Accessibility links

Newsline - February 12, 1999




PRIMAKOV SOURCE CONFIRMS PRIME MINISTER, BEREZOVSKII AT WAR

Tomas Kolesnichenko, a close friend of Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and head of the ANCOM-TASS analytical service, told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 12 February that business tycoon Boris Berezovskii has issued a "declaration of war" to Primakov and that is precisely what is now occurring. Kolesnichenko also confirmed that Berezovskii was the real target of raids on the offices of Sibneft and Aeroflot and that Berezovskii's influence on Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his family is fading (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 3 February 1999). According to the newspaper, Kolesnichenko and Primakov have been friends for the last 40 years. JAC

IMF CLAIMS NO KNOWLEDGE OF CENTRAL BANK'S OFFSHORE HIDEAWAY

An IMF spokeswoman said the fund knows nothing about the Central Bank's use of an offshore firm on the Channel Island of Jersey to manage some of its hard-currency reserves, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported on 11 February. Phil Poole, director of Emerging East European Markets for ING Barings, told RFE/RL that while it is normal for Central Banks to use private financial firms to help invest their foreign reserves, he does not understand why such a firm would have been set up from scratch since any number of reliable firms already exist. He added that the transactions should have come to light during the normal course of IMF routine evaluations. According to the "Financial Times" on 12 February, the transactions were not illegal, but they could "complicate the Russian government's talks with foreign creditors." JAC

PRIMAKOV LOBBYING FOR POLITICAL PACT

At a closed-door session with Duma faction leaders, Prime Minister Primakov managed to soften some factions' opposition to his proposed "political peace treaty," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 February. According to the newspaper, Yabloko transformed its position from one of categorical hostility to "critical equanimity." Before the meeting, the Communist Party outlined a series of demands, such as a fundamental change in the country's socio-economic policy, that would have to be met before it considered joining a political peace effort. The daily noted, citing eyewitness reports, that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov was "far more restrained than usual" at the meeting. However, the newspaper concluded that Primakov's victory is far from final and he will "find it harder and harder...to pacify the contrary Duma deputies with his mere presence alone." Our Home Is Russia faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov told RFE/RL that most factions are still seeking changes in the Russian Constitution. JAC

RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER SLAMS CIA REPORT

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 February accused the U.S. of pursuing a "deliberate policy to discredit Russia's image by portraying it as one of the main culprits in the proliferation of nuclear weapons." The newspaper was responding to the CIA report submitted to the U.S. Congress that named Russia, along with China and North Korea, as main source countries for the proliferation of missile and dual-use technology. First Deputy Prime Yurii Maslyukov, whose views are usually at odds with that of the daily and its patron, influential businessman Boris Berezovskii, voiced a similar charge, suggesting that the accusations must "have been made for political reasons" (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 11 February 1999). The newspaper concluded that in the future, it is possible that "Western democratic states will take control of Russian nuclear weapons if they believe that the situation in Russia poses a threat to the world." JAC

RUSSIA, CHINA EXPRESS CONCERN OVER US-JAPAN MILITARY COOPERATION

Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told reporters on 11 February that both Russia and China are concerned about a package of bills on revised Japanese-U.S. military cooperation now before the Japanese parliament, ITAR-TASS reported. The legislation aims to implement the U.S.-Japan military agreement adopted in 1996, which, according to Rakhmanin, contains vague language calling for a significant strengthening of bilateral military ties in the case of "emergencies in regions adjacent to Japan." JAC

RUSSIA REPEATS DEMAND THAT YUGOSLAVIA REMAIN INTACT

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov repeated Russia's opposition to a split of the Yugoslav Federal Republic, saying "Russia has opposed any settlement [of the Kosova problem], which breaches Yugoslavia's territorial integrity," Interfax reported on 11 February. According to Ivanov, the issue has not even been raised at talks at Rambouillet, France. State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin told Ekho Moskvy on 9 February that Russian armed forces "should take an active part" in any kind of peace-keeping contingent in Kosova. JAC

DEATH TALLY RISES IN SAMARA FIRE

The number of persons who died in the fire that engulfed the regional Interior Ministry headquarters in Samara Oblast has risen to 51, of whom only 17 have been identified, RFE/RL correspondent in Samara reported on 12 February. The official death tally remains much lower. Head of the Federal Security Services Public Relations Center told Interfax that while arson is not the lead theory on why the blaze occurred, it has not been ruled out. JC

FLEETING LIFE SIGNS REGISTERED IN STOCK MARKET...

