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Newsline - March 24, 1999




RUSSIA CONDEMNS EXPECTED NATO STRIKES...

In a rare show of unanimity, Moscow officials insisted that expected NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia would widen the conflict and dangerously undermine the role of the UN. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev repeated an earlier prediction that air strikes will result in "another Vietnam," and both Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said Russia will reconsider its cooperation agreement with NATO. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that NATO troops in Yugoslavia would trigger a "very difficult and bloody war" for which "Americans will have to prepare zinc coffins." He added that if troops are introduced without the agreement of the UN Security Council, people "will start to question the need for the UN in the first place." As of late morning 24 March, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was reported still waiting for a response from the U.S. to a message he sent earlier to his U.S. counterpart. JAC

...PROMISES MILITARY ASSISTANCE

Seleznev pledged that if NATO launches air strikes against Yugoslavia, Moscow will immediately provide powerful weapons to Belgrade. Fellow Communist faction member and Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin called for an emergency meeting of the Duma and the Security Council to discuss "whether to provide Yugoslavia with a reliable air defense systems to reduce their casualties." Meanwhile, General Anatolii Kvashnin, chief of staff of the armed forces, held a meeting of top military officials on 24 March to prepare a possible Russian response if NATO bombs are dropped, ITAR- TASS reported. Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii told Ekho Moskvy that he is ordering charter flights to dispatch volunteers to Yugoslavia. JAC

START-II'S FATE TIED WITH YUGOSLAVIA

Duma speaker Seleznev suggested that the ratification of START-II will be in doubt if airstrikes occur. He explained that although the Duma is unlikely to be able to debate the treaty on 2 April, as originally scheduled, it will take up the issue "soon" if the Kosova situation "develops favorably." Defense Committee Chairman and member of Our Home Is Russia faction Roman Popkovich said earlier that the Duma will not be able to consider the treaty before mid-April, even though it was recently put on the Duma's schedule for 2 April. JAC

PRIMAKOV'S U.S. TRIP CANCELLED

Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov cancelled his trip to the U.S. in mid-air on 23 March to protest the expected NATO airstrikes. Primakov's plane was heading to the U.S. when after a 15-minute telephone call with Vice President Al Gore, Primakov ordered the plane back to Moscow. Primakov told reporters after landing that he had said to Gore: "Think it over once more, Mr. Vice President. I have the impression that you are not considering all the consequences," NTV reported. He added that NATO strikes will not only destabilize the situation in Kosova but "affect relations between Russian and the U.S. and damage stability in Europe." As a result of the cancellation, a ceremony unveiling two new large U.S. company-sponsored projects in the Russian oil sector was postponed, Reuters reported. JAC

RUSSIA, IMF TO MEET IN THIRD COUNTRY?

After returning to Moscow on 24 March, Prime Minister Primakov explained that although the upcoming meetings with the IMF are important, Russia "does not trade in principles: the [Kosova] problem is one thing, and negotiations with the IMF are another." Primakov told reporters that IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus said he would like to meet within the next few days and did not rule out that their meeting might take place in a third country. Communist Party leader Zyuganov was blase about the meeting's postponement, saying that "the IMF give these credits to itself not to us. They will simply transfer the money from one account to another to cover debts." JAC

LEBED EMERGES TRIUMPHANT IN COAL BATTLE?

At a meeting of the board of directors of the Krasnoyarsk Coal Company (Krasugol) on 20 March, Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov supported Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed's new plan to save the company from bankruptcy, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 March. Board members also elected Vladimir Bondarchenko, a former Krai level official, as director of the company. The company's former director was arrested last week on suspicion of embezzlement. At the meeting, Lebed announced that he has found the money to cover the company's 72 million ruble ($2.7 million) debt (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 March 1999). According to the newspaper, a firm controlled by Lebed's younger brother, Aleksei, who is the president of the Republic of Khakassia, will supply the funds. According to the older Lebed, the krai and federal government officials will sign an agreement clearing up all issues related to the company. JAC

