younger people tend to fasten on new post- Soviet ones. And because national histories can be either ethnic or political, historians and political figures who seek to make use of them have to make a choice. In Kazakhstan, for example, the new national histories emphasize ethnicity. In Russia, the latest histories stress politics. Both approaches create problems at home and abroad.

Third, because many of these post-Soviet efforts are so blatant, they are discrediting history in the minds of many and thus limiting its utility as a means of overcoming the problems of the past and building a better future. While the conference devoted relatively little attention to this problem beyond reporting a poll showing that fewer than one Russian student in three can now name the other former Soviet republics, this may prove the most serious obstacle of all.

But the meeting ended on a remarkably optimistic note-- precisely because these young historians are now focusing on this problem and talking to one another, something they could not have done in the past.


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