The Russian stock market has experienced a slight decline after a five-day rally: on 12 February, the Russian Trading System index fell 2.1 percent after rising 5.7 percent the previous day, Bloomberg reported. Despite the five-day rise, analysts believe that real demand for equities has not fully revived and will not for some time. "The long term view is that we need political change, reform, and a feasible economic plan, improvement in tax revenues--all the same issues as before," Gary Kinsey, a trader with Aton Capital Brokerage told AFP. He added, "Otherwise, it will be nothing but hot money and the markets will be in-and-out, up-and-down." JAC

...AS DUMA PASSES FOREIGN INVESTOR PROTECTION LAW

The Duma passed a new version of a law to protect investors on the securities market on 12 February, Interfax reported. The Duma had passed an earlier version of the law in July 1998, but the Federation Council rejected that draft two weeks later. According to the agency, the law would impose strict fines or suspensions on brokers and dealers who infringe on the legal interests of investors. JAC

LENINGRAD, ST. PETERSBURG MERGER STILL YEARS AWAY

Despite support from relevant local officials, Leningrad Oblast Legislative Assembly Chairman Vitalii Klimov believes that it will take two to five years to unite Leningrad Oblast with the city of St. Petersburg, according to "EWI Russian Regional Report" on 11 February. St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev supports the merger, despite the oblast's myriad financial difficulties. The St. Petersburg assembly, whose members were just elected or re-elected in December 1998, have not yet declared their position on the issue. According to the publication, the most difficult part of the unification process will be harmonizing the laws of the two regions. For example, St. Petersburg has a 5 percent sales tax, while Leningrad Oblast does not. Another complicating factor may be upcoming oblast gubernatorial elections on 19 September 1999. JAC

RUSSIA TO SPEND $23 MILLION ON CAUSE OF SLAVIC UNITY?

The executive committee of the Russian-Belarusian Union will consider a draft 1999 budget for the union on 12 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the current draft, expenditures will total 800 million rubles ($35 million), with 520 million rubles contributed by Russia and 280 million rubles contributed by Belarus. In his opening remarks to the committee, Prime Minister Primakov said that the achievement of the "unification of Russia and Belarus must be backed up economically." According to ITAR-TASS, he also said that "a single currency of the Russian-Belarusian Union will be introduced within the coming weeks." JAC

RUSSIAN, INGUSHETIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS CONTROVERSIAL REFERENDUM

Meeting in Moscow on 11 February, Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev and Russian Security Council First Deputy Secretary Vyacheslav Mikhailov failed to reach a compromise whereby Ingushetia would not proceed with the referendum scheduled for 28 February, Interfax reported. That referendum is intended to formalize amendments to the republic's constitution and criminal code, allowing the president to appoint local police chiefs without Moscow's prior sanction and legalizing such local traditions as the abduction of a girl by her future bridegroom. Aushev has said the referendum will take place as planned if further talks on 16 and 17 February do not result in a compromise. LF




LUZHKOV IN YEREVAN

During a one-day visit to Yerevan on 11 February at the head of a delegation of city officials and businessmen, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov signed several agreements with Armenian government officials aimed at expanding economic cooperation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Luzhkov held talks with Prime Minister Armen Darpinian and President Robert Kocharian. Characterizing Armenia as "Russia's strategic partner," Luzhkov said his Otechestvo movement is interested in strengthening cooperation with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation - Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) and other Armenian political parties. Otechestvo and the HHD concluded a cooperation agreement in December 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 1999). LF

MURDERED ARMENIAN OFFICIAL BURIED

General Artsrun Markarian was buried at the Yerablur military cemetery on 11 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian's body was discovered late on 9 February with bullet wounds in the chest and head. Two of his bodyguards who were arrested on suspicion of murder have denied killing him, saying that he threatened them shortly before leaving his car late on the night of 8 February. A senior Armenian official at the Prosecutor-General's Office told ITAR- TASS on 10 February that the possibility of suicide cannot be ruled out. But Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who attended the funeral on 11 February, told Armenian Television that he categorically rejects the theory that Markarian killed himself. LF

CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CLOSED

Acting on a 10 February proposal by President Heidar Aliev, a Baku City court has closed the criminal case against Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported the following day. Elchibey had been accused of insulting the honor and dignity of President Aliyev by claiming he was instrumental in creating the Kurdistan Workers' Party. Elchibey said the charges against him have been dropped because he committed no crime, but an unidentified Western diplomat told Reuters that the decision was the result of international diplomatic pressure on the Azerbaijani leadership. Elchibey has appealed to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, and former acting Premier Shamil Basaev to seek ways of overcoming their differences in order not to jeopardize Chechnya's independence, Turan reported on 11 February. LF

AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER DISCUSSES MILITARY COOPERATION WITH TURKEY

"Obshchaya gazeta" on 11 February quoted Safar Abiev as saying that among the topics of discussion during his official visit to Turkey last December was the possibility of a bilateral military alliance similar to that signed in 1997 by Russia and Armenia, AFP and Interfax reported. Abiev said that Yerevan is helping to train Kurdish terrorists and that "all the Russian military equipment supplied to Armenia will be used in Nagorno- Karabakh if Armenia resumes military actions against Azerbaijan." At the time of Abiev's visit to Turkey, Turan quoted an unnamed source within the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry as saying that Turkey is ready to provide "aid to Azerbaijan" to resolve the Karabakh conflict. LF

COORDINATING COUNCIL DISCUSSES ABKHAZ REPATRIATION

An Abkhaz government delegation headed by Prime Minister Sergei Shamba traveled to Tbilisi on 11 February for a one-day meeting of the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council, which was set up created in November 1997 to address practical aspects of resolving the Abkhaz conflict. Russian Foreign Ministry and OSCE representatives as well as several Western ambassadors also attended the five-hour session. The talks focused on the plan proposed last month by Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba to allow Georgian displaced persons to return to their homes in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. Also on the agenda was the question of how to halt repeated violations of the cease-fire regime in Gali. Bagapsh, who met separately with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, told journalists that the repatriation process will begin on 1 March and that the Abkhaz and Georgian sides hope to reach agreement on the necessary logistical arrangements by 25 February. He said that 18,000 displaced persons have already applied to return and that a special 120-strong militia composed of both Georgians and Abkhaz will be created to protect them. LF

GEORGIAN WARLORD'S LAWYER LODGES APPEAL

Gogmar Gabunia on 11 February appealed to the Georgian Supreme Court to annul the verdict handed down in the trial of Djaba Ioseliani, leader of the Mkhedrioni paramilitary formation, Caucasus Press reported. Ioseliani was sentenced in November 1998 to 11 years in prison on charges treason, robbery, and of attempting to assassinate Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998). Gabunia argues that Ioseliani's trial was illegal, since at the time of his arrest, in November 1995, he was a parliamentary deputy and thus immune from prosecution. He said if the Supreme Court rejects his plea, he will appeal to the International Human Rights court in Strasbourg. In September 1998, Tornike Berishvili, Mkhedrioni's political secretary, quoted the presiding judge at the trial as admitting that the case against Ioseliani is flawed (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 29, 22 September 1998). LF

JAILED GEORGIAN EX-MINISTER URGED TO ABANDON HUNGER STRIKE

Doctors have appealed to former Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani to abandon the hunger strike he began on 3 February, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. Kitovani was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment in 1996 for allegedly attempting to launch an insurrection. He is demanding that the case against him be reopened and that he be formally acquitted (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 6, 10 February 1999). Many observers consider that case to have been fabricated. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO RAISE TARIFF ON KYRGYZ, UZBEK GOODS...

Kazakhstan's Ministry of Energy, Industry, and Trade has announced that foodstuffs and other goods imported from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will be subject to a 200 percent tariff beginning 11 March, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported on 11 February. Two days earlier, Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev had announced import quotas on cooking oil, butter, vegetable oil, cigarettes, and alcoholic and soft drinks from Uzbekistan as well as on margarine, mayonnaise, yeast, and other products from Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan says the quotas will protect domestic producers from lower-priced products from neighboring countries. BP

...DRAWING COMPLAINTS FROM KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev has responded angrily to the import quotas, saying they are another example of an attempt by other CIS countries to isolate his country, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. "The countries of the CIS are sparing no effort to organize an economic blockade against us," Akayev said. He claimed these countries are put out by Kyrgyzstan's entry into the World Trade Organization last year, arguing that the import quotas are an example of the "traditional habit of punishing anybody who moves forward." Akayev added that Uzbekistan is drawing up similar measures. RFE/RL correspondents in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have reported recently that Uzbek customs officials are already charging $16 for every $100 worth of goods crossing into Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan. BP