MORE DISMISSALS FOLLOW

Prime Minister Primakov on 23 March dismissed First Deputy State Property Minister Aleksandr Braverman, Russian deputy manager at the EBRD Aleksei Kudrin, and Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Igor Kozhukhovskii. Kudrin has been replaced by First Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. In addition, the Argumenty i Fakty-Novosti news agency reported that first deputy head of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev has tendered his resignation; however, Moscow's Center TV was unable to verify that report. Sysuev has been under fire recently, having been accused of arranging the showing on national television of a man who looks like Prosecutor- General Yurii Skuratov dallying with two young women. Sysuev denied the allegation. JAC

NEO-NAZIS HOSTING GATHERINGS AROUND RUSSIA

After an unsuccessful attempt to hold a national convention in Moscow, the neo-nazi group Russian National Unity (RNE) has staged smaller meetings in 10 Russian cities, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 March. Attendance varied from 30 persons in St. Petersburg to 300 in Stavropol, according to the daily. Meetings were also held in Krasnodar, Perm, Ekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Kaliningrad, Novosibirsk, Dmitrov (Moscow Oblast), and Berezniki (Perm Oblast). The organization is strongest in Stavropol, according to the newspaper. The head of the krai's governor's press service, Sergei Belokon, explained that "Stavropol is prepared to work with all law- abiding organizations. Of course, no one likes Nazi salutes or swastikasbut the governor will not support either the Right or the Left." JAC

INDIA, RUSSIA PLEDGE TO DEEPEN MILITARY COOPERATION

Defense Minister Sergeev wrapped up an official trip to India on 23 March by announcing that Russia and India will sign this year a declaration of strategic partnership. According to Sergeev, the two countries have a similar approach to "most of the important problems of international security," such as NATO enlargement, the Kosova and Afghan situations, and "U.S. plans to withdraw from the [anti-ballistic missile] treaty." Sergeev signed a military cooperation agreement with his counterpart, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandez, the previous day. Under the agreement, Russia will train Indian defense personnel at its military academies. Fernandez is to visit Moscow later this year, and in June, Russia will deliver its first model T-90S tanks to India for testing. JAC

CHECHEN AUTHORITIES DETAIN SHPIGUN ABDUCTION SUSPECTS

Chechen Shariah Security Ministry officials told Interfax and ITAR-TASS on 23 March that an unspecified number of people have been arrested on suspicion of participating in the 5 March abduction from Grozny airport of Russian Interior Ministry General Gennadii Shpigun. A Russian Interior Ministry official told ITAR-TASS two days earlier that the gang responsible for Shpigun's abduction also kidnapped Russian Presidential envoy Valentin Vlasov last year. For this reason, the official added, the group is known as "Vlasovka." It is believed to be loyal to former Vice President Vakha Arsanov, an ally of field commander Shamil Basaev. The Chechen police have issued identikit pictures of two persons suspected of exploding the car bomb that failed to kill President Aslan Maskhadov on 21 March. Krasnoyarsk Governor Lebed told Interfax on 23 March that he believes Basaev and fellow field commander Khottab organized that attack. LF




AZERBAIJAN DETAINS RUSSIAN PLANE TRANSPORTING MIGS

A Russian cargo plane carrying six disassembled MiG-21 fighters remains on the ground at Baku's Bina airport, where it landed late on 18 March for a routine refueling stop. Azerbaijani customs officials impounded the aircraft, suspecting that the MiGs were destined for Yugoslavia. The Azerbaijani Prosecutor- General's Office and the Russian Foreign Ministry both said that the cargo plane was en route from Taldy-Kurgan in Kazakhstan to Bratislava, but crew members said initially they were headed for Yugoslavia and then gave their destination as Pyongyang, Turan reported on 23 March. Kazakh officials confirmed that the cargo plane landed in Taldy- Kurgan on 18 March and took off for Baku the same day, but they disclaimed any knowledge of its cargo. Slovak Defense Ministry officials told AP they are not aware of any planned delivery of MiGs to that country. ITAR-TASS reported on 24 March that transportation of the MiGs was arranged by the Czech firm Agroplast. LF

GERMANY HANDS OVER OTTOMAN DOCUMENTS TO ARMENIA

In a ceremony in Yerevan on 23 March, Germany's ambassador to Armenia, Carolla Mueller-Holtkemper, presented to President Robert Kocharian 56 volumes of copies of archival material collected by the German diplomatic missions in Istanbul from1889 to 1920, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The documents may shed light on the mass killings and deportations of more than 1 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. The German move was in response to what Mueller-Holtkemper termed Yerevan's "noble gesture" in handing back to the German government last May 575 old German manuscripts that constituted Armenia's share of so-called trophy art, which Soviet troops confiscated from Germany in 1945. LF