WORLD BANK APPROVES $100 MILLION LOAN FOR KAZAKHSTAN

The board of directors of the World Bank has approved a $100 million loan to Kazakhstan for the reconstruction and maintenance of roads, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. World Bank experts estimate that only 37 percent of the country's roads are currently in good condition. They also emphasized the importance of an adequate transportation network for domestic and international trade. BP

KARIMOV SAYS HE'LL DEFEND UZBEK INTERESTS AT UPCOMING CIS SUMMIT

Speaking about his 11 February meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Russian Federal Council chairman Yegor Stroev said they "talked openly and eye to eye" and added "we may not agree with [the Uzbek representatives] but we must respect them," ITAR-TASS reported. Stroev spoke highly of Uzbekistan as "the sole country inside the former Soviet Union that has not allowed its industrial production to fall from the 1990 level." He also praised Uzbekistan for combating Islamic fundamentalism, which he described as "a dangerous political phenomenon." Karimov confirmed he will attend the CIS summit on 26 February but warned "it does not mean that I won't insist on the interests of the state that I govern." BP

U.S. COMPANIES AWARDED CONTRACTS IN TURKMEN DEAL

Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov said on 11 February that President Saparmurat Niyazov has selected the companies that will take part in building the Trans-Caspian pipeline, Reuters reported. He also named the U.S. companies Bechtel and General Electric Capital to head the consortium. BP




NATO OFFICIALS EYEING UKRAINIAN TRAINING GROUND

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk gave a NATO delegation a tour of the Yavorovsky military training ground near Lvov on 12 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The delegation is from the alliance's Political Committee and is studying the use of the complex as a NATO Partnership for Peace training base. Yavorovsky is 50 kilometers west of Lvov and just 20 miles from the Polish border. Covering 42,000 hectares, it is reportedly the largest military training ground in Europe. A NATO spokesman said the base would be used strictly for the training of peace-keeping troops. He added that NATO is also considering sites in Slovenia and Macedonia. PB

COAL MINERS PROTEST IN UKRAINE

Workers from at least 78 coal mines have protested to demand back wages for several months, dpa reported on 11 February. Miners threatened blockades and mass demonstrations in Kyiv if their demands are not met. Timur Litovchenko, an analyst for the coal ministry, said "the coffers are empty. What we could give to the miners, we would have to take away from teachers and pensioners." The Independent Miners' Union said the same day that two miners were killed in Horlivka and Donetsk, bringing the total number of Ukrainian miners killed this year to 28. PB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ON FASCIST ATTACK...

Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a threat to fascist groups in Belarus in the wake of an attack on three opposition members, Belapan reported on 10 February. Lukashenka said "We will pull out the legs of all those who walk around Minsk with the fascist swastika. Fascism will not [be allowed] in Belarus!" He then criticized reporters for allegedly supporting the three opposition officials injured in the attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). "You should not defend the other fascists. Those whom you are defending are arrant nationalists...who reject everything Russian. This is extreme nationalism," he argued. PB

...PRAISES INTEGRATION WITH RUSSIA

President Lukashenka said during a trip to Russia's Komi Republic that Belarus and Russia need political and economic integration, Belapan reported on 11 February. Lukashenka said that "fortunately, some of the Russian politicians, as well as we [ourselves], had enough...common sense to try to change the radical situation" that occurred after the break-up of the Soviet Union. While in Komi's capital, Syktyvkar, Lukashenka agreed to a barter deal in which Minsk is to receive 1 million tons of oil in exchange for household appliances and machine-building tools. He said both sides will be able to eliminate barter trade within three years. PB

ESTONIAN LAWMAKERS REJECT 'ONE LIST, ONE CAUCUS'

The parliament has narrowly rejected a draft amendment that would have prevented deputies elected on one list from forming more than one caucus, ETA reported on 11 February. The vote was 50 in favor and two against, but amendments to house regulations require an absolute majority (at least 51 votes) to pass. The Center and Reform Parties had both proposed introducing the principle of "one list, one caucus." Had the motion passed, the Moderates and the People's Parties, which will run on a joint list in the 7 March elections, would have been unable to set up separate caucuses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1999). JC

LUKOIL PRESIDENT IN TALLINN

Continuing his tour of the Baltic States to study potential investments in oil transit projects, Vagit Alekperov met with Estonian Roads and Communications Minister Raivo Vare in Tallinn on 11 February to discuss the possible launching of a shuttle train from Perm to Estonia's ports, ETA reported. Oil transit through Estonia is dependent on the railways, and according to the news agency, some 1.2 million tons a year would be transported via the Perm-Estonia shuttle. Also on 11 February, the Road and Communications Ministry announced that final results of the Eesti Telekom tender show that shares were oversubscribed by 18 times. On the first day of trading on the Tallinn stock exchange, the value of the shares increased by one-third, from 85 kroons (some $6.5) to 115 kroons. JC

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT TO DISCUSS 16 MARCH COMMEMORATION

Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans told Latvian Radio on 11 February that the government will discuss how to commemorate 16 March, which last summer was officially declared Latvian Soldiers Day, BNS reported. He referred to the 16 March as the "day of alien uniforms." The government said earlier that it will hold no special ceremony to commemorate the day. Also on 11 February, Commander of the National Armed Forces Raimonds Graube, addressing the forces' annual meeting, said Latvia should explain the "particular status" of Latvian soldiers during World War II to avoid a "misunderstanding of their role in the war." Graube's predecessor, Juris Dalbins, was forced to resign over his participation in a service commemorating Latvian Waffen-SS soldiers who fell during the war. JC

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT AGAIN REJECTS OMBUDSMAN

Lawmakers on 11 February voted by 69 to 64 to reject for a second time Kestutis Lapinskas as ombudsman, ELTA reported. As in the earlier vote, the ruling Conservatives strongly opposed the appointment of Lapinskas, who, in accordance with the constitution, was nominated by the president and must be endorsed by the parliament. According to the news agency, "Lietuvos Aidas" quoted President Valdas Adamkus, who is currently vacationing in Mexico, as saying he does not yet know how he will respond to the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1999). JC

LITHUANIA TO HALT ELECTRICITY SUPPLIES TO BELARUS?

The Lithuanian Economy Ministry will propose halting electricity supplies to Belarus if Minsk fails to make a decision over how to pay for deliveries, ELTA reported on 12 February. Under a 1998 agreement, Lietuvos Energija supplied electricity worth some $89 million to Belenergo, with the Lithuanian-registered company Baltic Schem acting as intermediary in the deal. However, according to company records, Lietuvos Energija received only some $2 million from Baltic Schem. Lietuvos Energija is now being sued for large-scale embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 1999). JC

EU REJECTS WARSAW CALL FOR END TO SUBSIDIZED EXPORTS

The EU rejected a request on 11 February for an end to subisidized EU agricultural exports to Eastern Europe, Reuters reported. The EU's Executive Commission in Brussels said it will not change its farm export policy to suit Poland. Polish Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz made a call the previous day on behalf of four other East European finance ministers for the exports to stop (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 1999). The commission said agricultural trade between the EU and Poland is regulated in a bilateral trade accord. In Warsaw, Polish Agriculture Minister Jacek Janiszewski blamed subsidized imports for the recent farmers' protests in Poland. Janiszewski said Poland may subsidize farm exports to Russia in an effort to help farmers. PB

END OF YALTA FOR POLAND

Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek will hand over documents to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 12 March ratifying Poland's entry into NATO, AP reported. Government spokesman Jaroslaw Sellin said that day will mark "the final cancellation of the Yalta agreements." PB

CZECH REPUBLIC READY TO JOIN NATO NEXT MONTH

General Klaus Naumann, head of NATO's Military Committee, told journalists in Prague on 11 February that by early March, Prague will fulfill all conditions for joining NATO, AP reported. He was speaking after meeting with Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy. Naumann warned against hasty investments in weaponry, saying that new NATO members should first invest "in areas where interoperability must be achieved, such as communications and intelligence." He also said the Czech air force will have to modernize its obsolete Soviet-made jets. CTK quoted Vetchy as assuring Naumann that by the end of February, enough personnel will have undergone the required security vetting. Naumann also met with Premier Milos Zeman, who said NATO must consider purchasing some high-quality Czech-made military equipment. Parliamentary chairman Vaclav Klaus assured him that the legislature will approve all legislation related to the country's obligations on joining NATO. MS