ARMENIAN HEALTH MINISTER OFFERS TO MAKE AIDS DRUG AVAILABLE

Addressing a medical conference in Yerevan on 23 March, Hayk Nikoghosian invited people who are suffering from AIDS or are HIV-positive to participate in clinical tests of the Armenicum drug, which has cured 14 persons who had contracted the disease, Reuters and AP reported. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said that foreigners wishing to travel to Armenia for treatment should apply to the Armenian embassy in their country of residence. She added that a number of Russians and Ukrainians have already contacted her ministry to request treatment. LF

NEW ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER PLANNED?

A spokesman for Akezhan Kazhegeldin's Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan told RFE/RL's Almaty bureau on 24 March that the party has been informed by an agent for the country's National Security Ministry of a new plan to kill Kazhegeldin. The party has held a special congress to discuss that information. Kazhegeldin, who was barred from participating in the January 1999 presidential elections, was shot at while exercising his horse near Almaty last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1998). LF

KAZAKHSTAN ASSESSES PROSPECTS OF WTO MEMBERSHIP

In negotiating the terms for its admission to the World Trade Organization, Kazakhstan must try to obtain most-favored- nation status for its exports and schedule a transition period during which its legislation will be brought into line with international standards, Fakhra Usmanova, who is a senior official in Kazakhstan's Energy, Industry, and Trade Ministry, told colleagues at a workshop in Astana on 23 March, Interfax reported. Usmanova said Kazakhstan "is not in a hurry" to join the WTO and that domestic industries have to prepare for "stiff competition" on an open market. She added that Kazakhstan has been engaged in negotiations with the EU for three years over an increase in its rolled iron and steel quotas. LF

CENSUS BEGINS IN KYRGYZSTAN

From 24 March to 1 April, Kyrgyzstan will conduct a population census to provide comprehensive information on which future economic and social programs will be based, Interfax reported, quoting the chairman of the country's National Statistical Committee, Zarylbek Kudabaev. The census form contains questions on the respondent's family status, nationality, native language, and education. It also asks details of employment and sources of income as well as whether a respondent without employment is actively seeking a job. Women are required to state how many children they have given birth to and how many survived. LF

SEVEN SENTENCED FOR ROLE IN TAJIK INSURGENCY

The Military Collegium of Tajikistan's Supreme Court on 23 March handed down sentences of 10-14 years in prison to seven people who took part in the abortive attack in October 1997 on presidential guard detachments in Tursunzade, western Tajikistan. The attack was launched by supporters of rebel Colonel Makhmud Khudoiberdiev, AP-Blitz reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 1997). LF

POLL SUGGESTS URBAN TAJIK SOCIETY POLARIZED

A USAID poll of 533 residents of Dushanbe indicates that 43 percent of respondents would like to live in a "Western-style society" while 36 percent prefer communism, Interfax reported on 23 March. While 42 percent preferred a one-party system, 38 percent were in favor of a multi-party one. The most popular political party was the Communist Party (28 percent); only 5 percent of those questioned expressed support for the Islamic Rebirth Party. But irrespective of other political preferences, 71 percent of those polled expressed confidence in the ability of President Imomali Rakhmonov to steer the country out of its present crisis. LF




UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES WORLD BANK LOAN...

Lawmakers on 23 March approved a $200 million loan from the World Bank to modernize Kyiv's heating system. The Communist-dominated parliament had voted down the loan deal earlier this month, arguing that foreign loans do more harm than good to the Ukrainian economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). JM

...FAILS TO APPROVE 1999 PRIVATIZATION PLAN

The same day, the parliament fell 52 votes short of the required majority to approve the 1999 privatization program submitted by President Leonid Kuchma last month. Lawmakers also failed to muster enough votes to reject the program, which means it will go into effect if the legislature does not reject by the end of this week. The program envisages revenues totaling 800 million hryvni ($228 million) from the privatization of 455 large and medium-sized companies and 5,500 small firms. The parliament also rejected Kuchma's proposal to impose a new tax on cellular phone users. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET WITHDRAWS TAX BREAKS FOR JOINT VENTURES