GRAVES OPENED AS PART OF DUCKY MURDER INVESTIGATION

Slovak police are opening up six graves in connection with the investigation of the murder of former Economy Minister Jan Ducky last month, Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner said on 11 February. Pittner said that the move was prompted by clues included in the letter he received from a person claiming to have been contracted to murder Ducky (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1999). He said the author of the letter set six conditions for revealing his own identity, and one of those conditions made the police decide to uncover the graves, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK DEPUTIES REJOIN CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY

Four deputies elected to the parliament on the list of the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) on 11 February were officially re-admitted to the Christian Democratic Party (KDH). KDH chairman and Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky told CTK that the four had joined the SDK to circumvent the law passed by the previous parliament that increased the vote percentage required to overcome the electoral hurdle for party alliances and prompted a five-party coalition to set up the SDK. Carnogursky said the deputies' return to the KDH is accordance with an agreement reached before the elections, but he added that discussions are currently under way within the SDK to preserve the party as a unified group and that Premier Mikulas Dzurinda supports this option. MS

HUNGARIAN INFLATION DROPS TO LOWEST RATE IN OVER A DECADE

For the first time in 11 years, Hungary's annual inflation rate has fallen below 10 percent, the Central Statistics Office reported on 11 February. The inflation rate was 9.8 percent in January 1999, compared with 10.3 percent in December 1998. Analysts expect inflation to continue to decrease over the next few months. MSZ




RAMBOUILLET TALKS TO GO INTO SECOND WEEK

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in Rambouillet on 11 February that the talks aimed at reaching a political settlement for Kosova will continue for another week. Cook charged that the Serbs are "blocking progress" by insisting that the Kosovars formally sign a 10-point statement of basic principles, according to which Kosova would remain part of Yugoslavia, the "Financial Times" reported. Cook wants both sides to concentrate on discussion of a 24-page draft plan for an overall settlement. The Serbs signed the declaration on 11 February. The Kosovars fear that signing the document at this stage could prejudice the outcome of the final settlement, particularly regarding eventual independence for the province, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SERBS REMAIN FIRM...

Serbian President Milan Milutinovic said in Paris on 12 February that the 10-point declaration represents a "minimum" acceptable program for Belgrade. He denied Cook's assertion that the Serbian side is holding up the talks. Milutinovic blamed the Albanians' refusal to sign the declaration for the lack of progress. PM

...WHILE BUILDING UP THEIR FORCES?

Xhemail Mustafa, who is a spokesman for shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova, said in Prishtina on 12 February that the Serbian authorities have been bringing in additional security forces to the province during the Rambouillet talks. The previous day, the Kosovars' KIC news agency reported that 18 busses carrying paramilitary police arrived in the province. There has been no independent confirmation of the alleged buildup. PM

KOSOVARS BURY RECAK VICTIMS

Some 10,000 Kosovars attended the funeral in Recak of some 40 ethnic Albanians killed by Serbian forces in January. Spokesmen for the local Kosovars, who fled the village after the massacre, said that they came home only for the funeral and left again afterward because Serbian forces are stationed nearby. PM

U.S. MARINES TO KOSOVA?

The "Washington Post" reported on 12 February that about 2,200 marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who are now on ships in the Mediterranean, will be the advance party for a larger U.S. contingent of ground troops to help enforce any settlement in Kosova that emerges from the Rambouillet talks. In London, British Secretary of State for Defense George Robertson told parliament that an unspecified number of tanks and other armored vehicles, as well as up to 8,000 troops, "have been put on alert" for possible rapid deployment to Kosova, "The Independent" reported. Robertson said the move reflects "prudent military contingency planning and in no way does it prejudge any decision" to send a force to the province. Observers note that the force is expected to be mainly European and under a European commander. PM

ITALIAN POLICE SEIZE ARMS BOUND FOR ALBANIA

Police in Trieste found around 50 weapons--including guns, rifles, a mortar, and a crossbow--and 5,000 rounds of ammunition hidden in a truck from Switzerland that was waiting for a ferry bound for Albania, AP reported on 11 February. Police investigators said that they believe that the arms were ultimately destined for Kosova. Most observers believe that the headquarters of the Kosova Liberation Army is located in Switzerland. PM

DRASKOVIC CHARGES KOSOVARS WITH 'NAZI' PROGRAM

Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic said in Paris on 11 February that "in Rambouillet, [the Serbian delegation is] fighting for the concept of a multi-ethnic, democratic [Kosova]. The Albanian delegation represents the concept of an ethnically pure, ethnically clean Albanian...[province that will become] part of greater Albania tomorrow. That's a concept very close to the Nazi concept." The following day, he charged that "some hope for a failure of the conference. I am not thinking of the Europeans. Some oppose a favorable outcome in order to impose their own solution," he added. Draskovic accused the U.S. and NATO of supporting ethnic Albanian "terrorists." Draskovic is a long- standing nationalist opposition leader who recently joined the government of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

MILO DENIES 'GREATER ALBANIAN' AGENDA

Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said in Warsaw on 11 February that there is no "greater Albanian" political program that aims at uniting all Balkan territories where Albanians form a large part of the population. He added that the concept of a greater Albania "comes from Serb propaganda and is not our political idea." Observers note that many Albanian nationalists have espoused a greater Albanian political program since the mid-19th century. A greater Albanian state existed briefly under Italian occupation during World War II. Establishing a greater Albania is not a primary goal of any mainstream party in Kosova, Macedonia or Albania. PM

MACEDONIA SAYS CHINA WILL NOT BLOCK UN MANDATE

Macedonian Information Minister Rexhep Zlatku said in Taipei on 12 February that his country's decision to recognize Taiwan "was the result of a long period of study" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report, 3 February 1999). He added that China will not demean itself by blocking the renewal of the mandate of UN peacekeepers in Macedonia because "China is big and we are small" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). Zlatku heads a large Macedonian delegation visiting Taiwan. PM

ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES LAW ON STATE SECRETS

Legislators on 11 February passed a law classifying various state documents as secret. The act is based on U.S. legislation. The final version does not include a paragraph from an earlier draft banning the press from publishing secret documents. In deleting that paragraph, legislators argued that it is the sole responsibility of state officials to ensure state secrets are not leaked, "Shekulli" reported. The penal code of 1995 includes two paragraphs specifying penalties for breach of state secrets but does not specify what a state secret is. FS

ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER DENIES KNOWLEDGE OF PHONE TAPPING

Pandeli Majko said on 11 February in Tirana that he knows nothing about the tapping of Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha's telephone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 1999). Majko stressed that under the new constitution, the Prosecutor- General's Office, which has bugged Berisha's phone, is no longer subordinated to him. He has nonetheless asked Justice Minister Thimio Kondi to explain to him the procedure that led to a court decision to tap Berisha's telephone. Kondi told "Shekulli" that the tapping is legal and denied that the authorities have political motives for taking that action. Kondi said that unnamed judges have violated the new law on state secrets by leaking the story about the tapping to the press. Democratic Party Secretary Fatos Beja responded that the parliament adopted the law on state secrets only after the story about the tapping broke. FS

EXTREMIST ROMANIAN SENATOR TO LOSE PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY?

The Senate's Judicial Commission on 11 February voted to allow the lifting of parliamentary immunity by a simple majority of Senate members instead of the two-thirds majority required until now, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The opposition boycotted the meeting. The Senate must now approve the change, which is aimed mainly at lifting the immunity of Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor. On 10 February, the Chamber of Deputies' Judiciary Commission adopted a similar decision, paving the way for lifting the immunity of Gabriel Bivolaru, a deputy of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania who is accused of forgery and fraud. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN SAYS MOSCOW VISIT 'PRODUCTIVE'

Dumitru Diacov, returning from Moscow on 11 February, told journalists that an agreement has been reached whereby Moldova will deliver goods worth $70 million in partial payment of its debt to Gazprom, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Agreement has also been reached on convening a meeting in Odessa in April or May to discuss the Transdniester conflict. Representatives of Chisinau, Tiraspol, the Russian State Duma, the Ukrainian parliament, and the OSCE will attend the meeting. Diacov said his hosts assured him that a new version of the Russian-Moldovan basic treaty is currently being drafted to replace the 1990 treaty, which President Boris Yeltsin withdrew from the Duma. He added that the new version will be ready for signing in 1999, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. But he added that meetings with members of Duma committees were "tense" and revealed support for "Transdniester separatism." MS