The Ukrainian government on 23 March revoked tax breaks that allowed joint ventures with foreign partners to import goods without paying customs duties, AP reported. "We simply do not have a choice," Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko commented, adding that duty-free imports by joint ventures are "drawing the blood out of the economy and causing us to lose budget revenues." JM

BELARUS SAYS DRAFT TREATY ON UNION WITH RUSSIA READY

Alyaksandr Kozyr, head of the Belarusian half of the commission on preparing a treaty on the Belarus-Russia union, said on 23 March that the commission has already prepared a draft treaty. According to Kozyr, the draft envisions the creation of a bicameral union parliament, with the upper chamber having equal representation from the legislatures of Belarus and Russia and the lower chamber elected by the population of either country. The draft does not introduce the post of president of the Belarus-Russia union. "We speak about the union of two sovereign states, each headed by [its own] president. If a third president, with wide powers and legitimacy, were placed above the two heads of state, a Bermuda triangle would be created that might wreck very good ideas," Kozyr told Belarusian Television. JM

ESTONIA'S KALLAS TO APPEAR IN COURT AGAIN NEXT MONTH

Siim Kallas, the head of the Reform Party and the designated finance minister in the new right-wing government, will appear in a Tallinn district court in mid-April after a prosecutor appealed a lower court ruling, ETA reported on 23 March. Kallas has been acquitted of charges of abuse of power, giving false information, and intended embezzlement in the so-called $10 million affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1999). The prosecutor, however, has demanded that Kallas be given a one-year suspended prison sentence. JC

TARAND TO HEAD ESTONIAN COALITION COUNCIL

Andres Tarand, leader of the Moderates, has been appointed head of the ruling alliance's Coalition Council, ETA reported on 23 March. The nine-member council will be responsible for proposing changes within the ruling coalition and the cabinet, preparing important political decisions, and solving disputes within the three-party alliance. Before the elections, Tarand had been widely tipped as the next prime minister. Analysts expressed surprise when he was not given a post in the new government. JC

RIGAS KOMERCBANKA DECLARED INSOLVENT

The Riga Regional Court, responding to a petition by the Latvian Central Bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999), has declared Rigas Komercbanka insolvent, LETA reported on 23 March. The bank has one month in which to submit a recovery plan, but according to the news agency, neither Finance Minister Ivars Godmanis nor Bank of Latvia President Einars Repse is optimistic about its chances of success. During the 23 March court proceedings, a Bank of Latvia official revealed that Rigas Komercbanka lost 29 million lats (some $50 million) in Russia last year and 1.6 million lats so far in 1999. JC

LITHUANIAN LAWMAKERS BOW TO PRESIDENT OVER COMPETITION LAW

The parliament voted by 92 to three with six abstentions to pass an amended version of the competition law that includes recommendations by President Valdas Adamkus, who had vetoed the law for a second time earlier this month, ELTA reported on 23 March. Adamkus had requested, among other things, that the president be granted the right to appoint the Competition Council's five members on the recommendation of the premier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). According to the news agency, the ruling Conservatives, while arguing that the amendments were not essential, wanted to avoid another dispute with the head of state. JC

MOSCOW STRESSES CONCERN OVER DESCRATED GRAVES OF FORMER SOVIET SOLDIERS

The Russian Foreign Ministry, adding its voice to that of the Russian Embassy in Vilnius (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999), has expressed concern over "recurrent acts of vandalism against the graves of former Soviet servicemen in Lithuania," ELTA reported on 23 March. The ministry urged the Lithuanian to punish those responsible for such acts. JC

POLISH OFFICIAL RESIGNS OVER LUSTRATION REPORT

Deputy Economy Minister Janusz Koczurba resigned his post on 23 March after the government's mouthpiece, "Monitor Polski," published his statement admitting collaboration with the Communist-era secret services. Koczurba told PAP that his collaboration "concerned only Poland's external interests, especially economic," adding that it ended 15 years ago. Koczurba was in charge of Poland's economic relations with the EU. Meanwhile, Marek Dukaczewski, an undersecretary in the presidential National Security Bureau who has admitted working in a Communist-era military intelligence service, will remain in his post. President Aleksander Kwasniewski said he knew about Dukaczewski's past activities before he appointed him and sees no reason for any "personnel consequences." JM

POLAND'S RULING COALITION QUARRELS OVER CABINET RESHUFFLE

Solidarity Electoral Action [AWS] and its coalition partner, the Freedom Union [UW], are arguing over ministerial posts in an ongoing government reshuffle, Polish media reported. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek has already cut the size of his cabinet by dismissing five ministers without portfolio, all of whom were from the AWS. AWS activist Kazimierz Janiak believes that the UW should give up one of the ministries in favor of the AWS in order to "maintain the balance." Andrzej Potocki of the UW says the union does not want to be "maneuvered into a battle for posts." It is widely expected that Buzek--in a bid to increase the government's popularity--will replace the ministers of health, education, and telecommunications (AWS portfolios) as well as of culture and defense (UW). JM

HAVEL CALLS ON MILOSEVIC TO ACCEPT NATO DEMANDS

President Vaclav Havel on 24 March called on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to "unconditionally and as quickly as possible meet [NATO] demands." He said Milosevic is "unequivocally responsible" for any NATO action, CTK reported. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said Prague will evacuate its remaining staff from its Belgrade embassy if the air strikes begin. Some staff were evacuated on 22 March. Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy said the next day that the Czech field hospital will be sent to the region only if the Yugoslavs agree to the deployment of a NATO peacekeeping force in the province. MS

MECIAR URGED TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT

The leadership of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has asked its leader, former premier Vladimir Meciar, to reconsider his refusal to be the party's candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for 15 May, HZDS spokesman Igor Zvach told CTK on 23 March. Following his defeat in the September 1998 parliamentary elections, Meciar said he would not run for the post. He resigned from the parliament, saying he was determined to "leave public life." MS

ORBAN SAYS HUNGARY'S SECURITY NOT THREATENED BY KOSOVA CRISIS

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he does not fear any threat to Hungary's security from expected NATO air strikes against neighboring Yugoslavia, Hungarian media reported on 24 March. Orban said that in line with a decision by the parliament, Hungarian soldiers "will not leave the country." Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Lajos Erdelyi told state television that Hungary would not be directly involved in the air attacks but would make its air space available to NATO. The daily "Nepszabadsag" wrote, however, that the Taszar military base in southwestern Hungary might become a target because it is within striking range of Yugoslav missiles and artillery. MSZ

SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER IN BUDAPEST

Mikulas Dzurinda, paying a "private" visit to Hungary on 23 March at the invitation of Premier Viktor Orban, discussed with his host Slovakia's bid for Euro-Atlantic integration, the status of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia and Bratislava's pending minority language bill, Hungarian media reported. In other news, Reformed Bishop Laszlo Tokes, honorary chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, said dual citizenship for all Hungarians, which various Hungarian minority groups living close to Hungary are demanding, could "in principle " be replaced by "a special status." He also remarked that Hungary's NATO membership could "provide indirect protection for Hungarian ethnic minorities." Tokes was speaking in Budapest at a 23 March meeting between Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi and leaders of ethnic Hungarian parties abroad. MSZ




SOLANA ORDERS AIR STRIKES AGAINST SERBIA

NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana said in Brussels after talks with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke on 23 March that diplomatic efforts to end the crisis in Kosova have failed. Solana added that he has authorized General Wesley Clark, who is the alliance's supreme commander in Europe, to "initiate air operations in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." Clark will select targets and determine when they will be attacked. Observers noted that NATO is likely to launch cruise missiles to cripple Serbian anti-aircraft systems and then send in aircraft. PM

WESTERN LEADERS STRESS NEED TO SAVE KOSOVAR LIVES

U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in their respective capitals on 23 March that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is responsible for the failure of diplomacy to end the crisis. They stressed that NATO now has no political or moral alternative than to reduce his ability to make war in the troubled province. NATO will thereby help save lives, they stressed. Observers noted that the statements marked a shift in the Western rationale for launching air strikes. Previously, NATO leaders had generally emphasized the need to pressure Milosevic into signing the Rambouillet accords. By stressing instead the need to save lives, they have adopted a goal they can achieve by themselves without Milosevic's involvement or approval. It is also a goal they can pursue under the UN Charter without needing a specific UN mandate to do so. PM

BELGRADE DECLARES 'STATE OF DANGER OF WAR'...

Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic told the BBC on 24 March that the West is "sacrificing" Serbia in the interests of setting up a "greater Albania." The previous day, Federal Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic said on state-run television that the government has declared a "state of immediate danger of war" because of the likelihood of NATO "aggression." Observers noted that a "state of danger of war" affects only the police and the military and is not as stringent as a "state of emergency." Elsewhere, Defense Minister General Pavle Bulatovic charged that Washington and NATO have allied themselves with the Kosovar "terrorists," which is Belgrade's term for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). He added that the Yugoslav army has "dispersed its forces" so as to reduce the risk of major losses in any single attack. Meanwhile, Milosevic fired General Aleksandar Dimitrijevic as head of military security and replaced him with General Geza Farkas. PM

...SHUTS DOWN INDEPENDENT RADIO STATION

Several police and officials of the Federal Ministry of Telecommunications entered the offices of independent Belgrade Radio B-92 in the early hours of 24 March and ordered journalists to stop broadcasting. The police also confiscated some broadcasting equipment. Police took away editor-in-chief Veran Matic for questioning. The journalists continued to disseminate their programs via the Internet. This is the third time in some 10 years that the authorities have prevented B-92 from broadcasting, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In the course of 1998, B-92 extended the range of its broadcasting to cover all Serbia. PM

MONTENEGRO DOES NOT RECOGNIZE 'STATE OF DANGER OF WAR'

The Montenegrin parliament meets on 24 March to discuss Podgorica's response to the Kosova crisis. The previous day, a Montenegrin government spokesman said the government does not recognize Momir Bulatovic's declaration of a "state of danger of war." The spokesman added that the government will not allow the Yugoslav military to use Montenegrin facilities in order to fight NATO forces. The government appealed for calm. Podgorica does not recognize the government of Bulatovic, who is the arch-rival of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. PM

MACEDONIA SEEKS TO STAY OUT OF CONFLICT...

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski told reporters in Skopje on 23 March that his government will not allow NATO peacekeepers stationed in Macedonia to attack Serbia. "Our country won't allow its territory to be used in an attack on any neighboring country, including Yugoslavia, and I think NATO will accept this," he said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). PM

...REOPENS BORDER TO REFUGEES

Macedonian border police told Reuters at the Blace crossing with Kosova on 24 March that "the order to close the border [to Yugoslav citizens] has been lifted as of now. We don't know whether we will be asked to close it again later." The previous day, border police said that persons "with Yugoslav passports are not allowed in this country as from this morning and will be turned back." Observers noted that the Macedonian authorities fear that an influx of refugees from Kosova will strain Macedonia's limited resources and possibly upset that country's delicate ethnic balance. Some 23 percent of the population is ethnic Albanian. PM

ALBANIA CONCENTRATES TROOPS ALONG KOSOVA BORDER...

Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told leaders of his governing coalition in Tirana on 23 March that "we have stationed on [our] northern border the largest number of soldiers since World War II." He did not give figures but added that "we are undertaking a diplomatic and military action to defend the sovereignty of our country." He hinted that the government fears a possible revenge attack from Yugoslav forces following expected NATO air strikes. Majko also accused Serbian forces of killing 200 Kosovars over the last few days. He referred to unspecified "official and unofficial sources" but did not elaborate. Later he told an emergency parliamentary session that "we are preparing for the worst scenario because to prepare for war means to prepare for peace," Reuters reported. The government ordered the relevant authorities to prepare bunkers and underground shelters for civilians and to supply all hospitals in the northern towns with medicines. FS

...AND PREPARES FOR NEW REFUGEE INFLUX

On 23 March, Albanian authorities in the north began preparing more refugee camps in case of an exodus from Kosova, AP reported. Information Minister Musa Ulqini told dpa that Albania is able to accommodate 10,000 refugees in addition to the 20,000 already in the country. Serbian forces recently laid more mines in the area bordering Albania in order to prevent Kosovar refugees from crossing into Albania and UCK fighters from entering Kosova. According to Albanian authorities, only about 50 Kosovar Albanian families have crossed into Albania over the past 10 days, dpa reported. FS