FURTHER PROGRESS IN NEGOTIATIONS ON NEW MOLDOVAN CABINET

Following the latest round of negotiations between the ruling Alliance for Democracy and Reforms leaders and Premier-designate Serafim Urecheanu, Diacov told journalists that another "step forward" has been taken and that the names of the new ministers will be made public within the next few days. He said some differences of opinion still exist, which, he added, is "normal when negotiations are on-going." Diacov also said that Urecheanu is no longer considering the participation of the Party of Moldovan Communists in the new cabinet, but he noted that the participation of extra-parliamentary formations in the government is possible, "provided the legislature agrees to it," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL URGES BULGARIANS TO FORGET 'PAST DIVISIONS'

David Atkinson, a British lawmaker who is a member of a Council of Europe team monitoring Bulgaria's democratic progress, has urged Bulgarians to ignore political divisions stemming from the communist past in order to make quicker progress toward democracy, AP reported on 10 February. Responding to a journalist's allegation that the opposition Socialist Party has not yet broken with its Stalinist past, Atkinson said countries such as Cyprus, Yugoslavia, and the Caucasus states fail "to move forward" because they "continue to recall the past, and this condemns the future." MS




COUNTING TROUBLE IN THE FORMER SOVIET UNION


By Paul Goble

The population census just completed in Azerbaijan and the one about to held in Kazakhstan open a new era for the post- Soviet states, one in which they are likely to discover just how political population statistics inevitably are.

Yuri Shokamanov, the deputy chairman of Kazakhstan's statistical administration, announced earlier this week that on 25 February, his agency will conduct its first census since the 1989 USSR count. Azerbaijan has just completed taking its first post-Soviet population census, and several other former Soviet republics will follow suit over the next two years. (Armenia and Kyrgyzstan intended to conduct censuses this year but have postponed them for financial reasons.)

But in making this announcement, Shokamanov did not call attention to just how dramatic a step his government's action really is or just how much controversy such undertaking are almost certain to generate.

For three reasons, these first post-Soviet censuses are likely to be especially controversial. First, there will be heated debates over just which questions to ask and equally which questions not to ask. Should the census-takers ask questions about ethnicity and nationality or only about citizenship? If they ask about ethnicity, the censuses in several of these countries are likely to reveal major shifts in the percentage of various national groups.

In Ukraine, for example, surveys suggest that the percentage of the population that will declare itself ethnically Russian is likely to be far smaller than the percentage that identified itself that way in the last Soviet census of 1989.

Such shifts would almost certainly have major and immediate political consequences, and thus there will be some who are likely to advocate that the census-takers avoid such questions. But if the census does not ask questions about ethnicity, there will similarly be consequences. Some ethnic minorities will undoubtedly conclude that they are going to be "swallowed up" or at least ignored by the dominant group. Thus, these minorities almost certainly will fight to include questions about ethnicity as a way to help preserve their status in the post-Soviet states.

Second, there are going to be political battles over which information to release and when. Because many people in the post- Soviet states retain their Soviet-era reluctance to provide full and accurate information to officials who ask for it, at least some of them are going to be concerned about the release of any information from the census. Some will undoubtedly argue that census data should be kept extremely confidential, lest their declarations come back to haunt them.

But at the same time, any efforts by officialdom to impose controls over the release of information from the census almost certainly will increase suspicions that the results have been distorted to benefit officials at the expense of the citizenry as a whole.

And third, there are going to be even more intense struggles over how the information gathered is used for political redistricting or for budgetary allocations. These last struggles are likely to continue well after the censuses are completed.

If the data gathered are used to change the size of electoral districts or to change the allocation of funds, those who would benefit will press for its release, while those who would lose will almost certainly oppose it. And if, as seems certain, these censuses prove to be incomplete--journalists can be counted on to highlight cases where the census-takers have missed someone--then many people in this region are likely to look at any use of the numbers gathered as a political plot.

None of these fights is unusual. In the U.S., for example, questions about how to conduct the census in the year 2000 have already divided the Congress and sparked a series of closely- contested court cases--just as they did before earlier counts.

But because the post-Soviet states will be conducting these surveys for the first time and will almost certainly want to establish precedents that break from past and not always satisfactory Soviet practice, all these controversies are likely to be even greater. And thus something that on the face of it seems quite neutral--the counting of the population--could become one of the most contentious political issues across this region over the next two years.


XS
SM
MD
LG