SOLANA ASSURES ALBANIA OF NATO PROTECTION

NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana sent a letter to Majko on 24 March providing assurances of NATO support in case of a Yugoslav attack. The letter said that that "it would be unacceptable if the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were to threaten the territorial integrity, political independence, and the security of your country," AP reported. Further details of NATO's assurances were not immediately available. Meanwhile, President Rexhep Meidani told a meeting of UCK leaders in Tirana on 23 March that the international community should intervene immediately in Kosova to save lives. He stressed that time has come to "finally stop Belgrade's war machine," Reuters reported. FS

CROATIA WILL NOT SEND GENERALS TO HAGUE

Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa told the parliament on 23 March that the government will not extradite any Croatian generals to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. He said: "Resolutions passed by the parliament provide the government with absolute grounds to clearly state that not a single Croatian general will be extradited to The Hague." The "New York Times" reported recently that the court plans to indict at least three generals (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 March 1999). Spokesmen for the tribunal subsequently said that court officials are investigating the source of possible leaks to the U.S. daily. PM

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST SENATOR LOSES PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY

By a vote of 80 to 36, the Senate on 23 March lifted the parliamentary immunity of Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Tudor lost his immunity under the new regulations that require a vote of 50 percent plus one, instead of the previously required two-thirds majority. The controversial senator was not present at the debate, claiming illness. He faces various charges, including calumny. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to three years, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

WORLD BANK TO EXTEND LOAN TO ROMANIA

Premier Radu Vasile and the World Bank's director for Romania, Andrew Vorking, told journalists on 23 March that they have reached an agreement on a $300 million loan in support of economic reforms. The agreement, which must be approved by the bank's board in June, provides for a $100 million tranche to be released that month and two other tranches later in 1999, depending on whether progress toward the agreement's implementation is made. The two men agreed that Romania must privatize both the banking system and profit-making state-owned companies, close loss-making companies, improve legislation aimed at promoting business, and meet the social costs of restructuring. The IMF may now follow suit by resuming loaning. This would enable Bucharest to avoid defaulting on its external debt, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT BACKS NATO DECISION TO STRIKE...

President Petar Stoyanov on 23 March said that since Bulgaria wishes to join NATO and the EU, it "has no other choice but to back the international community" in its conflict with Milosevic's "totalitarian regime," Reuters reported. Stoyanov added that any further widening of the conflict will be "most unwelcome for Bulgaria, because of its geographical location." He appealed to Bulgarians not to panic and said the army has not been put on alert. At the same time, he said he might cancel a trip to Germany scheduled for 24 March. Premier Ivan Kostov has already postponed visits to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. MS

...WHILE DEFENSE OFFICIAL DENIES KOZLODUY THREATENED BY SERB RETALIATION

Deputy Minister of Defense Velizar Shalamanov told Reuters on 23 March that the risk of an Serbian attack on the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in retaliation for Bulgaria's allowing NATO to use its air space is "absolutely minimal." Shalamanov made the statement after what Reuters described as a "panic among some local media that Serbia might launch an air attack against Bulgaria." He said he was confident that Bulgaria's air defense is capable of thwarting any threats to the plant and that "plans for its protection have been worked out long ago." MS




BELARUSIAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC: AN IDEAL VIS-A-VIS FLAWED REALITY


by Jan Maksymiuk

Until recently, few Western historians, let alone ordinary mortals, had heard about the existence of the Belarusian Democratic Republic (Belaruskaya Narodnaya Respublika, BNR), a non-Bolshevik Belarusian state proclaimed in Minsk on 25 March 1918. Richard Pipes in "The Formation of the Soviet Union" (Harvard University Press, 1997) and Norman Davies in "Europe: A History" (Oxford University Press, 1996) were probably the only world-renowned historians to communicate that news to a wider Western readership.

A decade ago, the BNR was still unknown to most Belarusians as well. Soviet historiography long concealed the fact that such a state as the BNR had ever existed. Soviet historians contemptuously branded the BNR a short-lived "bourgeois" puppet republic under the German Kaiser's patronage. When Belarus became a sovereign state in 1991, Belarusian students received new history textbooks presenting the proclamation of the BNR as an event of which they could and should be proud. When Alyaksandr Lukashenka became Belarusian president in 1994, he ordered those textbook to be removed, viewing them as detrimental to his policy of re- Sovietization and integration with Russia.

After the Bolshevik coup in Petrograd in October 1917, 1,872 delegates came to the All-Belarusian Congress in Minsk on 14 December 1917 to discuss the future of Belarus after the collapse of the Russian empire. The congress pledged loyalty to the Bolshevik center in Moscow, but was nevertheless dispersed by a detachment of soldiers from the Minsk Bolshevik garrison. That action radicalized some of the congress delegates, who later met clandestinely and declared the Rada [Council] of the All-Belarusian Congress--a body they had managed to create before being dispersed--a "supreme government agency" in Belarus. In February 1918, immediately after the Reds left Minsk to the Germans, the Rada returned to the city and formed a provisional government. The German occupation troops did not prevent the Rada from pursuing its political and administrative activities.

On 9 March 1918, the Rada proclaimed the Belarusian Democratic Republic "within the borders of the numerical majority of Belarusian people." Some two weeks later, on 25 March, the Rada declared the BNR an "independent and free state" and pledged that the Belarusian people would soon determine their national future through a Constituent Assembly (a freely elected legislature).

The BNR opened diplomatic missions in, or sent its diplomatic plenipotentiaries to, a dozen European countries. However, the newly-born Belarusian statehood failed to obtain the necessary support from the allied powers to survive. In December 1918, nine months after the declaration of the independent BNR, its government was forced to emigrate to Lithuania and Germany. Belarus, as on many previous occasions, become a battleground for Moscow and Warsaw.

After the partition of Belarus between Poland and Bolshevik Russia under the 1921 Treaty of Riga and the creation of the Belarusian SSR, the exiled BNR government slowly but inevitably faded into oblivion: Vasil Zakharka, the BNR's last president, died in Prague in 1943. However, the creation of the BNR has become a pivotal point of the Belarusian national (and nationalist) myth, revered primarily by Belarusian emigre historians.

The BNR was bound to become a consecrated ideal of Belarusian statehood for at least two reasons. First, the BNR was created on the basis of a popular, non-Bolshevik mandate given by the All-Belarusian Congress. Second, the congress delegates were predominantly the "salt of the Belarusian earth"--peasants or representatives of the first-generation intelligentsia born into peasant families. Thus, the proclamation of the BNR refutes the widespread belief that the Belarusians--a "nation of peasants"--were not mature enough to form their own statehood but rather thankfully accepted it as an almost unsolicited gift from Russia's Bolsheviks, in particular, Lenin and Stalin.

The BNR myth continues to appeal to all Belarusians who pursue the dream of independent statehood. It is unimportant for them that the BNR existed for only a fleeting moment in history or that the BNR's administrative powers did not extend beyond the city of Minsk and its environs.

Honoring Zakharka's political testament, post-war Belarusian refugees in displaced persons camps in Germany revived the BNR Rada in 1948 under the leadership of Mikola Abramchyk as a kind of government-in-exile of the Belarusian Diaspora outside the Soviet bloc. In 1997, the BNR Rada-- which is now headed by Joanna Survilla of Canada--launched a campaign to "sign up for BNR citizenship." The BNR Rada urged Belarusians to pledge their allegiance to the ideal BNR state in a symbolic act of disobedience to the Moscow-oriented Lukashenka regime and the current Republic of Belarus. While the bulk of the Belarusian population did not sign up, the initiative has apparently found some support among primarily young urban Belarusians.

Zyanon Paznyak, exiled leader of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, has upheld the initiative of "joining the BNR" and pledged--following the opposition presidential elections on 16 May--to begin preparations for electing a "constituent assembly" in order to put Belarus back on the "path of constitutional legitimacy." That pledge may boil down to nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of Paznyak, but it highlights a rather complicated pattern of Belarusian opposition policies, in which historical reminiscences and ideals are fancifully interwoven with rhetoric promoting liberal economic policies.

The Belarusian Diaspora celebrate 25 March as Independence Day, while in Belarus, the opposition marks it as Freedom Day. This year, a rally to commemorate the BNR's anniversary will take place in Minsk on 28 March. Rumors have it that Paznyak, who has declared his intention to run in the opposition presidential elections, will return to Belarus on that date, following three years in exile.


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